As with most film stars nowadays Penelope Cruz has recently crossed over from movies to television with her performance as Donatella Versace in the limited series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” Cruz received her first Emmy nomination for the show as Best Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actress.
Cruz has received three Oscar nominations throughout her career. Her first nomination was for Best Actress for the film “Volver” in 2006. She subsequently received two Best Supporting Actress nominations for “Vicky Christina Barcelona” in 2008 and “Nine” in 2009. She won the Oscar for “Vicky Christina Barcelona” making her one of seven actors to win an Oscar for a Woody Allen film. (She joins Diane Keaton, “Annie Hall”, Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest, “Hannah and Her Sisters”, Wiest, “Bullets Over Broadway”, Mira Sorvino, “Mighty Aphrodite” and Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” as Oscar holders for films written and directed by Allen.)
Cruz first rose to fame in her native Spain. Her performances in many films there and especially in the work of Pedro Almodóvar allowed her to start appearing in American films. She initially struggled a bit to bring the same power in her acting when she spoke English as opposed to Spanish and some of her early American films that were supposed to make her an American star didn’t do that. Cruz continued to work though in both American and Spanish productions and has built quite an extensive resume in the subsequent years.
Take a tour of her career in our photo gallery above with her 15 greatest film performances, ranked from worst to best.
15. BLOW (2001)
One of Cruz’s early American films was this story of how the cocaine industry started in the 1970s. The film became tragically prophetic when its director Ted Demme died a year later from a cocaine related heart attack.
14. EVERYBODY KNOWS (2018)
Cruz teamed with her husband and frequent co-star Javier Bardem for this story of a woman returning from Buenos Aires to Spain. Cruz and Bardem are one of the rare married couples who both have acting Oscars.
13. GOTHIKA (2003)
This thriller starring Halle Berry as a woman who suddenly wakes up in a mental institution received decidedly mixed reviews but Cruz makes a strong impact as a mysterious woman who is also in the asylum.
12. BROKEN EMBRACES (2009)
Cruz worked once again with her frequent collaborator Pedro Almodóvar for this thriller. The film had a lower profile in the US but was very well received in Europe and received a number of nominations from various European groups most notably one as finalist for the Palm d’Or the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
11. LIVE FLESH (1997)
Cruz worked with both Almodóvar and Bardem on this film about a man released from prison who is still in love with the wife of the woman he shot.
10. THE HI-LO COUNTRY (1998)
This was one of Cruz’s first English language films. It took Cruz a while to develop the same power she had as an actress in Spanish language films in English ones and this one shows a little bit of strain on her part to fully communicate. The western tells the story of two cowboys in love with the same woman and displays some of the strong filmmaking skills that director Stephen Frears brought to some of his masterpieces such as “The Grifters” and “Dangerous Liaisons.”
9. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)
Hollywood is all about the remake and reboot nowadays so it probably wasn’t surprising that they remade this Agatha Christie story. Comparisons to the 1974 Sidney Lumet classic were inevitable and the remake like most remakes didn’t rise to the level of the first film. Cruz took on the biggest challenge of the new cast since she was playing the role that brought Ingrid Bergman her third Oscar for the 1974 film.
8. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES (2000)
This western won acclaim for its screenplay by “The Silence of the Lambs” screenwriter Ted Tally but for the rest involved the film was a bit of a disappointment. The romance was set to make Cruz a big American star but she’d need to wait a bit longer for that fame to arrive.
7. JAMON, JAMON (1992)
Cruz made her film debut (along side her future husband Javier Bardem) in this film. Cruz plays the daughter of a prostitute and the center of a romantic triangle that ends in a duel fought by two men using slabs of ham, hence the title which translates in English to “Ham, Ham.”
6. VANILLA SKY (2001)
Cruz had the unique opportunity to reprise the same role she had played in the Spanish language version of this film which tells the story of a man (Tom Cruise) disfigured by a car accident after he falls in love with Cruz and his jealous girlfriend (Cameron Diaz) drives him off a road.
5. OPEN YOUR EYES (1997)
This was the Spanish language version of “Vanilla Sky” where Cruz originated the role she played in the English version. As is usually the case Cruz’s true power as an actress emerged more easily when she is using the Spanish language.
4. ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999)
This Pedro Almodóvar film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for 1999. Cruz plays the mother of an aspiring writer who doesn’t want her son to learn about his father.
3. NINE (2009)
Cruz received another Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress the year after she had actually won that award. Cruz plays the mistress of a famed film director modeled on Federico Fellini. Cruz does well with the character but her song is presented in a naturalistic way without the acrobatics and dance moves that had made the song (entitled “A Call from the Vatican”) so scandalous years before.
2. VOLVER (2006)
“Volver” is the most acclaimed lead role Cruz has ever had. She received her sole (to date) Best Actress nomination at the Oscars for this film. She also was nominated at the Golden Globes, SAG and at a slew of critic’s groups award circles.
1. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (2008)
Cruz was named the Oscar’s Best Supporting Actress for her role as a volatile and slightly threatening ex-wife of Javier Bardem. The title refers to the names of two young women (Vicky and Cristina) who visit Barcelona and become involved with the suave artist played by Bardem. The film allows Cruz to act in both English and Spanish and the dynamic was perfect. While Cruz has always been a bit tentative in her English language performances here she got to be a little awkward when using English but then let the full force of her talent surface in her often angry tirades in Spanish.