When Mary Elizabeth Winstead showed up in Final Destination 3 and solidly managed to become the film’s final girl with confidence, we were dumbstruck. However, it wasn’t her first time on screens. Roles in minor TV shows and teen films hadn’t been big enough to give her the exposure she deserved. But as usual, horror represented the young actress’ platform to make her visible. A role in a great action franchise, and a very small appearance in Tarantino’s world, meant she was more than just a pretty face. Winstead could act, and she could do any genre out there.
Today, Winstead’s low profile means she’s very selective about her roles. But this can only mean we can have the pleasure of her occasionally showing up in minor roles that instantly make the film better. The best example of this is Birds of Prey. When Helena Bertinelli showed up, the raises were staked and the film was elevated.
While we wait for the Ahsoka TV series, where Winstead will play Hera Syndulla in the Star Wars universe, let’s dig around her best movies according to critics in Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Kill the Messenger (2014) – 77%
In Kill the Messenger, Winstead plays Anna Simons, the editor of the paper Gary Webb published his famous report on, and made the CIA crumble as he revealed their involvement in funding Nicaraguan Contras. Winstead’s role is minor, but it’s good enough to help 2014 be one of her best years in film.
9 Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) – 79%
Playing Helena Bertinelli, also known as The Huntress, in Birds of Prey seemed extremely natural and comfortable for Winstead. She just has an inherent talent for portraying characters that rely heavily on their physical abilities, and yes, badass women fighting the bad guys. As we mentioned before, Winstead does a great job at being the antagonist that then joins the good girls to fight Sionis.
8 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) – 82%
In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Winstead plays Ramona Flowers, the girl Scott Pilgrim falls for, but whose exes represent the challenges the bass player must face. Director Edgar Wright openly said the role was specifically written for Winstead because of her dramatic range and how she physically embodies every emotion possible. This is definitely the role she’s most famous for.
7 Live Free or Die Hard (2007) – 82%
Live Free or Die Hard gave Winstead the exposure she needed to become a young starlet who could basically do anything with a good script. Lucy, John McLane’s daughter, gets kidnapped while the New York Police Department detective is busy trying to save the world from a very dangerous cyber-attack. We don’t have to tell you McLane does everything at hand to save his daughter from being harmed by the bad guys.
6 Smashed (2012) – 83%
Smashed is Winstead’s best movie that not many people outside the indie circle have seen. Her performance as Kate Hannah is riveting, and essential as a counterpart to Charlie (featuring Aaron Paul in one of his best performances as well). They’re both husband and wife who can’t escape alcoholism. One day, Kate is offered emotional support by a co-worker and decides to try to get sober.
5 Grindhouse (2007) – 84%
Winstead is Lee in Tarantino’s Grindhouse feature Death Proof. As opposed to what he usually did, the director didn’t write the character for a specific actress. Instead, he let her design the character based on her perception of it and her physical expression. Curiously, she was able to display her singing skills in the film about a deranged stuntman who meets the wrong victims, but sadly her role was too short.
4 All About Nina (2018) – 86%
All About Nina allowed Winstead to lead a film that called for Winstead’s dramatic and comedic range to come together in a role that, in the hands of someone else, perhaps would have been more difficult. The young actress made it seem very easy to portray a stand-up comedian falling in love in the most improbable of ways.
3 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) – 90%
10 Cloverfield Lane is also one of Winstead’s leading roles where her performance is so good, it’s impossible to imagine someone else doing it. In the film, she plays the victim of a car crash who gets taken and kidnapped by a deranged lunatic who’s convinced the apocalypse is taking place outside his bunker. Perhaps, he’s right and Michelle (Winstead) will find out the hard way.
2 The Spectacular Now (2013) – 91%
In The Spectacular Now, Winstead plays an unusual role. She’s Sutter’s big sister, and she represents the balance to Sutter’s emotional instability as he discovers love in the most unusual of places and decides to do something about it. In the heavily dramatic film, Winstead stands out in every scene with a dramatic scale that has sadly been underused in her career.
1 Faults (2014) – 92%
Faults is a truly remarkable example of comedy and drama blended together in a film that’s strangely unnerving. Winstead is Claire, a woman under the influence of a cult whose parents are worried about her. To solve the issue, they hire a cult deprogrammer whose ability won’t be enough to finish the job as Claire is not as “soft” as she sounds.