The 15 best Carey Mulligan movies, ranked

Ora Sawyers

After two previous Academy Award nominations, Carey Mulligan is once again competing for Best Actress, this time for her luminous turn as Felicia Montealegre in Bradley Cooper’s acclaimed Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro. But how does this latest success fare against Mulligan’s finest work? She has made bold, fascinating choices throughout her career, from her breakthrough role in 2009’s An Education to her scene-stealing performance as the pitiful, doomed Pamela in Saltburn. Now, in the lead-up to the 2024 Oscars, here is EW’s list of the 15 best Carey Mulligan movies, ranked. 

15. The Great Gatsby (2013)

Matt Hart/Warner Bros

Baz Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s enduring Roaring ‘20s novel is as opulent and excessive as, well, the Roaring ‘20s. In this version of The Great Gatsby — starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular antihero and Carey Mulligan as his high-society love interest Daisy — every frame is brightly colored and accompanied by bombastic, anachronistic hip-hop and rock songs. The result is bold and sometimes dazzling, but ultimately misguided. Fitzgerald’s writing is a critique of the self-mythologizing upper class; Luhrmann’s adaptation buys into the myth.

The director’s heavy-handed approach to the material also flattens the characters, especially Daisy. Mulligan still does her best to imbue damsel with a deeper melancholy, but the script doesn’t give her much to work with. Perhaps EW’s critic said it best: “Mulligan’s poor little rich girl Daisy isn’t given a lot to do besides pout, swoon, and grouse about the heat.”

Where to watch The Great Gatsby: Netflix

14. The Dig (2021)

Larry Horricks/Netflix

The Dig is a quintessential British period drama: handsomely shot, sentimental, and subtle, sometimes to a fault. Mulligan stars as a widow named Edith Pretty (a real person’s name, believe it or not), who, on the eve of WWII, hires an archaeologist with no formal training (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate large mounds on her estate that she believes are Viking burials. The movie can be a little slow at times, but it’s worth watching for the finely-tuned performances. As EW’s critic writes, “Fiennes and Mulligan… make lovely, delicate work of characters whose emotions operate for so much of the film like icebergs, only exposed at the tip.”

Where to watch The Dig: Netflix

13. Suffragette (2015)

Steffan Hill

An imperfect but undeniably important film, Suffragette follows the activists who fought for women’s rights in early 20th-century Britain. Mulligan plays Maud, a factory worker who is radicalized after facing gendered brutality from her husband, boss, and the state. While the abuse Maud endures is excessive at times, the film admirably doesn’t shy away from the radical and occasionally violent actions of the suffragettes. Even when the script tips into melodrama, Mulligan is reliably brilliant as a downtrodden woman experiencing a political awakening. “Fortunately, standing out among the film’s sea of black coats and brimmed hats is Mulligan’s more-subtle-than-her-surroundings performance,” writes EW’s critic. “With one look into her expressive, heartbroken eyes, you know exactly what she’s fighting for.”

Where to watch Suffragette: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

12. And When Did You Last See Your Father? (2007)

Sony Pictures Classics

Based on Blake Morrison’s memoir of the same name, And When Did You Last See Your Father? stars a sad-eyed Colin Firth as Morrison and Jim Broadbent as his exuberant, deeply flawed father Arthur. When Arthur is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Blake looks back on their relationship and they begin to process all of the ways they’ve disappointed each other. If that sounds like a typical tearjerker, it is, but it also has a poet’s eye for detail, which makes the emotion feel specific and relatable. It’s also buoyed by strong performances across the board, including Carey Mulligan in a small role as Morrison’s sister, Rachel.

Where to watch And When Did You Last See Your Father?: Amazon Prime Video

11. Wildlife (2018)

IFC Films

In Paul Dano’s directorial debut, Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal play a married couple in the ‘60s whose relationship is gradually deteriorating. They have some of the standard marital issues, but the real problem is their independent existential crises coming to a head. The movie is contemplative and quietly powerful, a slow burn spliced with emotional punches while Dano’s screenplay, which was co-written by his real-life partner and actress Zoe Kazan, gives the two leads space to unravel their characters’ psyches. As EW’s critic writes, “Both actors are great, making the complexities of their respective soul-searching look deceptively natural. But it’s Mulligan who really sticks with you.”

Where to watch Wildlife: Tubi

10. She Said (2022)

Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

She Said reunites Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, this time as co-leads of a biopic based on New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein. The script is thoughtful and respectful, highlighting the weight of victim testimony and the power of a free press. But the most quietly moving part of the film is the juxtaposition of Kantor and Twohey’s everyday home lives against their colossal search for the truth. Mulligan’s portrayal of Twohey’s postpartum depression is especially affecting, further reinforcing why we should talk about — and listen to — women’s experiences.

Where to watch She Said: Amazon Prime Video

9. Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Alex Bailey

A lovely and underrated adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel, Far from the Madding Crowd stars Carey Mulligan as the fiercely independent Bathsheba while a whole stable of talented Brits (Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, and Tom Sturridge) play her three suitors. Although every actor is well-cast, Victorian stories live and die by their heroines, and Mulligan is perfect as a woman trying to navigate her competing desires for freedom and passionate love. To quote EW’s critic, “With a steely resilience burning beneath her delicate, creamy complexion, Carey Mulligan brings remarkable nuance and a rich inner life to the role of Bathsheba Everdene.”

Where to watch Far from the Madding Crowd: Max

8. Mudbound (2017)

Steve Dietl/Netflix

Based on the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound stars Carey Mulligan as Laura Allan, a white woman in the 1940s who moves to the Mississippi Delta next door to a Black family. When her brother-in-law Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) returns from World War II after serving with their neighbor Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), their experience with the relative lack of racism in Europe makes the transition difficult, and the two families are propelled to a tragic conclusion.

Mulligan is wonderful as Laura, but the attention is rightfully on her costars, namely Mitchell and Mary J. Blige, who earned an Oscar nomination for her supporting turn as Florence, Ronsel’s mother. Mudbound is a difficult watch, especially in the brutal third act, but Dee Rees’ sensitive direction makes it feel urgent rather than exploitative.

Where to watch Mudbound: Netflix

7. Saltburn (2023)


A campy, preposterous Gen-Z update of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Saltburn stars Barry Keoghan as Oliver Quick, a university student on scholarship who becomes homoerotically obsessed with a wealthy classmate named Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) and insinuates himself into his life. When Oliver is invited to spend the summer at Felix’s extravagant estate (dubbed Saltburn), he becomes a curiosity to the Catton family, especially snobbish matriarch Elspeth (Rosamund Pike).

Saltburn inspired much debate when it debuted, but love it or hate it, there’s no denying that it’s memorable. (We won’t be forgetting that bathtub scene anytime soon.) It also features Carey Mulligan playing against type and gleefully chewing the scenery as Pamela, a messy, attention-seeking family friend. While not as creatively inspired as her first collaboration with director Emerald Fennell (see: Promising Young Woman below), Saltburn is bold, twisted, and impossible to ignore. 

Where to watch Saltburn: Amazon Prime Video

6. Drive (2011)

Richard Foreman Jr/FilmDistric

Though it’s less than 15 years old, Drive has already garnered a significant cult following. Crafted with confidence and style by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, the film stars Ryan Gosling as a nameless, almost dialogue-less stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. Similar to David Fincher’s The Killer, Drive is a portrait of a man who excels at his niche job in the criminal underworld because he makes strict rules and follows them — until he doesn’t, then all hell breaks loose.

Drive is primarily a vehicle for Gosling (no pun intended) while Mulligan, playing a single mother who lives next door, is mostly relegated to a love interest role. But the minimalist script allows both actors to act primarily through body language and facial expressions, building a believable chemistry through soft smiles and shy silences. She also gets to act alongside a budding Oscar Isaac as her ex-con husband before they memorably played former lovers again in Inside Llewyn Davis.

Where to watch Drive: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

5. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Alex Bailey/Focus Features

We’ll never see this version of Pride & Prejudice the same way again after experiencing Matthew MacFadyen as Tom Wambsgans. But back in 2005, he was the epitome of an aloof Jane Austen love interest, and Keira Knightley was an endlessly charming Elizabeth Bennet. At the time, there was a lot of grumbling about whether we needed yet another P&P adaptation, but Joe Wright’s film became iconic in its own right, earning four Oscar nominations, including Best Actress. And thanks to its unabashed romanticism, it even had a resurgence during the pandemic when everyone was touch-starved and wanted to vicariously experience the Mr. Darcy hand flex.

Pride & Prejudice is also notable for being Carey Mulligan’s first film credit. She booked the role of Kitty Bennet as a teenager right after she was rejected from drama school. The young actress wrote an impassioned letter to screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who had recently given a talk at her high school; he connected her with the casting director, and the rest is history. 

Where to watch Pride and Prejudice: Peacock

4. Maestro (2023)

Jason McDonald/Netflix

Biopics are often criticized for conforming to the same rote chronological structure, but Maestro offers something different. Bradley Cooper’s sophomore film is an impressionist portrait of composer Leonard Bernstein’s life and art, with playful jumps in time and interpretive theater sequences. Ill-advised prosthetics aside, Cooper does a commendable job portraying Bernstein as the flawed genius he was, but he’s not the true star here. That would be Carey Mulligan, who is “the heart of Maestro” as his wife Felicia Montealegre, says EW’s critic. By the end, she’s essentially the POV character, translating his biography into a story about women making sacrifices in the shadows of “great men.” After all, “It is through her powerfully restrained performance that we can connect the various fragments of Bernstein’s life that we glimpse in the film.”

Where to watch Maestro: Netflix

3. An Education (2009)

Kerry Brown/Sony Pictures Classics

Based on the memoir by journalist Lynn Barber, An Education follows an intelligent and sheltered 16-year-old named Jenny (Carey Mulligan) who embarks on a relationship with a much older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard). Despite the uncomfortable subject matter, the film aged shockingly well in the post-MeToo era, mostly because the story is told entirely from Jenny’s perspective. Instead of focusing on the affair itself, the script interrogates the limited options for women, even highly educated ones, in 1960s Britain.

An Education also works because of Mulligan’s nuanced, complex turn. She was a relatively unknown 24-year-old at the time of release, though she soon became a bona fide movie star with her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress. As EW’s critic writes, “An Education is the vivid story of how one girl became a woman — and how Olde England morphed into the youthquake center of ’60s yeah yeah yeah. None of which would be quite so vivid without the beguiling performance of newcomer Mulligan.” 

Where to watch An Education: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

2. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Alison Rosa

Directed by the Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis follows an acerbic singer (Oscar Isaac) who is spiraling financially and emotionally after the death of his best friend and music partner. This isn’t a biopic, but it often feels like one because the folk music scene in 1960s New York is so beautifully, authentically rendered. The soundtrack, which was co-produced by Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons frontman and Mulligan’s real-life husband), is a highlight, featuring old-fashioned originals and a hilarious novelty song performed by Isaac, Justin Timberlake, and a Girls-era Adam Driver.

Mulligan is excellent as Jean Berkley, Llewyn’s disillusioned ex-girlfriend, and she has an unexpectedly lovely singing voice. But the real scene-stealer is the adorable orange tabby cat named Ulysses that Llewyn carries around New York City (even if the filming experience wore down the Coens).

Where to watch Inside Llewyn Davis: PlutoTV

1. Promising Young Woman (2020)

Focus Features

Any movie with an ironic montage to Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind” is going to make the top of the list. Promising Young Woman stars Carey Mulligan as Cassie, a depressed med school dropout who spends her time wreaking candy-colored vengeance against anyone who may be involved in her best friend’s rape. A master class in genre subversion, the film is never contained to one category: It’s a revenge thriller, a feminist allegory, and occasionally a cheesy rom-com. And yet, it works thanks to Emerald Fennell’s depth of vision and meticulous attention to detail, right down to the casting of perennial “nice guys” like Bo Burnham and Adam Brody as agents of the patriarchy. 

But it’s also held together by Mulligan’s committed turn — she lays bare Cassie’s dismay, her brief moments of hope, but most of all her rage. As EW’s critic writes, “Mulligan, who’s always given smart, delicately shaded performances… is an entirely different animal here: furious, damaged, ferociously funny.” 

Where to watch Promising Young Woman: Freevee on Amazon Prime Video

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