Michelle Pfeiffer’s new film “Where is Kyra” has been getting strong reviews for the actress and marks the first time in many years that she has had a leading role in an awards caliber feature film. Pfeiffer plays an unemployed woman desperately trying to survive while she cares for her sick mother.
Pfeiffer has had a nearly 40-year career on screen and has managed to overcome being known at first just for her looks. While her beauty was prominently on display in many of her first roles she quickly became more than just a pretty face and plunged herself into deeper and more complex roles. Pfeiffer’s first professional acting job was on a TV series version of the film “Animal House” called “Delta House.” Her character on the TV show was referred to simply as “The Bombshell.” This debut hardly signaled the arrival of an actress good enough to someday earn three Oscar nominations (“Dangerous Liaisons,” 1988; “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” 1989; “Love Field,” 1992) and seven Golden Globe nominations along with one win. She was also one of the great villains ever for a superhero movie by playing Catwoman in “Batman Returns” (1992).
While her film career seemed to slow down a lot in recent years she was bouncing back in 2017. Within the past few months she had the release of “Mother!”, a stand-out role in the remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” and last year earned her first Emmy nomination for the Bernie Madoff biopic “The Wizard of Lies” opposite Robert De Niro.
Let’s take a tour of her career in our photo gallery, which features her 15 greatest film performances ranked from worst to best.
15. LADYHAWKE (1985)
One of Pfeiffer’s earliest films was this fantasy film in which she plays a beautiful woman cursed to live as a hawk during the day time. This was her first attempt at doing period drama something that she would have great success with later in her career.
14. MOTHER! (2017)
“Mother!” was a highly divisive film but one thing most people agreed upon was that Pfeiffer had one of her best film roles in years. Unfortunately, the film’s controversy prevented her from getting any award traction. Darren Aronofsky has had a knack for getting performers such as Ellen Burstyn and Mickey Rourke back into Oscar consideration.
13. GREASE 2 (1982)
This film was a bit of a disaster when it was first released opening to scathing reviews and poor box office. The film got a second life though when it was played seemingly continuously during the afternoons on HBO for the next decade. The film’s ubiquitous presence spawned a generation that grew up with the film and have fond childhood memories of it.
12. WOLF (1994)
This film is largely forgotten today but the story of a publishing editor who becomes a werewolf is elevated by its A-List cast and accomplished director Mike Nichols’ firm hand. While she at times seemed to want to downplay her looks in order to be taken seriously as an actress she seems quite at home here in both her acting skill and her looks and she simply oozes charisma as she works her way through the film’s somewhat standard plot.
11. SCARFACE (1983)
Arguably one of the most controversial movies ever made, “Scarface” has plenty of fans and even ranks as #105 on IMDB’s list of all time best films. BUT upon its release the film was severely criticized for its graphic violence. Even then though the reaction was mixed with director Brian De Palma receiving a Razzie Award nomination.
10. THE RUSSIA HOUSE (1990)
Pfeiffer continued to expand her range in this spy drama from famed author John le Carre. She plays a young Soviet woman sporting a very strong Russian accent and picked up a Golden Globe nomination.
9. LOVE FIELD (1992)
“Love Field” was a small film that was rushed into release in 1992 when there was huge press about the lack of potential Best Actress Oscar nominees that year. The quick release worked and Pfeiffer scored her third and to date last Oscar nomination for this story of a young woman obsessed with Jackie Kennedy who meets and falls in love with an African American man while traveling to see Kennedy in Dallas on the day that would become the day he was assassinated.
8. HAIRSPRAY (2007)
Pfeiffer had a rare unlikable character to play in this adaptation of the Broadway musical. She is in fine form as the villain trying to fight the integration of the TV show at the center of the film and in particular shines in her song “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs.”
7. THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987)
This film version of the acclaimed John Updike novel met with its fair share of criticism for its deviations from the book and its general over the top production values but this was a pivotal film in Pfeiffer’s career. She plays the most low-key of the three witches while Cher clearly has the juiciest part of the three, also including Susan Sarandon.
6. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993)
Pfeiffer is very restrained and compelling as the Countess Olenska, a high society woman in 1870’s New York who falls in love with a man engaged to her cousin. She shows great confidence in this performance and melds into the period drama perfectly. The film is expertly constructed by Martin Scorsese in a change of pace from his usual filmmaking style.
5. DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988)
This adaptation of the novel and play “Les Liaisons dangereuses” proved to be one of Pfeiffer’s most acclaimed films ever and first exposed audiences to her ability to perform in period drama. Pfeiffer is luminous as the virtuous Madame de Tourvil who falls victim to the deadly game of manipulation and psychological terror being played between the characters played by Glenn Close and John Malkovich.
4. MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988)
Pfeiffer plays a mafia wife whose husband has recently been killed in a mob hit. Pfeiffer had always shown a flair for comedy and here she excels at it complete with a Brooklyn accent as she tries to avoid the clutches of a mob boss (Dean Stockwell) who wants her only to lose her to an awkward FBI agent played by Matthew Modine.
3. BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
When Annette Bening had to give up her role as Catwoman in this second film in the Tim Burton Batman series due to her pregnancy, it set off a furor among actresses trying to get the role. Pfeiffer was ultimately the one who got the part. While she also excels in the parts of the film when she plays the dastardly whip yielding Catwoman the real brilliance of Pfeiffer’s performance lies in the awkward meek alter ego she plays at the beginning of the film, Selina Kyle.
2. FRANKIE AND JOHNNY (1991)
As with Batman Returns” the casting of “Frankie and Johnny” caused almost as much press as the movie itself. Written by playwright Terrence McNally as a vehicle for Kathy Bates the play was a huge hit off-Broadway. The play which was entitiled “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune” tells the story of a sad middle-aged New York waitress who finds a chance at love with an ex-con short order cook.
1. THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989)
As Suzy Diamond, a struggling would be lounge singer hired by two brothers to be the lead singer of their act, Pfeiffer made film history. She was especially great in a highly erotic and beautifully realized moment when she sings the song “Making Whoopee” in a slow ballad style while dramatically sliding around on top of a piano.