Meryl Streep is one of the most universally adored actresses on this planet. It’s like a fact at this point. Being the actress with the most Oscar nominations in history (21 nominations and three wins to be exact), her talent is unmatched. Why do we love Meryl Streep? There is something about her that you can’t find in anyone else. When she appears on-screen, it’s like the light and air shifts in the room in which you’re watching her, and she’s all you can focus on. With her natural abilities combined with her knowledge and excellent work ethic, she’s an inspiration to all—audience members and performers alike.
The two people who wrote the very article you’re reading, actually sparked a friendship through their love of Meryl Streep. It’s very rare you meet someone else at your school, in the same class as you, who has also had a Meryl Streep poster hanging in their bedroom. We (Abby and Ariana) could talk about Meryl to our hearts content, and both being HCTNS writers, we knew it was our destiny to write an article about her.
With at least 93 film credits, trying to narrow down a list of Meryl’s best performances feels almost impossible. So, we have combined our love for Meryl and our experiences watching her films to bring you our top 10 favorite Meryl Streep films!
- Kramer vs. Kramer
This is one of Meryl’s most iconic films and what earned her first Oscar. Kramer vs. Kramer tells a revolutionary, gender-norm challenging story about something not normalized during the 1970s: the idea that a mother could abandon her son. Meryl plays Joanna Kramer, a deeply unhappy mother to Billy (Justin Henry) and wife to Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman). As things are “going right” for Ted, a major promotion and having a “loving family,” Joanna decides she can longer live her mundane life and decides to leave her son and husband behind. Although Meryl doesn’t have much screen time, (the film focuses on Ted’s adjustment to becoming a single father and later Joanna’s return and desire for custody of Billy), what little screen time she has is so impactful: “All my life I’ve felt like…somebody’s wife or somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter. Even all the time we were together I never knew who I was. And that’s why I had to go away…” Especially in the moving courtroom scene (that turns out she improvised much of) Meryl does what she’s best at: adding depth and understanding to someone most wouldn’t give the time of day to.
- August: Osage County
August: Osage County is one of the most devastating family tales. It’s the film version of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play and tells the story of a dysfunctional, Oklahoman family who has been brought together to deal with the sudden death of their father. Meryl’s character couldn’t be more different from the warm, kind and generous woman we see most often portrayed on and off the screen. Violet Weston, the family’s matriarch, is manipulative, verbally abusive and miserable. Without their father around, her children see her as a burden, as she also develops a pill addiction that accumulated after her cancer diagnosis. Violet is very different from the kind of mother Meryl had, who was her hero, but Meryl felt she had an obligation to portray Violet. “The reason I did [August] was that a very dear friend said to me, ‘…You have to do this for me and for all the girls like me who had bad mothers, who made it in spite of that, who got out, and for all the ones who didn’t and to let them know it’s OK to leave that behind.'” With additional riveting performances from an all-star cast including Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale and Sam Shepard, this gripping melodrama is worth a watch.
- Defending Your Life
We have all wondered what happens when we die. In this fun and playful film, death isn’t just about the white pearly gates or a fiery eternal doom, it’s about the process of getting there. Quite literally, it is about defending your life. Meryl stars alongside Albert Brooks, playing two individuals who have passed away and arrive to the afterlife only to find out that they have to stand trial, justifying their actions in their previous lives in order to find out if they will move onto the next phase of existence or return to Earth to try it all over again. Meryl’s character Julia is incredibly sweet and lived quite the accomplished life. She falls in love with Daniel (Brooks) even though they are quite the opposites. It’s a teachable rom-com that is a perfect pick for your next night-in.
- Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia! is an excellent ‘gateway drug’ into Meryl Streep films. With all that’s going on in the world, if you are in need of a feel-good, colorful, star packed, movie-musical that shows Meryl in her element, look no further. When people of our generation are asked what their favorite Meryl Streep movie is, Mamma Mia! is one of the more common answers. And we see why. Meryl plays Donna Sheridan, an adventurous, loving, free-spirited, single mother who runs a hotel in Greece with her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) at her side. Aside from Donna’s best friends/bandmates, played by the iconic Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, Sophie invites (without Donna knowing) the three men that could possibly be her father. Yes, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård join this ABBA packed party. It’s an overall fabulous film, and Meryl really is the best part. Her version of “The Winner Takes It All” will leave all the dancing queens shook.
- Sophie’s Choice
Warning: this is one of the most devastating films you will ever watch. However, as my Mom told me, “You can’t claim to truly love Meryl, and not have seen Sophie’s Choice.” And she was right. This is truly one of Meryl’s most miraculous performances, which led to her second Oscar win. Based off of William Styron’s novel, Streep plays Sophie, a Holocaust survivor living in Brooklyn with her boyfriend Nathan (Kevin Kline) and befriends the young writer who has just moved into the room below them, Stingo (Peter MacNicol). As Stingo gets to know his new neighbors, he learns of Sophie’s harrowing journey—a story that will shatter your heart. But believe me when I tell you that seeing Meryl perform this role is something you need to see. She is so emotionally vulnerable, and it will make you feel very deeply.
- Julie & Julia
This film is a prime example of the way Meryl commits to a character. In Julie & Julia, she steps into the shoes of the one-of-a-kind chef Julia Child. Julia was known for her spirit, humor and of course that iconic sing-songy voice of hers that was loved by so many. To tell her backstory, Meryl completely transforms herself into Julia, not only bringing her back to life but also allowing the world to better understand who Julia was before she became such a renowned author, cook and TV personality. It’s a great story, told alongside the story of Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams), who dedicates writing a blog based on her experiences cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook (containing 524 recipes) in just 365 days.
- Florence Foster Jenkins
After watching Mamma Mia!, you’re pretty much convinced that Meryl is just as gifted a singer as she is an actress. Her voice is beautiful. This movie presented even more of a challenge than beautifully belting an ABBA ballad. Based on a real woman, Florence Foster Jenkins surrounds a 1940s socialite in NYC who dreams of becoming a famous singer. Her fabulously wealthy and devoted husband (Hugh Grant…swoon) will do anything to make her dream come true. In Florence’s head, she has one of the most beautiful soprano voices. But in reality, it’s a disaster. Trying to sing poorly and terribly off-key is extremely difficult to do, especially when you’re already an experienced vocalist. But Meryl can pull off anything, and she shines in this heartwarming and hilarious film.
- Postcards from the Edge
Based on the life and story written by Carrie Fisher, once a dear friend of Meryl’s, this film is a witty and raw comedy about Hollywood actress Suzanne Vale’s (Meryl) struggles with addiction and life as the daughter of a star, Doris Mann (played by Shirley MacLaine referencing the beloved Debbie Reynolds). This movie not only gives a semi-autobiographical look at Fisher’s life in an honest and funny way, but also sheds light on the trials and tribulations of dealing with overdose, addiction and rehab, and is a commentary on mother-daughter relationships and the dark truths of Hollywood, making it a fun but intriguing film worth any movie watcher’s time.
- The River Wild
Being a strong mother is familiar to Meryl, but her character, Gail Hartman, gives strong a new meaning in this suspenseful and tumultuous film. The River Wild takes place on a family river rafting vacation. Full of normal family vacations antics like a distracted, workaholic dad (David Dtrathairn) and an antsy, attention-craving son (Joseph Mazzello), the trip soon takes a turn when two men (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly), originally three, appear. Guns, river rapids and family. Will Gail’s strength be enough to save her family? Watch this intense, but captivating film to find out!
- The Hours
Based on the book by Michael Cunningham, The Hours is one of Meryl’s most stoic roles. The film tells the stories of Virginia Woolf, the celebrated author (Nicole Kidman), Laura Brown, a 50s housewife (Julianne Moore), and Clarissa Vaughan, a busy New Yorker (Meryl Streep). Although seemingly different, all living in various points in time, they’re all connected through one of Woolf’s most famous works, Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa is the embodiment of Mrs. Dalloway—someone who treats planning a party as if it were as important as figuring out world peace, but her attention and perfectionism are warranted because the party is for her ex-companion Richard (Ed Harris), a prize-winning author living with AIDS. She just wants him to feel appreciated, which is something we can all relate to—going above and beyond for the people we love most. What makes this film so meaningful is how it addresses life’s pain and beauty. From suicide and death, to love, suffering and sacrifice, these women’s stories are both comforting and heart-wrentching because they remind the audience that everyone experiences darkness, but as Clarissa reminds us, we must never give up: “That is what we do. That is what people do. They stay alive for each other.”
From her incredible performances, to her advocacy work, to inspiring our friendship, Meryl Streep has given the world so much. As one of the greatest actresses of her generation (we would argue of all time), she’s played a range of characters that show the depth, complexities, joys and cruelties of life, but more notably, of women’s lives. She’s got a film for every occasion! Want a dance party? Watch Mamma Mia! Need to let out a good cry? Take on Sophie’s Choice. Wanna be on the edge of your seat? The River Wild is for you. Meryl’s film contributions are vast. You can’t go wrong with any one of her films (okay maybe Manhattan *cough* Woody Allen *cough*), but if you don’t know where to start, we recommend any of the above ten films. You can trust our taste—we are certified Streep Connoisseurs, after all!