Hollywood’s revered enigma, Jack Nicholson, started his impressive acting career in the 1960’s.
The 81-year-old multiple Oscar award winner is regarded by many as one of the greatest ‘method’ actors to have ever lived. He began with roles in television, but now, over five decades and 65 films later, is regarded as one of the greatest performers to have ever graced the silver screen with his craft.
The success of Nicholson’s acting journey, from newbie to the well-known star that he is today, can be attributed to five major films that he starred in during the 70’s. These films established his brand as a capable and highly-regarded actor, as he stole the limelight for some difficult roles and courageously sought out to do films that no other actor would dare to touch.
The following five films, listed chronologically below, are the exact works that gained Jack Nicholson his stardom status during the 70s, and helped him land some major roles during the 80’s, including, ‘The Shining’ (1980), ‘Batman’ (1989) and ‘A Few Good Men’ (1992).
- Five Easy Pieces (1970) – The movie was directed by Nicholson’s frequent collaborator Bob Rafelson. This film marked the first time Nicholson was nominated for an Oscar thanks to his outstanding performance. In the movie, Nicholson plays a pianist whose luck runs dry, forcing him to take up work in the oil fields of California. Upon hearing the unfortunate news that his father has suffered multiple strokes, he returns home. This film shot Nicholson to fame due to his sublime acting and short-fused vitality, a trait that has now become his trademark. His outstanding performance in this flick made such an impact on Hollywood, that it paved the way for Nicholson to earn his status as a ‘method’ actor.
- The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) – Although this movie seems to be one of Nicholson’s less memorable roles, the positive reaction from the media at the time of this performance made him an immediate favourite among the masses. In this movie, directed by ‘Five Easy Pieces’ director Bob Rafelson, Nicholson played a melancholic radio jockey who is shacked up with his mentally unstable brother in the house of a former beauty queen and her stepdaughter. Nicholson’s brooding presence is truly riveting in this surreal tale.
- The Last Detail (1973) – Nicholson gives an undeniable career defining performance in this road trip comedy. In this role he plays a railway signalman who escorts a man to prison who’s been charged for stealing $40 from a charity collection. Despite his persona as a brooding and ferocious character previous to this movie, Director Hal Ashby and Screenwriter Robert Towne cast Nicholson in this role. They both voiced afterwards that this movie was written and made in such a way that no one else could have nailed the role better than Nicholson.
- Chinatown (1974) – Picking up where Humphrey Bogart left off after hanging his hat, this film features Nicholson as he plays one of the most iconic private-eyes in the business. This mid-1970s neo-noir masterpiece was created by Roman Polanski, and won Nicholson his fourth Oscar nomination (which ultimately bore no fruit but left an indelible mark in the minds of the audience.)
- One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – Nineteen seventy-five marks the year where Nicholson finally won his first Oscar! It was well earned too. His role in this film portrays an intelligent, authority-hating, sex-seeking prisoner who gets a transfer to a mental institution in an attempt to escape living in prison. This cinema-box-office breaking movie was directed by none other than maestro Stanley Kubrick, known for his trademark surrealistic movies. There is one particular scene in this movie which encapsulates Nicholson’s entire career: incorrigible, spectacularly unhinged and very rebellious.
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