When Fox dusted off its Die Hard franchise in 2007 after more than a decade, some fans may have been skeptical that the new installment would recapture the magic of early entries. Thankfully, Live Free or Die Hard still stands as a solid enough film in the series, and its release helped to bolster the careers of young stars Justin Long and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The latter — who played Bruce Willis’s daughter Lucy in the film — has particularly seen her career evolve in recent years, with one bold project after another. With Winstead set to appear in 10 Cloverfield Lane, we look at her strongest work thus far.
1. Final Destination 3 (2006)
Sure, the Final Destination series has always emphasized overly elaborate death sequences over story and character. However, we can’t help but acknowledge Winstead’s role as Wendy Christensen in the third film (i.e., the one that opens with a rollercoaster crash). The film around her may be mostly by-the-numbers, but Winstead does what she can to elevate it with an emotionally harrowing performance that calls to mind classic “scream queens” of the past. A film as ludicrous as Final Destination 3 would have fallen flat without such an impressively terrified turn as that provided by Winstead.
2. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Winstead had appeared in several films before playing John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) daughter in this action sequel. The role — which the actress briefly reprises in 2013 sequel A Good Day to Die Hard — doesn’t allow Winstead to take center stage, but she does provide an emotional touchstone for Willis’s hero. More importantly, her supporting turn in such a box office smash (the film reined in nearly $400 million worldwide) boosted Winstead’s profile and opened up more possibilities for her career.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Edgar Wright’s trippy hipster-infused adaptation of the Bryan Lee O’Malley comic series was a box office disappointment during its initial release, but the film’s blend of indie music and retro gaming has since turned it into a revered cult classic. Michael Cera stars as the title slacker/bassist who must face off against new girlfriend Ramona Flowers’s (Winstead) ex-loves. The actress brings a sarcastic edge and dry wit to the role as well as a sincere vulnerability and desire to begin anew. In the process, Winstead won the hearts of geeks everywhere, becoming a new standard for the “manic pixie dream girl.” Like the film itself says, Winstead’s Ramona is “on another level.”
4. Smashed (2012)
Despite being best known for more mainstream fare, Winstead played the alcoholic Kate Hannah in this drama from director James Ponsoldt (The End of the Tour). Starring alongside Aaron Paul, Winstead delivers an unforgettably raw performance of a woman desperately trying to hold her life together in the face of a toxic marriage. The actress earned critical raves for her work in the film, which stands among her most acclaimed releases to date. No wonder Ponsoldt was eager to work with her in his subsequent film, The Spectacular Now.
5. Faults (2014)
In this acclaimed indie film from writer/director Riley Stearns, Winstead plays a young woman who has recently joined a cult. Although the darkly comic film provides incisive commentary on its heavy themes, Winstead — starring with Leland Orser — keeps the film emotionally grounded and perfectly in line with its distinctive tone. Faults served as Stearns’s debut feature, but for Winstead, it provided yet another performance demonstrating her versatility and skill onscreen.
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