Defining Moments: Leonardo DiCaprio

FINALLY. After two decades of waiting and 6 nominations; Leonardo DiCaprio is now the proud owner of a coveted Oscar for Best Lead Actor (RIP to all the endless memes btw). His career has spanned from low-budget horror flicks (Critters 3), to becoming just a very slight heartthrob (Romeo + Juliet, Titanic) and now to a man whose starred in gangster flicks and sci-fi epics and now to finally win an Oscar for playing a legendary explorer. It’s actually incredibly difficult to choose just five defining moments through his career as there really have been so many successes; but here are Leo’s defining moments.


Arnie Grape in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

In what can be described as Leo’s real ‘breakout’ role; he took on a supporting role of Johnny Depp’s mentally challenged little brother Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which earned him his first ever Oscar nomination. What made this performance such a standout was the fact that originally Arnie had been written into the film as a relatively small and insignificant character, but Leo’s dedication to the role blew away the filmmakers who enabled him to play a pivotal role in the film. Leo’s performance was the only Oscar nomination this film received; and although he eventually lost out to Tommy Lee Jones, the fact that he was able to pull off such an emotionally and mentally complex role at such a young age opened the world’s eyes to notice the boy who would become the industry’s biggest star in years to come.


Jack Dawson in Titanic (1997)

Not Leo’s best but certainly his most famous role ever, starring in James Cameron’s epic blockbuster about the doomed Titanic voyage alongside the woman who just about everyone wants him to marry; Kate Winslet. As a poor young artist, Jack wins tickets to go on the Titanic in a poker game, and it is there we he meets Rose (Winslet), a beautiful rich woman whom he falls in love with. Though this isn’t Leo’s best role in terms of performance, it is certainly iconic. Almost every girl who watched this film at some point probably fell just a tad in love with Leo, and he announced himself as a huge star thanks to Titanic becoming one of the biggest films of all time. It’s hard to believe that the iconic “I’m the king of the world!” line was improvised by Leo, and has stood it’s stead in cinema history as being voted the 4th greatest movie quote of all time. This really was Leo’s first major appearance in front of the whole world, and it’s safe to say that looking back he nailed it pretty bloody well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCy5WQ9S4c0


Dom Cobb in Inception (2010)

In Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Inception, Leo again flexed his acting muscles to show his incredible range. As Dom Cobb, a man who is paid to steal information from people’s dreams whilst having his own catalogue of personal demons; DiCaprio encapsulates Cobb’s pain and utilises it to give a powerful performance. The scenes he shares with his late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) are the main source of Dom’s pain, and Leo embraces his characters haunted past and in turn the audience is graced with a personal connection to the character. As well as utilising raw emotion, Leo has a great on-screen rapport with the other characters and brings some of his charm to the film, notably when conversing with Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Eames (Tom Hardy) and also shares some moving scenes with Ariadne (Ellen Page), almost as if she’s like a daughter to him in the absence of his own children. Essentially Inception was just another chance to show the world that Leo can excel in just about any kind of role, asserting himself as a lead actor in every sense of the word, being at the helm of such an excellent ensemble of talent and executing his role perfectly.


Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

In what can be said is many people’s favourite ever Leo role, he took on the job of playing Wall Street bad-boy Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s 2013 blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street. In simple terms, Leo absolutely killed it; making the role entirely his own and embracing just about every aspect of Belfort’s life, from the almost unbelievable amount of drug and prostitute usage right down to his ‘shady’ way of making the big bucks. Leo had coaching to be taught how to act high to fulfil Belfort’s main state throughout the film, he also looked and sounded like a real Wall Street a**hole and cemented himself as the modern day Gordon Gekko; only playing someone who actually existed in such a way that you’d probably struggle to tell the difference between the two. This was Leo’s 4th Oscar nomination for acting and though he deservedly lost out to Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), it’s a role that blew just about everyone away with how much we loved to hate everything that Belfort stood for; but on the other hand we all wanted to be like him.


Hugh Glass in The Revenant (2016)

The one we’ve all been waiting for; as legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant, Leo finally took home the Oscar for Best Lead Actor. This was a role which Leo pretty much dedicated everything to, and was more than deserved of every award and plaudit he has received for his performance. In what became perhaps the most notorious shoot of all time, Leo put his body through months of crawling through the cold winter snow portraying Glass; a man who is mauled by a bear and left for dead by his comrades after watching one of them murder his son. The pain in Leo’s eyes as we watch Glass defy every possible obstacle to try and exact revenge for his son tells a story within itself. With barely any lines of real dialogue in the film, it is just exceptional that Leo conveyed such a painfully emotional tale through the look in his eyes or the expression on his face; and anyone who can do that more than deserves an Oscar. Not only did he perform so well with such little dialogue, but the lengths Leo went to perfectly portray Glass went as far as eating raw bison liver and fish, as well as sleeping inside a dead horse; which just shows the dedication and talent of this man as an actor. Every other year Leo has been nominated for acting there has been someone more deserving, but this year Leo made it his own by producing such a spellbinding performance in this film that has become the defining moment in his career, and now he finally has his hands on that coveted Oscar.


It was almost impossible to choose only 5 moments through Leo’s career that were defining as he has had such a diverse and impressive career as an actor. Look out for him soon teaming up again with Martin Scorsese in the upcoming The Devil in the White City playing famous serial killer H.H. Holmes; a role I personally cannot wait to see him tackle.

Honourable mentionsRomeo + Juliet (1996), Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Aviator (2004), Blood Diamond (2006), The Departed (2006), Revolutionary Road (2008), Shutter Island (2010) and Django Unchained (2012)

Words by Elliott Jones

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