Meryl Streep’s Best Roles: Top 5

Who doesn’t love Meryl Streep? Apart from Donald Trump of course, but nobody counts him right? Arguably seen as one of the planet’s greatest actresses, she’s had a diverse career that has spanned decades.

From musicals to political dramas, there is no genre this talented lady can’t excel in, and this is what we’re celebrating with our latest top 5. These are our picks for Meryl Streep’s best performances and a countdown of her top 5 roles ever! Without further ado, let’s begin, but will any of your favourites make the cut?

5. Donna Sheridan: Mamma Mia

5: Donna Sheridan

5: Donna Sheridan

The Film: Mamma Mia was released in 2008 to a hugely mixed critical reception. There were numerous parts of this cheese-fest that critics loved and loathed in equal measure, from the glistening Greek scenery to Pierce Brosnan’s buffaloesque vocal performance, it divided everyone.

However, audiences loved it and as such it became, as of 2013, the sixth highest grossing film ever in the United Kingdom, as well being the fifth highest grossing film of 2008 worldwide. Featuring the numerous hits of ABBA, it transported viewers into the world of Donna Sheridan (Streep) as she tried her best to run an authentic Greek hotel with the help of her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried).

The Role: The public had always known Streep was one of the most versatile actresses around, but I doubt anyone was expecting her turn in Mamma Mia. With a powerful vocal performance mixed in with Streep’s trademark emotional investment in her characters, it meant that Donna was brought to life on screen better than her stage counterpart.

This performance catapulted Meryl onto the radars of comedic directors and she has since starred in many films within the romantic comedy genre. A loud and powerful performance means a well-deserved 5th placing here.

4. Gail: The River Wild

4: Gail

4: Gail

The Film: The River Wild was a relatively unknown film when it was released back in 1994. A year after films like Jurassic Park and Mrs. Doubtfire stormed the global box office, 1994 became slightly sleepier with fewer blockbusters. The Lion King and Forrest Gump were the two films which stole the box office, earning over $1bn between them.

This seemingly forgotten action thriller stars Meryl Streep, David Strathairn, Kevin Bacon and Joseph Mazzello and follows a US suburban family on an adventure. Naturally things don’t go to plan and the family is soon caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a group of armed robbers.

The Role: Meryl Streep’s performance here is as forgotten as the film in which it resides, and that is a huge shame as she really gets into the ‘action heroine’ role. As with Mamma Mia at number 5, this was one of the first films Streep starred in that required her to do numerous action sequences, including those involving water.

Her acting credentials by 1994 were already sky high after performances in Sophie’s Choice and Kramer vs Kramer, for which she received an Academy Award, but for me, it is her role here which really stood out and showed that she is an exceptional and perhaps more importantly, versatile performer.

3. Eleanor Shaw: The Manchurian Candidate

3: Eleanor Shaw

3: Eleanor Shaw

The Film: I’m not a huge fan of remakes, especially those of positively received films, they have a tendency to lack the sparkle of their predecessor, whilst still managing to suck audiences in with the promise of a movie that will in some way improve on the original.

The 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate however is an exception to that rule. Filled with sublime performances from the likes of Meryl Streep, Movie Metropolis favourite Denzel Washington and veteran thespian Jon Voight, it managed to encapsulate everything about the 1962 original whilst adding in today’s technological advances and star quality.

The film follows Liev Schreiber’s character Raymond Shaw, a soldier returning from duty who believes he has been brainwashed by a sinister group of people who are desperate to stop him from finding out secret information. Tantalising stuff.

The Role: Streep’s Senator Eleanor Shaw is a cold-hearted, foul-mouthed woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She regularly puts herself above her own family and is a mad politician in every sense of the word.

Meryl’s blistering portrayal here earned her huge praise from many critics who said that her character “loves being evil as much as Streep loves acting.” The San Francisco Chronicle went as far as saying that Streep was the highlight of a film filled with great performances and that she was “a pleasure to watch – and to marvel at – every second she’s on screen”.

You can’t get much higher praise than that. If you haven’t seen The Manchurian Candidate, I urge you to; it is superb and Streep’s performance is well worth the bronze medal this fortnight.

2. Miranda Priestly: The Devil Wears Prada

2: Miranda Priestly

2: Miranda Priestly

The Film: The Devil Wears Prada was a surprise hit in the crowded summer of 2006. Directed by David Frankel (Marley & Me, One Chance) and starring Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci, it grossed over $320m worldwide on a tiny budget of $35m.

The film follows Anne Hathaway’s character Andy Sax as she tries to make it in the cut-throat journalism industry. After being rejected from numerous jobs, she finally lands a dream career at fashion magazine Runway, run by the excruciatingly vicious editor Miranda Priestly (Streep).

After release, The Devil Wears Prada was severely criticised for its likeness to Vogue and then editor Anna Wintour who publicly lambasted the film. She has since reversed her feelings and claimed Streep’s performance was breathtakingly brutal, even if the comparisons to her were not so favourable.

The Role: The role of Miranda Priestly was no mean feat to take on. In Lauren Weisberger’s uninspiring novel of the same name, the character was cool, calm and collected even when faced with a tight deadline, yet she was feared by her staff because of her evil stare, quiet determination and tendency to sack employees on the spot.

Finding an actress to fit the bill was difficult for director David Frankel and his large team of writers. Early rumoured casting calls included Sigourney Weaver and Sharon Stone, but the role eventually went to veteran actress Meryl Streep.

Streep immediately got into character, with co-star Emily Blunt saying that she always remained in character, even when filming had concluded. She had a real connection with the character of Miranda and this shines on screen.

The snarling demeanour of the character was brought to life, lifted up off the pages of Weisberger’s novel and given room to breathe, thanks to Streep’s fascinating interpretation that truly is a joy to watch. The Devil Wears Prada may have been a surprise hit of the summer, but for people going to watch the film, they will have been in no doubt that Meryl was the number one choice to play a character you just loathe to love.

1. Margaret Thatcher: The Iron Lady

1: Margaret Thatcher

1: Margaret Thatcher

The Film: It’s well documented that the easiest way to win an Oscar is to take on the part of a famous figure, a controversial one if at all possible. Whilst searching for an actress to play the role of Margaret Thatcher, who was one of the most divisive politicians in British history, director Phyllida Lloyd needed someone who would connect well with the audience, and also maintain the controversial element of that character. Meryl Streep eventually took on the role and went on to win her third Oscar.

The Iron Lady was released in January 2012 and was generally met with a positive critical response, though many critics and viewers thought it only focused on the positive aspects of the ex-prime minister’s reign when in fact she was met with just as much negativity whilst in power. Despite this, it grossed over $100m worldwide on a budget of just $14m with word of mouth proving to be its biggest asset.

With powerhouse performances from Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent and Olivia Colman, it is a film worth watching just for the performances, no matter what your thoughts on the ex-prime minister.

The Role: News broke of Streep’s involvement in the film early in the pre-production phase and many were disappointed that an American actress was chosen to play a role so quintessentially British. After all, Baroness Thatcher was the United Kingdom’s first female prime minister and will go down in the history books for her dismissive and ruthless attitude.

However, after the film was released, all preconceptions of Streep’s credibility for the role were altered. She encapsulated the mannerisms and the distinctive voice of Thatcher like no other actress could, and watching the film felt like you were submerged in Thatcher’s world, past and present, with a performance from Meryl which fully deserved an Oscar win.

The film may divide opinion as much as its central character, but the performance from Streep here is one of a kind, and therefore fully warrants the gold medal in this fortnight’s MM Top 5.

Honourable Mentions

Sophie Zawistowska – Sophie’s Choice, Dir: Alan J Pakula

Linda – The Deer Hunter, Dir: Michael Cimino

Joanna Kramer – Kramer vs Kramer, Dir: Robert Benton

Julia Child – Julie & Julia, Dir: Nora Ephron

Madeline Ashton – Death Becomes Her, Dir: Robert Zemeckis

Which do you think was best, or perhaps none of those float your boat? Vote in our fortnightly poll and share your views in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

13 thoughts on “Meryl Streep’s Best Roles: Top 5

  1. Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia – No.1 in the Top One of Worst Singing Performance of a Female in a Leading Role. That film is used to torture suspected terrorists in the US, so I’m told anyway.

    Not even an honourable mention for Death Becomes Her – surely that’s where she first demonstrated her range at being able to do comedy too?

    • Thanks for your comment, although I’m not sure if that information is 100% accurate Matt, though I’ll definitely look into it!

      You’re completely right about Death Becomes Her though, that should be in the ‘Honourable Mention’ list, which has now been updated!

      • Of course it’s accurate Adam, I came up with that fact and whatever I say is true. If there was an Oscar for bad singing she would have won (maybe second after Pierce Brosnan)

  2. I probably would have had the Deer Hunter in place of Mamma Mia as I find it an absolutely ridiculous film and I actually don’t think she shines it it at all. Miranda is my absolutely favourite Meryl character. She’s terrifying! Loads of great info again 🙂 love the clips xxx

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  8. I love this! However, I would have personally added Out Of Africa in there. To me, that is her best film. Ever!!

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