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Best Olivia Colman Movies and Performances, Ranked

Olivia Colman Turns 50: Her 10 Best Movie Performances From ‘The Favourite’ to ‘Tyrannosaur’
Olivia Colman Turns 50: Her 10 Best Movie Performances From ‘The Favourite’ to ‘Tyrannosaur’

Is there anything Olivia Colman cannot do?

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The British chameleon has been taken on an array of roles across film and television for over 25 years, assembling a resume only the most established actors can dream of. Her extraordinary range of performances in various genres, periods, and settings has made her one of her generation’s most compelling and versatile actors.

To celebrate her birthday, Variety ranks Colman’s 10 best film performances of her career so far.

Colman’s naturalistic approach to her work has brought her an avalanche of accolades. Her first Oscars invitation came with a remarkable turn as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” (2018), which earned her a best actress statuette. Since then, two more have followed with Florian Zeller’s “The Father” (2020) and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter” (2021).

In addition, she’s also picked up three BAFTA Awards, two of which are for efforts on television, including “Accused” in 2013 and her unforgettable performance as a detective and mother in “Broadchurch” in 2014. She also holds two Emmys for lead drama actress for playing Queen Elizabeth in “The Crown” and guest performance at the Children & Family Emmys for “Heartstopper.”

Next on the docket for the Oscar-winner is playing The Reverend Mother in the next installment of the Paddington franchise titled “Paddington in Peru.”

Honorable mentions: “Hot Fuzz” (2007); “Hyde Park on Hudson” (2012); “Mothering Sunday” (2022)

10. ‘Wonka’ (2023)

10. ‘Wonka’ (2023)
10. ‘Wonka’ (2023)


In Paul King’s blockbuster musical prequel “Wonka,” audiences may have come for Timothée Chalamet. Still, they were gifted another fearless Colman performance as the manipulative and gold-digging Mrs. Scrubitt — a turn that feels like a narrative blend of Miss Hannigan from “Annie” and Madame Thénardier from “Les Misérables.” If you’re mixed on the film’s overall quality and tone, her scenes alone will keep you engaged to make it to the end credits.

9. ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ (2021)

Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller and directors Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe gave Colman the role of PAL, a maniacal AI virtual assistant that orders the extermination of human beings and sends them to space. Her vocal deftness, interpreting the witty and fantastic script gives the “Mitchells” its most hilarious and engaging moments.

8. ‘Wicked Little Letters’ (2024)

8. ‘Wicked Little Letters’ (2024)
8. ‘Wicked Little Letters’ (2024)


One of Colman’s most recent films hasn’t been released yet in the U.S., but it will likely be another favorite in her arsenal for many. In Thea Sharrock’s broad slapstick comedy, she plays the pious Edith Swan in 1920s England, who begins to receive scandalous and obscene letters from an unknown author. Reuniting with her “Lost Daughter” co-star Jessie Buckley, the duo ably handle the script’s farcical tone while Colman demonstrates her expert comedic timing.

7. ‘Locke’ (2013)


You know you’re a great actor when the audience doesn’t need to see your face to understand your feelings. In Steven Knight’s one-location drama “Locke” with Tom Hardy, Colman plays Bethan Maguire, the unseen mistress of the titular character, who is carrying his baby and is going into early labor. The expert storytelling taking place over one suspenseful and riveting car ride allows all of its characters and stars, notably Colman, to shine without ever needing a frame.

6. ‘The Lobster’ (2015)


As the nameless Hotel Manager in Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark absurdist comedy, Colman is brief but memorable. In her opening scene, she reveals to David (played exquisitely by Colin Farrell) that he has 45 days to find a partner, or he will be transformed into an animal of his choosing (he’s being accompanied by his brother Bob, a dog). In these brief interactions, she brings chuckles but balances it with an underlying fear that terrifies the viewer — a balancing act that we might take for granted.

5. ‘The Father’ (2020)

5. ‘The Father’ (2020)
5. ‘The Father’ (2020)


Two years after edging out Glenn Close for a best actress win, Colman returned to the Oscars ceremony for her supporting actress performance as Anne, a daughter struggling to care for her ailing father in Florian Zeller’s “The Father.” She can expertly highlight the underlying feelings of the character, even when the script does not necessarily provide the text to explain it. It’s her contribution to the film that assisted in the movie winning two statuettes for best actor (Anthony Hopkins) and adapted screenplay (Zeller and Christopher Hampton).

4. ‘The Lost Daughter’ (2021)

4. ‘The Lost Daughter’ (2021)
4. ‘The Lost Daughter’ (2021)


Maggie Gyllenhaal was given a gift from the heavens when she cast Olivia Colman in her directorial and screenwriting debut “The Lost Daughter.” She plays Leda Caruso in the psychological drama, a woman on holiday in Greece who is forced to confront the demons of her past. Her work brought her a deserved nom for best actress, in addition to her supporting actress co-star Jessie Buckley, who plays the younger version of the character. It’s a captivating outing filled with subtlety and a multi-layered depth.

3. ‘Empire of Light’ (2022)

3. ‘Empire of Light’ (2022)
3. ‘Empire of Light’ (2022)


The love of cinema seeps through Sam Mendes’ personal drama “Empire of Light,” which pays tribute to the physical buildings that house the cherished art form. While many were mixed on its multiple narrative beats, the legendary Colman is fierce and ferocious as Hilary Small, a manager at a British coastal movie house in 1980 who struggles with bipolar disorder. Along with co-stars Micheal Ward and Toby Jones, she takes the audience on a visualized journey of self-discovery embedded in a medium many of us hold so dearly.

2. ‘The Favourite’ (2018)

2. ‘The Favourite’ (2018)
2. ‘The Favourite’ (2018)


As Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ historical dramedy, Colman masterfully blends the tragedy and eccentricity of the monarch plagued with personal and political turmoil. A searing piece of the trio of performers that includes Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, the role earned Colman a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and a (surprising) Academy Award for best actress (besting then seven-time nominee Glenn Close).

1. ‘Tyrannosaur’ (2011)

Paddy Considine’s directorial debut “Tyrannosaur” was a gritty drama from 2011 that found many passionate admirers but mostly flew under the radar. When I began constructing this list, it was one of Colman’s films I revisited and quickly realized how emotionally moving and powerful her work is as Hannah, a woman in an abusive relationship. The heart-wrenching tale earned her the World Cinema – Dramatic prize for acting at Sundance with her co-star Peter Mullan. But primarily, it conveys Colman’s extraordinary depth of range with devastating drama soaring on the back of its central lead performance.

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