Critic's Picks: Leonardo DiCaprio's 11 Best Performances

10:40 AM 2/29/2016

by Leslie Felperin

The newly-minted Oscar winner took home his first gold statuette for his grueling role in 'The Revenant.' THR film critic Leslie Felperin ranks his greatest performances to date.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island - H 2016
  1. 11


    Critics can sneer all they like at the film's sappy, cliché-ridden dialogue, but it wasn't just the spectacle of the sinking CGI ship that sold all those tickets. The young female audience that made this the best-selling film of all time were sold not just on DiCaprio's pretty face but on the commitment he and Kate Winslet brought to the roles. It's their chemistry that keeps the film afloat.

  2. 10

    This Boy's Life

    DiCaprio's first film performance practically set the template for what was to come: Here's his first watchful, smarter-than-he-looks tough kid (he was actually 19 when he shot it), challenging the authority of a malign regime, in this case his abusive stepfather, played by Robert De Niro. Oddly, considering they're both such favorites of director Martin Scorsese, the two have yet to co-star in one of the latter's works, and after This Boy's Life they only shared screen time in one other film: the weepy Marvin's Room.

  3. 9

    The Beach

    Like Celebrity, The Beach nods at its star's taste for hedonism in the real world but this sharp, satirical adventure also heralded DiCaprio's interest in broadening his palette to include darker roles in edgier, more ensemble-driven films.

  4. 8

    Revolutionary Road

    Although not greeted with the accolades its makers seemingly expected, Sam Mendes' glowering, bitter examination of a fraying 1950s marriage revealed a DiCaprio gone to seed, on the cusp of middle age and racked with disappointment.

  5. 7

    Romeo + Juliet

    This dazzling, contemporary-dress interpretation of the Shakespearean classic was a perfect fit for DiCaprio's brand of swoon-inducing swagger. Although some of his line readings might lack drama-school polish, he projects the right puppyish intensity for the part, and director Baz Luhrmann exploits his physical presence to the hilt.

  6. 6


    DiCaprio only really has a cameo role in this underappreciated Woody Allen film, but it's a doozy. Physically, he seems to have aged 10 years and grown five inches when he makes his entrance as a spoiled, coked-up movie star on a hotel-room-trashing rampage. Partly, the shtick is a cheeky spoof of the actor's real-world reputation as a party animal with an entourage always in tow, but it's also a foretaste of the darker, less heroic roles to come.

  7. 5

    Shutter Island

    This list could be made up mostly of films DiCaprio made with Martin Scorsese, as so many of them showcase his range as an actor. This is one of his most subtle, the actor planting the suggestion that his character isn't all he seems early on via tiny gestures and hints.

  8. 4

    Catch Me If You Can

    Although nearly 30 when he shot this, DiCaprio could still project enough boyishness to pass for a 19-year-old con artist pretending to be people much older than himself in this stylish period romp, which showcases his lighter side and crack comic timing. It was also the last outright comedy before a long spell of serious fare and the beginning of his close collaboration with Martin Scorsese.

  9. 3

    What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

    DiCaprio's transformative turn as the mentally challenged Arnie proved conclusively he was more than just a pretty baby-face and a brooding attitude. This layered performance, which manages the rare feat of upstaging Johnny Depp (then at career peak), was so indelible it cast something of a shadow over his career for a few years.

  10. 2

    The Revenant

    DiCaprio’s total dedication to the physical demands of this role finally reaped him the Academy Award that had always eluded him. So much so, in fact, that it now looks like if future generations will say that when an actor really went for it with a challenging role, he or she “ate the raw bison liver,” as Leo did in a now infamous scene from The Revenant. It’s like “jumping the shark” but good.

  11. 1

    The Wolf of Wall Street

    In a fairer universe, DiCaprio would have won all the awards in 2013 just for the scene in which he struggles to get to his car while having a Quaalude meltdown, a textbook example of physical comedy of transcendent skill. Sure, the character of Jordan Belfort is right in the actor's charming-scumbag comfort zone, but his charisma carries the movie from start to finish.