As a popstar, Madonna is one of the best to ever do it. As an actress…let’s just say you can’t win ’em all. Though she’s had a rough cinematic road, full of valleys and the occasional hill, Madge still managed to build a body of evidence (c’mon, pun!) supporting her thespian credentials.
Of Madonna’s 19 non-documentary films, 17 have ratings on Rotten Tomatoes—while not always the best way to gauge the quality of a movie, sometimes, well, it is. These ratings are shown in parentheses, while the two without ratings (A Certain Sacrifice and Bloodhounds of Broadway) are ranked using their audience scores.
So without further ado, let’s get into a league of Madonna’s own with all her movies, ranked from best to worst.
Desperately Seeking Susan, 1986 (85%)
Madge hit it out of the park with her first major big screen role, opposite Rosanna Arquette as a bored housewife who finds a kindred spirit in Madonna’s bohemian Susan. Her ostensibly first (but we’ll get to that later) film remains her best reviewed, though the best thing about Desperately Seeking Susan might be eternal bop “Into the Groove,” which she recorded especially for this movie.
A League of Their Own, 1992 (78%)
Call me crazy, but this is my favorite Madonna performance. She and Rosie O’Donnell have great chemistry, she doesn’t have to do too much heavy lifting since it’s a fine ensemble cast and the scene where she’s swing dancing is the most alive I’ve seen her on the silver screen. And like so many Madonna films, we got a great song out of it, too.
Dick Tracy, 1990 (64%)
Hands down, Dick Tracy is only notable for gifting “Vogue” (as part of Madonna’s “music from and inspired by” soundtrack album, I’m Breathless) unto the world. The rest of the movie is kind of a mess, from the miscast Warren Beatty (who, besides dating Madonna at the time, also directed), to sacrificing visuals for a coherent storyline, but, hey, we got some Stephen Sondheim songs and Madonna slinking around in noir couture as the brilliantly named Breathless Mahoney, so a middling 64% doesn’t seem so bad.
Evita, 1996 (63%)
Madonna won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy as Argentina’s beloved and controversial Eva Perón, in the film adaptation of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit concept album and musical. Madonna’s lobbying for this role is the stuff of legend: a four-page letter to director Alan Parker; intense vocal training; her audition tape, aka the video for “Take a Bow,” which also turned out to be her biggest hit to date. The effort resulted in the best notices of her career—unless you’re Patti Lupone—but the film itself didn’t fare as well.
Die Another Day, 2002 (58%)
Madonna only had a small cameo in Pierce Brosnan’s swan song Bond film before Daniel Craig stripped down and waded into our lives. Despite the briefness of her appearance, Madonna still managed to snag a Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actress—her second win in that category—though I have to assume that was just residual animus from that same year’s Swept Away (for which she also won Worst Actress), as well as just general sour grapes on the part of the Raspberries, which has delighted in giving Madonna multiple trophies over the years, including the prestigious(?) Worst Actress of the Century at the 20th annual ceremony in 2000.
Vision Quest, 1985 (54%)
Another cameo, this time Madonna appeared as a nightclub singer performing the only hit to come out of this movie, “Crazy for You.”
Shadows and Fog, 1991 (50%)
Widely considered one of Woody Allen’s worst films—it marked a period of precipitous decline in his work—but that’s hardly Madonna’s fault as she’s one of many stars (including acting heavyweights Jodie Foster, John Malkovich and Kathy Bates) populating this black and white comedy about a serial strangler and a case of mistaken identity.
Blue in the Face, 1995 (43%)
Another cameo (as a singing telegram girl), another all-star cast (Lily Tomlin, RuPaul, Harvey Keitel, Roseanne, Mira Sorvino, etc, etc) in this hodgepodge of a movie, filmed over five days, by Paul Auster and Wayne Wang as a follow-up to their far superior Smoke and released just four months afterwards.
Girl 6, 1996 (33%)
Guess what? Another cameo! This time, Madonna plays “Boss #3” in this Spike Lee joint about a young struggling actress who becomes a phone sex operator, that ranks as one of his worst films as well. Oof, Madge just couldn’t catch a break with these revered directors and their badly timed slumps.
Dangerous Game, 1993 (31%)
Madonna took a risk with this gritty indie flick as an actress at the mercy of a sadistic director (Harvey Keitel) but this remains a largely ignored addition to both Keitel’s and Madonna’s film canon.
Who’s That Girl, 1987 (29%)
If you’ve ever seen Bringing Up Baby, never watch this movie. It’s basically that—a screwball comedy with a loopy lady, a stuffy dude and a giant jungle cat—but Who’s That Girl could never hold a candle to Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant’s 1938 masterpiece. Madge also won her second consecutive Worst Actress Golden Raspberry, following the disastrous Shanghai Surprise. But at least we’ve got a few good, not great, songs—the title tune and “Causing a Commotion”—though my favorite part of this movie as a kid was this randomly shirtless UPS delivery hunk.
The gay was strong in me from a young age. That being said, there really should be a question mark in that title and it’s driven me insane for years.
A Certain Sacrifice, 1985 (22%)
In her film debut, Madonna stars as Bruna, who, along with her cadre of pansexual sex slaves enacts revenge on the man who raped her with a Satanic sacrificial ritual. Madonna got paid $100 and some rent money for her troubles, though she would later try to stop release of the film. Shot mostly in 1980, A Certain Sacrifice didn’t get officially released until 1985 when Madonna’s star was firmly on the rise and people were trying to capitalize on her pre-fame indiscretions, like Playboy and Penthouse, who published old nude photos of her. The ’80s were…a mess.
Arthur and the Invisibles, 2006 (21%)
Here we are again with yet another all-star cast (hey again, Harvey Keitel) for this animated adaptation of the 2002 children’s book Arthur and the Minimoys, featuring the voices of Madonna, David Bowie, Robert DeNiro and Snoop Dogg, among others, that still managed to bomb in the states. But it proved successful enough everywhere else in the world to warrant not one, but two Madonna-less sequels.
The Next Best Thing, 1999 (19%)
Sigh. Where do we begin with this clunker? Madonna won her fourth Worst Actress Golden Raspberry for this cliché-laden Will & Grace plotline (literally season 5) about a lady and her best gay having a baby together. After she falls in love with a hetero man, the former besties get wrapped up in a vicious custody battle. Starring Madonna and then-BFF Rupert Everett, the film not only seemingly ended their friendship, but all we got out of it was fucking “American Pie.”
Bloodhounds of Broadway, 1989 (19%)
In what sounds like what would happen if Clue wasn’t funny, Bloodhounds stars Madonna as a hoofer, Hortense Hathaway, in love with a suicidal gambler with big feet named Feet (Randy Quaid). Genius, right? Stuff happens and it all sounds exhausting, but how great a name is Hortense Hathaway, especially for a hoofer!
Four Rooms, 1994 (14%)
The mid-’90s were a surprisingly fruitful time for anthology films (see: Blue in the Face), and they usually sucked. No exception was Four Rooms, co-written and co-directed by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, about the strange guests in a hotel (also on New Year’s Eve). In the first vignette, Madonna is part of a coven of witches on the hunt for some semen to cure a curse placed on their goddess. The ’90s were…a mess.
Shanghai Surprise, 1986 (13%)
Madonna has a tendency to make movies with the men she’s involved with, and it almost always ends up a disaster, Dick Tracy being perhaps the only exception (that 64%, tho!). Starring Madonna and then-husband Sean Penn, this Romancing the Stone knockoff was one of the biggest bombs in cinema history. Universally panned, and making only a small fraction of its $17 million budget, it effectively put an end to their on-screen relationship. And it should be noted this marked Madonna’s first (but certainly not last) Golden Raspberry.
Body of Evidence, 1993 (8%)
You really got to give it to Madonna. Anyone else who had gotten back-to-back reviews like those of Shanghai Surprise, Who’s That Girl, and Bloodhounds of Broadway—especially anyone with such a wildly successful musical career—would’ve just given up, but not Madge. No, she did Body of Evidence with Willem Dafoe. I think by this point people were just rooting for her to fail, which is probably why she kept at it, but this NC-17 erotic thriller (Basic Instinct had everybody acting up) did little to redeem her reputation.
Swept Away, 2002 (5%)
Well, here we are. Madonna and then-husband Guy Ritchie decided to test the collaborative curse that had doomed other movies she’d made with past beaux with this remake of the 1974 film. Swept Away, however, did what those other films could not: it got her to stop acting. The reaction was so overwhelmingly negative, Madonna hasn’t set foot on-screen since, choosing instead to focus her efforts behind the camera. Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus claims that Swept Away “offers further proof that Madonna can’t act,” but that’s not really fair. Madonna can, indeed, act. Not well, at least not very often, but at least she worked hard at it. And while that may not be enough to qualify an actress, for someone who started out getting $100 for her first role, she’s done all right for herself.