Best Leonardo DiCaprio Movies and Performances, Ranked

Leonardo DiCaprio’s 21 Best Performances, From ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ to ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
Leonardo DiCaprio’s 21 Best Performances, From ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ to ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio continues his stronghold on Hollywood and modern-day cinema. With nearly three decades in cinema, he’s delivered some of the most memorable characters and performances, bringing in more than $6.5 billion in box office receipts, placing him in the top 10 highest-grossing leading actors of all time.

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To celebrate DiCaprio’s birthday (on Nov. 11), Variety ranks his 21 best film performances of his career so far.

ReadVariety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

A frequent collaborator with some of cinema’s most influential filmmakers, he’s worked multiple times with Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Baz Luhrmann, and most often with Martin Scorsese.

DiCaprio’s run on the awards circuit has brought about many rewards. It began with the best supporting actor nom as the mentally disabled Arnie for Lasse Hallström’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (1993). Still, it would take 11 years for him to return to the Oscars despite worthy efforts, including the box office record breaker “Titanic” (1997) from James Cameron and the sly fraudster Frank Abagnale Jr in “Catch Me If You Can” (2002) from Steven Spielberg. His second nom would come as famed billionaire Howard Hughes in Scorsese’s best picture-nominated “The Aviator” (2004), for which he also won the Golden Globe for best actor (drama). He followed it up with his turn as a South African diamond smuggler in Edward Zwick’s “Blood Diamond” (2006), the same year as his work as an undercover cop in Scorsese’s best picture winner “The Departed.”

The megastar nabbed his first nom as a producer “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), becoming one of few actors ever nominated for acting and producing in the same year.

But DiCaprio’s winning dance with the Academy finally came as frontiersman Hugh Glass in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” (2015), which also won two other statuettes for directing and cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki). He would tack another mention to his impressive resume as faded television star Rick Dalton in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” (2019), which brought Brad Pitt his first acting win.

killers of the flower moon
killers of the flower moon

As of 2023, DiCaprio has appeared in 10 films nominated for best picture, which ties him with Cate Blanchett and Jack Nicholson as the second most of any actor. The current record-holder is his “Killers of the Flower Moon” co-star Robert DeNiro, with 11.

Read the list of his best performances below, along with the clip of the most vital scene from each film.

Honorable mentions: “Body of Lies” (2008); “The Quick and the Dead” (1995); “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1998); “The Beach” (2000); “J. Edgar” (2011)

21. ‘The Great Gatsby’ (2013)

Role: James Gatz / Jay Gatsby

Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by:
Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (based on “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

The scene that proves it: “A fit of rage.”

Baz Luhrmann’s take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic is a mixed bag for some. However, DiCaprio’s portrayal of the enigmatic and charismatic Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire known for his extravagant parties and undying love for Daisy Buchanan (played by Carey Mulligan), is a common denominator of praise. He effectively conveyed Gatsby’s longing for lost love and his relentless pursuit of the American Dream, making the relatable and tragic story feel modern.

20. ‘Gangs of New York’ (2002)

Role: Amsterdam Vallon

Distributed by: Miramax Films
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by:
Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

The scene that proves it: “This is a kill.”

As a young man seeking revenge against a powerful gang leader in 19th-century New York City, DiCaprio brings intensity and depth, conveying the character’s internal struggles. It was seen as a significant departure from the actor’s earlier roles. But he holds his own and displays great chemistry with his Oscar-nominated co-star, Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher.

19. ‘Marvin’s Room’ (1996)

Role: Hank

Distributed by: Miramax Films
Directed by: Jerry Zaks
Written by:
Scott McPherson (based on “Marvin’s Room” by McPherson)

The scene that proves it:

As Hank, a troubled and rebellious teenager who has been institutionalized for setting his mother’s house on fire, DiCaprio tackles a complex and emotionally charged role. And the actor holds his own against legends Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton no less, who play his chain-smoking mother and leukemia-stricken aunt.

Nominated for best cast ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (losing to “The Birdcage”), the entire arsenal of actors — including Hume Cronyn, Robert De Niro, Dan Hedaya and Gwen Verdon — helped elevate one another to create one of the most memorable tear-jerkers of the 90s.

18. ‘The Basketball Diaries’ (1995)

Role: Jim Carroll

Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Directed by: Scott Kalvert
Written by: Bryan Goluboff

The scene that proves it: “Mom, can you give me some money please?”

As a drug-addicted high school basketball player, DiCaprio displays the underlying fury of a troubled youth. Playing well off his co-stars, particularly Mark Wahlberg as his friend Mickey and Lorraine Bracco as his heartbreaking mother, he can navigate some of the film’s obvious pitfalls.

17. ‘The Aviator’ (2004)

Role: Howard Hughes

Distributed by: Warner Bros
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: John Logan (based on “Howard Hughes: The Secret Life” by Charles Higham)

The scene that proves it: “Come in with the milk.”

Playing billionaire Howard Hughes was well within Leonardo DiCaprio’s range as an actor, even though the audience had to work a bit too hard to accept him as a 40-year-old (he was in his late 20s at the time of filming). So instead, he re-teams with the master director Martin Scorsese, who previously worked on “Gangs of New York” (2002) for the epic. Together, the two set out to depict the life of the aviation pioneer over 20 years as his obsessive-compulsive disorder becomes increasingly evident, it’s the role that put him on the Oscar map, garnering his first lead actor nomination, with the film leading the way with 13, including the first of his many surprise supporting actor noms for Alan Alda.

16. ‘Inception’ (2010)

Role: Dom Cobb

Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan

The scene that proves it: “James and Phillipa!”

Under the thumb of a box office juggernaut, DiCaprio slides through the Christopher Nolan entry, giving it weight and emotion when not showcasing tumbling rooms and white vans. Helped greatly by Marion Cotillard (an awards-worthy performance), this was also his third role in the string of what the internet called the “dead wives club” (following “Revolutionary Road” and “Shutter Island”).

15. ‘Shutter Island’ (2010)

Role: Edward “Teddy” Daniels / Andrew Laeddis

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by:  Laeta Kalogridis

The scene that proves it: “Live as a monster or die as a good man”

Teddy Daniels is a complex man, and DiCaprio rides multiple waves of inquisition and emotion in Martin Scorsese’s underrated thriller. Likely due to an early February release, the film went unnoticed in categories like production design and sound mixing. Still, none were as egregious as DiCaprio’s overlooked work, demonstrating masterclass sparring with co-stars Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams. It comes together splendidly with his question to Mark Ruffalo’s Chuck following the film’s big reveal: “Do you live as a monster or die as a good man?”


14. ‘Don’t Look Up’ (2021)

Role: Dr. Randall Mindy

Distributed by: Netflix
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Adam McKay, David Sirota

The scene that proves it: “What have we done to ourselves?”

Leonardo DiCaprio takes on a subject dear to his heart (climate crisis) but executes it in a way we haven’t seen in any other roles. As Dr. Randall Mindy, an astronomer who, along with his colleague Kate Dibiasky (played courageously by Jennifer Lawrence), tries desperately to inform the world of its impending doom, he stretches out in both his dramatic and comedic moments. His chemistry with Brie Evantee (played expertly by Cate Blanchett) is one of the film’s brighter spots in an otherwise very bleak look at where our species will inevitably end up (unless things begin to change).

13. Titanic (1997)

Role: Jack Dawson

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios)
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron

The scene that proves it: “Right now my address is the RMS Titanic, after that I’m on God’s good humor.”

The role that made him a superstar. “Titanic” is the highest-grossing film of all time (in 1997) and the second film to win 11 Oscars, including best picture. Unfortunately, his charm and obvious good looks didn’t impress the Academy enough to include him in the best actor lineup. Still, he would eventually get his due more than 20 years later.

12. ‘Blood Diamond’ (2006)

Role: Danny Archer

Distributed by: Warner Bros
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Written by: Charles Leavitt

The scene that proves it: “This is Africa.”

Leo gets to sport an impressive accent, which at the time started drawing comparisons to Meryl Streep, in Edward Zwick’s action-thriller. While the script has its flaws, DiCaprio, alongside the incredible, Oscar-nominated Djimon Hounsou, is able to elevate the film considerably.

11. ‘Revolutionary Road’ (2008)

Role: Frank Wheeler

Distributed by: DreamWorks Pictures
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Justin Haythe

The scene that proves it: “Shell of a Woman”

We saw a glimpse of what Jack and Rose would have been like if they shared the floating door in Sam Mendes’ tragic and genuinely moving portrait of a marriage in 1950s suburbia. DiCaprio’s Frank Wheeler doesn’t ask for the viewer’s sympathy, rather than allows us to wrestle with our own feelings as he cheats, whines and runs through the movie. Anchored by Kate Winslet’s career-best performance, both were snubbed by the Academy (Winslet was nominated and won instead for “The Reader”). Sometimes, the movies are just too real to embrace.

10. ‘Django Unchained’ (2012)

Role: Calvin Candie

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company/Sony Pictures
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino

The scene that proves it: “You had my curiosity, not you have my attention.”

One of DiCaprio’s most audacious roles, his first outing with Quentin Tarantino had him playing a suave and terrifyingly villainous role, one that earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Depending on who you ask, DiCaprio’s snub from the Academy was due to category fraud because his co-star and eventual winner Christoph Waltz campaigned as a supporting actor rather than leading. Nonetheless, DiCaprio personifies Southern entitlement and evil during the time of slavery, playing a grotesque human who gets what he most deserves.

9. ‘Catch Me If You Can’ (2002)

Role: Frank Abagnale

Distributed by: DreamWorks Pictures
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by:  Jeff Nathanson

The scene that proves it: Getting caught in France

As Leo’s babyface seemed to be a hindrance in the late ’90s and early 2000s, at least in terms of being taken seriously as a leading man, his Frank Abagnale Jr. in Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can” was one of the first examples that our “Growing Pains” orphan was growing up and had something substantial to offer the acting world. Opposite Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken, his 21-year-old conman on the run plays out perfectly, especially in his capture-in-France scene, where he really unloads his arsenal. Unfortunately, only the Golden Globes nominated him for best actor (drama).

8. ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’ (1993)

Role: Arnold “Arnie” Grape

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Written by: Peter Hedges

The scene that proves it: “Dad’s dead.”

The only performance of DiCaprio’s career that resulted in an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor (arguably one of the best lineups in Academy history), his intellectually disabled Arnie Grape in Lasse Hallström’s poignant gem could have easily aged poorly with hindsight but has not. Commanding the scenes opposite Johnny Depp and an outstanding Darlene Cates (who should have been nominated herself), his sensitive and sentimental hits all the right notes.

7. ‘This Boy’s Life’ (1993)

Role: Tobias Wolff

Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Michael Caton-Jones
Written by: Robert Getchell

The scene that proves it: “Is it empty?”

If there is a film and performance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career that could be considered the most underrated, Michael Caton-Jones’ “This Boy’s Life” truly hits the mark. As Tobias Wolff, DiCaprio navigates his teenage years in the shadow of abuse and a yearning to find his way in the world. Not just discounted for DiCaprio, it boasts an amazing turn from Robert DeNiro and a criminally ignored Ellen Barkin, who should have been given more of an Academy shake with her young co-star. Coming one year after his nomination for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” the Oscars were not ready to double nominate a 21-year-old actor in favor of winner Tom Hanks, along with Daniel Day-Lewis, Laurence Fishburne, Anthony Hopkins and Liam Neeson. Still, it showed what we knew would be an extraordinary career.

6. ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet’ (1996)

Role: Romeo

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios)
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by:  Craig Pearce, Laz Luhrmann

The scene that proves it: “Sin from my lips?”

Baz Luhrmann’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet,” the modern take on the classic play, is one of the most underrated and invigorating films of the 1990s. DiCaprio’s lovestruck Romeo manages to light up the screen at every turn, showcasing one of the most explosive of his acting career. Likely seen at the time, and still too often today, as a teenage YA drama, Oscar showed no interest in shortlisting his performance (although the art direction nomination is clutch). His chemistry with Claire Danes, who should have been given more love (thank you MTV Movie Awards for noticing), is sensational. Thanks to the pair, the song “Kissing You” by Des’ree is always engraved in my mind. All I need is a two-sided aquarium, and I will start my reenactments.

5. ‘The Revenant’ (2015)

Role: Hugh Glass

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by:  Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu

The scene that proves it: Bear attack.

The visceral and harshly engaging look at Hugh Glass’ journey following a bear attack is one of DiCaprio’s most daring. Raw and brutal, his physical interpretation of revenge is just as impressive as his emotional take, partnered beautifully with Tom Hardy’s nominated performance. Along with director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s, the long-overdue Oscar statuette came his way. It was well deserved in that field of nominees, especially after climbing into a dead carcass. Got to give the guy something for that.

4. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)

4. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)
4. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)

Role: Jordan Belfort

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terence Winter (based on “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Jordan Belfort)

The scene that proves it: “Quaaludes

DiCaprio has often partnered with filmmaking icon Martin Scorsese, but his comedic take on Jordan Belfort’s time of wealth, corruption, and drug use is one of the actor’s most jaw-dropping. At a hearty three-hour runtime, his all-staff monologues, physical liquefying to Margot Robbie’s “no more panties” speech, and a hilarious attempt to crawl to his car after a late reaction to quaaludes are just a few of the choice moments.

He found his way to an Oscar nomination despite the film being released just under the gun and missing the crucial SAG awards deadline. That resulted in him staying on the sidelines in favor of Matthew McConaughey’s work in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

It’s a satirical comedy about a real-life douchebag who ends up in a good place in the end, despite his gross behavior. And yet, we still want to spend time with him. That’s movie magic.

3. ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (2023)

Role: Ernest Burkhart

Distributed by: Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese (based on “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann)

The scene that proves it: “Insulin” and “Front of the Head”

DiCaprio has never played a character so vile and grotesque as Ernest Burkhart, the husband of an Indigenous woman who contributes to the murdering of dozens of natives from the Osage tribe.

On the surface, DiCaprio plays up the buffoonery of a man who he lacks the intelligence to be truly cunning. Yet he also conveys the torment and guilt that we can hope the real-life man began to feel at some point during his horrific acts. It’s one of his most surprising outings as an actor, and hopefully, only the first of more to come later in his career.

The movie marks the third time he shares the screen with co-star Robert DeNiro — after “This Boy’s Life” (1993) and “Marvin’s Room” (1996) — and the two are electrifying together. But his screen time with the incredible Lily Gladstone as his wife Mollie brings audiences to their knees. His distorted idea of a husband allows the viewer to run the gamut of varying emotions.

Mark Ulano, the film’s Oscar-winner production sound mixer and frequent collaborator with Quentin Tarantino, praised DiCaprio’s performance at a DGA screening saying: “He disappears into his character, truly an acting feat of genius.”

2. ‘The Departed’ (2006)

Role: Billy Costigan

Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: William Monahan

The scene that proves it: “Two pills?”

DiCaprio delivered a one-two-punch powerhouse duo of performances in 2006, with his nominated work in Edward Zwick’s “Blood Diamond” and Martin Scorsese’s best picture winner, “The Departed.” He was double nominated at the Golden Globes as lead actor (drama) and best supporting actor at the SAG Awards. When you add the campaign confusion and a rule that doesn’t allow an actor to be double nominated in the same category (please change this Academy), it all led to the eventual snub, leaving his co-star Mark Wahlberg as the sole mention.

His undercover Billy Costigan couldn’t find a consistent awards message.  Had he been nominated for Scorsese’s film, could he have been a formidable challenger to Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”)? If you’re one of the few who sees the crime drama as an ensemble, he could have also challenged winner Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), who upset Eddie Murphy (“Dreamgirls”).

As the movie that made the industry finally see DiCaprio as a “grown-up,” it would have been a great first Oscar win.


1. ‘Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood’ (2019)

Role: Rick Dalton

Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by:  Quentin Tarantino

The scene that proves it: “Rick Fucking Dalton.”

Call it the perfect marriage of an actor feeling like he’s at the crossroads of his career, or maybe it’s his infectiously funny and charming performance, but his Rick Dalton in Tarantino’s look at classic Los Angeles is his best work (yet). Maybe it’s the chemistry alongside Oscar-winning co-star Brad Pitt. Still, it can be argued that if he had not won best actor in 2016 for “The Revenant,” DiCaprio would have unseated Joaquin Phoenix’s monstrous turn in “Joker.” Has a flamethrower ever looked so cool? Outside the physical theatrics lies a vulnerability we hadn’t seen in the former teen idol. Perhaps he found a connection or fear of himself one day fading like his character, or was itngood old-fashioned exceptional acting that we won’t soon forget. Maybe a little of both?

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