The question is an important one, and we have to ask it: Will Nicole Kidman clap at home this year during the virtual Golden Globe Awards like she did in person at the 2017 Oscars? You remember it. We all remember it!
With that dominance established, let’s get to judging. Starting with Kidman’s Golden Globes debut with the 1991 gangster film Billy Bathgate to her currently nominated work on the miniseries The Undoing, here are all 15 of her Globe-nominated performances, ranked. (And, uh, if it comes out that HFPA members voted for Kidman’s work on The Undoing in exchange for, say, the coats from Kidman’s extensive series wardrobe? That would be understandable.)
15. Billy Bathgate, Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (1992)
The HFPA jumped on the Nicole Kidman train early. After spending the early years of her career in Australia, Kidman started getting work Stateside with roles in Days of Thunder (alongside future ex-husband Tom Cruise) and the gangster flick Billy Bathgate, for which Kidman received her first Golden Globe nomination. The film is, admittedly, pretty bad, a tonal misfire that tanked at the box office. But Kidman is one of the only good things about it, offering an early glimpse at her ability to equalize flinty resolve with giggling coquettishness. She made a solid moll, even if the film itself was mostly forgettable.
14. The Undoing, Best Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture – Television (2021)
The Undoing’s Grace Fraser is a rich, white woman living in an exclusively moneyed community whose husband ends up doing something terrible. As played by Kidman, she’s just Celeste Wright from Big Little Lies all over again, and all the embroidered dusters and velvet robes and sequined capes in the world can’t cover up that this performance just feels like a vaguer version of that performance. Dream a little bigger, David E. Kelley!
13. Hemingway & Gellhorn, Best Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture – Television (2013)
War correspondent Martha Gellhorn deserves a great version of her life story, and Hemingway & Gellhorn isn’t exactly it. That’s not because of Kidman, though. She goes big, brassy, and bold in her version of Gellhorn, a suffragette turned journalist turned pacifist whose dispatches from home and abroad expanded readers’ understanding of the Great Depression, the labor movement, and Hitler’s rise to power before World War II. But too much of the rest of the film can’t quite match Kidman’s confidence. Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway, in particular, veers a little too hard into caricature. (Do yourself a favor, though, and read Gellhorn’s books The Trouble I’ve Seen and The Face of War; she was exceptional.)
12. Big Little Lies, Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama (2020)
Kidman’s work as Celeste Wright in the very unnecessary second season of Big Little Lies feels like a copy of a copy. She’s not bad by any means, but she doesn’t bring anything new to Celeste, either. Be honest: Can you remember anything that happens in this season? There’s that courtroom showdown between Kidman’s Celeste and Meryl Streep’s Mary Louise, the mother-in-law who shows up to try and take Celeste’s children from her, but we didn’t need seven hours of meandering before we got there, did we? (We didn’t.)
11. Lion, Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (2017)
Remember when Dev Patel was lighting all our loins aflame during the Lion press tour by showing up to every red-carpet event with young co-star Sunny Pawar, flipping that hair and being adorable? It was a great time! I wouldn’t blame you if that was your only memory of Lion, a film that received six Academy Award nominations and four Golden Globe nods but has since somewhat faded into the ether. But if you can pause your Patel-inspired thirst for a second, you can appreciate the solid work Kidman does in a performance informed by her own experiences as an adoptive mother. Think of that tear-soaked, devastating scene where Kidman’s Sue and Patel’s Saroo finally talk to each other about how Saroo came to be adopted and Sue’s choice to not have biological children. Consider how Kidman’s eyes assess Patel, how she holds his eye contact while telling him how much she loves him, and how drained she looks when she finally closes her eyes and takes his hand. Kidman puts a whole lifetime of material instinct into this performance, and it kicked off Kidman’s five-year spree of HFPA nominations.
10. The Paperboy, Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (2013)
If you saw this Lee Daniels movie, there is no way you could forget this Lee Daniels movie — neither for Zac Efron’s forearms nor for the humidity clouding up the camera’s leering gaze every time Kidman, in one of her campiest performances, appeared in front of it. As Charlotte Bless, a woman who strikes up correspondence with convicted murderer Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), Kidman slathers on Southern Gothic drag and dives headfirst into the swamp. Her accent is, frankly, ridiculous. But Kidman is so gung ho, diving into this trashy material with such relish (reader, she urinates on a jellyfish sting suffered by Efron’s character, and the moment is treated as true love) that you have to respect her commitment. Kidman has always had the capacity for very dark comedy (see: her work in To Die For, higher up on this list), and she weights that capability here with real vulnerability. Charlotte Bless’s telepathic sex with Van Wetter was bizarre as all hell, but it’s a testament to Kidman’s talent that you’ll remember more about The Paperboy than just how strikingly she poses in an array of shiny satin minidresses. In a movie that seems to insist that self-hate is just part of life, Kidman’s alluringly impulsive, tragically romantic Charlotte almost escapes that nihilism … almost.
9. Birth, Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (2005)
I’ll keep this brief: Go into Birth blind. Jonathan Glazer’s film is polarizing, and it might be in questionable taste. But Birth, which is similar to films like Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain and Mike Cahill’s I Origins in its questions about whether love has a time limit or expiration date, really only works because of Kidman’s dedication to it. Physically, she is in full Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby mode here (that haircut!), and performatively, Kidman explores grief from all angles — how it twists and consumes us. I hesitate to call Birth a good movie, but another example of Kidman’s ability to cloak herself in whatever emotional verisimilitude a script requires? Absolutely.
8. Cold Mountain, Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (2004)
Casting two non-American actors in a Civil War epic could have gone very wrong, but Anthony Minghella’s decision to take a chance on Kidman and Jude Law as separated Southern lovers was the right call. To be fair, the supporting actors here nearly entirely steal the show — in particular Renée Zellweger, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar, and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman — but Kidman locks you in. Initially a passive Southern belle, Kidman’s Ada morphs before our eyes into a woman made harder and stronger by the absence of men, and her physicality matches the tenacity Kidman so often incorporates into her work. Something to consider, of course, is that Cold Mountain — like Sofia Coppola’s remake of The Beguiled, in which Kidman would star some years later — chooses to sidestep some of the very real racist motivations that drove the Civil War, instead focusing on the experiences of one woman attempting to protect herself and her home in the chaos of a collapsing country. There may be a certain archaic quality to how Minghella tells this story, but if you can put that aside, the force of Kidman’s performance is hard to ignore.
7. Rabbit Hole, Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (2011)
Kudos to Kidman for consistently rejecting the burden of likability that patriarchal Hollywood foists on so many actresses, and for digging in to roles that often ask her to investigate all facets of the human experience rather than simply the happy ones. In Rabbit Hole, Kidman isn’t your typical grieving mother of a dead child. Her brittleness and prickliness are key to what Rabbit Hole is saying about the mourning process: No one remains the same after such great loss. A disturbance this great requires an equally sized reaction. And so when Kidman’s Becca begins to seriously consider the possibility of parallel universes and realities in which her son might still be alive, and in which she might be happier than she is now, you don’t turn away from her musings. Kidman immerses herself in Becca’s oppositional tones of despair and unlikely hope, unconcerned with whether the audience will like her or not, something that applies to our next ranking, too.
6. Destroyer, Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (2019)
Allow me to quote Vulture film critic Bilge Ebiri for this. His review of Destroyer opened with the line, “The first thing you’ll notice about Destroyer is Nicole Kidman’s face,” and my man is 100 percent correct! Director Karyn Kusama matches Kidman’s sunburned, lined, pockmarked, and weathered mug with the grimness of this story about corruption and vengeance. Remember that likability question? It goes totally out the window in Kusama’s neo-noir, in which Kidman’s LAPD detective Erin Bell lies, cheats, steals, kidnaps, and kills to get her way. There are no heroes here, just Kidman fully immersing herself in a character for whom every action is an attack, for whom every word is a wheeze, and for whom every movement looks labored. This is the gloomiest the actress has ever been, and she wears that darkness rather than letting it wear her.
5. Big Little Lies, Best Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture – Television (2018, Winner)
Rare is it that an ensemble is as uniformly terrific as the one in Big Little Lies, but even amid all that greatness on display, Kidman’s work was something special. Her Celeste Wright is two entirely different people: one a confident professional woman and loyal friend; the other, a victim of horrendous domestic abuse from her successful, handsome husband. The point Big Little Lies is making, of course, is that these identities aren’t exclusive, and no one communicates that reality better than Kidman, who from scene to scene plays Celeste like she’s wandering through a hall of mirrors. Kidman is all of these women, and all of these women are Celeste, and the chameleon-like quality Kidman brings to this first season tells you something about what women live through every goddamn day.
4. The Hours, Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (2003, Winner)
Look, the nose is a lot. I can’t pretend the nose isn’t distracting. But Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours is no Linus Caldwell in Ocean’s 13. She transcends the prosthetic, imbuing her version of the groundbreaking, tragic novelist with the resentment of a life lived under the constantly unfulfilling guardianship of men. Kidman’s work is so detailed: her tight grip on the pen as Virginia writes her suicide note; the heaving of her chest as she rejects her husband’s attempted guilt trip at the train station; the little tilt of her head and huskiness in her voice as she explains her authorial choices (“Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more”). A line that blatant could inspire the Leo-pointing meme (“See, that’s what the movie is about!”), but Kidman punctures our melancholic cultural image of Woolf with moments of surging passion and overwhelming feeling. She won the Academy Award for this, and she deserved it.
3. Moulin Rouge!, Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (2002, Winner)
Tell me the words “Moulin Rouge” don’t immediately conjure in your mind that image of Kidman in a tightly corseted red satin dress, and I’ll call you a liar. The finale in filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy after Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet was his most financially successful effort, and the musical’s cultural impact was so strong that it spawned an array of genre imitators, its own stage adaptation, and countless Halloween costumes. It’s difficult to imagine any of that happening without Kidman, who is entrancing, yearning, and alluring as the courtesan Satine. She is the film’s beating heart, its manifestation of the desire for truth, beauty, freedom, and love, and Kidman proved she could do it all: sing, dance, strut, preen, fly around on a gigantic diamond-encrusted swing while singing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” You know, normal stuff! But to think that Satine is only a seductive escort is to miss the performance Kidman is giving within the performance, the one that layers in loyalty and hope with jadedness and weariness. Moulin Rouge! is probably still the movie most casual Kidman fans will list as their favorite performance from the actress, and that’s perfectly fine.
2. To Die For, Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (1996, Winner)
Bombshell was not a good movie. But what Jay Roach’s film accomplished was to remind us of the first time that Kidman played a ruthless, ambitious, thoroughly manipulative woman intent on dominating the world of broadcast journalism in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Kidman is a dynamo in the black comedy about a local weather girl who dreams of hitting the big time, and whose cozy little life of nice clothes, nice car, nice house doesn’t quite align with her desire for more universal fame. When Kidman’s Suzanne Stone enlists a rebellious high schooler (Joaquin Phoenix) in her plan to get rid of her husband, Kidman’s well-to-do femininity takes on a darker, colder tone. All of this would be rewarding enough if we were just observers, but Van Sant has Kidman break the fourth wall by speaking to us directly, and the result is that Suzanne Stone becomes a compellingly unreliable narrator whose constant self-editing absolves herself entirely of blame. That glittery glint of danger serves Kidman wonderfully well in To Die For, and added another layer to her career for decades to come.
1. The Others, Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (2002)
Well, if it couldn’t be Eyes Wide Shut or Paddington (neither of which the HFPA deigned to nominate in their enduring wrongness), it had to be The Others, didn’t it? Kidman has never been an actress who avoids genre films: She’ll step into Dr. Chase Meridian’s heels for Batman Forever, witchily goof it up for Practical Magic, get all forebodingly fantastical with it in the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and slap on a bodysuit made of fake fish scales for Aquaman. She’ll go there, if you’re willing to go with her. And so it goes that Alejandro Amenábar’s gothic ghost story comes to life in Kidman’s capable hands in a perfectly calibrated combination of panic and defensiveness. She quivers in fear; she composes herself as a mother and matriarch; she crumbles into despair; she gains confidence in the truth of her own death. She does it all! Everyone remembers the creepy old lady in the lace veil saying “I am your daughter,” but The Others is less about the scares and more about Kidman’s performance of Grace’s realization of her own guilt, her own complicity, and her own pain. “This house is ours,” Grace says, because it’s all their undead family has left — and Kidman’s finest work is in making that moment agonizingly real.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Kidman played Dr. Chase Meridian in Batman Forever, not Poison Ivy.