Who is the decade-defining actress of the 2010s?

Poll choices
35 Comments

  • Big Dan T - 3 months ago

    I'm going with the simplest interpretation of "decade defining", and whilst I think we're too close to it now to know exactly how this era will be remembered, my guess is that it will be for one or a combination of the franchises, remakes, endless super hero output, growing concerns about AI, a golden age of animation and the #MeToo movement.

    To that end, Scarlett Johansson is who I see as the decade defining actress for the 2010s. Present seemingly every summer in a Marvel blockbuster, she's also been the face of a soulless reboot in "Ghost in The Shell"; was the embodiment of an alienated and objectified female beauty in Jonathan Glazer's haunting "Under the Skin" (where her character name is literally The Female); was at the centre of male fixation and fantasy again in "Her"; and has contributed a healthy share of vocal work in strong animations including "Isle of Dogs", "Sing" and "The Jungle Book". Oh, and she was in Hail, Caesar!...

    That for me at least is a pretty good representation of how this film decade has gone.

  • Lewis Coleman - 3 months ago

    Adams is the best of that group, as well as the most versatile. There’s a 99% chance that if she’s in a movie, it’s enjoyable.

  • Bennett Glace - 3 months ago

    I don't wanna repeat myself, but it's Stewart or bust.

  • X. Alexander - 3 months ago

    I balk at Scarlett Johansson being allowed if Natalie Portman is not, because both were notable in the 90s and had both commercial and prestige hits in the 2000s. So my pick is Other - Natalie Portman.

    Portman kicked off the 2010s by winning Best Actress for Black Swan, which remains a ferocious and fearless performance in a film that easily could have devolved into camp with the wrong lead. Coming off of Best Actress wins from Kate Winslet in The Reader and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side (just two in a string of respectable but safe performers), Portman's win set the scene for darker, nervier turns to break through in this category.

    She entered the MCU when it was still on the ground floor but didn't let that suck up all her energy as a performer, doing a stoner comedy with David Gordon Green and a couple of Terrence Malick's tone poems. She was a brilliant badass in one of the decade's most complex sci-fi films (Annihilation) and a train-wreck pop chanteuse in Vox Lux, which somehow wove together the concurrent 2010s themes of celebrity narcissism and mass shootings. And, in the fall of 2016, her Jackie Kennedy wandered despairingly through the White House in blood-spattered Chanel, perfectly capturing the hopeless horror so many of us felt at that moment, in the wake of a very different presidential catastrophe.

    And I believe Portman differs from those that made the cut in one other definitive way — she stepped behind the camera to write and direct 2015's A Tale of Love and Darkness. Granted, the film was little-seen, but in a decade that has made a pivotal turn toward encouraging and enabling women to make films, it feels right to honor an actress who, seemingly, brushed off the superhero franchise to make a film herself.

    Let's hope Lucy in the Sky is a worthy cherry on top of Portman's definitive decade.

  • Danny Cox - 3 months ago

    Wanted to give a shout out to Rooney Mara. Starts the decade with making the most out of maybe ten minutes total in The Social Network. She continues on to outstanding performances in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Side Effects, and particularly Carol. As an actress she brings an unique presence to her performance that makes her stand out. It's honestly depressing she has not had a bigger career, but if not being tied to a franchise allows her to keep doing interesting projects, more power too her. (Although she would excel in any MCU movie I'm sure).

    Surprised not to see Carey Mulligan not mentioned either. I guess An Education was 2009 and maybe she hasn't been in the best movies this decade (Drive, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Shame aside), but despite the movies' quality she is always turning in A plus work. I still remember her work in things like The Great Gatsby, Far From the Madding Crowd, and Suffragette long after I've forgotten those movies.

  • Jackie F. - 3 months ago

    I had to write in Viola Davis. Movies, tv and theatre. She did it all and turned in all-star turns in The Help, Suicide Squad, How to get aw ay with Murder, not to mention Fences, on both Stage and Screen and let’s-not forget Widows.

    Those roles are decade and career-defining.

    Vote Viola!

  • Jake Albrecht (Watertown, CT) - 3 months ago

    The question isn't best but most decade-defining, and for good or bad the 2010's is defined by the dominance of super hero movies in general, and Marvel movies specifically. Scarlett Johansson is not the most talented of the ladies listed, she might be the least, but she is THE decade defining actress as the main female component of the Marvel Universe. Iron Man 2, Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers:End Game. She even pops up briefly in Thor Ragnarok.

  • Richard Doyle - 3 months ago

    I don't think Lawrence is the best actress in this bunch or the one who has been in the most important films of the decade, but if you're considering "(s)ustained commercial and critical success throughout decade", it does have to be her.

  • Glenn Nelson - 3 months ago

    I hate throwing away a vote for Other:Greta Gerwig, but her work is the very definition of "decade defining". For most prominent and surprising success I would vote for that young actress who dropped out of high school, J Law. And although Michele Williams is the best of them all, I can't see her as "decade defining".

  • Jamie - 3 months ago

    Melissa McCarthy deserves to be a part of this conversation. She began the decade with a breakout comedic performance that got her a rare Oscar nomination for comedy. That catapulted a decade long string of unconventional box office successes with some great standouts like Spy. She also ended the decade taking another risk with a film like Can You Ever Forgive Me? - a performance that proved to be one of her best.

    I know there is a lot of competition to be named the defining actress of the decade but having this conversation without her just feels wrong.

  • Mitchell Beaupre - 3 months ago

    Giving my vote to Other for Greta Gerwig. Maybe bending the rules a little on some of Sam’s criteria, but hey so did he, so I think I can too. Gerwig may not have the commercial success of others in front of the camera, but she did have Lady Bird and I think that movie in particular puts her as the real defining choice of this decade and the way that the times are changing to give women more power and opportunity not just in front of the camera, but behind the scenes as well. Looking at all of these choices, none of them really comes into my head the way that Gerwig does when I think of who defined what the 2010s looked like for actresses heading into the next decade.

  • Max - 3 months ago

    What about

    Natalie Portman
    Elle fanning
    Emma Watson
    Rooney mara
    Greta gerwig

  • Tegridy - 3 months ago

    The only reason Lupita Nyong'o is included is because of the color of her skin and everyone know it

    Answer; Michelle Williams

  • Michael Green DE - 3 months ago

    I see that Lawrence is winning when I voted. I think her body of work is great through half the decade, but my vote Emma Stone has been more consistent and is becoming a bigger star while Lawrence has not made anything relevant for me in years. Stone is doing Netflix work and winning Oscars, while also having a solid resume throughout the 2010s and I argue that is enough to overcome Lawrence’s great work early on.

  • Bennett Glace - 3 months ago

    C'mon folks. It's Kristen Stewart.

  • Jordan Wellin in Toronto - 3 months ago

    It has to be Adams. No other actress has her range, her eye for selectivity in roles, or her plaudits (six Oscar nominations in 13 years is quite a feat, especially when you consider she wasn't even nominated for some of her best work in Arrival, Enchanted, and Her). During the aughts, she rose from reliable supporting character actress to a leading lady star, and her highs during that period are higher than any of the actresses listed here. I don't think many actresses of hers or any other generation could've pulled off roles as tricky as American Hustle, Sharp Objects, and especially Arrival with the nuance and quiet fearlessness she brings to every part.

  • sam - 3 months ago

    I voted for Mira Sorvino. The height of her opportunity to be a decade-defining actress was actually in the 1990s, but we learned in the 2010s that her career was destroyed by Harvey Weinstein soon after it launched because she refused his advances. I remember reading blind items in celebrity movie magazines at the time about her; they said she was a snob, a braggart, big-headed. I think we know now what that really meant. She was great in Mighty Aphrodite (direct by, uh...), Romy & Michelle, and even things like The Replacement Killers. Who knows what performances she might have given had the opportunity not been denied her? The recognition of these gaps and silences in the historical record is for me the defining idea of cinema this decade. I think Filmspotting and other outlets have recognized this and have tried to elevate new voices, and I hope this will continue.

  • Will Krischke - 3 months ago

    It's uncanny how well Jennifer Lawrence's career syncs up with the basically arbitrary framework of this poll. She burst onto the scene in 2010 with Winter's Bone, was a major headliner and made some pretty solid choices for the first half of the decade, followed by more questionable choices and some really bad movies in the second half. As the decade draws to a close, her star has faded a bit, but I feel like she's poised for a reinvention and a comeback.

    ...and that feels like a parallel to the decade in America as well. We were just hitting our stride in the Obama years in 2010, the economy was recovering from the housing crisis, and optimism was pretty high, as it looked like maybe we were leaving behind some of the darker aspects of our cultural past. Then there were some questionable choices, some really bad moments in the second half of the decade, and now, I'm hoping we're posed for a reinvention and a comeback as a nation. Only time will tell. J.Law gets my vote.

  • John in Summerfield, FL - 3 months ago

    Amy Adams is probably my favorite actor of this era, but "actress who has defined this decade?" I have to go with Jennifer Lawrence. She had the remarkable, Oscar-nominated debut with 2010's WNTER'S BONE and within a few years, she had filmmakers believing that she could play just about anything; she's kept working with interesting directors and maintained critical acclaim (most of the time, anyway). Audiences may not follow her everywhere (see MOTHER! - seriously, see MOTHER!, because it's Doing Things and she's so good), but she's probably brought more people to your SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKs and AMERICAN HUSTLEs than would've seen them otherwise, and she's starred in two huge franchises (X-MEN and THE HUNGER GAMES) in a Hollywood era that's more and more reliant on such "IP." Oh, whether or not you want to factor in the public persona, she's endeared an awful lot of people to her through her continued authenticity and honesty.

    Now, I may wish that Jessica Chastain had won that Best Actress Oscar in 2013 for ZERO DARK THIRTY, but that's beside the point.

  • Andrew Roy - 3 months ago

    To be the actress that defines a decade, you have to have both the broad cultural blockbuster appeal and prestige performances. Chastain had many good performances in good movies, but didn't have the broad appeal or massive hits to really define the decade. Johansson had the cultural appeal thanks to the MCU, but Under the Skin and a strong vocal performance in Her aren't enough to define a genre on that end.

    The three from this list that are contenders for me are Adams, Stone, and Lawrence, though I also think Natalie Portman is right up there. Stone is a contender because her La La Land performance is the single most memorable and impacting performance that comes to mind when I think of the decade. Beyond that, she had some good supporting turns and rom-com roles, but not enough depth for her to win it. Portman is a great contender - I think her Black Swan performance was the single best performance of the decade, and she's also phenomenal in Jackie, and has the blockbuster appeal thanks to her roles in the Thor/MCU movies. She was great in Annihilation too, and I think Lucy in the Sky will be another strong one this year, but like with Stone, there just isn't quite enough there.

    Adams and Lawrence both have great claims, but ultimately I must give it to Lawrence. Lawrence had plenty of great prestige roles, especially Winter's Bone and Silver Linings Playbook, but The Hunger Games were among the biggest cultural phenomenons of the decade and she was the unambiguous figurehead of the franchise, and X-Men helps as well. Adams' filmography is chock-full of really strong performances, and Arrival is one of my favorites of the decade thanks to her, but when you look back at the big picture of the 2010s, I think Lawrence is the biggest star.

  • Brendan from DC - 3 months ago

    I think there's definitely a distinction to be made between J-Law and Amy Adams. Adams has been the Actress of the decade for sure. J-Law has been the more overall cultural icon outside of her movie roles (in spite of?).

  • Kathy Woughter - 3 months ago

    Easily Jessica Chastain for me, once I eliminated Amy Adams for similar pre-2010 success. I encountered her first in Take Shelter (thank you Filmspotting!) and now I'll watch any movie that she's part of. Chastain is a chameleon who can portray horror, exhaustion, maternal devotion, intelligence, scheming greed, etc. She even nails Sorkin dialogue. Chastain FTW.

  • Domenic Calabrese - 3 months ago

    Emma Stone did everything in the 2010s, from Zombieland, Easy A, and Crazy, Stupid, Love., to Oscar and critical hits such as Birdman, La La Land and The Favourite. These were all (except for Birdman) commercial successes, many of them very rewatchable and widely loved. She proved she can be a romantic lead and great at comedy. For me, she won the decade

  • Ian T. McFarland - 3 months ago

    I'm not sure how to define "decade-defining," but if I'm looking at this decade and who popped up with the most noteworthy performances, I'd have to go with Amy Adams. She's not even my favorite in this bunch, but she's certainly worthy of the title.

  • CarnivorousCouch - 3 months ago

    I agree that J-Law probably defined the decade. But in terms of quality, I’m giving my praise to Greta Gerwig, who gave three Oscar-worthy performances this decade (Frances Ha, 20th Century Women, Mistress America), all of which are better than Lawrence’s high watermark (still Winter’s Bone where I sit). Beyond that, she wrote Frances Ha and went on to write and direct the best film of 2017 in Lady Bird. And, with Little Women coming out soon, she may finally close the decade with an Oscar-winning film under her belt. Something she should have already done many times over during the past ten years. Let J-Law define the 2010s. Greta Gerwig owned them!

  • Tim Oliver - 3 months ago

    I was having a hard time deciding between ScarJo & JLaw -- their being readily recognized by such monikers helping to make them finalists. Then I went on Letterboxd to confirm my suspicions, which is that ScarJo should've been lumped with those whose run started the decade before. I mean, Lost in Translation came out early in the decade, in '03, and there were plenty of other successes for her in the aughts. So JLaw it is.

  • Clay Clifton (Boynton Beach, FL) - 3 months ago

    I eliminated Johansson and Adams because their major success pre-dates the 2010s. If Michelle Williams can't be here, neither should they.

    Of the rest, it's a two-way race between Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence in terms of star power, awards consideration, critical acclaim and volume/quality of projects. I think Lawrence's impact was felt on a bigger scale, so I gave her my vote.

  • Sam Van Hallgren - 3 months ago

    @Paola:
    More detail here in this week's newsletter about why we left out Michelle Williams aka the greatest actress of her generation and this decade:
    https://mailchi.mp/19aec8f494ad/welles-widows-and-wildlife-suspiria-homework-top-5-biopic-concert-scenes-680815

  • Andreas McGrail - 4 months ago

    Damn they are good bids, you are not making this an easy choice for me.
    After considering all of them, my vote must go to Jennifer Lawrence.
    - Not for being the best actress, that would be Amy Adams.
    - Not for being my favourite, that would be Jessica Chastain.
    - Not for being the hottest, that would be Scarlett Johansson.
    - Not for being the best performance in the best of the movies they have played in the 2010's, that would be Lupita Nyong'o.
    ...
    But defining the 2010's means that you have to look at the movies they each have done during the decade, and Jennifer Lawrence is setting the bar the highest, so she gets my vote.

  • Paola - 4 months ago

    All wonderful options and of those names I would probably go with Amy Adams, but I don't see Michelle Williams on the list and therefore I consider the whole list invalid.

  • Rob in Bourbonnais - 4 months ago

    In 30 years when we sit down to play Future Trivial Pursuit and I land on an entertainment question that starts "This 2010s actress..." my immediate thought will be Jennifer Lawrence. Amy Adams and ScarJo will be thoughts 2 and 3 respectively but I feel like JLaw's biggest dominance will be the 2010s while Adams and ScarJo are going to keep going strong.

  • Tom Morris - 4 months ago

    While these are all great choices, I went with Zoe Saldana. Star Trek, Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy all feature her. Not to mention other fun roles.

  • Kevin White (Carol Stream, IL) - 4 months ago

    D'oh, that should've been "the 10s in a nutshell." I need a nap.

  • Kevin White (Carol Stream, IL) - 4 months ago

    Y'know, I like Kristen Stewart for this. Her transition from "that blank-stare, monotonous star of the Twilight series" to César-winning Assayas muse and indie-film, cinephile-approved screen crush is the decade in film personified. Just as we've seen directors of our favorite film school indie hits find mainstream success directing comic book movies and Star Wars sequels, the lines between popcorn trash and the kinds of movies cinephiles get excited for and talk about have all but disappeared. I'm old enough to remember when everyone thought Stewart and her sparkling vampire costar were two of the worst actors of all time, and now they're serious contenders for this conversation. If anyone on this list underscores the way film has managed to become both franchise-dependent and still surprising and vital, I think it's Kristen Stewart. And if that argument doesn't convince you, just know that this year we'll see her on screen playing both Jean Seberg and one of Charlie's Angels. That's the Aughts in a nutshell as far as I'm concerned.

  • Nick Nahat - 4 months ago

    All have had fine performances, but in terms of commercial success, Marvel easily makes ScarJo the frontrunner, and it's not even close.

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