Great Acting | Greatest Acting Performances Of All Time

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15 mins read

Great Acting

It’s not as easy as it looks: Great acting is when you cant see the actors work.

There are significant misconceptions that consistently circulate regarding the art of acting and whether it’s difficult or not. The internet is abundant in acting articles, most of them doing their best to reiterate just how hard acting is and how it’s truly a job that demands complete and total obsession from its employees.

The skillsets required to be a fantastic actor, along with the job itself, are routinely underestimated by the media and the general public. Great actors make their craft look easy, effortless, like a breeze, or the ebb and flow of the ocean.

They don’t struggle through lines or lose their character halfway through a scene. They emerge, they feel, and above all, they tell the story of a life in a way that makes the audience feel as though they lived it along with the character.

What is considered great acting?

Great acting has the power to captivate audiences and create memorable performances. But what exactly distinguishes great acting from subpar performances? In this article, we will explore the characteristics of great acting and how it sets itself apart from bad acting.

1. Emotional Authenticity

One of the key aspects of great acting is emotional authenticity. A skilled actor can effectively convey emotions in a way that feels genuine and resonates with the audience. This requires the ability to fully immerse oneself in a character and tap into their feelings, allowing the audience to relate to the character’s emotional journey.

2. Physicality and Non-Verbal Communication

Great acting not only involves verbal communication but also the effective use of body language and facial expressions. A good actor is able to use their physicality to enhance the portrayal of their character and convey emotions without speaking a single word.

3. Consistency

Consistency is a crucial element of great acting. This means maintaining a character’s traits, mannerisms, and emotions throughout the entire performance. Inconsistent performances can lead to confusion and detachment for the audience, diminishing the impact of the story.

4. Versatility

Great actors are versatile and can effectively portray a range of characters, emotions, and situations. This ability to adapt and embody different roles showcases an actor’s skill and talent.

5. Presence and Charisma

A great actor possesses a magnetic presence and charisma that draws the audience into their performance. This quality allows them to command attention and keep viewers engaged, even when sharing the screen with other actors.

Great acting is a combination of emotional authenticity, physicality, consistency, versatility, and presence. These qualities set apart exceptional performances and contribute to memorable and impactful stories. As audience members, we can appreciate and recognize great acting when we feel emotionally connected, entertained, and fully immersed in the world of the characters.

Larry Moss is a world renowned acting teacher who has worked with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Hilary Swank, Jim Carey and more. Moss began his career at New York’s famed cabaret Upstairs at the Downstairs and went on to appear on Broadway in numerous productions including Joe Layton’s Drat! The Cat!,Neil Simon’s God’s Favorite, directed by Michael Bennett, Burt Shevelove’s So Long 174th Street, Gerald Freedman’s The Robber Bridegroom, and Gene Saks’ I Love My Wife.

“Acting represents all that human beings experience, and if you want it to be ‘nice,’ you will never be a serious communicator of the human experience. Because great actors don’t seem to be acting, they seem to be actually living.”

Larry Moss

Here is a scene from Taxi Driver starring Robert Deniro in which his character Travis confides in his coworker and confesses of his “bad ideas”. This scene is studied in film schools all over the world for its realism and masterful acting. Here are two men standing on the side walk just having a conversation and yet the scene is so compelling. You get the sense that Travis is really struggling and starting to go off kilter.

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Great acting

Great Acting Takes Dedication

To become a character is not easy unless, of course, we want our audience to see right through us. The discipline that comes with creating a character, fictional or non-fictional, is astronomical. Acting is so much more than copying real life and reading lines off of a script page.

There is a massive amount of emotional investment that great actors put into their roles, both large and small. Research, rehearsals, and creating a backstory for a character often takes months of work; all of that happens before opening night or day one of shooting begins.

Imagine spending seven to eight hours in a makeup chair, and when the process finally finishes, the workday officially begins. No, acting isn’t easy.

If an actor doesn’t dedicate themselves to full immersion into a role, then it’s likely that they will fail at their portrayal. Acting is hard, and achieving greatness within the industry means combining emotion with our lines. Without that combination, our character will remain shallow, and we’ll lose the audience while trying to connect with them. We cannot trick anyone into thinking we’re great at acting. Audiences will know the second we step onto the screen or stage how invested we are.

If Acting Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It

Can anyone become an actor? Acting is harder than it looks. Not only is there so much going on behind the curtain production-wise (rehearsals that run for sixteen hours at a time, or scenes that require forty angles and over one-hundred takes), but a player must stay in convincing character throughout the duration of those processes. If acting were easy, genuinely great acting, then everyone that sets out to make it would, indeed, make it. However, many actors are struggling.

While much of this has to do with oversaturation and intense competition, most of them haven’t developed the skill and discipline it takes to succeed. Acting classes are a must for most people who set out to establish an acting career. Lessons are essential to planting the seeds of great acting early, even during childhood. When an incredible movie or show receives attention, the actors who starred in it will often discuss losing themselves within the role or finding it hard to break character. This is a telltale characteristic of a great actor.

Acting Myth: Acting Is The Art Of Lying

People often refer to acting as the art of lying, and this phrase could not be further from the truth. In fact, acting is the complete opposite of lying. Acting is the art of telling the truth, and as we’re all well aware, the truth can often be exhausting. Getting up in front of an audience or rolling cameras and pretending is not an option. If we aim to pretend instead of immersing ourselves, we will not fool our directors or fellow actors. They will not be able to play off our emotions, which is essential to being a fantastic scene partner. There is no lying involved in acting. There is only raw, unmitigated truth. To become a character, we must be the character, and there is no other option.

Blaming Great Actors For Acting’s Reputation

That’s right, great actors are entirely to blame for the reputation acting has for being an easy, intensely overpaid profession. They make their talent appear so effortless that not a single person watching can believe that what they are doing is challenging.

In reality, they’ve spent months working on the tiniest of details to shape their character according to the script. The planning of these details occurs while maintaining the vision in their heads and staying true to the setting.

To form their upcoming scenes, they’ve had to step into their characters’ shoes, reacting to the script’s lines how their character would respond, not how they would respond as themselves. Reacting as a character is no easy feat, as great actors must leave behind their emotional viewpoints that they’ve spent a lifetime establishing.

They quite literally have to become a new person with each role they take on. It’s an incredibly difficult task, yet the never-ending list of hurdles that it takes to bring a character to life inspires them. Those who get into acting for the glitz and glamour, well, they don’t last long.

Think of it this way. A day spent ice skating with family and friends on a crisp January day is fun, easy, and laid-back. Becoming a professional speed skater for the United States Olympic team is not. We cannot liken acting in school theatre productions to working on Broadway. It’s simply not the same.

The Greatest Acting Performances Of All Time

We have put together a list of the 50 greatest acting performances of all time for your reference. Watch these performances and take what you can away from each performance. Pay attention to their attention to detail. See how immersed in their characters they are and the dedication to their craft. Great acting performances are derived from great character work and passion for the craft. Having true passion for acting will lead you to push yourself for greatness which these net performances have achieved.

1. Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (2007)    

2. Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice (1982)

3. Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954)

4. Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980)

5. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

6. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)

7. Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996)

8. Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot (1989)

9. Juliette Binoche in The English Patient (1996)

10. Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love (1998)

11. Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (2012)

12. Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011)

13. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (2013)

14. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

15. Amy Adams in American Hustle (2013)

16. Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

17. Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything (2014)

18. Viola Davis in Fences (2016)

19. Denzel Washington in Training Day (2001)

20. Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread (2017)

21. Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

22. Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017)

23. Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

24. Olivia Colman in The Favourite (2018)

25. Glenn Close in The Wife (2017)

26. Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman (2018)

27. Willem Dafoe in At Eternity’s Gate (2018)

28. Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

29. Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

30. Lupita Nyong’o in Us (2019)

31. Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019)

32. Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory (2019)

33. Renée Zellweger in Judy (2019)

34. Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

35. Laura Dern in Marriage Story (2019)

36. Florence Pugh in Little Women (2019)

37. Saoirse Ronan in Little Women (2019)

38. Adam Driver in Marriage Story (2019)

39. Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit (2019)

40. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler (2014)

41. Amy Adams in Arrival (2016)

42. Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea (2016)

43. Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea (2016)

44. Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

45. Ryan Gosling in La La Land (2016)

46. Emma Stone in La La Land (2016)

47. Denzel Washington in Fences (2016)

48. Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (2014)

49. Mahershala Ali in Moonlight (2016)

50. Emma Stone in Birdman (2014)

This list is in no particular order! All of the great acting from the performances above are sensational! Here are a few more scenes with incredible acting for you to enjoy.

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Good Will Hunting Park Scene
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Heat Diner Scene
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Doubt – Meryl Streep and Viola Davis

We hope you enjoyed this article!

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