(Credit: Mireille Ampilhac)

Anne Hathaway’s 10 best film performances

“You’re only human. You don’t have to have it together every minute of the day.”– Anne Hathaway

American actress Anne Hathaway has been among the most talented and prolific actors working in the industry for quite some time now. Her films have been immensely successful commercially, earning over $6.8 billion worldwide, alongside being the recipient of many awards, including an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Golden Globe. Forbes reported Hathaway as one of the highest-paid actresses of 2015 and, since 2017, she is among the highest-grossing actresses of the 21st century. For her contributions to the film industry, in May 2019, Hathaway received a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and cemented her legacy.

Hathaway, named after the wife of William Shakespeare, was born in New York City but raised in the Short Hills neighbourhood of Millburn, New Jersey. As a child, she watched her mother perform in Les Misérables as Fantine, an experience that would go on to be significant in her acting career years later. Instantly, she became fascinated with the stage but her parents were not keen on allowing her to pursue an acting career. In school, however, she participated in many plays, including Once Upon a Mattress, in which she portrayed Winnifred. Later, she appeared in other plays like Jane Eyre and Gigi, at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse and, shortly afterwards, she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1993 and became the first teenager admitted into The Barrow Group Theater Company’s acting program.

While the foundations of her career had been promising, Hathaway’s first major breakthrough didn’t arrive until she landed a role in Disney’s The Princess Diaries which featured her in the lead as teenager Mia Thermopolis, a character who discovers that she is the heir to the throne of the fictional Kingdom of Genovia. The film became a major commercial success with many critics particularly praising Hathaway’s performance. On the back her meteoric rise, the actor earned an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Female Performance nomination for the role and got her career in the movies kick-started. Hathaway portrayed princesses and appeared in family-oriented films over the next three years, subsequently becoming known in mainstream media as a children’s role model.

Explaining her decision to ride the wave back then, she once said: “In terms of the princess role, there is only so long that you can play those as a young lady before you start feeling really ridiculous. They are so much fun to do, I figure I might as well get the most out of them while I can. Then [I’ll] go off and play all the drug addicts and the prostitutes, and all the good ones you win Oscars for a little bit later on.”

For one thing, she wasn’t wrong. After successfully transitioning to adult roles and finding greater success with movies like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain and David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada, Hathaway finally got her first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her riveting performance in Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, a film in which she portrayed the role of Kym, a young woman who, after being released from drug rehabilitation, returns home for her sister’s wedding. Hathaway described her character as “narcissistic—downright selfish.”

Depicting an array of varying characters in the next few years, she starred in two of Christopher Nolan’s movies: as Selena Kyle/Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises and as Amelia Brand, a NASA scientist-astronaut in Interstellar. However, her highest point arguably came in Tom Hooper’s film Les Misérables, where she played the role of the prostitute dying of tuberculosis, Fantine — the same character she saw her mother portray in the play Les Misérables in her childhood, the role which got her interested about acting in the first place.

After appearing in many different films, working with different directors and playing diverse roles over the years, she says she would be “lost” without acting and feels lucky to have found it as her profession. A trained stage actress, she prefers performing on stage to film roles and claims to be terrified of acting in front of the camera. “I always assume that every film is my last, and I always assume that I have to go out and convince everybody why they have to hire me. I still audition”, she explains.

Celebrating her 38th birthday, we drew up a list of the best films Anne Hathaway has featured in.

Anne Hathaway’s ten best films:

10. Love & Other Drugs (Edward Zwick – 2010)

Based on Jamie Reidy’s 2005 non-fiction book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, Edward Zwick’s erotic romantic comedy Love & Other Drugs had Anne paired alongside Jake Gyllenhaal as the free-spirited artist Maggie Murdock who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Warm and beautiful, Hathaway radiated sunshine in this adult romance, where for a welcome change, grown-ups dealt with relationship entanglements instead of the usual teen-focused romantic stories.

For the role, Hathaway spent time with a Parkinson’s patient to research the disease. She credits the work of Kate Winslet and Penélope Cruz, two actresses “whose work she returned to a lot in preparation” for Love and Other Drugs; she believes both have “done nudity with a tremendous amount of sensitivity and dignity”. She identified one of her favourite Cruz films, Abre Los Ojos, as work that helped her greatly for her role.

Hathaway said that she did not believe her nudity in the film would put off socially conservative people who would otherwise see the movie, saying “just because nudity is such a contentious issue in America people believe that they automatically alienate the conservative parts of America by having nudity. But I give the American public more credit than that. I think that people are curious and people do love stories. I think people might find it and like it, even though it is a little bit risky.”

9. Becoming Jane (Julian Jarrold – 2007)

Becoming Jane depicts the early life of the British author Jane Austen and her lasting love for Thomas Langlois Lefroy, with Anne Hathaway starring as the title character, while her romantic interest is played by Scottish actor James McAvoy. Also appearing in the film are Julie Walters, James Cromwell and Maggie Smith. The final screenplay pieced together some known facts about Austen into a coherent story, in what co-producer Graham Broadbent called “our own Austenesque landscape.”

Hathaway focused on learning an English accent, believing that if she “didn’t get that right, the rest of the performance wouldn’t matter because people would write me off in the first five minutes.” A fan of Jane Austen since she was fourteen, she immediately began rereading Austen’s books, conducting historical research including perusing the author’s letters, and also learned sign language, calligraphy, dance choreography, and playing the piano. She moved to England a month before production began to improve her English accent, and attempted to stay in character throughout filming, the first time she had done so for a movie.

On the impact Austen has had on her own life, she recalled: “When I went to the British Library I studied Jane Austen’s letters, just to see what her handwriting was like. It was just a cool thing to see, and it felt very sacred to be sitting there in front of those letters which she had touched, it was lovely. But she makes her Ds in a very specific way. It’s a sweeping D… so now, whenever I write I have to do a sweeping D. I hope it’s not a summation of my performance.”

8. The Princess Diaries (Garry Marshal – 2001)

The first leading feature starring Anne Hathaway, Disney’s The Princess Diaries followed Mia Thermopolis, a shy American teenager who learns she is heir to the throne of a European kingdom. Under the tutelage of her estranged grandmother (Andrews), the kingdom’s reigning queen, Mia must decide whether to claim the throne she has inherited or renounce her title permanently.

An unexpected commercial success grossing over $165 million worldwide, The Princess Diaries’ success is credited with establishing Hathaway as a bankable actress and reviving Andrews’ film career. Although Garry Marshall believed that several other actresses seemed capable of embodying Mia’s comedic aspects, he determined that only Hathaway possessed “the grace and authority” to deliver the character’s final speech. Hathaway identified with her character’s struggles and personality, explaining, “Mia was very similar to the person I was in high school”, describing herself as a wallflower to whom few paid attention and appreciating the opportunity to be herself in a film.

She credits Marshall with teaching her the most important lesson of her career: “You never know what’s going to be a hit, so you might as well have fun making it,” she said, before adding: “Getting to make it and be on set every day, I got to hug Julie Andrews every day, that part was also very, very, very magical. Then it came out and it was received. That part even, by the way, was magical.” Hathaway jokes that The Princess Diaries turned her into “a superstar to six-year-olds” and she acknowledges, “I got very, very, very famous.”

7. Dark Waters (Todd Haynes – 2019)

Based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine article, The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare by Nathaniel Rich, Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters dramatizes Robert Bilott’s case against the chemical manufacturing corporation DuPont after they contaminated a town with unregulated chemicals.

Hathaway received critical acclaim for her supporting performance as Robert Bilott’s wife Sarah Barlage. “It’s heartbreaking and infuriating on a human level,” Hathaway says. “There wasn’t really any acting required, in terms of playing someone who was learning of (corruption) and was equal parts aghast and terrified and angry and emotional.”

After reading the script, “I opened the drawer where I keep my pans and pots, and there was a non-stick pan,” Hathaway says, adding”: “And despite reading an article when I was pregnant with my first child that said ‘don’t use non-stick,’ there was one that had somehow slipped through the cracks and I’d been feeding my family with it for years.”

6. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan – 2012)

In the final instalment in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Hathaway played the sly and morally ambiguous cat burglar Selina Kyle. Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, the revolutionary Bane forces Bruce Wayne to resume his role as Batman and save Gotham City from nuclear destruction.

Even though it couldn’t quite match the impossible ceiling set by its prequel, The Dark Knight Rises received rave reviews from critics, with praise being directed toward the performances, action sequences, screenplay, direction, musical score, and emotional depth, and with many deeming it a satisfying conclusion to the legendary trilogy.

Hathaway auditioned not knowing what role she was being considered for, only learning her role after talking with Nolan for an hour. She described the role as the most physically demanding she had ever played as she had to double her efforts in the gym to keep up with the requirements of the role. Hathaway discussed it, saying, “You know how you have those jobs and you just go, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to work again because this was such fun.”

She went on to add, “I’m such a director nerd. I love just seeking out the best directors I can and then just watching them. Chris’ whole approach to filmmaking is one of my favourite ones. He’s broken it down to its most minimal, but also his movies are just so huge and ornate. That combination of really being intentional about what it was that we were doing — and also, he’s just so inspiring.”

5. The Devil Wears Prada (David Frankel – 2006)

An important film in Anne’s oeuvre, The Devil Wears Prada proved to her stepping stone during her transition from the Disney star to that of an A-lister Hollywood actress. The screenplay, written by Aline Brosh McKenna, is based on Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel of the same name. The film adaptation stars Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, a powerful fashion magazine editor, and Anne Hathaway as Andrea ‘Andy’ Sachs, a college graduate who goes to New York City and lands a job as Priestly’s co-assistant.

Hathaway said that working on the film made her respect the fashion industry a great deal more than she had previously, though she said her personal style was something she “still can’t get right”. She was “terrified” before starting her first scene with Streep, who had begun her working relationship with Hathaway by saying first, “I think you’re perfect for the role and I’m so happy we’re going to be working on this together” then warning her that was the last nice thing she would say.

She explained: “Yeah, she wanted to stay in character and to be focused. I think it was her way of letting me know that while she was playing the part, she didn’t want to be distracted by a whole lot of chitchat. I kind of tried to stay very quiet when I was on set around her and tried to take my cues from her.”

4. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee – 2005)

Ang Lee’s lyrical meditation on forbidden love, Brokeback Mountain depicts the complex emotional and sexual relationship between Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the American West from 1963 to 1983. The film had Hathaway as Lureen Newsome Twist, Jack’s wife.

Marking a significant departure from the themes of her previous features, Hathaway, along with the rest of the young cast were praised for their maturity and strong performances. Hathaway later stated that the content of the film was more important than its award count and that making it made her more aware of the kind of stories she wanted to tell as an actress. At that point, she realised that she wanted to play roles to move her audiences or otherwise entertain them so much that they forget about their own lives.

“No, it was always my intention to be an actress and not the Princess of Genovia,” she said. “Once I’d got my fill of the early roles it was time to move on. Brokeback Mountain was really the first time I played a character that was different to who I was and I really got a taste for it. I loved the way it fired up my imagination and how terrified I was of failure – it was kind of addictive. Now my new rules of thumb are no tiaras and do the opposite of the last role you did. That seems to be working pretty well for me.”

3. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan – 2014)

The sci-fi epic Interstellar was Hathaway’s second collaboration with Christopher Doyle after featuring in The Dark Knight Rises. Set in a dystopian future where humanity is struggling to survive, the film follows a group of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity.

Hathaway said that she was drawn to her character’s growth from an arrogant to a humbler person. “When I first read the screenplay, I didn’t totally understand my character and I didn’t for some time. Without revealing anything, something happens to her in the movie that I was just thinking about – it’s one of the things that changes you.”

She added: “And then all of a sudden she made sense to me as someone who goes through a journey. I believe she goes through a journey from arrogance and fear to humility and openness. I think anybody who has the courage to go on that kind of journey deserves my respect.”

2. Les Misérables (Tom Hooper – 2012)

In the adaptation of the play that got her into acting in the first place, Anne played the role of Fantine, mother of Cosette and a struggling factory worker, who resorts to prostitution. When Hathaway was cast, she stated, “There was resistance because I was between their ideal ages for the parts—maybe not mature enough for Fantine but past the point where I could believably play Cosette.”

Hathaway received global critical acclaim and widespread praise for her performance and won an Academy, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award. Shedding light on her preparation for the role, she said: “Sometimes you have so much in common with your character that it feels you should return the paycheque. This was not one of those times [laughs]. I did a lot of research about the history of the period and what it was like to be a woman then because I couldn’t help[ but think of how brilliant the word choice was for Alain Boublil, the lyricist, to say ‘I dreamed a dream’ because Fantine is a dreamer.

“So, so much of the way I began the character was with that idea. There’s text in the novel where Victor Hugo says something along the lines of ‘Fantine would walk through a garden and she would hear and see more birds that were actually there’. She loved in a fantasy world that was far more beautiful than the one she lived in, so I wanted to give her a touch of that.”

1. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme – 2008)

In arguably her best performance to date, Anne, to put quite simply, just exploded as Kym, a young woman, who after being released from drug rehabilitation returns home for her sister’s wedding. She is the logical conclusion of fatalistic narratives handed down to her that calcified into her whole identity.

Anne Hathaway under the influence, her performance was extraordinarily emotional, captivating and passionate. She garnered nominations for an Academy Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Drama.

“I like Kym, so much. I like her aesthetic, her sensibility, her sense of humour. I think Kim and I would be really good friends. I actually loved her from the first line of dialogue that I read. I felt a real kinship with her. In terms of her likeability, it was just cool to know that the film didn’t hang in the balance of whether not you liked my character,” she once commented. “Sometimes when you’re making a certain kind of film, you need to like the character in order to care about them because they’re not terribly complex, so you’re not terribly interested in them if you don’t like them. In this particular case, there’s so much going on with Kim that she was fascinating enough that you didn’t need to like her.

“I always felt really comfortable that her story was compelling enough and truthful enough and her depth of love was enough that people would actually understand and love her before they even liked her.”

Subscribe to our newsletter
Delivering curated content