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50 Best 'Law & Order: SVU' Guest Stars, Ranked

Bradley Whitford and Mariska Hargitay

Law & Order: SVU has become known for many things in the last quarter-century. Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson. Riveting (and disturbing) cases. One of the slowest burning will-they-won't-they stories in TV history (Bensler forever!).

But the series—the longest-running live-action show on television—has also become a sought-after spot for up-and-coming actors and established stars alike. Truly, a guest spot on SVU is something akin to appearing on Late Night, only…with a far more serious plot line on a show that centers around some of the most gruesome and heinous crimes. Next up? David Krumholtz is slated to appear in the third episode of the historic 25th season. Will he go on to win an Emmy like some actresses? (No actor ever has.) Time will tell. In the meantime, in honor of Krumholtz’s appearance and the show’s 25th season, we narrowed down a long list of memorable guest performances to the top 50.

Read on for a highly subjective ranking of the best guest stars in Law & Order: SVU history.

Best Law & Order: SVU Guest Stars, Ranked

50. Hilary Duff, Law & Order: SVU, Season 10, Episode 19: “Selfish”

Hilary Duff shed her squeaky-clean Lizzie McGuire image when she joined the cast for one of SVU’s memorable ripped-from-the-headlines episodes. Duff plays Ashlee, a young mother accused of killing her 11-month-old baby in a plot inspired by the Casey Anthony saga.

Related: Where Is Casey Anthony Now?

49. Rose McGowan, Law & Order: SVU, Season 12, Episode 19: “Bombshell”

The actress and activist joined the cast for a plot-twist-heavy episode. McGowan plays Cassandra, a con artist who works with her boyfriend, whose name is ironically Doug Loveless (Ryan Hurst). He’s also her brother. SVU went heavy on the head-turning moments in this one.

48. Eric McCormack, Law & Order: SVU, Season 11, Episode 2: “Sugar”

Best known for putting the Will in Will & Grace, Eric McCormack plays an Internet entrepreneur who moonlighted as a sugar daddy before becoming a murder suspect.

47. James Van Der Beek, Law & Order: SVU, Season 13, Episode 20: “Father Dearest”

We didn’t have to wait for our lives to be over for James Van Der Beek to take his turn as a guest star on SVU. The actor rose to fame as Dawson on Dawson’s Creek and was something of a bad guy for those who shipped Pacey and Joey. On SVU, he plays a more genuine villain who pretends to be the father of girls conceived via a sperm donor.

46. David Harbour, Law & Order: SVU Season 4, Episode 7: “Dolls”

Before he starred in the movie Brokeback Mountain (or on Stranger Things, for that matter), David Harbour played a rap suspect in this early SVU episode.

Related: When Will 'Stranger Things' Return for Season 5?

45. Jeremy Irons, Law & Order: SVU, Season 12, Episode 13: "Mask"

Jeremy Irons shines as a recovering sex addict who now treats people with the condition as a therapist. The case sends Det. Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) undercover, where he has to go against his baseline and exercise control during therapy sessions with predators he tries to put away.

44. Elle Fanning, Law & Order: SVU, Season 8, Episode 8: "Cage"

This episode gave fans an early glimpse of Elle Fanning, who plays Eden. Eden gets close to Benson’s temporary replacement, Dani Beck (Connie Nielsen), until the young girl sets the officer’s house on fire. It's also after this episode that Beck leaves the squad.

43. Bradley Cooper, Law & Order: SVU, Season 6, Episode 20: “Night”

Spoiler alert: This isn’t the last time “Night” will appear on this list. Bradley Cooper was one of a few guest stars in this episode. He plays a sleazy defense attorney, Jason Whitaker, in the episode (and also appears in the same role in the short-lived Trial By Jury’s “Day.”).

42. Hayden Panettiere, Law & Order: SVU: Season 2, Episode 11: “Abuse”

The future Nashville star took two turns on SVU. Panettiere’s role as Ashley Austin Black, the daughter of two country music stars who develops a rapport with Benson, was one of the most memorable performances from a young child guest star.

41. Naveen Andrews, Law & Order: SVU, Season 11, Episode 12: “Shadow”

One of a few notable guest stars in this Season 11 episode, Naveen Andrews plays a Special Frauds Unit detective investigating an heiress for murdering her parents.

40. Amanda Seyfried, Law & Order: SVU, Season 6, Episode 5: “Outcry”

2004 was a busy year for Amanda Seyfried. She starred as Karen in Mean Girls and also appeared on an SVU episode as Tandi McCain. After McCain is found tied up at a construction site days after going missing, she says she’s been attacked.

39. Wentworth Miller, Law & Order: SVU, Season 11, Episode 1: “Unstable”

The former Prison Break star has twice joined the SVU cast. In the Season 11 premiere, Wentworth Miller plays an officer who makes Stabler look straight-laced.

38. Kyle MacLachlan, Law & Order: SVU, Season 6, Episode 6: “Conscience”

Courtroom drama, much? Jaws dropped when Kyle MacLachlan's character, Dr. Brett Morton, took matters into his own hands after his son’s murderer (his 13-year-old neighbor) was found not guilty.

37. Isabelle Huppert, Law & Order: SVU, Season 11, Episode 24: “Shattered”

The Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert delivers as a bereaved mother to an 8-year-old who dies after a kidnapping.

36. John Stamos, Law & Order: SVU, Season 12, Episode 22: “Bang”

Uncle Jesse gets an SVU makeover. In the late-season 12 episode, John Stamos assumes the role of Ken Turner, a manipulative attorney who has gotten about the same number of women pregnant as guest stars on this list (50 or so).

35. Dallas Roberts, Law & Order: SVU, Season 16, Episode 20: “Daydream Believer”

Dallas Roberts guest starred as Greg Yates on four SVU and a pair of Chicago P.D. episodes. Yates is one of the evilest characters written into SVU, having committed rapes, murders and kidnappings across multiple states from New Orleans to New Jersey.

34. Pablo Schreiber, Law & Order: SVU, Season 14, Episode 24: “Her Negotiation”

Speaking of evil, Pablo Schreiber made his SVU debut in the Season 8 episode “Haystack,” but he’ll forever be known for his role as William Lewis, the man whose torture of Benson began with this episode.

33. Angela Lansbury, Law & Order: SVU, Season 6, Episode 20: “Night”

After her run as Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote, Lansbury didn't have to stretch herself too far to guest on SVU. The Golden Globe-award-winning actress appeared as Eleanor Duvall, the mother of a serial rapist, in both “Night” and “Day” as part of an SVU/Trial By Jury crossover.

32. Ian Somerhalder, Law & Order: SVU, Season 3, Episode 20: “Dominance”

The Vampire Diaries and Rules of Attraction star assumed the role of Charlie Baker, a man on a murdering spree.

31. Estelle Parsons, Law & Order: SVU, Season 3, Episode 21: “Denial”

Estelle Parsons walks the tightrope as Rose, the mother of Grace (Mary Steenburgen), an abuser who killed two of her three children (Rose’s grandchildren). Rose is determined to protect the living grandchild—and Grace.

30. Mary Steenburgen, Law & Order: SVU, Season 3, Episode 21: “Denial”

The Academy Award winner had the tall task of playing a callous mother who murdered her child, and she delivered in spades.

29. Matthew Lillard, Law & Order: SVU, Season 10, Episode 16: “Ballerina”

We’re not done with this episode yet. Matthew Lillard’s performance as Chet Solloway, the purported nephew of Birdie (Carol Burnett), was so gruesomely effective it still makes fans’ stomachs turn.

28. Pedro Pascal, Law & Order: SVU, Season 12, Episode 24: “Smoked”

Pedro Pascal guest-starred as Special Agent Greer from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), who accidentally finds himself entangled with Special Victims.

27. Jill Scott, Law & Order: SVU, Season 11, Episode 17: “Disabled”

The Grammy winner showed her acting chops as a woman who is so jealous of her sister Cara’s (Lisa Arrindell Anderson), singing career that she puts her through physical and verbal abuse.

26. Martin Short, Law & Order: SVU, Season 6, Episode 18: “Pure”

The comedian showcased his versatility as Sebastian Ballentine, a con artist, sexual predator and kidnapper.

25. Alfred Molina, Law & Order: SVU, Season 6, Episode 20: “Night”

British actor Alfred Molina, known for his work as Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2, went on to star as Senior Deputy District Attorney and Detective Ricardo Morales on Law & Order: Los Angeles. But, like many future main cast members, Molina cut his chops in the Dick Wolf universe with a guest-starring spot. In “Night” (SVU) and “Day” (Trial By Jury), Morales assumes the role of villain as Gabriel Duvall, a rapist.

Related: Dick Wolf's Net Worth In 2024 Basically Has a Zero for Every 'Law & Order' Show

24. Sarah Paulson, Law & Order: SVU, Season 11, Episode 12: “Shadow”

Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Anne Gillette, an heiress, socialite and suspected murderer, continues to resonate with fans.

23. Jerry Lewis, Law & Order: SVU, Season 8, Episode 4: “Uncle”

The King of Comedy joined the SVU cast as Andrew Munch, the uncle of Senior Detective John Munch (Richard Belzer), in an episode that poignantly explores mental illness.

22. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Law & Order: SVU, Season 12, Episode 3: “Behave”

The one-time Party of Five star showcased her range as an actress as Vicki Sayers, a repeat rape survivor, in this emotional rollercoaster of an episode calling attention to the rape kit backlog.

21. Patricia Arquette, Law & Order: SVU, Season 14, Episode 9: “Dreams Deferred”

Patricia Arquette plays an aging prostitute, delivering a powerful performance that remains at the top of fans' lists for guest stars.

20. Sarah Hyland, Law & Order: SVU, Season 10, Episode 12: “Hothouse”

Seven years after her first appearance on SVU at the age of 10, Sarah Hyland returned to the set as Jennifer Banks, a hyper-competitive teen suspected of murdering her pre-school roommate. Her scene in the interrogation room—confessing to murder under drug-induced psychosis—was superb.

19. Jennette McCurdy, Law & Order: SVU, Season 6, Episode 11: “Contagious”

A 13-year-old Jennette McCurdy showed talent beyond her years as Holly, a girl who is raped at the age of 9 but struggles to pinpoint her attacker.

18. Bob Saget, Law & Order: SVU, Season 8, Episode 9: "Choreographed”

The late Bob Saget, best known for his role as Danny Tanner on Full House and his unapologetic stand-up acts, does a much different dance as a prime murder suspect in “Choreographed.”

17. Erika Christensen, Law & Order: SVU, Season 9, Episode 12: “Signature”

Erika Christensen joined the cast as FBI agent Lauren Cooper, who has a dark secret of her own. Christensen’s final moments as Cooper were an actual master class in how to pull off a closing monologue.

16. Bradley Whitford, Law & Order: SVU, Season 24, Episode 15: “King of the Moon”

The former West Wing star is a repeat guest on SVU. Bradley Whitford’s most recent appearance as Pence Humphreys, a man with dementia who confesses to murdering his wife, is considered one of the best in recent history. In one of the episode’s lighter moments, Whitford’s Pence tells Hargitay’s Benson that she has the “face of Jayne Mansfield,” a nod to Hargitay’s late mother.

Related: Bradley Whitford on What Mariska Hargitay Is Really Like on 'Law & Order: SVU'—and How His Mother Influenced His Role as a Murder Suspect

15. Whoopi Goldberg, Law & Order: SVU, Season 17, Episode 5: “Institutional Fail”

Whoopi Goldberg utterly shined as Janette Grayson, a woman who falsely reports child welfare issues, endangers lives and has a mental breakdown during her trial.

14. Ludacris, Law & Order: SVU, Season 8, Episode 22: “Screwed”

Ludacris showcased his acting chops as Darius Parker, a relative of Fin’s who finds himself on trial for murder and rape.

13. Tracy Pollan, Law & Order: SVU, Season 1, Episode 10: “Closure Part I”

Tracy Pollan was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Harper Anderson, a rape survivor who has a hard time identifying her attacker and develops a close rapport with Benson. She returned for “Closure: Part II” in the second season, and the ending got complicated.

12. Martha Plimpton, Law & Order: SVU, Season 3, Episode 21: “Denial”

Martha Plimpton also received an Emmy nod for her guest spot as Claire, who develops a substance abuse problem after enduring years of terror at the hands of her mother.

11. Barbara Barrie, Law & Order: SVU, Season 4, Episode 24: “Perfect”

Barbara Barrie plays Paula Haggerty, a former caregiver for the cult Foundation of Knowledge Expansion, run by the manipulative reproductive therapy doctor Dr. Garret Lang (Gale Harold). Barrie received an Emmy nomination for her role.

10. Brenda Blethyn, Law & Order: SVU, Season 10, Episode 8: “Persona”

Brenda Blethyn turned in a performance worthy of an Emmy nod as a domestic abuse survivor named Caroline Cresswell, also known as Linnie Malcolm.

9. Leslie Caron, Law & Order: SVU, Season 8, Episode 3: “Recall”

Leslie Caron’s performance as rape survivor Lorraine Dalmas earned her the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. Lorraine’s story prompted Det. Beck to share details of her husband’s murder, giving us a peek into the officer’s backstory.

8. Marlee Matlin, Law & Order: SVU, Season 5, Episode 22: “Painless”

Marlee Matlin returned as Dr. Amy Solwey for “Parts,” but this guest spot earned her an Emmy nod. Her chemistry with Belzer’s Munch and complicated arch remains memorable.

7. Ann-Margret, Law & Order: SVU, Season 11, Episode 18: “Bedtime”

Ann-Margret took home the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series after playing Rita Wills during an investigation that reminds Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) of a decades-old case.

6. Ellen Burstyn, Law & Order: SVU, Season 10, Episode 3: “Swing”

Ellen Burstyn regularly appears as Stabler's mother in Law & Order: Organized Crime. However, her powerful work in “Swing,” which touched on Stabler’s daughter’s mental health challenges, was stunning.

5. Amanda Plummer, Law & Order: SVU, Season 6, Episode 9: “Weak”

Amanda Plummer played Miranda Cole, a woman with schizophrenia, in an Emmy-winning performance.

4. Carol Burnett, Law & Order: SVU, Season 10, Episode 16: “Ballerina”

Carol Burnett’s portrayal of Birdie still makes my skin crawl, but I think that was the point.

3. Cynthia Nixon, Law & Order: SVU, Season 9, Episode 1: “Alternate”

Cynthia Nixon had the tall task of playing a suspect who says she has dissociative identity (multiple personality) disorder. Nixon pivoted seamlessly through personalities, earning herself an Emmy win.

2. Marcia Gay Harden, Law & Order: SVU, Season 7, Episode 6: “Raw”

Marcia Gay Harden wowed fans and Emmy voters as FBI undercover agent Dana Lewis, who is investigating a white supremacist group.

1. Robin Williams, Law & Order: SVU, Season 9, Episode 17: “Authority”

Push the button! Fans are still smarting that the late Robin Williams didn’t win an Emmy for his role as Merritt Rook, an engineer with serious issues with authority.

Next, Everything to Know About 'Law & Order: SVU' Season 25