American actress Annette Bening has racked up a plethora of awards and nominations during her 40-year career, including a BAFTA, Tony Award nominations, and several nominations at the Academy Awards. Originally a child from the Midwest, she moved to California with her family in elementary school. There, she instilled a love for the arts, and she grew up to receive her undergraduate degree in Theater Arts. She began her theater career, like many other actors, performing the Shakespearean classics, but eventually made her way to Broadway and the movie world.
Fourteen years after graduating from college, Bening found her breakout role in 1990’s The Grifters, which landed her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. Ever since then, she has hit the ground running. Appearing in a variety of films, shows, and plays, she has proven her expertise and adapted it for the medium she is performing in. Although Bening had her start on the stage, nowadays, she is more active in the movie world. That said, these are the best Annette Bening movies.
Update on February 8, 2024: Following Annette Bening’s recent Academy Award nomination for Nyad, this article has been updated by Soniya Hinduja with more great films featuring Bening and where you can steam each title.
15 Death on the Nile (2022)
Kenneth Branagh returned with the follow-up to his adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express: Death on the Nile. Branagh is Hercule Poirot, the detective from the first movie. Now, in this adaptation, he finds himself in Egypt at the center of yet another big crime: an heiress (Gal Gadot) has been shot and one of her valuables stolen. Other characters factoring in are Poirot’s friend Bouc, his mother Euphemia, and Rosalie, Linnet’s school friend.
An Artful And Humorous Whodunit
Death on the Nile is a classic Agatha Christie whodunit, although, at times, this adaptation falls flat in keeping the suspense and magic in her work alive. The reason being its undercooked plot. However, the star-studded, old-fashioned murder mystery packs a lot of intrigue and entertainment from start to finish. Annette Bening sinks her teeth into the role of Euphemia, a woman suspicious of her son’s girlfriend. She has charm and comedic timing, which makes her the perfect choice for an artful film. Stream on Fubo TV
Death on the Nile
Kenneth Branagh returns as Hercule Poirot in this star-studded re-telling of an Agatha Christie classic. Gal Gadot, Annette Bening and Russell Brand join the cast.
- Release Date
- February 11, 2022
14 Nyad (2023)
Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and based on her 2017 memoir titled Find A Way, Nyad tells the true story of a long-distance swimmer as she became the first person to complete the treacherous 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida – at the age of 64. After having given up on her career because of failing to accomplish the same feat at 28, Diana rediscovers her determination to chase her dreams despite her age and personal setbacks. And after four failures, she makes history.
Another Oscar-Worthy Performance
It goes without saying that a biographical sports drama can only be impactful and unforgettable when the actor portraying the titular character disappears into the role completely. Bening imbues Diana with as much ferocity and arrogance as possible. As a person, Nyad is portrayed as someone who has pride, hates being victimized, and has great disregard for others. And Bening captures her journey with the kind of subtle mastery that befits her subject. After all, Nyad’s success was not just physical but emotional, and not just hers but her team’s as well. Stream on Netflix
- Release Date
- November 3, 2023
- Jimmy Chin , Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
12 Captain Marvel (2019)
Bening is an actor who notably has not been part of many action films, but that is not because she has not tried. She was the original choice to play Catwoman in Batman Returns but had to drop out of the movie when she found out she was pregnant. She finally got to do a superhero movie twenty-seven years later when she got a role in Captain Marvel. She didn’t just get any role, though; she got to play the original Mar-Vell, the classic superhero from 1970s comics that preceded Carol Danvers. In this version, the story is reimagined where Mar-Vell is a Kree scientist who was trying to help the Skrulls escape the wraith of her people by developing a light-speed agent and passing as an agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. Her experiment ends up being the catalyst for Carol Danvers to get her powers and become Captain Marvel, much like in the original Marvel Comics.
A Double Role
Bening not only gets to play Mar-Vell, but she also gets to play the Supreme Intelligence as Carol sees her. This allows Bening to really cut loose as she gets to play the heroic figure as the real Mar-Vell but also the major villain in the second half of the movie, and she is enjoying playing the evil roles. Since certain online fans were going to be already mad at the idea of Captain Marvel being given to a woman, the filmmakers had a bit of fun by turning the original Mar-Vell into a woman for the film as a nice meta dunk on those that were going to be angry already. Bening was a nice addition to the MCU, and hopefully, they can find a way for her to return sometime soon. Stream on Disney+
11 Valmont (1989)
Valmont, per LA Times, is in the vein of its slightly older, more seductive predecessor: Dangerous Liaisons. Annette Bening was only in her second movie role so far, but she starred as Merteuil, a wealthy French woman in the 1700s. As her 15-year-old niece becomes engaged to be married to her lover, she plots with another one of her former lovers (Colin Firth) to seduce her niece and take away her virginity, thus making her less appealing. He ultimately does so, sparking a series of events that could only end in tragedy and suffering.
Playing That Dangerous And Tragic Game
Adapted from Les Liaisons Dangereuses with lush visuals, confident characters, and plenty of wagers, Valmont is one of the few provocative period dramas that have aged well with time. The claustrophobic environment and devastating consequences make the film both erotic and emotional. Bening is in one of her early breakout roles here, but she ignites the screen with the poise and prowess of a professional. Opposing Firth and Meg Tilly, she also brings the playfulness needed to balance the dark themes. Rent on Apple TV
10 Mother and Child (2009)
Starring Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Kerry Washington in one of their most tender roles to date, Mother and Child is a drama woven through intersecting stories of three women, and it spans almost two decades. Karen was fourteen when her mother made the decision for her to give up her baby for abortion. Elizabeth, her daughter, grew up to be a successful attorney. And Lucy is a baker who is considering adoption.
An Epic And Honest Exploration Of Life
Bening portrays the role of Karen with layered sensitivity, adding elements of both hope and despair to the painfully honest narrative. Her character has acute anxiety, and Bening handles that with care; and when she finally opens herself up to the possibility of love and connection, it is as empathetic as it is brave. Written and directed by Rodrigo García, Mother and Child is a beautiful film that explores life’s messiest dilemmas through varying stories. Rent on Apple TV
9 Mars Attacks! (1996)
After having to drop out of Batman Returns, Bening would later get to work with Tim Burton on his 1996 sci-fi comedy Mars Attacks! The film is a spoof of 1950s B sci-fi invasion films as the Earth comes under attack by Martian invaders and notably keeps making the same mistake and expecting a different outcome. Despite all the evidence that the Martians are going to kill the humans, humanity keeps trying to make peace with them.
An All-Star Cast
Mars Attacks! goes for an all-star cast to invoke the disaster movies of the 1970s and features Jack Nicolsan (in two roles), Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Pierce Brosnan, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Natalie Portman, Pam Grier, and even Tom Jones. Bening plays Barbara Land, the wife of one of Nicolsan’s characters, Art Land, who is a Las Vegas real estate developer. Barbara is a free spirit, part of a new age movement of peace, and provides some of the film’s best laughs, particularly when her peaceful philosophy is put to the test against the vicious Martians. It is a great comedic performance by Bening and one we wish she would do more of. Rent or Purchase on AppleTV+, Vudu, and Prime Video.
8 Being Julia (2004)
It is not easy being an actress, no matter the decade and whether it is 2022 or 1938. Being Julia transports viewers back to 1938 when actress Julia Lambert (Bening) is one of the most successful and popular actresses on the stage in London. As she gets older, these notions of fame start to get to her head, and she has doubts about where her career is going next. To rediscover her passion for life, she begins an affair with a younger man than her husband, trapping her in a new love triangle.
Another Nuanced Leading Role
For her performance in Being Julia, Annette Bening was rewarded with her second acting Oscar nomination as Best Actress. In the psychological drama adapted from a novel written by W. Somerset Maugham, she shines alongside Jeremy Irons and Shaun Evans. She immerses herself into the tormented psyche of Julia Lambert, a former star learning to accept the fact that sometimes the greatest thing to do is simply living an honest life. Bening mines every layer of Julia with nuance and mastery, proving that she was her generation’s finest leading lady. Rent on Apple TV
- Release Date
- September 3, 2004
- István Szabó
7 Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)
Set against the glorious backdrop of 1970s Liverpool, England, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a biographical drama that tells the story of a young actor named Peter Turner, who strikes up a romance with aging Hollywood star Gloria Grahame. During the peak of her Academy Award-winning career, Gloria and Peter’s friendship was the one thing helping her with her ailment. And as her health deteriorated, it was Peter by her side through joyous moments and regretful confessions.
Bening Redefines Herself
Adapted from a memoir written by Peter Turner himself, the movie chronicles their flirtatious romance as well as Grahame’s demise. With a narrative as basic as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’s, it is essential for the performances to be extremely good. And Annette Bening delivers her most raw and vulnerable showcase of talents as the legendary actress. Paul McGuigan’s direction is fearless in exploring the dark corners of Grahame’s life. This is certainly one of Benning’s most underrated movies and the performance is so great many would say she was snubbed for a Best Actress Oscar at the Academy Awards that year. Rent on Apple TV
6 The American President (1995)
The American President is now considered one of the greatest love stories depicted on film, and that is for a good reason. A Democratic President (Michael Douglas) is up for re-election with a steady approval rating, and to solidify his good standing, he decides to pass a bill on controlling crime through Congress. He then meets and falls in love with a lawyer (Bening), lobbying him to try and create more legislation on carbon emissions, setting the stage for what he will do for the rest of his time as President of the United States.
Annette Bening And Michael Douglas Make A Great Pair
Rob Reiner’s unlikely fairy tale of love and leadership moonlights as a political drama, which only makes the viewing experience more exhilarating to watch. Annette Bening plays Sydney Ellen Wade, an idealistic match for Douglas’ complex character. In the film, she is so smart and so kind-hearted. She infuses Wade with enough passion and principle to enrich the film with layers of humor and feminism fully. With that said, the reason The American President still feels timely today is not only for its observation of the 1990s politics but also because of the performances Douglas and Bening delivered. Rent on Apple TV
5 20th Century Women (2016)
20th Century Women is a coming-of-age comedy written and directed by Mike Mills. It is set in 1970s Santa Barbara, where 15-year-old Jamie Fields lives in the company of a bunch of strong-willed and opinionated women, one of whom is her 55-year-old single mother, Dorothea. Jamie is also friends with Julie, the young neighbor going through troubles of her own, and Abbie, a budding photographer and their tenant. Under Dorothea’s careful guidance and perspective, Jamie is introduced to topics like gender and feminism.
Bening Shares Generational Wisdom
Annette Bening plays the boy’s unconventional mother and is supported by phenomenal performances from Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning as Abbie and Julie. As Dorothea, Bening has the opportunity to present a calm yet fiercely progressive lead character who is a woman first and a mother next. The seamless direction and brilliant writing by Mills make the film emotionally resonant. Moreover, the dramatic stretches and clever bits of humor are why 20th Century Women is a genre-defying comedy. Stream on Max
4 The Grifters (1990)
1990’s The Grifters was said to be one of the best movies to come out that year, but, besides that, it also introduced Annette Bening to the mainstream movie world for the first time in her breakout role, as outlined by People. A con artist goes to visit her son in Los Angeles when she discovers he is in dire need of a hospital, and when she meets his girlfriend, there is an abundance of disappointment coming from his mother. All three — mother, son, girlfriend — turn out to be con artists, making their dance a deadly one.
Bening Joins The High-Stakes Deceivers
Taking the audience to the steamy little world of small-time cons and cheats, this neo-noir is filled with betrayals and double-crossings you never see coming. Stephen Frears directs the film with grit and grime, adding dark undertones to its harmless narrative. As for Bening, she smolders with grace in her role as Myra, a femme fatale who toys with men’s hearts and their money. She discerns emotions like jealousy and sass in a way nobody else can, and she unleashes that coiled intensity that would define her acting range for years to come. To this day, The Grifters is Annette Bening’s most fascinating film ever. Stream on Hoopla
3 The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Released in 2010, The Kids Are All Right came to prominence when it first premiered at Sundance. It is the first movie to depict a same-sex LGTBQ+ couple raising teenagers; its main characters, the two mothers, are portrayed by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. Their children are now 16 and 18, and when the 16-year-old wants to find out who his real father is — they were conceived via a sperm donor — he requests his sister to contact him. This decision turns out both catastrophic and therapeutic as an unlikely affair begins, filling in the cracks in their relationships.
Bening’s Award-Winning Portrayal
The Kids Are All Right is as much a comedy as a family drama, its multiple layers revealing important themes that make a family. Bening and Moore are a pair the world didn’t know it needed until the film played out under the wholesome direction of Lisa Cholodenko. Bening and Moore make for a great couple because of how real they feel; their love is genuine, but so too are the moments where they hurt one another because they feel like an actual couple with years of history. For her well-acted role and portrayal of maternal warmth, Annette Bening won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress and was nominated in the same category for BAFTA and Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Stream on Pluto TV
2 Bugsy (1991)
Historical crime drama Bugsy opens in 1941, a nod to the classic era of gangster and film noir movies that set Hollywood ablaze. In Los Angeles, a gangster known as Bugsy (Warren Beatty) finds love with a Hollywood starlet (Bening), but there is a big problem: he is already married. As he investigates a potential business opportunity to open a casino in Las Vegas, his past life keeps creeping up on him. The movie took home Best Motion Picture — Drama at the Golden Globes that year.
Stylish And Appealing
On the one hand, there is Beatty as the charming, forward-thinking but notoriously volatile Bugsy, who makes the film as wild and passionate with as much acting as possible. And on the other hand is Bening as the tough and glamorous movie star, holding her own against her co-star’s titanic persona. With Barry Levinson’s stylish direction and the fascinating premise, she crafts an indelible heroine who appeals but also manipulates. And Beatty and Bening’s chemistry extended off-screen, too, with them getting married the following year. Stream on MGM+
- Release Date
- December 10, 1991
1 American Beauty (1999)
A magazine executive (Kevin Spacey) is in an unhappy marriage with his wife (Bening), while their teenage daughter suffers from her own problems along with her parent’s issues. A collection of themes, whether about sexuality or repression, then emerge in the story, offering an interesting collage on the characters’ actions to reflect on. Taking home five Oscars, including that for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, this dark comedy is nothing short of a masterpiece.
One Of Her Most Complex Performance
For its searing portrayal of human hollowness and its costs, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty is now a classic, a staple in the world of contemporary American cinema even if its star has fallen from grace. As the repressed, materialistic, and relentless Carolyn, Annette Bening delivers her most multi-layered and unsettling work. She infuses complexity into a role that could have been easily dismissed as a stereotype and elevates the film’s texture and appeal. While today, American Beauty might be difficult to watch due to the real-life controversy behind star Kevin Spacey, this movie was a cultural phenomenon in 1999 and still holds up today, and much of that is due to Bening’s incredible performance. Stream on Prime Video