Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman: Who’s a better actress?


Fact Box

  • Meryl Streep made her on-screen debut in the 1977 TV movie “The Deadliest Season” and, as of January 2021, has been in 74 films total.
  • Raised in Australia, Nicole Kidman was born in Honolulu, HI, and began acting for television movies when she was a teenager.  
  • Although having received numerous awards for the role, Meryl Streep admits that she is disappointed in her performance in 1981’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  • Earning $22 million in 2020, Nicole Kidman was ranked the 7th highest-paid actress in the world.

Haley (Nicole Kidman)

Despite her established career and large body of work, Nicole Kidman is often overlooked when discussing accomplished actresses. Many people assume that Kidman, like so many others, was cast for her looks instead of her talent. However, this assumption is false, as Kidman has proven herself many times over, from her breakout roles in Dead Calm and Days of Thunder to her recent triumph in Big Little Lies

Kidman's career is diverse, and she has avoided being pigeonholed into one genre or character type. From Baz Luhrmann's jukebox musical Moulin Rouge! to her heartbreaking portrayal of author Virginia Woolf in The Hours—Kidman has shown herself to be one of the most flexible actresses of our time.

Despite her awards and accolades, Meryl Streep does not play as great a range of characters as Kidman—especially in recent years. As film critic Charles McNulty wrote for the Los Angeles Times, 'it seems as if [Streep's] acting comes in two varieties: artful drag… and relaxed diva charm-fests… in both these modes the overriding effect is one of elaborate imposture.'

Unlike Streep, Kidman takes risks and continuously seeks out new work, including dozens of small, artistic films to which she offers her skills and star status. In an interview with The New York Times, Kidman stated, 'A lot of people as they get older get more protected and terrified. My desire is to keep throwing myself into things.' 

Kidman may have fewer Oscar wins, but that speaks to the Academy's limitations and not her performances. An endlessly driven, humble actress, she has proven time and time again that she deserves to be ranked among the greatest.

Michelle (Meryl Streep)

Nicole Kidman herself calls Meryl Streep “the great one.” Adam Scott states, “Everyone knows, as an actor, you’re waiting your whole life to meet Meryl Streep, let alone work with Meryl Streep.” She’s the celebrity that celebrities get starstruck over. 

Meryl Streep is known for her remarkable ability to slip into accents and roles with ease. She has portrayed many iconic characters, from an uptight magazine editor in Devil Wears Prada to a drug-addicted daughter of a famous actress in Postcards from the Edge to a tormented Holocaust survivor in Sophie’s Choice. She is drawn to “characters who are difficult to translate to other people.” When people ask her why she portrays characters so different from herself, she says, “Well, why did God invent imagination? Should I have played women from central New Jersey all my life?” Streep’s résumé shows a range that Kidman’s does not.

Streep completed undergrad at Vassar before earning a drama MFA from Yale. When asked about her process, she has said, “I’ve cultivated a deliberate reluctance to investigate my own method of working because I’m afraid of killing the goose. I’m afraid if I parse it, I won’t be able to do it anymore.” 

Streep has won more major awards (19) than Kidman (11) and is the current record holder for most Academy Award nominations, with twenty-one nods since her first in 1978. Entertainment Weekly also named Streep #1 on their list of 25 Greatest Best Actress Winners in Oscar History. Kidman was not mentioned on the list.

Nicole Kidman is a good actress, but Meryl Streep is one of the all-time greats.

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