This list of the ten best Jack Nicholson movies is a testament to the fact that the man has been in quite a few really, really good films. Nicholson is a true Hollywood icon and here we pay tribute to the best of his oeuvre.
- “Chinatown.” “Chinatown” is not only one of the best Jack Nicholson movies, it is one of the best movies of all time. The crowning achievement of controversial director Roman Polanski, it chronicles the dirty, crime-ridden rise of Los Angeles. Nicholson is at the top of his game as the movie’s protagonist, Jake Gittes.
- “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” This movie based on the novel of the same name exposed some of the abuses of the mental health system in the United States. It also provided a platform for one of Nicholson’s most memorable performances. In it, he stars as Randle Patrick McMurphy, a small-time crook faking mental illness to avoid prison time. Instead, he finds a horror worse than prison.
- “Easy Rider.” Nicholson had a smaller role in this movie than some of his others, but he was nonetheless still memorable as ill-fated ACLU lawyer George Hanson. Like McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Hanson is an affable character who meets an unfortunate fate.
- “The Shining.” Without a doubt, Nicholson’s most frightening performance was as troubled writer Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” Few actors could have pulled off the sheer amount of crazy that made this horror movie so memorable.
- "About Schmidt." As Nicholson has aged, he hasn’t lost his acting chops. Case in point: his fantastic performance in “About Schmidt,” in which he plays a retiree undergoing an existential crisis. It’s a sad and beautiful movie and it hinges on Jack Nicholson’s great performance.
- "The Crossing Guard." One of the most emotionally devastating movies to star Jack Nicholson, this film written and directed by Sean Penn also features one of Nicholson’s best performances. In it, Nicholson plays a man tormented by the death of his daughter and seeking revenge on the drunk driver who killed her.
- "The King of Marvin Gardens." Atlantic City is kind of a depressing place and “The King of Marvin Gardens” highlights that fact with this hard-luck story about a Philadelphia radio man visiting his chronic screw-up of a brother in New Jersey’s answer to Las Vegas. Even amongst the dregs of New Jersey, though, Nicholson’s performance still shines.
- "Five Easy Pieces." This film from 1970 features Nicholson as an oil rig worker who returns home to see his dying mother. It may not be as well known as some of the previous movies on this list, but it is still one of the best Jack Nicholson movies ever made.
- "The Departed." This film marked a return to form by auteur director Martin Scorsese, and features Jack Nicholson among a cast of other tremendously talented actors. It may have been a remake of a Hong Kong film (the 2002 movie “Infernal Affairs”) but with actors like Nicholson, it easily eclipsed its source material.
- "The Pledge." Another film by actor and activist Sean Penn, "The Pledge" deals with many of the same themes as “The Crossing Guard.” As such, it is every bit as emotionally devastating as its predecessor and probably even more so. It is an overlooked and underrated gem, and one of the best Jack Nicholson movies.
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