Every Kristen Stewart performance, ranked

From teen vampire to horse girl, battle-ready Disney princess, holiday gay, Charlie's Angel and everything in between; we ranked K-Stew's movies.

by Jake Pitre
|
26 October 2021, 3:54pm

Over the years, Kristen Stewart has come to be recognised not simply as a queer icon, but also a singular talent on screen. As the story goes, the massive success of the Twilight franchise propelled her to international fame, but also spread the pervasive idea that she was not a good actor. In the 2000s and into the early 2010s, this almost became an accepted cultural fact, an easy punchline. As she began to appear in more serious and challenging films, this reputation shifted. Now, Kristen is best understood as a unique movie star who Hollywood still seems to have trouble figuring out, despite routinely bringing out the best in whatever material she’s given. Though there may be some truth to her recent claim that she’s only been in about five “really good films”, she’s certainly given more than five really good performances.

Kristen’s career started long before Twilight, though, and even before her big break in Panic Room (2002). Her filmography to date is far from consistent, careening through various genres, styles and levels of quality. This list ranks her performances, not the movies themselves. To count, it must be a credited role in a feature-length film, so no short films, and we’re disregarding what were essentially cameo appearances in Undertow (2004) and Jumper (2008).

With Spencer — in which Kristen plays Diana, the people’s princess — hitting theatres next week, and surrounded by Oscar buzz, it seemed an opportune time to rewatch every one of her movies and acknowledge the breadth of an already iconic, if somewhat erratic, career.

This is every Kristen Stewart performance, ranked.

35. Cold Creek Manor (2003)

In this middling thriller, Kristen seems miscast as the daughter of a family moving from New York to the country. Even at the age of 13, she just doesn’t really make sense as a horse girl, and actually has a real-life fear of horses!

34. What Just Happened (2008)

Kristen has a small role in this limp satire as Robert De Niro’s daughter, with a couple of grief-heavy scenes. Overall though, this is a terribly unremarkable role in an equally unremarkable movie, and we won’t blame you if you instantly forget everything that happens in it.

33. Fierce People (2005)

Horse girl again? Her and the late Anton Yelchin cover each other in body paint and make out. Her character finally comes into focus towards the end, but this movie is an absolute dismal mess and there’s nothing she can do to save it. 

32. The Messengers (2007)

Kristen doesn’t really seem like she wants to be in The Messengers, which is the kind of thing people say about her generally, but in this case seems to be true. She’s good at looking afraid, though.

31. Zathura (2005)

In a way, Kristen as the older sister in this Jumanji spin-off feels like an amalgamation of her performances up until this point. She seems to be fulfilling those archetypes capably, but without subversion. But that’s fine, it’s all she’s asked to do. 

30. In the Land of Women (2007)

There is absolutely nothing to this Adam Brody-starring movie, but Kristen at least stands out by giving her all to meaningless monologues and high-velocity teenage emotions. Throughout, she flails through situations she doesn’t seem to understand with a force that feels like it’s from a different, better movie. 

29. Anesthesia (2015)

The actress convincingly plays a troubled graduate student dealing with self-harm and existential dread in this Crash-esque melodrama. She’s forced to say some stupid, outdated shit about modern society and technology, though, and even she can’t sell it.

28. Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

One of the few cases where Kristen genuinely seems miscast. Sure, we can understand the reasoning, as someone befitting the grittier take on this material, but there remains something off about her as Snow White — try as she might to communicate both the innocence of the character and the sudden shift to being a full-on warrior. It’s no wonder she didn’t return for the sequel! 

27. On the Road (2012)

Here, Kristen’s character, Marylou, skirts a line between liberated and boxed in. And it's the nature of the Jack Kerouac adaptation — largely highlighting the selfishness of the Beat generation — that we are simply not invited to see her as a fully-rounded individual, except to see that she is trapped. 

26. Catch That Kid (2004)

Kristen works surprisingly well in this kids movie that is somehow not a Disney Channel original, as the centre of a love triangle trying to rob a bank to save her dad. If this film proves anything, it’s that her so-called ‘lack of affect’ has simply never been the case!

25. The Safety of Objects (2001)

In this decidedly strange 00s indie, Kristen sports some killer looks and has a twinkle in her eye as a rebellious tomboyish girl with a moody attitude. Timothy Olyphant’s character, dealing with grief in the most unhealthy way, has Kristen stand in for his dead younger brother and calls her Johnny, which if nothing else highlights that Kristen was playing with gender from the very beginning of her career. 

24. The Cake Eaters (2007)

Kristen’s character Georgia has Friedreich's ataxia, so she has difficulty walking, moves uncontrollably and has slurred speech. Kristen pulls it off well enough, but her character is written as rather one-note and she does often struggle to rise above it. 

23. Into the Wild (2007)

In this Oscar-nominated movie, Kristen plays a singer at a squatter community who lusts after Emile Hirsch’s Christopher McCandless and helps remind him about innocence, and how soon it gets corrupted… or something like that. It makes you wish Christopher had stuck around longer, if only to see what more there was to Tracy Tatro

22. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Playing Billy Lynn’s sister, who loves him dearly and wants him to stay home rather than redeploy to Iraq, Kristen’s character is openly critical of the War on Terror. She provides much of the so-called political complexity of the film, but her opinions are mostly relegated to quick statements. The character is, ultimately, one-note, and she isn’t given much time to add anything more to it. 

21. The Yellow Handkerchief (2008)

Kristen more or less gets the Louisiana accent down in this bizarre road movie, though there are flashes of inconsistency. Her character, who is estranged from her family, feels underwritten compared to her two male co-stars, but she imbues her with a charisma that makes her worth investing in. 

20. Panic Room (2002)

This is the first time Kristen caught mainstream notice, playing Jodie Foster’s diabetic daughter in David Fincher’s tight thriller. It’s easy to see why.

19. Underwater (2020)

Another poor script, but in this case Kristen manages to add an impressive amount of kineticism and charm to her character: a mechanical engineer placed into an absurdly dangerous situation with a number of clueless idiots. The way she effortlessly switches between outright terror and remarkable competence is worth putting up with an especially abysmal TJ Miller performance. 

18. Happiest Season (2020)

While we love seeing Kristen in moody gay Christmas mode, this is a needlessly cruel and outdated movie that fails its characters at every turn. However, as the entirety of the queer community noticed, Kristen’s chemistry with Aubrey Plaza is off-the-charts.

17. Welcome to the Rileys (2010)

In which she plays a young stripper with a heart of gold and keeps referring to her vagina as her “cooter” . Another case where Kristen’s acting does most of the heavy lifting for the movie (and that of The Soprano’s James Gandolfini). 

16. Seberg (2019)

Kristen playing Jean Seberg makes perfect sense. Jean, like her, was under-appreciated as an actor, especially early in her career, and was often labelled flat and emotionless. But this reputation began to change, particularly after her early death. She embodies Jean well here, but this is another case of the material being so lacking that she can barely make herself known. 

15. Cafe Society (2016)

Everyone seems to fall in love with Kristen’s character at first sight in this 1930s Hollywood nostalgia trip, and you’ll understand why. There’s an obvious chemistry with Jesse Eisenberg, and frankly we’d watch any number of movies with them together. As long as they’re not made by Woody Allen.

14. Equals (2015)

Another savvy choice by Kristen, to star in a sci-fi movie about a society where emotions are forbidden. But as with Seberg, that choice is more interesting than the film itself, which never overcomes the inherent silliness of its premise and instead commits to a seriousness that leaves you feeling somewhat empty. Still, Kristen’s ability to tap into a restrained desire is in a league of its own.

13. Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Chosen as the comic relief angel, Kristen delivers some awfully unfunny jokes as though her career depends on it. It helps that often she looks like the coolest person on the planet, but you can’t buy the kind of instantaneous movie star status that she puts on here. Too bad about the rest of the movie!

12. American Ultra (2015)

Kristen and Jesse Eisenberg continue to have amazing chemistry together. When her role takes a turn midway through the film, she commands the shift so that it lands, which is more difficult than it might initially seem. Her competence and humour come through in perfect parallel. 

11. Lizzie (2018)

This is certainly the most boring way to tell this story, but Kristen and Chloë Sevigny give a pair of monster performances in this strange little movie. Chloë may be more outwardly monstrous, but Kristen’s withdrawn maid-lover is like Carmela to Chloë’s Tony Soprano.

10. JT LeRoy (2018)

In this movie, Kristen juggles the various layers and levels of performativity which she typically excels at: blurring reality and fiction, gender identity and selfhood. It’s a film at war with itself, but Kristen and Laura Dern anchor it in the complex humanity of these two people creating and struggling in sync. 

9. The Runaways (2010)

A career-making performance for Kristen, in a role where she finally gets to show off her real range as an actor, mid-Twilight fervour. She gives a convincing rage to Joan Jett – it doesn’t feel like an imitation, it is simply captivating to watch.

8. Still Alice (2014)

In this flawed, depressing film, Kristen plays the daughter of Julianne Moore, who has Alzheimer’s. The movie largely belongs to the latter’s Oscar-winning performance, but Kristen is excellent and brings her character a warmth that many accuse of her of never posessing.

7. Adventureland (2009)

Kristen’s character is made too apologetic in the end, but she makes you feel what she’s feeling and you buy it — hook, line and sinker. When she has surprising moments of anger, they really hit, like when she explodes at her stepmother. Adventureland is also the first of her collaborations with Jesse Eisenberg, which you already know is a pairing we stan.

6. Camp X-Ray (2014)

Kristen plays a Guantanamo Bay guard called Amy Cole in this movie, which conceptually makes us a little skeptical. The movie itself is morally and politically for babies, but Kristen carries it alongside Payman Maadi in a dramatic two-hander. We see through the many close-ups just how subtle of an actor Kristen is, each muscle inflection calibrated and impactful, resulting in a deeply emotive performance.

5. Twilight Saga (2008-2012)

Bella Swan is the kind of role that will stick with you for the rest of your career. There are worse fates, because in retrospect, Kristen and Robert Pattinson bring a surprisingly sophisticated pathos to the Twilight Saga, leaning into the awkward kitsch of it all and hamming it up to a precise register of lusty emotion. The franchise simply wouldn’t have become quite such a phenomenon without Kristen’s enigmatic but distinctive presence, and her career will always owe a debt to the control she levied over such a thankless role.

4. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Kristen’s first collaboration with director Olivier Assayas puts her across from the great Juliette Binoche, and their relationship of student and teacher, employer and employee, simmers not only with intense sexual tension but also with a flicker of respect and appreciation. With this role, Kristen famously became the first American actress to win a César Award. It’s a definite turning point in her career, winking at her past while boldly charting a radical way forward. 

3. Speak (2004)

Pained, strong, lovable, sardonic – Kristen carries this movie as she processes, deflects and finally expresses herself and learns to live and grow despite her trauma. Speak is an under-seen film that deserves another look, especially as an early indication that Kristen was to become a powerhouse of her generation.

2. Certain Women (2016)

There’s a moment in this film where Kristen wipes her face with some wrapped-up utensils that lives in our heads rent free. It has been dissected and referred to as an overdetermined affectation on her part, but to us it signifies what is special about Kristen as a performer: the way she purposefully entangles us within a web of artificiality and stark authenticity, carefully modulating each gesture, or simply the look in her eyes, to drive an impossible wedge between her and her co-stars. 

1. Personal Shopper (2016)

This is a movie about contact and connection, and how it so often slips through our fingers, or out of space and time. It’s Kristen’s best performance thus far precisely because her style is ideally met in a spectral space, where she is the anchor amid a range of concepts, interests, images and ideas. It is here that her subtle power of destroying our expectations of naturalism and artificiality reaches its zenith, drawing us in and then making us question everything except whatever it is that she’s doing. In other words, we can’t look away. 

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