15 Best Naomi Watts Movies: From ‘Mulholland Drive’ to ‘The Ring’

Naomi Watts has been in movies for more than 25 years. During that time, she gained the respect of her peers and won many awards, including two Oscar nominations for best actress. We are making a list of Watts’ 15 best movie roles so far in honor of her birthday.

Watts was born in England and raised in Australia. He had a few small roles in the 1990s before he was cast in David Lynch’s 2001 thriller “Mulholland Drive,” which got good reviews. Lynch got a surprise Oscar nomination for directing, but Watts’s first role didn’t get her any attention.

The industry made it up to her the next year when she played a grieving wife and mother with Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro in Alejandro Gonzalez Iárritu’s “21 Grams,” which came out in 2002. She got her first Oscar nomination for the best actress because of her work, but she lost to Charlize Theron for her role in “Monster.”

The blonde bombshell moved easily between quirky comedies like “I Heart Huckabees” (2004), independent dramas like “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” (2004), and even big-budget blockbusters like “King Kong” (2005).

In J.A. Bayona’s “The Impossible” (2012), she played a mother fighting for her life during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami with Ewan McGregor and a young Tom Holland. This role was hard on her body, and it got her back to the Oscars. She got a nomination for best actress without much trouble.

Since then, she’s been a close dark horse more than once. She got SAG nominations for her roles as a funny pregnant Russian prostitute in “St. Vincent” and as a struggling stage performer in “Birdman,” which won the Oscar for best picture (2014). She’s been playing strong roles in movies like “Luce” and “Penguin Bloom” for a while now.

Watts has also been in two smaller movies this year, “Infinite Storm” and “Goodnight Mommy.” The next time we’ll see her is in “The Watcher,” a new true crime series by Ryan Murphy that will be on Netflix in October. She is also set to play Babe Paley in the next season of “Feud” on FX, which will air in 2023.

Here is a list of the 15 best roles Naomi Watts has played so far. See the best part of each movie you picked.

Eastern Promises (2007)

Role: Anna “Anya” Ivanovna Khitrova

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer(s): Steven Knight

Distributor: Focus Features

The scene that proves it: is “Ordinary people.”

David Cronenberg’s 2007 gangster movie got a lot of attention for the now-famous scene in which Academy Award nominee Viggo Mortensen fought another man while he was naked. Watts’ work as Anna, a midwife who finds the diary of a teenage girl who dies while giving birth, was too quickly forgotten. Watts’s steady performance gives the audience the emotional edge they need to get into Steven Knight’s story.

Sunlight Jr. (2013)

Role: Melissa Winters

Director: Laurie Collyer

Writer(s): Laurie Collyer (inspired by “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich)

Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn

The scene that proves it: “I miss you.”

Watts plays Melissa, a store clerk who is in love with Richie (Matt Dillon), a paralyzed man who is struggling with his new life. This movie is a hidden gem that hasn’t been talked about much. Watts and Dillon give a fascinating look into the hard lives of people who work for low wages.


Luce (2019)

Role: Amy Edgar

Director: Julius Onah

Writer(s): J.C. Lee, Julius Onah (based on “Luce” by J.C. Lee)

Distributor: Neon

The scene that proves it: “Your son scares me.”

As the adopted mother of Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a former child soldier from Africa, Watts gives the audience a bird’s-eye view of whether or not to trust the darkness that lives in her child. Watts dives headfirst into a tough role and does an amazing job. She has great conversations with Luce’s teacher (Octavia Spencer) and her suspicious husband (Tim Roth).

The Painted Veil (2006)

Role: Kitty Garstin Fane

Director: John Curran

Writer(s): Ron Nyswaner

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures

The scene that proves it: “Talking to the nun.

Watts’ first movie with Edward Norton and her second with director John Curran were both based on Ron Nyswaner’s version of the famous 1925 novel, which he adapted. As the London socialite Kitty, who married Walter Norton, she shows that women can be strong at a time when it was especially noticeable.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Role: Lesley Truman

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Writer(s): Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bó

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures (now Searchlight Pictures)

The scene that proves it: “You’re an actress, honey.”

Watts almost got an Oscar nomination for the best picture winner, based on the surprise SAG nomination she got for “St. Vincent,” in which she plays Lesley, a stage performer who is having trouble dealing with her boyfriend Mike (Oscar nominee Edward Norton) while working on a Broadway adaptation directed by Riggan Thompson (Oscar-nominated Michael Keaton). Her co-star Emma Stone got a nomination for her work, but Watts’ newcomer is still one of the best things about the movie.

While We’re Young (2015)

Role: Cornelia Srebnick

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer(s): Noah Baumbach

Distributor: A24

The scene that proves it: “Baby cult.”

In Noah Baumbach’s drama-comedy, which is about a marriage between two filmmakers, Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller swing for the fences. Even though the film was shown at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals the year before, it didn’t get much attention. However, later viewings showed two dedicated actors at the top of their game.

‘St. Vincent’ (2014)

Role: Daka Parimova

Director: Theodore Melfi

Writer(s): Theodore Melfi

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

The scene that proves it: is “Selling pills.”

Watts shows off her comedic skills again as the Russian s*x worker Daka in Theodore Melfi’s drama-comedy. She steals several scenes from co-stars Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. Watts got one of the two surprising SAG nominations she’s gotten over the years for this role. But she didn’t get into the Academy.

We Don’t Live Here Anymore( 2004)

Role: Edith Evans

Director: John Curran

Writer(s): Larry Gross (based on short stories from “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Adultery” by Andre Dubus)

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures

The scene that proves it: “I’m leaving because I did

Watts is part of an all-star cast, and her role as Edith, a woman who starts having an affair with Jack (Mark Ruffalo), is both fascinating and complicated in John Curran’s underrated drama. Watts and her co-star Laura Dern show how the women in the story on every beat of the story through their interactions with her husband Hank (Peter Krause). This is one of Watts’ most criminally underrated performances.

The Impossible (2012)

Role: Maria

Director: J.A Bayona

Writer(s): Sergio G. Sánchez

Distributor: Warner Bros.

The scene that proves it: “I’m scared too.

It’s hard to keep pain and suffering from coming across as exaggerated. But Watts tells the story of a mother and her family who were caught in a tsunami in Thailand with dignity and grace. Watts makes the most tear-jerking magic on screen. She does this by making us feel every cut and bruise the actress gets, as well as the relief she feels when she realizes she can leave this world safely after the big reunion.

Funny Games (2007)

Role: Ann Farber

Director: Michael Haneke

Writer(s): Michael Haneke (based on the 1997 Austrian film “Funny Games” by Michael Haneke)

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures

The scene that proves it: is “Getting undressed.”

Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot remake of his own Austrian psychological thriller from 1997 with the same name brought the auteur to the attention of the general public. Watts plays Ann Farber, whose family is kidnapped and tortured by two young criminals while they are on vacation.

The movie is about violence. People may laugh at the idea of remaking a movie that was already great, but when “Funny Games” is set in the United States, it has a whole new meaning. Watts goes for all the scary parts, and it works.

I Heart Huckabees (2004)

Role: Dawn Campbell

Director: David O. Russell

Writer(s): Jeff Baena, David O. Russell

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures (now Searchlight Pictures)

The scene that proves it: “Fuckabees!”

Watts’ performance as Dawn, the girlfriend of Brad (Jude Law), the face and voice of the big box store chain Huckabees, is as funny as it gets. Her interactions with Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, and a not-nominated-for-an-Oscar Mark Wahlberg, among others, show that she can be both funny and dramatic. They also help bring the zany and quirky gem to life.

The Ring (2002)

Role: Rachel Keller

Director: Gore Verbinski

Writer(s): Ehren Kruger (based on “Ring“ by Hiroshi Takahashi and “Ring“ by Koji Suzuki)

Distributor: DreamWorks Pictures

The scene that proves it: “Nightmare”

Gore Verbinski’s scary introduction to the world of Samara, a dead girl who kills people after watching a videotape, was put in the “mindless horror” bin at the time. Watts’ committed performance makes the film even scarier. She brings the “scream queen” into the modern era by giving almost every part of the first entry new life. She also set the stage for Anna Faris’s hilarious parody performance in “Scary Movie 3.”

King Kong (2005)

Role: Ann Darrow

Director: Peter Jackson

Writer(s): Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson (based on “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace)

Distributor: Universal Pictures

The scene that proves it: is “Central park.”

Peter Jackson’s first movie after winning all the Oscars for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in 2003 was “Kong: Skull Island.” In it, Naomi Watts plays Ann Darrow, an actress from the 1930s who falls in love with Kong (played by Andy Serkis) on Skull Island.

Everyone can see how “beauty killed the beast,” as film director Carl Denham said, even though pain and suffering have never looked so beautiful (Jack Black).

21 Grams (2003)

Role: Cristina Peck

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Writer(s): Guillermo Arriage

Distributor: Focus Features

The scene that proves it: “At the hospital (after Michael and the girl’s accident)”

Watts rarely gets the chance to show bravery, deep feelings, and vulnerability in his work, but he does so here. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s drama looks at grief, revenge, and redemption. Watts was nominated for her first Academy Award for her role in “Monster.”

In some ways, Watts was competing with Charlize Theron’s Aileen Wuornos, who was the favorite. This is still her most daring work. She and Benicio del Toro, who was nominated for an Oscar, stole the show.

‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001)

Role: Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn

Director: David Lynch

Writer(s): David Lynch

Distributor: Universal Pictures

The scene that proves it: “Betty’s Audition”

If you ask a movie fan what movie they think is perfectly directed, they are likely to say the 2001 California thriller by David Lynch. Watts’s performance as aspiring actress Betty Elms, who befriends a woman with no memory (Laura Harring) after they are both in a car accident, is a big reason why the movie got so much praise.

Her breakthrough performance won awards from major critics groups like the National Society of Film Critics, but the Academy didn’t recognize it, which is something the film community may never forgive.