11 Great Jack Nicholson Roles From His Illustrious Career
‘The Shining’ (1980)
On April 22, Jack Nicholson turns 82, and after more than 60 movies, it’s hard to remember a time when he wasn’t a major presence on the silver screen. His was always a fascinating sort of versatility; always unpredictable except predictably himself, Nicholson lent characters a volatility in great and small roles, standing out and leaving an impression even when his contributions weren’t meant to be the focus of a story. To commemorate his birthday, Moviefone has assembled a list of highlights from the actor’s incredible career.
‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (1960)
Then just an up and comer with much to prove, Nicholson distinguished himself early in this Roger Corman cheapie, now a cult classic, where he plays a masochistic patient at a sadistic dentist’s office.
‘Easy Rider’ (1969)
Almost ten years after “Little Shop of Horrors,” Nicholson not so quietly steals the show (and earns a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod) in this travelogue and generational cornerstone. Nicholson played an alcoholic lawyer who helps the two main characters escape trouble -- and eventually becomes a victim when the find more later.
‘Five Easy Pieces’ (1970)
Nicholson experienced a bigger breakthrough- - including his first Best Actor nomination -- playing a troubled piano prodigy turned oil rigger reckoning with his family legacy and the trappings of middle-class life.
In Roman Polanski’s exhilarating thriller, Nicholson plays Jake Gittes, a scrappy private detective whose investigation of a LA Water and Power engineer devolves into a murder mystery that exposes not only systemic corruption but long-hidden secrets about one of Los Angeles’ most powerful families. Just stay away from the sequel (which Nicholson directed).
‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)
Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel earned Nicholson his first Oscar, playing what would become a signature role -- Randle McMurphy, a disruptive patient at a mental institution who squares off against the staff, including the tyrannical Nurse Ratched (Lousie Fletcher), in an explosive battle of wills.
‘The Shining’ (1980)
Nicholson collaborates with Stanley Kubrick on this Stephen King adaptation about a hotel caretaker who begins to lose his grip on reality after bringing his family with him to manage the grounds of the mysterious, quite possibly haunted Overlook.
‘Terms of Endearment’ (1983)
Nicholson won a second Oscar -- this time in a supporting role -- as a retired astronaut who catalyzes the transformation of controlling widower Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) after her relationship with her daughter (Debra Winger) gets complicated by her daughter’s marriage.
A sentimental favorite for many, Nicholson’s work in Burton’s film harnesses the unkempt, unpredictable energy of his work in “Witches of Eastwick” as he plays the Crown Prince of Crime, squaring off against the Caped Crusader for control of Gotham.
A Few Good Men’ (1992)
Nicholson was nominated yet again for his turn in Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Aaron Sorkin’s play about the murder of a Marine trainee and the battle between Base Commander Nathan Jessup (Nicholson) and an upstart lawyer (Tom Cruise) to find the responsible party.
‘About Schmidt’ (2002)
For Alexander Payne, Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, a retiree whose world gets turned upside down when he’s forced to attend his estranged daughter’s (Hope Davis) wedding after the sudden death of his wife.
‘The Departed’ (2006)
Martin Scorsese harnesses the underlying menace in Nicholson’s charisma to play Frank Costello, an “untouchable” mob boss who becomes the focus of an investigation by the Boston Police Department after a hungry recruit (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes undercover in his organization.