Ranking Every Frances McDormand Character In A Coen Brothers Movie – Screen Rant

Frances McDormand has played major roles in seven of her husband’s movies, including Coen brothers classics like Fargo and Blood Simple.
Frances McDormand is one of the few actors in the world to have received the “Triple Crown of Acting.” She got her film debut back in 1984 with the role of Abby in the Coen brothers’ independent debut feature Blood Simple and has been married to co-director Joel Coen ever since.
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McDormand has worked with many acclaimed filmmakers over the years, from Robert Altman to Sam Raimi to Cameron Crowe to Nancy Meyers to Wes Anderson. She’s also appeared in nine of her husband’s movies – more than any other Coen collaborator – but only had major roles in seven of them. Her uncredited cameos in movies Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink don’t really count as fully realized characters.
After playing one of the lead roles in the Coens’ indie debut Blood Simple, McDormand only had a bit part in their second film, Raising Arizona. In the scene in which Hi invites his foreman to see the new baby with his family, McDormand plays the foreman’s wife, Dot.
McDormand does a great job with limited screen time, playing the kind of mother Ed wants to be and sharing hilarious chemistry with Sam McMurray as a bored married couple with kids.
The Coens’ 1950s-set Hollywood satire Hail, Caesar! may not be the duo’s greatest movie, but it has plenty of fun moments. Josh Brolin is the lead as Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood “fixer” who keeps movie stars’ scandals out of the press.
McDormand plays another minor role here as C.C. Calhoun, a film editor who shows up occasionally throughout the film’s breezy day-in-the-life narrative, but her performance is eccentric enough to be memorable.
One of the Coens’ lesser-known efforts, The Man Who Wasn’t There is a surreal throwback to classic film noirs starring Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane, a barber who plans to blackmail his wife’s boss and lover for money so he can invest in a dry-cleaning business.
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McDormand plays Ed’s wife, Doris Crane, a bookkeeper with a drinking problem who he suspects of having an affair with her boss. This is Thornton’s movie, but McDormand provides strong support as a subversive femme fatale.
Arriving on the heels of the Coens’ Oscar-winning neo-western masterpiece No Country for Old Men, the goofy farce of Burn After Reading was largely rejected by critics and audiences. But it’s an underrated gem with plenty of hysterical moments, many of which can be attributed to McDormand’s turn as gym employee Linda Litzke (and her chemistry with Brad Pitt).
Linda tries to blackmail an ex-CIA agent to pay for cosmetic surgeries. This is a relatable character motivation – she wants to make herself more attractive so she can meet somebody – but it’s relatively low-stakes compared to other spy thrillers. At the same time, there’s a hilarious irony in the lengths she’ll go to. Audiences know why she wants the money, but it’s not worth running afoul of the Russian government.
The Coens made their directorial debut – and revolutionized American indie cinema – with 1984’s Blood Simple. It’s a grisly neo-noir about a jealous husband, his cheating wife, her unsuspecting lover, and the sadistic private eye who double-crosses all of them.
McDormand started working with the Coens on the ground floor, playing the adulterous Abby in Blood Simple. A case of mistaken identity ironically makes Abby an unintentional femme fatale. Abby is involved in some of the movie’s most jarring tonal shifts, like kicking her husband in the crotch at the end of a tense, suspenseful stalking sequence, and McDormand handles those moments with aplomb.
This year, Joel Coen made his solo filmmaking debut without any involvement from his brother Ethan. The Tragedy of Macbeth is a black-and-white adaptation of the Shakespeare classic that’s been met with universal acclaim from critics. It’s not often that a Shakespeare adaptation really feels fresh after so many attempts, but Coen’s Macbeth is its own beast.
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Denzel Washington stars as Lord Macbeth, while McDormand co-stars as his duplicitous wife. Lady Macbeth is one of the most sought-after (and overdone) acting roles of all time. She was previously played by Vivien Leigh, Judi Dench, and Marion Cotillard, but a compelling-as-always McDormand managed to come up with a take that feels unique.
McDormand won her first Oscar for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo. William H. Macy kicks off the plot as a struggling car salesman who has his wife kidnapped for some quick cash, but McDormand steals the movie as soon as Marge starts investigating a related crime. On top of nailing the “Minnesota nice” accent, which is tricky enough, McDormand also brings warm, relatable elements to Marge that make her feel real and human.
Marge is the perfect antidote to clichéd cop characters in Hollywood movies. She’s not a tough-as-nails badass; she’s infectiously kind. She’s not dangerously obsessed with her job; she’s more interested in her husband’s art contest. She doesn’t bend the law or use excessive force to bring in perps; she catches the bad guy with good old-fashioned police work.
NEXT: Why Marge Gunderson Is The Coen Brothers’ Best Character (& The Dude Is Second)
Ben Sherlock is a writer, comedian, and independent filmmaker. He writes lists for Screen Rant and features and reviews for Game Rant, covering Mando, Melville, Mad Max, and more. He’s currently in pre-production on his first feature, and has been for a while because filmmaking is expensive. In the meantime, he’s sitting on a mountain of unproduced screenplays. Previously, he wrote for Taste of Cinema, Comic Book Resources, and BabbleTop. You can catch him performing standup at odd pubs around the UK that will give him stage time.


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