What’s both gratifying and infuriating about the Oscars is encapsulated in who’s received Best Actress statuettes over the last two decades. On the one hand, this category has honored plenty of Hollywood’s current acting royalty, including Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, Olivia Colman, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard — and even a few Americans here and there. That being said, it’s shocking how rarely our finest actresses have won for their finest roles, with the Academy often favoring showy over simmering, flash over finesse. Many of these women did far better work in other films, but that’s the Oscars for you: They often honor the greatest talents for their work in movies that almost never end up being their high-water marks. (Spoiler alert: We’re very afraid the same thing may happen with this year’s Best Actress race.)
Not surprisingly, then, our ranking of this century’s Best Actress victors proved especially challenging. We focused on the individual performance, not the actress’s body of work, which led to some strange outcomes. Put it this way: This will probably be the only actress ranking on the Web that slots Meryl dead last. (Please know that you’re first in our hearts, Ms. Streep, especially after that kick-ass Golden Globes speech in 2017).
Without further ado — and in honor of the 94th annual Academy Awards airing on March 27th — our breakdown of the 21st century’s Best Actress Oscar-Winners to date, from worst to best.