Penelope Cruz is the Oscar-winning actress who was born on April 28, 1974, in Madrid, Spain. Let’s take a look back at 16 of her greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Cruz has received four 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 received another Best Actress nom for “Parallel Mothers” (2021).
She won the Oscar for “Vicky Christina Barcelona” making her one of seven actors to win an Oscar for a Woody Allen film. (She joined 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 with her 16 greatest film performances, and see if your favorite tops the list.
16. BLOW (2001)
Director: Ted Demme. Writers: David McKenna, Nick Cassavetes. Starring Johnny Depp, Ray Liotta, Rachel Griffiths.
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.
15. EVERYBODY KNOWS (2018)
Director and writer: Asghar Farhadi. Starring Javier Bardem.
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.
14. GOTHIKA (2003)
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz. Writer: Sebastian Gutierrez. Starring Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton.
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.
13. BROKEN EMBRACES (2009)
Director and writer: Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez.
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.
12. LIVE FLESH (1997)
Director: Pedro Almodovar. Writers: Pedro Almodóvar, Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Ray Loriga. Starring Liberto Rabal, Francesca Neri, Javier Bardem.
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.
11. THE HI-LO COUNTRY (1998)
Director: Stephen Frears. Writer: Walon Green. Starring Billy Crudup, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Arquette.
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.”
10. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)
Director: Kenneth Branagh. Writer: Michael Green. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer.
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.
9. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES (2000)
Director: Billy Bob Thornton. Writer: Ted Tally. Starring Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Sam Shepard.
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.
8. JAMON, JAMON (1992)
Director: Bigas Luna. Writers: Cuca Canals, Bigas Luna, Quim Monzó. Starring Javier Bardem, Stefania Sandrelli, Anna Galiena.
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.”
7. VANILLA SKY (2001)
Director and writer: Cameron Crowe. Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell.
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.
6. OPEN YOUR EYES (1997)
Director and writer: Alejandro Amenábar. Starring Eduardo Noriega, Chete Lera, Fele Martínez.
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.
5. ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999)
Director and writer: Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña.
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.
4. NINE (2009)
Director: Rob Marshall. Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman.
Cruz received another Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress the year after she had actually won that award. This would be her third Oscar nomination. Cruz plays the mistress of a famed film director modeled on Federico Fellini. The musical was originally done on Broadway and it was notable that even though the show swept that year’s Tony nominations the woman who played this role (Anita Morris) was banned from television since her costume and song was considered too sexually suggestive. 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.
3. PARALLEL MOTHERS (2021)
Writer/Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Penelope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Rossy de Palma.
Cruz earned her fourth Academy Award nomination in Almodóvar’s story of Janis (Cruz), a middle-aged photographer who has a baby that may have been switched at birth with one from a teen single mother (Milena Smit) whom she eventually befriends. Later, as the focus of Almodóvar’s film begins to weave in stories of those lives lost in the Spanish Civil War, Cruz masterfully recalibrates her performance, balancing comedy, drama and tragedy into a single compelling character. In addition, Cruz also won the Best Actress Volpi Cup at the 2021 Venice Film Festival for her performance.
2. VOLVER (2006)
Director and writer: Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas.
“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)
Director and writer: Woody Allen. Starring Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem.
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.