With his broad, diabolical grin, he became a true Hollywood legend: Jack Nicholson. To this day, the American is the male actor with the most Oscar nominations – he had twelve chances of a golden boy. Only his colleague Meryl Streep surpasses him (21 nominations). There are accordingly many good Jack Nicholson films, so it was all the more difficult to choose for the following list.
Publishing year: 1969
From the success of the iconic road movie about two drug-smuggling motorcyclists, no one benefited as much as Jack Nicholson: After a decade as an actor in low-budget productions, the actor celebrated his breakthrough in Hollywood as the alcoholic lawyer George Hanson. Although his role was comparatively small, Nicholson promptly earned his very first Oscar nomination for his performance.
“Five Easy Pieces – A man seeks himself”
Publishing year: 1970
The first Oscar nomination in the “Best Actor” category followed just a year later. In the acclaimed character study, Jack Nicholson embodies the discontented outsider Robert Dupea, who always left his musical talent untapped and does not really know which way to take in life. For the first time, Nicholson is one of the outbursts of anger that should become the Hollywood star’s parade discipline.
“The last command”
Publishing year: 1973
In order to star in Hal Ashby’s tragic comedy, Jack Nicholson even turned down a supporting role in the rogue comedy “The Clou”, which later won a whopping seven Academy Awards. The actor shines in the role of the cynical Billy Buddusky, one of two marines who are supposed to transfer a comrade to the military prison. Because the sentence seems completely excessive to the two Navy members, they make plenty of stops to do something good for the convicted. Together, the trio roams the dreary America of the post-Vietnam War era.
Publishing year: 1974
In Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning neo-noir classic, Jack Nicholson plays the casual private detective Jake Gittes in Los Angeles in the 1930s. The sniffer is supposed to observe a possibly unfaithful husband. When he was found dead a little later, however, Gittes uncovered a much larger conspiracy – including numerous twists and turns.
In 1990 Nicholson moved behind the camera for the “Chinatown” sequel “The Trail Leads Back – The Two Jakes”: This time the Hollywood star himself directed. However, the dark sequel did not come close to the success of “Chinatown”.
“One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”
Publishing year: 1975
To date, Jack Nicholson has received three Oscars – the first Academy Award went to Miloš Forman’s classic film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. In the drama, a criminal fakes mental illness in order to escape prison and instead is sent to a mental hospital. Soon the strict system, in which patients are immobilized with medication and a daily routine is always the same, threatens to drive him really insane. The rebellious inmate instigates a revolt.
Publishing year: 1980
Stanley Kubrick filmed Stephen King’s bestseller of the same name, creating a real masterpiece and giving Jack Nicholson the role of his life. Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, an unsuccessful author and family man who is supposed to look after the remote Overlook Hotel with his wife and child for one winter. What the character of Jack Nicholson does not suspect in the film: The hotel slowly but surely robs its residents crazy.
The shocker is still considered to be groundbreaking for the horror genre. Scenes such as the legendary door sequence (“Here’s Jacky!”), The ghost twins or the blood pouring out of the elevator have been taken up again and again in numerous films and series, for example in “The Simpsons” and “Ready Player One “.
“Time of tenderness”
Publishing year: 1983
“Best Film”, “Best Director”, “Best Adapted Screenplay”, “Best Actor” and “Best Actress”: the multi-layered tragicomedy by director James L. Brooks won a total of five Oscars – one of which went to Jack Nicholson. For once, the actor is not in the foreground.
Instead, the 30-year story focuses on the relationship of possessive mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger). The latter sees their wedding as an opportunity to escape – and seizes it. Only when Emma falls ill do mother and daughter get closer again.
Publishing year: 1989
When it became known that director Tim Burton wanted to pit his new Batman (Michael Keaton) against the harlequin of hatred, the wildest rumors about the cast promptly circulated. Speculations ranged from Willem Dafoe to David Bowie. In fact, however, the filmmakers were targeting Jack Nicholson as the Joker. When the actor hesitated, producers offered the role to Robin Williams. His interest in the role lured Nicholson, who promptly signed – much to Williams’ annoyance.
“A question of honour”
Publishing year: 1992
The court drama says: Tom Cruise (“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”) against Jack Nicholson! As a young military lawyer, Cruise is supposed to defend two soldiers who tortured a comrade to death as part of a “disciplinary measure”. However, the murder case is not as straightforward as it initially seems. Determined to find the real culprit, the defense attorney clashes with respected Colonel Nathan Jessup (Nicholson).
“It couldn’t be better”
Publishing year: 1997
Melvin (Nicholson) is a neurotic curmudgeon, none of his fellow men is safe from his verbal outbursts. The cynic usually holed up in his apartment in New York, but his gay neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear) and the single waitress Carol (Helen Hunt) lure the curmudgeon out of his shell. In short: bizarre characters and funny, malicious dialogues make “It couldn’t be better” one of the most entertaining Jack Nicholson films.
Publishing year: 2001
Sean Penn (“Milk”) is one of the most outstanding character actors of his time – and a brilliant director. In the bitter Dürrenmatt film “The Promise”, Penn skilfully portrays his fellow actor Jack Nicholson as a hacked policeman whose last case becomes an obsession. One day before his retirement, the investigator promises the mother of a murdered girl to track down the perpetrator. An oath that brings loneliness and tragic twists and turns.
Publishing year: 2002
“About Schmidt” gives Jack Nicholson an unfamiliar role: Instead of grinning angry, outsider, rebel or free spirit, the tragicomedy shows the Hollywood star as an aged philistine who is frustrated by his calm suburban life. When Schmidt is forced into retirement and his wife dies shortly afterwards, he no longer knows what to do with himself. The pensioner sets out with his mobile home to escape the sadness of his life.
“What your heart desires”
Publishing year: 2003
Nobody fights as beautifully as Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in “What the Heart Desires”. Their funny dialogues give the classic love story of the film the necessary bite. Nicholson shines as the eternal bachelor Harry who is only interested in young women. Keaton plays the divorced author Erica, who has her eye on 63-year-old Harry. Unfortunately, he only has eyes for her daughter Marin – until Harry ends up in Erica’s care after a heart attack.
Publishing year: 2006
Martin Scorsese’s film, which stars Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, is set in South Boston, a game of cat and mouse between police and organized crime. The Irish Mafioso Frank Costello (Nicholson) has a mole with Colin Sullivan (Damon) in the police force, which in turn has an informer in the ranks of the Mafia in the form of the cadet Billy Costigan (DiCaprio). Both parties suspect that they have been infiltrated and each instruct a colleague to find the “rat”. It comes as it has to: The choice falls on Sullivan and Costigan, of all places.
The US remake of the Hong Kong gangster thriller “Infernal Affairs” won four trophies at the 2007 Oscars, including best film.
“The best comes last”
Publishing year: 2007
For its title alone, this Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman film has to be the last entry on our list. Three years later, Nicholson returned one last time for “How do you know it’s love?” back in front of the camera. But the inspiring tragic comedy about two seriously ill men who work through their “spoon lists” suffices “How do you know that it is love?” not approach. Sometimes the best doesn’t end there.