Movies Reviews

Best Jack Nicholson Movies, Ranked

Jack Nicholson is considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time. The 85-year-old legend has earned his place in cinema history over a nearly 60-year-long career. He has carried some of the most iconic movies to ever be made including one of the best films based on modern literature, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the amazing Terms of Endearment, as well as having worked with some of the greatest directors to ever exist from Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese. Nicholson has shown over and over again that he can truly do it all.


Updated November 5th, 2022: If you’re a huge fan of the silver screen legend, you’ll be happy to know this list about Jack Nicholson movies has been updated with additional content and films.

The legendary performer is one of only six actors ever to have won three Academy Awards for acting (a list that includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand, Ingrid Bergman, and Walter Brennan). It’s no secret that every time Nicholson plays a part you can expect the utmost truth, authenticity, and excitement in his portrayal. Here are Jack Nicholson’s best performances, ranked.

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11/11 Batman

Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Batman
Warner Bros.

Jack Nicholson delivered an iconic performance as the caped crusader’s famed foe in Tim Burton’s 1989 smash hit Batman, battling it out against Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne as the psychotic villain wreaks havoc on Gotham City. The fan-favorite flick helped establish the modern day superhero film genre and led to a resurgence in popularity for Batman, leading to numerous sequels, spin-offs and reboots.

Related: Michael Keaton’s Return to Batman: Why it Matters

Nicholson added his unique flair to the Joker, nabbing a Golden Globe nomination for his scene-stealing portrayal. He would later express that he was “particularly proud” of his role, stating, “I considered it a piece of pop art.”

10/11 Easy Rider

Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider
Columbia Pictures

Directed by Dennis Hopper and released in July 1969 the film Easy Rider was a very important role for Nicholson. His portrayal of George Hanson marked a monumental moment in his career, earning him his first Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor. Easy Rider became an instant success with its all-star cast from Nicholson to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and has since been regarded as a landmark counterculture film and a “touchstone for a generation.”

9/11 Five Easy Pieces

Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces
Columbia Pictures

Five Easy Pieces is a 1970s drama starring Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and Susan Anspach. The film follows a man attempting to reconnect with his family when he learns his father is extremely ill, but struggles to make his new blue-collar lifestyle merge with his once upper-class existence. With an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, Five Easy Pieces received critical acclaim and five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Nicholson’s second nomination (this time in the category of Best Actor for his role as Robert Dupea).

8/11 Prizzi’s Honor

Jack Nicholson & Kathleen Turner in Prizzi's Honor
20th Century Fox

In lauded director John Huston’s 1985 crime black comedy Prizzi’s Honor, Nicholson stars alongside the great Kathleen Turner, with the duo portraying two dangerous mob assassins who fall in love despite being hired to eliminate one another. Nicholson won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his performance as the wise-talking New York hitman Charley Partanna, and the film was also nominated for a whopping eight Academy Awards.

In his glowing review of the black comedy, Roger Ebert declared, “This is the most bizarre comedy in many a month, a movie so dark, so cynical and so funny that perhaps only Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner could have kept straight faces during the love scenes.”

7/11 Chinatown

Jack Nicholson & Faye Dunaway in Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

The crime mystery Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski, is one of Nicholson’s most iconic and successful movies. In a brilliant 70s neo-noir film filled with passion, mystery, and murder Nicholson and Faye Dunaway shine as J.J. ‘Jake’ Gittes and Evelyn Cross Mulwary. The film has a nearly perfect critics score on Rotten Tomatoes coming in at 99%, and is on almost every critic’s list of the greatest movies of all time. Chinatown is a classic and a movie that will be enjoyed for years and years to come.

6/11 The Departed

Jack Nicholson & Matt Damon in The Departed
Plan B Entertainment

The Departed is the result of one of the greatest directors of all time collaborating with some of the greatest actors of all time. Every minute of this movie is wildly entertaining and engaging. The Departed is a story of crime, love, and family unraveling in a big city, everything director Martin Scorsese portrays best. Jack Nicholson stars alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon in the two-hour and thirty-minute film that won the great Martin Scorsese his first Academy Award for Best Director and took home the Oscar for Best Picture in 2007.

5/11 The Shining

Jack Nicholson in The Shining
Universal Pictures

Arguably Jack Nicholson’s most iconic performance of all time is in Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film The Shining. Based on the eponymous Stephen King novel, this movie follows Jack Torrance (Nicholson), a family man who moves his wife and son to Colorado with him for the winter while he watches over the Overlook Hotel.

Related: The Shining: Explaining the Many Fan Theories and Analysis

The hotel’s haunted past doesn’t seem to bother Jack at first, but as time goes on, it becomes clear that something sinister is happening within the walls of the hotel that eventually leads Jack to become mad. Nicholson’s performance in this film is legendary and Stanley Kubrick’s direction is brilliant, which makes the film’s zero Oscar nominations one of the biggest Oscar snubs of all time.

4/11 A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men
Columbia Pictures

Nicholson has no short of iconic movie quotes including “Here’s Jonny!” from The Shining and “I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this” from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but perhaps the actor’s most famous quote of them all is “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men. Nicholson’s performance in the 1992 legal drama is the most memorable aspect of the film in which he stars alongside Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. The film is definitely a must-watch.

3/11 As Good As It Gets

Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear in As Good As It Gets
Sony Pictures Releasing

Love, anger, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are what make up the romance/drama As Good As It Gets. Jack Nicholson’s character Melvin Udall is an angry writer living in Manhattan and suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Despite the fact that he doesn’t really like anyone, he takes a liking to his waitress played by Helen Hunt, with whom he ends up developing a deep connection with as she helps slowly change Melvin for the better. Nicholson and Hunt won the Academy Awards in 1998 for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively, for their performances in As Good As It Gets.

2/11 Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment
Paramount Pictures

The dramedy Terms of Endearment, directed by James L. Brooks and released in November 1983, won Jack Nicholson his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in addition to being nominated for and winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. This film covers the relationship between a mother and daughter (Shirley MacLaine & Debra Winger) over the span of 30 years, with Nicholson appearing as a retired astronaut and love interest to MacLaine’s character; the drama remains one of the actor’s most successful and notable movies.

1/11 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Jack Nicholson in The One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
United Artists

Coming in at number one on the list of the best Jack Nicholson performances is his most beloved and iconic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nicholson is magic in this film and his portrayal of Randle Patrick McMurphy is legendary. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of only three films to win the top five awards at the Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay), and his is one of the most deserved Best Actor wins of all time, especially considering how nearly 47 years after the film’s initial release viewers are still praising his performance. Nicholson is an actor who you can watch over and over again on screen and still be surprised by the choices he makes each time.

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