Brie Larson‘s acting journey has been nothing short of fascinating, going from indie darling to Hollywood mega-star. The Captain Marvel lead has navigated through a number of genres — from amusing comedy to harrowing drama, and even thrilling action — gracing roles that have earned her numerous nominations and awards.
Larson is also a notable nerd, having posed as the promotional face of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons and expressing her desire to play Samus Aran in a live-action Metroid adaptation. In her YouTube channel, she’s managed to rope in fellow actress Tessa Thompson for a game of Fortnite, as well as indulged in cooking demonstrations, workout routines, and more.
However, the actress has been outspoken about gender equality and diversity in Hollywood, resulting in the ire of online trolls who are quick to trash her for a multitude of reasons, including being “annoying”, “unlikeable”, “not smiling enough”, or for pushing a “feminist agenda”.
Love her or hate her, Larson does actually have remarkable acting chops. Let’s delve into the top 10 best performances (in no particular order) of Brie Larson’s illustrious career!
1) Room (2015)
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Jacob Tremblay
Room is the film that earned Brie Larson an Academy Award for Best Actress. Working together with child actor Jacob Tremblay (Luca), Larson’s striking and nuanced portrayal transforms extraordinary situations into a gripping and unexpectedly authentic survival story. Delving into the intricacies of the main character’s wounded psyche, she delivers moments that are simultaneously poignant and spine-chilling in this intense and compelling role.
2) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman
Did you know that Larson briefly dabbled in a music career? In Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Larson embodies the confident and alluring Envy Adams, leaving an indelible mark in a standout supporting role. Larson infuses Envy with a sharp wit and an unapologetically feisty demeanour, delivering deadpan hilarity. Notably, she shines in a memorable scene where she covers the Metric indie rock song “Black Sheep”, showcasing her impressive vocal range and melodic prowess.
Thankfully, this won’t be the last we see of Larson in the role, as she joins the rest of the film’s cast, including Michael Cera (Barbie) and Jason Schwartzman (Asteroid City), in returning for the animated adaptation, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, for Netflix.
3) Short Term 12 (2013)
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: LaKeith Stanfield, Rami Malek, Stephanie Beatriz
Short Term 12 is arguably Larson’s breakout role. In crafting the film, director Destin Daniel Cretton (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) drew from his personal experience in a facility for troubled teenagers. Larson, portraying the role of the composed counsellor Grace, brings a remarkable authenticity that adds a profound sense of realism and empathy to the film.
Larson skillfully depicts Grace as both a resilient and steely figure and, simultaneously, as someone fragile and scared. Next to other rising stars in the film like LaKeith Stanfield (Haunted Mansion), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), and Stephanie Beatriz (Encanto), Larson showcases her exceptional potential to navigate complex emotions and physicality, demonstrating the ability to deliver a poignant and impactful cinematic experience.
4) The Glass Castle (2017)
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Naomi Watts, Woody Harrelson, Max Greenfield, Sarah Snook
In The Glass Castle, Larson collaborates once again with director Cretton to bring to life the best-selling memoir of the same name. Alongside Woody Harrelson (War for the Planet of the Apes) as her onscreen father, Larson delivers a resilient portrayal of the main character, Jeannette Walls, that forms the heart of this family drama, exploring themes of alcoholism and parental abuse. The film avoids simplistic narratives and psychological certainties, choosing instead to infuse the real-life story with a raw and emotional impact enhanced by Larson’s exceptional performance.
5) The Spectacular Now (2013)
Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley
The Spectacular Now, where Larson portrays Cassidy Roy, offers a compelling depiction of the complexities of first love. Early in the film, Cassidy breaks up with Sutter Keely, played by Miles Teller (Top Gun: Maverick). Larson skillfully portrays Cassidy’s candid viewpoint on their relationship, prompting Sutter to confront the consequences of his immature actions.
As Sutter grows and seeks redemption, he realises too late that Cassidy has moved on. The film is masterfully crafted as Cassidy’s perspective bookends the story, capturing the beauty, fear, and intense emotions of a romantic journey.
6) The Gambler (2014)
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman
The Gambler sees Larson take on the primary female role alongside Mark Wahlberg (Uncharted), who portrays a literature professor grappling with a gambling problem. Larson’s student character becomes a pillar of support for him, showcasing a layered performance characteristic of her impressive career.
Despite minimal dialogue, Larson conveys profound emotion through subtle gestures like blinks and smirks. Notably, she takes charge of some of the film’s most powerful scenes, often making a lasting impact in moments of quiet contemplation where her thoughts subtly play across her face.
7) Free Fire (2016)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley
Free Fire, an action-comedy featuring a star-studded cast including Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer) and Armie Hammer (A Haunting in Venice), unfolds predominantly in a warehouse, serving as the backdrop for an intense shootout between two factions, with Larson’s character, Justine, at its epicentre.
While the film embraces absurdity and humour, Larson adeptly embodies a formidable female character who’s bold enough to stand her ground. Her no-nonsense demeanour underscores her ability to seize control of a scene with a mere glance.
8) Unicorn Store (2017)
Director: Brie Larson
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, Karan Soni, Mamoudou Athie
Larson pulls triple duty in Unicorn Store, starring and co-producing her directorial debut. It follows Larson as Kit, a struggling artist compelled to return home, takes on an office job. Her life takes a whimsical turn when she receives an enigmatic letter leading her to ‘The Store’, offering what one truly needs.
Joined by Larson’s MCU co-star Samuel L. Jackson (Secret Invasion) as the mysterious Salesman, this coming-of-age comedy is filled with laughter and inventive visuals. Larson’s outstanding portrayal of the troubled Kit infuses each moment with genuine emotion, showcasing her ability to navigate the whimsical with an earnest touch, a departure from conventional seriousness.
9) Lessons in Chemistry (2023)
Showrunner: Lee Eisenberg
Starring: Lewis Pullman, Aja Naomi King
In the Apple TV+ series Lessons in Chemistry, adapted from the best-selling novel, Larson fully inhabits the main character of Elizabeth Zott, a genius chemist in an era where women were supposed to be nothing more than housewives. Challenging the institutionalised discrimination of women in science, this is the actress in a role that her online trolls love to hate – Zott is indifferent to social norms, and exudes confidence without arrogance.
Initially awkward yet ultimately charming in her authenticity, Larson portrays a character whose stiff demeanour gradually softens amidst newfound meaningful relationships, with fellow scientist Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman), and neighbour Harriet Sloane (Aja Naomi King). This subtle transformation, surpassing even her on-screen journey from overlooked lab technician to an unexpected cooking-show star, forms the driving force behind this period drama.
10) The Marvels (2023)
Director: Nia DaCosta
Starring: Iman Vellani, Teyonah Parris, Zawe Ashton, Samuel L. Jackson
The Marvels marks Larson’s latest go-around in the Captain Marvel role. This time, however, she embodies a multifaceted hero who’s struggling with loneliness — at least, until she properly teams up with fellow heroes Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) — and the consequences of her actions. She’s more awkward and a little less cocksure, giving us a superpowered individual who’s more grounded in human emotion.
What’s more, the film’s musical sequence once again shows us that Larson’s dramatic and artistic talents extend to song and dance, gracefully swaying and crooning while navigating an important conversation.