For actress Kristen Stewart, starring in “Twilight” has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the worldwide popularity of the five-film vampire series helped to make Stewart one of the most recognizable actresses on the planet. Unfortunately, with that fame came the tabloids, and before long, Stewart became better known for being in gossip magazines than for her considerable skills as an actress, seemingly destined to be tagged forever as “that girl from ‘Twilight.'” Fortunately, a number of international directors such as Olivier Assayas and Pablo Larrain came to the rescue, looking past the gossip to see the potential and creating roles for Stewart that were finally worthy of her talents.
Stewart’s filmography encompasses a wide range of genres, from biopics (“Seberg,” “The Runaways”) and mother/daughter dramas (“Still Alice”) to romantic comedies (“Adventureland,” “Café Society”) and nail-biting thrillers (“Panic Room”). While she has inhabited a wide variety of characters, Stewart seems most often drawn to young women who may appear a bit mousy and somewhat shy on the outside but inside have a spine of steel (a persona that may not be too unlike the actress herself).
Corresponding with Stewart’s long-overdue acclaim among critics is increasing recognition by awards bodies as well. Stewart’s first major award (and one that made history) was for her supporting performance in Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,” for which she won France’s César Award, becoming the first (and, to date, only) American actress to win the coveted honor. Stewart’s leading role in Assayas’ “Personal Shopper” brought her Best Actress nominations from 12 different critics groups from around the world. Finally, however, for her performance in Larrain’s “Spencer,” Stewart won Best Actress honors from 23 international critics groups, more than three times as many as any other actress this year. She also earned her first Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for her “Spencer” performance.
What’s truly the best performance from her career? Scroll through our photos below to see 12 of the most memorable Kristen Stewart movies ranked from worst to best.
12. SEBERG (2019)
Director: Benedict Andrews
Writers: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse. Starring Kristen Stewart, Jack O’Connell, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Vince Vaughn, Anthony Mackie
Instead of opting for a traditional showbiz biopic, director Benedict Andrews frames his portrait of American actress Jean Seberg (Stewart) as a political thriller. Seberg, who became the toast of French New Wave films after starring in Jean-Luc Godard’s classic “Breathless,” was also politically minded in her private life. Among the many civil rights causes to which she famously gave financial assistance was the Black Panther Party, although Andrews’ film suggests that her support of the Panthers stemmed less from ideology but from her sexual attraction to party activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie). In hopes of uncovering left-wing radicals among celebrities, FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover began a personal smear campaign against Seberg, a tactic that ultimately ended in tragedy. Andrews’ take on Seberg was widely met with negative reviews, but Stewart’s performance was largely praised, further establishing her skill at playing real-life characters.
11. THE RUNAWAYS (2010)
Writer/Director: Floria Sigismondi
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon, Riley Keough, Alia Shawkat, Tatum O’Neal
Given her nonconformist vibe, Stewart seemed destined to play a rocker chick sometime in her career, and the role of Joan Jett came along at a pivotal moment in the actress’s career. Her second “Twilight” film, 2009’s “New Moon” had just been released at year’s end, but before anyone could ask “Is that all that Kristen Stewart can do?” came the Sundance premiere of “The Runaways,” in which Stewart’s gritty performance as the iconic rock legend shut that query down emphatically. Stewart famously worked with the real-life Jett to get the physical mannerisms down, but most importantly, the actress brought the passion for rock that Jett famously embodied with an emotional connection to the character that was indelible. The role gave Stewart the indie cred she needed to build a significant post-“Twilight” career.
10. CAFÉ SOCIETY (2016)
Writer/Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Jeannie Berlin
Stewart displays an unexpectedly deft touch for light romantic comedy in Woody Allen’s 2016 film, set amidst the bustle of 1930s Hollywood. Stewart is reunited with her “Adventureland” co-star Jesse Eisenberg who plays Bobby, a young Jewish nerd who moves to Hollywood and, with the help of his powerful Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), sets out to work his way up in the film industry. Bobby falls for Stewart’s Vonnie, Phil’s level-headed secretary, who is also carrying on a secret affair with her boss. Stewart and Eisenberg are once again delightful together — it seems strange to think that Stewart might have had a career as a rom-com star because she clearly showed she had the chops, but I suspect that most of us are glad that she didn’t.
9. INTO THE WILD (2007)
Writer/Director: Sean Penn, based on the book by Jon Krakauer
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart, Zach Galifianakis
As he heads into the wilds of Alaska, Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) stops at a park where he meets a young girl, Tracy Tatro (Stewart), who takes a special liking to the young traveler. Chris backs off when he learns that Tracy is only 16, but just as it becomes clear that Tracy has feelings for him, he realizes that he was becoming attracted to her. His moments with Tracy mark only a small vignette in “Into the Wild,” but in Sean Penn’s film version of Jon Krakauer’s book, Stewart makes that vignette a memorable one. She clearly establishes that, while Tracy is young in her catch phrases and mannerisms, she makes her attraction to Chris seem very real and deeply felt. Tracy may be a relatively small role, but Stewart’s approach to her performance makes for some of the most memorable moments in the entire film.
8. PANIC ROOM (2002)
Director: David Fincher. Writer: David Koepp
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam
Stewart’s first taste of significant commercial success came at age 12 with her second feature film when she co-starred with Jodie Foster in David Fincher’s acclaimed thriller “Panic Room.” The mother/daughter team of Meg (Foster) and Sarah (Stewart) are spending their first night in their new four-story brownstone (complete with panic room) when three intruders break into their home, aiming to steal bearer bonds inside the house safe. One of the trio, Bannister (Forest Whitaker), installed the panic room and knows every inch of the house, so the thieves thought the robbery would be a breeze. And it was, until they came up against Meg and Sarah. What makes the underdog story so effective is the chemistry between Foster and Stewart — they truly make you believe they are mother and daughter. The resemblance is not so much physical but more in the steely resolve that both women display in defending their home. That Stewart was able to go toe-to-toe with the two-time Oscar winner at such a young age may have been a sign suggesting greatness to come.
7. CERTAIN WOMEN (2016)
Writer/Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, James LeGros, Jared Harris
Arguably the least known but most critically acclaimed movie in Stewart’s filmography is this 2016 indie by Kelly Reichardt. The writer/director has taken three short stories by author Maile Meloy and adapted them into three (rarely overlapping) acts. Much of the film’s critical acclaim was centered on the film’s third act, in which Stewart plays Beth, a young lawyer who has a four-hour commute each week to teach a small-town night school class on education law. A new student is Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a local ranch hand who has come looking for friendship or perhaps something more. It’s their aching attempts to relate that provides the heart to “Certain Women,” as Stewart utilizes her enigmatic real-life persona to present Beth as outwardly shy to us and inwardly dazzling to Jamie. It’s a wonder of a performance.
6. THE TWILIGHT SERIES (2008-2012)
Directors: Catherine Hardwicke (I), Chris Weitz (II), David Slade (III), Bill Condon (IV, V)
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novels by Stephenie Meyer.
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
As teenager Bella Swan in the five-film adaptation of the “Twilight” novels, Stewart achieved worldwide fame, tabloid notoriety and critical dismissal, little of which (of course) had anything to do with the quality of her performance. Even as she and her co-star Robert Pattinson were relegated in some quarters to be merely teen lightweights, both were carrying off enormous character arcs through the series that they each bring off superbly. Stewart’s Bella, in particular, must believably take her character from being an innocent teen to the forever love of vampire Edward (Pattison) to facing the prospect of becoming a vampire herself. While the “Twilight” series did Stewart no favors from critics, it did bring the quality of her work to the attention of directors who would go on to offer her roles more worthy of her talents.
5. ADVENTURELAND (2009)
Writer/Director: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ryan Reynolds
In the years since its release, the critical reputation of Greg Mottola’s coming-of-age comedy has only grown, not just thanks to its now-famous cast of Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Ryan Reynolds, but, more lastingly, the intelligence of its writing, which always emphasizes character over gags. Eisenberg’s James is an aspiring journalist who wants to complete his studies but lacks the funds to do it, so he takes a summer job at the local theme park, Adventureland. There he meets Stewart’s Em, who works at the park to escape her family’s troubled home life and is having an affair with the park’s much-married maintenance man (Reynolds). Eventually, James and Em see the light with each other, and their romance is pure bliss. So is the chemistry between Eisenberg and Stewart, a special spark they will rekindle seven years later in “Café Society.”
4. STILL ALICE (2014)
Writers/Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish
With “Still Alice,” Stewart found herself in another mother/daughter story with another legendary actress– this time with Julianne Moore, who won an Oscar for her performance — but the relationship could not differ more from the one she shared with Jodie Foster in “Panic Room.” Stewart’s Lydia, a struggling actress who is the black sheep of her family, has had at times a rocky relationship with her mother Alice (Moore). However, when Alice begins to develop early signs of Alzheimer’s, Lydia is the only family member who faces up to the situation, recognizing what Alice is undergoing and enveloping her with love and understanding as Alice begins to lose her memories. As she has with many other strong older actress, Stewart forms an empathetic bond with Moore, and their scenes together as mother and daughter ring heartbreakingly true.
3. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (2015)
Writer/Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Johnny Flynn
Stewart became the first (and, to date, only) American actress ever to win France’s coveted César Award for her performance in Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria.” In the first of two collaborations with Assayas, Stewart portrays Valentine, the personal assistant to Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a French stage star who is grappling with the realization that her advancing age limits the roles she can now play. On paper, Valentine is the kind of role that Stewart has played before — retiring young woman can summon her inner strength at will — but the quality of Assayas’ writing and the chemistry with Binoche lift Stewart’s work here to a whole new level. For her performance, Stewart was also named the year’s Best Supporting Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics, as well as by critics groups from Florida and Boston.
2. PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016)
Writer/Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie
As in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Stewart’s character is again a celebrity assistant, this time as a personal shopper for a fussy supermodel. But her Maureen has a more pressing concern than just purchasing new Louboutins for her client. She is living in the Paris home of her late brother Lewis, hoping that he will, as promised, send her a signal from the other side. Complications ensue. With “Personal Shopper,” writer/director Olivier Assayas has managed to blend together both a ghost story and a psychological thriller, a genre mashup that might be a challenge for any actor to commandeer. But Stewart is not only up for the challenge, she conquers it, delivering a performance that manages to balance both grief and strength in a way that is both believable and compelling. It’s a role as complex as Stewart would ever be likely to face — that is, until she met Pablo Larrain.
1. SPENCER (2021)
Director: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Steven Knight
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris
An innocent young woman who is trapped in a drafty old house surrounded by forces that would like nothing more than to be rid of her. A classic haunted house film? No, it’s Christmas with the Royal Family in Pablo Lorrain’s disturbing biopic, “Spencer.” The innocent in question is of course Diana, Princess of Wales, embodied to perfection by Stewart in an expertly modulated performance that clearly communicates the torment that the princess was undergoing in her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). While Stewart bears a striking resemblance to Diana and has the princess’ accent and mannerisms down to a tee, this is no mere impersonation. Stewart gets under Diana’s skin, exposing every frayed nerve that keeps her from being able to have what she wants most: a normal life with her two sons. Larrain’s singular take on the Diana story may have surprised moviegoers who were expecting to see “The Crown,” but academy voters certainly responded, bestowing upon Stewart her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress.