Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Aubrey Plaza's 7 Best And 7 Worst Movie Roles Ranked

Aubrey Plaza is an actor who never ceases to impress. Whether she's venturing into comedy or burrowing herself more deeply in a dramatic role, Plaza has remained consistently awe-inspiring in her career, handing in performances that sometimes transcend the overall quality of a film itself. It doesn't matter what kind of character she's playing or how much screentime she receives. No matter what, Plaza is usually one of the better actors to appear in a film, able to make audiences laugh, cry, or experience some other genuine human emotion that only the best actors are capable of eliciting.

Appearing first on the hit NBC comedy "Parks and Recreation," as emotionally numb intern April Ludgate, Plaza became one of the show's most popular breakout characters, leading to continued acclaim among fans and critics. From there, her path to career success was set, resulting in Plaza receiving more attention from prospective filmmakers who cast her in their movies.

While Plaza has yet to receive the widespread recognition she clearly deserves, she's slowly beginning to gain a reputation as one of the bravest young actors of the current generation. Over the years, she's appeared in a variety of mainstream Hollywood films, but has more expertly transitioned over to the world of independent film, starring in critically acclaimed movies like "Black Bear," "Ingrid Goes West," and, most recently, "Emily the Criminal."

Like any actor, however, Plaza's filmography is not without a few letdowns. Here are some of the best and worst movies Plaza has been featured in over the years, ranked from worst to best.

Worst: The To Do List

Shortly after her breakthrough performance in "Parks and Recreation," Aubrey Plaza appeared in a string of quirky comedy films that capitalized on her newfound success as a comic actor. Some of them were fairly decent, but others — like 2013's "The To Do List" — were a tad disappointing, failing to follow up on their entertaining premises or the talented casts they had at their disposal.

Set in Boise, Idaho in 1993, the film follows Brandy (Plaza), a high-strung, studious overachiever who graduates at the top of her high school class. As college draws near, she resolves to become more sexually experienced before her freshman year begins, prompting her to make a list of sexual acts to complete during the summer.

With a cast that also includes Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg, Andy Samberg, and Donald Glover, there's no debating that "The To Do List" is piled high with talent. Unfortunately, the general raunchiness of the film was only moderately well-received by most critics, with Plaza's performance singled out as being the best thing about the film. "It's funny enough, at times, to be recommendable on its merits alone, although there's something dispiriting about its junky look, indifferent pacing, and sketch-comedy characterization," said the Dallas Observer's Alan Scherstuhl.

Best: Child's Play

In the late 2010s, the slasher genre suddenly saw a surge of renewed popularity — thanks especially to 2018's positively-received "Halloween" reboot. Like fellow slasher franchises "Candyman" and "Scream," "Child's Play" similarly jumped on the bandwagon for horror reboots and remakes.

Buddi dolls are the newest sensation from technology company Kaslan Corporation. Equipped with artificial intelligence, the toys are specially designed to bond with their owners, adapt to their surroundings and form learning-based decisions. After a disgruntled employee deliberately sabotages one Buddi doll, the toy slowly develops a mind of its own, stopping anyone who gets between him and his new owner, 13-year-old social outcast Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman).

It was a tall order remaking a movie as popular as 1988's "Child Play," but 2019's "Child's Play" was a smart, updated take on the hit slasher series, portraying the growing dangers of AI. A financial success — grossing $45 million against a $10 million budget (via Box Office Mojo) — the movie was also warmly received by critics. "'Child's Play' is one of those rare modern horror remakes that is more inspired than it is soulless," said RogerEbert.com's Nick Allen.

Venturing into the horror genre in the role of Andy's single mother, Aubrey Plaza convincingly portrays a female lead financially struggling to make ends meet. It's a more grounded performance for an otherwise nonrealistic film, but one that helps add a good deal of warmth and emotion to Plaza's complicated onscreen relationship with her son.

Worst: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Like so many top-notch Hollywood talents, Aubrey Plaza has been in her fair share of romantic comedies since her career took off in the early 2010s. However, many of them — like "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" — have been met with a less than enthusiastic reception from audiences, even if Plaza herself is often the highlight of the film.

In desperate need of dates for their sister's wedding in Hawaii, two brothers (Zac Efron and Adam DeVine) post an ad online looking for two perfect women to accompany them to the ceremony. Soon, they find themselves face to face with two young women (Plaza and Anna Kendrick) who can out-drink, out-smart, and out-party them in every way imaginable.

Despite being a box office success (drawing in $77.1 million against its $33 million budget, per Box Office Mojo), the reviews for "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" were average at best. The Independent's Geoffrey Macnab described it as "a enjoyably sleazy but absurdly contrived comedy."

The strongest element of the film, however, and the subject of repeated praise, was Plaza's turn as the chaotic thrill-seeker Tatiana, who becomes DeVine's onscreen love interest. As perfectly summed up by The Guardian's Jordan Hoffman, "Plaza's ineffable style of comedy (which weirdly teeters between broad farce and muted disinterest) suits the material so perfectly she leaves the others in the dust."

Best: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Frequently acclaimed as a bold, visionary director, Edgar Wright released his adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's beloved comic book series, "Scott Pilgrim," for the big screen in 2010. Combining the signature elements of comic books and video games, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" was an enjoyably cartoonish film, balancing sharp dialogue, impressive visuals, and a huge ensemble cast to delight audience members.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young slacker who begins dating the mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). As Scott and his band close in on getting a career-making record deal, he also has to contend with Ramona's seven evil exes, all of whom challenge him to highly over-the-top comedic duels.

Though a massive box office bomb, grossing a mere $49 million against its $60 million budget (via Box Office Mojo), "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" nevertheless earned rave reviews from critics and quickly obtained cult status among movie buffs. "Its speedy, funny, happy-sad spirit is so infectious that the movie makes you feel at home in its world even if the landscape is, at first glance, unfamiliar," said The New York Times' A.O. Scott.

In the film, Aubrey Plaza is featured in the minor role of Julie Powers, a cantankerous friend of Ramona's who vehemently loathes Scott. The performance is a relatively small one in Plaza's career, but she does have a few standout moments in the film, such as her hilariously meta confrontation with Scott in a cafe.

Worst: Life After Beth

Of the several romantic comedies that Aubrey Plaza has starred in, it's likely that "Life After Beth" is one of the quirkiest. Combining traits of a romcom with the darker undertones of a zombie film, it's a strange exploration of romantic relationships, all told through a very off-kilter indie film lens.

After his girlfriend, Beth (Plaza), tragically dies during a hiking accident, a young man named Zach (Dane DeHaan) tries to recover from her death. When Beth somehow returns home as a resurrected corpse, Zach takes the opportunity to bond with her, getting the chance to do and say everything he always wanted to when she was alive.

While the premise may sound promising, and the film's cast is comprised of supremely gifted comic actors (John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick, and Alia Shawkat), "Life After Beth" fails to live up to its unique concept. Torn between going for scares or for laughs, it instead has a hard time inducing either, even if Plaza is predictability great in the lead role. "Good effort. Great actors. But a missed opportunity," said The Irish Times' Tara Brady.

Best: Happiest Season

So far, we've highlighted some of the more moderately received romcoms that Aubrey Plaza has appeared in. That's not to say Plaza hasn't been featured in some fantastic romantic comedy movies as well — ones that are both deeply affecting and profoundly entertaining, like 2020's "Happiest Season."

Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) have been dating for nearly a year. As the holiday season approaches, the young couple decide to spend Christmas with Harper's family, broaching the news about their relationship to her more conservative-minded parents and siblings.

A semi-autobiographical film from writer-director Clea DuVall, "Happiest Season" is a wonderfully moving and modern portrait of love outside traditional views of romance and relationships. A "Guess Who's Coming for Dinner" for the current age, it was very positively received by critics, with the only minor criticism directed towards some more stereotypical elements of a romcom film. "Whatever familiar moments of corniness or cliché 'Happiest' might fall into along the way, they feel like quibbles for a movie that mostly just feels good," said Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt.

Plaza figures into the movie's plot as Riley, Harper's ex-girlfriend, whom she broke up with as a result of her childhood resistance to sharing her sexuality with her parents. Having wonderful onscreen chemistry with Davis and Stewart, Plaza was a consistent high point in an already joyous movie.

Worst: Addicted to Fresno

On the other end of the spectrum from "Happiest Season" comes 2015's "Addicted to Fresno." Like "Happiest Season," the central themes that "Addicted to Fresno" explores are more grounded and serious, but the movie's handling of those aspects was not nearly as subtle or emotionally engaging as the aforementioned film.

Martha (Natasha Lyonne) and Shannon (Judy Greer) are two sisters employed as hotel maids in Fresno, each of whom contend with their own personal issues. As the sisters' work at the hotel drags on, things take a turn for the worst after they believe they accidentally killed a man (Jon Daly) staying at the hotel.

Focusing itself too heavily on delivering jokes, "Addicted to Fresno" sacrifices the more emotional elements of the film, alienating viewers and leaving them unable to sympathize with the movie's intricate main characters. "'Addicted to Fresno' is such a mean-spirited, dull and silly movie that it buries its talented cast under the weight of a horrendous script that they can't possibly redeem," said RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico. Not even Aubrey Plaza's supporting performance as Kelly, Martha's gym trainer who develops romantic feelings for her, is enough to save this disappointing indie film.

Best: Safety Not Guaranteed

Aubrey Plaza's first leading role in a feature film came with 2012's "Safety Not Guaranteed." If there were any doubts that she was a gifted actor from her time on "Parks and Recreation," Plaza proved otherwise with this film, showing just how skillful an actor she can be when given a starring role in a movie.

Looking to make her name in the journalistic field, struggling intern Darius (Plaza) and two of her magazine coworkers (Jake Johnson and Karan Soni) travel to a coastal community for the sake of a story. There, they interview Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a man who placed a job listing looking for a companion to go with him on a time traveling adventure.

An indie film made on a shoestring budget of just $750,000 (via The Collaborative), "Safety Not Guaranteed" made a decent profit at the box office upon its release, raking in $4.4 million (via Box Office Mojo). Virtually every aspect of the film was met with acclaim from critics, particularly Plaza's performance, which led to her receiving several independent film awards and nominations for Best Actress. "'Safety Not Guaranteed' not only has dialogue that's about something, but characters who have some depth and dimension," said legendary film critic Roger Ebert.

Worst: Spin Me Round

Aubrey Plaza has regularly collaborated with her husband, director Jeff Baena, on several films throughout her career. Sometimes, these artistic collaborations have yielded positive results, as with 2017's "The Little Hours." But every so often, their pairing can fail to fully live up to its creative potential, as is the case with their most recent film together, "Spin Me Round."

Amber (Alison Brie) is a restaurant manager who wins a vacation to the Italian seaside to enroll in a class with her company's owner, the suave and charismatic Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola). As she and Nick spend more time together, she begins to suspect him of crimes of the darkest nature.

Like a number of films on this list, "Spin Me Round" has a huge ensemble cast at its disposal, including Molly Shannon, Debby Ryan, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen, Lil Rel Howery, and Tim Heidecker. However, it never capitalizes on its cast or Hitchcockian plotline, delivering a film that was as underwhelming as Baena and Plaza's earlier outing, "Life After Beth." "Alison Brie and the cast are fantastic, but the story veers unsuccessfully from light to dark to silly," said the Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper.

Best: Black Bear

"Black Bear" seemed to mark a major turning point for Aubrey Plaza, signifying a shift from the characters she portrayed in the more lighthearted films of the 2010s to the more dramatic roles she began turning her attention towards in the 2020s. From here on out, it seemed that Plaza would gravitate more towards darker characters with a more nuanced personality and background, as evidenced from her lead performance in "Black Bear."

Seeking inspiration for her next project, a filmmaker (Plaza) suffering a creative block journeys to the countryside of the Adirondack Mountains. She finds companionship with a vacationing couple (Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott), but the group enters a potentially dangerous game of lies, deception, jealousy, and romance.

Probing into the sometimes torturous creative process of artistic individuals, "Black Bear" was seen as a fascinating character study that allowed Plaza to foray into a stylistically different type of character than any she'd portrayed previously. The success of the film soon led to her earning several award nominations for Best Actress, including one from the San Diego Film Critics Society. "This is Plaza's best role yet, her cool feline sensuality achieving something more mysterious than anything in her previous work," opined The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw.

Worst: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Aubrey Plaza may have had a quick rise to indie film prominence, thanks to the mainstream exposure she received in "Parks and Rec" and the unorthodox superhero series, "Legion." However, like so many other actors in the film industry, she initially had to drudge through several unremarkable early films in her career, such as 2012's comedy, "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III."

In the swinging 1970s, womanizing graphic designer Charles Swan III (Charlie Sheen) is plagued by surrealistic nightmares and fever dreams after his latest girlfriend, Ivana (Katheryn Winnick), leaves him. Accompanied by his best friend (Jason Schwartzman) and manager (Bill Murray) in these absurdist hallucinations, Charles slowly comes to terms with the end of the relationship, as well as his own complex feelings towards Ivana along the way.

In no uncertain terms, "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" was an unmitigated cinematic disaster for everyone involved. Universally panned by critics, its overwhelming negative reviews led to it being one of the final starring roles for Charlie Sheen, with director Roman Coppola yet to make another film. "A film is a terrible thing to waste. For Roman Coppola to waste one on 'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III' is a sad sight to behold," said Roger Ebert. Plaza fits into the movie as Marnie, a supporting character and Swan's coworker in the film. Thankfully, the overall forgettable quality of "Charles Swan" has allowed her work on the movie to blessedly slip into obscurity.

Best: Emily the Criminal

Aubrey Plaza's most recent starring role came in "Emily the Criminal," a high-speed character study of a woman in desperate need of quick cash. Playing a more somber character than ever before, the role allowed Plaza to delve more deeply into a theatrical performance free from comedy, winning her instant acclaim for her work in the film.

Beset by severe debt that she's unable to pay off, former petty criminal Emily (Plaza) takes a job buying expensive goods with stolen credit cards supplied to her by a shady yet alluring middleman (Theo Rossi). Before long, Emily becomes an active member of an underground credit card fraud syndicate, leading her to try and spearhead the operation to higher levels in Los Angeles.

Tackling weighty issues such as poverty, debt, and crippling economic stress, "Emily the Criminal" is a film worthy of Martin Scorsese. It's a smart, cleverly-done crime thriller that perfectly showcases Plaza's talent as an actor, leading the film to earn instantly high reviews from critics. "It's energizing to see something as keenly observed and uniquely competent as 'Emily the Criminal,'" wrote the Observer's Rex Reed. "It's a tense and engaging thriller that looks and feels distinctively different."

Worst: Dirty Grandpa

As legendary an actor as Robert De Niro is, it can sometimes bewilder audiences when he agrees to sign up for a film of such poor quality as 2016's "Dirty Grandpa." A far cry from his iconic earlier films with Martin Scorsese and others, it's considered not just one of the worst movies of De Niro's career, but one of the worst movies of all time, as several reviewers have bluntly claimed.

After his grandmother passes away, a corporate lawyer named Jason (Zac Efron) agrees to drive his grandfather (Robert De Niro) to Boca Raton, against the wishes of his domineering fiancée (Julianne Hough). Arriving in Florida, Jason is surprised to learn that his grandfather is there to celebrate spring break with the college-age crowd, convincing Jason to enjoy their time together free from responsibilities.

"Dirty Grandpa" is a low point for practically everyone involved in the film's production, from principal stars Efron and De Niro to supporting players like Aubrey Plaza. The latter gives a somewhat entertaining performance as Lenore, a young woman who grows increasingly infatuated with De Niro's character. However, such a performance can only leave you with a raised eyebrow, wondering what on Earth drew Plaza to the role in the first place.

Deadline Hollywood's Pete Hammond probably put it best, saying, "'Dirty Grandpa' is not just the worst movie [De Niro] has ever been in, but it may be the worst movie anyone has ever been in."

Best: Ingrid Goes West

Aubrey Plaza's crowning achievement on her acting resumé to date, "Ingrid Goes West" plays to all of her strengths as an actor. Darkly comic yet filled with emotional nuance — especially in regards to its treatment of social media and the effect it can have on impressionable minds — it's one of the best films to ever feature Plaza.

Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza) is an avid social media user who becomes obsessed with influencers. Wanting to connect with the popular and seemingly humane Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), Ingrid begins stalking Taylor and her friends, trying to insert herself into their clique and form a meaningful attachment to Taylor in the process.

"Ingrid Goes West" is an expertly made indie comedy that strikes a great balance between being grim and funny. Persistently hilarious even during some of its more serious moments, it's an acting tour de force for Plaza, calling on all her skills as a comedic and dramatic actor. "The film is very smart, most of all because it resists the urge to devolve into a sentimental redemption narrative. This is a daring comedy with a very sharp bite," said RogerEbert.com's Sheila O'Malley.