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Zendaya's Best Movie And TV Roles To Date

Model, singer, dancer, actor — it seems there is nothing that Zendaya cannot do. Born in 1996 as Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman, she began her career as a child model for several well-known fashion brands, before appearing as a backup dancer in a Sears commercial with Selena Gomez, and subsequently in a Kidz Bop music video for "Hot n Cold" by Katy Perry.

Much like the aforementioned Selena Gomez, and many others before her, Zendaya broke into the spotlight when she was cast in a number of Disney Channel original series and movies. These roles gave her the opportunity to show her multitude of talents, and it would only be a matter of time before she hit the big time.

Her real breakout role was when she appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as part of the Spider-Man franchise. Appearing in this blockbuster series made her a household name and subsequently opened the doors for a slew of interesting TV and movie roles, many of which have allowed her to showcase her array of talents in unexpected and interesting ways. From Disney teenybopper to award-winner, these are Zendaya's best TV and movie roles to date.

Rocky Blue (Shake it Up)

Joining the likes of Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Lindsay Lohan, Zendaya also kick-started her career with her appearance on the Disney Channel. Alongside Bella Thorne, Zendaya starred in the sitcom "Shake It Up," landing her first major role at the age of 14.

The show might be a far cry from the meatier roles that Zendaya secured later in her career, but everyone has to start somewhere, and it was the perfect vehicle to show off her range of talents. The show followed two aspiring dancers, CeCe (Thorne) and Rocky (Zendaya), as they tackle the dual stresses of performing on a local television show along with all the usual high school drama.

Whilst many former Disney stars have tried to distance themselves from their beginnings, Zendaya continues to speak favorably about her experiences. In a conversation with Carey Mulligan in Variety's "Actors on Actors" series, Zendaya said how "grateful" she was for the opportunity she was given on "Shake it Up," adding, "That's where I started, and I learned so much from that experience."

While "Shake It Up" bears some resemblance to shows such as "Hannah Montana," it wasn't particularly well-received and currently has a rating of 5/10 on IMDb. That being said, Zendaya is great in it, demonstrating that even from a young age she had impeccable comedic timing. If nothing else, the theme song –- performed by Selena Gomez — is an absolute bop.

K.C. Cooper (K.C. Undercover)

Before the bigger movie roles came calling, Zendaya continued her journey with the Disney Channel, playing the lead role in "K.C. Undercover," a show about a high-schooler who also happens to be a secret agent.

Despite being 19 when the show first aired, Zendaya played the 16-year-old K.C., a technology wiz, skilled martial artist, teenager, and now spy. While the series might sound like typical Disney Channel output, it was a project that Zendaya felt particularly passionate about, to the point of requiring that she been given a producer credit to appear in the show.

Speaking about "K.C. Undercover" in an interview with Variety, she said, "When I left Disney, there weren't any families of color on the channel. I thought that was a big reason why I wanted to come back. I think I've successfully made a show that not only allows for representation but sees girls in a powerful and strong position."

The show may have been comedic, and not particularly high stakes, but it once again gave Zendaya the chance to prove she was a formidable comedic actress. With some small action sequences to also contend with, it gave her a taste of what was to come next.

MJ (Spider-Man)

If there is one way to make the world sit up and notice you, it's appearing in a film in the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a huge, pre-existing fan base, it can be the perfect springboard for a young actor's career, and that was certainly the case for Zendaya with her appearances in the "Spider-Man" movies.

With 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming," she manages to make a huge impact with little over two minutes of screen time, stealing every scene she's in as the awkward yet sarcastic Michelle "MJ" Jones. In the sequel, "Spider-Man: Far From Home," Zendaya's role was much bigger as Tom Holland's Peter Parker/Spider-Man spent much of the film trying to woo MJ while on a class trip around Europe. As well as being a great on-screen pairing, Zendaya and Holland have become very close off-screen, with rumors circulating almost constantly since 2017 that they're also a couple.

Zendaya, along with the rest of the cast, is back in the third installment, "Spider-Man: No Way Home," which is set to offer up plenty of shocks and surprises. In an interview with Empire magazine (via The Direct), Zendaya said, "Everybody around [Peter], who cares about him and loves him, gets put into danger..."

The character of MJ — largely due to Zendaya's performance — has been one of the most popular parts of the series so far. Zendaya truly inhabits the character of MJ, bringing sarcasm, wit, and genuine warmth to the feisty character. It's no wonder Peter falls for her.

Anne Wheeler (The Greatest Showman)

2017 was undoubtedly the biggest year to date for Zendaya, with both "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "The Greatest Showman" being released only four months apart. Where "Spider-Man" introduced Zendaya to the masses, "The Greatest Showman" made her a star, and her stratospheric rise to the top can be charted back to this moment.

The film scored surprisingly low with critics, but a passionate fan base's enthusiasm for the film resulted in huge box office earnings. After a mammoth theatrical run, "The Greatest Showman" became one of the most successful live-action movie musicals of all time, and its success didn't end at the theaters either. The accompanying soundtrack album was a global success, topping the charts in the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and Japan.

The love story between Anne, Zendaya's character, and Philip, played by Zac Efron, was one of the things fans loved most about the film. Zendaya herself talked about the "tragic" nature of their romance in the behind-the-scenes features for the film, and the hardships the characters would have faced during the film's time period for being an interracial couple.

Whilst the film may have been criticized for covering up the darker parts of P.T. Barnum's story, the optimistic nature of the film was one of the reasons why it ended up emotionally connecting with audiences. It portrayed a group of characters, mistreated because of the way they looked or the color of their skin, finding hope and a family together. It was in this that the film found its heart and its audience.

Meechee (Smallfoot)

Zendaya added another string to her bow by stepping into the world of voice acting for animated films. While this wasn't her first foray into voice acting — she made her debut back in 2013 with the straight-to-video "Super Buddies" – 2018 proved to be a big year for this particular strand of her career as she starred in both "Duck, Duck Goose" and "Smallfoot."

It was in the role of Meechee in "Smallfoot" that Zendaya made the most impact, however — something that kicked off even before the film came out thanks to a certain viral video. The film might not have reinvented the wheel when it came to animation, but it does seek to offer a unique perspective on the "Bigfoot" mythology, with a group of yetis desperately seeking out the elusive creatures known as "humans."

"Smallfoot" boasts an impressive and starry cast, with the likes of Channing Tatum, Common, LeBron James, Danny DeVito, and Gina Rodriguez appearing alongside Zendaya. The film was well-received by critics and audiences, grossing over $214 million at the box office off a budget of around $80 million.

Having already taken the charts by storm with the soundtrack to "The Greatest Showman," Zendaya sang on two tracks on the "Smallfoot" soundtrack, including a solo performance on "Wonderful Life," and a duet with Channing Tatum called "Wonderful Questions." Any film which gives Zendaya the chance to show off her vocal talent as well as her acting abilities is worth a watch if this film is anything to go by.

Fola Uzaki (The OA)

Arriving on Netflix in 2016, the supernatural series "The OA" was well-received by critics and fans and became one of the most talked-about Netflix originals at the time. Created by Brit Marling (who also plays the lead role) and Zal Batmanglij, the popular series surprised its fans by adding Zendaya to the cast for its second season in 2019.

Zendaya plays Fola Uzaki, a gamer and puzzle enthusiast, who has a crucial role to play despite her limited screen time. Appearing in three episodes ("Angel of Death," "The Medium and The Engineer," and "Nina Azarova"), Fola works alongside detective Karim Washington (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to help him discover the augmented reality game that forms a central part of the series' overarching mystery.

Fola is mysterious, headstrong, and determined, and Zendaya is the perfect fit for the part. While not entirely attributable to her appearance, the second season of "The OA" was exceptionally well received by most critics. Despite the mostly favorable critical reception — and a vocal fan base — the show was canceled after the second season, leaving things on a huge cliffhanger. While the show may have been short-lived, it will be left to fans to speculate how important Zendaya's character may have become if there had been future seasons.

Rue Bennett (Euphoria)

With her appearance in the HBO drama series "Euphoria," and her subsequent film with the show's director Sam Levinson, Zendaya has gradually started to transition into more adult roles. Whilst she still plays a teen in "Euphoria," the show tackles a lot of mature subject matter, exploring a group of high schoolers' experiences with sex, drugs, gender identity, and trauma. Zendaya plays the lead role of Rue Bennett, who's dealing with multiple mental health conditions while growing up. She later develops a drug addiction and struggles to find where she fits in among her peers.

In addition to the way it deals with its mature content, "Euphoria" has also been praised by critics for tackling issues affecting teens in a way that feels honest and relatable. The Guardian TV critic Rebecca Nicholson was particularly impressed with Zendaya in her review, calling her performance "astonishing" and stating that it surpassed "every expectation of what [Zendaya] could do."

Cementing how well-received her performance was in "Euphoria," Zendaya went on to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, making her the youngest recipient of this prestigious award to date. With the second season already green-lit, it seems like the sky's the limit for Zendaya, and more awards could be just around the corner.

Marie (Malcolm & Marie)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, production on most TV shows and movies ground to a halt. While devastating for the industry, it did also force many filmmakers and creatives to rethink the way they did things, and several interesting projects — born out of the circumstances of the pandemic — began to emerge.

One of these was "Malcolm and Marie," an intense double-header starring Zendaya and John David Washington, that made its debut on Netflix in February 2021. Directed by Sam Levinson — who Zendaya worked with on "Euphoria" — the movie was filmed largely in secret, under strict guidelines and protocols, and in just over two weeks.

While the film received heavy criticism, and even garnered some controversy because of the age difference between the two leads, most praised the performances of the two actors — Zendaya in particular. In his review for ABC News, critic Peter Travers said the pair were "thrilling to watch," and that Zendaya's performance as Marie "announces a skyrocketing star who can really act."

Despite the film not being universally well-received, Zendaya has frequently defended it. In an interview with The New York Times she spoke about the controversial age gap, saying, "I totally understood, from an outside standpoint, because I play teenagers, but I'm an adult."

While the film might not have been a success, there is no denying that Zendaya's star quality shines through. Along with "Euphoria," it demonstrated that while still able to pass for a teenager in some films, she was more than ready to step out into more adult roles.

Chani (Dune)

Following her Emmy win for "Euphoria" and her leading role in "Malcolm and Marie," Zendaya now seemingly had the power to steer her career in whatever direction she wanted, and that just happened to be working with Denis Villeneuve on his adaptation of the monumental sci-fi classic "Dune."

In an interview with Vogue, Zendaya said, "Before they were even looking at people, I heard about it, and I was like, I really want to get in the room." Fortunately, Villeneuve was impressed with her embodiment of the character of Chani, and later waxed lyrical about the actress in an interview with The Face, saying that "she was an insane talent" and that "she has a presence on screen that I've rarely seen."

Much like Timothee Chalamet – who Zendaya appears alongside in "Dune" — a huge sci-fi epic seemed like the most natural next step for the star. Some fans were left surprised by how little Zendaya was in "Dune," with Chani getting only around 10 minutes of screen time. Her character, however, has a spectral presence, appearing in flashbacks to Paul Atreides (Chalamet) and hugely influential in the wider story. The good news is, while the first movie is very much Chalamet's film, the second half will feature Zendaya much more heavily as she has an integral part to play in the story's conclusion.