1. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 87%

Storyline: This psychological thriller based on Stieg Larsson’s bestseller follows the story of a disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who finds a chance to redeem himself when he is hired to solve a 40-year-old murder case by Henrik Vanger. He is helped by a tattooed, revenge-seeking computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander played by Mara with sheer brilliance and intensity.

Major Performance: Mara’s extraordinary portrayal of the eccentric and intense Lisbeth Salander majorly contributed to the film’s success. She displayed an intensity and audacity that was nothing short of mesmerizing. The brilliant performance gave her a nomination for Best Actress in the Academy Awards and left a unerasable impression in Hollywood.

In the movie she wasn’t just playing a character, she seemed to embody the instantaneous identity of Lisbeth. The dark and ruthless character would have certainly been a challenge, but Mara delivered it with intense realism and conviction. Her performance as Lisbeth Salander still stands as one of the iconic roles in modern cinema.

2. Carol (2015)

IMDB Rating: 7.2/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 94%

Storyline: Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel ‘The Price of Salt’, Carol tells the story of a clandestine love affair between a young photographer, Therese Belivet (Mara), and a wealthy older woman, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) during the conservative times of the early 1950s.

Major Performance: Mara’s sensitive, raw, and vulnerable portrayal of Therese secured her big awards attention, including her second Academy Award nomination. As an innocent and relatively naive young woman thrust into an intense romance and coming to terms with her sexuality, Mara portrayed the subtlety and complexity of the character with a nuanced performance that stands out in her filmography.

Her engaging screen presence and palpable chemistry with Blanchett was highly praised by critics and audiences alike. The delicacy and emotional depth of her performance revealed her as an actress of remarkable adaptability and talent, making it a major performance in her career.

3. A Ghost Story (2017)

IMDB Rating: 6.9/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 91%

Storyline: A Ghost Story is a unique exploration of time, love, and loss through the story of a deceased musician who returns as a ghost to the suburban home he shared with his wife (Mara), observing the passage of time and how life moves on.

Major Performance: It’s a testament to Mara’s tremendous acting prowess that she delivers an engaging and emotionally potent tour de force with minimal dialogues, with her face expressing everything words could not.

In a film that is more about mood and atmosphere than conventional storytelling, Mara added depth, perception and sensitivity to her role. Mara delivers a breathtaking performance filled with such honesty and vulnerability that it underscores why she’s one of the best actresses working today.

4. The Social Network (2011)

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 96%

Storyline: David Fincher’s The Social Network provides a dramatized account of the formation of Facebook through the perspective of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his college relations. Rooney Mara plays Erica Albright, Zuckerberg’s girlfriend whose rejection becomes the impetus for creating Facebook.

Major Performance: Mara’s brief yet impactful performance adds an emotional depth and resonance to the film. Despite her limited screen time, she gives one of the most memorable performances in the movie. Her confrontational breakup scene with Zuckerberg is one of the film’s most striking sequences.

Though it’s a relatively smaller part compared to her other roles, Mara’s performance as Erica played a significant part in the development of Zuckerberg’s character and his motivations for starting Facebook. Her portrayal of a strong, intelligent woman who stands her ground provides the film with a strong moral compass.

5. Side Effects (2013)

IMDB Rating: 7.1/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 83%

Storyline: Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a woman who starts experiencing unsettling side effects from a new antidepressant that leads her to commit a shocking act of violence. Side Effects is a psychological thriller that explores themes of mental health, pharmaceutical ethics, and legal drama.

Major Performance: Rooney Mara delivers one of her best performances in her reprising role with director Steven Soderbergh. In Side Effects, Mara seamlessly transitions from vulnerable and sympathetic to cunning and manipulative, keeping audiences guessing and invested in her character until the very end.

In a major performance that required her to portray a multitude of complex emotions, Mara’s portrayal of Emily Taylor shows her impressive range and bold character choices. Her performance in Side Effects proves why she is one of the most compelling actresses of her generation.

6. Una (2016)

IMDB Rating: 6.2/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 75%

Storyline: The movie Una is a provocative drama that revolves around a woman’s confrontation with a man from her past (Ben Mendelsohn) who sexually abused her as a child. Mara, playing the title role, confronts him to seek answers but ends up reopening old wounds.

Major Performance: Rooney Mara delivers a profoundly devastating performance as Una. The emotional turmoil and psychological conflict her character experiences are effectively conveyed through Mara’s nuanced and powerful performance.

In a courageously raw and physically demanding role, Mara embodies the character’s sorrow, anger, confusion, and desire with such unwavering commitment that it’s truly impossible to look away. The complexity of Una’s character and the sensitive nature of the film’s theme highlights Mara’s ability to take on challenging roles and deliver unforgettable performances.

7. Her (2013)

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 94%

Storyline: Spike Jonze’s Her is a future-set story about a man who falls in love with his AI operating system. Rooney Mara plays Catherine, the ex-wife of Theodore Twombly, the man who ventures into a romantic relationship with the AI.

Major Performance: Even in the smaller role of Catherine, Mara delivers a deeply affecting performance. She excellently portrays a woman grappling with her feelings about her ex-husband’s unconventional new relationship and reflects the unease and bewilderment one may feel in such a situation.

With a mix of judgmental criticism, wounded feelings, and a certain amount of pity for her ex-husband, Mara’s portrayal of Catherine adds a layer of complexity to the film’s narrative. Her major performance added an effective counterpoint to the film’s central love story and examined the troubling aspects of humans building relationships with artificial beings.

8. Trash (2014)

IMDB Rating: 7.2/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 62%

Storyline: In Trash, three Brazilian boys find a wallet amidst the rubbish, and soon find themselves chased by the police. Rooney Mara plays Olivia, a NGO worker in this gripping tale of resilience and hidden treasures.

Major Performance: Mara lends a certain compassionate, comforting presence as Olivia in the film, showing great versatility as she shifts from her usual intense roles. Her character provides a grounding presence in the otherwise chaotic narrative, making her an important part of the story.

Mara’s Olivia is one of the few characters that offers hope and sympathy to the three boys, and despite the bitter circumstances, she conveys a sense of positivity that shines throughout the movie. Her ability to bring goodness to the bleak narrative is proof of her significant contribution to the film.

9. Mary Magdalene (2018)

IMDB Rating: 5.9/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 45%

Storyline: The film takes a new perspective on one of the most misunderstood figures in Christian history, Mary Magdalene, who was believed to be a prostitute but was actually one of Jesus’ most devoted followers.

Major Performance: As Mary Magdalene, Mara delivers a multi-layered, complex performance that breaks away from the historical stigma attached to this biblical figure. She successfully romanticizes Mary’s flesh-and-blood struggles and spiritual journey with her soft-spoken dialogue and expressive mannerisms.

Mary Magdalene is a demanding role and Rooney Mara’s deeply internalized performance adds credibility to this misunderstood and overlooked character. It is a testament to her acting prowess that she imbues spirituality in Mary with such conviction and subtlety despite the fact that she herself claims to be non-religious.

10. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)

IMDB Rating: 6.4/10, RottenTomatoes rating: 79%

Storyline: This romantic crime drama is a timeless tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.Rooney Mara plays Ruth Guthrie, the wife and mother waiting for him on the other side.

Major Performance: In Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Mara exhibited a restrained yet potent performance as Ruth, a woman torn between her love for her husband and fear for her child’s safety. Her nuanced depiction of a mother’s dilemma and strength added an emotional intensity to the melodramatic narrative.

Mara’s ability to express a wide range of emotions with little dialogue demonstrates her remarkable talent. With Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Rooney Mara proved that she can hold her own even in a deliberately paced character study, further cementing her place as a versatile and deeply emotive actress.