Ever since his film debut in the long-forgotten horror flick "Critters 3," Leonardo DiCaprio has carefully selected roles that would establish him as one of our generation's most diverse actors. He has played everything from a scruffy third-class artist to a reclusive billionaire, a mentally unstable pyromaniac to a person who infiltrates minds only to sear ideas into them.
His varied roles have given the three-time Oscar nominee one of Hollywood's most enviable résumés, and he's already garnering early award buzz with his upcoming lead turn in "J. Edgar." NextMovie has raided the DiCaprio archives with one goal in mind -- to rank the accomplished actor's nine best roles, as painstaking as that task might be.
9. 'Shutter Island' (2010)
There's nothing like a juicy role in a psychological thriller, from Martin Scorsese no less, to kick off our DiCaprio highlight reel. He plays U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, a Boston official who finds himself in over his head while exploring a haunted prison for the criminally insane. DiCaprio's hard-nosed investigator serves as the audience's shaky tour guide before unraveling before viewers' very eyes in one of the best twist endings we've seen in years. This role also marked DiCaprio's first foray into horror since his film debut, as well as his fourth masterfully crafted collaboration with Scorsese following "Gangs of New York," "The Aviator" and "The Departed."
8. 'Catch Me If You Can' (2002)
Speaking of legendary directors DiCaprio has worked with, the actor joined forces with Steven Spielberg in 2002 to tell the brilliant story of real-life charismatic con and escape artist Frank Abagnale Jr. In the comedy-drama, DiCaprio impersonates a substitute teacher, an airline pilot and a lawyer as he forges checks and breaking numerous laws, all while earning the audience's sympathy. It's a testament to the actor that he could transform such a clever con man into an emotionally multi-faceted figure viewers want to succeed. The real Frank Abagnale Jr., of course, did not think that DiCaprio was "suave" enough to play him until he saw footage.
7. 'This Boy's Life' (1993)
It was at the tender age of 19 that DiCaprio made his critical breakthrough in "This Boy's Life." As another biographical character who turns to forgery following prickly formative years, the actor proved his actorly worth by holding his own opposite Hollywood heavyweight Robert De Niro, who plays DiCaprio's abusive on-screen stepfather. DiCaprio was convincing as Toby, a boy dealing with a cruel father he does not choose, a flighty mother (Ellen Barkin) and the simple dream of moving far, far away. "This Boy's Life" remains our earliest film evidence this this boy was destined to become of our generation's finest actors.
6. 'Romeo + Juliet' (1996)
If "This Boy's Life" established DiCaprio as a legitimate actor, it was Baz Luhrmann's modernized Shakespeare adaptation that put DiCaprio on the map as an MTV-era heartthrob. This may be the only retelling of the romantic tragedy that includes a Romeo taking ecstasy and a gas station gunfight, but it is also the coolest. The actor was so good as Romeo that he reportedly almost made Claire Danes cry during his final speech, nearly ruining the scene in which her character is supposed to be comatose. Just as Shakespeare would have wanted it!
5. 'Aviator' (2004)
Again, DiCaprio was able to disappear into a biographical lead in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator." As aviation pioneer and film producer Howard Hughes, DiCaprio convincingly portrayed the entrepreneur throughout several stages of his life that spanned a playboy lifestyle, a career in Hollywood, many contributions to aviation, his debilitating OCD and his eventual reclusiveness. DiCaprio's work in this sprawling biopic not only shed some light on the notoriously secretive historical figure but also earned the actor his second Academy Award nomination.
4. 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' (1993)
It was in 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' that DiCaprio, still a teenager, gave his most heartwrenching performance as Arnie Grape, the mentally handicapped younger brother of Johnny Depp's overextended Gilbert. DiCaprio managed to instill a childlike innocence into Arnie that provides much-needed levity in an otherwise depressing (but well-made) drama and, at other times, the emotional weight of a character who cannot begin to understand his own family's tragic circumstances. Many believe that DiCaprio was robbed of the Academy Award that he was nominated for this year -- losing out to Tommy Lee Jones for his work in "The Fugitive."
3. 'The Departed' (2006)
DiCaprio acted opposite another Hollywood great in Scorsese's mob thriller "The Departed." This time the great was Jack Nicholson, who played Irish crime boss Frank Costello to DiCaprio's shaky undercover agent who would infiltrate Costello's mob. DiCaprio's character, a hard worker who reluctantly drops out of the police academy to go undercover for the feds, also acts as a foil to Matt Damon's state police mole who is working for Costello. Again, it is DiCaprio -- whose character falls for his psychiatrist and is embroiled in his own morality battle -- who brings the emotional heft to this project.
2. 'Titanic' (1997)
No DiCaprio highlights list would be complete without "Titanic," the James Cameron blockbuster that launched DiCaprio into full-blown movie stardom. As Jack, a brash third-class passenger and artist who falls for Kate Winslet's heiress on the doomed maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, DiCaprio helped establish the romance as one of cinema's most epic love stories and provided countless teens with a new crush object.
1. 'Inception' (2010)
While we can't deny DiCaprio's power as a romantic lead in one of the biggest box office performers of all time, our top DiCaprio role is reserved for his coolest project yet, "Inception." In Christopher Nolan's sci-fi mindf**k masterpiece, DiCaprio's character, hired to infiltrate minds and carefully create the space to implant an idea there, leads a skilled team of deception artists in that pursuit. DiCaprio's "Inception" role is easily the freshest, most innovative and most conceptually sophisticated of his career -- and for that, we give it top billing.