When I think of iconic actors in Hollywood who have been around for decades, one of the first that pops up in my mind is Jack Nicholson. The veteran talent, who has starred in films such as Batman, The Shining, and The Departed has truly become a household name and has created some of the most memorable film moments in history.
While he's retired from acting now, we can take a look back on Jack Nicholson’s best movies, from the very start of his career to the end. If you’re looking for some of his movies to stream or rent right now, here are your best options.
Easy Rider (1969)
In Jack Nicholson’s big break, Easy Rider tells the story of two bikers who travel through the American Southwest and South, carrying the proceeds that they have made from a cocaine deal.
With film legends such as Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda by Nicholson’s side, Easy Rider makes it clear to see why it was his big break in the movie business. Exploring the social landscape of the 1960s, and featuring impressive performances, Easy Rider is a great counterculture film that really makes a statement.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
This psychological comedy-drama is sure to keep you entertained from beginning to end. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest tells the story of Randle McMurphy, a new patient in a mental institution, and his ongoing experiences with the patients and the nurses there.
Jack Nicholson won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, and honestly, I can believe it. He, alongside his amazing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest co-stars, performed their parts spectacularly and made you believe that they were really in a mental hospital, from beginning to end. Another highlight of this film is Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched. I mean, Ryan Murphy produced a whole Netflix series about that singular character for a reason. It really is a great film.
The Shining (1980)
The Shining is one of the best horror movies ever, in my opinion. In this film, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, we follow Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic, who takes his family as he becomes a caretaker for an isolated hotel in the off-season. While he is there, however, he haunted by the spirits that live there, which causes his mental health to deteriorate until he attacks his loved ones.
I could do a whole piece about why The Shining is one of the best psychological horror films out there to watch. From some iconic quotes (“Here’s Johnny!”) to amazing acting performances from, not only Nicholson, but Shelley Duvall, The Shining is a film classic that will never be forgotten.
Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
Moving onto something a little happier, Something’s Gotta Give is a romantic comedy starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton as two middle-aged people who find love for each other, despite being complete opposites.
I think what I love the most about this movie is that it focuses on the middle years of life. So many romantic comedies tell the story of young love and the passion one finds when they are in their twenties or thirties, sometimes even the teen years. But Something’s Gotta Give examines that same formula for people who are older and does it well, which is only amplified by the stellar performances of Nicolson and Keaton. Keanu Reeves, Amana Peet, and Frances McDormand also star.
In this drama, Ironweed tells the story of a homeless couple, one who is an alcoholic and the other who is terminally ill, following the years after the Great Depression.
It stars Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep - how much more iconic can you make a movie with these two famous names in it? Even so, Ironweed didn’t get the box-office love that was rightfully deserved back then. If you enjoy a good drama, Ironweed is certainly a worthwhile pick to sit down and watch, as it's carried by the chemistry the leads have. Both were nominated for an Academy Award for their roles, so you know they’re going to be amazing.
About Schmidt (2002)
In this comedy-drama, About Schmidt tells the story of a recently retired man, who had led a safe life, and is going to go on a journey to visit his estranged daughter for her wedding. But, along the way, he learns more about himself and life than he ever expected to learn.
What makes About Schmidt such a wonderful film is Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the character. Schmidt could have been turned into a depressing character who hasn’t lived his life to the fullest, but because Nicholson is such a great actor, he brings this sort of life to Schmidt that I personally don’t think anyone else could, creating a desire for the character to start living life more now, before his time is up. It’s a great study on how humans as a whole live our lives, and how you’re never too old to start chasing your dreams.
As Good As It Gets (1997)
In this comedy-drama, As Good as it Gets stars Jack Nicholson as an obsessive-compulsive writer, who’s rude to every person he meets. But, when he starts to look after his neighbor's dog, his perception of the world begins to change.
As Good as it Gets is a great film if you’re feeling down. The story of Nicholson’s character, who works his way out of his personality through the sheer goodwill of others and the purity of a cute animal, is uplifting in the best possible way. Both Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt have great roles and awesome chemistry, alongside other big stars like Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., and more.
Batman has to be one of the most adapted characters in all of comic book history, and this is one of the most legendary portrayals. Batman, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, takes place early in Batman’s war on crime, focusing primarily on his conflicts with the legendary villain, the Joker.
While there are some great Joker adaptations, including that of Heath Ledger, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Nicholson’s Joker. He just brings the perfect amount of sinister and silliness to the role, creating a multi-faceted villain who has lived on in cinema since the film's release. Keaton is also a fantastic Batman - a role he’ll be reprising in the film, The Batman - and both he and Keaton work great together.
The Witches Of Eastwick (1987)
Based on the novel of the same name, The Witches of Eastwick follows three women who are unaware of the power of the words they speak while uttering their deepest desires. When a man arrives in time to fulfill those desires, they at first don't realize his own powerful dark side.
If you want a fantasy movie, this is certainly one of the more fun ones out there. Not only is Jack Nicholson awesome in his role as Daryl Van Horne, the rest of the cast is amazing. Stars like Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pheiffer and more act alongside him, creating a funny, dark fantasy movie that fits Nicholson’s acting style perfectly, highlighting his comedic skills.
If you’re looking for neo-noir mystery movies, check out Chinatown. A private detective is hired to expose an adulterer in 1930s Los Angeles, but as he does, he digs up a well of darker secrets, including corruption and murder.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Chinatown, just because the neo-noir film style isn't usually my thing. But, I give credit where credit is due, and Chinatown is still a very enjoyable and well-done movie, with Jack Nicholson taking the lead as J.J. “Jake” Gittes. The story is fantastic, with twists and turns around every corner, a fantastic score, and amazing cinematography. Certainly worth the time to watch at least once if you haven’t.
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Moving onto another comedy-drama, Terms of Endearment tells the story of the 30 year relationship between Aurora Greenway and her daughter, Emma, and all the trials and tribulations that they go through.
While the movie mainly focuses on the relationship between mother and daughter, Terms of Endearment gives everyone a chance to shine, including Jack Nicholson as Garrett Breedlove, who dates Aurora. From someone who’s watched the film several times, know that the story will most likely leave you smiling or crying. Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger are fantastic in their starring roles, as is the whole cast, including Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow, and more.
A Few Good Men (1992)
Moving on to one of many courtroom dramas, A Few Good Men revolves around the court-martial of two U.S. Marines, who were charged with the murder of a fellow Marine, and follows the tribulations of their lawyers as they try to prepare a case to defend their clients.
A Few Good Men is amazing all around, with not only a fantastic performance from Nicholson, but that of his co-stars, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. The story is intriguing and engrossing from the start to the very end. The courtroom scenes themselves are enough to entertain anyone, and will have you on the edge of your seat.
The Departed (2006)
Last but not least, we take a look at The Departed, one of the best Martin Scorsese movies. tells the story of Boston's real-life Winter Hill Gang, telling the story of the battle between the mob and the police.
The Departed is one of the best modern pieces of cinema, in my opinion. Jack Nicholson only adds to this amazing cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Whalberg, Alec Baldwin, and so many others. The story is high-stakes, the set design fantastic - I could go on for hours and hours about how good The Departed is. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check it out soon. Trust me - it’s one of the best mob / gang movies you could watch.
With so many amazing films, Jack Nicholson will forever be a legend in Hollywood. For me, my favorite will always be The Shining, but as you can see, there are plenty of awesome picks to choose from.
Big nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Will forever hate season eight. Superhero and horror geek. And please don't debate me on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!
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