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Kirsten Dunst’s 13 Best Performances, From Child Vampire to Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Kirsten Dunst's 13 Best Performances, From Child Vampire to Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Kirsten Dunst, 33-years-old today, is a blonde and dimpled starlet who can seamlessly shift between coquettish and somber. With her petite face and womanly figure, Dunst has often played the innocent, sexy girl-next-door with an edge. Her screen presence implies a carefree spirit, but the actress has spoken openly about the hard times she’s faced, struggling with depression and drugs. You can see both an incandescence and a darkness in her work. We’ve taken a look at some of Dunst’s most iconic roles, ranking them from worst to best.  

READ MORE: Kirsten Dunst On the Time She Got Burned By Viggo Mortensen

13) “Elizabethtown” (2005)

Dunst’s role in “Elizabethtown” (as the cute and quirky Claire) inspired critic Nathan Rabin to coin the culturally iconic phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” The expression refers to certain female character types (Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel are repeat offenders) whose sole purpose is in teaching a male character how magical the world can be. These women don’t really have interior lives of their own; they’re just quirky. Even their flaws are sweetly whimsical. Dunst’s Claire brought clarity to the growing MPDG epidemic. Despite her underwritten role, Dunst managed to give Claire a spunk that was worthy of her casting.

12) “Jumanji” (1995)

Dunst doesn’t actually do much besides scream and panic in “Jumanji,” but it’s a 90’s horror classic that should be honored nonetheless. Marketed as a children’s movie but filled violent and chaotic imagery, “Jumanji” starred Dunst as Judy Parrish, a girl who moves into an old house with her brother following their parents’ deaths. They find a creepy board game in the attic and innocently begin to play it—then it’s all downhill from there. Dunst was only 13 when she co-starred in “Jumanji,” but was mature enough to hold her own on-screen with a deranged, primitive Robin Williams and plenty of bad CGI creations.

11) “Bachelorette” (2012)

“Bachelorette” is a bawdy comedy about female friendship, daring to go beyond even the worst of what we saw in “Bridesmaids.” The film has the balls to subtract sentiment and phoniness from its narrative, and instead illustrate women as they so often are—despicable, judgmental and mentally imbalanced. Dunst plays Regan, a successful 30-something who pretends to have it all together, but secretly pickles in self-loathing. Regan isn’t an easy person to get along with, but Dunst makes her sympathetic, quietly revealing her hidden struggles with extreme loneliness, bulimia and drug abuse. While Regan is little wicked, Dunst allows her to appear deeply human, too. It’s a relief to see someone like that on-screen. 

10) “Crazy/Beautiful” (2001)

This mediocre film showcased Dunst in prime raw and sexy mode: not overly dolled up, she’s pretty damn real-looking (for a Hollywood actress, at least) in this gritty love story. “Crazy/Beautiful” (a title that spawned a decade of mockery) tells the story of two star-crossed teens from different worlds. Nicole (Dunst) is a troubled rich girl, while Carlos is a working-class Mexican-American. Dunst shows off her acting chops in a role requiring her to be equal parts wild, angry and likable. 

9) “Dick” (1999)

Dunst stars in this cult-comedy classic with Michelle Williams, and the two are believable as ditsy best friends Betsy and Arlene, 15-year-olds who accidentally witness the infamous Watergate robbery. It’s rare for a high-school movie to involve national politics, and the film didn’t do well at the box office, struggling to find its audience; teenage girls in the 90s didn’t remember Watergate, and adults who were alive in 1972 didn’t want to see a movie about teenagers. But Dunst is endlessly charming in the film, even when playing an airhead teen completely devoid of intellect.

8) “Spider-Man” (2002)

Dunst starred alongside Tobey Maguire in all three of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” films. She was perhaps an unlikely franchise frontrunner, but the production dyed her yellow hair bright red for the role, and she assumed a much sunnier disposition than usual. Mary Jane seems most attracted to Peter when he’s dressed up as Spider-Man; she isn’t given much to do in the films (other than be the perpetual love interest who needs rescuing)—but she is one essential half of that iconic, sensual rain kiss, which happens with Spidey hanging upside down. Of course, Mary Jane doesn’t even know it’s Peter kissing her. That’s probably what makes it hot. 

7) “Little Women” (1994)

In this lovely adaptation of the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel, 12-year-old Dunst plays Amy—a vain, uppity, lovable 12-year-old who is the youngest of four daughters. The cozy film is about family, sisterhood, and womanly burdens; told inside warm living rooms with crackling fires, or tramping down dirt roads in gentle snowfalls. Dunst does a fine job of conveying young Amy’s spoiled, ladylike appeal, with her shrew voice and childish demands making for a perfect embodiment of the book character everyone loves to hate.

6) “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

It remains a mystery why Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine” has been classified a “romantic comedy,” since it’s one of the saddest movies in recent memory. In a poignant little side story that runs alongside Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey’s main affair, Dunst plays Mary, a girl in love with her older, married boss Dr. Howard Mierzwiak. Howard’s company is in the business of erasing painful memories. Dunst’s performance is the film’s true tragic center, as we watch her heartbreak unfold. Her best scene is when she listens, horrified, to the tape recording of her own memory erasure process. 

5) “Marie Antoinette” (2006) 

In playing the infamous queen of France, Dunst is impish, decadent and spirited in a world where modesty and formality are revered. She prances around Versailles in enormous wigs and pastel ball gowns, savors cakes and sweets, and (in one iconic image) hides her naked body seductively behind a small pink fan. Of course, Marie is only 14-years-old when she’s shipped off to court, stripped of her identity, and expected to rule a country. Dunst was much older, but made her character both defiant and pitiable at once. 

4) “Interview with the Vampire” (1994)

Dunst was only 11-years-old when she starred in “Interview with the Vampire,” scoring a Golden Globe nomination and her very first kiss with dreamboat Brad Pitt (though she thought the kiss was “gross” at the time). Dunst plays Claudia, a child vampire. Even as she ages, Claudia remains trapped inside a child’s body (hence her romantic stint with Pitt). With curly ringlets, sharp teeth and a fierce temper, tiny Dunst is able to convey impressive power and age, despite her actual youth. In scenes where she screams at Pitt and Tom Cruise with wild abandon, she easily holds her own alongside the more experienced performers. 

3) “The Virgin Suicides” (1999)

Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” is about a group of adolescent boys coming of lusty age in the 70’s suburbs and who become infatuated with their neighbors, five blonde sisters they observe from afar. These girls appear angelic and idealized, because the boys don’t really know them; their story is told with a vague, rose-colored perspective. Dunst plays Lux, the most sensuous and languorous of the bunch—by far the film’s most fleshed out female character. The movie is about isolation and the pangs of growing up. It’s also about how siblings learn bad habits from each other: one by one, the sisters commit suicide, and we never really find out why. “The Virgin Suicides” is mysterious and melancholy, and Dunst herself is both of those things effortlessly. 

2) “Bring it On” (2000)

This might be the film that made Dunst a household name. Another cult classic, “Bring It On” follows Torrance (Dunst), a peppy high school bombshell who takes over as head cheerleader for her squad. Buoyed by eternal optimism, Torrance tries to choreograph something original for her team, who had previously stolen routines from other squads. Dunst trained with a real cheerleading squad for her role, and she is silly and coy with the material; the film is tongue-in-cheek without being a full-out parody. The rah-rah ebullient mentality at the story’s heart is authentic, and you cannot help but root for Torrance, even if you hate cheerleaders and everything they stand for. It’s pleasant to see a teenager on-screen completely devoid of cynicism.  

1) Melancholia” (2011)

Dunst won Best Actress at Cannes for her portrayal of Justine in Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia.” She signed onto the film wanting to work with von Trier, a challenging Danish filmmaker whose resume she admired; and this is her best work to date, perhaps because the character hit so close to home. Dunst, who sought treatment for depression in 2008, has said of the film, “Lars opened up to me about his experience with depression and that in turn helped me open up.” “Melancholia” follows two sisters, Justine and Claire, on the eve of the Earth’s destruction. A giant planet has appeared and threatens to collide with the earth. This globe, aptly christened “Melancholia,” is meant to embody the powerful pull of depression. Dunst gives a tour de force performance as Justine, who begins the film a blushing bride on her wedding night, and slowly disintegrates in a visceral spiral, as the strings of her depression tug at her. Dunst interprets mental illness with a justice and gravity rarely seen on the big screen. 

READ MORE: With “Melancholia,” Lars Von Trier Delivers a Dark Apocalyptic Masterpiece

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