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Best Scarlett Johansson Movies

Few film actors this century have enjoyed more critical and commercial success than Scarlett Johansson. After learning her craft as a child actor, she rose to prominence in the early 2000s with indie darlings such as Ghost World and Girl with a Pearl Earring, before cementing her star status with the Oscar nominated Lost in Translation. From there she began to alternate indie hits such as Match Point and In Good Company with forays into big budget filmmaking like Michael Bay's The Island and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige. As her international box office appeal grew, she got in on the ground floor of the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe, landing the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and going on to play the popular character in eight smash hits and counting.

Perhaps most importantly, a survey of Johansson's films on Rotten Tomatoes reveals the sheer number of good movies she's been in — films that are not just financially successful, but that are well-loved by both critics and audiences and have stood the test of time. As fans wait for the much-anticipated Black Widow to (hopefully) drop in 2021, we rank Scarlett Johansson's best movies, starting at the top.

Lost in Translation found universal acclaim

Still Johansson's best-reviewed film (95% on the TomatoMeter), this character study was hailed as a revelation upon its release in 2003, both for its leading performance by Bill Murray and for Sofia Coppola's stylish and elegant direction. But it's Johansson's performance that gives the movie the profound sense of existential ennui that Coppola seems to always try to evoke in her films. Johansson plays Charlotte, a recent college graduate visiting Tokyo. Though newly married, Charlotte feels adrift in her life and uncertain about her future. She befriends Bob (Murray), a fading actor now slumming his way through Japanese whiskey commercials, who feels similarly lost as he flounders through middle age. The two keep each other company for a few days in Tokyo, forming a deep bond over their sense of alienation.

The film landed Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Screenplay for Coppola, and Best Actor for Murray — though scandalously none for Johansson — and was acclaimed as an instant classic by critics. Terry Lawson of The Detroit Press summed up the general appeal, writing, "There is real magic afoot in Lost in Translation — the sort that is created not at the wave of a wizard's wand, but by the coming together of two wayward souls."

Avengers: Endgame was a rousing farewell

One of the best reviewed MCU films is also the second best review of Johansson's film career, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes — the film checks in at 94% with critics, second only to Black Panther at 96%. Though Johansson's character, Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow), appears in the first half of the conclusion to the mighty saga, Avengers: Infinity War, she has little to do in just five minutes of screen time. Endgame, however, gives her a emotionally satisfying hero sendoff, a big set piece in which she gets to be noble and sacrificial as she (spoiler) departs the MCU. But the cosmic dust had barely settled on Endgame before Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige announced the Black Widow standalone movie in July 2019.

Johansson had long clamored for a Black Widow standalone movie while doing her supporting duty in numerous male-led Marvel films, so it's ironic that she got a prequel after her character's death — though certainly better late than never for her legions of fans. The actor is also pushing for an all-female Marvel movie, so perhaps she will be the one to usher in a new generation of female heroes at some point.

Her gave Scarlett one of her most unique roles

Though this article focuses primarily on Johansson's live action work, the actor has also lent her voice to a number of prominent films, including The Jungle Book, Isle of Dogs, and Sing! Though she enlivened animated animals in each of those films, her most acclaimed voiceover work to date came as the operating system in Her, written and directed by Spike Jonze. The near-future sci-fi film, which won an Oscar for Jonze' original screenplay (it was also nominated for Best Picture), chronicles the romantic misadventures of the sad-sack Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who falls in love with the artificially intelligent virtual assistant "Samantha."

No higher praise can be given to Johansson's performance than to say it is easy to see why Theodore falls for her, even though she has no corporeal form. Samantha's soulful personality, humor, empathy, curiosity, intelligence, and sex appeal all comes through Johansson's voice performance. Samantha also conveys a certain wistfulness about experience that feels all too human. Of course, she's not human, and (spoiler) eventually she achieves the singularity — when an AI becomes sentient and moves far beyond human abilities and restrictions. Critics were charmed and dazzled by Jonze's vision, with Empire magazine declaring, "Jonze has made a sweet, smart, silly, serious film for our times, only set in the future."

Marriage Story told a devastating tale

2019 was arguably the best year of Scar-Jo's stellar career thus far. She triumphed with Endgame; Marvel announced her Black Widow solo movie; and she earned her first two Oscar nominations — a Best Supporting Actress nod for Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit, and Best Actress for Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach's searing portrayal of divorce. Johansson plays Nicole, a former teen star married to Charlie, a theater director played by Adam Driver (also Oscar-nominated). When she wants to move to L.A. to continue her career and he wants to stay in New York, their already troubled union begins to slide towards dissolution. Determining custody arrangements of their young child further contributes to the emotional devastation of their split.

Baumbach has said that the film is quasi-autobiographical, partially based on his divorce from actor Jennifer Jason Leigh, and despite telling the movie from both points of view, Baumbach's sympathies clearly lay with Charlie. It's a credit to Johansson that, despite this, she brings an enormous amount of sympathy to Nicole. Critics raved about the film and the performances. Moira MacDonald of The Seattle Times summed up the prevailing view, writing, "Johansson and Driver are remarkably, heartbreakingly good in every scene."

Ghost World captured the spirit of teen angst

Ghost World was an early critical success for Johansson and an important transition from her career as a child actor. Though she was still only a teenager during production, the 2001 movie, co-written and directed by Terry Zwigoff of Crumb fame, is a mature and serious work about two young women facing an uncertain world after high school graduation. For Johansson, Ghost World – adapted from Daniel Clowes' comic book series Eightball — was also her first foray into a genre that would catapult her into the top (and highest-paid) ranks of international stardom. 

The movie stars Thora Birch as Enid, a classic Generation X character: ironic, lost, and darkly cynical. Johansson plays her close friend, Rebecca, who is a little more tethered to the world, and with whom Enid has an eventual falling out. Ghost World was not popular with audiences, but it was widely praised by critics, who appreciated its emotional honesty and its unsparing depiction of adolescent angst. As Roger Ebert wrote, "I wanted to hug this movie. It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong. It creates specific, original, believable, lovable characters, and meanders with them through their inconsolable days, never losing its sense of humor."

The Avengers won it all for Marvel

The culmination of Phase One of the MCU, The Avengers proved that these characters were a global phenomenon. The movie grossed more than 1.5 billion dollars and was beloved by both audiences and critics, with a certified fresh score of 91% on the Tomatometer. With almost 25 minutes of screentime, Johansson's Black Widow is the third most featured character in The Avengers, after Iron Man and Captain America. If her role in this movie isn't quite as dramatically juicy as the one she gets in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the character still gets plenty of exciting hero moments, especially in the movie's extended climax as the Avengers save New York (and the world) from Thor's brother Loki and his legions of disposable henchmen.

While critics lauded the movie's action and special effects, they were equally impressed by the writing and acting. In his review of the film, Christopher Orr of The Atlantic wrote that Johansson's Black Widow is "far more interesting than she was in Iron Man 2," and that the cast in general "is excellent down the line, and plays well together, even — perhaps especially — when their characters don't."

Captain America: The Winter Soldier got fans fired up

The 2014 Captain America sequel, The Winter Soldier, was something of a welcome departure for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phase 2 of the MCU had gotten off to a bit of a rocky start with the successful but uninspired Iron Man 3 and the middling Thor: The Dark World. Both films had been hits, but it was clear the MCU needed a fresh approach. The Winter Soldier delivered by fusing the superhero material with elements of the spy/conspiracy thriller genre so popular in the 1970s in movies such as The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor — Robert Redford, of the latter film, even co-starred in The Winter Soldier. Critics were impressed with the crackerjack action setpieces and a thoughtful story about the price of freedom and "security" in the age of surveillance.

As Black Widow is the primary Avenger featured alongside Captain America in the film, Johansson benefited from the film's acclaim, and was subsequently prominently featured, for better or worse, in Avengers: Age of Ultron. But while that film's reputation has diminished, The Winter Soldier has emerged as something of a classic over the last few years, with Johansson a big part of its continuing appeal.

Chef was eaten up by critics

Johansson reunites with her Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau in his 2014 passion project about a middle-aged chef trying to reignite his creative spirit. Favreau plays the chef, Carl Casper, and Johansson is Molly, the hostess at the restaurant he has worked at for 10 years before having a very public mid-life crisis meltdown. Favreau and Johansson have an easy chemistry in the film — they clearly work well together, and he would also cast her as in his 2016 remake of The Jungle Book. The movie is as stuffed with stars as it is with delectable dishes, including Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, and Robert Downey Jr., but Johansson, as she so often does, manages to make an impression in just a few scenes. Her character is as appealing as any of the cuisine on display, no small feat in a movie that is guaranteed to have you ordering up Uber Eats while you watch it.

Critics were mostly charmed by the light comedy — which sits at 87% on the Tomatometer — praising the cast, soundtrack, and the "food porn." Writing in Little White Lies, Chris Blohm called the movie, "A sassy and mouth-watering concoction, bursting with flavour."

Hail, Caesar! shows off Scarlett's sultry side

Given her comic talents, and her natural fit as a sultry femme fatale-type in post-war Los Angeles (see her work in The Black Dahlia), Johansson was a no-brainer to join the all-star cast — George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Frances McDormand — of this Coen Brothers comedy set in 1950s Hollywood. She plays an Esther Williams-type who performs in the synchronized swimming routines that were popular at the time. When her unplanned pregnancy threatens her career and the studio's bottom line, a studio fixer played by Josh Brolin is tasked with covering it up.

Critics liked the movie (though audiences not so much), praising the Coen Brothers' playful spirit and the performances. One critic said that Johansson is always good playing "a brassy dame." The Guardian's Mark Kermode wrote of the film as a whole, "It's utterly chaotic and ridiculously indulgent, and it would amount to intolerable cruelty were Hail, Caesar! not so consistently, uproariously, affectionately funny."

Under the Skin was Scarlett at her creepiest

More than most of her peers, Johansson has carved out a niche in the science fiction genre. In addition to her many appearances in the MCU, the actor has also headlined Her, Michael Bay's futuristic The Island, the surprise global hit Lucy, and the controversial live action version of Ghost in the Shell. But while Under the Skin is sci-fi, the indie film has little else in common with those big budget commercial affairs. The product of guerrilla filmmaking, the production surrounded Johansson with inexperienced performers and captured much of its unscripted footage with hidden cameras. The movie is light on special effects and action in favor of a detached, cerebral story about an alien played by Johansson who hunts men — submerging them in some kind of otherworldly black liquid — until she develops empathy with humans and decides to abandon her predatory ways. In the role of a predator, the alien has power over men; however, as soon as she identifies more traditionally as a human female, she becomes prey.

Although not popular with general audiences, the 2013 film found favor with critics (at 84% on the Tomatometer) and scholars who appreciated the film's haunting imagery and who read it as a feminist allegory about gender inequality. It also showed Johansson's continued desire to take on challenging roles outside of the usual blockbusters. 

Jojo Rabbit broke our hearts

One of the hallmarks of Johansson's impressive career thus far is the number of top flight directors she has worked with, including Christopher Nolan, the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Sofia Coppola, Noah Baumbach, and Wes Anderson, among others. Add to that growing list the Kiwi director Taika Waititi, whose own star has taken off over the last few years. (Waititi and Johnson are both MCU alumni as well, with Waititi having directed Thor: Ragnarok.) Jojo Rabbit, directed and written by Waititi — he won an Oscar for his adapted screenplay — tells the story of Jojo, a member of the Hitler Youth who discovers that his mother Rosie (Johansson) is secretly anti-Nazi, and is hiding a teenage Jewish girl in his late sister's bedroom.

The 80 percent fresh rating on the Tomatometer shows that critics generally liked the movie, praising its humor, charm, and anti-hate message. As with most comic takes on Hitler and Nazis (see Life is Beautiful), Jojo Rabbit generated its share of controversy, with Joanne Laurier writing that the movie "inadvertently or not trivializes Nazism and turns people away from a study of the concrete historical processes that produced such horrific carnage."

Match Point kicked off a divisive trio of films

Match Point, released in 2005, was the first of Johansson's three films with writer/director Woody Allen, preceding the dismal Scoop and the much-better-received Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Johansson plays Nola, an American who begins an affair with a retired Irish tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who has upper-crust ambitions. Without giving away the twists and turns, Match Point unpacks a scenario of infidelity and murder that examines the lengths to which some people will go to protect their wealth and status. It was well-reviewed (it currently sits at 77% on the Tomatometer), did well at the box office for a Woody Allen movie, and earned Allen's screenplay an Oscar nomination.

Johansson's films with Allen might have been a footnote in a long and prodigious career, but controversy surrounding her work with the director continues. Unlike other actors, such as Kate Winslet, she has not rebuked Allen for the sexual abuse charges against him; nor has she publicly condemned him, telling The Hollywood Reporter in 2019, "I love Woody. I believe him, and I would work with him anytime." Whether HBO's recent documentary, Allen vs. Farrow, or any other new evidence that comes to light changes her stance remains to be seen.

The Prestige played tricks with your mind

Johansson followed up the success of Match Point with the role of Olivia Wenscombe in The Prestige, Christopher Nolan's well-received follow-up to Batman Begins, which — like several of Nolan's early films — has become something of a cult classic. Olivia is both assistant and lover to rival magicians played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale who vie for the mantle of top stage magician in 1890s London. If critics were less than impressed by the film's somewhat confusing narrative (a persistent critique of Nolan, it would turn out), they reveled in the film's production design and Nolan's richly atmospheric evocation of Edwardian England.

Despite generous screen time, Johansson doesn't have much of consequence to do in a film that's obsessed with the pride and rage of its male protagonists. Still, having acquired period bona fides in movies such as Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Black Dahlia, she looks right at home in the costumes and hairstyles of the era. Some viewers were less than impressed with her English accent, but even that has been ascribed as a clever choice on Johansson's part to play the role as a secret American faking the accent.