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Hayden Panettiere's Best Movie And TV Performances Ranked

We think we're in the clear to suggest that, with the exception of her diehard fans, most pop culture connoisseurs write Hayden Panettiere off as a former teen star whose Hollywood career more or less fizzled out by the mid-2010s. 

Maybe that's the whole story, and she's forever doomed to be the focus of "Where are they now?" articles. Perhaps her future endeavors will disrupt that narrative. But if Panettiere never acts again, her oeuvre of work still warrants more examination than it's usually given. 

Best remembered for portraying invincible cheerleader Claire Bennet on NBC's "Heroes," Panettiere has appeared in films and television alongside a bonkers variety of talent, from veteran film actors to future cross-media megastars, to an honest-to-gosh vindictive zebra. She arguably helped launch the superhero TV explosion, and she appears in a 2003 film depicting trans people with an earnestness that's highly uncharacteristic of the era.   

So let's take a look at Panettiere's worst to best productions, not including movies that didn't get enough reviews to warrant a Rotten Tomatoes score, one-off guest star roles on television, voice acting, or movies where her part isn't big enough to warrant her presence in their promotional materials.  

Honorable Mention: Daytime Dramas

Hayden Panettiere was born in 1989, and IMDb places the beginning of her career at an episode of the short-lived Jim Henson company co-production "Aliens in the Family" from 1996. Between 1994 and 1997, Panettiere appeared in 25 episodes of the daytime drama "One Life to Live," plus 42 episodes of "Guiding Light" between 1998 and 2000. 

Putting together an extensive list of TV and film credits before your 12th birthday is no small feat, to be sure. However, as attempting to quantify a critical consensus for '90s soap operas would place us more than a little out of our lane, we can't rank any of her early work in a way that makes it comparable with her more recent output. 

Therefore, we're just going to note that acting in daily soap operas must be crazy difficult for a small child and move on to the next topic. 

17. The Dust Factory (2004)

It bodes poorly that the team in charge of promoting 2004's "The Dust Factory" saw greenscreen effects that would've looked dated in the '80s and said, "Let's put those in the trailer!" 

In this children's fantasy film, Hayden Panettiere plays a girl trapped in a version of purgatory where spirits await a circus-themed ritual that determines whether they return to the living or vanish into nothingness forevermore. That sounds awfully depressing for a kids' movie, and a 9 on Rotten Tomatoes indicates that "The Dust Factory" has problems beyond its gloomy tone.  

"Dude, I remember in 2005 taking a Greyhound bus from NYC to Boston," recalls a YouTube commenter on the trailer. "They played a movie for the passengers and it was THIS movie ... Less than halfway through, everyone was asking the driver if he could please turn it off because of [how] bad it was."

16. The Architect (2006)

After viewing this city planning-related drama, several critics accused first-time writer-director Matt Tauber of biting off more than he could chew, leading to a highly discouraging 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, "The Architect" co-stars screen legends Isabella Rossellini and Viola Davis, who went on to do ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" (2014-2020), "The Help" (2011), the "Suicide Squad" series, and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (2020). Five years after "The Architect," Sebastian Stan made his MCU debut as Bucky Barnes in "Captain America: The First Avenger." So while Hayden Panettiere signed on for a major dud, at least she was in pretty great company. 

Panettiere plays the daughter of the eponymous architect (Anthony LaPaglia), and her arc involves a failed attempt to seduce a random truck driver. What does this have to do with urban planning and development? "The Architect" never quite makes that clear ... because it is not a good movie. 

15. I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)

An adaptation of Larry Doyle's novel, "I Love You, Beth Cooper" scans like a low-brow teen rom-com 10 years too late to surf the genre renaissance brought on by "Can't Hardly Wait" (1998) and "American Pie" (1999). An uncomfortable waste of 102 minutes, "Beth Cooper" also managed to waste a significant chunk of time and effort for star Hayden Panettiere, as well as for director Chris Columbus, who's better known for blockbuster comedies like "Home Alone" (1990) and "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993) in a previous life. Considering this is the project Columbus picked to follow up his ill-received film version of the musical "Rent" (2005), maybe it's not out of line to suggest everyone involved should've known better.  

Panettiere portrays the eponymous Cooper. A nerd from her high school declares his love for her during his graduation ceremony speech. She doesn't mind. Her hyper-violent boyfriend absolutely does mind. Something intended to resemble madcap hijinks ensues.

14. Bring It On: All or Nothing (2006)

While its mere five reviews leave it with a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, "Bring It On: All or Nothing" is noteworthy as a rare acting vehicle for Solange Knowles. (Rihanna is also in this movie, but since she plays herself, she's barely acting).

The fact that the third entry in the "Bring It On" series went largely unnoticed illustrates the timing problem with Hayden Panettiere's career. Teen-centric movies and TV shows dominated the late '90s and very early '00s, but Panettiere didn't age into high school roles until a little later, when the craze had essentially run its course. So whereas the original "Bring It On" from 2000 is a minor classic brought to us by Hollywood big shots Kirsten Dunst and Peyton Reed, by the time Panettiere was old enough for the franchise, it was onto part three and so unnecessary that it hardly got reviewed.

13. Joe Somebody (2001)

Hayden Panettiere plays a main character's daughter in a bunch of movies, and "Joe Somebody" is absolutely one of those. In this one, she's the daughter of Tim Allen — the titular Joe "Somebody" Scheffer.

The gist is that a bigger, meaner character played by Patrick Warburton bullies and assaults Joe in their workplace parking lot. Joe must challenge Warburton's character to another fight in order to exact his revenge. 

Between his hit sitcom "Home Improvement" and role as Buzz Lightyear in "Toy Story" (1995), Tim Allen was a constant media presence throughout the '90s. It's possible America had soured on him by the turn of the millennium. "Joe Somebody" lost money and pulled a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, as "Galaxy Quest" (1999) was also a financial disappointment, it appears people of that era generally didn't want to see Tim Allen in good movies, either.

Panettiere, roughly 12 years old at the time, could not save "Joe Somebody" from the nation's Tim Allen-related malaise.

12. Fireflies in the Garden (2008)

We don't see her in the trailer, but regardless of how many minutes of screen time Hayden Panettiere occupies, "Fireflies in the Garden" is too insane to not talk about. 

Here we have a quasi-high-brow drama featuring pre-"Deadpool" Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Julia Roberts, Emily Watson, and Carrie-Anne Moss. Panettiere plays Emily Watson's character in flashbacks. 

Despite an all-star cast, "Fireflies in the Garden" sank like a bag of hammers when it finally made its way to a U.S. release in 2011. Critics sound like they would've preferred to watch a literal bag of hammers for 92 minutes.  

Oddly enough, "Fireflies in the Garden" marks the second occasion in which Panettiere appeared alongside a promising roster of actors under the guidance of a first-time director in a project that went nowhere and did seemingly nothing to advance anyone's career. 

Talk about a load of crummy luck. 

11. Raising Helen (2004)

Just as "Joe Somebody" puts Hayden Panettiere in a supporting role for what's clearly a Tim Allen-centric endeavor, "Raising Helen" does the same with Kate Hudson at the top of the cast list. 

Hudson plays a self-involved fashion industry executive and aunt to Panettiere's character. Hudson assumes legal guardianship of Panettiere and her two siblings following the untimely death of their parents. It's basically "Horsin' Around," except it takes place in Manhattan. Also, instead of a horse, it's Kate Hudson.

Some critics accused "Pretty Woman" director Garry Marshall of leaning into mindless sentimentality at the expense of substance, but at least Rotten Tomatoes gives "Raising Helen" a more than halfway decent audience score. Unfortunately, the film didn't manage to make back its production budget, thereby negating the possibility of a sequel called "Raising Helen...Even Higher," which could've included more marijuana-based humor, or possibly a pro-legalization-themed story. 

10. Racing Stripes (2005)

In this movie, a zebra gets separated from its traveling circus, so Hayden Panettiere adopts him and trains him to be a racehorse. They live on a farm where the animals all talk to each other; voice actors include the celebrated likes of Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Snoop Dogg, and Mandy Moore. Frankie Muniz provides the voice of the zebra, aptly dubbed "Stripes."

The trailer invites many questions, including, "Is this a real movie?" "How was anyone crazy enough to think spending tens of millions of dollars on this was a good idea?" and "No...seriously. Is this a real movie?" 

Despite a troubling critical and audience response, "Racing Stripes" did fine at the box office. However, the shoot almost took a turn for the tragic when, according to Panettiere, a zebra-related accident left her with a concussion and potentially serious neck injury. Contractual obligations forbade her from discussing the incident until years later. 

9. Ice Princess (2005)

One of two theatrical releases Hayden Panettiere rolled out in 2005, "Ice Princess" stars Michelle Trachtenberg as a high school science wiz who uses math and physics and computers and other nerdish methods to become a master figure skater. Panettiere plays her rival, the daughter of a crooked, bitter skating coach portrayed by Kim Cattrall.

While hardly an impressive box office performer, "Ice Princess" does mark a slight turn upwards in terms of critical responses for Panettiere's mid-'00s movies. It's also the second film she appears in alongside Joan Cusack, who plays the mother of Trachtenberg's character. Today, "Ice Princess" looks like a deliberate gathering of actors recognized for some of the era's definitive television shows: Panettiere from "Heroes," Trachtenberg from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and Cattrall from "Sex and the City."  

8. Heroes (2006-2010)

Plenty of series that aired before "Heroes" featured superpowered folks, but most of that genre's touchstones — 1966's "Batman," 1975's "Wonder Woman," and 1993's "Lois & Clark," — erred on the side of self-aware silliness. Even "Smallville," which premiered on The WB a few years before "Heroes," was more like a teen melodrama than a live-action Superman comic. 

But "Heroes" — designed in hopes of riding the wave of serialized sci-fi kicked off by 2004's "Lost" — presents a superhero story that's an essentially serious-minded drama for adults. Following a superb Season 1, consistency issues plagued "Heroes" throughout its three remaining years. However, its relatively brief acclaim certainly helped clear a path for The Arrowverse and the several Marvel programs now on Netflix and Disney+. "Heroes" also introduced network television audiences to Claire Bennet, an ostensibly normal high school cheerleader who is impervious to injury, and Hayden Panettiere's TV breakthrough role.   

7. Tiger Cruise (2004)

This Disney Channel movie scores a solid 60% on Rotten Tomatoes; however, that's only based on five reviews, so we might be stuck ranking it higher than it deserves. 

Once again playing the onscreen offspring of a more established actor, Hayden Panettiere plays the daughter of Bill Pullman's U.S. Navy commander character. Panettiere's character dislikes life as a military brat, but her attitude about her father's occupation changes in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York City. 

While the pro-military sentiment might not be for everyone, "Tiger Cruise" tackles weightier subject matter than standard Disney Channel originals. As a child actor attempting to transition into more serious teen/young adult roles at the time, Panettiere could've done worse. "Tiger Cruise" was directed by Duwayne Dunham, whose other credits include editing "Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi," as well as several David Lynch projects. 

6. Custody (2016)

Oddly enough, Hayden Panettiere reunited with Viola Davis roughly a decade after 2006's "The Architect" on this Lifetime movie. Its 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes might be slightly misleading, as it's only based on five reviews, and reactions are incredibly varied. The Guardian really liked "Custody." IndieWire hated it with seething fury. Your mileage may vary depending on your interest in child custody law. Maybe if you get really psyched up for "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), you'll find "Custody" worthwhile.

The trailer gives a clear idea of what to expect. Panettiere plays a privileged but well-meaning lawyer helping her client fend off the state's abuse allegations, which threaten to send her two children into the foster care system. Ellen Burstyn plays Panettiere's mom, which means she has exactly one thing we know of in common with Jared Leto (Burstyn played his mom in "Requiem for a Dream" (2000)). 

5. Scream 4 (2011)

In the broader context of Hayden Panettiere's career, "Scream 4" looks like yet another instance of her aging into a franchise that's beyond its expiration date. Curiously enough, general attitudes about "Scream 4" appear to have evolved since it premiered to a collective public "meh." Based on the number of essays proclaiming the unheralded positive points of director Wes Craven's final film before his death in 2015, its legacy echoes that of "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" (1987) or "Freddy vs. Jason" (2003). Maybe it's not "good" by conventional metrics, but according to criteria specific to horror franchise sequels, it functions better than okay. 

Panettiere is not announced to return for the next installment, merely titled "Scream" and slated for 2022. There's random speculation — or maybe (spoilers in the link) wishful thinking – that there might be more to that story. Time will tell.  

4. Ally McBeal (2002)

Practicality demands that we leave most of Hayden Panettiere's television work uncommented upon; however, we'd be severely remiss if we ignored her 12-episode run on "Ally McBeal." The final season isn't considered prolific creator David E. Kelley's finest moment, but for Panettiere, it provided her multiple appearances on a show that had been a pretty influential pop cultural entity a year or two earlier. Robert Downey Jr. had more or less wrapped up his run on "Ally McBeal" by the time Panettiere's character showed up, but being on the same show RDJ used to be on still seems like a pretty big deal for a 13-year-old, right? 

The average IMDb score of her episodes evens out to 7.1, which we're using as the equivalent of a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. She also has a recurring character on "Malcom in the Middle," which means "Racing Stripes" is technically her second project with Frankie Muniz. 

3. Remember the Titans (2000)

More than a few of Hayden Panettiere's highest-profile roles came about before she hit puberty. Furthermore, actors generally don't get to star in programs as popular as "Heroes" more than once. It seems fair to speculate that this condition puts her in a creatively frustrating position as an adult. If someone wants to argue that Panettiere's career peaked before she hit 20, they'd be technically accurate. However, most actors aren't ever in movies with Denzel Washington and pre-fame Ryan Gosling either, so, y'know, there are also bright sides to her unlikely career trajectory. 

Some critics argue that "Remember the Titans" grinds the edges off of a potentially uncomfortable topic of recent American history, and is, perhaps, a little too satisfied to be a feel-good sports movie. But, like many other instances mentioned on this list, we imagine doing scenes with Washington that wound up in the trailer couldn't have hurt then 11-year-old Panettiere's prospects. 

2. Nashville (2012-2019)

We tend to forget that "Nashville" lasted two seasons longer than "Heroes" ("Heroes Reborn" doesn't count); received better overall reviews, as reflected by its superior Rotten Tomatoes score; and garnered critical praise directed at Panettiere specifically for demonstrating a range beyond Claire Bennet and boilerplate high schooler roles.  

In Season 1, Panettiere plays overconfident, entitled country-pop sensation Juliette Barnes — an antagonist to Connie Briton's Rayna Jaymes, an old-school singer whose style and star is growing antiquated. 

With sensibilities closer to the ground than "Heroes," "Nashville" can address issues slightly more relevant to the real world. Sexism and ageism in the music industry might not be hyper-relevant to the average person's day-to-day life; but for most of us, they're more pertinent than, let's say, time travel and invincibility.

1. Normal (2003)

According to seven critics, the best thing Hayden Panettiere has ever been in is an astoundingly overlooked HBO film about transition and marriage from the early '00s. 

Jessica Lange plays Irma Applewood, the wife of a very recently open transwoman. Irma struggles with feelings of confusion and betrayal while the surrounding community — being rural and slanted towards "traditional" modes of thinking — expresses overt hostility and hatred for Irma's wife, Ruth Applewood (Tom Wilkinson). Panettiere portrays the couple's daughter, who, especially compared to the town and the couple's violently transphobic son, responds relatively gracefully to the change.    

Sympathetic trans narratives in mainstream media were pretty rare in 2003. So while maybe Panettiere got to the "Bring It On" and "Scream" franchises too late, "Normal" makes her seem ahead of the crowd on trans equality — and as much as we love "Scream," that seems like a matter of greater importance.