Winona Ryder's 13 Best Performances

Her latest, Netflix's "Stranger Things," makes the list.

It would be cheap to say that we’re in the midst of a Winona Ryder renaissance. A glance at her IMDb page proves that, despite a hiatus after her shoplifting incident in the early 2000s, Ryder has not gone anywhere. Now 44, she’s just stuck in the limbo to which Hollywood subjects its female stars. Ryder isn’t the young, trendy ingenue on the market, and she’s only just now aging into so-called “mom” roles ― and even those, by her own account, are spotty: “I get sent a lot of scripts where you’re just the mom,” Ryder recently told The New York Times. “’C’mon, kids!’ And you think, could I do something with this? Is there a way to make this interesting? But in the end you think, no.”

At last, she’s landed herself a fine mom role in “Stranger Things,” the new Netflix miniseries about the search for a science-fiction-obsessed 12-year-old boy who mysteriously disappears. Set in 1980s Indiana, “Stranger Things” is what might happen if Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter had a TV baby. Ryder is dynamic, channeling a mother’s most primal instincts in her character’s quest to find her son. For someone who has often played outsiders, or characters sympathetic to outsiders, Ryder is right at home. Which reminds us: She has been at home in so many great movies over the years. Even in her lesser films, Ryder consistently turns in standout work. So here’s a handful of performances that you should revisit ― and, yes, some of your favorites, like “Beetlejuice” and “Reality Bites,” didn’t make the cut. They’re great too! But this, in our eyes, for now, is the ultimate Ryder catalog. 

  • "Heathers" (1989)
    Ryder is the moral compass of "Heathers," the caustic comedy about four preppy prima donnas who rule their suburban high school. "Heathers" set the template for "Jawbreakers," "Election" and "Mean Girls," but it's far darker than its spawn, with a murderous revenge arc involving sex, suicide, bulimia, homophobia and a ticking bomb. By the time Ryder is wielding a gun in the final few minutes, "Heathers" has indicted every inch of the social pecking order. 
  • "Edward Scissorhands" (1990)
    "Edward Scissorhands" reunited Winona Ryder with Tim Burton following 1988's career-making "Beetlejuice," but the movie did even more to crystallize Ryder's penchant for characters who are affectionate toward social outcasts. Kim Boggs, the suburban teen whose pastel-drenched torpor is interrupted by her wily new roommate, greets Edward with skepticism that morphs into wide-eyed wonder and ultimately becomes love. Depp and Burton typically receive most of the credit for "Scissorhands," but for Ryder, who played the lead in "Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael" that same year, a star was born.
  • Cher's "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)" video (1990)
    With "Mermaids," Ryder became a critical darling. She earned a Golden Globe nomination for playing a 1960s Jewish teenager obsessed with Catholicism and annoyed with her eccentric mother (Cher). "Mermaids" wouldn't hold up if it weren't for Ryder, and it netted this video, which featured co-star Christina Ricci and a lot of retro hip-swaying.
  • "Dracula" (1992)
    As the '90s barreled forward, Ryder displayed her range by working with some of Hollywood's most applauded directors: Jim Jarmusch in 1991's "Night on Earth," Francis Ford Coppola in 1992's "Dracula" and Martin Scorsese in 1993's "The Age of Innocence." She earned her first Oscar nomination for the latter, but it's "Dracula" that's most intriguing. Ryder brought the script to Coppola in hopes of restoring their relationship after she dropped out of "The Godfather Part III." The movie became a runaway hit, and Ryder proved herself opposite Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman and an extravagance of camp. 
  • "Little Women" (1994)
    Sorry, "Reality Bites" fans, but "Little Women" is the defining Winona Ryder movie of 1994. She was the only member of its ensemble to earn an Oscar nomination, portraying the tomboyish Jo in her transition from stormy teen to reflective adult. Grab your Kleenex now.
  • "The Crucible" (1996)
    Ryder is the guiding light in this overcooked cinematic adaptation of Arthur Miller's iconic play. Her Abigail Williams has a manic, Ophelia-like quality, manipulating the Salem witch hysteria like a little despot on the loose.
  • "Celebrity" (1998)
    Like much of sprawling "Celebrity" cast, Ryder drifts in and out of the episodic Woody Allen comedy about the diverging paths of two divorcées. But the movie is at its most magnetic during Ryder's few scenes. Playing an unsettled aspiring actress, she lands on a coy confidence that's affable at one glance and tempestuous at the next.
  • "Girl, Interrupted" (1999)
    As the events surrounding Susanna Kaysen in "Girl, Interrupted" darken, Ryder's neurotic performance widens. Her conflicted emotional life becomes ever transparent, Susanna at once aware of and helpless to a troubling psych ward and chaotic home life. "Girl, Interrupted" succumbs to haphazard clichés, but Ryder (and Oscar-winning co-star Angelina Jolie) salvages the effort. Early in the film, Ryder nails a comic line that summates Susanna's erratic self-indulgence. During a consultation with her mother and father present, a psychiatrist tells Susanna she has borderline personality disorder. "Is it genetic?" she barks without so much as a glance at her shocked parents.
  • Ryder's Björk impression on "SNL" (2002)
    Around the time of Ryder's 2001 shoplifting scandal, she tried on a few broad comedic parts -- territory she hadn't mined much at that point. First came a guest spot as Rachel's sorority sister on "Friends," followed by a cameo in "Zoolander" and a supporting role in "Mr. Deeds." But Ryder was most effective while hosting "Saturday Night Live," especially during her zany impression of Björk during a "Celebrity Jeopardy" sketch.
  • "Black Swan" (2010)
    In the most surprising role of her career, Ryder cameos as a ballet dancer who resents the younger ingenue (Natalie Portman) who has assumed her star status. She is raw and unhinged, replete with smeared makeup and a manic envy that doubles as a damning critique on the addictiveness of fame -- something that likely haunted Ryder as she aged into her upper 30s and landed fewer leading roles. Her brief appearance in "Black Swan" is some of the best work of her career.
  • "Drunk History" (2013-2014)
    If Ryder has a defining physical trait, it's her broad eyes. She makes optimal use of them during her "Drunk History" appearances, mouthing along to recitations with mocking sincerity.
  • "Show Me a Hero" (2015)
    Ryder should have earned an Emmy nomination for playing a New York politician advocating for the right side of history in this HBO miniseries. Regardless, it proved that Ryder should still be the coveted actress she once was.
  • "Stranger Things" (2016)
    She has blinking Christmas lights as a scene partner!


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