Zoe Saldaña doesn't leap immediately to mind when thinking about major Hollywood actresses. That said, she has appeared in some of the biggest blockbuster franchises in cinema history. When considering lead roles, she's the second-highest-grossing film actress ever and the fourth actor overall.
Her credits include the three highest-grossing films, Avatar, Avengers: Endgame, and Avatar: The Way of Water, as well as several other Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, the Star Trek franchise, and a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. That's one heck of a résumé and barely touches the surface of Saldaña's career.
In this piece, we'll rank the 22 best Zoe Saldaña movies, starting with the finest and working down.
1 – Avengers: Endgame (2019, Directed by The Russo Brothers)
The only movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe rated higher than Avengers: Endgame is 2018's Black Panther. Endgame, the culmination of over a decade of filmmaking, saw the eponymous team and their allies working together to undo Thanos' actions in 2018's Avengers: Infinity War and defeat the Mad Titan once and for all.
The incredible cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, and Paul Rudd. Saldaña's role as Gamora is her smallest in the MCU, as she briefly appears in the climactic battle when a past version of the character travels to the present – the original version having died at her adoptive father Thanos' hand in Infinity War. She performs well and contributes to a film that's exciting, emotional, tense, action-packed, and funny. It looks fantastic and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.
2 – Star Trek (2009, Directed by j.j. Abrams)
In 2009, the iconic Star Trek franchise rebooted with a new film featuring the original series' characters portrayed by a new set of actors. It follows the crew of the USS Enterprise in their efforts to defeat Nero, a Romulan from their future who's on a mission of retribution against the United Federation of Planets and its allies.
It stars Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, and Eric Bana as Nero, all performing superbly. Simon Pegg, Winona Ryder, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Leonard Nimoy, and Saldaña provide support, with Saldaña playing Nyota Uhura, still a cadet in this film, and she's excellent. Star Trek is stunning, action-packed, and humorous. It received four Academy Award nominations, winning the award for Best Makeup.
3 – Guardians of The Galaxy (2014, Directed by James Gunn)
Saldaña made an auspicious debut with her first appearance as Gamora in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie in which a group of galactic criminals meet in prison after attempting to steal a powerful artifact, then go on the run and form the eponymous heroic team. Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, and Lee Pace also star.
The aesthetic of this film is gorgeous, and it's action-packed, heartwarming, and hilarious. Many people hadn't heard of the eponymous team when Guardians of the Galaxy hit theaters, but it turned them into A-list Marvel superstars. The film received two Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
4 – Star Trek Beyond (2016, Directed by Justin Lin)
Star Trek Beyond marks the third installment in the rebooted Star Trek franchise. In this one, the USS Enterprise crew encounters a new ruthless and threatening enemy, Krall, while they explore the far reaches of space. Idris Elba joins the cast as the main villain, giving an outstanding, formidable performance.
In this film, Saldaña's character, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, works as the communications officer on the Enterprise, and the actress portrays her with an aura that says as much. Beyond plays out like an extended episode of the original classic Star Trek series, which is a significant compliment. It received a nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the Academy Awards.
5 – Vivo (2021, Directed by Kirk Demicco and Brandon Jeffords)
The computer-animated musical comedy movie Vivo follows the eponymous music-loving kinkajou on the journey of a lifetime to fulfill his destiny by delivering a love song to a retiring singer. Lin-Manuel Miranda voices Vivo, and the supporting cast includes Juan de Marcos, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Rooker, Nicole Byer, Gloria Estefan, and Saldaña.
Saldaña plays Rosa, the niece-in-law of Vivo's owner, Andrés, giving a lovely performance. The whole cast does fine work, which makes Vivo an enjoyable watch. It features great animation, with catchy songs and valuable lessons for children, including the importance of speaking up, letting people be themselves, and not judging a book by its cover.
6 – Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Directed by The Russo Brothers)
For the first time, Avengers: Infinity War united the eponymous team with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Saldaña, however, didn't get much chance to mingle with Earth's mightiest heroes, as her character Gamora died at her father Thanos' giant purple hands. This film follows the various heroes of the cosmos in their efforts to prevent the Mad Titan from collecting all six Infinity Stones and wiping out half of all life in the universe with them. Of course, they failed.
Along with the rest of the outstanding ensemble, which includes Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, and Benedict Wong, Saldaña is terrific. Avengers: Infinity War is action-packed, exciting, and tense, and the dramatic climax is one of the most shocking in cinematic history. It received a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards.
7 – Avatar (2009, Directed by James Cameron)
Once the highest-grossing movie ever, Avatar, is an epic sci-fi movie set in the mid-22nd century when humans colonize a lush habitable moon called Pandora. It follows a paraplegic Marine, living as an “avatar” – his mind in an artificial body of a native Pandoran Na'vi – torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home and the natives he's fond of.
It stars Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, the Marine, and Saldaña as Neytiri, the Na'vi warrior he loves. They're brilliant and have excellent support from Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, and Joel David Moore. Avatar has no shortage of beautiful images or technical innovation, and it looks phenomenal to watch in 3D. It received nominations for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects.
8 – Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023, Directed by James Gunn)
The third and final Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, follows the eponymous team of misfit heroes as they try to protect Rocket, their gruff and tough raccoon member, from his evil creator, the High Evolutionary. Saldaña reprises her role as Gamora alongside Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper as members of the team, who all give ranged performances in this emotional rollercoaster of a film.
Will Poulter and Chukwudi Iwuji join the cast as Adam Warlock and the High Evolutionary, and both men are fantastic. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a fitting finale for the now-iconic team, as it's colorful, teeming with awe-inspiring special effects, action-packed, hilarious, and tugs on the heartstrings.
9 – Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, Directed by James Gunn)
There are no poor Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Still, the weakest of the three epic films is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In this adventure, the eponymous team of eclectic heroes journeys through space to help Peter Quill learn more about his mysterious parentage. Saldaña reprises her role as Gamora, and she does brilliant work alongside the regular Guardians cast. Kurt Russell joins them as the Celestial being, Ego, Quill's biological father.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is another emotional and action-packed installment in the popular franchise. It teems with stunning imagery, earning it an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects. Ego is a highlight, as he's one of the best villainous characters in the MCU.
10 – Missing Link (2019, Directed by Chris Butler)
The adventure comedy movie Missing Link follows a Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest who heads to the Himalayas with the help of a pair of British explorers to meet his Yeti cousins. Zach Galifianakis voices the Sasquatch Mr. Link, and Hugh Jackman and Saldaña voice Sir Lionel Frost Adelina Fortnight, the two British explorers who aid him, and they're all superb.
The sterling supporting cast includes David Walliams, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Timothy Olyphant, and Emma Thompson, making for a highly entertaining watch. Missing Link is lovely to look at, funny, full of heart, and occasionally thought-provoking. It received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
11 – Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, Directed by j.j. Abrams)
The sequel to Star Trek, Into Darkness, follows the USS Enterprise crew to the Klingon homeworld of Kronos as they seek out John Harrison, a former Starfleet member-turned-terrorist. The predecessor's cast reprises their roles, and Benedict Cumberbatch joins them as Harrison, also known as Khan, which caused considerable controversy among audiences.
Saldaña's character, Nyota Uhura, has become a lieutenant and the Enterprise's communications officer. Saldaña conveys that new authority and responsibility perfectly. Into Darkness is an aesthetic treat overloaded with high-octane action and dazzling special effects. It received a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards.
12 – Avatar: The Way of Water (2023, Directed by James Cameron)
The sequel to Avatar, Avatar: The Way of Water, also climbed the box office charts. Jake Sully, the human in a Na'vi body, as he and his family seek refuge with Pandora's aquatic Metkayina clan as a renewed human threat emerges intending to kill them.
Sam Worthington reprises his role as Sully, and Saldaña does the same as Neytiri, Sully's mate and the mother of his children. Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore, and Giovanni Ribisi return from the original cast, with Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis among those joining them. Avatar: The Way of Water is gorgeous, immersive, and a technical achievement equal to its predecessor. It's sentimental, with some great action sequences, but the story and dialogue are a little plain, and the whole thing is sometimes too slow-paced.
13 – Premium (2006, Directed by Pete Chatmon)
Premium tells the story of a gas station employee whose ex-fiancée pulls into his place of work, making him realize he still loves her. The problem? She's marrying somebody else in a day and a half.
Dorian Missick stars as Cool, the man who works at the gas station, and Saldaña as Charli, his ex. They both give standout performances and have top support from a cast of fleshed-out characters played by Hill Harper, Eva Pigford, Frankie Faison, and William Sadler. The movie's pace meanders too often, which distracts from the action.
14 – Vampires vs. The Bronx (2020, Directed by Oz Rodriguez)
The comedy horror movie Vampires vs. the Bronx follows a group of teenagers in the eponymous New York City Borough as they defend their neighborhood from a group of vampire invaders. Saldaña has a small role, as she plays Becky, a salon owner killed off in the opening scenes.
Its core cast includes Jaden Michael, Gerald W. Jones III, Gregory Diaz IV, Sarah Gadon, Method Man, Shea Whigham, and Coco Jones–in other words, a good mix of talented, lesser-known actors and established stars. Vampires vs. the Bronx does what comedy horror often fails to do – it combines humor and scares well.
15 – The Book of Life (2014, Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez)
The 3D computer-animated children's movie The Book of Life tells the story of a bullfighter who, on Mexico's Day of the Dead, sets out on an adventure through three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears to fulfill the expectations of his family and friends. It features the voices of Diego Luna, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Danny Trejo, and Saldaña, who expertly plays María Posada, the love interest of Luna's Manolo Sánchez.
The Book of Life has some incredible visuals and top-notch animation, but the story doesn't quite match it. The cast performs fabulously, and the film does an admirable job of teaching kids about death. Still, it lacks the overall entertainment value of animated offerings by the likes of Pixar and DreamWorks.
16 – Drumline (2002, Directed by Charles Stone III)
Drumline follows a young drummer from New York City who heads to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend the fictional Atlanta A&T University and clashes with the leader of his new school's drum section. It stars Nick Cannon as Devon Miles, the drummer, alongside Orlando Jones, Leonard Roberts, and Saldaña as Laila, Devon's love interest, and she shines in an early role.
It has the feel of a sports movie – and a good one. Drumline feels fresh, infectious, and well-acted. The movie showed Saldaña would become a star, therefore, among her lesser-seen outings, this movie is a must.
17 – Infinitely Polar Bear (2014, Directed by Maya Forbes)
The curiously titled Infinitely Polar Bear chronicles a man struggling with bipolar disorder who tries to win his wife back by taking full responsibility for their two young daughters. It stars Mark Ruffalo as Cameron Stuart and Saldaña as Maggie, his wife. The latter's astute acting complements the complex performance of the former.
Infinitely Polar Bear may not deal with its tricky themes as well as it could, but its cast ensures it's a solid drama with a few laughs. It's ultimately a feel-good movie, and you'll come away from it on a high. It's poignant, sweet, and charming; undoubtedly, many people will relate to and feel comforted by the events portrayed.
18 – Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl (2003, Directed by Gore Verbinski)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl marks the opening installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise based on the Disney theme park attractions. It follows eccentric pirate Captain Jack Sparrow as he teams up with blacksmith Will Turner to rescue a kidnapped girl from the nasty crew members of the Black Pearl, who are also on a quest to retrieve the final pieces of a hoard of Aztec gold to break a curse placed on them when they stole it.
Johnny Depp stars as Sparrow, heading a fantastic cast that includes Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Pryce, Mackenzie Crook, and Saldaña, who plays Anamaria, a female pirate looking to confront Jack Sparrow for stealing her ship. Everyone gives their all including Saldaña, making for a fun, energetic film; one of the best Zoe Saldaña movies. The Curse of the Black Pearl is action-packed, funny, and buoyed by a mesmerizing performance from Depp. It received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Depp, but won none.
19 – The Terminal (2004, Directed by Steven Spielberg)
Partially inspired by the true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri's 18-year stay in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport's Terminal 1 from 1988 to 2006, The Terminal is a comedy-drama about an Eastern European man stuck in New York's John F. Kennedy Airport terminal after his denied entry into America and his inability to return to his native country due to a military coup.
Tom Hanks gives a solid performance as Viktor Navorski, the man stuck in the terminal, and his co-stars include Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, and Saldaña, who plays Dolores Torres, an immigration officer and Star Trek superfan, in a fun foreshadowing of her later role in the franchise. The Terminal is flawed but funny, romantic, earnest, and moving, with a lovely message.
20 – The Adam Project (2022, Directed by Shawn Levy)
The Ryan Reynolds-led sci-fi action comedy The Adam Project follows the eponymous time-traveling fighter pilot Adam Reed as he crash-lands in 2022 while attempting to go to 2018 and teams up with his 12-year-old self on a mission to save the future and his wife. Reynolds brings his usual charisma as Adam, and Saldaña plays his wife, Laura Shane, with typical competence.
The supporting cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, and Catherine Keener, all of whom bring their A-games. The Adam Project is a stylish, slick film with excellent special effects and enough action, humor, and sentiment to entertain. Its main problems are that the story is derivative and the writing is far from perfect. Walker Scobell deserves special praise for his debut performance as 12-year-old Adam.
21 – The Losers (2010, Directed by Sylvain White)
The Losers is a lesser-known comic book movie based on the Vertigo Comic series of the same name. While it can't match the quality of The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Black Panther, or Logan, it's well worth watching. It follows a CIA special forces team who mount an offensive on the CIA after their superiors betrayed them and left them for dead in Bolivia.
It stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Chris Evans, Jason Patric, and Saldaña, who plays a native Bolivian woman called Aisha, who aids the eponymous team in hunting down Max, their superior. The Losers is a well-acted film ideal for anyone who loves fast-paced, violent, loud experiences with a good dose of humor. It's dumb fun that's sometimes stylish for the sake of it.
22 – I Kill Giants (2017, Directed by Anders Walter)
Based on Kelly and Ken Niimura's graphic novel of the same name, which ran from 2008 until early 2009, the fantasy drama I Kill Giants follows an independent teenage girl as she deals with life's trials and tribulations by escaping into a fantasy life of magic and monsters. It stars Madison Wolfe, who gives a powerful performance as young Barbara Thorson.
Saldaña plays Mrs. Mollé, Barbara's school psychologist, who helps her deal with her problems. The solid supporting cast includes Art Parkinson, Imogen Poots, and Noel Clarke. I Kill Giants is a moody film buoyed by the incredible Wolfe. Although it's entertaining in parts and has impressive special effects, it becomes dull and mundane too often.