Jennifer Lawrence is an actress whose star has risen exponentially since her breakthrough performance in Winter’s Bone in 2010. What has made Lawrence such a success both commercially and critically is her versatility and willingness to push herself by exploring different genres and refusing to be typecast. Her incredibly successful career has seen her nominated for 4 Oscars, winning one for Silver Linings Playbook in 2013, making her the second-youngest recipient of the Best Leading Actress award in Oscar history. After taking a short break between 2018 and 2021, she returned in one of the leading roles in Adam McKay’s star-studded black comedy, Don’t Look Up, starring alongside the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill to name a few.
As with any top 5 list, it’s always incredibly difficult to narrow it down, especially when discussing someone as diverse and charismatic as Lawrence because there are so many performances to consider. However, this list demonstrates her range and her ability to bring out the strengths and flaws of her character. From leading action franchises to complex dramatic character studies and everything in between, Lawrence has shown so much in her 15-year career and it’s exciting to see where her career will take her in the future now that she has returned from taking a well-deserved short break.
Here are my top 5 performances by Jennifer Lawrence in chronological order:
Winter’s Bone (2010)
Lawrence’s breakthrough came in 2010 when she starred in the independent film, Winter’s Bone. The film follows 17-year-old Ree (Lawrence) who is the main caregiver for her mentally ill mother (Valerie Richards) and also looks after her younger siblings by teaching them how to fend for themselves in the Ozark Mountain wilderness. Winter’s Bone is magical to watch because Lawrence is so magnetic and charismatic that her impending rise to stardom was inevitable. The film is regarded as one of the biggest indie successes as it was made on a $2 million budget and made over $16 million in the box office, resulting in a slew of Oscar nominations, including Lawrence’s first nomination for Best Leading Actor. Even though she didn’t win, she was constantly viewed as one to watch, and with the upcoming Hunger Games due to be released, Winter’s Bone is an excellent beginning for what can only be described as an incredible career.
Silver Linings Playbook (2013)
The film that won Lawrence her Oscar and cemented her place as a Hollywood staple was Silver Linings Playbook. Marking the first of three collaborations with David O’Russell as well as the first of six collaborations with co-star Bradley Cooper, Lawrence plays Tiffany, a widow who struggles with her mental health following the death of her husband and finds herself unemployed after sleeping with everyone in her office. Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best films when it comes to discussing mental health and this is thanks to the nuanced performances by Lawrence and Cooper, whose character Pat has been diagnosed with bipolar. What makes this performance special and incredible is considering how young Lawrence was when the film was made and released as the character of Tiffany was 40 in the book but was re-written to be younger to suit Lawrence’s age. Despite this age difference, Lawrence still provides the depth to the character and while the specific nature of Tiffany’s diagnosis is not discussed in the film, Lawrence’s nuanced performance shines through and we still emote and feel Tiffany’s struggles.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
One of the roles that helped Lawrence make her mark in Hollywood was her turn as protagonist Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games franchise. The series follows Katniss, a young woman who finds herself in the deadly titular games in which competitors have to fight to the death in a bid to be the last one standing. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of those rare occurrences where the sequel is better than the original and this is partially thanks to Lawrence’s impeccable performance. This isn’t to say that Lawrence’s performance is anything less than brilliant in The Hunger Games, but there is a maturity and nuance that she provides in Catching Fire that could arguably be thanks to the vast experience that she gained between the films. Catching Fire is the strongest book in the series and the film is no exception as we see Katniss conflicted between her role as provider for her family and helping lift her family from the poverty line and her position as the face of the rebellion against the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The opening scene in which she encounters President Snow in District 12 and is threatened is one of the most intense scenes in any young adult adaptation. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire isn’t afraid of exploring more complicated themes such as loss, grief, and internal conflict and Lawrence truly becomes Katniss in this instalment.
Lawrence’s most controversial performance is arguably her best. Playing the titular character, Lawrence’s performance delves deep into the psychological trauma presented in the film as her character’s life begins to fall apart. The film was directed and written by Darren Aronofsky who is known for pushing boundaries and while his previous horror, Black Swan was more vast in its locations and scope, mother! is more contained and is set within the one house, adding to the claustrophobia and entrapment that the character feels. Mother lives with Him (Javier Bardem) in a tale that serves as an allegory for the Bible and as Him gains more followers beginning with man (Ed Harris) and woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), life spirals out of control to the point of tragedy and destruction. mother! received a polarised reception on release and is still discussed to this day thanks to its topical discussions and the extreme violence and chaos that ensues. However, Lawrence’s affecting and provoking performance cannot be denied and will go down as a career best. You can read my full review for mother! here.
Don’t Look Up (2021)
One of the most talked about films of 2021 was Adam McKay’s black comedy Don’t Look Up, which boasted one of the starriest casts in recent years. Led by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, Don’t Look Up split opinion with audiences responding more positively than critics. While Don’t Look Up has its flaws, one of its strengths lies in Lawrence’s hilarious performance as she appears to have the best lines and even outperforms DiCaprio (which is never an easy feat). Lawrence plays scientist Kate Dibiasky who discovers the comet that threatens to destroy the Earth within months and provides her signature deadpan humour throughout with the best joke in the film being her confusion over a staff member at the White House charging her for food that is actually free. You can read my full review for Don’t Look Up here.
After taking a break for a few years, it seems as though Lawrence is back and better than ever as she has a slew of projects lined up for the future including Adam McKay’s biopic, Bad Blood, in which she plays the fraudulent businesswoman, Elizabeth Holmes and Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of the novel, Burial Rites, which explores the last woman executed for murder in Iceland to name just a few. Lawrence remains one of the most successful and popular actors in Hollywood regardless of her break, proving just how talented and charismatic she is.
What are your favourite Jennifer Lawrence performances? Let me know in the comments below!