As one of the finest working actors in all of Hollywood, Tilda Swinton is a tour de force of the screen, taking each and every one of her characters to unexpected places with deep, excavating performances. Having worked with the likes of Bong Joon-ho, Wes Anderson, Lynne Ramsay and the Coen brothers, Swinton has managed to dominate both mainstream and independent filmmaking throughout her 35 years in the film industry.
Having won her first and only Academy Award in 2007 for her supporting role in Michael Clayton, directed by Tony Gilroy, Swinton has enjoyed a career glittering with awards and success from her very first debut role in Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio. Starting her career as a strong dramatic actor thanks to roles in Orlando and The Deep End, more recently Swinton has seen an increase in strong character roles starring as an eccentric oppressor in Snowpiercer and a colourful lecturer in The French Dispatch.
Held in high regard throughout the world of film and television, there are very few actors working today that match the professionalism and dedication of Tilda Swinton. With almost 100 film credits to her name, we’ve whittled her filmography down to analyse ten of her finest screen performances.
See the full list, below.
Tilda Swinton’s 10 greatest movies:
10. Julia (Erick Zonca, 2008)
Going under the radar upon its release in 2008, Julia is a small independent project from French filmmaker Erick Zonca, a film led totally by Tilda Swinton who plays a woman attempting to extort money by using a young boy as bait.
A single-character showcase, Swinton is allowed all the space she needs to demonstrate her skills as a highly-proficient actor capable of a wide range of emotions and styles that allow the film to effortlessly flow. Whilst Julia isn’t the most glamorous of cinematic opportunities, lacking a glitzy supporting cast, for Swinton it was the perfect film to show off her talents, winning several awards around the world for her efforts.
9. Okja (Bong Joon-ho, 2017)
An important, environmentally pertinent film, Okja was a major acquisition from Netflix in 2017, helping them to establish themselves as serious competitors in the realm of filmmaking in a project that starred the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Tilda Swinton.
This modern-day fable heavily criticises the state of modern factory farming doing so by constantly flitting between moments of gentle grace and surprising brutality. With a massive CGI pig taking the films headlines, Okja follows a young girl and her relationship with the creature whilst she bats away interest from a multinational organisation. Swinton plays the brilliantly evil Lucy Mirando, a silver-haired capitalist determined to capitalise on the monetary value of the creatures. It’s an unexpected, hugely enjoyable performance by the actor.
8. Young Adam (David Mackenzie, 2003)
An underrated boulder train of drama, Young Adam from director David Mackenzie is a cold crime film starring Tilda Swinton alongside Ewan McGregor, Emily Mortimer, Peter Mullan and Rory McCann.
The story details the life of Joe Taylor (McGregor) a man working on a river barge who has inextricable ties to the horrifying discovery of a dead woman found in the water. Collaborating with co-star McGregor with unprecedented chemistry, Swinton delivers a cold performance as Ella Gault in David Mackenzie’s adaptation of Alexander Trocchi’s novel. Swinton’s portrayal is one fraught with emotion and venomous betrayal.
7. The Deep End (Scott McGehee, David Siegel, 2001)
Having carved a niche for herself as an actor capable of taking on tough, gritty performances, Tilda Swinton starred in The Deep End from Scott McGehee and David Siegel, a film perfectly suited to her skillset.
Telling the story of a woman who loses control of her life while trying to keep her son from being found culpable in a murder investigation, Swinton plays the leading lady in question, fulfilling her role with extraordinary emotional power. A deeply maternal role, Swinton delivers an intense performance layered with powerful narrative subtext. Dealing with a timeless human issue that follows the struggle of parents to accept the true identity of their children, Swinton’s performance in The Deep End would help build the foundations for her award-winning role in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
6. I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino, 2007)
The second of the actor’s collaborations with contemporary filmmaking master Luca Guadagnino following The Protagonists, I Am Love saw Tilda Swinton embrace a challenging role with a compelling flourish.
Having to learn Italian and Russian for the role, in I Am Love Swinton offers a vibrant and deeply human performance that helps to elevate the film into a far more captivating work of art. The film itself sees Emma (Swinton) living with her husband in Italy when Antonio, a local chef shakes up her normal life and rekindles her sense of frivolous love. A subtle and quiet drama, I Am Love is a film made for Tilda Swinton’s nuanced performance style.
5. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007)
Recording her only Oscar-win (so far) in her career, Tilda Swinton starred alongside George Clooney, Sydney Pollack, Katherine Waterston and Tom Wilkinson in Tony Gilroy’s award-winning crime drama.
Showcasing a far more reserved performance than her usual, eccentric, enigmatic self, Tilda Swinton plays the supporting role of Karen Crowder in the film that follows a law firm looking to fix its image when a lawyer has a breakdown whilst representing a corrupt company. Whilst her performance is far from the Tilda Swinton we have come to recognise, her role in the film demonstrates her extraordinary range and capabilities to take on a variety of characters.
4. A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino, 2015)
From one Guadagnino film to another, here Tilda Swinton is gifted with an excellent supporting cast of Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson, bouncing off each actor superbly to shine as the finest actor of them all.
Detailing a vacation of a famous rock star and her boyfriend that is interrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend and his daughter, A Bigger Splash is an emotional mess of minds and personalities that spirals out of control. Creating a compelling duo alongside Ralph Fiennes, Swinton ignites a passionate film with her own outstanding performance charged with emotion and intensity.
3. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2014)
Vampires have always been pretty sexy, ever since Daughters of Darkness 50 years ago, but rarely have they been stylish, with Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive proving that one of the oldest mythical beings can still be vogue.
Somehow managing to make the two lead characters, played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton look as gothically drab as they do stylistically modern, Jarmusch delivers a refreshing take on the classic vampire flick. The story follows a depressed musician who reunites with his lover, only for her uncontrollable younger sister to spoil the party. Suffusing the film with her own sense of style, Swinton leads from the frontline as the enigmatic Eve.
2. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name is a psychologically twisted affair, following the tale of Eva, played by Tilda Swinton, whose relationship with her peculiar son Kevin (Ezra Miller) reaches disturbing heights.
Toying with fears of parental paranoia, Tilda Swinton excellently conveys the anxieties and deep-rooted distress of living as a parent, and particularly the parent of a disturbed child. A haunting tale of familial love and the unbreakable bond of a mother and her child, Lynne Ramsay’s film is a masterful deconstruction of a timeless human tale. It remains one of the finest films of the 21st century.
1. Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992)
Led and dominated by a captivating Tilda Swinton, there is no better film that captures the mastery of Tilda Swinton than Orlando from Sally Potter, also starring the likes of Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp and Charlotte Valandrey.
A sprawling costume drama adapted from the novel of the same name by Virginia Woolf, Orlando is an ambitious project that would prove to be the breakout role for Tilda Swinton. Telling the story of a young nobleman named Orlando (Swinton) who is commanded by Queen Elizabeth I that he must not grow old, the individual struggles with love and his place in a confusing world.
Travelling through several centuries, Orlando is a strange gender-bending science fiction drama that is grounded by Swinton’s haunting, extravagant and enigmatic performance.