1. Louise Lasser
Films: What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972), Stardust Memories (1980)
Most memorable role: Lasser and Woody Allen divorced in 1970, which means they weren’t still married when she played Fielding Mellish’s social activist girlfriend Nancy in Bananas. And yet, the chemistry was still there. Lasser has a kind of genuine weirdness that could be annoying but ends up being rather sweet. She’s the perfect match for Allen’s Mellish, even though their real-life romance had already fizzled out.
2. Diane Keaton
Films: Play It Again, Sam (1972), Sleeper (1973), Love and Death (1975), Annie Hall (1977), Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979), Radio Days (1987), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Most memorable role: Keaton won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the titular character in Annie Hall, and with good reason. Few other actors have managed to play off Allen so well, which is why the two collaborated for years. (Off-screen, too: They lived together for a time.) Like Alvy Singer, Annie Hall is quirky and frustrating but ultimately lovable, something Keaton is adept at pulling off.
3. Mariel Hemingway
Films: Manhattan (1979), Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Most memorable role: The relationship between Isaac Davis and Hemingway’s 17-year-old Tracy should be a lot creepier than it is. But in Manhattan, Hemingway walks that fine line between innocent and precocious: Tracy feels out of place but never so much so that you have to suspend your disbelief. The relationship makes a kind of sense onscreen, whether or not it does on paper.
4. Mia Farrow
Films: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), September (1987), Another Woman (1988), New York Stories (1989), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Alice (1990), Shadows and Fog (1991), Husbands and Wives (1992)
Most memorable role: Mia Farrow starred in so many Woody Allen films that it’s difficult to narrow it down to one standout performance. Hannah and Her Sisters is the obvious choice, and Farrow does great work in the title role. She’s at her best in the blend of comedy and drama that characterizes so much of Allen’s middle period, and never more successfully than in Hannah and Her Sisters.
5. Dianne Wiest
Films: The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), September (1987), Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
Most memorable role: The part of Helen Sinclair in Bullets Over Broadway was nearly recast when neither Wiest nor Allen were satisfied with her performance. What a tragedy that would have been. Once Wiest found the right tone, vamping it up as the boozy seductress, she found a role that was both notably different from past work and perfect for her.
6. Julie Kavner
Films: Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), New York Stories (1989), Shadows and Fog (1991), Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Most memorable role: Julie Kavner is best known for her voiceover work as Marge on The Simpsons, and she’s kept her live-action roles fairly limited. Thankfully she enjoys working with Woody Allen, because he uses her well. In Radio Days, she plays the unnamed Mother: Though somewhat more subdued than in other Allen films, she fits right into her role as 1930s matriarch.
7. Elaine Stritch
Films: September (1987), Small Time Crooks (2000)
Most memorable role: Elaine Stritch’s career extends far past Woody Allen, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t leave her mark on his filmography. She’s particularly great in September, in which she plays Diane, a rude, overbearing mother who intrudes on her daughter Lane’s life following Lane’s suicide attempt. It’s classic Stritch, who draws the audience in even when she’s being awful.
8. Anjelica Huston
Films: Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Most memorable role: There are plenty of spurned lovers in Allen films, and Huston makes the role her own in Crimes and Misdemeanors by employing her signature mix of aggression and vulnerability. She’s more desperate than vindictive. As Dolores, Huston is a serious threat, both to Judah’s family and to his professional life — but she’s also, of course, a victim.
9. Judy Davis
Films: Alice (1990), Husbands and Wives (1992), Deconstructing Harry (1997), Celebrity (1998), To Rome With Love (2012)
Most memorable role: Is Cate Blanchett channeling Judy Davis in Blue Jasmine? It’s possible. She could do worse than pay homage to one of Allen’s best recurring actors. Davis is great in everything, but her most substantial role is as Sally in Husbands and Wives. She always seems a little bit off-balance — and for more of that, see Deconstructing Harry.
10. Kathy Bates
Films: Shadows and Fog (1991), Midnight in Paris (2011)
Most memorable role: Midnight in Paris is full of notable actors playing real historical figures, to varying degrees of success. (That Salvador Dalí is a bit much.) Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein may be the most successful for the way she keeps the character grounded and likable in her own right, not simply because of the actual person she’s portraying.
11. Tracey Ullman
Films: Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Small Time Crooks (2000)
Most memorable roles: Like others on this list, Ullman has a substantial career of her own that means she’s not commonly thought of as a Woody Allen leading lady. And yet, she’s spot-on in her two Allen film appearances, especially as Frenchy in Small Time Crooks. It’s delightful watching her transition to accidental millionaire as she embodies “new money.”
12. Caroline Aaron
Films: Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Alice (1990), Husbands and Wives (1992), Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Most memorable role: Caroline Aaron is a brilliant comic performer — if she weren’t, Woody Allen wouldn’t keep using her — but she’s chronically underappreciated. Hopefully audiences at least remember her as Harry Block’s sister Doris, a devout Jew on which Allen inflicts his feelings about the religion, as he is wont to do. But really, go back and watch her in everything.
13. Scarlett Johansson
Films: Match Point (2005), Scoop (2006), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Most memorable role: Some have questioned what Woody Allen saw in Johansson, but her turn as Nola Rice in Match Point should be all the explanation necessary. She wavers between cold-hearted femme fatale to lovesick neurotic, which is the type Allen has been working with for decades. Her other Allen movies further exemplify her range.
14. Sally Hawkins
Films: Cassandra’s Dream (2007), Blue Jasmine (2013)
Most memorable role: Sally Hawkins was very good in Cassandra’s Dream, but the movie itself was forgotten pretty quickly. Luckily, Allen brought her back for a more substantial role in his most recent film Blue Jasmine. As Jasmine’s sister Ginger, she has to balance her inherent kindness with the frustration of dealing with such a selfish and entitled family member.
15. Patricia Clarkson
Films: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Whatever Works (2009)
Most memorable role: Early on in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Judy seems like she’s living her best life in Spain. As the film progresses and she admits more about her unhappy marriage, her true character shines through. And audiences who weren’t familiar with Clarkson began to appreciate how much she brings to every role she takes.