Every Kirsten Dunst performance, ranked

With an Academy Award nomination finally under her belt, the Dunstaissance has arrived.

by Jihane Bousfiha
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25 March 2022, 11:44am

There is no one quite like Kirsten Dunst. Following her first on-screen role in Woody Allen's segment of 1988 anthology film New York Stories, Kirsten had a streak of scene-stealing performances in movies like Interview with the Vampire, Little Women and Jumanji, before The Virgin Suicides and Bring It On made her a teen star. 

Kirsten has since cemented herself as one of the greatest and most versatile actors of our time. She's done camp classics (DickDrop Dead Gorgeous), weighty dramas (MelancholiaThe Power of the Dog), prestige TV shows (FargoOn Becoming a God in Central Florida), and continues to choose work that showcases her range, proving that she is capable of much more than a damsel-in-distress (Spider-Man).

Still, Kirsten's glorious career has often felt under-appreciated. While it's true that awards don't ultimately measure the amount of talent a performer has, it's a shame that she's been ignored by the industry she grew up in until now. For her performance in Jane Campion's neo-western The Power of the Dog, Kirsten has finally received an Academy Award nomination

Ahead of the Oscars this weekend, we've gone deep into the archive and assessed every Kirsten movie. With the exception of her brief cameos (sorry to The Bling RingAnchorman 2The Bonfire of the Vanities), this is every Kirsten Dunst performance, ranked.


35. The Crow: Salvation (2000)

The third instalment of the popular Crow series, The Crow: Salvation, was released the same year as Bring It On, in which Kirsten gives a performance that's one thousand times better and more memorable than she does in this movie. In fact, it's hard to even understand how a film this bad managed to get an actress as great as Kirsten on board. 


34. Levity (2003)

Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter, this 2003 drama about a convicted murderer searching for redemption is a hopeless attempt at getting some Oscar recognition. Sadly, there's nothing special about this indie drama and Kirsten's performance as a troubled young woman. 


33. Mother Night (1996)

13-year-old Kirsten had a minor role as a younger version of Resi Noth (Sheryl Lee) in this forgotten WWII-set Kurt Vonnegut book adaptation about Howard W. Campbell Jr. (Nick Nolte), an American writer who gives anti-Semitic speeches via radio broadcasts in order to deliver secret messages. While she only has two scenes, Kirsten still manages to hold her own against Nick Nolte. 


32. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008)

In this incredibly unpleasant film, Kirsten plays Alison Olsen, an editor who becomes a love interest for Simon Pegg's childish, douchey journalist, Sidney Young. She carried this film, but not to the point that it could become even a pinch enjoyable. 


31. Upside Down (2012)

Centred on a man living in a two-planet world separated by gravity and social class, this sci-fi movie with a predictable ending wastes Kirsten's talent in a half-baked romance plot between her and Jim Sturgess, whom she lacks any chemistry with. 


30. Small Soldiers (1998)

This 90s kids movie about toy action figures brought to life through military technology casts Kirsten as the typical girl-next-door love interest for the male protagonist (Gregory Smith). There's not much to the character, and thus little a young Kirsten could do to elevate it. Luckily, The Virgin Suicides came along a few months later.


29. Luckytown (2000)

This direct-to-video film with a poor script and predictable plot stars Kirsten as a young girl who sets out to find her estranged poker-playing father (James Caan) in Las Vegas. Towards the end of Luckytown, Kirsten performs a very sexualised striptease in an angel costume. She's easily the best part of this low-budget crime flick. 


28. Elizabethtown (2005)

Kirsten’s Claire Colburn is a perky flight attendant whose narrative almost exclusively revolves around the central man (played by Orlando Bloom) in this Cameron Crowe rom-com. While Elizabethtown certainly isn’t as terrible as most people make it out to be, Kirsten’s poorly developed character did lead to the birth of the term “manic pixie dream girl”. Need we say more?


27. On the Road (2012)

In this luke warm adaptation of Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel, Kirsten plays Camille, the wife of Garrett Hedlund's free-spirited Dean Moriarty. It's a poorly developed role that portrays her almost exclusively in relation to the central men. Kirsten manages to break out of that mould in her brief screen time. 


26. The Two Faces of January (2014)

Kirsten and Oscar Isaac starring in a 60s thriller seems like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name criminally under-utilised Kirsten’s acting abilities by having her portray a one-dimensional character who exists to further the narratives of her two male co-leads, Oscar and on-screen husband Viggo Mortensen, who spend most of the film trying to flee the country in the wake of the murder of a private detective. 


25. Woodshock (2017)

Directed by Laura and Kate Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, Woodshock is a hazy psychological thriller that’s unfortunately fairly dull (style over substance). Kirsten, whose central role was written by her long-time friends specifically with her in mind, portrays grief-stricken Theresa, with shades of the depression she perfectly channeled in Melancholia, only this time she’s a depressed stoner. 


24. The Cat’s Meow (2001)

Peter Bogdanovich’s The Cat’s Meow, which serves as a spiritual prequel to David Fincher’s Mank, tells the story of William Randolph Hearst’s 1924 yacht party that resulted in the mysterious death of producer Thomas Ince, with a dose of fiction. In one of her first roles as an adult, Kirsten stars as iconic actress Marion Davies, saving a film that otherwise fails to break any real barriers. 


23. Get Over It (2001)

Of the many modern William Shakespeare interpretations, Get Over It, a lighthearted 00s teen flick based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is one that doesn’t quite hit the mark, and simply isn’t as memorable as Drop Dead Gorgeous, Bring It On, or Dick


22. Jumanji (1995)

Kirsten’s portrayal of 12-year-old Judy was easily the best part of this inconsistent yet delightful (and sometimes horrifying) kids movie led by the late Robin Williams. She screams a lot in this film, which feels like a precursor to the Spider-Man trilogy she would later star in.


21. Hidden Figures (2016)

Chronicling the true story of three Black female mathematicians, played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, in Hidden Figures Kirsten plays Vivian Mitchell, a racist NASA supervisor. Kirsten has a messy Southern accent that she kind of gives up on halfway.


20. Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special is a sci-fi gem centred on a young boy (Jaeden Martell) with special powers who goes on the run with his father (Michael Shannon) after being pursued by the government and a religious cult. Kirsten has a limited but scene-stealing supporting role as the boy’s semi-estranged mother. A highlight is her Gone Girl moment, in which she cuts and dyes her hair in a bathroom. 


19. Wag the Dog (1997)

While Kirsten only has a minor role in this Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman-starring political satire — appearing for a few minutes as an actress who takes a role in a propaganda advertisement used to help cover up a presidential sex scandal — she still manages to deliver some of the film’s most hilarious moments. Plus, Wag the Dog gave us one of her most iconic red carpet looks to date so we have to mention it here. 


18. Strike! (1998)

Strike! (which was originally titled The Hairy Bird, then changed to All I Wanna Do before later adopting this formerly UK-specific title across streaming services) has a killer ensemble cast of rising stars including Gaby Hoffmann, Merritt Wever, Rachael Leigh Cook and Heather Matarazzo, as rebellious students attending an all-girls prep school in the 60s. Kirsten’s central role as sassy Verena von Stefan set the wheels in motion for a number of similar characters she would play in the years following the release of this charming but obscure film. 


17. Wimbledon (2004)

Playing an American rising star in the cutthroat world of tennis, Kirsten is the shining light of this off-brand Notting Hill rom-com that pairs her up with a fading pro player played by Paul Bettany. Unfortunately, they have absolutely zero chemistry to the point that it makes this movie painful to watch. 


16. All Good Things (2010)

In this part-fictionalised account of the notorious Robert Durst murder mystery case, Ryan Gosling plays Durst-adjacent real estate tycoon David Marks. Kirsten gives a haunting performance as his ill-fated working-class wife, Katie, who becomes trapped in an increasingly violent marriage. 


15. Crazy/Beautiful (2001)

Once again taking on the role of a rebellious rich girl with daddy issues, Kirsten’s Nicole Oakley falls in love with a poor Mexican-American boy (Jay Hernandez) in Crazy/Beautiful. While this teen drama features a plot that has been done to death, Kirsten has amazing chemistry with Jay and delivers a sincere, gut-wrenching performance.


14. Little Women (1994)

Long before Florence Pugh was playing Amy March in Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women, there was 12-year-old Kristen’s memorable portrayal as the youngest March sister, which helped put her on the map (it was released a month before Interview with the Vampire). Here, Kristen brings a warmth to a bratty, widely disliked character (later played by Samantha Mathis in the adult years of the film), which is a testament to her early talents. 


13. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-2007)

In the Spider-Man trilogy, Kirsten plays Mary Jane Watson, the “girl next door” and childhood crush of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker. Although she was mainly relegated to being the web-slinging superhero’s love interest, a role she might be most well-known for, Kirsten’s MJ is more than just a vehicle for the romantic subplot. Although most of the attention is, obviously, placed on Spider-Man, Kirsten’s charming MJ is the true unsung hero. 


12. Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

Set in 50s New England at Wellesley College, the Julia Roberts-starring Mona Lisa Smile is an overall forgettable attempt at being Oscar bait. What’s unforgettable is Kirsten’s character Elizabeth Warren, who goes by “Betty”. She’s a snobby rich bitch whose mother is on the board of trustees and values tradition (marriage) over anything else. Her words cut like a knife as she projects her insecurities onto her classmates, and Kirsten’s ability to make this unlikeable character somewhat bearable serves as the film’s saving grace.


11. The Beguiled (2017)

Kirsten and Sofia Coppola are a dream team, and in their third collaboration, the actor is once again playing a woman trapped within the constraints of society — this time the confines of a gothic mansion she teaches in. Sofia retells the 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name from the female perspective, centring on lust and featuring outstanding performances from an all-star cast (including Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell). It’s truly Kirsten who gives the movie its emotional heft. She’s certainly no stranger to playing women who want nothing more than to escape.


10. Bachelorette (2012)

Leslye Headland’s raunchy, severely underrated and divisive comedy Bachelorette can easily be called Bridesmaids’ younger sister and The Hangover’s funnier, more down-to-earth cousin. But Bachelorette has one thing these other two films don’t: Kirsten Dunst. As Regan, a tightly-wound, thirty-something, type-A Princeton grad with a med school boyfriend, Kirsten is tasked with being the maid of honour at her childhood best friend’s wedding and ends up having to clean up the mess her party friends make. While the movie may not be everyone’s cup of tea, we can all agree that it at least boasts a fantastic performance from Kirsten, who should star in way more comedies. 


9. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

After a string of minor, scene-stealing roles, Kirsten, at the tender age of 11, delivered a breakthrough performance as an eternally-young vampire named Claudia in Neil Jordan’s Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise-starring vampire drama. It’s unbelievable that at such a young age, she was able to convey the fact that Claudia was an adult trapped in a little girl’s body who matures emotionally despite remaining young on the outside. Even though the ensemble cast includes some of Hollywood's biggest names, the real star of Interview with the Vampire is Kirsten, whose electrifying performance outshines those of her male counterparts and garnered her a Golden Globe nomination. 


8. Bring It On (2000)

Perhaps one of the most important roles in Kirsten’s career, Bring It On solidified her as a teen queen and full-blown star. At first glance, the film appears to be another cheesy teen flick of the early aughts, and her role as Torrence Shipman could easily have been just another stuck-up blonde cheerleader with nothing beneath the surface if placed in the wrong hands. Luckily, Kirsten’s ability to break away from the stereotypes by bringing depth to the bubbly team captain of the Rancho Carne Toros flawlessly balances the silliness and sincerity of her character. It’s the Dunstocracy!


7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Michel Gondry’s sci-fi romance centres on the complicated love story of Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) and Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), but screenwriter Charlie Kaufman weaves in subplots of other characters falling in love with the wrong people. In particular, there’s Kirsten’s Mary Svevo, a receptionist at the mind-erasing firm who finds herself involved in a love triangle with technician Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and their boss, Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), who erases Mary’s memories of their affair without her knowledge. Eternal Sunshine ultimately belongs to Jim and Kate, but Mary’s poignant arc and Kirsten’s spirited and heartbreaking performance makes her the true MVP.


6. The Power of the Dog (2021)

In Jane Campion’s Oscar-nominated The Power of the Dog, Kirsten plays Rose Gordon, a widow who runs the local inn with the help of her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). When she falls in love with and marries George, a rancher who stops by the inn, she moves in with him and his brother, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and becomes plagued with worry as Phil is filled with jealousy and disdain over Rose and Peter. Kirsten crafts a delicate performance that finally landed her a long-overdue Oscar nomination. 


5. Dick (1999)

Has anyone in Hollywood ever had a run as incredible as Kirsten Dunst did in 1999? Of the triptych of films (The Virgin Suicides, Dick, and Drop Dead Gorgeous), the most underrated is Dick, Andrew Fleming’s satirical retelling of Richard Nixon’s presidency and the Watergate scandal. Kirsten plays Betsy, one half of the ditzy teen duo (the other being Arlene, played by the equally incredible Michelle Williams) that end up becoming Deep Throat, the whistleblower who helped take down Nixon. Kirsten and Michelle have fantastic chemistry as the super stylish BFFs, and Kirsten’s comedic turn in this cult classic remains one of the most hilarious of all time. 


4. The Virgin Suicides (1999)

It’s not often that a child actor makes such a swift and decisive transition into becoming an adult star, but Kirsten did so effortlessly with The Virgin Suicides. In her first in a string of collaborations with Sofia Coppola, she plays 14-year-old Lux Lisbon. Lux is a flirtatious and rebellious wallflower yearning for freedom, and Kirsten magnificently conveys the feeling of being a teenage girl who wants nothing more than to escape from her suffocating upbringing. This hazy, dream-like adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1995 novel of the same name etched Kirsten’s name into Hollywood history.


3. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

This campy mockumentary about a teen beauty pageant in the fictional town of Mount Rose, Minnesota, was way ahead of its time. Despite having a stacked cast of absolute icons — including Allison Janney, Brittany Murphy, Amy Adams, Denise Richards and Ellen Barkin — Kirsten is absolutely the beating heart of Drop Dead Gorgeous. She plays Amber Atkins, a working-class girl who enters the hectic pageant world in the hopes of emulating her mom, as well as her hero, Diane Sawyer. While some of the jokes and stereotypes don’t hold up nowadays, Kirsten’s iconic performance certainly does, especially since DDG has had a cultural rebirth thanks to the 90s nostalgia boom. 


2. Melancholia (2011)

At the heart of Lars von Trier’s hauntingly profound exploration of — as the title suggests — melancholy, is Kirsten’s Justine, a bride suffering from severe depression while the titular celestial star heads towards Earth. The film begins just moments after she ties the knot on her wedding day, which is supposed to be the happiest day of her life. As the day progresses, we see Justine’s mask slowly start to fade away as she struggles getting through the evening’s events, so much so that she takes a nap and bath in the middle of the celebration. In a perfect world, Kirsten would’ve been nominated for — and won — the Academy Award for Best Actress in this movie; we’re clearly still bitter about it. 

1. Marie Antoinette (2006)

Kirsten was born to play the title teen queen in her sophomore collaboration with Sofia. In this modernised period drama featuring a killer soundtrack, she embodies the spoiled and materialistic Marie Antoinette that Sofia crafts with youthfulness, naïveté and humanity. Kristen perfectly captures the isolation of a young girl stifled by societal expectations. Sofia brings out the absolute best in Kirsten, and Marie Antoinette remains her career-best performance to date. It will forever remain both Sofia and Kiki’s magnum opus.

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