Margot Robbie has a true talent for playing layered, often “difficult” women: Since bursting onto the Hollywood scene in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, she’s played a comic-book villain, a Tudor royal, an Olympian, and a world-famous plastic doll, to name just a few of her hit roles. She’s been known to steal the show even when holding only a supporting role and can brighten up any box-office bomb; she’s already racked up a trio of Oscar nominations (so far), including two for her acting and another for her role as producer of Barbie.
Despite her uncanny ability to give nuanced performances to a wide variety of female characters, there are certain roles on Robbie’s roster that are a cut above the rest. Here are the top 10, in our very opinionated order.
When it comes to the crowded genre of movies about high-profile con artists, Focus isn’t exactly on par with Catch Me If You Can or any of the Ocean’s films. But it’s still worth a watch, if only for Robbie’s pitch-perfect performance as budding scammer Jess who becomes something of a protégé—and, of course, love interest—to Will Smith’s Nicky, a much more experienced grifter.
9. ‘Mary Queen of Scots’
Robbie plays Queen Elizabeth I, cousin to Saoirse Ronan’s Mary, Queen of Scots, in this 2018 historical drama. Robbie earned BAFTA and SAG award nominations for her role in the film, which recounts—with some creative liberties—the tension between Protestant Elizabeth and Catholic Mary, the latter of whom posed a challenge to Elizabeth’s claim to the English throne. Historical spoiler alert: Elizabeth did not appreciate her cousin’s schemes to usurp her title, ultimately leading to Mary’s infamous beheading.
In this star-studded movie (seriously: It’s got Robert DeNiro, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, and even Taylor Swift), Robbie plays Valerie, a free-spirited artist who forms an unbreakable “friendship bond” with two soldiers (Christian Bale and John David Washington) she meets while working as a nurse during World War I. A decade later, the trio renews that bond while working together to uncover a dastardly Nazi plot in the years before World War II. Though Amsterdam was something of a box office bomb when it came out in 2022, critics still hailed the chemistry between and performances of Robbie, Washington, and Bale—especially Robbie's ability to capture Valerie’s progression over time from headstrong and adventurous artist to heartbroken shut-in, and back again.
7. ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’
Robbie took on the iconic role of Sharon Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film, which revisits Los Angeles in the summer of 1969, during which the real-life Tate was killed by members of Charles Manson’s cult—though Tarantino rewrote history with his movie’s ending. While Robbie, somewhat controversially, didn’t have many lines in the role, her performance was still widely praised, proving just how strong of an actor she is...even when she’s not speaking. The movie, like most of Tarantino’s work, is very graphic and over-the-top gory, but it also features plenty of enviable ‘60s-era fashion and a great classic rock soundtrack—that’s what we call balance.
6. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Talk about a breakout role. After spending the first few years of her career in TV roles in her native Australia, Robbie made the move to the U.S. and landed a lead role on the short-lived ABC series Pan Am, before promptly hitting the Hollywood jackpot with a part in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013. She played Naomi, the second wife to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort. In addition to holding her own while acting opposite the Hollywood heavyweight, she also gave audiences their first glimpse of her remarkable talent for adapting new accents.
In yet another ripped-from-the-headlines role, Robbie played Kayla Pospisil, an amalgamation of several women who accused ex-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. In the film, Kayla is an aspiring news anchor who becomes one of Ailes’ targets shortly after she begins working at The O’Reilly Factor, and who eventually must decide whether she’ll join other women at the network in publicly accusing the executive of harassment. Robbie earned a spot on many award shortlists for her role, including a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2020 Oscars.
4. ‘Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)’
We already knew from The Suicide Squad that Robbie could play the hot pants-clad comic-book villain with a cheeky sense of humor and a healthy dose of badassery, but Harley Quinn really gets to shine in Birds of Prey. In this chaotic and colorful movie, she takes on more of an antihero role: Fresh off a breakup with the Joker, she becomes entangled in a plot to steal a valuable diamond. In an effort to worm her way out, she ends up forming a ragtag gang of other morally gray women—resulting in a series of truly excellent, impeccably choreographed group fight scenes (some with Robbie's Harley on rollerskates) that put the CGI-heavy approach of other comic-book movies to shame.
This dark and hedonistic three-hour epic from La La Land director Damien Chazelle polarized viewers upon its 2022 release and was eventually labeled a box office bomb. Once again, however, one of the few things critics could agree on was that Robbie gave an A+ performance. In the movie, which takes place in 1920s Hollywood, she plays Nellie LaRoy, an aspiring actress who gets her wish of becoming a movie star after being discovered at a wild party, but she struggles to cope with the pressures of the industry throughout her short-lived career. Among a handful of other accolades, Robbie earned a Golden Globe nomination for the performance—in which she got to show off her real-life talent of releasing tears at a precise moment, from a designated eye.
2. ‘I, Tonya’
Robbie’s lead role in I, Tonya earned her the first Oscar nomination of her career—for Best Actress at the 2018 ceremony—and rightfully so. To adequately portray Olympic ice skater Tonya Harding, Robbie had to train on the ice for four months and also learned to nail a Pacific Northwest accent. Thanks to Robbie’s often-heartbreaking performance, the movie ultimately cast Harding’s infamous story in a more nuanced light and garnered new sympathy for a woman once so villainized by the real-life public and press (even if that sympathy arrived about two decades too late).
Robbie has spoken about how difficult it was for her to develop her performance as Barbie, since the methods she usually uses to find her way into other characters (many of whom are actual people from history) didn’t apply to a shiny, plastic doll who didn’t have a childhood and is completely unaware of the real world. Those early struggles make Robbie’s eventual performance all the more incredible, since she objectively aced the assignment. She handily captures, first, Barbie’s total naiveté and then, over time, her abrupt awakening and journey toward humanity, resulting in a performance that both hilariously honors the iconic doll and also poignantly celebrates the real highs and lows of womanhood.
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Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.
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