Jack Nicholson is one of the world’s most prominent actors, with a career spanning over sixty years.
Nicholson is best known for his versatile portrayals of diverse characters and has featured in movies transcending numerous genres. He has played comic characters, romantic superheroes, anti-heroes, villainous characters, to mention but a few. He has also enjoyed a successful career as a supporting cast.
But with over 80 Hollywood blockbusters to his name, sorting out the best Jack Nicholson movies to line up for your next watch list may prove a bit challenging. Well, not anymore.
We’ve rounded up 15 most iconic Jack Nicholson movies of all time, based on his individual performance. Each movie is listed against its IMDB rating, just to give you an idea of what past reviewers think about the film.
15. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Runtime: 118 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 6.6
The Witches of Eastwick is a story about three women (Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont) in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick, whose marriages come to an end one way or another. After losing the men in their lives, the now-single women mysteriously acquire magical powers. A flamboyant man named Darryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) arrives and buys an abandoned mansion on the outskirts of Eastwick.
All three witches develop a mutual love affair with Horne. Their powers also increase exponentially. They now have the entire village town at their beck and call.
But things take a nasty turn when Horne betrays all of them and marries one of their younger friends, Jenny. Enraged by Horne’s betrayal, Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont avow to revenge by casting a cancer spell on Jenny.
14. Heartburn (1986)
Runtime: 108 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 6.1
Heartburn follows a woman named Rachel Samstat, who gave up her career as a magazine food writer so she could devote her time to her family. On the other end of the relationship is a political newspaper columnist, Mark Forman, with an overactive sex drive.
Both Rachel and Mark have been married before. After a whirlwind courtship, one thing leads to another and the two are eventually married.
Soon after, allegations of infidelity hit the marriage hard, so much that Rachel leaves Mark despite carrying his pregnancy. The two protagonists go through periods of emotional conflicts as they struggle to forgive one another and rekindle their lost love.
13. The Passenger (1975)
Runtime: 126 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 7.6
In The Passenger, Jack Nicholson stars as an Anglo-American journalist named David Locke.
Locke is a frustrated man. After traveling to Chad looking to interview rebels involved in the ongoing Chadian Civil War, nobody seems to come along for the interviews.
Locke takes on the identity of a deceased businessman, who dies from a heart condition in the same hotel he has been residing in. However, he’s blissfully unaware that he’s impersonating an actual arms dealer with powerful connections to rebels in the ongoing civil war.
12. About Schmidt (2002)
Runtime: 125 Minute
IMDB Rating: 7.1
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is a retiring actuary, having worked in a life insurance company based in Omaha, Nebraska, called Woodmen of the World. After a retirement dinner, Schmidt develops a bit of anxiety as he tries to figure out how retirement life will be. The prospects of living a lonely life see him foster an African child named Ndugu Umbo.
The spotlight then shifts to Schmidt’s estranged daughter, Jeanne, and her fiancé Randall Hertzel.
Schmidt doesn’t approve of her daughter’s relationship with Randall. He’s all the more enraged by the couple’s upcoming wedding. Nonetheless, he musters some courage to attend the wedding and ends up discovering so much about himself and life in general.
11. Reds (1981)
Runtime: 195 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 7.3
A radical American journalist, John Reed, takes an interest in the Communist revolution in Russia, hoping to import some communist ideologies into the United States. Well, he’s about to bite more than he can chew.
Although this film is rich in political undertones, that’s not the only reason to shortlist it for your next binge-watching session.
Beneath the political intrigues lies a simmering love affair between Reed and socialite Louise Bryant. Bryant, who is also a writer, is fascinated by Reed’s idealism. She leaves her husband to spend more time with Reed, with the two eventually getting married.
10. Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
Runtime: 128 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 6.7
Something’s Gotta Give is a sensational film about an aging playboy named Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) and his young girlfriend Marin (Amanda Peet).
When the couple arrives at Marin’s family’s beach house in the Hamptons, they’re shocked to find that Marin’s mother Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) also plans to stay in the same facility for the weekend.
Harry has a heart attack, after which the doctor (played by Keanu Reeves) prescribes bed rest. While recovering from his near-death experience, Harry develops a curious sexual attraction to his mother-in-law.
9. A Few Good Men (1992)
Runtime: 138 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 7.7
A Few Good Men is a film centered on the court-martial of two United States Marines who’re under trial for the murder of a fellow Marine.
The movie delves deeper to unearth the challenges the accused’s lawyers face in their quests to prepare a solid defense against their clients.
In this film, you’ll uncover many untold intrigues within the corridors of the U.S Marines. Most notably, the ever-raging conflict between bureaucratic chains of command and public interest decisions.
8. Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
Runtime: 130 Mins
IMDB Rating: 6.7
Charley Partanna is a professional hitman working for a New York Mafia family. The family is headed by Don Corrado Prizzi. However, the bulk of the business is handled by Prizzi’s sons Edwardo and Dominic, as well as his right-man Angelo, who also happens to be Charley’s father.
During a family wedding, Charley is smitten by a fine woman who she still doesn’t recognize. But when he’s contracted to kill a casino robber in Nevada, Charley discovers that the robber is the estranged husband of Irene, the woman from the wedding.
Charley and Irene fall in love. But their love story doesn’t quite turn out as rosy as they might have imagined.
7. Terms Of Endearment (1983)
Runtime: 132 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 7.4
This is another Jack Nicholson film with romantic undercurrents. The movie follows a hard-to-please widow named Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) looking for love and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger)’s family problems.
The two share a powerful mother-daughter bond. But their world is about to be turned upside down when Emma marries teacher Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels) against Aurora’s wishes.
After learning of Horton’s extramarital relationships, Emma leaves him and returns to her mum, who’s now also involved with a retired astronaut (Jack Nicholson).
6. As Good As It Gets (1997)
Runtime: 139 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 7.7
Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is an obsessive-compulsive author of romantic fiction. Ironically, he’s highly unsociable and is rude to everyone he encounters, including a gay neighbor named Simon (Greg Kinnear).
However, Udall’s heart begins to mellow out as he finds himself looking after Simon’s dog. He decides to pursue a romantic relationship with a single mother and waitress at a local diner.
Melvin, Simon, and the waitress (played by Helen Hunt) find themselves bonded in an unlikely friendship.
5. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
Runtime: 122 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 6.6
The postman indeed always rings twice. So, when the doorbell rings once or a couple of times, you can be sure it’s anyone but the postman.
This thriller chronicles the steamy love affair that develops between a rootless drifter and the sensually seductive wife of a lunch wagon proprietor.
But as they say, in any relationship, three’s normally a crowd. So, as the romance between the drifter and the cheating wife simmers, a sinister plot is hatched to murder the woman’s husband.
4. Chinatown (1974)
Runtime: 130 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 8.2
A private detective named J.J “Jakes” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman called Evelyn Mulwray to expose her adulterous husband. This sounds like a routine infidelity case that any private eye would pull off with minimal drama.
But things take a nasty twist when Gittes meets the real Mulwray and discovers that the woman who hired him was an impostor.
And with the sudden death of Mr. Mulwray, Gittes finds himself entrapped in a tangled web of corruption and deceit.
3. The Departed (2006)
Runtime: 151 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 8.1
The Departed is a crime action movie about the struggles of ordinary undercover detectives.
South Boston undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) attempts to infiltrate the organization of a dreaded Irish criminal enterprise led by mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy’s exceptional experience allows him to gain Costello’s trust. But there’s just one problem – a big one.
As Billy tries to infiltrate the gang, he realizes that the police department has also been infiltrated by a mole, a career criminal called Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Billy and Colin must now counter-attack each other for their own survival.
2. The Shining (1980)
Runtime: 146 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 8.4
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is battling the dreadful writer’s block. He retreats to and becomes the winter caretaker of an isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, with the hopes of regaining his creative mind.
It’s an all-family retreat that also includes Jack’s wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his psychic son Danny (Danny Lloyd).
Jack’s attempts to settle in and pursue his writing passions are constantly thwarted by Danny’s horrific visions. Apparently, Danny’s psychic visions are a result of the hotel’s dark secrets, which Jack now commits himself to unravel.
1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Runtime: 133 Minutes
IMDB Rating: 8.7
Randle Patric McMurphy pleads insanity for statutory rape. To avoid hard labor, McMurphy is sent to a mental facility headed by Mildred Ratched, an oppressive nurse who delights in bullying her patients.
After a short while, Randle finds himself unable to put up with the nurse’s oppressive tendencies.
He not only rebels against her. But he also rallies up the scared patients into what turns out to be one of the most thrilling escapes from a mental institution.
There are scores of Jack Nicholson movies to consider lining up for your next weekend watch list, and we cannot possibly exhaust them in one post.
However, the above 15 movies are a great place to start your search for Nicholson’s most captivating movies of all time.