Mary Elizabeth Winstead has covered a lot of genre ground in her career. Since starting on TV in the 1990s, the actor has starred in all kinds of movies, from serious dramas to comedies and pure genre fare like horror and action. Whatever kind of movies you’re into, you can find one with Winstead at its center. Here I’d like to look at the ten best films she’s been in thus far.
10. The Thing (2011)
2011’s The Thing is a somewhat strange movie. It’s a prequel to and a remake of John Carpenter’s 1982 classic of the same name. The 2011 film centers on the Norwegian research crew in Antarctica that first discovers the eponymous thing that can mimic all biological material but includes an international cast, including Winstead as a paleontologist brought on to help extract the extraterrestrial from ice. The movie’s often criticized for using computer-generated creature and body horror effects instead of practical effects. However, overwhelmingly, those CGI effects look pretty good, and there’s still significant use of practical goopy goodness.
9. Smashed (2012)
Smashed is a movie with incredible tone control. The film tells the story of alcoholic first-grade teacher Kate (Winstead), who, after an increasingly dangerous series of nights out, decides to join Alcoholics Anonymous and work on getting sober. The scenes of Kate and her husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) drunk are genuinely alarming. Still, the film manages to never fall into scare tactics style PSA territory or portray their drunkenness as funny in a way that downplays the seriousness of the issue. Instead, it’s a drama with a light touch that features fantastic performances from all involved, including the supporting cast of Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and Octavia Spencer.
8. Kate (2021)
Kate is one of the many action movies of recent years that’s heavily indebted to the John Wick series, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. The film follows the eponymous assassin Kate (Winstead) after she is poisoned and must fight through the yakuza to secure a meeting with the boss who can give her an antidote. It’s a simple premise that’s worked well for other action movies and keeps things moving here. But the real joys are the neon and LED-lit fights and chase scenes that are eye-popping for the action and the beauty with which they’re framed.
7. All About Nina (2018)
In All About Nina, Winstead again takes on the eponymous role, but she is far from an assassin; she’s a stand-up comic who struggles with alcohol and a history of abuse. Instead, all About Nina follows Nina as she begins a relationship with the charming Rafe (Common) and has difficulty opening up and committing to the relationship. The movie is funny, especially when Winstead does a fantastic Kristen Stewart impression during one of her sets. But it lands much closer to being a drama about catharsis and engaging with trauma than a straightforward romantic comedy, and it’s all the better for it.
6. Final Destination 3 (2006)
Mileage on the Final Destination films varies significantly from person to person. But as a devoted horror fan and lover of lighthearted slashers, the series has a place in my heart. In Final Destination 3, teenager Wendy (Winstead) has a premonition of a disastrous rollercoaster crash and stops several of her classmates from getting on the ride, only for Death to hunt them down. It’s one of the best entries in the five-movie franchise, with an iconic match-cut from tanning beds to coffins.
5. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an undeniably silly movie. The idea that Abraham Lincoln was engaged in a lifelong battle against vampires that came to the American Civil War is wonderfully ridiculous, and it’s in committing to that ridiculousness in every aspect that the film manages to be a great time. Winstead plays first lady Mary Todd Lincoln who sadly isn’t in as much of the movie as fans might hope, but it’s still fun to see her in period garb in a film that features slow-motion vampire fights.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Winstead’s turn as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World may be the role she will always be remembered for. While her name isn’t in the title as it is in several of her other films, Ramona is the center of the entire narrative. She’s the catalyst for Scott (Michael Cera) coming under attack from “the world,” which means Ramona’s seven evil exes. Based on the Scott Pilgrim comics by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the movie is overloaded with style and references to indie rock and classic video games.
3. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
A semi-sequel to Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane has almost no narrative relationship to that film, instead centering on three people in an isolated bunker. Winstead plays Michelle, accompanied in the bunker by a young man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and Howard (John Goodman), an older man who made the bunker and firmly believes that they need to stay underground because aliens have attacked above ground. Director Dan Trachtenberg mines the enclosed location for tension as Michelle and Emmett begins to doubt Howard’s claims, and conflicts arise between the three.
2. Birds of Prey (2020)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), also known by the much shorter title Birds of Prey, is loosely based on the comics of the same name (minus the parenthetical) that center on a team of rotating women superheroes. The film’s lineup includes Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn alongside Winstead as Helena Bertinelli, aka Huntress, and several other superpowered and non-superpowered women who join together to take on the villainous Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor, now Winstead’s husband). It’s the best superhero movie of the last decade as it gives each character time to shine and offers some phenomenal action sequences and genuinely funny comedy, much of it from Helena, whose social skills are a bit off given that assassins raised her.
1. Death Proof (2007)
Death Proof often gets shrugged off as a lesser film from Quentin Tarantino, but his half of the Grindhouse double feature film is not just one of his best; it’s also one of the best movies of the 2000s. The film follows two groups of women stalked and attacked by Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike. But instead of centering Mike, the movie spends time with the groups of friends and functions more like a hangout movie than a horror movie for much of its runtime.
Nevertheless, it’s full of some of Tarantino’s best dialogue and delivers an iconic final car chase that’s necessary viewing for any fans of car movies. The only downside, especially in the context of a list of her films, is that Winstead isn’t in enough of the movie. She plays Lee, an actress whose career is taking off, and is perfect in her scenes with Rosario Dawson, but is sidelined in the grand finale when her friends leave her behind.
Film and TV Critic, Pop Culture Writer
- Expertise: Horror, Animation, Queer Film
- Education: Master's Degree in Philosophy from Boston College, Dual Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Boston College
- Organizer of Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd
- Over 200 reviews, essays, articles, and lists across various sites
Experience: Kyle Logan has been writing about film since studying film and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston College. Kyle began writing about film professionally in 2020 and has written for many sites including Screen Anarchy, Film Stories, and Fangoria. Kyle has also organized the Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd since 2020, highlighting the queer history of film and bringing attention to rising queer filmmakers. Kyle now works full time with Wealth of Geeks, contributing lists, reviews, and podcast appearances on topics as varied as film, travel, and Halloween candy.