From Personal Shopper (2016) to Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), we rank the best Kristen Stewart movies.
From playing a lead role in a successful movie franchise to starring in diverse critically acclaimed independent movies, Kristen Stewart is a force to be reckoned with. Born in 1990 in Los Angeles to a TV producer father and a script supervisor mother, Kristen Stewart caught the attention of a talent scout at the age of 8 during an elementary school Christmas play. Her first movie role came in The Safety of Objects (2001). Later, she was discovered by David Fincher to play the 12-year old Sarah in his hit thriller Panic Room (2002). This proved to be Kristen Stewart’s breakthrough role. Two years later, she got her first lead role in the indie drama Speak. The actress also played a small but impactful part in Sean Penn’s hugely acclaimed biopic Into the Wild (2007). In 2012, she was listed as the highest earning actor in Hollywood by Forbes Magazine.
Kristen Stewart doesn’t act so much as inhabit a persona. She has consistently and remarkably portrayed emotionally broken characters who are trying to keep it all together. Gone are her days of being cast to play porcelain-faced damsels in insipid projects like Twilight saga. In fact, Kristen’s unflagging working style has made her an art-house and indie favorite. Barring a few missteps, Kristen Stewart’s career decisions so far have been smart and fascinating. Here’s a look back at some of her stellar performances:
Best Kristen Stewart Movies
20. Panic Room (2008)
Panic Room was the most difficult shoot in David Fincher’s filmography, and the director was proud of discovering an incredible actress named Kristen Stewart. Twelve-year old Kristen’s second film role in Fincher’s thriller proved to be a breakthrough. She starred alongside wonderful performers like Jodie Foster and Forest Whitaker.
The plot revolves around a mother and her diabetic daughter – Meg and Sarah – who lock themselves inside a high-tech fortified room when their home is invaded by thieves. The burglars’ mission is to steal the millions of dollars in the safe inside the panic room.
Though Panic Room is a conventional genre film, Kristen Stewart as the co-lead provided a solid, emotionally attuned performance. She gets past the stock characterization and inhabits the fears and courage of the character authentically.
19. American Ultra (2015)
Nima Nourizadeh’s American Ultra is a conventional stoner action comedy which brought together Kristen Stewart and her ‘Adventureland’ co-star Jesse Eisenberg. The likable chemistry between the lead pair and Eisenberg-Stewart’s talent for dry humor makes the film great fun. American Ultra revolves around a small-town slacker and stoner named Mike. He suffers from neurosis which is partly alleviated by his strong girlfriend, Phoebe. What Mike doesn’t remember is that he is secretly trained by the CIA to be a killing machine. His latent skills can be activated through a secret code.
The action plot doesn’t deliver anything new. However, the emotional hook of the film is the endearing relationship between Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart’s characters. Both the actors bring complex emotional notes into a frivolous and undeniably silly movie. Moreover, Stewart seems to have had a lot of fun doing the action sequences.
18. Café Society (2016)
Kristen Stewart reunited with Jesse Eisenberg for the third time in Woody Allen’s engaging romantic drama, set in 1930s Hollywood. It revolves around an upbeat Bronx native Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), who falls in love with the suave and beautiful Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Vonnie works as Bobby’s uncle Phil’s secretary. Their romance is the most alluring aspect of the otherwise underwhelming Woody Allen drama.
The two once more have a natural, radiant chemistry, like in Adventureland & American Ultra. In fact, Stewart’s Vonnie comes across as the star of the movie, who conveys her character’s depth with a passing glance. Vonnie initially appears to reject the glitz and pizazz of Hollywood. At the outset, her character seems passive and distant. But gradually Kristen Stewart reveals different layers of Vonnie through subtle inflections.
17. On the Road (2012)
Kristen Stewart’s choice of roles has always been fascinating. The celebrity-obsessed culture of Hollywood could have easily gobbled her up after Twilight saga and the tabloid controversies. But she constantly took up characters that challenged her. On the Road’s Marylou is one such character. She’s a seductive, indignant young woman who exudes great energy. The film is based on the work of legendary novelist Jack Kerouac. It revolves around a writer named Sal Paradise (Sam Riley).
The young writer’s roadside adventures facilitate his encounter with Dean and his wild girlfriend Marylou. While the film rambles and is a little underwhelming, it was Kristen Stewart’s enthusiastic performance as the free-spirited Marylou that holds us captive. It isn’t a well-rounded character but Stewart brings layers of complicated interiority to Marylou.
16. Lizzie (2018)
Craig William Macneil’s Lizzie dramatizes the historical account of Lizzie Borden, a woman who lived in 19th century Massachusetts with her controlling father and stepmother. In 1892, when Lizzie was in her early 30s, both her parents were brutally murdered. Lizzie was the main suspect, although she was ultimately acquitted of the murders. Over the years, Lizzie has become a feminist symbol plus a victim of patriarchy and oppressive domestic situation. One of the theories behind the murder motive emphasizes that Lizzie was in a lesbian relationship with her family’s live-in maid, Bridget, and her parents found that out.
In Macneil’s film Kristen Stewart offers a brilliantly restrained performance as Bridget, a marginalized woman living in a stress-filled environment. The intimate and tense encounters between Stewart’s Bridget and Chloe Sevigny’s Lizzie make this a painfully touching movie.
15. Happiest Season (2020)
Clea DuVall’s Happiest Season is the holiday family-comedy with an interesting LGBTQ angle. The narrative revolves around grad student Abby (Kristen Stewart) and journalist Harper (MacKenzie Davis). The two date for a year before Abby finally proposes to Harper on Christmas day. To her surprise, Harper invites Abby home for the holidays. However, Harper comes clean and admits that she never came out to her conservative family members. What follows is a tense and comedic family get-together.
Kristen Stewart offers a grounded and genuine performance as Abby. She flawlessly expresses the suffocation she feels when Harper forces her to hide their relationship. Stewart also gets to show off her comedic talent, as Abby proves to be a terrible liar. Stewart stands out in a competent ensemble cast including Aubrey Plaza, Mary Steenburgen, and Victor Garber.
14. Seberg (2019)
Kristen Stewart shines in this ambitious yet underwhelming biopic. Benedict Andrews’ Seberg revolves around actress and civil-rights activist Jean Seberg. She was born in American-Midwest, but became a French New Wave icon when she played the central role in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). In the late 1960s, Seberg supported Black Panthers Party, and soon became the target of the FBI’s notorious surveillance program. Stewart’s Seberg remarkably captures the psychological toll on the actress as she became a victim of the FBI’s witch-hunt.
The conventional narrative set-up and superficial writing are unquestionably no match for Stewart’s formidable acting. Her authentic interpretation on the defamed diva’s life adds much needed poignancy into an otherwise soap opera-ish drama. Stewart does a little bit of impersonation. But largely the actress deeply embodies the character, in the same way she later did in Spencer.
13. The Cake Eaters (2007)
The Cake Eaters was Hollywood actress Mary Stuart Masterson’s first and only directorial venture. It is a wonderful character drama with a heart-breaking performance from Kristen Stewart. Fifteen-year old Georgia Kaminski (Stewart) suffers from a rare terminal degenerative disease. One day, Georgia meets the compassionate Beagle, a cafeteria worker and son of a local butcher and decides to lose her virginity to him because she may only live for a short while.
The movie largely works because of Kristen Stewart’s profound performance that avoids melodrama. Apart from the admirable physical portrayal of the muscular disease, Stewart excels in revealing her teenage character’s angst and simple desires. The scenes between Georgia and her overprotective mother (Talia Balsam) are particularly heartrending. Despite a conventional ending, it was Stewart’s acting chops that made the film memorable.
12. The Yellow Handkerchief (2008)
Director Udayan Prasad’s character-driven indie drama revolves around three strangers, embarking on a road trip through post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana. It was a remake of the classic 1977 Japanese road movie of the same name. Kristen Stewart plays 15-year old Martine, a troubled young girl keenly aware of her budding sexuality. Her performance brims with genuine emotions and humor. The other two characters are played by Eddie Redmayne and veteran actor William Hurt. Redmayne’s Gordy is an insecure young man, whereas William Hurt’s Brett is a quiet and reserved guy.
The film cooks up an improbable situation and suffers from an under-developed story. The manner with which the three leads come together for the road strip particularly looks contrived. Nevertheless, they’re all solidly convincing and lend the narrative some good, breezy moments.
11. The Runaways (2010)
Director Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways tells the biographical tale of a 1970s all-girl rock band. Floria was a music-video veteran and crafted this coming-of-age story through a brisk and engaging portrait of its protagonists. The primary players are Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), a struggling guitar player and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a steely young singer. The Runaways does follow the familiar template of rock-n-roll dramas with its drugs and sexual excess. It’s loosely based on Currie’s memoir Neon Angel.
Ultimately, though, the actors do a wonderful job giving a heady quality to the proceedings. Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart effortlessly slip into their sexually liberated roles. Kristen brilliantly captures the undying spirit of Joan Jett. One of the high points in the narrative is when Stewart’s Joan brilliantly introspects about the fate of their rock band.
10. Crimes of the Future (2022)
David Cronenberg’s disturbing and polarizing movie is set in the synthetic future, where humans are evolved enough to not feel pain. As a result, they end up growing new organs and accelerate their mutation through surgeries. Government wants to clamp down these activities and direct their attention on performance artist duo Saul (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Lea Seydoux). The mysterious Saul grows entirely new organs and Caprice extracts it in front of a live underground audience. Kristen Stewart plays one of the bureaucrats who investigate Saul and Caprice’s grotesque performance art.
Stewart’s Timlin is a nervous and repressed young woman. She gradually becomes fascinated by Saul and Caprice. Timlin is the most weird and creepy character Stewart has played so far. At the same time, she portrays Timlin’s dubious nature with great subtlety.
9. Adventureland (2009)
Greg Mottola’s enjoyable rom-com is set in the summer of 1987. It centers on a broke college graduate, Eisenberg, in need of a summer job to pay for grad school. He lands a job at a local amusement park where he develops a fragile relationship with one of his troubled co-workers named Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart). Em is having an affair with a married guy while still grieving the loss of her mother. She’s not comfortable investing emotionally in a relationship at this point. Stewart does an excellent job showcasing all these intricate layers of Em.
Generally speaking, both Eisenberg and Stewart have a knack for playing insecure characters and they’re perfect here. Kristen Stewart particularly serves as the emotional anchor and her performance straddles between equanimity and vulnerability. She made this film right before Twilight offered her a ticket to stardom.
8. Certain Women (2016)
Kelly Reichardt is known for making quieter yet powerful independent features. Certain Women is a loosely interconnected triptych narrative which revolves around four women. The film is based on Maile Meloy’s short stories. The third and most poignant story of Certain Women focuses on a lonely Native American ranch hand named Jamie (Lily Gladstone).
Jamie enrolls into the night school at her remote Montana town. Here, she meets Beth (Kristen Stewart), a shy law school graduate who has taken up a part-time teaching job. Jamie is clearly infatuated with Beth. A tentative friendship develops between the two. Rarely has Stewart’s capacity for a restrained performance been tapped in such a charming way. The parking lot scene between Stewart and Gladstone will go down as one of the most memorable moments in the actress’ career.
7. Still Alice (2014)
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s Still Alice is based on neuroscientist Lisa Genova’s self-published 2007 novel of the same name. The highly acclaimed novel deeply examines the life of a woman who suffers from early on-set Alzheimers. Julianne Moore delivered a powerhouse performance as Alice Howland (winning the Best Actress Oscar that year), a well-to-do linguistics professor diagnosed with the disease. The film is a devastating chronicle of Alice’s struggles as her memory continues to deteriorate.
Julianne Moore was ably supported by Kristen Stewart, who plays Alice’s moody young daughter Lydia. Watching Alice’s gradual descent through the eyes of Stewart’s Lydia is even more heartbreaking. Clearly, she matches Moore at every step in offering emotional heft and depth. Kristen Stewart shows a remarkable degree of compassion and maturity as Lydia.
6. Welcome to the Rileys (2010)
Jake Scott’s visually mesmerizing indie feature deals with a stale relationship between Lois and Doug Riley, a respected Indiana couple. The death of their daughter eight years ago continues to afflict them. James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo masterfully play the depressed, grieving characters. One day, Doug heads off alone for a convention to New Orleans. There, he encounters Mallory (Kristen Stewart) at a strip bar. Mallory is a young runaway who works as a stripper and a hooker. She is broken like Doug and resembles his deceased daughter.
From her earlier movie roles, Kristen Stewart has often played along solid veteran performers like Jodie Foster, William Hurt, and James Gandolfini. Here she perfectly matches Gandolfini’s incredibly nuanced performance. By and large, Kristen’s raw and rewarding performance rescues the stripper character from being a petulant, one-dimensional figure.
5. Camp X-Ray (2014)
Peter Sattler’s Guantanamo Bay drama is a microcosmic look at the post-9/11 political milieu. Kristen Stewart plays Amy Cole, a bored, small-town girl who wanted to fight for her nation. But she is assigned the role of a prison guard at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The Head Corporal who runs the prison warns the fresh recruits that Gitmo is a war zone. Subsequently, Cole meets the intrepid and overly talkative detainee Ali (A Separation fame Peyman Moaadi).
She also forms an unlikely friendship with him. Cole initially looks at Ali with disdain, which later turns into compassion. Apart from handling the detainees, Cole is also forced to put up with misogynistic soldiers. Kristen’s clipped delivery and dissociative facade help her easily get into the character. Besides, her standoffish looks and subtle emotions bring a distinguished class to the role.
4. Speak (2004)
Jessica Sharzer’s extremely touching indie drama offered Kristen Stewart a chance to play her first leading role. Speak is a poignant tale of a traumatized teen, confronting her inner demons. Stewart plays high-school freshman Melinda Sordino, who is bullied and chastised by her classmates. She chooses not to speak. A series of flashbacks reveal that Melinda was raped by a senior at the summer party. Despite reporting the incident to the police, Melinda’s trauma has prevented her from speaking up about the assault.
Stewart performs with astounding maturity, her eyes conveying the crushing torment and despair. For the most part, director Jessica does a commendable job extracting a compelling yet non-melodramatic performance. Elizabeth Perkins as Melinda’s mother and Steve Zahn as the compassionate art teacher also ably support Kristen Stewart.
3. Personal Shopper (2016)
Olivier Assayas’ strange and intriguing drama chronicles a grief-ridden young woman’s inner journey. American expat Maureen lives in Paris and works as a personal shopper for a wealthy socialite Kyra. She moves to a dilapidated mansion outside the city, hoping to make contact with her twin brother, who earlier died there due to a heart condition. Things complicate when Maureen receives text messages from a mysterious person. Director Assayas wrote the script with Kristen Stewart in mind.
One look at Kristen’s face — a face that brims with insecurity, fragility and sadness — and we know she is perfect as Maureen. Kristen Stewart marvelously carries this narrative full of repressed emotions with a very subtle physical performance. Maureen completes Kristen’s wonderful transformation from being the star of the Twilight franchise to a respected indie actress.
2. Spencer (2021)
Pablo Larrain’s Spencer isn’t a straightforward biopic of Princess Diana. It only focuses on a few days in Diana’s life. Set over the Christmas holidays of winter 1991 in the Royal Family’s House of Windsor, we perceive the princess’ internal struggles, while she contemplates on the decision to leave Prince Charles. Stewart shines in a powerful performance, perfectly embodying the vulnerability and exasperation of someone constantly scrutinized by the world.
Stewart doesn’t do any impression of Princess Diana. But through her restrained voice and facial expressions we can feel the agony of the character. While different actresses have played Diana over the years, Stewart comes across as the most authentic one. She received her first Oscar nomination for her mesmerizing performance in the biographical drama.
1. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
In Olivier Assayas’ superb showbiz drama, Kristen Stewart plays Valentine, the personal assistant to celebrated actress Maria (Juliette Binoche). The aging actress is trying to come to terms with her changing position in the global celebrity culture. The film’s set-up might remind us of the classic Hollywood drama All About Eve (1950). Nonetheless, this story centered on the complexities of female relationships also has much in common with Persona and Mulholland Drive.
Above all, the complex, multi-layered relationship between Binoche and coolly detached Kristen Stewart is thoroughly captivating. Stewart’s Val is a brilliantly written character, who quietly observes everything about stardom from the periphery. The actress’ strategic underplaying reaches its zenith in this gorgeous drama. She received the French Caesar Award for her role — the first non-French actress to win the award.
There you go! These are the best performances of the remarkably versatile Kristen Stewart. Her upcoming projects include Saint Maud fame Rose Glass’ thriller Love Lies Bleeding. She stars alongside Jena Malone and Ed Harris. Stewart’s other exciting new project is sci-fi romance Love Me. Steven Yeun plays the male lead. Kristen Stewart is also making her directorial debut next year with biopic drama The Chronology of Water. It’s an adaptation of American author Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir. Stewart is co-writing the script with Andy Mingo.
What are your favorite Kristen Stewart movies?
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’