Prep for the Oscars this weekend with Viola Davis’s best movies
We’re a couple of days away from Viola Davis potentially getting another Oscar. She’s up against four other great actresses who gave fantastic performances this past year – a one in five chance. Thankfully, she has a secret weapon none of her fellow nominees do: she’s Viola-freaking-Davis and she can do it all. Don’t believe us? Let’s go through her filmography and pick our favorite Viola Davis movies!
Before all that Oscars talk gives you the wrong impression, let’s get something out of the way: Viola Davis isn’t afraid of big-budget movies, franchises, tent poles, whatever you wanna call them. Do we need to remind you she wasn’t just an integral part of 2016’s Suicide Squad, but she’s also returning for the sequel this summer? She told Ben Affleck’s Batman what was what!
Managing DC supervillains wasn’t Viola Davis’s first rodeo when it came to renowned adaptations. In 2013, the actress was part of the film versions of Beautiful Creatures and Ender’s Game. Of course, Viola Davis has also worked in plenty of high-profile original movies like the Tom Cruise / Cameron Diaz action vehicle Knight and Day, and the Gerard Butler / Jamie Foxx thriller Law Abiding Citizen.
So yeah, plenty of Viola Davis goodness when it comes to big movies. Go ahead and watch Suicide Squad on HBO Max to prepare yourself for The Suicide Squad.
Let’s get serious
For better or for worse (oh, definitely for better), Viola Davis is known for serious roles in serious movies. The desperate widow of a criminal in Widows, the empathetic hospital counselor in Trust, the determined teacher in Won’t Back Down . . . Viola Davis can be intense, and she can be vulnerable, and she can be both at once.
Movies don’t get more intense than Dennis Villeneuve’s nightmarish Prisoners, or display more vulnerability than in Stephen Daldry’s 9/11 drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Well, Viola Davis was part of those two as well. Do you want to see her have a couple of scenes in a political thriller too? Check out 2009’s State of Play.
By the way, if you’re planning to check out Won’t Back Down (currently streaming on Cinemax), make sure you pick the 2012 film where Viola Davis & Maggie Gyllenhaal face off against a corrupt Holly Hunter. The other Won’t Back Down (2014) is a documentary about a cyclist and, while it may be good, it’s Viola-less.
All those gooey feelings
Surely you didn’t think Viola Davis would be averse to romance movies, did you? We told you: her filmography has everything. It’s like browsing Netflix before there were any other streaming platforms. On the “Romance” tab, you’d find Viola Davis in such chick-flicky classics as Eat, Pray, Love and Nights in Rodanthe. Insert heartfelt sigh here.
Viola Davis has also been in dramedies – a genre that’s basically the second cousin of romance. Most notable, she played the main doctor in It’s Kind of a Funny Story which, funny story, was written and directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, who would go on to write and direct Captain Marvel, an MCU movie. Our point being, when are we going to see Viola Davis in the MCU? She’s everywhere else.
Anyway, you can also catch Viola Davis in another romantic drama: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, currently streaming on Tubi. Tubi, guys. That’s how you know it’s a deep cut.
Okay, everything previous to this section has just been a prelude. There are four Viola Davis movies you just have to watch before you die, and those are the ones that netted her those Oscar nominations (and, so far, one win).
First, in 2009, Viola Davis got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work in Doubt, playing the mother of a kid who may or may not be involved in an inappropriate relationship with a priest. Next, in 2011, Viola Davis got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her work in The Help. You’ve seen The Help. Everybody’s seen The Help. Everybody loved The Help.
Viola Davis’s Oscar win came in 2016, when she went toe-to-toe against Denzel Washington in Fences. The role of Washington’s long-suffering wife got Davis a Best Supporting Actress statue. Could she get a Best Actress in a Leading Role statue for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom this weekend? Absolutely. But you should watch the movie regardless of the awards outcome.
No article about Viola Davis and her movies should ignore the fact that she’s one of Tyler Perry’s Madea films. Yup.Madea Goes to Jail. Put it on your watchlist – it’s on Prime Video.
Also, yes, this is a piece about Viola Davis movies but do you really not want us to shout out her phenomenal work in How To Get Away With Murder? Well, we just did. Annalise Keating FTW, baby!
Okay, now we are done.
What’s your favorite Viola Davis performance? Let us know in the comments!
Julio Olivera is an independent filmmaker and podcaster based in Austin, Texas. A native Peruvian, Julio fell in love with American media early on and has made it a constant driving force in his life since moving to the U.S.