The 10 Best Tilda Swinton Movies: Constantine (2005) was the first time I really saw Tilda Swinton. She played a notorious bibliological character, Gabriel. It was a small but pivotal role that stuck with me for a long time. I remember being in complete awe of the character she had so effortlessly essayed in the movie. Tilda’s symmetrical face, lean and tall figure, with that sweet angelic voice, fascinated me. It was almost as if her distinctive face was the only thing that stood out within so many other important characters in the film.
Subsequently, her roles as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia, the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, Madame D. in The Grand Budapest are all memorable performances even with minimal screen time.
As far as accolades are concerned, Tilda Swinton earned an Oscar in 2008 for her acclaimed performance in a supporting role in Michael Clayton. A film where she starred along with George Clooney and held her own.
Most recently, Swinton played the role of a mother to her real-life daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne in her debut film The Souvenir. She did the film in collaboration with her long-time friend and acclaimed British director Joanna Hogg.
While she has had her career full of mainstream attractions, Tilda Swinton is also known for her art-house and independent film roles. Her unconventional roles have won her both an Academy Award and a BAFTA along with several nominations in Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards. From working with the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr to being the muse of ‘Call Me by Your Name’ fame Luca Guadagnino, there is hardly any director who has not collaborated with the multi-talented actor.
There have been times when Tilda Swinton’s choice of roles garnered her praises but also evoked curiosity about her gender presentation on screen. Her monumental style of fashion and quintessential role depiction often raised concerns in her community. However, the ever-composed actor once stated in an interview, “People talk about androgyny in all sorts of dull ways.” In her work, she has always played with the idea of a transformative gender and believes that everything is queer. This ideology is reflected in her sensibilities and is often showcased in a plethora of her work as a proclaimed art curator, actor, and fashion icon.
Diving deep into her filmography, here are Tilda Swinton’s 10 best movies that I think are essential viewing. I understand some of you may have a different understanding of her performance in a film. However, I’ll be more than happy to know which is your favourite Tilda Swinton performance (and how many times have you worshipped her like I do every day.)]
1. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
What would you do if you became a vampire? Blood lust. Jim Jarmusch’s 2013 film Only Lovers Left Alive, is a tale about two effortlessly cool night creatures who are not your regular Bella Swan & Edward Cullen.
Tilda Swinton stars as Eve alongside Tom Hiddleston, who plays the role of Adam. The film primarily focuses on the romance of the two characters until things turn upside down when Eve’s notorious sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) visits them unannounced.
Swinton’s performance as Eve is breathtaking. She glides through her role, playing the perfect partner to her Adam. Tilda as a 3000-year-old vampire has seen life transcending from one era to another.
Her eagerness to survive in this crude world gives her character an optimistic edge. She believes in bigger things and knows that beyond all the shit and materialistic needs lies a world that is worth living. Tilda Swinton’s elegance and angel-like rendition in the film makes you believe that love is the only thing that counts in life.
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2. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a psychological thriller directed by Lynne Ramsay. In this beautifully shot film, Swinton plays a successful writer named Eva Khatchadourian. She is living a comfortable, bohemian life until she meets her husband Franklin (John C Reily), leading to an accidental pregnancy.
It changes everything when she realizes the horrors of being a mother to her firstborn, Kevin (Ezra Miller). As she fails to bond with her son from the initial moment of becoming a mother, she slowly understands that her resentment of not being able to live a free life is gruesomely reflected in the horrifying deeds that her child partakes.
Tilda is exceptional as Eva. Every frame that she was in, defines her ability to articulate her emotions through undefinable facial expressions. Even though the film is dark and grim, Swinton’s presence still gives you a sense of yearning to accept the fate of the inevitable.
Watch out for the passive straight face she makes throughout the film, in spite of agony and the unspeakable feeling she is going through due to purgatory.
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3. Orlando (1992)
Based around Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando: A biography, this 1992 film is directed by Sally Potter and stars Tilda Swinton as the titular character. The story is set during the Elizabethan era when Queen Elizabeth I, promises a young nobleman named Orlando a large territory, a castle, and handsome monetary possessions right before her death. She only has one condition that Orlando must not wither or grow old to the great achievements that life has to offer.
Abiding by the commands of the deceased queen, Orlando finds solace in the world of art after a catastrophic heartbreak with a Russian princess. The raging warfare of the country takes him to another nation where one day, he wakes up as a woman.
The film handles gender fluidity with an extraordinary approach, and no one would have fitted the role as naturally as Tilda Swinton does. Her real-life ideology speaks largely through the film in one of the most memorable scenes – “The same person, not different at all, just a different sex.”
Swinton is sensational as the androgynous Orlando, and her magnetic performance freezes the time of that era. The film has a great rewatch value, partly due to the effortless impersonation of the character that she plays.
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4. I Am Love (2009)
I am Love is an Italian drama directed by Luca Guadagnino making it the first of the Desire trilogy (the second being A Bigger Splash, 2015 and the third Call Me by Your Name, 2017). Tilda Swinton plays the Russian wife of a powerful Italian industrialist who falls in love with a chef.
I am Love is a beautiful, extremely moving film that shows a sensuous love affair between two people who don’t see any difference between the rich and the poor.
Swinton’s performance in the film is immensely flamboyant that goes well with the film’s aesthetical grandeur. The essence of her character, which follows a fine line between either following traditions or her own feelings, is captured beautifully.
Even though she plays the role of a supposed elite, Tilda doesn’t make it loud or obvious. She carefully and calmly maintains her magnificence, delivering a fascinating performance of a middle-aged woman in love with a commoner.
5. Snowpiercer (2013)
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Snowpiercer is directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. The film is based on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette. This action film was the director’s English debut and first collaboration with the English actor Tilda Swinton.
Snowpiercer begins after the second ice age and some of the human survivors have found refuge inside an enormous train that runs on a loop on a global track. The train is divided as per the class of the people from the upper to the lower. The right-back of the train is filled with people who are purportedly untouched or the ‘low born’.
There are rules that people must adhere to and are constantly monitored by the principal leader played by Tilda Swinton. Chris Evans forms a revolutionary group that targets to move carefully and get through the gates of the train carriages. However, the gates are well-protected by cold-blooded guards ready for brutal violence.
Tilda Swinton plays the now-iconic role of Minister Mason, the second in command. Her role depicts the ugliness of political monsters like Hitler, Berlusconi, etc. Although she plays a dictatorial character, one would understand that she has a history and why she acts with such privilege. Swinton is effortless in portraying the ridiculousness of her character, highlighting the strange fluidness of an absolutist.
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6. Memoria (2021)
Directed by Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Memoria is a visual stunner. The beauty of the cinematic experience completely transfixes you, makes you float, and leaves you with a sense of calmness.
Jessica, an emigrant from Scotland, living in Medellin, runs a market-gardening business. One day she visits her sister in Bogota, who complains of a mysterious respiratory illness. During her stay, one night, Jessica wakes up to a sonic boom or a loud banging sound. She can’t understand where the sound is coming from and why is she the only one who hears it.
I believe Tilda plays herself as Jessica in the film. She is interested in everything, has strange wit and impatience, and nervousness to emote her thoughts and feelings. She is an investigative personality (almost a commoner like us) who is willing to question anything when possibly there are no answers to it.
Memoria is an out-of-body experience and Tilda’s performance makes sure you undergo the same. Her minimalist approach to the role and Apichatpong’s vision to exhibit the film’s motive has a sensory impact on the audience, transporting them to a hypnotic dream.
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7. Suspiria (2018)
Inspired by the 1977 supernatural horror film by the same name, Suspiria 2018 is directed by Luca Guadagnino. Dakota Johnson plays an American woman who gets enrolled in the prestigious Helena Markos Dance Company in Berlin. The head choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) runs the company and selects the chosen ones for a powerful ‘Volk’ dance showcase. When one of the dancers goes missing, Dakota finds out witchy secrets about the coups that have been running the company.
While Dario Argento’s Suspiria was a dreamy, timeless abstract, fixated to 1977’s socio-political atmosphere, Luca’s idea of Suspiria explored various themes with a feminine narrative. The use of witchcraft in the film was meant to show that people fear the idea of female empowerment.
It was important for the director not to play by the book and let the male gaze never intrude on the intentions of the film. Suspiria maintains the chills in the bone right from the beginning, and Tilda’s presence as Madame Blanc or Dr. Klemperer (yes, the genius actor also plays another essential role – a retired psychoanalyst as the film defines female identity) assures that you do not get comfortable with the visceral horror in the film.
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8. A Bigger Splash (2015)
The third installment of the desire trilogy, A Bigger Splash presents you with an immensely talented ensemble. Set in the south of France, the film creates a momentum of madness and Luca Guadagnino’s direction successfully continues to deliver it till the end.
Tilda Swinton plays a rock star who is on a holiday retreat with her partner, a young documentary filmmaker. The calm energy of the vacation quickly vanishes when Marianne’s ex-lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) comes unannounced in the city with his ultra-chic daughter. While Harry’s toxic alpha male personality easily coerces Marianne to reciprocate his emotions; the sexual tension between Marianne’s partner and Harry’s daughter also comes floating to the surface.
Swinton, as a Bowie-Esque rock singer who has vocal issues (in the initial script she was to have more dialogues but her real-life incident made the director change everything) completely outdoes herself doing muted conversations throughout the film.
Tilda makes everything uncomplicated with her ability to explore the character in silence. In a dramatic narrative opposite a narcissist personality that has everything to do with words, this is pure genius. To be able to pull off such a fixated character is nothing short of brilliance.
9. Okja (2017)
After receiving critical success with Snowpiercer, Korean director Bong Joon-Ho returns with an action-adventure in collaboration with Tilda Swinton. Okja made quite a buzz before its release and the film has a great star cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Giancarlo Esposito.
The movie is about a young girl who becomes attached to a genetically modified super pig which is an agronomic solution to global hunger as per the American cooperation run by Nancy Mirando. Mirando demands to get Okja, along with all other super pigs scattered all over the world back to New Jersey. She wants to bring them to her research center to check if the super pigs are indeed a reliable fix to the food industry’s rising complexities.
Shattered by the inconsolable separation from her companion, Mija plans a rescue mission to save her only friend.
Inspired by the twin roles in Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, Swinton plays a twin role in the film – Lucy and Nancy Mirando. She confidently pulls off polar opposite characters and maintains a convincing facade while playing them.
Tilda delivers a riveting performance in both the roles – one being too obvious about her good nature with visible intentions of only making profits. The other one accepts that the world doesn’t acknowledge her and makes peace with it and continues with her evil shenanigans.
She plays the characters in such fine details and extremities that one would find parallels with someone in the real world. And Swinton’s magic of impersonating real-life/fictional persona is a wonder in itself.
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10. The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
Many of you won’t agree, but there is no such thing as a bad Jim Jarmusch film. I was so thrilled by Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die that I am confident he had as much fun in making it as I did while watching it.
Influenced by the 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, the film is a satirical commentary on American consumerism. Zombies have taken over the city of Centerville. They are now repeating things/actions that the zombies loved long before they were “dead”.
The low-energy local cops are trying to make sense of things. While Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) feels things will get better on their own, his second-in-command officer (Adam Driver) hints otherwise. He is certain, things will surely turn out badly for everyone.
The 103 minutes movie is a laugh riot with amusing characters, continuous absurdities, sharp punch liners, and witty commentary on human behavior and the materialistic world.
Tilda Swinton plays Zelda Winston, a sword-wielding undertaker who also works at a funeral parlor dressing up the dead people in the night. She plays an intellectual/philosophical woman who doesn’t mind lending her mastery of martial art in ‘slicing off the head of all the zombies”. Her calm, composed energy in playing the character makes sure that she is a complete scene-stealer with her ever-so-delightful performance.