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Viola Davis’s Top 10 Movies, Ranked

Plus, find out which roles garnered Oscar nominations for the star! 

Viola Davis is a powerhouse in the world of cinema, known for her extraordinary talent, versatility and ability to bring depth and authenticity to all the movies she has taken on. With a career spanning decades, Davis has graced the screen with numerous memorable performances ranging from comedy, drama, thriller and even fantasy. She has a loyal following of fans as well as industry insiders.

Davis has been nominated for four Oscars (and won one). Her first nomination was in 2009 for her role in Doubt. Next, in 2012 she received critical acclaim and an Oscar nod for her part in The Help. Five years later in 2017, she was nominated—and won—the Oscar for her performance in Fences. Most recently, in 2021, she was given high praise—and nominated for an Oscar—for her starring role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Actress Viola Davis, winner of the award for Actress in a Supporting Role for ‘Fences,’ 2017 Jeffrey Mayer/Getty

Davis is one of three African-American actresses (the other two being Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett) to be nominated for an Academy Award in both the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories.

In addition to movies, Davis won an Emmy for her work in ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, (making her the first Black woman to receive an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series).

Plus, Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, have their own production company JuVee Productions. Together they have produced award-garnering productions across theater, television and film.

Whether portraying historical figures, or complex characters or leading an ensemble cast, Davis consistently delivers performances that resonate with audiences. While it’s hard to decide which movie is her best, we tried.

Here, Viola Davis Movies ranked. See if you agree with us.

10. Viola Davis movies: Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners (2013) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in

This psychological thriller, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, puts Davis in the role of Nancy Birch, the mother of a missing daughter. Davis offers a standout performance as she attempts to connect with her daughter’s captor. This movie showed a different side of Davis and we like it.

9. Suicide Squad (2013)

Suicide Squad (2013) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis at the premiere Noam Galai / Contributor/Getty

A secret government agency recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains to form a defensive task force. Their first mission is to save the world from the apocalypse. This action, adventure, fantasy film stars Will Smith, Jared Leto, and Margot Robbie. Davis plays the character of Amanda Waller whose famous quote is: “I wanna build a team of some very bad people, who I think can do some good.”

8. Viola Davis movies: Get on Up (2014)

Get on Up (2014) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in Get on Entertainment

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis and Dan Aykroyd, Davis played the role of Susie Brown, James Brown’s mother, in this biographical drama that chronicles the life of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. The film explores Brown’s rise to fame from extreme poverty to being one of music’s biggest stars. The movie takes a deep dive into Brown’s musical innovations and personal struggles. Davis infuses her role as Susie with warmth, resilience and determination.

7. Widows (2018)

Widows (2018) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in Widows Century Studios

Widows is the story of four women with nothing in common, except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms. Davis has a commanding presence and gives a powerful performance in this film. 

6. Viola Davis movies: The Woman King (2022)

The Woman King (2022) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in The Woman

This film won countless awards including the Critic’s Choice. Davis was also nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as General Nanisca. This historic epic, which was inspired by true events, follows the story of Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s.

Davis has a standout role as the general who trains the next generation of recruits and prepares them for battle to save their traditions and way of life. She stars with a strong ensemble cast including Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim.

5. Viola Davis movies: Antwone Fisher (2002)

Antwone Fisher (2002) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in 2002 Lawrence Lucier / Stringer/Getty

Davis played Eva May, the birth mother of the title character. While it wasn’t a starring role, it was one of Davis’s first films, and audiences connected with her raw emotional performance. The movie explores the life of Antwone Fisher, a young navy man, who is prone to outbursts. He’s sent to a psychiatrist and during the course of treatment, he opens up about his painful past and traumatic childhood. The movie stars Derek Luke as Antwone Fisher and Denzel Washington as the psychiatrist (this movie was Washington’s directorial debut).

4. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black

Davis plays the title character, legendary recording artist Ma Rainey, in this movie about racial tensions in the 1920s music industry. The film, which was produced by Denzel Washington, takes place over the course of an afternoon recording session.

Ma Rainey delivers a tour-de-force performance when she engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. The movie also looks at the lives of her bandmates, including ambitious trumpeter Levee (played by Chadwick Boseman).

3. Doubt (2008)

Doubt (2008) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in Doubt

Davis was in good company in this film, which starred Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Doubt takes place in a 1960s Catholic school and take a deep dive into faith, morality and wrong doing in a time when things were swept under the rug. Davis plays the role of Mrs. Miller, the mother of a boy accusing a priest of inappropriate behavior. Her strong, powerful performance won Davis an Academy Award nomination.

2. Fences (2016)

Fences (2016) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in

Davis pairs up again with Denzel Washington in this emotion movie. The story looks at a working-class father (Washington) who comes to terms with how he raised his family in 1950s Pittsburgh among racial and class challenges. Davis delivered an Oscar-winning performance as Washington’s on-screen wife. The movie captures the essence of love, sacrifice, resilience, and unfulfilled dreams in a family dynamic.  

1. Viola Davis movies: The Help (2011)

The Help (2011) (Viola Davis Movies)
Viola Davis in The

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help immediately became a fan favorite (both as a book and a movie). It explores racial and social issues in 1960s Mississippi. The film follows Skeeter Phelan, an aspiring journalist played by Emma Stone, as she interviews African American maids about their experiences working for white families.

Davis plays Aibileen Clark, an outspoken maid who forms a strong bond with Skeeter. Her humor, grit and wisdom made this movie a winner among Davis’s fans.

For more rankings of actors and actresses films, click through the links below!

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