At the point where I write this, I list 18725 films in my spreadsheet.  Of those, a bit more than half are what I consider to be good (***), very good (***.5) or great (****).  As could probably be expected, the vast majority of acting points that I give out are from those films.  Of the remaining 8000+ films that are mediocre (**.5) or bad (** or below), only 269 of them earn points from me in any acting category.  Of those, only 98 films have a performance that earns a 4, or a performance I consider worthy or an Oscar nomination.

For an actor (no matter the gender) to have more than one performance that good in a film that bad is rare.  For someone to do it more than twice is almost unheard of.  Then there is Meryl Streep.

I was thinking about my recent Actor list and how Jack Nicholson had a significant lead over the second place finisher though not even close to the lead that Streep has over the second place finisher on the Actress list.  Part of it is that Jack didn’t start earning points until he was 32 while Meryl started when she was 29 and part of it is that it’s now been 13 years since Jack has last earned any points (and nine since he’s made a film) but he’s only 12 years older than Meryl and she’s still going strong (with a good chance she’ll earn more points in December for Little Women if she doesn’t earn more first in November for The Laundromat; those are films, by the way, that are unlikely to be part of the discussion below).

But part of it is that Meryl Streep is, far and away, better than anyone else at giving a really good performance in a bad movie.  Doesn’t matter how much the script sucks, doesn’t matter how bad the director is or if anyone else in the film is any good.  Meryl is fantastic.

As I said, it’s rare for any actor to give more than two really strong performances in a weak film.  Meryl has done it five times.  And those are just the really good ones:

  • The Devil Wears Prada  (**.5)  –  Meryl earns a 7
  • Julie and Julia  (**.5)  –  Meryl earns a 7
  • The Iron Lady  (**)  –  Meryl earns a 7
  • The River Wild  (**.5)  –  Meryl earns a 4
  • Marvin’s Room  (**.5)  –  Meryl earns a 4

But she’s also given decent work in other bad films:

  • Music of the Heart  (**.5)  –  Meryl earns a 3
  • It’s Complicated  (**.5)  –  Meryl earns a 3
  • Mamma Mia!  (**)  –  Meryl earns a 2

Now, I am aware that some people will come to the defense of some of those films.  But don’t bother.  For the most part, I will say you are coming to defense of the film because you enjoy it not because you think it’s good.  What’s more, none of those films have higher than a 68 on Metacritic and only two (Julie, Prada) have higher than a 62 which is what I score as a **.5 film.

When converting to my larger points system, that gives Meryl 322 points just for bad films (and let’s not forget that while I don’t give her points for the films She-Devil or Death Becomes Her, two bad films, she did earn Golden Globe nominations for those films and in both cases she is the only possible reason to watch them).  In other words, Meryl is the 64th greatest film actress of all-time if we don’t allow her to count any good films that she’s ever been in.  Compare that to Nicholson who earns 78 points for bad films or Katharine Hepburn (113 points for bad films) or Bette Davis (35 points).

Do you know how many other 7 points performance there are in the whole history of film from films that are less than ***?  Just six.  So Meryl has three and the rest of film history has six (two of which are from Vice and two of which are from the 1946 Razor’s Edge with the other two are Edward Norton in Primal Fear and Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven).

So let’s be clear, especially since my two lists (both linked above) use the same point system, a point system that is based on the performances, not on what year the performance was given (so the competition is irrelevant).  Jack Nicholson had 1249 points.  Meryl Streep, by the end of 2011, with a decade less of work than Nicholson, already had 1453 points.

I’ll give an analogy here.  I remember hearing once (and I had to have heard it – I know little and care less about hockey) that Wayne Gretzky was so great that if you scored all hockey scoring on a curve with Gretzky as the A+, no other player on NHL history would even pass (turns out I either remember it slightly wrong or that it was slightly off because it looks like the next highest grade would be a 66%, or a D).

Let’s do that here.  Meryl Streep has 1688 points on my scale (with, remember, likely more to come later this year).  We’ll make that the 100%.  Jack Nicholson gets a 74, or a C.  Cate Blanchett gets a 66 (a D) and Michael Caine, who let’s remember is 16 years older than Meryl, gets a 61.5, so barely more than an F.  Everyone else in film history flunks.

So, to be succinct (too late), gender is irrelevant.  Meryl Streep is the greatest actor in film history.