1. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

IMDB: 7.6 | Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

Storyline: Directed by Kimberly Peirce, “Boys Don’t Cry” is a biographical film about the life and death of a transgender man, Brandon Teena, who is faced with an extreme prejudice in a rural American town. The film unfolds in a raw and daunting manner, showing how social norms can take a cruel turn. It explores the brutality that humanity can bestow on those who dare to be different, and it is this thought-provoking theme that makes the movie so impactful.

Major Performance: Hilary Swank delivered a groundbreaking performance as Brandon Teena. She was steeped in the physicality, psychology, and emotional trauma of her character. The manner in which she portrays a complex character with bravery, sensitivity, and vulnerability is illustrative of her exceptional acting prowess. Her heartfelt portrayal of Brandon earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress, making this performance a cornerstone of her acting career.

2. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

IMDB: 8.1 | Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

Storyline: Directed by Clint Eastwood, “Million Dollar Baby” is an American sports drama film that narrates the journey of Maggie Fitzgerald, a waitress who decides to make a living through professional boxing. The film exemplifies the human spirit and the will to fight against all odds. It takes viewers on an unexpected emotional journey, turning a sports story into a moving human drama.

Major Performance: Swank’s performance as Maggie Fitzgerald is flawless and emotionally layered. She delves into the psyche of her desperate and stalwart character, churning out a performance that is as strong physically as it is emotionally. Swank trained rigorously to authentically portray the physicality of a boxer, making her character truly convincing. This landmark role won her a second Academy Award for Best Actress, further establishing her status as a talented and versatile actress.

3. P.S. I Love You (2007)

IMDB: 7.1 | Rotten Tomatoes: 24%

Storyline: “P.S. I Love You” is a romantic drama directed by Richard LaGravenese. This film, based on Cecelia Ahern’s 2004 novel, centers on the life of Holly Kennedy, who navigates the grieving process with the help of letters left by her late husband. Swank’s portrayal of raw grief, renewal, and self-discovery anchors the narrative.

Major Performance: Hilary Swank masters the art of emotive storytelling as she brings the character of Holly to life. She beautifully portrays the grieving process, showcasing a wide range of emotions – from pain and sorrow to eventual acceptance and hope. Her performance lends depth to the film, balancing its poignant and humorous moments. Despite mixed reviews on the movie, Swank’s performance was replete with complexity and authenticity, proving her versatility as an actress.

4. Freedom Writers (2007)

IMDB: 7.5 | Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

Storyline: Based on the book by Erin Gruwell, “Freedom Writers” is a drama film directed by Richard LaGravenese. It follows the true story of a new teacher’s experience with at-risk students in a racially divided urban high school. The film iterates the theme that determination and enthusiasm can change lives, laying emphasis on education and positive engagement.

Major Performance: Swank, as Erin Gruwell, brings an unsurpassed amount of energy and passion to her role. Her character transformation and sustained determination in the face of adversity helped underscore the theme of hope amidst despair. She carries the weight and idealism of her character to offer a powerful and inspiring performance, proving her skills as an exceptional actress.

5. Conviction (2010)

IMDB: 7.2 | Rotten Tomatoes: 68%

Storyline: Directed by Tony Goldwyn, “Conviction” is a legal drama based on the true story of a woman, Betty Anne Waters, who puts herself through law school in an attempt to represent her brother and prove his innocence. The film is a testament to familial bonds and the pursuit of justice against all odds.

Major Performance: Hilary Swank embodies her character with an unshakeable conviction and a quiet, resilient strength. Her role as Betty Anne Waters is a study in persistence, faith, and love. Despite the many obstacles, she is unwavering in her pursuit of justice. Swank’s portrayal of Waters was widely praised, as she convincingly portrayed intense determination and perseverance.

6. The Homesman (2014)

IMDB: 6.6 | Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

Storyline: “The Homesman”, directed by Tommy Lee Jones, is a historical drama. Set in the mid-19th-century American West, it follows the journey of a spinster and a drifter escorting three women driven mad by frontier life back to civilization. The film offers a revisionist take on the Western genre, focusing on the marginalized female perspective.

Major Performance: As Mary Bee Cuddy, a brave and independent woman trying to survive on the Western frontier, Swank delivers a masterful performance. Her steely determination and humanity shine, even as she struggles with despair and loneliness. It’s a raw, powerful role that once again proves Swank’s capability to immerse herself into her characters.

7. Insomnia (2002)

IMDB: 7.2 | Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Storyline: Directed by Christopher Nolan, “Insomnia” is a psychological thriller where two Los Angeles homicide detectives are dispatched to a northern town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl.

Major Performance: Even with a small role, Swank manages to leave a significant impression as a young and earnest detective Ellie Burr. Her character serves as a valuable counterpoint to Al Pacino’s experienced detective Will Dormer. Despite the movie not being a centerpiece of her filmography, her powerful performance showcases her undeniable talent.

8. The Next Karate Kid (1994)

IMDB: 4.5 | Rotten Tomatoes: 7%

Storyline: “The Next Karate Kid”, directed by Christopher Cain, is the fourth film in “The Karate Kid” series, where Mr. Miyagi meets the widow of his commander from World War II and her incorrigible teenage granddaughter.

Major Performance: Even with low overall ratings, Swank’s performance as Julie stands out. While the storyline itself may lack depth, Swank’s portrayal gives her character a depth and complexity that feels authentic and believable. It showcases her ability to bring a character to life, even in understated films.

9. The Reaping (2007)

IMDB: 5.6 | Rotten Tomatoes: 8%

Storyline: In “The Reaping”, directed by Stephen Hopkins, a former Christian missionary turned religious phenomena debunker is invited to investigate what seems to be Biblical plagues in a small Louisiana town.

Major Performance: Swank brings a deep intensity and commitment to her role as Katherine. Despite the film’s poor ratings, her performance stands out for its emotional depth and authenticity. This only further adds to her diverse array of roles and demonstrates her willingness to take on different genres.

10. The Gift (2000)

IMDB: 6.7 | Rotten Tomatoes: 57%

Storyline: Directed by Sam Raimi, “The Gift” is a supernatural thriller where a woman with extrasensory perception is asked to help find a missing woman.

Major Performance: Swank’s performance as the abused, yet resilient wife was heartfelt and authentic. Despite not having a leading role, Swank still manages to leave an impression. With her deeply emotional and honest portrayal of her character, she shows her commitment to every role she takes, regardless of screentime.