Total Recall

Total Recall: Winona Ryder's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Dilemma star.

by | January 14, 2011 | Comments

Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder was one of the more prolific film stars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, appearing in almost 20 movies over the space of a decade and working with some of the industry’s most respected actors and directors along the way. Her pace has slowed in recent years, but with roles in Black Swan and this weekend’s The Dilemma, Winona’s pulling double duty at the box office — which, naturally, got us thinking about the many highlights of an eclectic filmography that includes teen comedies, period dramas, and plenty in between. How do your favorites stack up against the critics’? It’s time to find out!


[tomatometer]MovieID=16877[/tomatometer]

10. Night on Earth

A series of loosely interconnected vignettes from writer/director Jim Jarmusch, 1991’s Night on Earth gave Ryder a chance to move away from teenage roles by casting her in the film’s opening segment, as a driver who develops an unexpected connection with a Hollywood executive (Gena Rowlands) while ferrying her from the airport. While Night didn’t offer Ryder as much screen time as some of her other films, it offered a glimpse at the more experimental fare she’d dabble in later (such as Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly), and impressed critics like Roger Ebert, who wrote, “At the end, we have learned no great lessons and arrived at no thrilling conclusions, but we have shared the community of the night, when people are unbuttoned and vulnerable — more ready to speak about what’s really on their minds.”


[tomatometer]MovieID=10082[/tomatometer]

9. The Crucible

With a screenplay adapted by Arthur Miller from his own play, director Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George) at the helm, and a cast that included Ryder, Daniel-Day Lewis, Paul Scofield, and Joan Allen, The Crucible looked like the can’t-miss art house hit of 1996. Things didn’t quite work out that way — it barely made back half of its budget — but even if it wasn’t a commercial success, the big-screen version of Miller’s allegorical account of the McCarthy witch hunts, set against the backdrop of one teenage girl’s hysterical accusation during the Salem trials, its stars earned critical praise for their work. “There’s an awful, piercing truth in the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen and Paul Scofield as members of a community destroyed by guilt, paranoia and betrayal,” wrote Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle.


[tomatometer]MovieID=11125[/tomatometer]

8. Mermaids

It takes a special kind of screen presence to keep from being steamrolled by Cher at her scene-stealing best, and that goes double for any movie where she gets to play a “free spirit” — but even though it was Cher’s name getting first billing above the title, Winona Ryder walked away with Mermaids, adding genuine pathos to what could have been a decidedly unmemorable melodrama about the struggles of a 15-year-old girl (Ryder) to find herself in the shadow of her aggressively independent single mother (Cher). “Having made something of a specialty of woe-is-me, adolescent angst, Ryder finds a deeper level here,” observed Hal Hinson of the Washington Post, identifying it as “a level of comedy with something genuinely painful mixed in.”


[tomatometer]MovieID=10055[/tomatometer]

7. Beetlejuice

You’ve seen a lot of movies about people hiring exorcists to get rid of ghosts. But what if ghosts could hire someone to get rid of people? That was the novel idea behind Beetlejuice, the gleefully unhinged Gothic comedy that cemented Tim Burton’s bankability, gave Ryder an early breakthrough after her supporting role in Lucas, and simply let Michael Keaton run wild as a demented “bio-exorcist” summoned by recently deceased newlyweds (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) to repel the family that has moved into their home. Calling it “Tim Burton’s freshest work, and perhaps the purest embodiment of his funky world view,” Rob Vaux of Flipside Movie Emporium noted, “Count the number of people whose careers were made here; that’s no fluke.”


[tomatometer]MovieID=13050[/tomatometer]

6. The Age of Innocence

A year after scoring a leading role for Francis Ford Coppola in Dracula, Ryder went to work for another great American director — and earned an Academy Award nomination along the way — in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. Adapted from Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel, Innocence gave Ryder the chance to hone her dramatic chops with a tremendous cast, including Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer, and gave fans of tightly corseted love stories a reason to bring their hankies to the theater. “When the movie was over,” sighed an appreciative Steve Rhodes, “I could hardly move.”

[tomatometer]MovieID=16616[/tomatometer]

5. Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Ryder joined her fondness for period pictures with her affinity for gothic-tinged characters in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola’s beautifully filmed, proudly overblown take on the classic vampire legend. Surrounded by a marquee-worthy cast that included Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, and Anthony Hopkins, Ryder held her own; their performances helped scare up a $215 million gross that restored some of the fading lustre to Coppola’s career. “Coppola never stops putting on his own showboat performance,” wrote Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic, adding, “His Dracula isn’t like anything else around.”


[tomatometer]MovieID=770738135[/tomatometer]

4. Black Swan

For those of us who remember Ryder’s days as a fresh-faced ingenue who racked up teenaged roles in the 1980s and 1990s — and who was playing love-interest roles, a la her part in Mr. Deeds, in the early aughts — it came as something of a shock to see her appear as Natalie Portman’s discarded predecessor in Black Swan. (Sure, she also played Spock’s mom in the Star Trek reboot, but that was a blink-and-you-missed-it bit part.) But if she was graduating to a new generation of characters, Ryder remained as attracted to challenging, high-quality scripts as ever, and although Portman and Mila Kunis were unquestionably the stars of this Darren Aronofsky drama, Swan still gave Ryder an opportunity to be part of one of the best-reviewed films of 2010. “This is, no doubt about it, a tour de force,” wrote David Edelstein of New York Magazine, calling it “a work that fully lives up to its director’s ambitions.


[tomatometer]MovieID=12604[/tomatometer]

3. Little Women

For many books, one film adaptation is more than enough — but not Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the 19th century classic that took its fifth trip before the cameras in 1994. Given the parade of Women that came first — including George Cukor’s classic take on the book — director Gillian Armstrong had her work cut out for her. Fortunately, she also had a solid screenplay by Robin Swicord (Memoirs of a Geisha), as well as a terrific cast that included Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, and — as the headstrong Jo — Winona Ryder. Acknowledging prior adaptations, Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, “Ladies, get out your hand-hemmed handkerchiefs for the loveliest Little Women ever on screen.”


[tomatometer]MovieID=10019[/tomatometer]

2. Edward Scissorhands

1990 was a pretty good year for Ryder — while Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael didn’t do so well with audiences or critics, it was also the year she released Mermaids and a little flick called Edward Scissorhands. Playing to Ryder’s gift for playing soulful, doe-eyed teens with an outsider streak, Scissorhands reunited her with Beetlejuice director Tim Burton and gave her a chance to co-star with then-boyfriend Johnny Depp — and it was also a hit at the box office, as well as with scribes like Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, who wrote, “Burton’s richly entertaining update of the Frankenstein story is the year’s most comic, romantic and haunting film fantasy.”


[tomatometer]MovieID=15577[/tomatometer]

1. Heathers

You knew we were going to end up here. It was roundly ignored during its theatrical run, but Heathers is now regarded as one of the best teen comedies — heck, best comedies — of the 1980s. Starring Ryder as a disgruntled member of her high school’s popular clique and Christian Slater as the homicidal drifter looking for a little help purging the cool kids, Heathers gave its two young leads a burst of counter-culture cachet while impressing critics like Todd McCarthy of Variety, who called it “A super-smart black comedy about high school politics” while noting that it “showcases a host of promising young talents.” Sequels and adaptations have been rumored for years, but Heathers is just fine the way it is — here’s hoping Hollywood leaves well enough alone.


In case you were wondering, here are Ryder’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Night on Earth — 91%
2. Edward Scissorhands — 88%
3. Black Swan — 88%
4. Girl, Interrupted — 83%
5. Heathers — 82%
6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula — 79%
7. Little Women — 79%
8. Reality Bites — 74%
9. The Age of Innocence — 73%
10. The House of the Spirits — 73%


Take a look through Ryder’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for The Dilemma.

Finally, here’s Ryder in one of her finest performances, playing Debbie Gibson:

Tag Cloud

Winners RT21 Shudder blaxploitation award winner Columbia Pictures SXSW game show BET Red Carpet Lifetime disaster Western based on movie Photos Tarantino science fiction MCU movies Walt Disney Pictures The Arrangement composers boxoffice Brie Larson Food Network Extras Paramount Network Year in Review Acorn TV Spring TV Nickelodeon cats golden globes PaleyFest Winter TV Song of Ice and Fire Lucasfilm what to watch Elton John Syfy TCA San Diego Comic-Con 2016 National Geographic Adult Swim Kids & Family Ellie Kemper Rom-Com spinoff Emmys finale facebook Nat Geo Esquire AMC Disney Channel Horror Pixar Comedy Central quibi GoT Thanksgiving Cartoon Network Amazon Prime Video Hulu psychological thriller TIFF Comics on TV Chernobyl sitcom Mary Poppins Returns Sundance Now Universal Super Bowl children's TV Family ABC Family Heroines cinemax SundanceTV Apple space USA Network mockumentary RT History cults Spike elevated horror CMT police drama Toys 2018 spider-man crime thriller Quiz IFC Films Pride Month DC streaming service thriller ESPN BBC crime Mudbound 007 Rock comic Animation HBO adventure TBS Freeform Masterpiece APB green book TruTV VH1 FX Trailer robots talk show anthology Film Opinion 2017 Ghostbusters Britbox Election The CW Cannes Musicals PBS DGA Emmy Nominations docudrama DC Comics comiccon Binge Guide Mary Tyler Moore TV Land Musical YouTube Red Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Creative Arts Emmys Fantasy NBC Summer tv talk Amazon Oscars crime drama sports Women's History Month OWN E! Star Trek CBS CW Seed singing competition American Society of Cinematographers LGBTQ Star Wars Epix LGBT festivals hist Schedule E3 Music Rocky Fall TV Showtime Valentine's Day BBC America Fox News discovery Film Festival Amazon Prime FOX MTV ratings New York Comic Con Disney 20th Century Fox anime Pet Sematary Warner Bros. Sneak Peek Infographic Ovation CNN YouTube Premium streaming Biopics Bravo sequel social media GIFs revenge IFC Dark Horse Comics TCA 2017 USA Vudu TV dceu natural history Tumblr Character Guide toy story Country Logo Sundance true crime dramedy Paramount period drama biography Martial Arts medical drama richard e. Grant teaser Shondaland TLC Watching Series A&E transformers Set visit Comic Book Anna Paquin Nominations dc harry potter politics Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Mystery Christmas El Rey WarnerMedia book 2019 cooking Crackle historical drama See It Skip It Video Games Calendar Premiere Dates DirecTV television Box Office serial killer strong female leads SDCC aliens Mary poppins Podcast Grammys DC Universe HBO Max Reality Competition zombies Tomatazos Superheroes Captain marvel CBS All Access Reality animated theme song X-Men Trophy Talk Rocketman WGN Spectrum Originals dragons casting miniseries crossover Pop romance Stephen King spy thriller GLAAD war zombie Action Black Mirror travel YA ITV kids Awards Tour Teen cops MSNBC vampires Holidays Netflix adaptation jamie lee curtis Best and Worst Writers Guild of America Starz series Polls and Games nature Comedy Interview TNT doctor who cars witnail binge Lionsgate Awards 21st Century Fox unscripted Drama technology ABC Countdown Marvel Trivia diversity Cosplay TCM mutant Pirates President Disney streaming service VICE FXX NYCC 24 frames 45 Sci-Fi ghosts supernatural First Look History Marathons zero dark thirty Certified Fresh political drama psycho The Witch Sony Pictures justice league Mindy Kaling Superheroe 2015