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Kristen Stewart’s Best Performances: ‘Love Lies Bleeding,’ ‘Spencer,’ ‘Crimes of the Future,’ and More

Nowadays, it seems odd to remember a time when the acclaimed, Oscar-nominated Kristen Stewart wasn’t considered a great actor, or even a good one. But from 2008 to 2012, that was the prevailing opinion about the Los Angeles-born performer’s abilities — or, at the very least, the prevailing opinion about her on the internet.

A child actor who worked consistently since she was 12, when she portrayed Jodie Foster’s daughter in David Fincher thriller “Panic Room,” Stewart practically exploded into a global film star when she headlined 2008’s “Twilight,” based on the popular vampire teen romance novels by Stephenie Meyer. Opposite instant sex symbol Robert Pattinson, Stewart was the moody, shy, awkward Bella Swan, the type of female heroine whose specificity takes a backseat to general relatability, so the tween girls reading the books can imagine themselves in her shoes.

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“Twilight” was a massive success, grossing over $400 million on a worldwide budget and turning Stewart into a teen idol. But the books were the subject of a massive (often sexist) backlash online, which viewed the frequently silly romantic fantasy with utter scorn. The movies were no exception, and Stewart, as the face of the franchise, received intense scrutiny and criticism, with thousands of people dismissing her acting in the films as wooden, awkward, and embarrassing. The Golden Raspberry Awards (ever one to kick an easy target when they’re down) awarded her a Worst Actress trophy in 2013, both for her work in the final “Twilight” film and as the fairytale princess in the poorly received “Snow White and the Huntsman.” It was a rough year for Stewart for many reasons: She faced media backlash after an affair with “Snow White” director Rupert Sanders was revealed, ending her long-term relationship with “Twilight” costar Pattinson.

So while “Twilight” gave Stewart an undeniable boost in public recognition, she left the franchise with something to prove to the many haters she gained from her association with sparkly vampires. And impressively, it didn’t take her long to prove it; pivoting to smaller indie films, Stewart received critical acclaim and a César Award in 2014 for her performance in Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria.”

That was the start of a new era for Stewart, who showed herself in multiple films — including a reunion with Assayas for “Personal Shopper” and an Oscar-nominated turn as Princess Diana in “Spencer” — to be a much shrewder performer than she was given credit for. She has a naturalistic, unfussy style that in the right contexts can prove disarming and magnetic, paired with an inscrutability and mystery that makes her characters feel like people with lives beyond the runtimes of the films she stars in. As the “Twilight” backlash has largely died and the films have been reexamined, you can see the strengths that make her the most interesting movie star of her generation in her work as Bella, even if it’s in a very silly context.

Stewart’s career turn-around has been accompanied by a general public image turnaround, from matinee idol to indie darling. Maybe just as importantly, she’s gone from being tied inextricably with the achingly heterosexual “Twilight” universe to a full-blown queer icon; after a few public relationships with women, she came out as bisexual in 2017, and has been with her fianceé screenwriter Dylan Meyer since 2019. That, and her daring work in provocative films like “Crimes of the Future,” made her a darling among queer cinephiles, and her latest performance feels like particular catnip for her fanbase. In “Love Lies Bleeding,” Stewart plays a reclusive gym manager in a criminal family whose life turns both beautiful and deadly when she falls for a female bodybuilder (Katy O’Brien). The ’80s set film is sexy, thrilling, and incredibly queer, and Stewart shines in this world director Rose Glass builds to give one of her all-time best performances.

With “Love Lies Bleeding” out in theaters now, IndieWire has decided to revisit Stewart’s past work, to see what from the enigmatic, constantly surprising star emerges as her greatest performance. While compiling this ranking, we based placement on Stewart’s work, rather than the quality of the movie itself. Read on for IndieWire’s ranking of Kristen Stewart’s 10 best film performances.

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