With 21 Academy Award nominations and three wins (for Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie's Choice and The Iron Lady), Meryl Streep, 71, is the undisputed queen of Hollywood honors; for reference, Jack Nicholson, 84, and Katharine Hepburn are tied for second with a relatively measly 12 nominations apiece. What has always set Streep apart is her incomparable range: She can sing (Into the Woods), she can master complicated accents (A Cry in the Dark), she can make us laugh (Postcards From the Edge), and she can play an elderly male rabbi (Angels in America), the world's worst opera singer (Florence Foster Jenkins) or the American president (in the upcoming Don't Look Up). Trying to pick her best roles is a fool's errand, but these 10 performances show off what we love about her most — a willingness to throw herself completely into any project. If your favorite didn't make the list, tell us about it in the comments below!
10. Donna Sheridan-Carmichael in Mamma Mia! (2008)
Much like the ABBA jukebox stage musical that spawned it, this film is the definition of a crowd-pleaser — even if critics didn't quite know what to make of its decidedly cheesy disco vibes. Nevertheless, audiences instantly warmed to Streep's casually lived-in performance as Donna, a hotel owner on a Greek island. Her bride-to-be daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) spices things up when she invites three men from Donna's past to her wedding to figure out which one is her father. Expect plenty of singing, dancing and flirting under the Aegean sun.
The Most Meryl Moment: After decades of intense roles, there's something immensely joyful about watching Meryl jumping on a bed in overalls as she sings “Dancing Queen” with her best friends and former bandmates, played by Julie Waters, 71, and Christine Baranski, 69.
Awards Attention: Golden Globes (nomination), plus 3 more critics award wins
Watch It: Mamma Mia!, on Peacock
9. Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her (1992)
In this comically macabre cult hit by Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis, 69, Streep and Goldie Hawn, 75, play rivals for the affection of plastic surgeon Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis, 66). When both women drink an elixir to stay eternally youthful, they learn that immortality is no walk in the park, and their undead rivalry yields increasingly grotesque results. The film won the Oscar for best visual effects for its cartoonish body horror, and both actresses are clearly having a hell of a good time in these deliciously vicious roles.
The Most Meryl Moment: Streep revels in over-the-top campiness during a Dynasty-style catfight that leaves her with a broken neck that bounces and twists like Silly Putty.
Awards Attention: Golden Globes (nomination)
Watch It: Death Becomes Her, on HBO Max
8. Linda in The Deer Hunter (1978)
The role that would earn Streep her first Oscar nod didn't immediately catch the future legend's eye — in fact, just the opposite. She called Linda “essentially a man's view of a woman,” marked by passivity and vulnerability, but she took the part to spend more time with her boyfriend, actor John Cazale, who was dying of lung cancer. In this brutal, three-hour Vietnam War epic, Linda stands out as the emotional core, and Streep mines real emotions from the stock “girl back home” character. It's easy to see why best friends Mike (Robert De Niro, 77) and Nick (Christopher Walken, 78) were both smitten with her.
The Most Meryl Moment: When Mike returns from Vietnam, Linda is the only one left at his welcome home party, and her warm and exuberant “Oh, Michael!” conveys so much about their shared history and affection.
Awards Attention: Academy Awards (nomination), BAFTAs (nomination), Golden Globes (nomination), plus wins from the American Movie Awards and the National Society of Film Critics Awards
Watch It: The Deer Hunter, on Peacock
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