Total Recall

Rank Emma Stone's 10 Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Battle of the Sexes star.

by | September 20, 2017 | Comments

She’s yet to celebrate her 30th birthday, but Emma Stone has already been wooed by Jonah Hill, battled zombies, and smooched Spider-Man — and this weekend, she faces off against Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes, so now seems like a pretty good time to take a look back at some of the brighter critical highlights from her growing list of film credits, while inviting you to rank your own favorites in the bargain. We’re romancing the Stone, Total Recall style!

1. La La Land (2016) 91%

(Photo by Dale Robinette/Summit Releasing)

Audiences took a pass when Stone and Ryan Gosling reunited for Gangster Squad, but if you put the Crazy, Stupid, Love. duo in a romantic comedy, your odds of achieving box office glory skyrocket. For example, here’s La La Land, which brought the stars back together to play a jazz pianist (Gosling) and an aspiring actor (Stone) who meet cute and fall in love while singing and dancing across a colorfully idealized version of modern-day Los Angeles — an admittedly familiar setup whose simple pleasures proved more than sufficient for the vast majority of critics. Filmgoers swooned right along with ’em, sending La La to more than $445 million in ticket receipts, and the end result was an awards season sensation that racked up six Oscars against 14 nominations — including Best Actress for Stone. “It’s a film for those who feel a little out of step with the 21st century, as Mia does with her love of classic cinema and Sebastian does with his angry jazz certainty. A lot of us can relate,” wrote Ty Burr for the Boston Globe. “If you can’t, we don’t really want to hear about it.”

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2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) 91%

(Photo by Alison Rosa/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

When we think about Birdman, we think about Michael Keaton. But this Alejandro G. Iñárritu-directed Best Picture winner is far from a one-man show — both behind the scenes, where a talented ensemble led by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki brought Iñárritu’s technically audacious vision to life, as well as in front of the cameras, where a quietly incredible cast told the story of a post-blockbuster actor taking one last shot at credibility with a self-financed stage play. Stone delivers subtly powerful work as the daughter of Keaton’s character, a woman who’s piecing her life back together in recovery while seeking a real connection with her notoriously unreliable dad, and it’s her expressive face that closes out a story whose final act and deeper meaning are still being debated. “Birdman is the sort of movie that ends up on a person’s favourite-movies-of-all-time list,” wrote Liz Braun for the Toronto Sun. “It’s really that fresh.”

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3. Zombieland (2009) 89%

(Photo by Glen Wilson/Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

With the number of zombie movies that have been released, any new entry in the genre really has to do something different in order to stand out — and that’s just what Ruben Fleischer did with Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson as a cynical survivalist prowling post-outbreak America in search of a Twinkie, Jesse Eisenberg as a college student whose meek exterior masks a surprisingly effective zombie killer, and Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as a pair of sisters who join them on their journey to a California amusement park that’s rumored to be zombie-free. Toss in one of the most excellent celebrity cameos in recent memory, and it all added up to a $100 million hit — and the movie Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel described as “the funniest zombie movie since Shaun of the Dead, funnier even than Fido” as well as “a 28 Days Later played for laughs — lots of them, endless jokes, one-liners and sight gags.”

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4. Superbad (2007) 88%

(Photo by Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

Watching Superbad, you can kind of tell that co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote their first draft of the screenplay when they were 15 — and that’s a good thing. Relying more heavily on sharp R-rated humor than gratuitous T&A, the movie follows the increasingly desperate efforts of graduating pals Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) to score at a party being thrown by the popular girl (Emma Stone) that Seth secretly pines for; of course, this being a teen comedy, just getting to the party turns into a horrific (and hellaciously funny) ordeal that includes a pair of incompetent cops (played by Rogen and Bill Hader) and the most memorably incompetent fake ID in recent cinematic history (sported by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who will forever hear cries of “McLovin!” whenever he steps out in public). “Even if Superbad‘s not much more than a teen comedy, it’s the best teen comedy to come out in at least a decade,” argued Paste Magazine’s Sean Gandert. “There’s no shame in that.”

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5. Easy A (2010) 85%

(Photo by Adam Taylor/Screen Gems courtesy Everett Collection)

By the time Easy A came out in 2010, Emma Stone was a few weeks away from turning 22, and as a genre, the teen comedies that inspired director Will Gluck seemed just as dated as his star. But as it turned out, Stone could still play a fairly convincing high school student, and Gluck’s gleefully referential script — which openly paid homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, among other John Hughes classics — helped breathe new life into a story that re-imagined Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter one more time. Starring Stone as teen misfit Olive Penderghast, Easy A transplants the source material’s tale of misguided morality to a modern high school ruled by a popular prude (Amanda Bynes) whose vengeful gossip inspires Olive to take rumors into her own hands. Effectively serving as Stone’s leading-lady coming-out party, Easy A scored with audiences as well as critics like ReelViews’ James Berardinelli, who decreed that it “belongs in the company of Election, Heathers, and Mean Girls — all motion pictures that have outlived their theatrical lives because they have unique voices and use them to say something.”

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6. Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) 79%

(Photo by Ben Glass/Warner Brothers courtesy Everett Collection)

A year after breaking out in the high school comedy Easy A, Stone graduated to more adult rom-com fare with Crazy, Stupid, Love. Playing the slightly neurotic target of a Lothario (Ryan Gosling) whose suave exterior masks unsuspected sensitivity, Stone added a layer of adorable sweetness to the dark drama in the movie’s other storyline, which follows a middle-aged bachelor (Steve Carell) on his adventures through his unwilling re-entry to the dating pool after discovering that his wife (Julianne Moore) wants a divorce. Neither of its plot strands are particularly original, but the cast is charming, and as Bob Mondello joked for NPR, “In a genre where outright imbecility generally prevails, a film investigating craziness and stupidity qualifies as a cut above.”

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7. The Help (2011) 76%

(Photo by Dale Robinette/Walt Disney Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

Adapted by writer-director Tate Taylor from Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller, The Help looks at ‘60s Southern racism through the eyes of young journalist Skeeter Phelan (Stone), whose youthful idealism spurs her to mount a writing project that gives local maids an opportunity to expose their systematic mistreatment by at the hands of the upper class — and which ultimately wreaks all manner of havoc in the relationships in and around Skeeter’s own family. A $211 million global smash, The Help picked up four Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress win for Octavia Spencer, and enjoyed a largely positive critical response. “The movie isn’t perfect,” admitted Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, “it sometimes shows its stitching. But mostly it’s a stirring salute to subjugated women who hold their heads high.”

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8. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) 71%

(Photo by Jamie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures)

Outside the Sony Pictures offices, very few people truly believed the Spider-Man franchise really needed a reboot in 2012, but we got one anyway. Fortunately, even if it couldn’t escape the familiar confines of a character mythology that had only recently been explored in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man movies had a few things going for them — including an impressive cast that boasted Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Rhys Ifans, and as Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) doomed young love interest Gwen Stacy, Emma Stone. Without such dependable stars, it’s questionable whether audiences would have been quite as willing to shell out for another return to Spider-Man’s roots; as it was, the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr spoke for many of his peers when he wrote, “The Amazing Spider-Man is considerably more fun — and, yes, even touching — than so premature a reboot had any right to be.”

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9. The Croods (2013) 71%

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Given Nicolas Cage’s track record, you could tell someone he and Emma Stone co-starred in a movie in which they played characters named Grug and Eep and had to contend with prehistoric creatures, and it would be perfectly logical to ask whether the film in question was an intentional comedy. Happily, The Croods boasts plenty of genuine laughs to go along with its colorful animation, thanks to a sweet story about a caveman patriarch (Cage) whose willful daughter (Stone) spurs an adventure into the outside world. A massive worldwide hit and eventual launchpad for a new DreamWorks Animation franchise, it is also, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Colin Covert, “the kind of rib-tickling, emotionally satisfying, universally appealing effort that gives computer animation a good name.”

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10. The House Bunny (2008) 43%

(Photo by Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

It sounds like the kind of movie that should star a Wayans brother in drag: The House Bunny follows the bubbly adventures of an exiled Playboy Playmate (Anna Faris) who latches onto a gaggle of unpopular sorority sisters and ends up learning a lot — as well as teaching her new friends a few things — about life, love, and self-respect. With a plot that mashes up a gender-reversed Revenge of the Nerds against any coming-of-age comedy you could mention, it’s no surprise that The House Bunny failed to woo many critics, but largely thanks to its immensely appealing cast, the movie has become something of a cult favorite over the last few years; as far as Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek was concerned, it “gets the difference between being openhearted and empty-headed.”

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