For decades, Leonardo DiCaprio has been one of Hollywood’s most successful and sought after leading men, having numerous award winning movies and performances. He has time and time again shown his range and adaptability as an actor, as he has played everything from a rich stockbroker to a racist slave owner.
With the kind of resume possessed by DiCaprio, picking out his best performances is no easy task. With that being said, read on and check out what we believe are the 10 best performances of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career.
10. Catch Me If You Can
This was DiCaprio’s final role as a “young man” before he began his foray as one of the top leading men in Hollywood. Catch Me If You Can is a biographical crime drama that details the life of Frank Abagnale, played by DiCaprio, who conned people out of millions of dollars and ran away from the FBI, all before the age of 19, by pretending to be a doctor, a pilot and a prosecutor. In the film, DiCaprio plays each of the given roles to perfection and showed audiences and critics alike that he has a long future in this industry, and will be a force to be reckoned with on the big screen for years to come.
This was actually the second biggest hit of DiCaprio’s career and is one of the most beautifully executed and smart big budget films put out in years. The film centers around DiCaprio’s character, who is a professional thief that commits espionage by entering the dreams and the subconscious of his targets. DiCaprio plays such an amazing gamut of emotions to perfection in this film. One of the most powerful scenes is where he sees his kids and wife and is able to go from completely overjoyed, to completely heartbroken and sad when he realizes it is a dream. The mark of a good actor is to be complete and be able to play a range of characters, emotions and tones, and this film was evidence that DiCaprio is that kind of guy.
8. Django Unchained
This role was fairly uncharacteristic for DiCaprio, as he played one of the main villains in the film, not the protagonist that he is normally so accustomed to playing. Django Unchained is a Western film that is set in the Old West and is a variation of a classic spaghetti Western. Despite its extremely racist and sometimes hard to watch content, the film is actually very well done and was praised by critics. In the film, DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, a racist plantation owner and boy, does he ever play that role to perfection. Throughout the movie, he seems more like a comic book villain than an old timey plantation owner, but in a Tarantino movie, it fits like a glove. Despite not being an accurate representation of what really happened in slavery, DiCaprio still managed to play one of the most despicable villains in recent memory.
This film absolutely had to find its way onto this list. Titanic is a movie that is a fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage. This film is not only of the most successful films of all time, it also helped to launch the careers of most people who starred in it or had a piece in creating it. In the film, DiCaprio plays Jack Dawson, a lower class man who falls in love with a higher class woman on the ship. Every teenage girl at the time was swooning over DiCaprio in this movie, and for good reason. He was able to pull off the “underdog” charm and street wit to perfection and was a huge reason why this is one of the greatest romance films of all time, winning 11 Academy Awards.
6. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
This was the role that got Leonardo DiCaprio his earliest mainstream attention as not only a great young actor, but an actor that could go on to be a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood for years and decades to come. In the film, DiCaprio wowed critics and moviegoers alike with his performance of Arnie Grape, who is the handicapped brother of Gilbert, who is played by Johnny Depp. His ability to not only play, but thrive in a difficult and touchy role like this showed his true ability to the world. In fact, he was only 20 years old in this film and it was the first of his many Oscar nominations. This movie and performance paved the way for one of the greatest Hollywood careers of our generation.
5. The Aviator
This might come as a surprise to some, but this is without a doubt one of Leo’s greatest performances to date. In The Aviator, DiCaprio plays an aviation engineer and director named Howard Hughes, and the film follows his life from the 1920s to the 1940s and chronicles his successes and eventual instability due to his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Throughout the film, DiCaprio’s character grows from a young upstart looking to get a break, to a middle aged man at the top of the world, but succumbing to his horrific bouts with OCD. The supporting talent in the film was top notch, but it was DiCaprio’s performance that helped the most with the 11 Academy Award nominations that the film received.
4. Blood Diamond
This film is usually overlooked due to its release date, which was close to another of DiCaprio’s successful films, The Departed. In the film, which is about the Sierra Leone civil war of 1996-2001, DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, who is a Rhodesian bad boy and mercenary. Perhaps the most impressive part of this role was the fact that DiCaprio had to play a man born in southern Africa, which comes with its own difficulty in terms of dialect and accent. But, like he always does, DiCaprio played it to perfection. He also shared a ton of chemistry with his co-star Djimon Hounsou, which also elevated his performance and ultimately culminated in the both of them being nominated for Oscars.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
This will forever go down as one of DiCaprio’s finest works of his career. The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that goes through the life, trials and tribulations of millionaire stock broker and con man, Jordan Belfort. DiCaprio plays Belfort, who is a money and drug obsessed stockbroker who isn’t shy about flaunting his wealth. In some ways, this might be the most possessed and committed DiCaprio has been for a character. In this film, we see DiCaprio be more animated and have way more physicality than we have ever seen from him before. He perfectly captures Belfort’s charisma, savvy business sense and unpredictability in a way that no other actor in Hollywood would be able to do.
2. Shutter Island
At the time of its release, this film was largely and unfairly forgotten around award season, but Shutter Island is one of the top performances of DiCaprio’s career. Shutter Island is a psychological thriller that stars DiCaprio as a former Federal Marshall who is now incarcerated in a mental facility, which we don’t actually find out until the end of the film. The film is largely carried by DiCaprio, as he played the delusional and terror-ridden Ted Daniels to perfection. Throughout the film, DiCaprio has transformed himself into Daniels, and is no longer an actor, but the man himself. To be able to do that as a world famous actor takes a ton of skill.
1. The Departed
Leonardo DiCaprio’s finest performance is without a doubt his role as William Costigan Jr., who is an undercover officer for the Special Investigation Unit of the Massachusetts State Police. The Departed is a crime drama that is set in Boston and is loosely based off of the mob era in the ’70s and ’80s made famous by the Whitey Bulger case. The film has an all-star studded cast, but DiCaprio steals the show as an officer forced to go undercover and infiltrate the mob. He plays a very paranoid man, and is one of the only instances in film where DiCaprio begins to “disappear” in his role, which means that he is no longer the millionaire actor, but simply a paranoid and terrified officer infiltrating one of the dangerous crime mobs in American history.