Scarlett Johansson has been gifting us with amazing performances for decades. Not only is she a great actress, she rarely picks a bad project. That’s why choosing the best Scarlett Johansson movie isn’t an easy task. She always brings something special to each of her roles, and her presence can instantly elevate a film to something greater. She excels in leading roles, and she can easily handle action, romance, sci-fi, or anything else thrown at her with aplomb. She also knows how to steal the show in supporting roles or provide the perfect balance to her co-star.
Since she often chooses great movies and often puts in a stellar performance, picking the best Scarlett Johansson movie is going to come down to two factors – the movie needs to be amazing overall and her performance needs to be one of the best aspects of it. While that narrows down the field, it still leaves us with a lot of options. For instance, her performances in Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit were so good she got the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations in the same year. You also have her dynamic performance in Christopher Nolan’s twisty-turny The Prestige, but that movie is more Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale‘s show, so it doesn’t quite meet my parameters. Her chilling performance in Under the Skin was amazing and something different from what Johansson usually does. And Marvel fans will agree that her Black Widow is always a joy on-screen, whether she’s popping up in other superheroes’ movies, fighting as an Avenger, or starring in her own solo effort. While you could make an argument for any of these, they’re not my pick.
Which leaves what would likely be the obvious and first choice for most people. If you ask someone to name Scarlett Johansson’s best movie, their first instinct is going to be to say Lost in Translation. And for good reason. Johansson plays perfectly off a wistful Bill Murray, providing a gentle, dream-like performance as Charlotte. Johansson is able to convey so much through just expressions and glances in this movie, and the film is fantastic overall. But…it’s not my pick. My pick is a movie where Johansson is able to captivate us with just her voice. My pick is Her.
Her is an understated and beautiful sci-fi film that portrays a retro-inspired near-future. The inimitable Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a writer who is intensely lonely after the dissolution of his marriage. In the depths of his loneliness, he begins to fall in love with the artificial intelligence OS on his computer Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. While some movies might try to play this for laughs or satire, director and writer Spike Jonze wisely opts for complete sincerity. And it works. Not only does it work, it genuinely stirs the emotions and brilliantly touches on themes of love, loneliness, companionship, technology, and humanity. If someone gave you the elevator pitch of “divorced man falls in love with Siri” you probably wouldn’t expect that movie to bring a tear to your eye. This is Scarlett Johansson’s best movie because her voicework ensures this lofty premise sticks the landing.
Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix manage to make us believe a relationship like this could exist. By playing both of their parts warmly and earnestly, you never once question this seemingly unrealistic love story. And the rest of the cast help to ground the movie further. Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Chris Pratt all bring something special to their roles, with Amy Adams, in particular, standing out as Theodore’s friend Amy. Even the Academy agrees with this being one of Scarlet Johansson’s best movies, to a point. They nominated the film for Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Achievement in Production Design. It also won an Oscar for Spike Jonze’s screenplay. I can’t imagine why Phoenix and Johansson were looked over for nominations, but I’m guessing it’s the Acadamy’s reluctance to nominate voice-only work.
If you haven’t seen Her, I highly recommend you give this heartfelt film a try. Saying it’s the best Scarlett Johansson movie is no light recommendation, but just watch the scene where Theodore and Samantha sing a song together. What other two actors could convince you a human could fall in love with a computer with just one scene?