The 13 Best Kirsten Dunst Movies, Ranked
Even if she only just got her first Oscar nomination for 'The Power of the Dog,' Kirsten Dunst has long been an icon.
Every so often, a tweet lauding Kirsten Dunst's illustrious career will go viral, because it's true: With a resume full of seminal roles over the past 30-plus years, Dunst is a bona fide icon. Right from her start as a child actress in the '90s, with scene-stealing early performances in Interview With the Vampire, Little Women, and, yes, Jumanji, she's had a knack for mixing vulnerability and hilarity onscreen. That gift has carried through a string of crucial teen and young-adult roles in the late '90s and 2000s—portraying and legitimizing teenage girls as multidimensional humans, whether playing a cheerleader, a wistful suburbanite with problems at home, or a young queen of France—and into the complex adult performances she's delivered over the past decade, in Melancholia and more.
Incredibly, however, her career somehow still feels wildly under-appreciated. Although many of her performances could have and should have gotten her awards recognition, it wasn't until 2021's The Power of the Dog that she saw her first-ever Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2022 Academy Awards. To celebrate Kirsten Dunst and all of the compassion, poignancy, and witty sense of humor she's brought to the screen for decades, I'm looking back on her best movies ever—but that doesn't exempt you from sleeping on her many stand-out television performances, most notably in the second season of FX's Fargo and the excellent, canceled-too-soon Showtime series On Becoming God in Central Florida. Dare me to bring it on? No problem: Here's my definitive ranking of Kirsten Dunst's 13 best movies.
13. Spider-Man (2002)
There's indie darling Kirsten Dunst, and then there's bona fide movie star Kirsten Dunst. But even in her reign as Teen Queen following the release of Bring It On, she's no less of a scene-stealer—bringing something thoughtful to roles in comic book properties. While Dunst's Mary Jane Watson is relegated to Peter Parker's love interest, she channels more into her starry-eyed character beyond a young woman who needs saving by Tobey Maguire's web-slinging hero. She's a kind-hearted dreamer, and unashamed of where she's from. She works the exclusively romantic scenes she's got, flirting as seamlessly as Spider-Man glides from building to building. And how could you ever forget the iconic upside down kiss in the rain?
12. Little Women (1994)
Few child stars have as impressive of a run as Kirsten Dunst did. In 1994, she convinced the world to take her seriously as an actress when, at just 12-years-old, she stole the show from A-listers in not one but two major releases. In the '94 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women, she became the Amy March that '90s kids grew up on. Alcott's March sisters are as beloved as they are because of the way they burst with life off the page, which is exactly how a tiny Dunst imbues her performance as the often misunderstood Amy. There's a fieriness to her, and she understands how to bring out the comedy in her mischief. Although her youth can at times heighten the ways Winona Ryder's Jo sees her as an annoying, little sister, she uses it to her advantage, and you wish the film carried on Dunst's wide-eyed effervescence as she ages. Who can resist the sweetness of her lamenting about having never been kissed to Christian Bale's Laurie?
11. Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Even before the star-studded Little Women was released, Dunst had already demonstrated just how much she could hold her own when acting opposite major names. Although Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise were the draws to Interview with the Vampire, she was real drama queen who demanded the audience's attention as the melodramatic 10-year-old orphan-turned-vampire Claudia. She simultaneously makes you feel endeared to her in her girlishness and the way her life has been stripped from her, and terrified by her, as she naturally convinces you that she's matured well beyond the age those bouncing curls make her look. She outperformed her costars and managed to earn the film's only Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress—and the young star earned it, giving an insurmountable amount of life to somebody who's supposed to be undead.
10. Bachelorette (2012)
Kirsten Dunst is not to be messed with in Russian Doll creator Leslye Headland's severely underrated comedy Bachelorette—a movie that's as if Bridesmaids was on a coke bender and the wedding party was made up exclusively of the girls who made fun of you in high school. She plays Regan, a tightly wound 30-something who treats 12-year-olds with cancer, and is tasked with being the maid of honor for her childhood best friend (who she was also pretty awful to) played by Rebel Wilson. The night before the wedding, it's one disaster after another when a drug-addled nosebleed damages the wedding dress, and Regan—who's in seriously need of a Xanax—has to clean up the mess made by her party fiend friends (the equally wonderful Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher). Half the fun in this stressful film is seeing Dunst's Type A character come unwound, and all along she's there to remind you of the nastiness that can make women's friendships toxic. Not even a party drug can alter that.
9. The Beguiled (2017)
Everyone at Martha Farnsworth's school for girls in Confederate Virginia just about loses their mind when a hot, bad boy Union soldier (Colin Farrell) winds up wounded on their lawn and bedridden in their guest room. No one is as roused by his arrival as Dunst's sexually repressed school teacher Edwina in this sexy remake of the 1971 film from Sofia Coppola that gives the story a mushroom-and-wisteria-tinged taste of female empowerment. Dunst-Coppola team-ups featuring gorgeous dresses and their sense of grace always go down like a pitcher of sweet tea, and this one is no different. You yearn for Dunst's unfulfilled fantasy just as much as she does, and understand her value of sisterhood that eventually overrides the prospect of any man.
8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Kirsten Dunst's Mary is just one of the many lost romantics in the Charlie Kaufman classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. As an employee at the memory-erasing firm Lacuna, her experience and love story takes a backseat to the main estranged lovers Joel and Clementine (Jim Carey and Kate Winslet), but she makes you feel Mary's hopelessness perhaps the most. Wistfully yearning for her boss (Tom Wilkinson), yet unaware of what he's taken from her, she's but a vessel until she ultimately explodes. It's her character who rattles off the Alexander Pope quote the film's title is taken from, and, boy, does she break you heart.
7. Dick (1999)
You could say Dick is a ridiculous comedy that imagines two teenage girls inadvertently exposing the Watergate scandal, or you could say Dick is a hilarious political satire that happens to highlight how cunning teenage girls are. Largely because of Dunst's performance as 15-year-old Betsy, it's the latter. As the movie follows the unbelievable adventure that unfolds when she and her BFF Arlene (Michelle Williams) get lost on a White House tour and become President Richard Nixon's dog walker, Dunst never makes her naive character out to be the punchline. She's as sweet as one of the Hello, Dolly cookies that she bakes for Dick, and it's the accuracy in her portrayal of a girlish sense of wonder that makes her so damn funny. When she's on the phone with Bob Woodward (Will Ferrell), in particular, Dunst captures the multitudes of high school girls. She's smart enough to stand up for something (in this case, taking down Nixon) yet treats it almost like an ironic gag, giggling in abandon with her friend (about, gasp, Deep Throat!). Of course, it's Dunst who could convince you that a teen could take down a corrupt presidency.
6. The Power of the Dog (2021)
Upon the release of Jane Campion's Power of the Dog, Dunst spoke about how playing Rose Gordon, a fragile woman in peril, wasn't necessarily a role she was dying to take. After all, she's depicted many depressed women before, and the thought of dipping back into a part of herself that she feels she's grown out of—her insecurity—intimidated her. And yet she did—and thankfully, she did, as it ended up getting her first-ever Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2022 Academy Awards. As Rose, she plays a widow in the early 20th century West who is so psychologically tortured by her new brother-in-law Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) that we can feel her fear in each note she attempts to play the piano. Although she develops an addiction to ease the painful manipulation that Phil inflicts on her and the pressures of her new life in the upper echelons of Montana, Dunst plays to her strength as a mother who will do anything to protect her child (Kodi Smit-McPhee) even at her weakest. Through her maternal empathy, we feel through her the pain that she believes her son is also experiencing. Although Dunst gave performances prior to The Power of the Dog that were awards-worthy, we're grateful this one finally gave her long-overdue recognition.
5. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
Few actors have had as incredible run as a teen star, let alone their whole career(!), as Dunst did from 1999-2000. Drop Dead Gorgeous may not have been the blockbuster success Bring It On was, but the hilarious, inappropriate, way ahead of its time cult mockumentary about a teen beauty pageant lives in our hearts forever like Diane Sawyer lives in high schooler Amber Atkins'. Dunst is on her comedic A game as Amber, playing up the Midwestern accent and keeping her head held high and tap shoes on, even when the rest of the girls in the Mount Rose, Minnesota pageant are getting whacked by the competition. Her goodness is infectious, and she manages to parody pageantry with a smile and wave. The Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess, indeed!
4. Bring It On (2000)
High school cheerleaders don't necessarily fit into a stereotype in Bring It On. Sure, some are mean girls, but Dunst's Torrance is someone you want to bust out the "spirit fingers" for. As team captain, she's more driven than the student class president in trying to rally the Toros to be great on their own after learning their former teammate stole routines for years. Dunst never trivializes her character's mission: She wants to win, but she wants to do so honestly. It is a cheerocracy, and that's tough shit! Her comedic chops make the performance especially spirited, whether she's cheesin' at the top of the pyramid or subtly critiquing the white savior complex when she's interacting with the Clovers. Dunst also had real-life cheerleading experience going into the role, so it's safe to say she brings it in every way in this teen classic.
3. Marie Antoinette (2006)
Like the French did to the Dauphine, critics scorned Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. They admonished the director's contemporary pop-culture touchstones and thought Kirsten Dunst humanized the historical figure, creating a film that was as intoxicating as the champagne from her midnight rendezvous and invited too much sympathy for the oblivious queen. What they didn't understand, though, was that Coppola and her collaborator never intended to make a film that was historically accurate. They set out to make a film about what it's like to be a teenage girl who's suffocating in loneliness and left to her own devices when the world wants only to see you. Dunst imbues the young queen with a pure fragility when she arrives at Versailles utterly alone, and stirs a sense of mischief once her boredom accepts the frivolity at her disposal. She sparkles even among the lavish costumes and set design, but it's when that's stripped away in gentler scenes that she reminds you to empathize with her personhood. You feel the pressure every young woman feels as Dunst cries alone in her room, overwhelmed by the demand to bear a child when she's still one herself.
2. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
There's a scene in Sofia Coppola's directorial debut The Virgin Suicides that refuses to escape you once you see it—when 14-year-old Lux Lisbon (Dunst) wakes up on the football field only to find out her date to the homecoming dance left her there once he had gotten what he wanted. It captures the film's essence of the imprisonment of being a teenage girl, and does so in a way that's so sobering, it makes you want to pick up your diary and scrawl an entry when you see her there alone. The film adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides' novel was seminal for both Coppola as a directing force and Dunst as a dramatic actress, and it's hard to imagine any other Lux. Dunst has spoken about how Coppola made her feel protected in the role, and it shows, as the then 16 year old vulnerably sells the many facets of being a girl—caught somewhere between a dream state, sadness, and pain. In one moment she's alluring, playing into her own desirability, and in the next she's broken. It's one of the most memorable performances about disaffected youth—Coppola's female gaze allowing for Lux to exist on an ethereal plane of girlhood that's far too complicated for the average neighborhood boy to ever understand.
1. Melancholia (2011)
Few films illustrate the ugliness of depression like Lars Von Trier's Melancholia. Although it's an immensely visual film, you sense the destruction of debilitating melancholy because Dunst stars as Justine. On her wedding night, she notices another planet is headed towards Earth, and her depressive condition becomes nearly catatonic. It's a darker role for Dunst, but one that she excels in, given the poignant portrayals of sadness that have lingered throughout her career. It's her undeniable best, too—with scenes of her physically unable to get into the bath and wailing in agony almost too brutal to watch. But as much as Justine is a woman in crisis, her numbness in humanity's final hour is the sense of security that she offers to her sister and nephew as they sit under a tipi made of sticks, waiting for another planet to pummel into theirs. Her undulation from being deeply in pain to accepting oblivion as her only escape is harrowing, but captures the nuances of the mental illness and showcases her breadth as an actress. She may declare she knows, "Life is only on Earth, and not for long," but you trust in Dunst to hold your hand into the void.