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Top 10 Jack Nicholson Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born April 22nd, 1937, Jack Nicholson started acting in the late 1950s and earned his first Oscar nod about a decade later for his role in "Easy Rider." Since then, it's been a wild and crazy ride: Jack has proven he can play crazy, dramatic, evil, sensitive, funny and so much more. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 Jack Nicholson performances. Special thanks to our user Danielius Karakorskis for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest.

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Heeeeeere’s Jack! Welcome to and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Jack Nicholson performances.

#10 – Terms of Endearment (1983)

Though “About Schmidt” and “The Last Detail” could’ve also taken this spot, we’ve chosen Nicholson’s Oscar-winning role as Garrett Breedlove for the list. Focused on a mother-daughter relationship, this dramedy has the actor playing love interest and supporting character to Shirley MacLaine’s Aurora Greenway. But even as second fiddle, Nicholson aptly displays his versatility as a rowdy, funny and sensitive, middle-aged ex-astronaut.

#9 – Easy Rider (1969)

His screen time in this road movie may be brief, but Nicholson certainly makes the most of it: his turn as the paranoid alcoholic lawyer who gets contemplative on drugs earned him an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. Featuring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as two traveling bikers, “Easy Rider” defined the 1960s with its hippie ideals, and it just wouldn’t be the same without George Hanson.

#8 - The Departed (2006)

With this Oscar-winning Martin Scorsese flick, Nicholson demonstrated once again that he could be a vital supporting player as much as an incredible lead. His performance as sadistic mob boss Frank Costello helped round out the crime thriller’s excellent ensemble cast. Meanwhile, his Best Supporting Oscar nod proved he truly has a knack for portraying memorable villains.

#7 – Five Easy Pieces (1970)

This drama follows a piano-prodigy-turned-rebel who must reconcile with his ailing father after years of trying to find meaning in life. The journey isn’t an easy one for Bobby, who’s so lost he can’t even get along with a diner waitress. Nicholson’s subtle portrayal of the aloof and frustrated man worked so well he was nominated for an Oscar. It also helped earn the movie a spot in the National Film Registry.

#6 – As Good As It Gets (1997)

If you’re looking for a funny and moving romantic comedy with thoughtful dialogue and real characters, this is certainly “as good as it gets.” It might not be easy to like the film’s protagonist at first – considering he’s a narcissistic novelist that pretty much hates everyone he meets – but as the movie goes on, you can’t help but laugh and even find his compulsiveness endearing. All of this of course, wouldn’t be possible without Nicholson’s Oscar-winning efforts.

#5 – A Few Good Men (1992)

He may not be one of the “few good men” of this courtroom drama’s title, but he definitely plays one good villain. As the tough and menacing Colonel Jessep, Nicholson manages to make a very big impact with only a few scenes. He also ensures we won’t forget him by giving us one of the greatest movie quotes ever and by nabbing a Best Supporting Actor nod.

#4 – Batman (1989)

A decade before Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded an Oscar for playing the Dark Knight’s archenemy; Nicholson brought his version of The Joker to Tim Burton’s Batman universe. Considered a much darker take than Cesar Romero’s TV rendition, Nicholson’s supervillain stole many scenes by incorporating elements of the surreal and black comedy in the character. In a nutshell, his Joker was campy, creepy, intense, and maybe even a little batshit crazy.

#3 – Chinatown (1974)

Roman Polanski mixed mystery, psychological drama and neo-noir elements into an Oscar-winning tale revolving around a private detective who discovers corruption and murder among Los Angeles’ bureaucracy. Though Jake Gittes has got quite a sense of humor, it’s his many layers, ranging from cool and rational, to curious, determined and more, that make the character so iconic. In fact, Nicholson net another Best Actor Oscar nod for his role in this classic of 1970s American cinema.

#2 – The Shining (1980)

Actually, here’s Jack: in all of his psychopathic glory. In this film adaptation of the Stephen King novel, Nicholson plays a writer whose sanity becomes increasingly questionable after he and his family become trapped in what may-or-may-not be a haunted hotel. His performance is so terrifying and entertaining you might even be inclined to blame a supernatural source for its power.

#1 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Based on the Ken Kesey novel of the same name, this drama won Nicholson his first Oscar for Best Actor and for good reason: by blending anger, energy, vulgar comedy and a bit of crazy, the role fit him like a glove. As a rebellious patient who tries to instigate trouble against the authorities at a mental institution, he was brilliant, unforgettable and oh-so-Jack.

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