In the history of the Academy Awards, only two actors have been nominated for an award in all the decades between 1960 and 2000. One of these actors is Jack Nicholson. Nicholson is known for his versatility and how difficult it is to tie him to one certain type of character or an exact genre in film. In the entirety of his career, a compilation of any list of Jack Nicholson movies will show works that are masterful geniuses which all have one thing in common, and this is the skill and talent that the actor brings to every work he is featured in.
Nicholson was born John Joseph in New Jersey to June Francis Nicholson and Donald Furcillo on the 22nd of April, 1937. His parents worked in show business and because of how young his mother was when he was born, his grandparents took him in and raised him as his mother’s younger brother. As a child he was rambunctious and for a year while he was in high school he spent every day after school in detention.
Jack had easy access to Hollywood as his mother who he thought was his sister worked there and when he was seventeen he started working in Hollywood for two animators, they wanted him to work with them permanently but he rejected their offer as he wanted to become an actor.
Nicholson’s professional career began in 1958 and he has appeared in more than seventy movies, having no less than fourteen awards to his name and forty nominations in film, all of which speaks to how good an actor he is. Nicholson’s career is marked with brilliant performances but not all are as flattering or true to his genius, this article is a list of Jack Nicholson movies ranked from best to worst.
Jack Nicholson Movies Ranked From Best to Worst
1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
In the long list that is Jack Nicholson Movies, there are a plethora of performances that reinforce the actor’s skill and talent. Of all these films, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes the prize for being his best film by a mile. The happenings in the movie are based on the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey and Nicholson was able to bring to life in film the character of Randle McMurphy.
McMurphy is a rapist who finds a way to serve his sentence in a mental facility hoping that he is put in a quiet environment where he will avoid manual labor, but he finds out that the warden of the hospital is a terrible woman who has set out to curb his influence on the other patient, and she carries out the most extreme measures to achieve this goal. Nicholson was nominated for three major film awards for his role and he won all three. The film is considered as a significant part of American Cinema for a number of reasons and one of these reasons is Nicholson’s performance.
2. The Shining (1980)
This movie is a creation hated by its creator, the film is based on the novel by Stephen King and King hated what Stanley Kubrick, the director did with it. Nicholson is Jack Torrance who becomes possessed by the evil forces in a hotel where he was recently employed in the position of Winter Caretaker. His wife and son are able to evade him as his desire to kill them intensifies and Nicholson’s character dies of hypothermia while searching for them.
This film has so many important shots that have snuck into pop culture and although it was first released to mixed feelings, it is now considered a masterful piece and one of the best Jack Nicholson movies that is a must-watch.
3. Chinatown (1974)
This Jack Nicholson movie is the only collaboration between director Roman Polanski and Nicholson; it was also the beginning of a great friendship. Chinatown is a neo-noir film that tells the story of how the greed of certain individuals over public property can drive them to do the worst things. Nicholson received high praise for his portrayal of J.J Gittes, it is through his character’s eye we are able to piece together the elements of the film and as Nicholson’s character experiences confusion so do the audience. `
4. About Schmidt (2002)
The titular character, played by Jack Nicholson, just retired from his job as an actuary. Without a job and activity to fill his days, Schmidt decides to sign up for a foster care program for kids in Africa. But this is not enough for him and he reaches an epiphany of how meaningless life can be when he sees the files and documents he worked on in his time as an actuary being thrown in the garbage. While he goes through this, his failings as a husband are thrown in his face by his daughter who is getting married to a man he does not like.
About Schmidt, is premised on existential questions and Nicholson’s ability to properly portray the life of a man who has given up finding the purpose of existence is why the film grossed $105.8 million on a $30 million budget. It no doubt secures a top spot as one of the best Jack Nicholson movies every movie buff must see.
5. As Good As It Gets (1997)
In this Jack Nicholson movie, the character he plays is a paradox of a man who writes romance novels but hates people. He stars alongside Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear who are two people that have been battered by life and each one helps the other to heal. Hunt’s character gives Kinnear a reason to draw again, Nicholson helps Hunt’s son with the medical care he needs and Kinnear helps the other two find love in each other.
For their performances, Nicholson and Hunt won the Best Actress and Best Actor award at the 1998 Academy awards.
6. Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
This 1985 film is built upon the dealings of mafia families and the politics that come to play in such arrangements. Nicholson plays Charley Partana and stars alongside two women – Angelica Houston who plays Maerose Prizzi and Kathleen Turner, who is Irene Walker. Despite its serious themes of assassination and kidnap, the love triangle between Prizzi, Partana, and Walker is a comedic element and gives the film a wholesome tone. For his performance, Nicholson was nominated for an Academy award but he lost to William Hurt for his role in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
7. Terms of Endearment (1983)
Jack Nicholson mostly played leading characters in his career as an actor but in this film about the relationship between a mother and her daughter he is relegated to the supporting role of Garret Breedlove who is the love interest of Aurora Greenway played by Shirley MacLaine. The film explores the familial and romantic types of relationship and how although they are different expressions of love they share the common denominator of complexities. Nicholson bagged the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.
8. The Bucket List (2007)
This Jack Nicholson movie did not fare well with critics who had mixed feelings about it but its good-natured tone and lesson of living your best life before death resonated with audiences. Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are two men who find themselves in the same hospital room. Both men are terminally ill dying from cancer and they decide to go on a whirlwind adventure. The adventure features locations and events that one part of the duo wanted to do before he died; the list is called a bucket list which is a list of things one would like to do before kicking the bucket. They foster a great friendship on the way and after their deaths which happened at different times tins containing their ashes were placed at a summit on Mount Everest.
9. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Tim Burton directed and produced this parody that featured an ensemble cast which Nicholson was part of and played two characters. Very few parodies are considered as brilliant creations and are believed to require little to no skill from the actors in them. Nicholson played the role of the President and the actions in the film parodied the happenings in films like Independence Day, films that imagined the events that would play out if the earth was invaded by aliens.
Mars Attack is one of Nicholson’s lesser celebrated roles and while critics had mixed reviews about the film, it made a profit of over $30 million in Box office sales.
10. Man Trouble (1992)
In his career of more than six decades, this Jack Nicholson movie is a blotch on the excellence that is associated with the actor.
Man Trouble is a confusing story that follows a dodgy sort of romance between Nicholson’s character and Joan Spruance played by Ellen Barkin. The problem with this film is that Nicholson had previously worked with the director, Bob Rafelson on other projects which turned out brilliant but the two failed to recreate a film as good as the others. Some critics have stated that Nicholson was only cast as a way to harness the fame he had as a brilliant actor and use this film to boost box office sales.
For his performance, Jack Nicholson was nominated for a Razzie which is the award given to the worst films and worst performances in a film.