John Joseph Nicholson (born April 22, 1937) is an American actor, filmmaker, writer, and producer whose career has spanned more than 60 years. One of the key performers of the New Hollywood era, he is known for having played a wide range of starring and supporting roles, including comic characters, romantic leads, anti-heroes and villains. In many of his films, he played the “eternal outsider, the sardonic drifter”, someone who rebels against the social structure. His twelve Academy Award nominations make him the most nominated male actor in the Academy’s history. He is one of only three male actors to win three Academy Awards (along with Walter Brennan and Daniel Day-Lewis), and one of only two actors to be nominated for an Academy Award for acting in every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s (along with Michael Caine). He has won six Golden Globe Awards and received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2001. In 1994, he became one of the youngest actors to be awarded the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. He made his film debut in the Roger Corman produced film The Cry Baby Killer (1958).
Films in the early 1960s include Richard Rush’s Too Soon to Love (1960), with Richard Evans, Jennifer West, and Ralph Manza; Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), with Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, and Dick Miller; Suds Lonigan (1960), with Christopher Knight, Frank Gorshin, and Venetia Stevenson; The Broken Land (1962), with Kent Taylor; Corman’s The Raven (1963), with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Hazel Court; Joshua Logan’s Ensign Pulver (1964), with Robert Walker Jr., Burl Ives, Walter Matthau, Tommy Sands, Millie Perkins, Larry Hagman, Kay Medford, Peter Marshall, Richard Gautier, George Lindsey, James Farentino and James Coco; and Monte Hellman’s Flight to Fury (1964), with Dewey Martin, Fay Spain, and Vic Díaz.
Films in the mid to late 1960s include The Shooting (1966), with Perkins, Will Hutchins, and Warren Oates; Ride in the Whirlwind (1966), with Perkins, Cameron Mitchell, and Rupert Crosse; Hell’s Angels on Wheels (1967), with Adam Roarke, Sabrina Scharf, and Jack Starrett; Psych-Out (1968), with Susan Strasberg, Dean Stockwell, Bruce Dern, and Max Julien; and his breakout role as George Hanson in Easy Rider (1969), with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper (who also directed); which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also co-wrote, co-produced and had an uncredited appearance in Bob Rafelson‘s Head (1968), with Peter Tork, David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Victor Mature, Teri Garr, Carol Doda, Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Timothy Carey, and Ray Nitschke.
Nicholson earned his second Academy Award nomination (this time for Best Actor) for his role as Robert Eroica Dupea in Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970), with Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Lois Smith, and Ralph Waite. Other films in the early 1970s include Vincente Minnelli‘s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), with Barbra Streisand, Yves Montand, Bob Newhart, Larry Blyden, Simon Oakland, and John Richardson; The Rebel Rousers (1970), with Mitchell, Diane Ladd, Dern, and Harry Dean Stanton; Henry Jagolm’s A Safe Place (1971), with Tuesday Weld and Orson Welles; Mike Nichol’s Carnal Knowledge (1961), with Art Garfunkel, Ann-Margret, Candice Bergen, and Rita Moreno; and Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), with Dern, Ellen Burstyn, and Scatman Crothers. He made his directorial debut with Drive, He Said (1971), with William Tepper, Black, Dern, Robert Towne, and Jaglom.
Nicholson was nominated 3 years in a row for the Academy Award for Best actor for his role as Signalman 1st Class Billy L. “Badass” Buddusky in Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973), with Otis Young, Randy Quaid, Clifton James, Michael Moriarty, and Carol Kane; Private Detective J. J. “Jake” Gittes in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), with Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, and John Huston; and winning for his role as Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy in Miloš Forman‘s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), with Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, Danny DeVito, Sydney Lassick, William Redfield, Christopher Lloyd, and Brad Dourif. Cuckoo’s Nest is 1 of 3 films to win the big 5 Academy Awards (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress), the other two being Frank Capra‘s It Happened One Night (1934), with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert; and Jonathan Demme‘s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.
Other films in the mid to late 1970s include Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975), with Maria Schneider, Steven Berkoff, Ian Hendry, and Jenny Runacre; Nicol’s The Fortune (1975), with Warren Beatty, Stockard Channing, Florence Stanley, Richard B. Shull, Tom Newman, John Fiedler, and Crothers; Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975), with Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Eric Clapton, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Paul Nicholas, Victoria Russell, Robert Powell, Arthur Brown, Pete Townshend, and Tina Turner; Arthur Penn‘s The Missouri Breaks (1976), with Marlon Brando, Quaid, Kathleen Lloyd, Frederic Forrest, and Stanton; Elia Kazan‘s The Last Tycoon (1976), with Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Donald Pleasence, Jeanne Moreau, Theresa Russell, and Ingrid Boulting; and Goin’ South (1978), with Mary Steenburgen, Lloyd, John Belushi, Richard Bradford, Veronica Cartwright, DeVito and Ed Begley Jr.; the latter he also directed.
Nicholson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his rule as playwright Eugene O’Neill in Reds (1981), with Beatty (who also directed), Diane Keaton, Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosiński, Paul Sorvino, and Maureen Stapleton; and won for Best Supporting actor for his role as retired astronaut Garret Breedlove in James L. Brooks‘s Terms of Endearment (1983), with Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, DeVito, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow.
Other films in the early 1980s include Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining (1980), with Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel, Barry, Anne Jackson and Tony Burton; The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), with Jessica Lange and Michael Lerner; and Tony Richardson’s The Border (1982), with Harvey Keitel, Valerie Perrine, Oates, Elpidia Carrillo, and Dirk Blocker.
Nicholson was nominated for 2 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as mafia assassin Charley Partanna in Huston’s Prizzi’s Honor (1985), with Kathleen Turner, Robert Loggia, William Hickey, and Anjelica Huston; and for his role as former baseball player turned homeless alcoholic Francis Phelan in Héctor Babenco’s Ironweed (1988), with Meryl Streep, Carroll Baker, Michael O’Keefe, Diane Venora, Fred Gwynne, Nathan Lane, and Tom Waits.
Other roles in the mid to late 1980s include Nichol’s Heartburn (1986), with Streep, Channing, Daniels, Forman, and Catherine O’Hara; George Miller‘s The Witches of Eastwick (1987), with Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon; Brooks’s Broadcast News (1987), with William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter, and Joan Cusack; and Tim Burton‘s Batman (1989), with Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, and Jack Palance; playing popular comic book villain The Joker.
Nicholson was nominated for another Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in Rob Reiner‘s A Few Good Men (1992), with Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, J.T. Walsh, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Kiefer Sutherland. Other films of the early 90s include the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes (1990), with Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Richard Farnsworth, Frederic Forrest, David Keith, Rubén Blades, Tracey Walter and Eli Wallach; Rafelson’s Man Trouble (1992), with Ellen Barkin, Stanton, Beverly D’Angelo, Michael McKean, Saul Rubinek, and Cartwright; Hoffa (1992), with DeVito (who also directed), Armand Assante, Walsh, Robert Prosky, and John C. Reilly; Nichols’s Wolf (1994), with Pfeiffer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Plummer, Eileen Atkins, David Hyde Pierce, and Om Puri; and Sean Penn’s The Crossing Guard (1995), with David Morse, Robin Wright, Huston, and Piper Laurie.
Nicholson won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as neurotic author Melvin Udall in Brooks’s As Good as It Gets (1997), with Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Gooding Jr., Yeardly Smith, Skeet Ulrich, and Shirley Knight. Other films in the mid to late 1990s include Rafelson’s Blood and Wine (1996), with Stephen Dorff, Jennifer Lopez, Judy Davis, and Caine; The Evening Star (1996), with MacLaine, Bill Paxton, Juliette Lewis, Miranda Richardson, Ben Johnson, Scott Wolf, George Newbern, Marion Ross, Mackenzie Astin, and Donald Moffat; and a duel role in Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996), with Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Pam Grier, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, and Sylvia Sidney.
Nicholson received his last nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as recent retiree Warren R. Schmidt in Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt (2002), with Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates, and June Squibb. Other films in the 2000s include The Pledge (2001), with Patricia Clarkson, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Wright, Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Shepard, Mickey Rourke, Tom Noonan, Lois Smith and Benicio del Toro; Anger Management (2003), with Adam Sandler, Marisa Tomei, Luis Guzmán, Woody Harrelson, and John Turturro; Nancy Meyers’s Something’s Gotta Give (2003), with Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet, Frances McDormand, Jon Favreau, and Paul Michael Glaser; Martin Scorsese‘s The Departed (2006), with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, and Alec Baldwin; Reiner’s The Bucket List (2007), with Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, and Rob Morrow; and Brooks’s How Do You Know (2010), with Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Kathryn Hahn.
Each review will be linked to the title below.
(*seen originally in theaters)
(**seen rereleased in theaters)
- The Cry Baby Killer (1958) – directed by Justus Addiss
- Too Soon to Love (1960) – directed by Richard Rush
- The Wild Ride (1960) – directed by Harvey Berman
- The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) – directed by Roger Corman
- Studs Lonigan (1960) – directed by Irving Lerner
- The Broken Land (1962) – directed by John A. Bushelman
- Little Army (1962) – directed by Sidney Lanfield – TV short
- The Raven (1963) – directed by Roger Corman
- The Terror (1963) – directed by Roger Corman – also uncredited directing, along with Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Jacob, Monte Hellman, & Jack Hill
- Thunder Island (1963) – directed by Jack Leewood – co-writer only
- Ensign Pulver (1964) – directed by Joshua Logan
- Flight to Fury (1964) – directed by Monte Hellman – also writer
- Back Door to Hell (1964) – directed by Monte Hellman
- The Shooting (1966) – directed by Monte Hellman – also co-producer
- Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) – directed by Monte Hellman – also writer, co-producer
- The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) – directed by Roger Corman – uncredited
- Hells Angels on Wheels (1967) – directed by Richard Rush
- The Trip (1967) – directed by Roger Corman – writer only
- Psych-Out (1968) – directed by Richard Rush
- Head (1968) – Bob Rafelson – uncredited cameo – also co-writer, co-producer
- Easy Rider (1969) – directed by Dennis Hopper
- The Rebel Rousers (1970) – directed by Martin B. Cohen
- On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) – directed by Vincente Minnelli
- Five Easy Pieces (1970) – directed by Bob Rafelson
- Walt Whitman: Poet for a New Age (1971) – directed by L.C. Stoumen – short
- Drive, He Said (1971) – director, producer, co-writer only
- A Safe Place (1971) – directed by Henry Jaglom
- The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) – directed by Bob Rafelson
- The Last Detail (1973) – directed by Hal Ashby
- Chinatown (1974) – directed by Roman Polanski
- The Passenger (1975) – directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni
- Tommy (1975) – directed by Ken Russell
- The Fortune (1975) – directed by Mike Nichols
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – directed by Miloš Forman
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) – directed by Arthur Penn
- The Last Tycoon (1976) – directed by Elia Kazan
- Goin’ South (1978) – also director
- The Shining (1980)** – directed by Stanley Kubrick
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) – directed by Bob Rafelson
- Reds (1981) – directed by Warren Beatty
- The Border (1982) – directed by Tony Richardson
- Terms of Endearment (1983) – directed by James L. Brooks
- Prizzi’s Honor (1985) – directed by John Huston
- Heartburn (1986) – directed by Mike Nichols
- The Witches of Eastwick (1987) – directed by George Miller
- Elephant’s Child (1987) – directed by Mark Sottnick – narrator – TV short
- Broadcast News (1987) – directed by James L. Brooks
- Ironweed (1987) – directed by Hector Babenco
- Batman (1989)** – directed by Tim Burton
- The Two Jakes (1990) – also director, producer
- Man Trouble (1992) – directed by Bob Rafelson
- A Few Good Men (1992) – directed by Rob Reiner
- Hoffa (1992) – directed by Danny DeVito
- Wolf (1994) – directed by Mike Nichols
- The Crossing Guard (1995) – directed by Sean Penn
- Blood and Wine (1996) – directed by Bob Rafelson
- The Evening Star (1996) – directed by Robert Harling
- Mars Attacks! (1996)* – directed by Tim Burton
- As Good as It Gets (1997) – directed by James L. Brooks
- The Pledge (2001) – directed by Sean Penn
- About Schmidt (2002) – directed by Alexander Payne
- Anger Management (2003)* – directed by Peter Segal
- Something’s Gotta Give (2003)* – directed by Nancy Meyers
- The Departed (2006) – directed by Martin Scorsese
- The Bucket List (2007)* – directed by Rob Reiner
- I’m Still Here (2010) – directed by Casey Affleck – cameo as himself
- How Do You Know (2010) – directed by James L. Brooks