The 10 Best Kristen Stewart Movies – IndieWire

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Nowadays, it seems odd to remember a time when the acclaimed, Oscar-nominated Kristen Stewart wasn’t considered a great actor, or even a good one. But from 2008 to 2012, that was the prevailing opinion about the Los Angeles-born performer’s abilities — or, at the very least, the prevailing opinion about her on the internet.
A child actor who worked consistently since she was 12, when she portrayed Jodie Foster’s daughter in David Fincher thriller “Panic Room,” Stewart practically exploded into a global film star when she headlined 2008’s “Twilight,” based on the popular vampire teen romance novels by Stephenie Meyer. Opposite instant sex symbol Robert Pattinson, Stewart was the moody, shy, awkward Bella Swan, the type of female heroine whose specificity takes a backseat to general relatability, so the tween girls reading the books can imagine themselves in her shoes.
“Twilight” was a massive success, grossing over $400 million on a worldwide budget and turning Stewart into a teen idol. But the books were the subject of a massive (often sexist) backlash online, which viewed the frequently silly romantic fantasy with utter scorn. The movies were no exception, and Stewart, as the face of the franchise, received intense scrutiny and criticism, with thousands of people dismissing her acting in the films as wooden, awkward, and embarrassing. The Golden Raspberry Awards (ever one to kick an easy target when they’re down) awarded her a Worst Actress trophy in 2013, both for her work in the final “Twilight” film and as the fairytale princess in the poorly received “Snow White and the Huntsman.” It was a rough year for Stewart for many reasons: She faced media backlash after an affair with “Snow White” director Rupert Sanders was revealed, ending her long-term relationship with “Twilight” costar Pattinson.
So while “Twilight” gave Stewart an undeniable boost in public recognition, she left the franchise with something to prove to the many haters she gained from her association with sparkly vampires. And impressively, it didn’t take her long to prove it; pivoting to smaller indie films, Stewart received critical acclaim and a César Award in 2014 for her performance in Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria.”
That was the start of a new era for Stewart, who showed herself in multiple films — including a reunion with Assayas for “Personal Shopper” and an Oscar-nominated turn as Princess Diana in “Spencer” — to be a much shrewder performer than she was given credit for. She has a naturalistic, unfussy style that in the right contexts can prove disarming and magnetic, paired with an inscrutability and mystery that makes her characters feel like people with lives beyond the runtimes of the films she stars in. As the “Twilight” backlash has largely died and the films have been reexamined, you can see the strengths that make her the most interesting movie star of her generation in her work as Bella, even if it’s in a very silly context.
Stewart’s career turn-around has been accompanied by a general public image turnaround, from matinee idol to indie darling. Maybe just as importantly, she’s gone from being tied inextricably with the achingly heterosexual “Twilight” universe to a full-blown queer icon; after a few public relationships with women, she came out as bisexual in 2017, and has been with her fianceé screenwriter Dylan Meyer since 2019. That, and her daring work in provocative films like “Crimes of the Future,” made her a darling among queer cinephiles, and her latest performance feels like particular catnip for her fanbase. In “Love Lies Bleeding,” Stewart plays a reclusive gym manager in a criminal family whose life turns both beautiful and deadly when she falls for a female bodybuilder (Katy O’Brien). The ’80s set film is sexy, thrilling, and incredibly queer, and Stewart shines in this world director Rose Glass builds to give one of her all-time best performances.
With “Love Lies Bleeding” out in theaters now, IndieWire has decided to revisit Stewart’s past work, to see what from the enigmatic, constantly surprising star emerges as her greatest performance. While compiling this ranking, we based placement on Stewart’s work, rather than the quality of the movie itself. Read on for IndieWire’s ranking of Kristen Stewart’s 10 best film performances.
Who Stewart plays: Nobody who was alive in 2008 needs to be reminded, but if you missed the ‘Twilight’ craze, Stewart rose to fame as the moody and perpetually vaguely embarrassed Bella Swan, who moves from Arizona to the cold, blue town of Forks, Washington. While there, Bella falls ‘unconditionally and irrevocably in love’ with the coolest kid in school, Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen — who just so happens to be a vampire with an intense lust for her blood. 
Why she’s great: Stewart received so much mockery for her work in ‘Twilight’ that it practically defined her public image for a few years, and she had to do many great films to shed the baggage. But revisiting the film series today, you’ll find an actor who knows exactly what type of films she’s in and what the role calls for. As written, Bella is an exasperating wet blanket and a bit of a stiff weirdo; Stewart delivers by playing a stiff, wet blanket weirdo. Her moments of humor and real emotion throughout the films — and her genuine chemistry with Pattinson — show exactly what Stewart is capable of, and portend her more exciting roles to come. 
Who Stewart plays: Jean Seberg, an American actress who became known as a French New Wave icon after starring in Jean-Luc Goddard’s ‘Breathless.’ Benedict Andrews’ film biopic looks at Seberg’s work as a supporter of the Black Panther party, and how the FBI targeted her for her activism. 
Why she’s great: ‘Seberg’ is an absolute dud, a consistently underwhelming feature which spreads itself too thin and handles the story too clumsily to really squeeze any impact out of the lead subject’s life. None of that is the fault of Stewart, however, who throws herself into the role with admirable gusto. She keeps her innate low-key charm, but pairs it with glamour and a headstrong nature that goes a bit against type. It’s not the best role of her career, but it’s the best indication of how she can elevate the worst of films. 
Who Stewart plays: At only 12 years old, Stewart achieved her first major career success when she starred in David Fincher’s ‘Panic Room,’ an exquisitely made thriller that casts her as the daughter of Jodie Foster’s divorced mom. When the two move into a new brownstone home that contains a massive panic room security system, they’re forced to use it very quickly when three men break into the residence for a burglary.  
Why she’s great: ‘Panic Room’ is first and foremost a showcase for Foster as the thriller’s heroine. But Stewart is great in her early role as the young Sarah. She’s innately likable and refreshingly non-precious, playing the character as a pre-teen you can actually imagine existing. Many kids in thrillers of this nature can be exasperating and annoying: Stewart makes her character feel human. 
Who Stewart plays: Joan Jett, the rock icon and guitarist of ’70s ‘Cherry Bomb’ band the Runaways. Floria Sigismondi’s underseen biopic focuses on the Runaways from frontwoman Cherie Currie’s (Dakota Fanning) point of view, and her complicated relationship with Jett. 
Why she’s great: Coming out while Stewart was still very much in the middle of the ‘Twilight’ era, ‘The Runaways’ was our first indication of just how cool the star could be. She cuts a laidback, sexy, and magnetic figure as Jett, outshining everyone in the film’s talented ensemble. And with Fanning, she narrows in on the sexual tension and bubbling issues in Currie and Jett’s relationship, creating a riveting portrait of the highs and lows of the two artistic collaborators. 
Who Stewart plays: Lou, a gym manager who falls hard when she meets Jackie (Katy O’Brien), a bodybuilder passing through her small ’80s town. But things in Rose Glass’ queer thriller heat up when Lou’s family — led by crime boss Lou Sr. (Ed Harris) — get involved in their relationship. 
Why she’s great: Stewart isn’t as glamourous in ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ as she is in, say, ‘Spencer’: her stringy mullet and often haggard appearance is a world away from her most fashionable moments. But it may be the star’s single sexiest performance, generating intense chemistry with O’Brien’s Jackie. Yet her work is more than just steamy, as Stewart turns in a lovely portrayal of a closed-off individual coming out of her shell for love. She finds the innate vulnerability in Lou, and makes every emotion that this tragic heroine experiences over this bloody film pop off the screen.   
Who Stewart plays: Going drastically against type, Stewart donned the iconic outfits of one of the 20th Century’s most famous women in Pablo Larraín’s ‘Spencer.’ She’s Diana, Princess of Wales, going through psychological torment during a stay at Sandringham House over the 1991 Christmas holidays, as she considers divorcing her husband and leaving her gilded cage. 
Why she’s great: Stewart’s casting as Diana — known during her life as a vivacious personality, especially in contrast to the often dreary royals — raised eyebrows when it was announced. And it’s true that her performance in “Spencer” is noticeably a little more effortful than the cooler parts she shines in. But the gambit ultimately pays off; Stewart’s visible strain in the role reflects the struggles that Diana feels to keep up appearances while she undergoes a psychological breakdown, and her inner unhappiness that lurks beneath her smiling face. The scenes where Diana interacts with her kids are a tell, as Stewart shines with natural and unforced warmth in these little moments, making her fictional Diana almost as vibrant as the real one was. 
Who Stewart plays: Beth, a lawyer who teaches a law class on the outskirts of a Montana town. The third story in Kelly Reichardt’s triptych story of three women sees Beth become the object of fascination for Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a ranch hand who becomes her student. 
Why she’s great: Stewart’s ‘Certain Women’ story is ultimately really a showcase for Gladstone, who’s crushing as the earnest Jamie. But Stewart is still wonderful in the role, as a kind but slightly distant young woman who you can understand becoming obsessed with. Her appeal, and her unknowability, are harnessed perfectly by Reichardt, to both lovely and shattering effect. 
Who Stewart plays: Valentine, the loyal American personal assistant of aging French starlet Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche). The story begins when Maria gets cast in a production of the two-hander play that made her famous, this time in the role of the older woman opposite her old young ingenue part. To prepare, she stays in the Alps’ settlement of Sils Maria, rehearsing her part with Valentine.
Why she’s great: In hindsight, Stewart’s role in Olivier Assayas’s film is perhaps the single most important performance of the actor’s career. It — and the César Award she won — helped cement her as a serious, talented performer after many had written her off in the ‘Twilight’ days. And 10 years later, her talent still shines remarkably in the queasy, psychologically murky film. Stewart’s character is tricky — a reactive presence, defined by her relationship with Binoche’s star turn — but she’s the key to the film, showing how her downbeat, naturalistic, and inscrutable nature can be used for beguiling and fascinating effect onscreen. ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ wasn’t exactly a Star is Born moment, but an indie star was certainly born.  
Who Stewart plays: David Cronenberg’s ‘Crimes of the Future’ is set in a murky future where body augmentation has become the norm, and human evolution has accelerated rapidly and unpredictably. Stewart is a supporting figure as Timlin, a slightly off-putting woman who works for the National Organ Registry charged with registering new organs developed via human evolution, who takes an interest in performance artist and organ grower Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen). 
Why she’s great: Cinema is filled with weird, horny freaks, but far too many of them are men. Stewart is mesmerizing and instantly unforgettable in ‘Crimes of the Future’ as the utterly weird Temlin, whose thirst for Tenser is palpable with every twitchy movement. She’s simultaneously repulsive but captivating, becoming believably mousy as the high-strung bureaucrat. Her line-reading of “many, many people are moved by it” might be the best-line reading of its year, somehow making the simple statement the most horny thing you’ve ever heard. Stewart isn’t known for her comedic chops, but ‘Crimes of the Future’ shows she can be funny when she wants to be. 
Who Stewart plays: Two years after ‘Clouds of Sils Maria,’ Stewart reunited with Olivier Assayas for ‘Personal Shopper,’ again playing the help to a rich woman. Here, she’s Maureen, the personal shopper of a supermodel, who also moonlights as a medium. After her twin brother Lewis dies of a heart condition, Maureen is initially unable to make contact with him, but soon receives text messages from an unknown source.
Why she’s great: The chilly, elliptical ‘Personal Shopper’ might be off-putting at first, but it soon reveals itself to be a subtly devastating examination of the grieving process. And Stewart is key to its success, fitting the oblique material perfectly. She’s downcast and emotionally numb as Maureen, feeling near-translucent on screen as a woman whose grief leaves her unable to move on to a new stage of her life. ‘Personal Shopper’ and its unconventional storytelling isn’t exactly what we think of when we think of an acting showcase, but it’s the best demonstration of the specific qualities that make Stewart an irreplaceable, singular film star. 
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