At just 36 years old, Scarlett Johansson is already the ninth highest-grossing Hollywood star of all time and the highest-paid actress in the world. She has won a Tony and a BAFTA, and has been nominated for two Academy Awards and five Golden Globes.
However, while much of her fame in recent years (and a significant chunk of her career earnings) is down to her involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Johansson has actually starred in major Hollywood blockbusters for more than 20 years.
While she did pick up early roles in the Home Alone franchise and Just Cause, a crime thriller starring Sean Connery and Laurence Fishburne, her major breakthrough came in 1998 with The Horse Whisperer, opposite the Sundance Kid himself - Robert Redford.
For this article, we’ve put together a list of five of her best films from the last two decades of her career. Read on to find out what they are, and keep an eye out for them next time you’re looking for something to watch.
#1 - Marriage Story
Director: Noah Baumbach
Also Starring: Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta
IMDb Score: 8.0
Released through Netflix, Marriage Story was a favourite among critics and audiences alike for its incisive, tear-jerking, and quirky look at a young American family through separation and divorce.
Johansson stars as a Broadway leading lady married to the play’s director (Adam Driver) who leaves New York for Hollywood, and Marriage Story deftly covers the events that follow. An altogether human, unorthodox, and sometimes hilarious take on a coast-to-coast separation, Marriage Story is a film well worth watching.
After its release in late 2019, Marriage Story swept the Oscars just a few months later in early 2020, with six nominations across all categories. It also saw Johansson get one of her two acting nods for the year - the other coming with Jojo Rabbit.
#2 - Jojo Rabbit
Director: Taika Waititi
Also Starring: Thomasin Mackenzie, Roman Griffin Davis, Sam Rockwell, Taika Waititi
IMDb Score: 7.9
Quite possibly the oddest World War Two movie to ever see a theatrical release, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of Hitler youth member and staunch young Nazi Jojo during the last days of the war in Nazi Germany.
Jojo’s imaginary friend is none other than Adolf Hitler himself, played by the director, Taika Waititi. Although the film received a lot of backlash for depicting Hitler on-screen in a comedic fashion, the film’s overarching message is one of positivity and inclusion, while also shedding light on precisely how absurd some of the Nazi customs were.
Johansson plays Jojo’s mother, Rosie, in her second Oscar-nominated role of 2019. Although she only received a nod for Best Supporting Actress, her role in the film is significant and incredibly compelling; it is easily one of the best on this list.
#3 - Her
Director: Spike Jonze
Also Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams
IMDb Score: 8.0
An unusual film in that Scarlett Johansson doesn’t actually appear physically in it; rather, she’s the voice of Samantha, an AI computer and all-round digital companion to the lonely Theodore (Phoenix).
Her might not be the most unconventional film on this list, but it is a quirky look at how love can sometimes blossom in the most unusual ways. After a few near misses in the beginning of the film, the introverted Theodore finds himself falling for Samantha as the only woman who will listen and actively engage with him.
A sad, strange, and human film, Her is Spike Jonze’s fourth full directorial credit, and his last to date. Well worth a watch, and perhaps one of the most refreshing science fiction films of the 2010s.
#4 - Lost In Translation
Director: Sofia Coppola
Also Starring: Bill Murray, Giovanni Ribisi
IMDb Score: 7.7
If 1998’s The Horse Whisperer was Johansson’s real Hollywood debut, then Lost In Translation is arguably the second-most important film of her early career. Filmed when she was just 19, Lost In Translation follows the relationship between Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a has-been movie star, and Charlotte, a recent college graduate in Japan.
While Lost In Translation is often described as a romantic comedy, its plot trajectory is unconventional and unusual; its major developments feel strangely disconnected in a way that defies traditional Hollywood storytelling. The film explores the pair’s shared sense of alienation in a country they don’t understand, and charts the unusual friendship and romance that soon follows.
#5 - Under The Skin
Director: Jonathan Glazer
IMDb Score: 6.3
This film might only be an IMDb 6.3 and it was a box office bomb when released, but it has received critical acclaim in the years since its release. Beyond Johansson, most of the other actors in the film had little to no professional experience; the characters also have no names, and there are barely any special effects present.
Almost more of a viewing experience than a film in the traditional sense, Under The Skin is haunting and surreal in ways that are utterly captivating. Johansson plays a young “woman” who observes, stalks, and preys on men throughout Scotland. Although it has been widely described as a cinematic allegory that explores a number of social issues through an unusual lens, none of these have been confirmed; ultimately, the film stands as a strange thriller that really can’t be compared to anything else.
At the time of writing, Scarlett Johansson has appeared in 55 feature films throughout a career that spans 26 of the 36 years she has been alive. She is a Hollywood record-breaker, and likely to be active for a good few decades to come. And while these aren’t the only films of hers worth watching, they are certainly a great place to start.