Tilda Swinton is undeniably one of the best beloved British actresses of all time, having starred in monumental films such as We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) and Orlando (1992), just to name two of her many incredible roles. Known for her unique, nuanced acting style and her roles in both blockbusters (Doctor Strange† trainwreck) and independent cinema (appearing in Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch films), Tilda Swinton has received numerous accolades in her rich and varied career, including a British Academy Film Award, an Academy Award and a British Academy Film Award, as well as nominations for five Critics’ Choice Awards, three Golden Globe Awards and five Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Swinton began her career by appearing in experimental films such as Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio (1986), followed by his films The Last of England (1988), War Requiem (1989), and The Garden (1990). She won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her portrayal of Isabella of France in Edward II (1991). She next starred in Sally Potter’s Orlando (1992), for which she was nominated for the European Film Award for Best Actress. Among her vast award shelf, she also won the European Film Award for Best Actress and received a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for the psychological thriller We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011).
Unsurprisingly, Tilda Swinton’s acting credibility remains unparalleled as she continues to soar towards legendary status, particularly as she is frequently known to dislike any kind of interviews: ‘“I don’t have anything to say. I don’t know anything. One thing I do know is I don’t want to even pretend I know anything,’ she modestly tells The Guardian. Frequently coined as a doppelganger for ’70s-era David Bowie, Swinton has the power to somehow dowse mainstream films with indie credibility, and indie films with mainstream viability. These are our top picks of the best Tilda Swinton movies, ranked.
9 The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
This star-studded zombie comedy written and directed by Jim Jarmusch features Swinton alongside an incredible cast including Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Iggy Pop and Selena Gomez among others. The Dead Don’t Die follows a small town’s police force as they combat a sudden zombie invasion; swinton plays a heavily accented samurai mortician. Before this, Jarmusch’s excellent movie Only Lovers Left Alive featured Swinton in a beautiful role as a timeless, hip vampire.
8 The Souvenir (2019)
The Souvenir is an award-winning drama film written and directed by Joanna Hogg. The narrative follows a semi-autobiographical account of Hogg’s experiences at film school, starring Swinton’s very own daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, and Swinton herself. Swinton plays the fictional mother to her daughter, and is masterful at the character’s worry, love, and doubt. the sequel, The Souvenir Part IIwas released in 2021 to universal acclaim.
7 Derek (2008)
With beautiful narration written and read by Swinton herself, this touching ode to director Derek Jarman involves two courageous and innovative artists (one the subject and one the filmmaker). The stretch provides a cinematic journey that illuminates the work and enduring importance of the late Derek Jarman, in a moving tribute to one of Swinton’s heroes.
6 Okja (2017)
This action-adventure, environmentally pertinent film directed by Bong Joon-ho follows the story of a young girl named Mija who pursues the mission to rescue ok, the genetically modified “super pig” she raised, from the US to rescue it from mistreatment of the meat industry. Alongside Swinton as a deliciously awful exaggeration of Ivanka Trump-style CEOs, the film stars South Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun, Byun Hee-bong, Yoon Je-moon, and Choi Woo-shik, and Hollywood actors Paul Dano, Steven Yeun , Lily Collins and Jake Gyllenhaal among others.
5 Snow Piercer (2013)
This post-apocalyptic science fiction action film (the first time she’s worked with Bong Joon-ho) is based on the French graphic climate fiction novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. Starring Swinton (relishing her opportunities to be evil and ridiculous) alongside Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, and Octavia Spencer, the film takes place aboard the snow piercer train which carries the last of humanity after a failed attempt at climate engineering to stop global warming has created a new Snowball Earth.
4 A Bigger Splash (2015)
As the second installation of his Desire trilogy, this psychological drama directed by Luca Guadagnino portrays Swinton as Marianne. The ex-rock star and her partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are enjoying a holiday at a charming villa in Italy, when their hedonism is interrupted by the arrival of Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). A Bigger Splash is an emotional mess of egos and insecurities spiraling out of control. You can also read about how we decided to rank Guadagnino’s filmography here.
3 I Am Love (2009)
This romantic drama set in Italy is the first installation of Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy, followed by A Bigger Splash (2015) and Call Me By Your Name (2017). Set in Milan around the year 2000, Swinton, who had to learn to speak Russian and Italian for the role, plays a rich industrialist’s wife who has an affair with a chef. Producers Swinton and Guadagnino developed I Am Love together over an 11-year period. The film’s soundtrack uses beautiful pre-existing compositions by John Adams, which pairs magnificently with its sumptuous culinary visuals and shots of the city.
2 Orlando (1992)
This movie sees Swinton take on the title role, Orlandoin Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando: A Biography. When first pitching her treatment in 1984, Potter was told by the industry that the story was ‘unmakable, impossible, far too expensive and anyway not interesting.’ Orlando has since become a bold and obvious favorite for Swinton fans, however, and is a feminist landmark in cinema.
1 We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Based on Lionel Shriver’s chilling novel, Tilda Swinton stars as Eva Khatchadourian, once a successful travel writer, who lives alone in a rundown house and works in a travel agency near a prison, where she visits Kevin, her son (Ezra Miller). In this psychological thriller, Eva struggles to accept the horrors committed from her son’s psychopathic behavior. The film was released in the UK in 2011 and premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. We Need to Talk About Kevin continues to be one of the best movies of the 21st century.
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