Flung Out of Space: Let’s Obsess Over Cate Blanchett's Greatest Roles
When Australian actress Cate Blanchett began her acting career on the stage in the early 1990s, none of us likely knew we were watching a cultural icon in the making. These days, though, this on-screen chameleon slides into new roles with ease and grace, fully embodying the subtle nuances of every character — whether she’s playing an ethereal elf or the iconic Bob Dylan.
After garnering international attention for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in 1998's Elizabeth, Blanchett quickly rose to meet the challenges of every independent feature and blockbuster that came her way. Today, the actress has an illustrious catalog of performances that are more than deserving of some obsessive admiration. Ready?
Phyllis Schlafly, "Mrs. America" (2020)
Mrs. America tells the story of conservative politician Phyllis Schlafly and her mission to rail against the democratic politicians and progressive movements of the 1970s. Schlafly remains something of a conservative icon and progressive enemy, but Blanchett's willingness to devote herself to an accurate portrayal of such a polarizing figure speaks to her artistic integrity.
As it stands, Mrs. America is yet another capable offering in a long line of winning performances from Blanchett. The limited series holds an approval rating of 96% based on 77 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics hailing it as the "best new show of 2020."
Carol Aird, "Carol" (2015)
Following socialite Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and aspiring photographer Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) as their love story unfolds in the 1950s, Carol left audiences spellbound. This was in no small part due to Blanchett’s deft handling of the dreamlike title character, but the film also highlighted the clandestine nature of same-sex relationships in mid-20th-century America with radical respect.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called Blanchett "a dream…[who] delivers a master class in acting" in this achingly beautiful period romance. In the blink of an eye, Blanchett became an LGBTQ+ icon as a result of her performance in this film, which represents one of the highest points of her acting career.
Daisy Fuller, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008)
As far as Cate Blanchett’s films go, this was arguably one of the most successful, but we don’t always think of Daisy Fuller as a signature Blanchett part. It’s time to give Benjamin Button’s love interest — and, of course, the actress who played her — the recognition she deserves.
Cate Blanchett stars opposite Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, her character reuniting with his at various moments throughout Benjamin’s strange life. Producers were aware that the role of Daisy would be a complicated one because it required Blanchett to navigate the difficult relationship between two characters aging in opposite directions. But Blanchett rose to the challenge, earning our respect in the process.
Gran Mamare, "Ponyo" (2009)
Did someone say "versatile"? Cate Blanchett provides the voice of Gran Mamare in the English-language dub of the animated film Ponyo. Gran Mamare is a goddess in her own right, the queen of the ocean and the mother of the titular character.
Blanchett’s part here proves that, even when she's doing voice work, she’s a total standout. Her hypnotic performance as Gran Mamare brings an added level of mystique to the film and reassures us that everything will turn out alright, despite the fact that it’s a long process to get there. Even when we can’t see her face on-screen, Blanchett still keeps us fascinated.
Jane Winslett-Richardson, "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" (2004)
In this whimsical film, Blanchett plays Jane Winslett-Richardson, a reporter hoping to cover Steve Zissou and his crew's journey into the ocean to hunt down a deadly jaguar shark that killed Zissou’s former partner years prior. The hard-hitting reporter is one Blanchett plays perfectly, adding another knockout performance to her already impressive list.
This film needs Blanchett and her character, after all. Without Jane spurring some of the only action and plot complications in this otherwise-languid tale, we all might’ve fallen asleep to the lull of Steve Zissou’s "increasingly uneventful undersea documentaries" and his equally apathetic mannerisms.
Elizabeth Ashton, "Heartland" (1994)
Before she made the transition to American television and filmmaking, Cate Blanchett starred in the Australian drama series Heartland. As Elizabeth Ashton, Blanchett navigated the difficulties of being the "new girl in town" — a town that happened to be insular, suspicious and a bit racist, making Blanchett’s openhearted portrayal of Ashton all the more important and refreshing.
While Heartland was short-lived, a leading role in a television show is never a bad thing for a rising talent. For Blanchett (and thanks to her), the miniseries became successful and well-known enough to provide a stepping stone into other jobs.
Galadriel, "Lord of the Rings" Series (2001–2003)
When Blanchett debuted Galadriel in 2001’s fantasy epic The Fellowship of the Ring, this role introduced many of us to her nearly two decades ago — and for that we’re grateful. She fully captivated us as the intelligent, conscientious and powerful elf from Middle-earth.
Blanchett’s role in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy and the later Hobbit films bolstered their enormous success in the early 2000s and 2010s, leading critics to praise her "iconic performance" that contributed to The Return of the King winning all 11 awards for which it was nominated at the 76th annual Academy Awards — including Best Picture.
Valka, "How to Train Your Dragon" Series (2014–2019)
Like her role in Studio Ghibli's Ponyo, DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon sequels gave Cate Blanchett the opportunity to show off her voice-acting chops. Sometimes, especially in today's day and age, animated films recruit big names simply for star power and not because they're the best fit. Blanchett challenged this by being genuine (and good) in the role.
As Valka, Blanchett voiced the main character Hiccup’s long-lost mother. "She brought a lot to it," said producer Bonnie Arnold of Blanchett’s portrayal of the fierce and uncompromising Valka. Arnold also told The Hollywood Reporter that Blanchett played "an unconventional mom, but a mom nonetheless," which speaks to the actress’ ability to harmonize the seemingly disparate personality elements of so many of her characters.
Meredith Logue, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999)
Just before her role in the Lord of the Rings films and after her first turn as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth, Blanchett lent her talents to the 1999 psychological thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley alongside Jude Law, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. It was also her first time acting in a film adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel — Carol being the second.
Very much a critical and commercial smash, The Talented Mr. Ripley owes a lot to the talented Mrs. Blanchett. Her role, Meredith Logue, was written specifically for the film, so Blanchett faced the added challenge of integrating Logue into a story that already had established characters and relationships. The film went on to score five Oscar nominations in the wake of its release, and Blanchett was also nominated for a BAFTA award.
Katharine Hepburn, "The Aviator" (2004)
The 2004 film The Aviator stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Old Hollywood icon and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes and sees Cate Blanchett as the equally iconic actress Katharine Hepburn. Blanchett expertly handled the role, playing the calm and steady foil to DiCaprio’s frenetic, eccentric Hughes — and bringing some much-needed fortitude to the film.
Critic Roger Ebert noted that Blanchett took on a big risk acting in a film that necessitated playing Hepburn so accurately, but it resulted in "a performance that is delightful and yet touching" from her. It also resulted in Blanchett winning her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Sheba Hart, "Notes on a Scandal" (2006)
What could be better than Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett acting opposite one another? Perhaps not much if we’re talking about their starring roles in 2006's Notes on a Scandal. In this dark and troubling drama about an illicit student-teacher encounter at a high school, Blanchett displays her ability to humanize a criminal without pandering or drawing sympathy.
How did she manage that? "I think to spend time with someone who transgresses a moral boundary like Sheba does, you have to go deep inside who that woman is," Blanchett said. Her deep dive into the character and careful handling of the touchy subject matter of this film earned Blanchett a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 79th Academy Awards.
Susan Jones, "Babel" (2006)
A whirlwind Moroccan vacation with no real plans sounds like the potential basis of a lighthearted flick. But in Babel’s case, things become much darker and more devastating. This is largely due to just how well Blanchett conveys her character’s suffering, but without her character and the tragedy that befalls her, the movie simply couldn’t exist, either.
But in true Blanchett form, she brings another layer of depth to Babel. Without dropping any spoilers, this film deals with some heavy subject matter that crosses the globe and the cultural boundaries (and assumptions) within it. Blanchett’s portrayal of xenophobia ultimately serves as a powerful reminder that our prejudices never help us.
Elizabeth I, "Elizabeth" Series (1998–2007)
It's not very often you see a mid-budget studio drama landing a sequel, but that was the case with director Shekhar Kapur's 1998 drama Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett. The actress did such a fantastic job in the title role that, almost a decade later, the director had her return for a sequel titled Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
This second installment received most of its praise because of Blanchett, with Bruce Newman of The Mercury News stating that the sight of her "renders the picture irresistible" and that her performance in The Golden Age was "one of the finest of the year," despite the film otherwise suffering from "endemic silliness." In short, Blanchett is kind of the main reason to watch this movie.
Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis, "Blue Jasmine" (2013)
We know Blanchett can do drama like nobody else. But Blue Jasmine sees her blending those talents with her ability to bring humor to situations in which we otherwise might not be able to envision it. In this film, Blanchett plays the title character, a former socialite who takes a tumble from grace after her husband’s financial crimes rip their family apart.
Blanchett drops Jasmine’s pain directly at our feet, peppering it with the same believably funny moments we all search for when we need some levity to distract us from a crisis. Of her performance, critic Mick LaSalle wrote, "when we're talking about Blue Jasmine, we're really talking about Blanchett, who — and this is no exaggeration — gives one of the greatest screen performances of the past 10 years." The result? Blanchett won her second Oscar, the award for Best Actress, for this role at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Herself and Shelly, "Coffee and Cigarettes" (2003)
Blanchett meets Blanchett in this short film-story anthology that weaves 11 various vignettes together with the shared theme of coffee and cigarettes. Playing herself and a fictional cousin named Shelly, Blanchett explores jealousy in a short that evokes that awkward tension so many of us have with relatives whom we probably wouldn’t interact with if we weren’t family.
As herself, she’s, well, movie star Cate, gifting Shelly some free perfume she received and trying to pass it off as thoughtful, not an afterthought. As Shelly, though, Blanchett conveys quiet envy over her cousin’s lifestyle and accomplishments while failing to be gracious for a gift she (rightfully) interprets as condescending. No matter how you feel about the other tales in this film, check it out for Blanchett’s performance — it’s one Roger Ebert deemed deserving of "a prize for virtuosity."
Jude Quinn (Bob Dylan), "I'm Not There" (2007)
Similarly to Coffee and Cigarettes, 2007's indie I'm Not There is also something of an anthology. Instead of focusing on caffeine and smoking, though, this film is an exploration of various aspects of Bob Dylan's life. And Cate Blanchett's embodiment of the legendary musician is one of the best portrayals of Dylan ever put on-screen.
Director Todd Haynes "hit the jackpot with Cate Blanchett" in this film, according to Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, and she "burns through Haynes’ head-trip odyssey like an illuminating torch… You won’t see a better example of interpretive art...by man or woman." If that’s not reason enough to watch I’m Not There immediately, we don’t know what is.
Various, "Manifesto" (2015)
Calling Blanchett an "on-screen chameleon" was no accident, and Manifesto perfectly encapsulates why. This film sees her playing 13 — 13! — different roles, each of which embodies a different time period, artist and political or artistic movement.
The film feels like an art installation in and of itself — because it began as one. Each unique segment introduces us to a new Cate character who couldn’t feel more different from the last; it jumps from a tattooed punk to a CEO to a person delivering a eulogy and gives the opinions and manifestos of each equal weight. Ultimately, reveals Pat Padua of The Washington Post, "it’s a treat to watch [Blanchett] at the top of her game, flexing her interpretive muscles in a showcase that is inventive and thought-provoking."
Pat Masters, "Stateless" (2020)
Even though Blanchett parted ways with the Australian stage where she began her career decades ago, she occasionally returns to the films and television shows of her home country. One recent example of this is Stateless, a story of four lives intersecting at an immigration detention center.
It’s another stunning display of Blanchett versatility: Stateless showcases her talents briefly in front of — but mostly behind — the camera. Blanchett and long-time friend, director and screenwriter Elise McCredie, dreamed up the show back in 2013, eventually involving Blanchett’s production company, Dirty Films, in creating the six-part miniseries. Blanchett is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and she used her platform to shine a light on immigration issues — something she’s passionate about and wants to bring awareness to.
Philippa, "Heaven" (2002)
Finding inspiration in Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski's Heaven, Hell and Purgatory trilogy, German director Tom Tykwer's 2002 film Heaven sees Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi as Philippa and Filippo, two characters who become fugitives and fall in love while on a Bonnie and Clyde-style escape.
Crime, drama and romance all collide in Heaven, and Blanchett swirls these genres together while playing a teacher who provides the first spark of action in this film when she plants a bomb in a businessman’s office. More than any other cast member, the actress manages to juggle the plethora of genres with incredible skill by nailing the part of a "courageous woman who tries to alter her fate by sheer will power," according to Roger Ebert.
Lady Tremaine, "Cinderella" (2015)
We all know the story: The horrible step-family abuses innocent Cinderella, treating her as a servant until the prince finds her after a chance encounter and the pair lives happily ever after. And it seems especially twisted that the Wicked Stepmother — essentially the only adult in the situation — condones and participates in mistreating Cinderella. But what if we got an inside peek at what’s going on in the stepmother’s brain, at what makes her so cruel?
That level of depth is what Blanchett brings to this film, elevating it from simple fairy tale fodder into an exploration of what makes a villain. As Lady Tremaine/the Wicked Stepmother, Blanchett provides "explicit context for her meanness, allowing [her] to inject an element of pathos and anxiety into" the role, notes Mark Kermode of The Guardian. That’s exactly the kind of refreshing interpretation we need for this ages-old tale.
Marissa Wiegler, "Hanna" (2011)
The 2011 spy thriller Hanna comes from German-American director Joe Wright and stars Blanchett as a CIA agent tasked with finding and taking down a young girl whose former-CIA-agent father trained her to be an assassin. Blanchett’s Marissa will stop at nothing in her pursuit of that title character.
Hanna is a great reminder of why we love Cate Blanchett so much: In real life she’s a relatable advocate who uses her powers for good. But, on-screen, she transforms herself completely into menacing villains, Marissa included, that feel like true evil unleashed. She’s a master of her craft, and we’re utterly captivated.
Mary Mapes, "Truth" (2015)
2015's Truth was somewhat overshadowed by Spotlight, another based-on-a-true-story film about a staff of journalists tasked with covering a hugely controversial story. The film didn’t get much positive attention, especially considering Blanchett portrayed CBS News producer Mary Mapes so expertly.
As Mapes, Blanchett helped spearhead the controversial series of events surrounding a 2004 CBS segment about George W. Bush’s time in the military. While the film didn't get awards recognition or much appreciation from critics, their response to Blanchett was glowing. "Blanchett is terrific as Mapes, juggling hard journalism and home life," said Mark Kermode, noting that she "nails her character’s predicament with aplomb."
Lucinda Leplastrier, "Oscar and Lucinda" (1997)
1997’s Oscar and Lucinda tells the love story of two gamblers who embark on a whirlwind romance aboard a ship heading to New South Wales, Australia. In the film, Blanchett plays an heiress to a glass factory who eventually bets her entire inheritance in a game of cards.
While the tale of love in this film ultimately doesn’t end well for Blanchett’s Lucinda, the actress still brings a sense of levity to her character and to the film itself. This was one of her earliest film roles; about it, reviewer James Berardinelli noted that she "eclipsed" co-star Ralph Fiennes and "wonderfully developed" her character. Even more than two decades ago, Blanchett’s star power was no secret.
Hela, "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017)
Cate Blanchett’s name might not have immediately sprung to mind when we used to think about superhero movies — but now it does. Proving there’s no genre she can’t handle, Blanchett appeared as Marvel’s first female villain, Hela, in Thor: Ragnarok, and critics rightly lauded her performance.
Her appearance in this film was called everything from "a blast and a half" (Scott Mendelson of Forbes) to "an instant classic" (Tony Ohlberg of Finland Today). But what really shines is that Blanchett notably brought much-needed female representation to a genre that seems to lack women villains who get to be true villains — without the hypersexualization and jokes at their expense that plague so many similar female characters.
Gail Lang, "The Turning" (2013)
Cate Blanchett's The Turning is very different from the recent film of the same name. Instead of being a horror movie set in a gothic mansion, Blanchett's is an Australian anthology film featuring nearly 20 directors telling different stories based on the writing of Tim Winton.
One interesting thing is that, in the early production stage, Blanchett wasn’t going to act in the film — she initially planned to direct. However, she was drawn to the character of Gail in the script and wanted to play the part herself. And it’s a good thing she did; Variety critic Guy Lodge labeled her performance one of "the most compelling entries" in this compilation of vignettes.
Annabelle "Annie" Wilson, "The Gift" (2000)
Just as we might not have associated Blanchett with superhero movies, "psychological thriller" probably isn’t the first genre to come to mind when discussing the actress — but maybe it should be. In The Gift, she takes a deep dive into all things supernatural as a fortune teller who sees disturbing visions about a small-town murder.
"Blanchett's sanity and balance as Annie Wilson provide a strong center," notes Roger Ebert, and the film is "fortunate in possessing Cate Blanchett." If you’re in the mood for a spooky mystery or want to see the actress try her hand (and succeed) at suspense, this is a must-watch movie.
Narrator, "Journey to the South Pacific" (2013)
Blanchett nails drama, history and even animation, but this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning documentaries. Narrating Journey to the South Pacific, an IMAX documentary about marine conservation in Indonesia, Blanchett highlights the beauty and importance of the island nation’s seascape.
The film is meant to educate, of course, but there’s also something supremely meditative about the underwater shots paired with "Blanchett’s comforting tones [that] add a fitting serenity to the proceedings." Typical Blanchett role? Maybe not. Typical Blanchett versatility and passion? Definitely.
Nancy, "Knight of Cups" (2015)
The sun-drenched sleaze and decadence of Los Angeles provide a fitting backdrop for this Terrence Malick film about a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who seeks solace in a string of hookups and other indulgences. Playing his ex-wife, Blanchett reluctantly provides a shoulder to cry on despite how much he exasperated her and how impatient she’s grown with him.
Although the film was panned somewhat for its non-linear, dawdling plotline and characters who seemed to serve primarily as eye candy, Blanchett was a definite bright spot. Said reviewer Wendy Ide of The Guardian, "Cate Blanchett alone manages to deliver something more nuanced than Malick’s default setting of ‘free-spirited, gambolling wood nymph,’" again demonstrating her trademark depth and dedication to creating a more meaningful character.
Veronica Guerin, "Veronica Guerin" (2003)
Long before she appeared as Mary Mapes and Jane Winslett-Richardson, Blanchett took on the role of a different type of journalist in Veronica Guerin. Playing the title character in this film based on the real life of Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, the actress embarks on a disturbing journey into the seedy underworld of Dublin’s drug gangs that resulted in Guerin’s murder.
Critical reviews of the film itself were mixed, but Blanchett’s performance was almost universally celebrated. Roger Ebert said that she "dominates the material with a headstrong, extroverted performance," while Keith Phipps of AV Club stated "Blanchett could probably convey human depth even as an extra." The role was another early win for Blanchett and earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress — Motion Picture Drama.
Lady Gertrude Chiltern, "An Ideal Husband" (1999)
Based on the 1895 stage play of the same name by Oscar Wilde, 1999's An Ideal Husband is a romantic romp that takes us back to some of the best satires of high-class living by Jane Austen. In this hugely entertaining rom-com, Blanchett shows off her comedic talent as the delightful and devoted wife of the main character.
Critics applauded the film in the wake of its release, with Peter Travers noting that Blanchett "manages the neat trick of making virtue seem enticing" and Derek Elley of Variety praising her for "making a real character out of the adoring but strong Gertrude." This is early Cate at her best, and we’re still here for it — even after all these years.