How Is It Possible That Glenn Close Hasn’t Won an Oscar?
We present her 10 best film roles, ranked, as evidence that she is a true legend
On March 19, Glenn Close turns 75, and the Tony- and Emmy-winning legend is still doing some of the best acting of her career. Since 2020, she has picked up an Oscar nomination for playing the fiercely protective Mamaw in Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy and starred in the addiction drama Four Good Days and the sci-fi film Swan Song. Hillbilly Elegy brought Close her eighth Oscar nomination, an impressive feat that also gave her a somewhat dubious honor: She’s now tied with Peter O’Toole as the most-nominated actor without a win. Looking back on her illustrious career — in which she’s played everyone from kids’ movie villains to cunning lawyers, activist trailblazers to unhinged stalkers — you might be surprised that her mantel isn’t crowded with Academy Awards. Here, 10 of Close’s finest performances, ranked from number 10 to number 1, and be sure to sound off in the comments if we’ve missed any of your favorites.
10. Serving in Silence: The Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer Story (1995)
The role: Close picked up her first Emmy for this Peabody Award–winning TV movie based on the true story of a Washington National Guard colonel who is honorably discharged when she reveals that she’s a lesbian. The highest-ranking officer to be discharged because of her sexual orientation, Cammermeyer filed a lawsuit and became a gay rights activist, resulting in a district court judge ruling the gay military ban unconstitutional. Late in the film, Cammermeyer shares a kiss with her partner, Diane (Judy Davis, 66), an envelope-pushing move for network television nearly 30 years ago.
Awards attention: Won the Emmy Award for best actress
Watch it: Serving in Silence: The Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer Story, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
9. The Paper (1994)
The role: Ron Howard and Glenn Close would later team back up for the polarizing Hillbilly Elegy, but they first collaborated on this highly underrated workplace comedy about the inner workings of a fictional tabloid newspaper called The New York Sun. It has the fast-paced, whip-smart vibe of a latter-day His Girl Friday, with Close stealing scenes as the newspaper’s unscrupulous managing editor, Alicia Clark, who New York Times critic Janet Maslin said “[spiced] up the film considerably.” She wrote, “Played devilishly by Ms. Close and cut from a flashier cloth than her coworkers, Alicia is one of the few characters here who warrant more screen time than they get.” The film, while well liked by the critics, received only one Oscar nomination, for the Randy Newman song “Make Up Your Mind.”
Awards attention: None
Watch it: The Paper, on Amazon Prime, YouTube
8. The Big Chill (1983)
The role: The year 1984 was a big one for Close, who won her first of three Tonys for The Real Thing and was nominated for both an Emmy for Something About Amelia and an Oscar for The Big Chill. The generation-defining dramedy, in which a group of college classmates reunite after 15 years for their friend’s funeral, is perhaps remembered best for its kitchen-cleaning dance scene, set to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Close starred as the maternal doctor and hostess, Sarah Cooper, and she was the only member of the ensemble to earn an Oscar nomination. She recently told Entertainment Weekly that she credits one particular scene for that decision: “I think my crying-in-the-shower scene had something to do with it. Hollywood loves to see naked. Naked or dead.”
Awards attention: Nominated for the Academy Award for best supporting actress (lost to Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously)
Watch it: The Big Chill, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube
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7. The World According to Garp (1982)
The role: After earning raves on Broadway for her Tony-nominated role in the musical Barnum, Close made her big-screen debut in this adaptation of the 1978 John Irving novel. She stars as Jenny Fields, a World War II nurse turned feminist writer and the single mother of Garp — who was played by Robin Williams, despite being only four years her junior. “As for Miss Close, she performs miracles with the toughest of the story’s many difficult roles,” wrote Janet Maslin in The New York Times. “Garp’s mother, an entertaining but largely unbelievable caricature in the novel, becomes a full-blooded woman here without losing one bit of her crazy conviction.”
Awards attention: Nominated for the Academy Award for best supporting actress (lost to Jessica Lange in Tootsie)
Watch it: The World According to Garp, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube
6. Albert Nobbs (2011)
The role: Close earned her first Oscar nomination in 23 years for her title role as the 19th-century Dublin hotel butler Albert Nobbs, who isn’t as he seems: He’s actually a woman who has lived and worked as a man for decades to ensure economic security. The movie was based on a George Moore novella that may have been inspired by a real person and was later adapted into a play, for which Close won the Obie Award for best actress in 1982. She spent almost 30 years trying to get Albert’s story onto the big screen, and it certainly paid off. Roger Ebert called it “one of the saddest movies I have ever seen,” writing, “This is such a brave performance by Glenn Close, who in making Albert so real, makes the character as pathetic and unlikable as she must have been in life. … Close never steps wrong, never breaks reality. My heart went out to Albert Nobbs, the depth of whose fears are unimaginable.”
Awards attention: Nominated for the Academy Award for best actress (lost to Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady)
Watch it: Albert Nobbs, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube
5. 101 Dalmatians (1996)
The role: Years before Disney got into its live-action-remake frenzy, the studio released this beloved adaptation of its 1961 animated classic, with Close starring as a ferociously funny Cruella de Vil. The performance was the definition of camp, complete with a signature black-and-white hairdo and costumes by three-time Oscar winner Anthony Powell, who convinced her to take the role when he was working with her on Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard. Close is clearly having a hell of a time channeling one of the all-time baddies. “I think Cruella basically has no redeeming human characteristics,” Close told the AP at the time. “Except she does have a sense of humor, albeit wicked. She’s a great character. She’s gleeful in her evilness, and there’s something very engaging about that.”
Awards attention: Nominated for the Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy (lost to Madonna in Evita)
Watch it: 101 Dalmatians, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney+, YouTube
4. The Wife (2017)
The role: A narrative has developed in the past few years of Close as the ultimate Oscars also-ran — the Susan Lucci of the big screen — and she finally seemed poised to eke out a victory for this emotionally resonant role. Close stars as Joan Archer, the dutiful wife of a celebrated author (Jonathan Pryce, 74) who has just been announced as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. But it turns out that she may have had a bigger role in the writing of his novels than anyone (even their kids) knows. In a fun twist, Close’s own daughter, Annie Starke, plays Joan in flashbacks, and while Close ultimately lost the Oscar, she did pick up a Golden Globe, an Independent Spirit Award, a SAG Award and many other accolades.
Awards attention: Nominated for the Academy Award for best actress (lost to Olivia Colman in The Favourite)
Watch it: The Wife, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu, YouTube
3. Damages (2007–12)
The role: Years before film actresses like Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet and Nicole Kidman began dipping their toes into prestige TV, Glenn Close blazed a trail with her roles in the cop drama The Shield (for which she received an Emmy nod) and this legal thriller, in which she played the ruthless New York litigator Patty Hewes. Even more compelling than the cases she pursued was her mentor-protégée relationship with recent law school grad Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), and David Hinckley of the New York Daily News referred to Patty as “the new J.R. Ewing — someone who’s rich, powerful, unscrupulous, conniving and charismatic.” In an era of TV antiheroes that included Tony Soprano and Walter White, Patty reigned as queen.
Awards attention: Won two Emmys and a Golden Globe for best actress in a drama
Watch it: Damages, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu, YouTube
2. Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
The role: In this deliciously witty period drama, based on a 1985 play that’s itself based on a 1782 novel, Close plays the calculating Marquise de Merteuil, who has a bad habit of moving her friends and enemies around like chess pieces. When she’s jilted by the Comte de Bastide, she teams up with her equally devious ex, the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich, 68), to seduce and shame the Comte’s new virgin fiancée, Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman, 51). Pauline Kael, of The New Yorker, wrote of the Marquise: “She’s a power-hungry, castrating female as conceived by an 18th-century male writer. She’s also a great character, in the way that Richard III is great. She’s polished in her savagery, and the straight-backed Glenn Close, looking matriarchal and pure (even her teeth are perfect), gives a smooth performance that is by far her best work onscreen.”
Awards attention: Nominated for the Academy Award for best actress (lost to Jodie Foster in The Accused)
Watch it: Dangerous Liaisons, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max, YouTube
1. Fatal Attraction (1987)
The role: No one has been able to look at a pet rabbit the same way again since this prototypical ’80s erotic thriller, in which Close stars as bunnycidal stalker Alex Forrest, who becomes obsessed with a lover (Michael Douglas, 77) after their brief fling. She had some memorably sinister one-liners (“I’m not going to be ignored, Dan!”) and struck fear in the hearts of a generation of men. Close has since revealed that she was displeased with the film’s ending — it was reshot so that Alex died at the hands of Dan’s wife and not by suicide — but Forrest is still the actress’ most indelible cinematic creation. The character even appeared at number 7 on the American Film Institute’s list of the best villains in movie history. And just think: She didn’t even need a broomstick or a lightsaber to land a spot in the top 10.
Awards attention: Nominated for the Academy Award for best actress (lost to Cher in Moonstruck)
Watch it: Fatal Attraction, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max, YouTube
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.