Angelina Jolie first broke onto the acting scene at the age of seven in 1982’s Lookin’ to Get Out, alongside her father Jon Voight. Following her breakout lead role in HBO’s Gia, it didn’t take long until she became one of the biggest, most bankable stars in Hollywood.
Over the last three decades, Jolie has appeared in over 50 movies, ranging from action/adventures to dramas and fantasy films. With one Academy Award win and another nomination under her belt, along with an expansion into directing, screenwriting, and producing, Jolie has done it all. As she continues to forge ahead in her career, including a likely role in the MCU’s new Eternals film, here’s a look back at her best movies.
As her biggest commercial success to date, Jolie starred as the title character in this fantasy picture that’s loosely inspired by the original fairy tale by Charles Perrault and Walt Disney’s 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent, a powerful fairy, turns the kingdom of Moors dark out of revenge, doling out curses to the princess in an effort to maintain power. The film received mixed reviews, though it earned praise for the visuals, costumes, and musical score, and Jolie was lauded for her captivating performance. The viewers spoke, with the film raking in more than $758 million worldwide, making it the fourth-highest-grossing movie that year. A sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, is set for release in October 2019.
Many might have forgotten that Jolie was even in this crime film that covered hackers, corporate extortion, and conspiracies long before corporate hacking became a common occurrence. The film, about a group of high school hackers, didn’t perform well at the box office, but has since become something of a cult classic. Jolie plays a proficient hacker named Kate Libby, aka Acid Burn, a role that almost went to Katherine Heigl, who had to turn it down due to prior commitments. Hilary Swank, Heather Graham, and Liv Tyler also auditioned. Interestingly, while much of the criticism of the movie was that the plot seemed far too unrealistic, the evolution of the internet and hacker culture has proven that it was more real than we’d like to admit, and ahead of its time.
Jolie plays Margaret “Clover” Russell Wilson, a woman who seduces and eventually marries a senior CIA officer, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), in this spy thriller that is loosely based on real events about the birth of counterintelligence in the CIA. Co-starring with Robert De Niro, alongside an extensive A-list supporting cast including Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, and Joe Pesci, Jolie deserves accolades for her mesmerizing supporting performance.
In this action-thriller, Jolie plays the title character, Evelyn Salt, a woman who goes on the run after being accused of being a Russian sleeper agent. While the film had originally intended to feature a male protagonist, with Tom Cruise set to lead, the script was rewritten for Jolie as a female lead, and it paid off. Considering the film grossed $294 million at the worldwide box office and got great reviews, particularly for Jolie’s performance, it’s clear viewers were ready to see a female take the lead in such a film. And Jolie was just the actor to do it.
In a role that earned her an Academy Award nomination, Jolie plays Christine Collins, a desperate woman who is convinced that the boy she has been reunited with after a kidnapping is not her son. When she tries to reveal the authorities’ deceit, they label her as delusional and send her to a psychiatric ward. Directed, produced, and scored by Clint Eastwood, the mystery crime drama was based on the 1928 Wineville Chicken Coop Murders in California. Jolie was reportedly selected for the role because Eastwood felt her face would reflect the 1920s period setting. She was reportedly uncomfortable with the distressing subject matter, finding the role very emotional, but the tension translated to gravitas on the screen as she chose to base her performance on her own mother, who had passed away a year earlier.
Playing Gia Marie Carangi, one of America’s first supermodels, was a tall order for Jolie, who was still relatively early on in her career at the time of this biographical movie’s release. Appearing alongside Faye Dunaway, who played Wilhelmina Cooper, Jolie did a standout job portraying a beautiful young woman with aspirations of being a model who suffers with loneliness and eventually falls into the dark world of drugs. The movie was very well received, with Jolie’s performance being described as “a thoroughly uninhibited and highly effective portrait of a woman living from thrill to thrill.”
This biographical film that starred Gary Sinise as the reviled former governor of Alabama received high praise and several Emmy Awards. Jolie plays Cornelia Wallace, George’s second wife and the first lady of Alabama from 1971-1978. She won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and while Sinise and Mare Winningham got top billing for the film and impressed with their performances, Jolie still managed to be a standout, stealing every scene she was in. Interestingly, in an IMDB user review posted in 1999, “bluetwin” writes “… mark my words — she will be a major star and actress of the next decade.”
One of Jolie’s most riveting and heartfelt performances, she plays Mariane Pearl, the wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and eventually beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan. Despite positive reviews from both critics and viewers, the film didn’t perform well at the box office. But Jolie was widely praised by those who watched, with some critics even calling her intense performance one of her finest artistic achievements to date.
Switching to the comic book universe, Jolie starred in this film about account manager Wesley Gibson (an on-the-rise James McAvoy), who finds out he’s the son of a professional assassin and decides to join the secret society. Jolie plays Fox, a member of the fraternity who takes Wesley under her wing and mentors him. Screenwriter Dean Georgaris reportedly rewrote the screenplay to tailor the role specifically to Jolie, and it paid off, with the film enjoying the biggest opening ever for an R-rated movie released during the month of June (since overtaken by Prometheus and Ted.)
This psychological drama based on Susanna Kaysen’s 1993 memoir is the movie that solidified Jolie as a star. Though Winona Ryder got top billing as Susanna, a woman in a mental institution, Jolie was the scene stealer as Lisa, a sociopath who befriends her. Manipulative, cunning, and rebellious, Jolie was the perfect actor for the role, and took home an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her stunning performance. Even two decades later, you can’t help but think of this movie as one of Jolie’s greatest achievements.
Jolie was known up to this point for very dramatic roles and wasn’t considered an action star. So it was surprising at first to see her don a tight outfit, holster a gun, and kick some serious butt. Playing the title character in this action-adventure film based on the Tomb Raider video game series, she did the beloved character justice, and showed her tremendous versatility as an actor. She also proved her willingness to train hard to be able to fight like someone who had been acting in action films for decades. The film and its sequel, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — The Cradle of Life got mixed reviews, though Jolie received almost universal praise. She had the odds stacked against her, with criticism about everything from the fact that she isn’t British, to her breast size and controversial personal life at the time. But she proved all the naysayers wrong. In the book Tales From Development Hell by David Hughes, director Simon West is quoted as saying “It was always Angelina. I mean, Lara sleeps with knives and doesn’t take s*** from anybody. That’s [Angelina] down to a tee.”
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