From child star to super star, Natalie Portman has had a very interesting career. Getting a role at such a young age (and in such a non-friendly film like Léon: The Professional) does not always guarantee that you will have success for the rest of your life.
However, Portman leaped into the Star Wars prequels as a main character. That also doesn’t solidify your chances of having a continued career (Hayden Christensen has seemingly dropped off the map). Yet, Portman then found a home in indie films and Oscar darlings.
A lot of miraculous decisions and moves had to be made, but we now have the Portman we know today: someone that is familiar in all types of cinema. She continues to star in blockbusters, but will also take part in the indie circuit, and even the occasional risky film.
Aside from a few safe roles (which will be seen down below), almost every Natalie Portman role—or film—is at least unique in design. This is a career that was based on risks, and we are blessed with many rewarding experiences as a result.
Even a majority of Portman’s not-so-good works are abnormal when it comes to mainstream cinema, so they are at least rewarding to some extent. Nonetheless, this is an evaluation of every film this starlet has taken part in thus far. Here is every Natalie Portman film ranked from worst to best
40. Your Highness
This film is the biggest head scratcher in Portman’s filmography. I understand that stoner comedies are a big hit with actors, because they can be a hilarious experience to take part in; there’s also the cult status there, where many actors (like co-stars James Franco and Danny McBride) are pro marijuana and likely adore other high films from yesteryear. However, Your Highness is a large misfire.
It is only meant to appeal to stoners, and many of its jokes are based on exploitation. Your Highness comes off as a teenage film student’s fantasy (before starting classes, of course), and it’s a shame because there is so much talent involved. Ironically, Your Highness is the lowest film in Portman’s filmography (despite the fact that her ass-kicking Isabel is the best person in the film).
39. Free Zone
This film feels like the biggest waste of potential that Portman took part in. With a relatively good performance by Portman, Free Zone is – on paper – an interesting concept that places a Jewish-American traveler in the same car as a native Jewish woman and a Palestinian woman. This female led cast (including Hanna Laslo and Hiam Abbass) has all of the right ingredients for a powerful discussion, but the good intentions here get sabotaged by a number of flaws.
First off, the political conversation becomes a heavy handed chore to witness. Secondly, the execution of these ideas feel rushed to the point that they do not have a satisfactory conclusion. To be bombarded with strict ideas and not have them wrap up nicely is a little unforgiving. It’s too bad, because the film starts off with such hope: a well-acted scene by Portman dealing with the end of her engagement that will send shivers down your spine.
Hesher is extremely low on this list, and that is guaranteed to annoy many people. I understand that there is a cult following for this film, but you have to like the lead character in order for it to be a part of your life. My problem is I absolutely despise Hesher. I get the world that is being made, and the balls-to-the-walls character Hesher is. Hell, I was that metal head in high school. The difference is I grew out of this lifestyle because I got tired of it.
Hesher’s refusal to mature just doesn’t work here, especially because it leads to an awful character (growth is always necessary in a film). None of his immature jokes are funny (in fact, they are the polar opposite and are irritating). No one is likeable here.
Cynicism in film needs to find a place in the darkest parts of your heart; otherwise it is abrasive and unlovable. Hesher was like babysitting the worst kid on the block, and I never want to do that again. Portman’s character, like many things in this film, is a missed opportunity overtaken by an obnoxious lead idiot (not Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fault; he just followed his screenplay and the direction).
37. The Death and Life of John F. Donovan
Conceptually, this new film by Xavier Dolan is brilliant. A child’s correspondence with his favourite actor (the titular John F. Donovan) while both are closeted in a less-forgiving 2006 is a great concept. Unfortunately, this film was plagued in the editing room. Parts are either too worked on, or are under produced.
Portman’s mother character is given shoddy dialogue, but the major flaw is that we don’t get a real chance to see her grow enough. She comes off as a neglectful mother, because we don’t quite get a sense of what her hectic routine is.
On the contrary, Jacob Tremblay’s character – the son – is given the dialogue of a 30 year old. This causes a bad chemistry between two brilliant performers. Apply these kinds of problems to the entire film, including a subpar Kit Harrington as the lead character, painfully obvious song choices (ending a film with Bittersweet Symphony should be unforgiveable in 2018), and way too much angst without a deserving payoff, and you have a promising film that sadly disappoints.
36. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Look, this first Star Wars prequel is far from the worst film ever made. However, it also is far from great. It is painfully marketed towards its franchise aspects (what moments can be turned into toys for Taco Bell; I use this example because it was jarringly obvious even when I was nine years old), and George Lucas’s writing is infamously horrible.
However, as a popcorn flick, this really is not the greatest abomination ever, and its awful reputation is likely because it is a part of the Star Wars universe (it also is the first Star Wars feature film after the original trilogy concluded, so that level of pressure is huge).
For its effects and world building (production wise, not story wise), The Phantom Menace does a pretty good job. This is a mindless film, far from the worst Star Wars related film (that holiday special is insurmountably worse), and we at least get some glimpses of a promising character: the mysterious, courageous Padmé Amidala.
35. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
It might be a bit weird to say, especially because it is not a great film by any means, but Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is a bit underrated and misunderstood. Sure, it is loud and annoying, but I myself found a bit of purpose within the juvenile calamity.
This film is meant to showcase the distance between adulthood and one’s youth, and you truly do get that sense. Portman’s Molly Mahoney, played like a graceful guardian-like figure for children (think elementary school teacher) is a toy store employee that has her own dreams that are left unfulfilled.
Placing her in between Dustin Hoffman’s batshit crazy Edward Magorium, Jason Bateman’s doubtful accountant character, and the eyes of a child (played by Zach Hills), and you have a tug-of-war between the imaginary and the dreadfully real.
As a bit of a childish adult myself, I understand what Zach Helm was trying to achieve here. It can really come off as a painful experience to some (Peter Travers famously skewered the film as the worst of 2007), but it can also show its warmth to a very select few (myself included).
34. New York, I Love You
The American remake of Paris, je t’aime is a nice tribute with some neat ideas that (barely) separate it from its source material, including the idea that all of these shorts were filmed by one specific character. Outside of that, New York, I Love You does a worse job of representing the people of a specific destination (compared to its predecessor anyways). None of the shorts are explicitly terrible in any way, yet the point of a series of shorts is that the experience is meant to feel more digestible, not demanding.
The one major plus here is that we get to see Natalie Portman not only star in a short (directed by Mira Nair), but also direct and write her own short; this is the directorial debut of Portman’s. We get a bit of a precursor to A Tale of Love and Darkness here, and a sign of what Portman has ingested while on set with some of cinema’s great directors.
33. Where the Heart Is
This adaptation of the popular novel by Billie Letts is one of the more typical films Portman starred in, especially considering it was still early in her career. Considering this is one of the earliest cases (if not the earliest) of Portman getting top billing (over other stars like Ashley Judd and Joan Cusack), this was a benchmark moment in her career, where she transitioned from supporting character to blatant star (there are many leads in Star Wars, so that doesn’t quite count to me).
Nonetheless, Where the Heart Is is meant to warm your soul, but its Hallmark-flat sensibility does get in the way. An earnest tale becomes an unintentionally silly film at times, including a slow-motion scene that is partially cringe worthy. Where the Heart Is is harmless, but it’s also unimpressionable (except for the wrong reasons). At least it worked as another stepping stone for Portman in her acceleration towards her stronger work.
32. The Other Woman
The one major upside to this not so great film is that it continued Natalie Portman’s journey towards unconventional and/or indie works. Otherwise, The Other Woman is a forgettable experience that completely undermines the work that Portman and costar Lisa Kudrow (working against her usual types of characters) pull off.
The film’s tricky subject matter—a separation caused after the death of a child and the sterility that was recently inflicted on the mother—begs for a certain level of complexity. However, the severe becomes over-the-top and even unbearable, which is too bad, because powerful performances get lumped into this mess despite the rawness present. The Other Woman is a daring experiment with some pros still worth checking out (mainly the acting), but otherwise it is an unfortunate misstep.
31. Jane Got a Gun
Here is an insanely promising film that was destroyed by one factor only: production hell. Initially, cast and crew rolled in and sprinted out like a never ending revolving door. Afterwards, Relativity Media was going bankrupt and many of their films were left in limbo. Jane Got a Gun was doomed during creation, and it didn’t even have a successful promotional circuit to get it noticed again (outside of its infamy, of course).
Otherwise, we have a really fascinating western tale with a badass heroine trying to survive her supposed final hour. The performances by Portman, Joel Edgerton, and a severely underrated Ewan MCgregor are quite magnetic. The chemistry isn’t lacking with the characters, but with the film itself.
This is one of those rare cases where all of the ingredients are here, but the heart isn’t, because the main goal here was to just finish the damn film already (instead of making art). Even though this is low on the list, I still recommend checking out this film, because there is definitely some worth here.
This film hurts, because it has something spectacular for every wrong note. The bare basics here are splendid: two traveling American sisters, one a psychic and one the saleswoman, get in touch with a film producer in France. The images of black-and-white celluloid with a touch of the mystical unknown is perfect. The mystical start of the film sadly gets bombarded with disappointing resolutions.
The main story gets abandoned by a getaway by the older sister (Portman). The younger sister (Lily-Rose Depp) gets some mesmerizing scenes to work with (including various tests to try and hone in on her abilities), but her character is let down by the laziest of conclusions.
Basically, Planetarium fizzles so poorly the further it goes on. Part of me still adores this film, because of the finer moments, but the bad aspects are virtually impossible to ignore. Check it out for yourself, because there are refreshing concepts and visions here.
29. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
So we got a slightly better Star Wars prequel that has a number of the same problems as The Phantom Menace: the dialogue is a mess once again, the role of Anakin was performed poorly (originally by Jake Lloyd, in this installment by Hayden Christensen), and many moments come off as hokey rather than important. Some Star Wars fanatics consider this film even worse, possibly because it is missing the childlike imagination The Phantom Menace had.
Here, Attack of the Clones tries to be more epic without resolving the previous issues. I personally (barely) prefer Attack of the Clones because its mediocrity is at least easier to manage compared to The Phantom Menace’s migraine inducing noise.
Like the former film, Attack of the Clones is far from the worst film ever made, however, and its effects and action are still fun to experience. Unfortunately, Padmé gets thrown into a very badly written romance here, and the once-mystical character becomes one half of a doozy.
28. No Strings Attached
Who knows why Natalie Portman took part in the most Hollywood-typical film of her latter part of her filmography. Maybe she really wanted to work with Ivan Reitman. Perhaps she wanted the experience as a producer, since she would take part in more daring projects down the road. Look, No Strings Attached is a bit different from the other films on the lower end of this list. It looks worse on paper than it actually is.
Its major problem is that it is super safe with its subject matter: unlikely friends with benefits. It does have charm from both Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and it is actually a relatively painless affair (a rom-com like this could have easily been excruciating).
However, most of No Strings Attached’s lack-of-impression comes from the release of the reasonably-better Friends with Benefits the same year (and with, of course, a near identical subject matter). Not every Portman film has to be game changing, and this film could have been way worse, but it also should have been better.
27. Thor: The Dark World
We have arrived at the weakest Marvel Comics Universe film yet. Its problems are all relating to the basic tropes found in any Marvel film being phoned in; the one liners are forced, the drama is strained, and the action feels a bit derivative.
Despite Portman playing a prominent part as Dr. Jane Foster once again, the main reason to watch this addition in the Thor series is not for her connection with the titular Asgardian hero, but for Thor’s rivalry and relationship with his brother Loki.
Nothing about The Dark World is necessarily torturous, but it certainly does pale in comparison to other MCU films, including the better Thor and the manically fun Thor: Ragnarok. For Marvel obsessives that need to watch ever film, this film will be more of an understandable down point as opposed to a threatening roadblock.
26. The Other Boleyn Girl
Justin Chadwick’s romantic period piece is a bit of a slog as a film itself; it trudges along and blindly kicks when it means to cause a stir. Yet, the film does benefit from its star chemistry, mainly from the two leads. Portman and Scarlett Johansson portray Anne and Mary Boleyn respectively, and their yin-and-yang relationship is what causes a stir within the film, thus making it interesting in some sort of way.
Nonetheless, the film is also stunning to look at, as the production shimmers with rich, earthy colours and soothing lighting. The men try their best, including a decent Eric Bana, an early solid performance by Mark Rylance, and even work by then newcomers Jim Sturgess and Eddie Redmayne, but the film clearly belongs to Portman and Johansson.
25. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Reaching the best film of the Star Wars prequel trilogy is somewhat of a feat. It is clearly the better film of the three, yet it’s oddly slightly overrated. Perhaps it looks like a shining beacon compared to The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, but let’s not forget that Revenge of the Sith has some of the same problems. The melodrama works a bit better here because of the devastating results.
Plus, it’s nice to finally see where Anakin’s super catastrophic storyline winds up: with evil resolutions and a fiery-hot climactic battle. Yet, watch this film lately, and the sloppy dialogue and the slight cheesiness will reveal itself more than the time you watched it for the first time in theatres. Still, Revenge of the Sith is easily the most solid prequel film, and the one that hurts the least (despite its gradual unveiling of its problems as it ages).
24. Mars Attacks!
Natalie Portman has a very small part in Tim Burton’s extra-terrestrial cult phenomenon as the president’s daughter (the president, naturally, being played by Jack Nicholson). Nonetheless, it is still a performance that is definitely not a brief cameo, so it shall be included here.
Mars Attacks! is a crazy film that will have its core fan base and no one else rooting for it. Its cringe moments will resonate as extra sensory highlights for others. Many of its negative reviews have to do with its silly nature not benefitting its all-star cast, yet to me this is a satire that lines up many familiar faces up in a shooting gallery. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s arguably a fun, stupid time; could you ask for more when the film is populated by CGI bug-eyed, wrinkly-brained aliens?
23. I’m Still Here
Okay, this is a very brief cameo with Natalie Portman as herself, and I didn’t include her cameo in Zoolander (which is not even ten seconds long), but at least with this super short moment in I’m Still Here, you can argue that Portman is contributing to the story in some way. All of the celebrity cameos here are both extensions of themselves whilst being in on the joke that confused many for a couple of years.
Joaquin Phoenix’s alleged breakdown being documented in this mockumentary is a little bit like his actual “new career” at the time: imperfect but there’s perseverance hidden there. Stars like Portman that are featured in the film made their own comments in real time (Portman at the Academy Awards), so the experiment did work a little bit, since the meltdown looked real to us all.
22. Paris, je t’aime
This love letter to Paris is comprised of short stories that have very little to do with one another (outside of romances towards the titular city and between a couple, usually). Portman takes part in a short directed by Tom Tykwer as the girlfriend of a blind man; the male accidentally misunderstands his current situation as a post-breakup scenario, and tries to remember the possible decline in his relationship.
Like New York, I Love You, Paris, je t’aime can only work if you are on board with the short stories being digestible little treats you pick up and move on from. Unlike New York, Paris succeeds with this attempt. It is a brief, toughing affair that doesn’t offer much outside of being a smorgasbord for your heart.
21. Anywhere but Here
Traveling back to Portman’s early career, we have this unique character flip by Wayne Wang called Anywhere but Here. In this mother-daughter film, it is the child (Portman) that chases after her mother (played by Susan Sarandon) to direct her onto a more natural path of life.
It’s refreshing to see, because we can understand that Adele (the mom) has reached a midlife crisis, while the daughter Ann is becoming more familiar with who she is as a member of this planet called Earth. It is an early sign of the kind of charm and chemistry Portman can exude, and she performs well with the great Sarandon. You won’t get much more out of Anywhere but Here outside of its parent-child relationship, but this pairing is great enough for you not to care.