Meryl Streep: The Greatest Actress of All Time?

Meryl Streep

Is Meryl Streep the Greatest Actress of all Time?

Is she overrated?

Has she succeeded in cornering the market on some of the best female leading roles in modern US cinema?


Check out my video response below:



My other YouTube videos can be found here


Meryl Streep was awarded with the Cecil B Demille lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes yesterday. She is considered to be the greatest living actress, if not the greatest actress of all time by many critics and film goers the world over.

Meryl was born Mary Louise Streep in New Jersey in 1949 and initially had aspirations of working in the opera. Whilst at university she became interested in acting and enrolled in the drama school at Yale University.  She was well regarded for her theatre work, which led to her being against in a small role in the 1977 film Julia alongside acting heavyweights Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. Robert De Niro saw her in a 1977 production of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard and was so impressed he insisted on her being cast in The Deer Hunter (1978), which led to her first Oscar Nomination.

Steep’s influence and mark on US cinema is undeniable. Streep’s versatility in acting range, accents and successful balance of drama and comedy has certainly earned her a place as one of the most significant actresses of all time.

Among her plethora of film awards and nominations Streep has been nominated for the Oscar a record number of nineteen times. Three Oscars for the following films: Kramer vs Kramer (Best Supporting Actress), Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady (Both Best Actress). She has broken the record for Oscar nominations beating Jack Nicholson (12 Nominations, 3 wins) and Katharine Hepburn, although Hepburn won 4 Oscars (12 nominations)

Robert De Niro has stated that Meryl is his all time favourite actress to work with. Legendary Bette Davis sent her a letter in the early 80s telling Streep that she felt that Streep was her successor as the premiere American actress. Jack Nicholson, who worked with Streep in Ironweed and Heartburn, called her a “perfect” actress.

Not everyone is exactly complimentary towards Meryl Streep. Yale school mate Sigourney Weaver said “Meryl Streep was always the star and inspiration. Everyone else was terrorized” Later she would comment that “Meryl Streep gets an Oscar nomination every time she sneezes”.

Sharon Stone gave her a black handed compliment “Meryl Streep works so much because she looks like a woman we can all relate to. Meryl looks like an unmade bed. To me, that looks true”.

Susan Sarandon quipped “Everything goes to Meryl first. It’s the law. I am one of those who thinks Meryl is a great actress. I don’t elevate her to the goddess level, but she does get first crack at all the women’s roles. If other women had the same shots she’s had, they could equal her”

The late legendary actress Katharine Hepburn declared Streep to be her least favourite actress calling her “too cerebral and over reliant on technique. You can see the clocks at work. Tick, tick, tick.” Hepburn declared Greek born actress Irene Papas to be the greatest actress of the twentieth century.

I am a major film buff and cinema is a big influence on my life. I am so entrenched in the medium that it’s impossible for me to pick one actress as the greatest of all time.

My top 35 actresses of all time (in no particular order).

  • Bette Davis
  • Vivian Leigh
  • Katharine Hepburn
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Anna Magnani
  • Geraldine Page
  • Irene Papas
  • Liv Ullman
  • Jane Fonda
  • Anne Bancroft
  • Glenda Jackson
  • Ellen Burstyn
  • Vanessa Redgrave
  • Gena Rowlands
  • Judi Dench
  • Helen Mirren
  • Charlotte Rampling
  • Isabelle Huppert
  • Joanne Woodward
  • Jessica Lange
  • Sigourney Weaver
  • Sissy Spacek
  • Kathy Bates
  • Jodie Foster
  • Cate Blanchett
  • Holly Hunter
  • Marion Cottilard
  • Judy Davis
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Faye Dunaway
  • Miranda Richardson
  • Juliette Binoche
  • Glenn Close
  • Meryl Streep
  • Susan Sarandon

Meryl Streep is a great actress. She offers a combination of superior technique, emotional diversity and great range. She is definitely one of the greatest US character actresses of all time. Meryl’s major peak period was the 80s and I would place fellow generational US character actress Jessica Lange in the same bracket as Streep.

Not only is Meryl Streep wonderful in drama, she has a flair for comedy! She has great comic timing , which is evident in films such as She Devil and Death Becomes Her. Films such as Mama Mia and It’s Complicated are awful and way beneath her. She has a tendency (like Katharine Hepburn) to be occasionally hammy. Her performances in Suffragette and Iron Lady tend to suffer from a reliance on hammy technique rather than in depth exploration of character.

Overall she picks great roles, though I suspect she has first choice at just about any role she wants. The only role that she has fought for and did not get was for the chance to play Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams. The role went to Jessica Lange. I also admire Streep’s dedication to the theatre. Her interpretation of Mother Courage was superb.

You must see the following films in order to see Streep at her finest. She is at the top of her game in each role. Extraordinary depth, range, and technique is on display. Her understanding of every inch of the material is evident by her subtext. My top 6 Streep performances below (in no particular order).

The French Lieutenants’ Woman (1981)

Sophie’s Choice (1982)

Silkwood (1983)

The Hours (2002)

Angels In America (2003)

Doubt (2008)

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