Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was released ten years ago and the film (along with his subsequent sequels) remains a divisive relic of 00s movie madness. Scores of preadolescent girls developed major feelings for sparkling vampires and Kristen Stewart was basically tasked with being the human equivalent of a heart-eye emoji as meek mortal Bella Swan opposite brooding undead babe Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). However you feel about the films, there’s no denying they didn’t offer much of a role for Stewart to sink her teeth into.
From the Twilight franchise alone, it’d be difficult to see any glimmer of skill or talent from Stewart beyond her ability to bite her lip suggestively at a blood-guzzling beau. But both prior to and following the young adult vampire films, Stewart has enjoyed a career full of gutsy roles and masterful performances that prove she’s genuinely one of the greatest young actors in the industry. Here’s our ranking of her ten best so far.
10. On the Road (2012)
Released towards the end of the Twilight Saga’s tight grip on the hearts & minds of teenage girls (and grown-ass women) everywhere, On the Road saw Stewart delivering a transformative performance. Playing free-spirited Marylou in Walter Salles’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s revered beat classic, Stewart gleefully danced off the shackles of mainstream Hollywood.
9. Panic Room (2002)
Only the gutsiest 12-year-olds have the opportunity to work with David Fincher (Zodiac) for a lead role, which is exactly what Stewart did as the daughter of Jodie Foster’s Meg in Panic Room. She’s tough, resilient, and daring, squaring up to the men who have broken into her home (Jared Leto & Forest Whitaker) with all the confidence of someone twice her age.
8. Certain Women (2016)
Alongside Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) and Laura Dern (The Tale), the movie tells the story of three trailblazing women whose lives intersect in a small-town. Though her role isn’t as major in the movie, Stewart is sweet and restrained as a lawyer struggling with the demands of her job.
7. Camp X-Ray (2014)
G.I. Jane aside, it’s rare to see portrayals of female soldiers in a lead role. As Cole – a soldier assigned to Guantanamo Bay who befriends a man imprisoned there – she offers a magnificent blend of strength & vulnerability, proving women can also throw on Army fatigues and display as much corporal tenacity as the dudes (as if anyone ever had any doubt!)
6. American Ultra (2015)
After showing off her credentials in numerous dramatic roles, Stewart let loose a little in American Ultra as a stoner striving to protect her government agent boyfriend who has been marked for extermination. Her performance is the most playful of her career to date, and an absolute hoot to watch.
5. Lizzie (2018)
Having premiered at Sundance in January, Lizzie is still yet to be released to the masses. However, the psychological thriller in which Stewart plays the maid and occasional lover of Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny) is still a gutsy choice of role. An infamous murder mystery with a side of illicit lesbian romance? Yes, K-Stew!
4. The Runaways (2010)
The musical biopic marked a departure for Stewart from mainstream teen idol to a rebel with range. Starring opposite Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds) & Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), Stewart sported a messy mullet to play rock icon Joan Jett and delivered a performance full of swagger and unkempt, sapphic desire.
3. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
It’s no surprise Stewart’s most critically-acclaimed performance was in Olivier Assayas’s story of a film star (Juliette Binoche) coming face-to-face with an uncomfortable reflection of herself. The actor collaborates well with the director and in Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart holds her own against powerful performances from Binoche and Chloë Grace Moretz (I Love You, Daddy) by maintaining a measured intensity throughout.
2. Welcome to the Rileys (2010)
If you’re going to step into the acting ring against James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), you’ve got to have some big moves to keep up with him. Playing a troubled stripper named Mallory, Stewart showcased her capabilities as an actor who – at the time – was unfairly ridiculed for her apparent lack of range. Stewart stepped up to her criticisms in the role, showcasing serious range alongside some truly unnerving restless energy.
1. Personal Shopper (2016)
Assayas’s mournful horror balances emotional, pensive drama with unnerving, supernatural exploration. At the heart of the story is Stewart, who juggles all of these thematic swords with effortless finesse as Maureen – a young woman desperate to make contact with her recently deceased twin brother.