Jessica Chastain’s Birthday: Her 15 Best Movies Ranked

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Newsweek

It’s been just over ten years since Jessica Chastain landed her first film role. In the short time since, she’s established herself not only as an Oscar-nominated Hollywood favorite, but as a campaigner for equal pay and representation in the film industry.

She was born on March 24, 1977 in Sacramento, California, to a 17-year-old rock musician and his 16-year-old girlfriend. After the birth of her sister, Juliet, her parents split—she lost contact with her father and was raised by her mother’s partner, a fireman she calls “dad.” Juliet’s suicide in 2003, which followed a long battle with drug abuse, has inspired Jessica’s work with mental health charities.

She graduated from the Juilliard School in New York City in 2003, and moved to L.A. to search for her big break. A number of small TV parts and plays came and went. It wasn’t until 2008 when she was finally cast in her first film role: as an abused woman drifting across America in Jolene. The following year she played a younger version of Helen Mirren’s character in The Debt. Detroit News movie critic Tom Long said of her performance, “Serves as a fine, full introduction to Chastain's potential.”

In 2011, she shot to fame after featuring in six movies, including Terence Malick’s experimental epic Tree of Life and period drama The Help. Chastain-fever hit the media before the year’s movies had reached the theater—”How is it that someone without a single major released film credit to her name could have been interviewed and reinterviewed and asked—already—what she's planning to do when she's too old to play leading roles?” asked The Guardian in 2011.

Another big hit followed in 2012 in the form of Katheryn Bigelow’s war thriller Zero Dark Thirty, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and won her a Golden Globe. She played a scientist in the 2014 science fiction movie Interstellar and the lead in war drama The Zookeeper's Wife in 2017. That year, she married Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, an Italian count and fashion executive.

Her work to promote women in Hollywood began in 2016, when she launched production company Freckle Films with a team of female executives. She’s been a vocal member of the Time's Up anti-harassment campaign, which launched after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein emerged.

It looks like 2019 might be another big year for Chastain—she’s slated to appear in Dark Phoenix, the upcoming X-Men movie, and will star in the sequel to the enormously successful Steven King adaptation It. Until then, Newsweek has ranked her 15 best movies based on data from critical aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb.

01 Mama 1
Universal Pictures

15. Mama (2013). Total score: 60.01%. 
Directed by: Andy Muschietti. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier. 
Plot summary: A young couple take in their two nieces only to suspect that a supernatural spirit named Mama has latched itself to their family.
What the critics said: "Chastain has an excellent time. And so did I, for most of the movie: It's much more suspenseful than violent, being careful not to allow us to figure out Mama too quickly." Kyle Smith, New York Post

02 The Zookeeper's Wife
Focus Features

14. The Zookeeper's Wife (2017). Total score: 62.61%. 
Directed by: Niki Caro. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl. 
Plot summary: An account of the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion.
What the critics said: "The film's flaws in pacing are easily overlooked in the shadow of Chastain's moving performance, as well as the performances of those around her." Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

03 Lawless
The Weinstein Company

13. Lawless (2012). Total score: 64.79%. 
Directed by: John Hillcoat. Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman. 
Plot summary: Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a trio of bootlegging brothers are threatened by a new special deputy and other authorities angling for a cut of their profits.
What the critics said: "With a dynamite cast, an iconic screenwriter in rocker Nick Cave and an Aussie director in John Hillcoat, you assume a new classic. What you get is an ambitious try." Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

04 Crimson Peak
Universal Pictures

12. Crimson Peak (2015). Total score: 65.8%. 
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro. Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam. 
Plot summary: In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds—and remembers.
What the critics said: "The insanely lush Gothic romance and ghost story plays like a hitherto unrecorded collaboration between Edgar Allen Poe, Edith Wharton, the designers of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion and whoever directed all those Bonnie Tyler music videos in the 1980s." Alonso Duralde, TheWrap. 

05 The Debt
Focus Features

11. The Debt (2010). Total score: 66.35%. 
Directed by: John Madden. Starring: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Jessica Chastain. 
Plot summary: In 1965, three Mossad agents cross into East Berlin to apprehend a notorious Nazi war criminal. Thirty years later, the secrets the agents share come back to haunt them.
What the critics said: "The Debt has the overall air of an Oscar contender that never got into the ring—well-made, but not spectacular. Still, it serves as a fine, full introduction to Chastain's potential." Tom Long, Detroit News

06 Miss Sloane
EuropaCorp USA

10. Miss Sloane (2016). Total score: 66.86%. 
Directed by: John Madden. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, John Lithgow. 
Plot summary: In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. But when taking on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds winning may come at too high a price.
What the critics said: "Chastain's performance is brilliant... Had the movie around her lived up to that, she might very well be walking off with a gold statue in a couple of months." Tony Hicks, San Jose Mercury News

07 The Help
Walt Disney

9. The Help (2011). Total score: 70.16%. 
Directed by: Tate Taylor. Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson. 
Plot summary: An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
What the critics said: "Aims for To Kill a Mockingbird significance, but lands in Steel Magnolias territory." Sara Stewart, New York Post

08 Molly's Game
STX Entertainment

8. Molly's Game (2017). Total score: 72.41%. 
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O'Dowd. 
Plot summary: The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.
What the critics said: "A dense, dynamic, compulsively entertaining affair, whose central role makes stunning use of Chastain's stratospheric talent." Peter Debruge, Variety

09 Coriolanus
The Weinstein Company

7. Coriolanus (2011). Total score: 73.25%. 
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave. 
Plot summary: A banished hero of Rome allies with a sworn enemy to take his revenge on the city.
What the critics said: "Redgrave gives a towering performance, and it’s a measure of the production’s success that she is met at every scene by worthy costars, including 2011’s ubiquitous Jessica Chastain as Caius’ wife." Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

10 Interstellar
Paramount Pictures

6. Interstellar (2014). Total score: 75.15%. 
Directed by: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Timothy Chalamet, David Oyelowo, Michael Caine. 
Plot summary: A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space in an attempt to ensure humanity's survival.
What the critics said: "This isn't Nolan's best movie, but his ambitions and trust in the audience keep getting bigger. He's one of Hollywood's few true remaining visionaries, and he's only getting warmed up." Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald

11 A Most Violent Year
A24

5. A Most Violent Year (2014). Total score: 76.36%. 
Directed by: J.C. Chandor. Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo. 
Plot summary: In New York City 1981, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city's history.
What the critics said: "The performances are memorable. Isaac uses understatement with the appropriate emotional outburst and Chastain is the film's firecracker." Randy Myers, San Jose Mercury News