The 18 Greatest Amy Adams Movies, Ranked

Amy Adams is one of the best actresses of her generation, and there's a compelling case to be made that she's the very best. Adams has a long history in the industry, having first broken out in the late '90s and early 21st century thanks to a series of small supporting roles and brief appearances on television shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "That '70s Show," "Smallville," "The West Wing," and "Charmed." 

There's no ego in Adams' performances. She's willing to take on any role and knock it out of the park. She has a range and versatility that are virtually unparalleled among her contemporaries. Regardless of what type of role she's in, Adams can transform into the character. She's believably taken part in ambitious science fiction projects, historical films, outrageous comedies, dark thrillers, family films, arthouse dramas, and even major comic book franchises.

Here are the 18 greatest Amy Adams movies ranked.

18. Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

Director Mike Nichols ended his career on a high note with the 2007 dramedy biopic "Charlie Wilson's War," his last project before his tragic death from cardiac arrest in 2014. The film features the noted political specificity of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and tells the incredible true story of how idiosyncratic U.S. Representative Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) worked with CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to help fund Afghan resistance forces during the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. Amy Adams has a critical supporting role as Bonnie Bach, Wilson's secretary and administrative assistant who travels with him on many of his overseas trips.

"Charlie Wilson's War" strikes an interesting tone. The story obviously has very serious ramifications, but there's also much humor and satire in the film — particularly when it comes to Wilson's womanizing nature. Adams provides brilliant comic timing as she attempts to deal with her boss's impulses.

17. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Amy Adams often takes roles that let her play at being an "old-fashioned" movie star. "Enchanted" is the story of a classic Disney princess who meets our very modern world. Her work in "The Muppets" and "Man of Steel" harkens back to classic Hollywood, insofar as both projects concern characters who feel of another time and place. It makes sense, then, that Adams would thrive in a vintage period piece. 

That's the case with "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," a breezy romantic comedy that lets Adams tap into 1940s sensibilities. That's the core appeal of "Pettigrew," which boasts lavish set designs and a cast that fully embraces the chance to be dashing and effervescent. The simple story of a governess (Francis McDormand) who falls into work with an American singer-actress (Adams), "Pettigrew" is enlivened by everyone's commitment and care. Director Bharat Nalluri incorporates the mastery of tone he refined helming episodes of fine British television series ("Spooks," "Life on Mars") into the film, helping it veer from comedy to drama and back again. 

But it's McDormand and Adams who really elevate the proceedings, relishing a chance to bite into star-making roles crafted from bygone sensibilities. In looking to the past in "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," Adams proves why she's a vital part of Hollywood's present.

16. Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

As strange as this may seem, it's useful to look at "Sunshine Cleaning" through the lens of '90s grunge music. Temple of the Dog was an American rock supergroup featuring Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam fame, respectively. Those bands are both bigger and better than Temple of the Dog, but "Hunger Strike" — which Temple of the Dog wrote and produced in honor of Layne Staley — is as heartfelt and as any other grunge anthem ever. It's a strong work of art made better by supernova-force vocalists.

"Sunshine Cleaning," Christine Jeffs' Sundance-cosigned film about a crime scene cleanup business, is the "Hunger Strike" of the late '00s indie film boom. It probably would've been a genuinely good film with any cast, but the actors make it great. Adams and Emily Blunt are operating near the top of their powers here, cementing their status as stars and exerting full control of their gifts. That means that Blunt taps into the steely, exposed-nerve energy that buoyed "Edge of Tomorrow," "The Girl on the Train," and so many others. Amy Adams, fresh off the career-making "Enchanted," seems eager to prove her leading-lady status. The result is a film anchored in Adams' bruised charm and Blunt's volcanic energy, and one that soars past its dated, post-"Little Miss Sunshine" quirks. 

Adams is at her best when she leans into or away from her winning energy, and, in "Sunshine Cleaning," she proves that approach can yield artistic dividends. At the time of filming, Adams was hungry to succeed, and "Sunshine Cleaning" is all the better for it.

15. The Muppets (2011)

Few franchises in pop culture history are as treasured as "The Muppets." The nostalgia for these iconic characters is strong with the generation that grew up loving the work of Jim Henson. The franchise had already produced many classic films, but the series had been largely dormant from the big screen when 2011's "The Muppets" attempted to tell a legacy story about disenfranchised versions of the characters that return to perform a new show together. While there was a risk the film could come off as incredibly cynical, it is a loving tribute to the classic characters that also introduces some new faces.

Gary (Jason Segal) is a lifelong Muppets fan whose brother Walter is a puppet. Amy Adams co-stars as Gary's longtime girlfriend Mary, an elementary school teacher who yearns for the day when Gary will propose to her. It takes a certain magic to play a human in a Muppet movie, and Adams possesses the comedic chops, musical talent, and heartfelt nature that is necessary.

14. Big Eyes (2014)

Sometimes great performances can save a film that may not have otherwise worked. Tim Burton's 2014 biopic "Big Eyes" was a fascinating departure for the incredibly stylistic filmmaker. Burton often works in the fantasy, adventure, and horror genres, but tackling the true story of a tormented artistic relationship was a much different creative avenue for him. Given Burton's signature quirks, there was a risk that the story could feel uncomfortable, but the excellent performances by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz make it an inspiring and entertaining story.

The film centers around painter Margaret Ulbrich (Adams), a blind woman who gains attention in her San Francisco community for her interesting portraits of figures with big eyes. She attracts the attention of fellow painter Walter Keane (Waltz), a wealthier artist famed for his city pictures. Walter sees Margaret's potential, and they marry. However, Walter decides that in order for Margaret to be taken seriously, he should take credit for her work.

13. Julie & Julia (2009)

Released in 2009, "Julie & Julia" is simply a delightful movie on every level. Nora Ephron's adaptation of Julie Powell's book of the same name is a much more insightful story than it may initially seem. While the film is light and contains a good deal of humor, Ephron adds a lot of interesting commentary on the early stages of internet culture, the nature of fandom, and the ways cooking can unite (and divide) generations.

Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is an employee at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's call center. In the aftermath of 9/11, she decides to radically change her life by spending a year cooking the recipes of the famous television cook Julia Child (Meryl Streep). What begins as a fun way to bond with her husband Eric (Chris Messina) becomes an obsession as Julie creates a blog that tracks her experiences. The film also incorporates a parallel timeline of Child's life and relationship with her own husband Paul (Stanley Tucci).

12. Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Tom Ford's 2016 thriller "Nocturnal Animals" is a complicated mix of in-depth character studies and deeply disturbing material. It's a fascinating blend of schlock and elevated genre fare, and the film requires its ensemble to play into both nuanced character work and the inherent filthiness of the pulpy material. The parallel timelines give the actors the chance to explore two separate but intertwined sets of events that influence each other.

Amy Adams stars as reclusive art museum manager Susan Morrow who receives an invitation from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) to meet up. Edward is a novelist and forwards Susan a copy of his latest novel. Susan discovers that the disturbing events of Edward's book are somewhat inspired by their own relationship. Gyllenhaal also stars in dramatizations of the novel's events that center around doomed husband Tony Hastings. Hastings works with the ruthless detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) when his wife and daughter are kidnapped.

11. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Steven Spielberg's 2002 biopic of teenage con artist Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) is one of his best films. Incorporating the fun adventure of a caper story within a tragic character study of someone unable to form strong relationships, "Catch Me If You Can" employs a strong ensemble of characters.  As these interesting figures move in and out of Abagnale's life, he's constantly forced to give up his new relationships because he's on the run from obsessive FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks).

Among the most heartbreaking sequences in the film is Abangale's brief fling with young nurse Brenda Strong (Amy Adams). Abagnale masquerades as a medical professional and charms the sensitive Brenda. Soon, he gets the opportunity to meet her highly religious father, Roger (Martin Sheen). Roger is extremely strict with his daughter and gives Abagnale implicit rules about courting her. When Abagnale is forced to leave Brenda behind, Adams' emotional performance is devastating.

10. Enchanted (2007)

Modern musicals have generally been hit or miss when it comes to critical and box office performance. It's certainly challenging to capture the same magic on the big screen that's present on stage. "Enchanted," released in 2007, faced even greater challenges. It's hard to craft a successful live-action family musical when animated musicals are so popular with children. "Enchanted," which tells the story of Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) who is transported to modern-day New York, could have easily fallen flat and been a massive embarrassment to all those involved.

Thankfully, "Enchanted" is a clever subversion of fairy tale archetypes and characters couched in a hilarious fish-out-of-water comedy. The original soundtrack is also stellar, and the film finds amusing ways of incorporating the musical elements within a modern setting. Adams plays a hopelessly earnest princess who is forced to adjust to an unfamiliar world, and the film relies almost entirely on Adams' charisma. 

9. Junebug (2005)

There are two films in competition for the definitive Amy Adams movie. One is "Enchanted." For my money, that's the clear winner. The Disney princess riff is the rare film that has its cake and eats it too, all while making Adams feel like the world's most appealing movie star. Every actor would be lucky to make their own "Enchanted."

To get to "Enchanted," though, Adams needed "Junebug."

"Junebug" is Amy Adams unleashed. It exists at the exact intersection of all her talents, with a spotlight trained straight on it. Adams' gift for exaggerated comedy, her ability to simultaneously craft characters from broad strokes and minute details, and her gift for letting the bottom drop out from under her characters' lives all shine through. That latter quality in particular rears its head near the midpoint of "Junebug," and takes Adams' character, Ashley, from a potential caricature to deeply human. 

These are all tools that Adams honed in "Enchanted," but they revealed themselves in Phil Morrison's story of red-state versus blue-state family dynamics. "Junebug" would deserve a spot on this list even if Adams weren't such a dynamo in it — Morrison's movie is lovingly crafted and frequently hysterical — but, since it might be the reason this list exists, it deserves a paramount spot in this ranking.

8. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Amy Adams' first film role was in one of the most outrageous comedies of the '90s. "Drop Dead Gorgeous" is an uproarious satire of small-town beauty pageants told in a mockumentary fashion. Featuring ridiculous caricatures and frequent off-color humor, it's a film that's seemingly made to generate a cult audience and features fun performances from an ensemble cast of young stars — many of whom were poised to have breakout roles in the next few years.

The film centers around Kirsten Dunst's character Amber Atkins, a poor, shy girl who works at a morgue to support her mother, Annette (Ellen Barkin). Amber's primary rival is a ruthless rich girl named Rebecca Ann Leeman (Denise Richards). Rebecca's mother, Gladys (portrayed by Kirstie Alley) is a previous winner who runs the competition. Adams gives a scene-stealing performance as contestant Leslie Miller who has many over-the-top romantic scenes with her boyfriend.

7. Her (2013)

There's a certain power to playing a critical supporting role in a film that is already stacked with great performances. It can be hard for even a great actor to stand out when surrounded by excellence. That's the challenge that Amy Adams faced when she appeared in Spike Jonze's emotionally devastating 2013 science fiction film "Her." The film centers on lonely divorcee Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who decides to employ a sentient artificial intelligence program named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) to aid him. Twombly begins to fall for Samantha and must decide how to make the unconventional romance work.

Phoenix gives one of the best performances of his career. However, Amy Adams has only brief screen time as his neighbor Amy. She hints that she's going through similar feelings of grief and loneliness and comes to support Theodore when his relationship with Samantha becomes more implausible. There's a quiet power to how Adams hints at her own history without spelling anything out specifically. She works brilliantly with the subtlety.

6. The Fighter (2010)

David O. Russell's 2010 sports drama "The Fighter" is an inspirational boxing tale based on a true story of heroism and survival. Yet, more than that, it's a film about family. What makes "The Fighter" stand out among other sports biopics is its specificity in showing family relationships and the dynamics of a community that supports an athlete's success. Amy Adams has a difficult role in the ensemble, playing an outsider who enters the story halfway and struggles to make decisions.

The film centers on boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who participates in underground fights as he trains under his brother Dicky (Christian Bale). Dicky is severely underweight because of his heroin addiction. Although Micky has the opportunity to shed his brother's influence and go with a more professional training environment, he chooses to stay with Dicky. Micky's mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), is extremely domineering and wants the family to stick together. Adams appears as Charlene Fleming, Micky's girlfriend. Charlene believes in Micky's potential and questions why he is limiting his professional status by staying with his brother. While Dicky has orchestrated a training program that is rigorous, he's unreliable and frequently runs into trouble with the law. Charlene pushes Micky to succeed, but her plans come into conflict with Alice, forcing Micky to balance the two headstrong personalities.

5. Vice (2018)

There aren't a whole lot of recent biopics tackling figures more divisive than former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne. Christian Bale and Amy Adams take on these complicated real-life figures in Adam McKay's 2018 film "Vice." Not only are audiences most likely familiar with the personalities of the former vice president and his wife given the years of media coverage, but they're likely to have strong opinions on how the Cheneys shaped the future of world politics.

Bale's physical transformation is jaw-dropping, and Adams' work is equally as stunning. She crafts Lynne into a sort of Lady Macbeth who guides Dick from his drunken youth to an internship in the White House. She admits that as a woman in the conservative party, she's unlikely to hold a powerful position of her own. Yet, throughout much of Dick's career in public office, she is making the decisions. Adams sheds her warm personality for an utterly ruthless performance.

4. The Master (2012)

Amy Adams has a quiet power as a performer. She can show intense control over a situation without necessarily being the obvious one in command. Paul Thomas Anderson's 2012 masterpiece "The Master" is a film that centers entirely around the nature of control and power. Its plot constantly questions which character is truly deciding the course of the film's events. Inspired by the controversial true story of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and his early movement, "The Master" explores the environment in which a religious extremist is able to court a loyal following despite having unclear beliefs that are only defined by his own decisions. While the material comes loaded with controversy, the film is elegant and takes its time in asking serious questions of morality and ethics.

World War II veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has never recovered from his wartime experience and suffers from debilitating flashbacks brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder. He's fired from his job as a mall photographer after fighting with a customer and searches for a new path. He's invited to a secret meeting held by community leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who leads a religious circle known only as "the Cause." Dodd's following is intensely loyal, and his wife Peggy (Adams) largely lurks in the shadows. Throughout the film, it's clear that Peggy is secretly the one making the critical decisions, and she remains one of the few people who can overrule Dodd's pronouncements.

3. American Hustle (2013)

David O. Russell's outrageous 2013 dark comedy caper "American Hustle" is truly an actors' showcase. Russell has an ability to get his casts to give risky performances, and in "American Hustle," he gives them the freedom to have big personalities. The film opens with the disclaimer "some of this is based on a true story" and continues along with a sense of madcap energy.

The film centers on con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who work to sell various pieces of forged art to major investors. Their line of work requires them to adopt a variety of different personas and wear outlandish costumes. Flashbacks reveal details of their early relationship. Irving is quirky and often appears to be unengaged, but Sydney sees his potential and is charmed by his magical charisma. She struggles with the potential of a long-term relationship given Irving's commitment to his unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

The pair are approached by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to go undercover and set up a convoluted scheme to bring in corrupt politicians, including Camden, New Jersey, Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Loyalties are tested as Sydney must engage in a sham romance with Richie to deceive him.

2. Doubt (2008)

Amy Adams is an actress who can take command of a situation with a bold sense of authority, but she can also slink behind to play quieter, more sensitive roles that are no less powerful. In 2008's "Doubt," she plays witness to a devastating moral dilemma that divides a religious community and raises serious questions about faith, honesty, and truth. The film was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his play of the same name. Consequently, the film is constructed with modest sets in minimal locations and has the rhythm of a stage production, capturing that same sense of intimacy. Featuring completely isolated performances, the film required its cast to be at the top of its game. Thankfully, Adams and her co-stars were more than up for the challenge.

"Doubt" takes place in the Bronx in 1964. Pushing a progressive agenda, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) considers his role in the future of the Catholic Church. The school's principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), grows concerned when she sees Flynn take a young Black child aside for a closed-door meeting. She notices the smell of alcohol on Flynn's breath. She questions teacher Sister James (Adams) about the situation to see if anything illicit occurred. James is horrified at the suggestion but helps her investigate.

1. Arrival (2016)

"Arrival" is the most emotionally complex role of Amy Adams' entire career, and it combines all of her strengths into a naturalistic and devastating performance. Adams is adept at playing nurturing figures, showing proficiency and intelligence, elevating her co-stars, and working to bring emotion to seemingly austere genre projects. Denis Villenueve's complex mythology in this ambitious science fiction project is meticulously plotted to sync up the story beats in an interesting way. Yet, it couldn't reach audiences without compelling characters. "Arrival" weaves a beautiful story about love, loss, motherhood, and grief. Adams tackles these powerful emotional moments in a transformative performance.

Adams stars as linguist Louise Banks. Banks works as a professor while coping with the recent death of her young daughter from an incurable disease. She has removed herself from regular interaction with her peers, so she's surprised to receive a visit from U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Weber approaches her about a critical mission for the U.S. military that could benefit from her skills. A large spacecraft has appeared in the skies over Montana, and no one can communicate with its occupants. Weber wants Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to investigate and find a way to understand the alien language. Adams shows Banks' relationship with the creatures as she works towards a peaceful solution and discovers secrets about her future.