Academy Award winner Julianne Moore first appeared on-screen in 1984 when she took a role in the soap opera The Edge of Night. She then went on to score a recurring role on another soap opera titled As The World Turns for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award. Her first film role was in Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, but it was her role in the 1992 film The Hand That Rocks The Cradle that really brought her film career to new heights. Her body of work spans many genres and her characters range from mistresses to housewives, and everything in between. With her newest film When You Finish Saving The World set to premiere on January 20, it’s the perfect time to look back on some of her best and most notable performances.
Amber Waves in Boogie Nights (1997)
Boogie Nights chronicles the rise of pornographic actor Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) in the 1970s through to his downfall in the 1980s. Moore plays Amber Waves, another actor in the industry, who is introduced early on in the film. Despite the obvious erotic themes of the film, there’s an intense familial underbelly that shines through in a gritty and stunning way — most notably due to Moore’s performance. She shows intense dedication to the role and makes Amber a truly sympathetic and endearing character that you can’t help but feel for as she falls deeper and deeper into personal woes. It’s this role that first garnered the Academy’s attention and earned Moore a nomination for best supporting actress and solidified her star power in Hollywood.
Sarah Miles in The End of The Affair (1999)
The End of The Affair earned Moore an Academy Award nomination in the best-actress category. She plays Sarah Miles, an unhappy housewife who is swept up in an affair and is dealing with a crisis of faith. Her turn in the role is stunning and a highlight of her already impressive career. The film received much critical acclaim, most directed toward Moore’s performance.
Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven (2002)
Far From Heaven tells the story of Cathy Whitaker, a 1950s housewife whose once-perfect life begins to crumble before her eyes. After she discovers her husband has been having an affair with a man, she seeks solace in her African-American gardener. The film balances heavy themes of race and sexual orientation which were controversial and taboo topics during that time period. Moore’s portrayal is poetic, a beautiful and emotional arc that is often regarded as the best performance of her career. It also landed her a second best-actress nomination.
Laura Brown in The Hours (2002)
The Hours follows three generations of women whose lives are interconnected by their personal readings of Virginia Woolf‘s Mrs Dalloway. Acting alongside the likes of Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Ed Harris, Moore holds her own as Laura Brown: a pregnant housewife in an unhappy marriage, who’s grappling with guilt and suicidal thoughts due to her inability to find happiness. The role saw her third Academy Award nomination (and her second of the night at the 75th Academy Awards alongside her best actress nod for Far From Heaven,) for best supporting actress, and also showcased her ability to play deeply complex and troubled characters.
Alice Howland in Still Alice (2014)
Still Alice was the film that finally scored Julianne Moore her long-deserved Academy Award and for good reason. Moore takes on the role of Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Harvard who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Moore spent months studying for the role, and it shows. Her performance is raw, genuine, and devastatingly beautiful. It’s a standout role for Moore and rightfully lands among her best.
Maude Lebowski in The Big Lebowski (1998)
Though not originally a hit at the time of its release, The Big Lebowski has gone on to become a cult classic, and Moore’s turn as Maude Lebowski is an unforgettable piece of the film. Maude is an eccentric, passionate feminist and artist who creates her paintings by way of flying above the room in a harness and dripping paint on her way. Moore absolutely nails the role, taking a starkly serious character and playing her with such deadpan intensity that you can’t help but chuckle a little.
Linda in Magnolia (1999)
Magnolia reunites Moore with her Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson and several of her co-stars, due to the film’s all-star ensemble. Moore plays Linda, a woman who married for money but is slowly falling in love with her husband for the first time as he lies on his deathbed. The role was written for Moore, making her performance feel all the more perfectly tuned. Moore has a spectacular ability for turning characters who aren’t all that likable or morally good and turning them into compassionate, complex, fleshed-out characters you can’t help but feel something for — no matter how small.
Havana Segrand in Maps To the Stars (2014)
Maps To The Stars is a bleak look into Hollywood and has Moore playing Havana Segrand — a washed-up actress who is plagued by visions of her late mother. The film, directed by David Cronenberg, is a haunting look into the effect stardom has on some. Moore’s character is a detached, train-wreck of a person, and unsurprisingly she aces the role while still giving her a pitiful sliver of humanity that makes her feel all the more tragic.
Emily in Crazy Stupid Love (2011)
Moore took on the role of Emily, the now-estranged wife of Cal (Steve Carrell) in this romantic comedy from 2011. While her role isn’t huge, she’s still a delightful presence in the all-star cast. She and Carrell are a great on-screen duo and work off of each other well, and they both bring an added sweetness to a relatively simple plot. It’s also a nice juxtaposition from the more dramatic roles Moore had been opting for prior. Plus, who doesn’t love a good rom-com?
Carol in Safe (1995)
In Safe, Moore takes on the role of a housewife who begins to show signs of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS.) Having a nosebleed due to the chemicals while getting a perm, and coughing uncontrollably when smelling the fumes of car exhaust, Moore’s character Carol begins to realize that she is “allergic” to her surroundings. Even worse, her doctors don’t know how to help her. Moore gives a brutal portrayal of loneliness and isolation and the breakdown of a woman’s psyche as her once-normal life becomes one she can hardly survive in.
Jules in The Kids Are Alright (2010)
The Kids Are Alright follows Nicole (Annette Bening) and Jules (Moore) Allgood, a same-sex couple raising two teenagers who decide to seek out their biological father Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Jules, feeling underappreciated in her marriage, begins an affair with Paul that kicks off the dramatic arc of the film which lands it on this list. Moore expertly balances Jules’ conflicting emotions, from the part of her that so dearly loves her wife and the other that craves more affection and attentiveness. Her performance gives the seemingly cheeky comedy a ton of heart and emotion that is unexpected but only elevates the already great film.
Gloria in Gloria Bell (2018)
Sebastián Lelio opted to remake his Chilean-Spanish film (that version is simply titled Gloria) and in doing so gave us yet another superb Julianne Moore performance. Moore plays Gloria, a newly-divorced middle age woman, who spends her nights going to clubs and dancing her cares away. The film explores middle-aged romance and the difficulties of navigating it, especially after a divorce, and Moore gives a gorgeous and gutty performance. In an industry where middle-aged actresses struggle to find roles of substance, it’s wholly satisfying to see Moore (who was 58 at the time) drive this film — and in such a gratifying and poignant role.