Leonardo DiCaprio is a rare sort of actor nowadays. He is the most profitable outside of those who have worked in superhero franchises and manages to still pull in an audience of all kinds. Beloved since his career-making turn as an autistic teenager in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? DiCaprio has evolved from child star to young heartthrob, playboy to a mature rounded actor who can seemingly master any role he plays. This year saw his second collaboration with renowned director, Quentin Tarantino and it hs propelled him into the race for the Best Actor gongs this awards season.
During a time where his star someone seems to still be on a rise despite being at the top of his game, I thought I’d compile a list of my top 5 performances from DiCaprio. This proved difficult and it’s not to say that anything excluded means that it’s bad, I just didn’t have the space.
Here’s my top 5 in chronological order:
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
The film that brought DiCaprio to worldwide attention and melted the hearts of a global audience, DiCaprio plays Arnie Grape, the younger brother of the titular character (played by Johnny Depp), who acts as his carer. Playing a role such as Arnie is deeply complex and requires much maturity that a lot of actors don’t possess, but DiCaprio shows his dedication to the craft beautifully. Arnie is a hopeful individual who Gilbert thinks the world of. DiCaprio’s performance is tender and layered as we see the character’s frustration rise throughout the film until it explodes. It earned DiCaprio a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (many people even think he should have won). A role such as this would be a good enough highlight for any actor’s resume, but for DiCaprio, this is only the beginning of a blossoming career.
I would be lying if I said this wasn’t my favourite DiCaprio performance. The iconic love story that defines the Hollywood blockbuster and tells the fictional story of two star-crossed lovers on the doomed 1912 liner that sank to the sea after hitting an iceberg. DiCaprio plays Jack Dawson, an artist with a hard-working attitude who wins tickets for the Titanic at a game of poker. He stays in a third-class cabin with his friend Fabrizio (Danny Nucci) and fate hands him a meeting with the beautiful first-class passenger, Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet). If What’s Eating GIlbert Grape? was a stroke of luck then Titanic cemented his superstar status. He lost out on a much-deserved Oscar-nomination but he was instantly recognised by fans everywhere. Jack and Rose’s story immediately became synonamous with classic Hollywood and the film is still loved around the world. I can’t even begin to explain how much I love this film. It must be among my most watched films of all time and partly because of the sincerity and heart in DiCaprio’s performance.
The Aviator (2004)
DiCaprio’s first collaboration with Martin Scorsese showed that DiCaprio is more than capable of leading a dramatic feature at top billing. He does so perfectly in this Howard Hughes biopic in his turn as the legendary producer through the high times of his career. DiCaprio won a Golden Globe for his performance and lost out on an Academy Award. The Aviator is an interesting insight into the Golden Age of Hollywood and what people will do to hold onto the power and fame that they have. Even against a strong supporting cast, particularly Cate blanchett in an Oscar-winning turn as Hughes’ love interest, Katharine Hepburn, DiCaprio holds himself with ease. I was torn between this and his more recent Scorsese collaboration, The Wolf of Wall Street but I think that this film bridges the gap between his heartthrob days and his breaking into “serious” acting as he isn’t afraid of allowing him to become immersed in the role.
Django Unchained (2012)
After scheduling conflicts got in the way of him playing Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds (2009), Quentin Tarantino cast DiCaprio as the evil plantation owner, Calvin Candie who is introduced into the 3 hour film halfway through but manages to make such an impact that it influences the entire film. The film follows former slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) as he and bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) seek to track down and free Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who has been sold to Candie and works at his Candieland plantation. It’s a film that was mired in controversy from the beginning due to its excessive use of racial slur and extreme violence. The hard-hitting parts of the film come from Candie’s treatment of the slaves such as forcing them to partake in “Mandingo fighting” where two black men are forced to fight to the death for their owners’ entertainment. The scene is brutal and hard to watch as Django looks on helplessly as Candie cheers as his man wins. What makes this role so different for DiCaprio is that this role is the first where his character is not lovable in any way. Candie’s evil nature is clear when he has a slave ripped to shreds by dogs in front of Django to show his power as a white man.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
In his second collaboration with Tarantino, DiCaprio is promoted to the leading role as fading actor, Rick Dalton. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is witty and shows DiCaprio in top form. I have written a full review which you can read here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see DiCaprio’s name filling up nomination spots come awards season as this is a role that he pulls off fantastically as the self-pitying, alcoholic actor.
As I come to the end of this list, I want to give a really special shoutout to his mega turn as Jordan Belfort in martin Scorsese’s 2013 hit, The Wolf of Wall Street. Admittedly, this is the top 5 that my gut went with and it breaks my heart not to include this or his Oscar-winning turn in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant but as I said in my introduction, there are so many performances to choose from and they are the five that made the biggest impact on me.
What do you think? What’s your favourite Leonardo DiCaprio performance? Let me know in the comments below!