Traffic (2000) – Davis has a bit part playing a social worker in this acclaimed film, but for her overall career Traffic would prove important. Her participation helped cement a strong relationship with leading Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh, whom Davis has worked with on three other movies.
Antwone Fisher (2002) – Although it was a small role, Viola contributed her touch of genius to this deeply emotional film. She played Antwone’s mother, who gave birth to her son – soon to grow into a troubled man — while she was still behind bars.
Far From Heaven (2002) – Her first time playing a maid, Davis made her mark as Sybil in this acclaimed film directed by a star of independent cinema, Todd Haynes. Far From Heaven also starred Julianne Moore.
Solaris (2002) – Davis got an opportunity to really exercise her acting chops in this complex drama directed by frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh. She also got to work with hottie George Clooney, who had the male lead in this mind-bending sci-fi remake.
Life is Not a Fairytale (2006) – Starring in this Lifetime movie as Fantasia’s mom Diane Barrino, Viola brought a touch of class to this made-for-cable production. Showing that not all her roles have been as glamorous as her major films, movies like this illustrate how Davis has paid her dues.
Doubt (2008) – Davis gave a gripping performance in this film as a mother concerned over the well-being of her boy caught in a whirlwind of suspicion surrounding a pedophile priest. She garnered Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her performance.
Madea Goes to Jail (2009) – In a move that might seem like a step back after thrilling audiences in Doubt, Davis put in a solid performance as yet another social worker named Ellen in this Tyler Perry film production. Not every film Viola stars in is Oscar-worthy, yet she finds a way to enhance the material.
Knight and Day (2010) – Viola, in the big time now, was cast in this big-budget action flick starring megastars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Playing the role of Director George, this is one of the first large mainstream films the actress was a major player in.
Fences (2010) – Viola starred opposite Denzel Washington in this moving revival of a classic August Wilson play produced on Broadway. Davis demonstrated that her acting chops are powerful way beyond the film world, proving herself in the much more demanding realm of the stage.
The Help (2011) – Davis won the 2011 Black Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress for her performance in this box office success. Davis’ portrayal of maid Aibileen Clark in her first leading role sparked controversy, but also made mainstream audiences think more deeply about life for southern black women.
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Viola Davis’ performances in films ranging from Traffic (2002) to Knight and Day (2010) have earned this star many deserved accolades as one of the most talented actresses of our time. Her recent Golden Globes nomination for Best Actress for her leading role as Aibileen Clark in The Help brings to mind the many riveting portrayals Davis has graced us with. As Viola’s star has climbed ever higher over the last ten-plus years, every character she has created has been rendered with rich emotion — even in her early, minor roles. In honor of her recent nomination, let’s remember both those first parts in which Davis made her mark and the meatier ones that demonstrate her full star power. Here are Viola Davis’ top 10 performances of all time.