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

Zooey Deschanel's 7 Best And 7 Worst Movies Ranked

While many are familiar with Zooey Deschanel from the popular Fox series "New Girl," not everyone realizes that she has a pretty extensive film resume as well. While perhaps best known in the cinematic world for romantic comedies, the actress has also tried her hand at Westerns and thrillers. Sometimes the change has worked, and sometimes it's fallen flat for audiences and critics alike. 

Deschanel made waves as the titular Summer in "(500) Days of Summer" and as the wild cashier in "The Good Girl." However, she has also played a princess in a raunchy comedy, voiced an animated penguin, and been the confidant to one of the most notorious outlaws in American history. She hasn't been a superhero (or a sidekick) yet, although Joss Whedon thinks she could have made an excellent Avenger

Some of these roles have landed at the top of an outlet's best-of-the-year list, while others have failed to launch critic approval upward. Let's take a look at some of the best and worst movies that Zooey Deschanel has been a part of.

Best: Almost Famous

The film that many would call the actress' best came out over two decades ago. "Almost Famous" features Deschanel in the supporting role of Anita, the older sister to the lead character William (Patrick Fugit). William finds Anita's rock and roll album collection, which inspires the teen to become a music journalist. After suffering a significant career setback when Rolling Stone cancels the article around which the film revolves, Anita picks her younger brother up at the airport and comforts him.

Though one of the highest-rated films on Deschanel's resume, it was considered a bomb at the box office. It only made around $47 million compared to its $60 million budget (via Box Office Mojo). Despite audiences not coming out for "Almost Famous" initially, critics sang its praises. Roger Ebert says he was "almost hugging myself while I watched it." 

Sadly, the movie has not aged as well as some of Deschanel's other films — specifically related to the "manic pixie dream girl" depiction of Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) — but there are scenes that still resonate with audiences today. "No one could begrudge a film that contains the iconic, spirit-lifting, 'Tiny Dancer' singalong scene," Kevin Maher wrote for The Times. "Hairs on the back of the neck. Every time." 

Worst: Your Highness

A movie described as a "stoner comedy" can go one of two ways — either people love it or they don't. For "Your Highness," it was the latter. The fantasy film follows two princes, Thadeous (Danny McBride) and Fabious (James Franco), as they try and save their kingdom. Deschanel is Belladonna, a woman freed from living in a tower. Prince Fabious wants to marry her, but she is actually a part of a prophecy that, if allowed to come true, could result in a dragon eating his father, King Tallious (Charles Dance). 

"Your Highness" was a bust at the box office and with critics. Only pulling in $28 million against a $50 million budget, it was also a box office bomb (via Box Office Mojo). Critics savaged it on Rotten Tomatoes, though audiences were slightly more forgiving — but not by much. Reviewers weren't impressed by the crude language and humor, noting they weren't laughing along. IndieWire described the strangest aspect of the movie as "seeing so many talented people in material that's beneath them." Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that it "falls instead into a deep chasm of such comic lowness after less than five minutes that it's unable to extricate itself." 

Best: (500) Days of Summer

Arguably the movie audiences know Deschanel for, "(500) Days of Summer" was an obvious choice for this list. Not only does it have one of the best critic scores of her films, but it is also one of her best performances to date. Deschanel is Summer Finn, an assistant to the boss of a greeting card company who catches the eye of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a card writer who aspires to be an architect. He is immediately smitten, but it takes some time before the two become intimate. Even after seeing each other for months, the two disagree on their status and the young woman ends their situationship. 

The film was praised by critics for its unusual story-telling concept, which features jumps in time to different points of Tom and Summer's relationship, and the chemistry and performance of the leads. The Boston Globe calls it the "'Annie Hall' for the iPod generation," while The Toronto Star says it's a "helpful tonic" for both those falling in and out of love. 

"(500) Days of Summer" has had a lasting legacy in popular culture, with many arguing it has changed how we view relationships. Those who praised Tom initially have realized the issues with his behavior, with Gordon-Levitt himself commenting on how "selfish" the character is during an interview celebrating the tenth anniversary of the movie (via HuffPost). 

Worst: Failure to Launch

While romantic comedies are some of Zooey Deschanel's best films, there are a few that have ended up among her lowest-rated films. "Failure to Launch" features Matthew McConaughey as Tripp, a guy who lives with his parents, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Paula, a woman who dates men that live at home to help them build their confidence (though they don't know that). Deschanel is Kit, Paula's roommate who falls in love with Tripp's friend Ace (Justin Bartha). 

Critics panned the movie, citing that it is no different than any other romantic comedy, but they did enjoy Deschanel's performance. The AV Club calls her "the only bright spot" of the film and Time Out notes that she is one of "the only [actors] that come close to providing laughs." However, Deschanel wasn't the only one to receive a positive review. The supporting cast as a whole, which includes Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw as Tripp's parents, are described as the high points of the movie.

Best: Bridge to Terabithia

Often named one of the saddest films some watched during their childhood, "Bridge to Terabithia" introduced audiences to a fantasy land and life-changing tragedy in a single blow. Jess (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), next-door neighbors and schoolmates, become friends and create a world to escape into in the woods. Deschanel is Ms. Edmunds, a music teacher Jess connects with. After visiting an art museum with the teacher, Jess comes to find out that Leslie has passed away in a horrible accident. He doesn't believe it at first, and it isn't until he visits the scene of the accident that he realizes what has happened. 

Despite a misleading trailer that made it look like the story took place entirely in a fantasy world, critics praised the movie. Reviews describe the themes as "more complex than 'be yourself' and 'good things happen to good people,'" like that of other children's movies (via SF Gate). They also praise Deschanel's performance and character, with SF Gate writing that she "has a few good scenes as the coolest seventh-grade music teacher ever," while The Washington Post notes that the movie "suggests that weird chicks can grow up to be pretty cool women."

Worst: Flakes

Lasting only two weeks in theaters isn't why "Flakes" is one of Zooey Deschanel's worst films. The amount it made in those two weeks, combined with negative reviews, firmly secure it as one of the worst on the actress' resume. Deschanel is Pussy Katz, starring alongside Aaron Stanford as Neal Downs. Neal, though a musician, is the manager of a restaurant named Flakes. When he refuses to hire Pussy, who happens to be his girlfriend, she goes to work for a rival franchise that opens up across the street. 

According to Box Office Mojo, "Flakes" made $778 total at the box office. That is the lowest of any movie on this list, and what few critic reviews are available were not kind.

Part of the issue in the film rests in the plot. The restaurant is called Flakes because it is a place to go to eat cereal. The entire premise is two competing cereal restaurants, one locally owned and one a corporate franchise. In the words of Common Sense Media, "if the plot seems like too little to sustain a whole movie, that's because it is."

Best: Elf

It should come as no surprise that "Elf," one of the most iconic Christmas movies of all time, is one of Deschanel's best films. The actress is Jovie, a department store worker that catches Buddy's (Will Ferrell) eye when he travels to New York City to find his biological father Walter (James Caan). Buddy previously grew up at the North Pole with Santa's elves. Jovie and Buddy fall in love after going out on a single date. The end of the movie sees the two getting married and having a daughter, living happily ever after on the heels of Buddy's bestselling autobiography.

"Elf" was a box office success, earning $220 million against a $33 million budget during its opening weekend (via Box Office Mojo), while seasonal rereleases have brought in an additional $5 million to its box office numbers. Beyond that, critics had consistently favorable reviews. Roger Ebert commented that while he wasn't initially interested in seeing the movie, it is "one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece." This sentiment is seen throughout reviews, with the BBC even noting that "Elf" gave Ferrell "plenty of room to showcase his trademark brand of manic comic intensity."

Worst: The Happening

Many know Deschanel for her work in upbeat roles or romantic comedies, but she's also ventured into other genres. However, her first attempt at a high-profile thriller didn't go exactly as planned. Deschanel plays the female lead in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening," Alma Moore, who is trying to run from a bio-terrorist attack that started in Central Park. Alma and her husband Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) escape Philadelphia on a train before the airborne toxin reaches them. However, it seems they are too late when the train suddenly stops. 

Shyamalan films are typically hit or miss. They either soar like "Signs" and "The Sixth Sense," or they end up with poor reviews from critics like "Lady in the Water." Even those that are box office successes don't always win critics over. "The Happening" did just that. While it brought in over $163 million at the box office against a reported $48 million budget, critics weren't enthusiastic about the film.

NPR describes the film's payoff as "problematic," USA Today notes that the plot's logic is "spotty," and The New Yorker calls the ending an "awful letdown." Despite the negative reviews, the premise has been praised, even if it didn't work to the movie's advantage during the climax.

Best: The Good Girl

Just because critics like a film doesn't mean audiences will. That's exactly what happened with "The Good Girl." The movie features Jennifer Aniston as Justine, a woman in a slowly deteriorating marriage that begins working at a big-box store. While there, she is introduced to Deschanel's Cheryl, a cynic, and Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young man with whom Justine begins an affair. However, their story ends in tragedy when she doesn't run away with him after he steals money from the store.

While critics gave "The Good Girl" positive notes, audiences weren't nearly as favorable. Reviewers raved about Aniston's performance. Roger Ebert writes that the actress "has at last decisively broken with her 'Friends' image" and that "it will no longer be possible to consider her in the same way." Other reviews echo this sentiment, with the Associated Press saying the movie "will finally make Jennifer Aniston a movie star" and the BBC describing her performance as "convincing."

Deschanel's performance was also praised. Associated Press calls her a "hilarious" scene-stealer, with USA Today agreeing with the stance. If fans of Deschanel want to see a good movie with her in a different role, "The Good Girl" is the one to watch.

Worst: Abandon

It seems thrillers aren't the actress' strong suit, as "Abandon" also ends up on the bottom half of her resume. Deschanel is a roommate again in the Katie Holmes film "Abandon," a movie based on the book "Adams Fall" by Sean Desmond. Holmes is Katie, a college student trying to finish her thesis while the investigation into the disappearance of her boyfriend Embry (Charlie Hunnam) is reopened by the local police department. The thriller takes audiences on a journey that finds Katie learning more about her boyfriend and his behavior shortly before he vanished. Deschanel is Samantha, who Katie discusses her worries with.

Critics and audiences weren't sold on the film adaptation. Roger Ebert writes "it's kind of a shame this is a thriller," due to the dialogue and depictions of college life, particularly a scene featuring Deschanel having an interaction with a police officer while intoxicated. The reviewer continues, noting the movie would be better suited as "a real campus movie, about fears and ambitions" because the climax ruined everything it had built. 

Best: Surf's Up

Deschanel hasn't just acted in live-action projects — she's also done a handful of voice roles. Her best one is "Surf's Up," the 2007 film about a penguin that wants to be a professional surfer. Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) is entering a memorial surfing competition. At the contest, he meets Lani Aliikai, the penguin voiced by Deschanel. She is a lifeguard and Cody's crush. Lani and Big Z (Jeff Bridges), Cody's surfing idol, teach him how to ride the waves and prepare him for the competition.

Despite the number of movies featuring penguins that debuted in the years before, particularly "Happy Feet" and "March of the Penguins," "Surf's Up" managed to hold its own with critics. The Boston Globe called it "the most colorful of the penguin 'toons to date," going on to compliment the animation style and the animators' attention to detail. Further, The Washington Post noted that "the characters that make it come to life," and the story is "refreshingly devoid" of the popular culture references that were popular for animated movies of the time. The main criticism of the movie is that it is a bit too long for what the story is, causing it to be repetitive.

Worst: Rock the Kasbah

"Rock the Kasbah" follows Bill Murray as Richie Lanz, a music manager past his prime. He and his only client Ronnie, played by Deschanel, head off on the USO tour in Afghanistan, but Ronnie gets spooked and leaves her manager high and dry without money or a passport. Instead of enjoying the tour, he ends up finding a singer (Leem Lubany) he believes can make it in Afghanistan's "American Idol."

Critics tore the film apart. The most significant criticism is that "Rock the Kasbah" doesn't utilize Bill Murray and his comedic ability to the fullest, especially since the project is dubbed a comedy. USA Today wrote it "just isn't that funny," while The Washington Post called it "sexist, racist, overlong, dull, visually ugly and, worst of all, unfunny." What's more disappointing is that writer Mitch Glazer said he wrote the movie for Murray. "I wrote this story specially for Bill and I've pretty much written for him my whole life," Glazer told Variety

"Rock the Kasbah" also floundered at the box office. Against a $15 million budget, it only made around $3.4 million despite spending over two months at the box office (via Box Office Mojo). It averaged less than $300 per day per theater during its theatrical run.

Best: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Though venturing into thrillers may not have worked, Deschanel has had luck with Westerns. She portrayed Dorothy Evans in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," the confident and eventual love interest of Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). The movie follows the history and relationship between Ford and Jesse James (Brad Pitt), two American outlaws known for their membership in the James-Younger gang, which was led by James.

The movie was well-received by critics and the award community. Reviews praised the performance of Pitt and Affleck, the script, and the visual impact of the film. The BBC called Pitt's work "enigmatic, unpredictable, and thoroughly engaging," while NPR said "you can't take your eyes off" Affleck. Roger Ebert complimented the movie's director, Andrew Dominik, and called the project the revival of the genre, noting, "the Western has been mostly in hibernation since the 1970s, but now I sense it stirring in rebirth."

In addition to critical acclaim, the movie was nominated for two Academy Awards — best supporting actor for Affleck and best cinematography. The project was awarded by various film critics for the same categories and was included on the top 10 lists of the year by many outlets.

Worst: The New Guy

Another comedy miss with critics is "The New Guy." The movie tells the story of Dizzy (DJ Qualls), a high school senior that purposefully gets himself expelled so he can move schools. His goal is to reinvent himself, as he is often picked on by the athletes at his current school. Deschanel is Nora, one of his friends and a member of his funk rock band. 

Reviews criticize the writing of the film, with The A.V. Club observing that the characters are written as though the "filmmakers [were] too lazy to get their stereotypes straight." Others comment on the kind of humor used, which includes genitalia and feces-related gags, and that it isn't different or elevated from other movies of the genre. The BBC wrote that the story puts Dizzy through "as many sadistic humiliations as possible" in the "farce" of a narrative.

While it did alright at the box office, earning $31 million against a $13 million budget, "The New Guy" remains a relative low point for Deschanel's film career.