Few actresses of her era take as many chances as Nicole Kidman. The Oscar- and Emmy Award-winning actress has been one of the industry’s most sought-after performers since the early 1990s, and appeared in everything from splashy musicals like “Moulin Rouge!” (which netted Kidman her first of four Academy Award nominations) to historical fiction like “The Hours” (which won Kidman the Best Actress Oscar for playing Virginia Woolfe) to psychological thrillers like “Eyes Wide Shut” (where she starred opposite her now-ex-husband Tom Cruise) to blockbuster superhero movies like “Aquaman” (Kidman will also return for the sequel in 2022).
And that’s just on the big screen. In recent years, Kidman has acquitted herself exceedingly well in a spate of prestige television series, winning an Emmy for her nuanced work in “Big Little Lies” and scoring a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for “The Undoing.”
But her biggest challenge yet is arguably her turn as Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s 2021 film “Being the Ricardos.” For that film, yet another historical drama, Kidman didn’t just have to play Ball but also perform briefly as Lucy Ricardo, the character Ball made famous on “I Love Lucy.” In addition to her four Oscar nominations thus far, Kidman has earned 10 Golden Globe film nominations (including three wins for “To Die For,” “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Hours”) and has been nominated for nine Screen Actors Guild Awards for movies.
In honor of what seems like all-Nicole, all-the-time, tour through our photo gallery above with her 16 greatest performances, ranked from worst to best.
16. NINE (2009)
Director: Rob Marshall. Writers: Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella, based on the musical by Arthur Kopit. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman.
With a number of Oscar winners on board (Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz and Sophia Loren), Rob Marshall’s film of the Tony Award-winning musical “Nine” almost defines the idea of the term “film ensemble.” Based on Federico Fellini’s film “8 1/2,” “Nine” tells the story of a famous Italian filmmaker (Day-Lewis) who, stuck with writer’s block, enlists the spirits of all the women who touched his life in order to get over it. Day-Lewis, Cotillard, Cruz and Kidman received the best notices among the company, with Kidman, who plays Claudia — “Nine’s” equivalent for actress Anita Ekberg — receiving particular kudos for putting her movie star persona to work in an ensemble that received an ensemble nomination from the Screen Actors Guild.
15. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017)
Director: Yorgo Lanthimos. Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou. Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan.
Kidman is reunited with her “Beguiled” co-star Colin Farrell in director Yorgo Lanthimos’ (“The Lobster” and the upcoming “The Favourite”) dark dark film in which she plays Anna, a mom to her two wonderful kids when her heart surgeon husband Steven (Farrell) brings into the family Martin, a troubled young man (Barry Keoghan) whose father died during one of Steven’s heart surgeries and is having trouble adjusting. Little does Steven realize that he and Anna will soon be the victims of a vengeance plot that turns into a high-tech version of “Sophie’s Choice.” Kidman is chilling as we watch her realize the depth of the horror that is about to befall her family.
14. THE BEGUILED (2017)
Writer/Director: Sofia Coppola. Starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning.
Sofia Coppola’s remake of the 1967 Don Siegel film starring Clint Eastwood once again tells the story of John McBurney, a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) in the American Civil War who is found and nursed back to health by the headmistress (Kidman) and students of a Virginia girls school. What makes Coppola’s remake worth telling is, instead of telling the story from the wounded soldier’s point of view, it’s the women (and particularly Kidman’s headmistress) who drive the action, and it gives the actress the material to deliver one of her most disturbing performances.
13. BIRTH (2004)
Director: Jonathan Glazer. Writers: Jean-Claude Carrière, Milo Addica, Jonathan Glazer. Starring Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall.
“Birth” is a very strange film but one for which Kidman garnered great acclaim, culminating in a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. The film, directed by Jonathan Glazer, focuses on Anna (Kidman), who, 10 years after her husband’s death, becomes convinced that he has been reborn into the body of a 10 year-old boy (Jonathan Bright). “Birth’s” notoriety comes from a scene where Kidman and the 10 year-old Bright appear to be sharing a bath together — they really aren’t (camera magic!) and it’s not all that salacious.
12. LION (2016)
Director: Garth Davis. Writer: Luke Davies. Starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman.
Kidman is very much in maternal mode as Sue Brierley who, with her husband John (David Wenham), adopt Saroo, an Indian boy (Sunny Pawar as a child, Dev Patel as an adult) and bring him home with them to Tasmania. Once he is an adult, Saroo, who had always believed that he was adopted because Sue was infertile, but she movingly tells him instead that she adopted him in order to help kids like Saroo who were in need. For her performance as Sue, Kidman earned her fourth Academy Award nomination, her 10th Golden Globe nom and her seventh nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Award.
11. THE PAPERBOY (2012)
Director: Lee Daniels. Writers: Lee Daniels, Pete Dexter. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray.
This is a personal opinion, but I think “The Paperboy” is just nuts — which is why I love it. In the film, Kidman portrays Charlotte Bless, a woman who has fallen in love with a prisoner (John Cusack) on death row and is set on marrying him after his inevitable release (or so she thinks). She enlists the help of two reporters (Matthew McConaughey and David Oyelowo) to try to get her loved one freed based on the inconsistency of the evidence before them. Yes, and there’s the famous scene where Kidman pees on McConaughey’s brother (Zac Efron).
10. RABBIT HOLE (2010)
Director: John Cameron Mitchell. Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire, based on his play. Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Sandra Oh.
Based on David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Rabbit Hole” provided Kidman with a role that led to her third Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. As Becca Corbett, Kidman must deal with the accidental death of her four-year-old son who was hit by a car after running out into the street after his dog. Becca and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) begin attending a self-help group, which does little to help their grief. At the same time, Becca begins to meet with Jason (Miles Teller, in an early major role), the driver of the car that killed their son, to try to get some closure.
9. BOY ERASED (2018)
Writer/Director: Joel Edgerton. Starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton.
With her poufy hair and slightly overdone makeup, Kidman looks every inch the prim Arkansas housewife and devoted spouse of a Baptist minister (Russell Crowe) who banish their gay son (Lucas Hedges) to a conversion camp. She doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the film’s first half, but once Kidman is able to connect with her inner Mama Grizzly and gets to the meat of the part, she absolutely shines with several Oscar-caliber scenes. Her performance is very much in the “Lion” mode but perhaps even more nuanced, thanks to Joel Edgerton’s delicate script.
8. BEING THE RICARDOS (2021)
Even after multiple Oscar nominations, Kidman isn’t afraid to swing for the fences. Case in point: her decision to play Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos.” Kidman owns the film, successfully affecting Ball’s signature voice and her mannerisms while also tearing into Sorkin’s signature dialogue with flair. Perhaps not since “To Die For” (coming soon on this list) has Kidman gotten the opportunity to be in such command of a movie.
7. COLD MOUNTAIN (2003)
Writer/Director: Anthony Minghella. Starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Eileen Atkins.
Based on the best-selling novel by Charles Frazier, Anthony Minghella’s “Cold Mountain” stars Kidman and Jude Law as lovers who are torn apart when Law’s W.P. Inman enlists in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. While he is away in battle, Kidman’s Ada Monroe must stay home and tend the family farm for which she has no talent, so she brings on Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger in her Oscar-winning performance) to get the farm in order while dreaming of W.P.’s return from the battlefield.
6. EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)
Director: Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael. Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack.
The pairing of Kidman and her real-life husband (at the time) Tom Cruise in a sexually-charged drama helmed by legendary director Stanley Kubrick caused a great stir among film buffs in 1999. In a film whose sexual content had to be cut back in order to avoid a dreaded NC-17 film rating, Kidman shone as the wife of a successful New York doctor (Cruise), as she confesses to him that she had contemplated having an affair with a naval officer some time before, which leads to a number of sexual explorations, culminating in a masked orgy that has become a part of Kubrick lore.
5. BOMBSHELL (2019
Director: Jay Roach. Writer: Charles Randolph. Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow.
In Jay Roach’s true-life drama centering on the fall of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes on allegations of sexual harassment, Kidman portrays Gretchen Carlson, a Fox News anchor, who was the first to take on Ailes’ misogyny by suing him personally after she is fired. It’s a relatively small part for Kidman, but it’s a key one that puts the story into motion and gives her the chance to express the rage that Carlson felt but also her fear that she might never work again. Though the film largely focuses on the moral dilemma that faces fellow anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), who is tempted but slightly afraid to follow Carlson’s example in taking on the powerful Ailes (John Lithgow), Kidman’s role of Carlson is crucial. For her performance as Carlson, Kidman earned her eighth and ninth Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.
4. TO DIE FOR (1995)
Director: Gus Van Sant. Writer: Buck Henry. Starring Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix, Illeana Douglas, Casey Affleck.
Gus Van Sant’s very very dark comedy proved to be Kidman’s big-time entry into Hollywood. Buck Henry’s fictionalized version of the real-life story of Pamela Smart, a woman who used her 15 year-old lover to murder her husband, turned Pamela (here called Suzanne Stone-Maretto) into an ambitious meteorologist at a local New Hampshire TV station. The Henry script is so smart, not only taking on the concept that celebrities feel like can get away with anything (Donald Trump? Hello!), but satirizing the mindset that, as long as you’re on television, there’s some value to your life. Wrong!
3. THE OTHERS (2001)
Writer/Director: Alejandro Amenábar. Starring Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston.
This Spanish horror film written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar would seem to be another unlikely vehicle to awards glory, but Kidman nonetheless garnered a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for her work. As Grace Stewart, a religious woman living in Normandy, France with her two children who are suffering from photosensivity, so they must be shielded from sunlight at all times. While in their home, Grace becomes convinced that the house is being overrun by ghosts as she has spied specific “others” roaming the house at times. Then comes one of the great plot twists of the past 20 years, as Grace realizes just what part that she and her family truly serve in the grand scheme of things, and chills are brought with a minimum of special effects and a maximum of good writing.
2. THE HOURS (2002)
Director: Stephen Daldry. Writer: David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham. Starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris.
In “The Hours,” which finally brought Kidman her first Academy Award as Best Actress, she plays legendary author Virginia Woolf, who is trying to write a novel while struggling with mental illness and a severe bout with depression. In addition to the Woolf sections, “The Hours” also features concurrent storylines about two other women who are impacted by Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway” — in 2001, Clarissa (Meryl Streep) is preparing a party for her former lover (Ed Harris) who is living with AIDS and calls Clarissa “Mrs. Galloway” because of her ability to distract herself just the way the Woolf character does. And Julianne Moore stars as an unhappy 1950s California housewife Laura who is in the throes of reading the novel.
1. MOULIN ROUGE! (2001)
Director: Baz Luhrmann. Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce. Starring Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo, Richard Roxburgh.
Baz Luhrmann’s remarkable mishmosh of musical stylings provided Kidman one of her most memorable roles as Satine, the lead courtesan at the famed Paris nightspot, the Moulin Rouge. Luhrmann juxtaposes contemporary pop songs with classical storytelling in his tale of a mismatched love affair between the courtesan and a young British writer (Ewan McGregor) who is struggling to find his bearings amid the whirlwind of the nightlife of Paris in 1900. The role brought her nominations at the Oscars and SAG Awards plus a Golden Globe win.