Top 10 Best Jessica Chastain Performances

Top 10 Best Jessica Chastain Performances

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
In a relatively short amount of time, Jessica Chastain has given us too many great performances to count. For this list, we'll be looking at this actress' phenomenal rise across film and television, becoming one of her generation's definitive talents. Our countdown includes "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," "A Most Violent Year," "Interstellar," and more!

Script written by Nick Spake

Top 10 Jessica Chastain Performances

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Jessica Chastain Performances.

For this list, we’ll be looking at this actress’ phenomenal rise across film and television, becoming one of her generation’s definitive talents.

What’s your favorite Jessica Chastain performance? Let us know in the comments.

#10: Samantha LaForche
“Take Shelter” (2011)

If you didn’t know who Jessica Chastain was before 2011, you definitely knew her name by the year’s end. This was a breakthrough year for Chastain, starring in six films. She kicked off the year with “Take Shelter,” a psychological thriller that eerily holds up even better over a decade later. As Michael Shannon’s Curtis fears a storm might be coming, Chastain’s Samantha fears that the storm has already arrived in the form of her unstable husband. As Samantha, Chastain naturally traverses between showing genuine concern for her husband’s well-being and growing increasingly afraid of what he’s becoming. Samantha serves as a voice of reason desperately trying to keep her family together, powering through the storm with a balance of bravery and compassion.

#9: Murphy “Murph” Cooper
“Interstellar” (2014)

Murph is portrayed by three generations of gifted actresses. Mackenzie Foy plays Murph as a child while Ellen Burstyn appears as her elderly self. As an adult Murph, Chastain tackles the most complex chapter in the character’s life. It’s an emotional gut-punch for Joseph Cooper and the audience when grown-up Murph first shows up via video message. As Joseph cries over the years lost with his daughter, we can see the toll that her father’s absence has taken on Murph. Overcome with abandonment, Murph has grown cold and distant, throwing herself into work. As angry as Murph is, she’s unable to let go. In a film heavy on science, Chastain brings heart to the equation as somebody searching for answers and closure.

#8: Mrs. O’Brien
“The Tree of Life” (2011)

In another 2011 release, Chastain brings warmth to a film that challenges its audience around every turn. This exploration of life, faith, and creation isn’t easy to comprehend. One thing we can all identify with, though, is the love that Chastain’s character has for her children. Nurturing and playful, Mrs. O’Brien is the personification of grace. Her husband, played by Brad Pitt, represents nature, lashing out against their sons in unpredictable fits of violence. Although Mrs. O’Brien serves as the one consistent bright spot, Jack comes to resent his mother for staying with such a cruel man. Of course, forgiveness can be a facet of grace, for better or worse. Chastain’s elegant performance earned several awards from critics, but the best had yet to come.

#7: Mira Phillips
“Scenes from a Marriage” (2021)

This HBO miniseries opens and closes with the cast and crew interacting behind-the-scenes. Other than these fourth wall breaks, it’s easy for the audience to forget that they’re watching a show. The performances from Chastain and Oscar Isaac are all-too natural, making us feel as if we’re peeking into a real couple’s marriage, divorce, and possible reconciliation. Based on the Ingmar Bergman miniseries of the same name, this version switches the roles around with Isaac’s Jonathan being the more active parent and Chastain’s Mira as the one who instigates the marriage’s end. This not only creates a more modern portrait of married life, but also a more complex role for Chastain to embody as she manages heartbreak, unfulfillment, and the many complicated sides of love.

#6: Celia Rae Foote
“The Help” (2011)

Chastain gave multiple Oscar-worthy performances in 2011. The Academy gravitated towards her lovable supporting work in “The Help,” resulting in her first nomination. The Oscar ultimately went to Chastain’s co-star, Octavia Spencer, for her performance as Minny. The scenes between Celia and Minny are some of the film’s best as a professional relationship turns into a friendship that saves both of their lives. Although Celia is introduced as a comedic relief character with a bubbly personality, she’s slowly revealed as a tragic figure who’s endured isolation and unspeakable loss. Chastain couldn’t be more empathetic as a character with nothing but love to give, often receiving rejection in return. Celia and Minny not only find acceptance in one another, but also inner strength and self-love.

#5: Madeline “Elizabeth” Sloane
“Miss Sloane” (2016)

As sharply written and directed as this underrated political thriller is, its success largely rests on the shoulders of Chastain’s commanding performance as the titular character. Elizabeth Sloane immediately establishes herself as a fiery lobbyist who will stop at nothing to guarantee that a gun control bill goes through. While Sloane is a well-defined protagonist, she’s also something of an enigma to the audience. Chastain keeps us guessing how far Sloane is willing to go, making personal sacrifices and putting others in compromising positions. Whether she has a carefully crafted strategy or is acting spontaneously, there’s almost always an ace up her sleeve. Although Sloane never got her driver's license, Chastain drives the picture with a resilient presence, never taking her foot off the gas.

#4: Tammy Faye Bakker
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2021)

Chastain won an overdue Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Tammy Faye Bakker. While there are three other performances we’d rank slightly higher, Chastain probably took the most risks with this transformative portrayal. When a performer is hidden under prosthetics, makeup, and wigs, they can sometimes go too over-the-top. Chastain embraces Tammy’s eccentric nature, but she never chews the scenery. She masterfully pulls off a tricky balancing act, exploring Tammy’s flaws while unearthing her humanity. In what easily could’ve been a caricature of a controversial figure, Chastain leaves us with a better understanding of who Tammy Faye was. Behind the makeup and scandals, she was an outspoken activist who showed compassion when few others wouldn’t. In a way, Chastain’s sympathetic performance returns the favor.

#3: Molly Bloom
“Molly’s Game” (2017)

Another real-life figure, Molly Bloom once appeared bound for Olympic glory. After that dream was shattered, Bloom channeled all of her ambition into carving a new path. She rose to infamy through her high-stakes poker games, landing on the FBI’s radar in the process. Chastain portrays Bloom with the drive of a champion who demands a seat at the table. When she’s denied access, she creates a table of her own and sits herself at the head. Being an Aaron Sorkin film, Bloom monologues a mile a minute, but Chastain still manages to maintain a poker face throughout. While we see glimpses of her vulnerable side, Bloom’s snappy comebacks and cool composure shield her from the collapsing house of cards that she’s built.

#2: Anna Morales
“A Most Violent Year” (2014)

Several years before “Scenes from a Marriage,” Chastain and Oscar Isaac starred as a very different couple. Unlike Mira Phillips, Anna Morales knows exactly what she wants out of life: money, power, and a husband who’s willing to get his hands dirty to protect their family. If he won’t, she will. Where Isaac’s Abel would rather find a peaceful alternative to their woes, Anna’s mind immediately leaps to more extreme actions. While she can be reckless, this mob princess is no fool. She’s grown up surrounded by crime, coming to understand this world better than anyone else in her inner circle. Anna is every bit as cunning and ruthless Lady Macbeth, although she has a bit more heart and a lot more style.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Maggie Beauford, “Lawless” (2012)
In This Supporting Role, Chastain Lights Up Every Scene She’s In

Melissa Lewis, “The Martian” (2015)
Joining A Long List of People Who Have Saved Matt Damon

Annabel, “Mama” (2013)
Her Foray Into Scream Queen Territory

Beverly Marsh, “It Chapter Two” (2019)
Fans Dream Casted Her & Chastain Delivered

Antonina Żabińska, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (2017)
Chastain’s Biggest Tearjerker

#1: Maya Harris
“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)

“Zero Dark Thirty” took several liberties. This extends to Chastain’s Maya, who’s fictional despite having some real-world parallels. Although not always historically accurate, it’s still a thoroughly compelling thriller about a woman who dedicates almost a decade of her life to one thing and one thing only: hunting down one of the most dangerous individuals who ever lived. The film is a character study above all else with Chastain’s fierce performance at the forefront. The hunt turns into an obsession for Maya and when the film builds to its inevitable conclusion, she’s left with two sentiments: relief that it’s all over and uncertainty of what to do with her life now. The finale alone may be Chastain’s greatest acting feat, securing her second Oscar nomination.