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50 Memorable Emma Thompson Movies Ranked Worst To Best

Dame Emma Thompson is often brought up in discussions like "best actresses of her generation," "best actors working today," and so on. High praise indeed, but Thompson deserves it. For 40 years and counting, she has proven time and time again her ability to nail just about any type of role, in just about any genre, on both stage and screen. While Thompson is most commonly associated with her work in film adaptations of Shakespeare plays and period pieces, the British actor has also done everything from family films to rom coms and even some sci-fi. She has also showcased her writing talents on a handful of films, even earning an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for "Sense and Sensibility" to go along with her "Howard's End" Best Actress win.

Whether she is the lead in a project or one of many supporting players, Thompson never phones it in, always one of the standout aspects of a movie, TV show, or live production. There are few Emma Thompson performances that aren't memorable, though some definitely stand above the others. The 25 films on this list mark her most memorable, taking into consideration both how significant Thompson's performance is and how noteworthy the movie is as a whole. Lastly, movies were Thompson played only a small role or brief cameo weren't included, such as two of her three "Harry Potter" film appearances and her uncredited cameo in "I Am Legend."

25. Junior

Even though she had already won an Oscar and was nominated for two more by 1994, Emma Thompson apparently didn't think she was too good to star in a goofy comedy where Arnold Schwarzenegger somehow becomes pregnant. Perhaps it was that Ivan Reitman was the director of "Junior," or that Thompson really wanted to work with Danny DeVito. Either way, the already-acclaimed actor was Schwarzenegger's love interest and also the woman whose ovum was placed inside of Schwarzenegger's character. Yeah.

High-concept comedies like this were all the rage during the '90s, and many of them didn't quite live up to their premises. This is mostly true for "Junior," though the cast does its best to give the movie its high points, and everyone has great chemistry. It's always nice to see an actor like Thompson proving she doesn't take her career too seriously to be in a wacky comedy like this — and "Junior" definitely has its fair share of fans, particularly those who were the right age to have seen it in frequent repeats on cable.  

24. Treasure Planet

Emma Thompson has a distinctive voice, and she's lent it to a few animated films over the years. As it often goes, it was Disney that first enlisted her for that purpose, getting her to play Captain Amelia Smollet in "Treasure Planet," their ambitious sci-fi reimagining of the classic story "Treasure Island." Amelia is one of the characters who was changed a bit from the original story, taking the place of Captain Alexander Smollett.

These days, "Treasure Planet" is most noted for what a massive box office failure it was — it grossed $110 million, but that was against a $140 million production budget plus marketing costs. It's a shame that that's the movie's primary legacy, as it's an underrated film that was ahead of its time from a technological standpoint. Thompson was one of the biggest names in the cast at the time and proved great at voice acting — but perhaps because the movie bombed, she wouldn't do another animated movie for an entire decade after this. 

23. Stranger Than Fiction

Will Ferrell had already done a few comedy-dramas by the mid-2000s, but the first one that leaned a lot heavier into the drama side was 2006's "Stranger Than Fiction." The inventive film sees Ferrell as Harold Crick, who discovers that he's actually just a character in a novel written by an author named Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) — only he somehow also exists in the real world and is in a position to confront Eiffel when he discovers that she plans to kill him by the end of the "book."

The movie is primarily a showcase for Ferrell's then-unexplored ability to play more subdued, low-key characters. But Thompson shines as an author whose gimmick is that she always kills the protagonists of her books, but now she has to reckon that tradition with the fact that her latest protagonist is a living, breathing person who she has come to know personally. It's one of many examples of Thompson being just as effective a supporting player as a leading one, and Ferrell is one of many actors she has helped boost during the ascent of their own careers. 

22. Bridget Jones's Baby

It's no small feat to take a movie like "Bridget Jones's Diary" and not only give it a sequel that's not a complete embarrassment but also turn it into an effective trilogy. But that is exactly what happened, with "Bridget Jones's Baby" managing to be a satisfying conclusion to the story of Jones and her various suitors. It also happened to be Renée Zellweger's comeback film after a six-year acting hiatus, and it was the perfect way to return to her career.

Emma Thompson joined the "Bridget Jones" franchise for this third installment as Dr. Rawlings, who plays a key role through Bridget's pregnancy and eventual discovery that the father of her child could potentially be one of two men — which sets events in motion in a way that only a "Bridget Jones" movie could. Thompson is at her dry delivery best in the role, helping to keep the "here comes the baby" scenes that we've seen a million times in a million other movies from feeling too trope-y. 

21. Beauty and the Beast (2017)

It's no small feat to take a movie as elaborately animated as Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" and remake it in (mostly) live-action. In fact, 2017's "Beauty and the Beast" cost over $300 million to make (per The New York Times), putting it among the most expensive movies of all time. But it took in over $1.2 billion at the box office, so it was $300+ million well spent. 

Naturally, it wasn't going to be easy to replace some of the original voice actors, in particular Angela Lansbury's iconic performance as talking tea kettle Mrs. Potts. On the small list of people who weren't going to immediately elicit anger at the mere thought of the attempt was Emma Thompson, turning in her own spin on the character that pleased even those who were otherwise cynical about the movie as a whole. Disney's live-action remakes typically make a ton of money but have remained a bit divisive among longtime Disney fans — though the movies are full of some great performances, including Thompson's. 

20. Cruella

Speaking of Disney revisiting older properties — and bringing Emma Thompson along for the ride — 2021's "Cruella" isn't a remake but instead a prequel that examines the origins of the "101 Dalmatians" antagonist. While the decision to turn young Cruella de Vil into a spunky young antihero drew skepticism from the initial trailers, Emma Stone does a fantastic job in the role and the movie ends up being as surprisingly good as it is surprisingly dark.

What helps to make the movie rise above the usual origin story pitfalls is Thompson, playing the boss and mother figure to Cruella — and the one who serves to push Cruella over the edge into fully embracing her evil side. The two Emmas are initially great as friends and creative partners, but are even greater when that relationship sours and they begin to battle each other. Thompson proves herself extremely capable at playing an over-the-top Disney villain, one so evil that she helps to create another, even more evil protégé. 

19. Men in Black 3

The "Men in Black" movie series seems to be operating on the opposite tradition of the "Star Trek" movies. The joke for years has been that only the even-numbered "Star Trek" movies are good. On the flip side, it would seem that only the odd-numbered "Men in Black" movies are good, with the extremely disappointing second entry followed up by the surprisingly fun third, only to then take another quality dip with "Men in Black: International."

While these movies live and die by the chemistry of whoever the two leads happen to be, "Men in Black 3" is the only one that was able to successfully introduce multiple new supporting characters that were a net positive rather than a distraction. Josh Brolin as young Agent K was a fantastic addition, as was Emma Thompson's Agent O, who takes over as boss following the death of Zed. Thompson reprised her role in "International," but the less said about that, the better (though that's not through any fault of Thompson or her performance).

18. Love Actually

Considering how much affection there is for "Love Actually" and how many people count it among their favorite films, it is somewhat surprising that it only has a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's a bit hard to argue with the site's consensus that the movie is "overstuffed with too many stories," but it is absolutely correct in praising the film's large ensemble of talented actors and calling them the best thing about the film.

The plot thread featuring Thompson finds her character discovering that her husband (Alan Rickman) is having an affair — a story which ends up impacting most of the movie's characters and their interconnected stories. It's not easy to play such a pivotal part in a film with such a huge ensemble — but if anyone can pull that off, it's Thompson and Rickman. Despite what is mostly an extremely saccharine Christmas rom-com, Thompson is still asked to do some serious and heartbreaking acting, and she gives it the same effort she would've given to one of her Shakespeare roles.  

17. Brave

Here is the movie that got Emma Thompson back into voice acting — and, surprise surprise, it's another Disney production, this time via Pixar. Admittedly, "Brave" is often seen as one of Pixar's lesser films — not bad by any stretch, but far from the masterful efforts of most of the studio's output up to that point. But it's still a wonderful film, particularly in its exploration of gender roles and the often unfair and selfish expectations that are put not only on girls, but children in general. 

Thompson's Queen Elinor only gets to spend part of the movie in human form. A series of events early on turns her into a bear, which is unable to speak. This means that Thompson actually doesn't have all that many lines in the film despite her character being a constant presence throughout. But she's a great choice for the part even in its limited capacity, and really gets at the heart of a character who is torn between being beholden to tradition and wanting her daughter to be happy.

16. Saving Mr. Banks

There's some question as to the authenticity of "Saving Mr. Banks" (per History vs. Hollywood), which purports to tell the true story of how Walt Disney himself was able to convince reluctant author P.L. Travers to have her somewhat semi-autobiographical book adapted into the movie "Marry Poppins." The movie does address Travers being vehemently opposed to the idea, but it being a Disney movie, she comes around when she sees the final product. That last bit, according to some, could not be further from the truth.

Historical accuracy aside, "Saving Mr. Banks" is an extremely charming and well-made movie, buoyed the magnetic performances of Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson as Disney and Travers, respectively. The two actors are pitch perfect in portraying a relationship that was initially antagonistic — at least as far as Travers was concerned — and eventually warmed up as Disney worked his legendary charm and powers of persuasion. Thompson may or may not be playing the real-life Travers accurately, but she plays the version the movie invented flawlessly and earned every award nomination that the role brought her way.  

15. Primary Colors

Though it doesn't use any of the real names, "Primary Colors" did little else to hide the fact that it was based on Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. John Travolta's performance as the Clinton-esque Jack Stanton earned him raves, in an era when John Travolta's acting was still earning raves on a regular basis. Emma Thompson also earned acclaim for her performance as Stanton's wife — though unlike Travolta, she isn't setting out to play a replica of Hillary Clinton and instead mostly forges her own character.

While only co-star Kathy Bates got an Oscar nomination for her performance in "Primary Colors," everyone is great in it. To be fair, Travolta's performance was criticized by some reviewers for being too much of a Bill Clinton "impression" rather than a true acting performance, and in that way it was smart of Thompson not to go the same route. In not seeking to simply be a Hilary Clinton clone, Thompson ironically brings added authenticity to the political comedy that it might have otherwise been lacking. It's definitely one of her most underrated performances and films.

14. Late Night

Emma Thompson is not interested in having the later years of her career be disappointing, or in coasting along on phone-in performances to cash easy paychecks as she gets older. If she's in a movie that might seem like she is doing those things, be sure you watch it before you make that assumption, as you will very likely be proven wrong. Such is the case with the 2019 comedy "Late Night," written by Mindy Kaling and starring Thompson as a veteran late night talk show host whose ratings have been on a long, steep decline.

Co-starring Kaling as the writer Thompson's character hires to inject some much-needed diversity into her show's predominately white male creative staff, "Late Night" is a hilarious and poignant look at how important it is to challenge the celebrity patriarchy and have more female and POC voices in entertainment (and beyond). Thompson and Kaling are terrific together, and once again, Thompson is more than willing to share the spotlight with a rising talent.

13. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Emma Thompson and actor-filmmaker Kenneth Branagh were both a real life couple as well as prolific professional one between the late 1980s and the mid-'90s. Her film debut was in Branagh's 1989 adaptation of "Henry V," and they continued collaborating through 1993's "Much Ado About Nothing," which would end up being their final project together before their divorce. It continued not only Branagh's hot streak of acclaimed Shakespeare movies, but Thompson's continued demonstration of how perfect she is for the material.

That being said, it's arguable that this one of the lesser of Branagh's Shakespearean directorial efforts, as well as one of Thompson's lesser screen performances as a Shakespeare character. But in both cases, their version of B-level work is still miles ahead of what most other filmmakers and actors have accomplished in bringing the Bard to the multiplex. It's unfortunate that their creative partnership didn't end on its highest note, but "Much Ado About Nothing" is ultimately still a solid effort by both of them, and deserves its place in the discussion of best film adaptations of Shakespeare works. 

12. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Noah Baumbach was one of a handful of acclaimed filmmakers to bring original movies to Netflix and help legitimatize not only that platform, but streaming services in general. Now, we don't think twice when a Martin Scorsese or Guillermo del Toro has a movie announced for Netflix, but it wasn't always that way. Films like Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories" helped pave the way for that to become a more common occurrence.

While it didn't get the acclaim of his second Netflix film, "Marriage Story," "The Meyerowitz Stories" has most of the hallmarks of a Baumbach comedy — not the least of which is an incredible ensemble cast all giving A-game performances, including some unexpected ones. Neither Adam Sandler nor Ben Stiller got the recognition they deserved for their work in the film, for instance. But any scene that involves Dustin Hoffman and/or Emma Thompson belongs to them, with Thompson actually being one of the biggest and best sources of comic relief despite her sharing the screen with the likes of Sandler, Stiller, and Hoffman. 

11. Nanny McPhee

It's more than a little ironic that Emma Thompson would eventually play the woman who created Mary Poppins when she had previously played "Nanny McPhee," who is something of an anti-Mary Poppins. While both are nanny-type figures who whip kids into shape with the aid of magical powers, Nanny McPhee doesn't do it with a wink and a smile and a spoonful of sugar. And she certainly doesn't look beautiful while doing it. But all of that is exactly the point, and what makes the movie such a unique treat.

Thompson wrote the screenplay herself, based on the "Nurse Matilda" series of books. It was one of her first films to be aimed squarely at children, and as is to be expected from Thompson, she doesn't talk down to or patronize her audience. Instead, she turns in a memorable performance as a memorable character, in a movie successful enough to warrant a sequel that even manages to improve on the original — a rare feat for a children's movie, and something Ms. Poppins herself couldn't quite pull off.

10. An Education

It's only because Emma Thompson plays a pretty minor role in "An Education" that it's as relatively low on this list as it is. Taken entirely by the quality of the movies themselves, this is easily one of the best she's ever been in. Nick Hornby's 2009 drama is about a 16-year-old girl who gets manipulated into a relationship with an adult man and ends up throwing her entire life into upheaval — compounded by the fact that this man is somehow able to also con the girl's friends and family into accepting him and their inappropriate relationship.

It's a tour de force performance by Carey Mulligan in the lead, a role that confirmed her status as one of Hollywood's best young actors at the time. It's stellar performances all around, from Peter Sarsgaard as her co-lead to the supporting cast of Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Cara Seymour, and of course, Emma Thompson. Thompson plays the headmistress of the girl's school, and delivers a powerful performance in a scene in which they argue about her future and this man's questionable intentions. 

9. Henry V (1989)

Few actors are fortunate enough to get a film debut in a movie as strong as "Henry V." On that same token, few have so instantly proven that they are among the best of their generation from their very first role. But Emma Thompson came out swinging when she starred in then-husband Kenneth Branagh's directorial debut, announcing her arrival even via the relatively small role of Princess Katharine.

Branagh might deserve much of the credit for helping to reintroduce Shakespeare to a new generation and kick off a decade full of Shakespeare adaptations, but Thompson was definitely his muse, and she was already demonstrating that from her first-ever moments on the big screen. It's easy to say this in retrospect, but even at the time it was obvious that great things were to come from both of them. 

8. King Lear (2018)

Emma Thompson hadn't done a Shakespeare movie in over 20 years when she joined the cast of 2018's BBC/Amazon production of "King Lear." The actor claimed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that it wasn't some conscious decision to take a Shakespeare hiatus — it was simply that "nobody asked." Whether by choice or by accident, she took a break from it, and was in the perfect position to make an acclaimed comeback. And that she certainly did.

That same Entertainment Weekly interview went on to call Thompson "ferocious" in her performance as Gorneril, one of the titular king's two elder daughters. That king just so happens to be played by Anthony Hopkins, who also gives a top-of-his-game performance alongside Emily Watson, Jim Broadbent, and Florence Pugh, among others. But it was Thompson's performance that drew the most attention, and here's hoping we don't have to wait another 20 years to see her do another Shakespeare movie — although this one is one heck of a swan song if it's to be her last. 

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Though Emma Thompson played Professor Sybill Trelawney in three different "Harry Potter" movies, her parts were largely just cameos in both "Order of the Phoenix" and "Deathly Hallows — Part 2." It's only in the dark, Alfonso Cuarón-directed "Prisoner of Azkaban" that Thompson really gets to stretch her legs in the role, and it's too bad we didn't see a lot more of her after this.

It was basically a rule that every living British actor had to play a role in the "Harry Potter" films, and some got bigger and/or better parts than others. Sure, it would've been great to see more of Thompson, as her screen time only ever makes a movie better. But she's such a great fit for Professor Trelawney that it's hard to complain, and few would've been able to play the role better. Book fans don't always like when a movie is made and it forces them to picture a certain actor as that character forevermore, but it's safe to say most people are more than happy to retroactively apply Thompson's look and performance to Trelawney when re-reading the novels. 

6. Dead Again

One of the lesser-known Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson collaborations is their second film together, 1991's "Dead Again." But it's also one of their best, with film critic Roger Ebert even saying that it put Branagh in the same league as Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles as a filmmaker. The noir thriller was also a great showpiece for Thompson, still very much a rising movie star who had previously only starred in a Shakespearean drama and a wacky rom-com.

Thompson and Branagh actually each play dual roles, for reasons that are more fun to discover on your own. Should you have happened to never see "Dead Again" — and there's a good change you probably haven't — it is well-worth seeking and checking out. Once you do, also be on the lookout for Andy Garcia, Wayne Knight, and even Robin Williams in minor roles. In short, it's a movie full of surprises.

5. In the Name of the Father

"In the Name of the Father" basically belongs to star Daniel Day-Lewis, like most of his movies do. It wouldn't see him fully disappearing into a role the way he did with "My Left Foot" and would do with basically every movie he made in the 2000s and 2010s, but it was nonetheless a typically excellent performance from the actor, and would earn him his second Oscar nomination

But Day-Lewis wasn't the only one praised for his performance in "In the Name of the Father." Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson also got Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominations, respectively, and all were extremely well-deserved. Thompson gives one of the most pivotal and iconic performances in the movie in the "not to be shown to the defense" scene that sees has deliver an impassioned speech that elicits goosebumps no matter how many times you've seen it.

4. Nanny McPhee Returns

Originally known by the much more interesting title "Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang" for its European release, what American audiences know as "Nanny McPhee Returns" sees Emma Thompson reprise her role as both star and writer. It's easy to have low expectations when a movie like "Nanny McPhee" gets a sequel, but this one delivers — being at least as good as the original, with many saying it's superior.

Part of the reason "Returns" is a triumph is its amazing supporting cast, led by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, and Asa Butterfield. But the bulk of the credit has to be reserved for Thompson herself, for not only managing to pen another magnificent screenplay but in finding the right balance between having McPhee be the same character in all the ways fans would want, while also taking her in a new direction fans wouldn't expect. Sadly, a planned third film was cancelled after "Returns" underperformed (per Movies With Butter). Maybe someday.

3. Howards End

It seems like a crime that Emma Thompson only has one Academy Award to her name for acting, but she did manage to win it fairly on with 1992's "Howards End." Sure, it's the kind of movie that is often used as a punchline for the kind of stuffy, pretentious period piece that the Academy loves to shower with awards, but "Howards End" deserved the acclaim and really is a truly great film.

In a year especially stacked with excellent movies — "Unforgiven," "A River Runs Through It," The Crying Game," "A Few Good Men," "Scent of a Woman," "Aladdin," "The Last of the Mohicans," and on and on — it shouldn't be taken lightly that "Howards End" made more critics' top ten lists that year than any other movie (per The Los Angeles Times). Not to mention that Thompson had to beat out an equally impressive lineup of Best Actress nominees to take home her award, including the legendary Catherine Deneuve.

2. The Remains of the Day

Only one year after her "Howard's End" win, Emma Thompson was again nominated for Best Actress for "The Remains of the Day." This would be Thompson's first film with Anthony Hopkins, 26 years before they re-teamed for "King Lear." Set during the 1930s, it's another period piece — though unlike "Howard's End," which was based on a book that was almost a century old, "The Remains of the Day" was a novel published only four years prior.

Though the movie was shut out, winning none of the nine Academy Awards it was nominated for, it was an instant classic and remains among the greatest films ever made. Thompson would shift gears a bit within a few years, away from her groove of doing movies adapted from Shakespeare plays and period piece novels, but it's hard to blame her given how difficult it would be to top a movie like "The Remains of the Day."

1. Sense and Sensibility

Even though she more Shakespeare movies than Jane Austen adaptations, Emma Thompson is often just as associated with the latter author — if not more so. This is likely due in part to "Sense and Sensibility" not only being among her most acclaimed and well-known films, but also the one for which she won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was here that Thompson proved she could be just as talented with a pen as she was in front of a camera.

According to Louise Flavin's book "Jane Austen in the Classroom," "Sense and Sensibility" is a key reason why Jane Austen stories became such popular source material for adaptations into in the latter half of the '90s, as well as just reigniting interest in Austen as a whole. It also remains one of the best Austen adaptations ever, and it certainly set the bar pretty high. The movie introduced mainstream audiences to a director named Ang Lee, a few years before "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."