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Every Michelle Pfeiffer Movie Ranked Worst To Best

We'll say one thing right off the bat: Even in a bad Michelle Pfeiffer movie, you still get good Michelle Pfeiffer. It seems like there's no role she can't wring some truth out of, and over the years, she's brought us unforgettable drama, comedy, romance, and songs. Her filmography may have its fair share of duds — ones that range from predictable rom-coms to lifeless prestige pictures — but she always brings something interesting to the table.

In revisiting her long and healthy career, we've looked at critical reviews and popular opinion to rank her films, counting down to the very best of them all. It's a substantial list. Even though we're only counting films we'd fairly describe as "Michelle Pfeiffer movies," where she's playing either a lead or a major supporting role, we still wind up with forty movies: Once Pfeiffer really broke out, she became not just a celebrated actress but a bona fide movie star, one everyone seemed to want to cast. Let's take a look at the projects she chose and how fondly we remember them.

40. Personal Effects

"Personal Effects" barely made a splash. Its older woman-younger man plotline has some promise and could freshen up the romantic drama formula, and its attempt to pair off two broken, grieving characters could easily result in some sensitive pathos. The only problem is that none of these story ingredients translate into watchable results. Instead, the movie just feels dead on arrival.

If we can learn anything from "Personal Effects," it's that sometimes matching up Ashton Kutcher and Michelle Pfeiffer is exactly as bad an idea as it would seem at first glance. We don't buy their characters' stilted romance, and we can't help but feel that they don't buy it either. Sometimes two screen personas are just too far apart to produce any sparks of sexual tension.

Then again, maybe our suspension of disbelief just can't cope with the idea of Michelle Pfeiffer ever getting together with a guy who spends this much time in a chicken costume. Either possibility makes sense.

39. A Thousand Acres

"A Thousand Acres" could have been a more major entry in Michelle Pfeiffer's filmography: After all, it sounds important. It's an adaptation of a prestigious literary novel and a high-concept blending of Shakespeare's "King Lear" and the lonely landscape of the American Midwest. Pfeiffer stars as Rose Cook Lewis, a richly dramatic character who must contend with the complex and painful legacy — literal and emotional — left to her by her father.

Unfortunately, "A Thousand Acres" just doesn't work. Reviewing the film for The San Francisco Gate, Mike LaSalle dismisses it as a soap opera but excuses Pfeiffer and her co-stars from any responsibility for its status as a flop: "Don't blame the actors. Their efforts succeed in keeping the bad news from the audience for almost half the picture. Pfeiffer has never been more fierce and committed ..." It's a good performance mired in a lackluster movie that unfortunately can't live up to its high ambitions.

38. The Family

Giovanni Manzoni is a true blue Mafia man — until he needs protection. Then he rolls on a rival and gets his family slotted into the Witness Protection Program, which comes with stipulations that they're all awful at following. The "Blakes" settle into a peaceful village in Normandy, where loneliness, incompetence, and an inability to let go of the glories and problem-solving violence of the past put them and all their new neighbors in danger.

Dark comedies need to pull off a tricky tonal balance, and "The Family" never manages to find its footing. Instead, it's neither fish nor fowl: too convincingly dark to make us laugh, and too tongue-in-cheek to make us care. Like a lot of disjointed movies, though, it packs in enough acting talent and vivid screen presence to provide some compensating fun, and Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Dianna Agron in particular are all good here.

37. The Story of Us

Hackneyed and emotionally dishonest, the romantic dramedy "The Story of Us" didn't just premiere to lukewarm reviews but blistering ones. It drew this commentary from Janet Maslin at The New York Times: "Though it sets out to explain why this marriage is worth saving, 'The Story of Us' could prompt even single members of the audience to file for divorce." It's hard to get worse press than that.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis star as a married couple who, with the kids out of the house for the summer, can finally do what they've been dying to do for a while now: split up and see if there's still anything real left beneath the smiles they put on for their children. Somehow, despite charismatic stars and director Rob Reiner's impressive romance filmography, this flops completely. It's too sanitized to have recognizable emotions, but it never goes all-in on Hollywood charm, either. Pfeiffer and Willis still have presence despite their milquetoast surroundings, however, so "The Story of Us" can at least occasionally scrape by on their talent.

36. I Am Sam

"I Am Sam" tries to be heartwarming, but — especially as time goes on — it looks more like schlock. Michelle Pfeiffer stars alongside Sean Penn, who plays a single father with an intellectual disability who must defend his custody of his bright 7-year-old daughter (Dakota Fanning). Pfeiffer is his lawyer, Rita, a workaholic who needs to learn to loosen up and connect with her son. This is all familiar, predictable material executed without a lot of nuance. All that leaves it with are its good intentions, and as Decider points out, these days we have higher standards for portrayals of characters with these kinds of disabilities.

We can't recommend watching it to salvage a strong Pfeiffer performance, either, since she's stuck playing what Variety aptly calls "a gross caricature of the self-made power woman," and she's "rarely looked so uncomfortable on screen." No one gets out of this one looking great.

35. Dangerous Minds

Essentially, if you've seen any inspirational drama with one determined, earnest teacher changing the lives of disadvantaged kids, you've seen "Dangerous Minds." Michelle Pfeiffer plays Louanne Johnson, a first-time teacher who uses everything from her Marine Corps training to popular music to candy bars to get her class to engage with the material. It won't surprise you that she also has to deal with her share of cranky authority figures who don't understand her unconventional methods. There's also a heartbreaking — but predictable — tragedy in the final act.

Pfeiffer does strong work as Louanne, but there's only so much she can do to salvage staid material. "Dangerous Minds" also comes with some uncomfortable subtext that critics like Los Angeles Times writer Lydia A. Nayo were discussing even back at the film's release in 1995: "It is swathed in the aura of the Great White Hope movie. People of color [are] as sheep, led to redemption through the good offices of a courageous white shepherd." The film's melodrama can be satisfying, but there are a lot of reasons this doesn't rank higher on our list.

34. Up Close & Personal

If you're allergic to any hint of melodrama, you should avoid "Up Close & Personal." This story of how bright, up-and-coming reporter Tally (Michelle Pfeiffer) rises up the TV news ranks and falls into a tender romance with her mentor, Warren Justice (Robert Redford), hits a lot of familiar beats — some of which are make an obvious attempt to tug at your heartstrings. You could easily call a lot of this shameless emotional manipulation.

We wouldn't go that far, though. "Up Close & Personal" is flawed and mostly unsurprising, but it has enough going for it to make its soapy clichés satisfying instead of just overdone. If you have a soft spot for poignant love stories, this brings the goods; if you like stories about underdogs eking out professional triumphs, ditto. Sometimes, we just want our favorite clichés served up straight, especially when they come with compelling performances — and when it comes to compelling, it's hard to beat Redford and Pfeiffer.

33. Dark Shadows

2012's "Dark Shadows" is a campy, loving adaptation of what was arguably TV's weirdest soap opera of all time. The film serves up witchcraft, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and shock rock legend Alice Cooper as it tells the weird and winding saga of the Collins family. Their cursed forefather, the vampire Barnabas (Johnny Depp), finds himself in the 1970s after spending over 200 years in a tomb. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Elizabeth, who is the head of the Collins family at the time Barnabas rejoins the world.

"Dark Shadows" is, alas, kind of a mess: a Gothic buffet that takes just a little bit too much of everything. If you're into gleefully over-the-top fish-out-of-water comedies full of Tim Burton's signature aesthetic, it can at least be a fun mess ... but if Burton's more recent movies have left you cold, there's no pressing reason to check this one out. Everyone here has done better work elsewhere.

32. Grease 2

There was probably no way any "Grease" sequel could have lived up to its famous predecessor, and certainly 1982's "Grease 2" doesn't pull that off. Its musical numbers aren't as irresistible — they definitely haven't been catapulted into pop culture immortality — and its plot is basically "more of the same, but with a tough girl and a sensitive guy instead." Ultimately, this is just the movie equivalent of reheated leftovers ... except for Michelle Pfeiffer's lead performance as Stephanie Zinone.

The New York Times even singled Pfeiffer out as "the one improvement" that "Grease 2" offers over the original film: "[While Pfeiffer] can't sing as prettily as Olivia Newton-John ... [she] can certainly outdo her in every other department. Miss Pfeiffer manages to look much more insouciant and comfortable than anyone else in the cast." This was Pfeiffer's first starring role, and she clearly makes the most of her increased screen-time, instantly establishing herself as someone with real starpower. She remains the biggest reason "Grease 2" is worth watching.

31. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

"Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" has one of the biggest splits between critics and audiences of anything on this list, so we figured it's only appropriate for it to serve as a kind of bridge between the movies we wouldn't really recommend and the ones we would. Like "Grease 2," which also offers a lively dose of Michelle Pfeiffer, this live-action Disney sequel isn't quite good enough to rise above its status as a fun but unnecessary retread ... but sometimes fun is all you need. If you want more dark glamor, adult-oriented fairy tale revisionism, and showy performances, "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" delivers.

Plus, Pfeiffer makes her Queen Ingrith a superb villain: campy, chilling, and plausible all at the same time. Most of Pfeiffer's great characters over the years have been more towards the heroic end of the spectrum, but "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" stands as spectacular (and highly enjoyable) evidence of the fact that she's just as good at being bad.

30. Love Field

"Love Field" may be a minor film, but it's an intriguing and thoughtful one that punctures a little bit of nostalgia about JFK-era America. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Lurene, who has poured all her emotional energy into a consuming obsession with the glamorous Kennedys. On a cross-country journey to attend the President's funeral, Lurene winds up stumbling into — and worsening — the problems of two Black passengers on the same bus, Paul (Dennis Haysbert) and his young daughter Jonell.

The movie makes a real effort to look at the political complexities of the '60s, and that helps give it some lasting power. Pfeiffer also provides plenty of oomph. The Washington Post raved, "Pfeiffer's characterization of Lurene is a marvel, but by now that is only to be expected. Watching her discover new facets of her talent is one of the real pleasures of going to the movies these days." Lurene's naïveté can make it hard to watch her at times, but Pfeiffer's performance makes it just as hard to look away.

29. Into the Night

"Into the Night" is a deliciously off-kilter caper film. It features Michelle Pfeiffer as Diana, a jewel thief who, up to her neck in trouble, needs some help from Jeff Goldblum's Ed — who is up for a night of frantic driving and problem-solving because, between insomnia and heartbreak, it's not like he can sleep anyway. The two make an unexpectedly great pair, and their chemistry lights up this funny, dark, and weird little movie. The film is loaded with more cameos than it can easily handle — especially if you can't recognize everyone — but its jazzy rhythms and central pairing make up for the fact that it stretched itself a little thin.

It makes sense that such an uneven movie would receive uneven reviews, but we're still ready to dub "Into the Night" a burgeoning cult classic. Film School Rejects aptly compared it to Martin Scorsese's "After Hours," noting that both movies are a kind of "screwball noir," only they take their curious tonal mishmash in different directions: "Before the closing credits roll, 'After Hours' has turned deeply noir, while 'Into The Night' emerges proudly screwball." If that sounds good, this is a movie you should definitely check out.

28. The Deep End of the Ocean

Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams ground "The Deep End of the Ocean," where they play parents who are shattered by the disappearance of their 3-year-old son. They're both convincingly raw, doing a fantastic job of making you feel the Cappadoras' devastation at their loss and their confused (and sometimes inadequate) grappling with the family they have left. Their grief takes a wrenching turn when their son unexpectedly resurfaces years later — and has no real memory of them.

In the end, "The Deep End of the Ocean" can't quite live up to the complex emotions it introduces: With under two hours to resolve everything but far too much to resolve in two hours, the movie needs to just commit to the messy humanity its leads evoke so well. Instead, it tries for a rushed wrap-up that just feels unconvincing. When the film works, though, its drama is both real and agonizing.

27. What Lies Beneath

"What Lies Beneath" is a slightly lukewarm Hitchcock pastiche from 2000. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Claire, a woman who begins to believe her house is haunted. Her husband (Harrison Ford) tries to dissuade her of all this, but Claire is determined to get answers ... even if it's unsettling how this haunting seems tied to her husband's past affair.

Of course, the problem with homaging Hitchcock is that you can make your audiences wonder why they're not just watching something by the Master of Suspense himself, rather than something that never rises above "solidly okay." To its credit, while "What Lies Beneath" could stand to muster a little more verve or cleverness, it doesn't drag, and it has its virtues. One of them is definitely Pfeiffer, whom Roger Ebert credited as a standout: "Pfeiffer is very good in the movie; she is convincing and sympathetic and avoids the most common problem for actors in horror films — she doesn't overreact. Her character remains self-contained and resourceful." In a potboiler-esque supernatural thriller like this, a good, reliable lead character goes a long way.

26. Chéri

Alternately cutting and charming, "Chéri" centers on the romance between a middle-aged courtesan, Léa (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the 19-year-old "Chéri" (Rupert Friend), who stands to inherit considerable wealth but was born into uncertain social status. Against all odds, Léa and Chéri form a touching bond ... but society's demands soon rear their ugly head. If Chéri wants his fortune, he'll have to form a much more acceptable marriage than any he could have with the much-older Léa.

"Chéri" has a sense of wistfulness and irony as it acknowledges the obstacles its characters face and accepts — sometimes with resignation and sometimes with subtle heartbreak — that those obstacles will win. This is the kind of balancing act that relies on exquisitely calibrated performances, and Pfeiffer and Friend excel here. They make their characters convincing enough to paper over any weaknesses in the script.

The film also boasts lovely cinematography and costume design, both of which give the period and setting all the gracefulness and beauty it needs.

25. One Fine Day

"One Fine Day" is a featherweight romantic comedy that succeeds on the strength of its leads, George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer. Their chemistry sparkles enough to distract us from the fact that we've admittedly seen all this before. They play Jack Taylor and Melanie Parker, two single parents who get mixed up in each other's lives for one extraordinarily hectic day — and inevitably realize that they don't really want to get unmixed again.

There aren't any surprises here. For example, if you've seen almost any movie from the '90s involving high-powered professionals, you'll already know that Pfeiffer and Clooney will have distressingly symbiotic relationships with their cell phones and that they'll need to learn to put family and relationships ahead of their work. Still, "One Fine Day" can coast on the allure and all-around delightfulness of its stars. Clooney and Pfeiffer feel like one of those romantic comedy pairings that just had to happen at some point, and this is as good a way as any to see them fall in love.

24. Tequila Sunrise

"Tequila Sunrise" is the story of two separate love triangles. One involves a woman, Italian restaurant owner Jo Ann (Michelle Pfeiffer), who loves two men — Mac (Mel Gibson) and Nick (Kurt Russell) — who have a close but fraught relationship of their own; the other involves Mac, who is torn between lapsing into his old drug-dealing profession and staying on the straight and narrow. These are two strong emotional linchpins, and "Tequila Sunrise" invests both of them with a lot of emotion and significance.

When the film falters, it's because it succumbs to adding too many plot complications: It just won't give its storylines room to breathe and develop naturally. According to Roger Ebert, "It might have worked better if it had found a cleaner narrative line from beginning to end. It's hard to surrender yourself to a film that seems to be toying with you." If you pare down some of the twists and turns, though, there's something fascinating here.

23. People Like Us

"People Like Us" is a minor family melodrama that benefits from a strong cast that includes Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Philip Baker Hall, Jon Favreau, and Olivia Wilde. Pine and Banks take the lead here as Sam and Frankie, two good-hearted but damaged siblings who only find out about each other after they're adults. The father they didn't realize they shared is dead, and Sam — the legitimate child — is left with the seemingly out-of-nowhere request to deliver a lump sum of money to Frankie's son, Josh. Who are Josh and Frankie? Sam is about to find out. We don't recommend this as a strategy for dealing with family dysfunction.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays Lillian, Sam's mother, who is dealing with health problems and a burdensome family secret of her own, one that may help Sam and Frankie start to heal.

All in all, "People Like Us" never gets up enough sparkle to actually shine, but it still provides some effective, tear-jerking catharsis.

22. Wolf

Paranormal romances are familiar territory by now, but the dark, strange "Wolf," made back in 1994, still winds up feeling fresh and distinct. Part of that is purely down to the casting: Honestly, if you wanted to convince us that Jack Nicholson actually is a werewolf, we might wind up believing you. He and Michelle Pfeiffer have sizzling chemistry, giving "Wolf" a discreet but powerful erotic charge. A little bit of sex and a lot of violence definitely makes this a horror romance for adults, but one of the film's more endearing qualities is that it would count as one without those anyway — that's the unavoidable side effect of putting a lot of publishing company backstabbing in your werewolf movie.

That's an unusual enough combination that we would probably have a soft spot for "Wolf," even if nothing else about it was good. Luckily, there's more to like than just spot-on casting and a fun concept. Even if it has occasional slumps, we agree with Rolling Stone: "[Director Mike] Nichols has crafted a rapturous romantic thriller with a darkly comic subtext about what kills human values."

21. I Could Never Be Your Woman

Years before "Ant-Man and the Wasp," Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer starred together in the romantic comedy "I Could Never Be Your Woman." The film tackles the pressures women in entertainment face when aging out of the strictest Hollywood beauty standards. Pfeiffer plays Rosie, who — even though she works strictly behind the camera on her show "You Go Girl" — is all too aware that she no longer exactly fits the image-driven culture around her.

Luckily, she's still Michelle Pfeiffer, which is more than enough to score Paul Rudd's amiable Adam, who is honestly invested in her despite their age difference. While Rosie tries to sort out a snarl of sabotage, parenting woes, and personal insecurities, "I Could Never Be Your Woman" develops into intelligent and mostly easy-going fun. It may hit its message a little too hard, but overall, its light touch lets it get away with its occasional lapses into preachiness.

20. French Exit

If you never saw — or even heard of — "French Exit," we understand. It was released in late 2020, a year where keeping up with new movies wasn't anyone's biggest concern. This underseen indie film is worth catching up with, however.

Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Frances Price, a somewhat jaded lifelong socialite whose bank account is on its last legs. She takes her unflappably loyal son (Lucas Hedges, also very good) and their cat — who may or may not be her late husband reincarnated, just to add a little spice to it all — and heads to Paris, where this exceptionally odd family does what it can to build a new life. Pfeiffer and Hedges give this an unexpectedly strong emotional center: We take the relationship between them seriously, even if the rest of their world is a little absurd. Overall, "French Exit" offers a low-key but moving experience, with charms that range from "whimsical" to "bitterly comic."

19. Frankie and Johnny

"Frankie and Johnny" is a profoundly bittersweet romantic comedy. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Frankie, a diner waitress who is — with good reason, we eventually find out — afraid of offering anyone too much trust. Al Pacino is Johnny, the earnest and emotionally open ex-con who gets a job working as a short-order cook at her diner. He's dealing with just as much loneliness as she is, and he's quickly smitten with her. The movie becomes a push-pull dance where Johnny tries to persuade Frankie that the two of them can make each other happy.

The film leans into the delicate, flawed humanity of its characters. Unlike a lot of rom-coms, it never feels like it's offering a glamorized, idealized view of relationship. Instead, it's about two very specific, damaged, all-too-real people learning to open up to each other and find some much-needed happiness. Pacino and Pfeiffer make that journey both funny and poignant.

18. A Midsummer Night's Dream

Every great actor should get their shot at a Shakespeare adaptation. In 1999, Michelle Pfeiffer and the Bard came together for "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and while the results are a tad mixed — it's impossible to put on a Shakespeare production that makes everybody happy — they're still highly enjoyable.

The film moves the action to a lush 19th century Italy, but the action — involving couples who enter a fairy wood and find their romantic arrangements shuffled around via magical interference — remains largely the same. Pfeiffer plays the fairy queen Titania, whose feud with her husband results in him getting revenge via a love potion that makes her hopelessly besotted with the foolish (and temporarily donkey-headed) Bottom. It's a frothy, comedic role that nevertheless makes the most of Pfeiffer's humor while also giving her plenty of opportunities to act regal and commanding. Kevin Kline's Bottom also shines, making their interactions one of the highlights of the whole movie.

17. The Russia House

An intelligent and finely crafted Cold War spy drama, "The Russia House" deals with dangled Soviet nuclear secrets that could be tremendously important or simply part of an elaborate attempt on the USSR's part to find out what their enemies already know. In the midst of a quietly thrilling plot, the film also creates a believable and nuanced romance between Sean Connery's Barley, a publishing executive forced to turn into a spy, and Michelle Pfeiffer's Katya, a Soviet editor.

Critics offered nearly universal praise for Pfeiffer's performance. Writing for The Washington Post, Hal Hinson said, "[Pfeiffer is] great at playing contradictions, at being tough yet yielding, cloaked yet open, direct yet oblique. ... It's one of the year's most full-blooded performances."

In a world where a lot of spy movies lean on action, "The Russia House" aims at something a little more abstract: a character-driven drama where the tension, though rarely obvious, racks up exquisitely.

16. Sweet Liberty

"Sweet Liberty" keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek as it tells its tale of one very botched movie adaptation. Michael Burgess (Alan Alda) tried to keep his novel about the American Revolution as historically accurate as possible, but now it's fallen into Hollywood's hands. Goodbye, history; hello, soapy, sexed-up drama.

As much as Michael seethes at the ongoing film production, however, he does fall for the movie's lead actress, Faith Healy (Michelle Pfeiffer). She seems like his literary dreams come to life — and, more importantly, like an alternative to the more mundane and flawed reality represented by his girlfriend, Gretchen (Lises Hilboldt). If you're searching for vicious Hollywood satire, you wouldn't find it here, but the gentle humor has its own satisfactions.

Pfeiffer and Alda provide this lighthearted movie with its best laughs, which makes it an important milestone for Pfeiffer. As The New York Times review notes, this was one of the first films to prove that comedy was well within her wheelhouse.

15. White Oleander

"White Oleander" is a rich and emotionally difficult film. Michelle Pfeiffer and Allison Lohman star as one of cinema's most troubling mother-daughter pairs: Ingrid Magnussen poisons her lover and, utterly unrepentant, doesn't let her prison sentence get in the way of her exerting a powerful and almost ghostly influence over her troubled daughter, Astrid. As Astrid moves from foster family to foster family, Ingrid pulls whatever strings she can to make sure Astrid stays exclusively her daughter. If that means sabotaging Astrid's chance at finding a loving home, Ingrid can live with that.

With the slow evolution of Astrid, the continuous and proudly unchanging presence of Ingrid, and the brief but affecting portraits of everyone else Astrid meets as she's growing up, this is definitely a character-driven movie. Everything hinges on the actors, and luckily, there are some powerhouse performances here. The New York Times review had particular praise for Lohman, singling her out as having "may be the year's most auspicious screen acting debut," and for Pfeiffer, who, "giving the most complex screen performance of her career, makes her Olympian seductress at once irresistible and diabolical."

14. Ladyhawke

This romantic fantasy film comes with a sense of deep mystery, perfectly evoking a fairy tale atmosphere. Good-hearted thief Phillipe (Matthew Broderick) is on the way to his execution when he's rescued by Etienne of Navarre (Rutger Hauer), who has an unusual and dangerous request. Said request is tied to the hawk that always loyally accompanies him ... and perhaps to the strange woman who appears at night, escorted by a black wolf. Phillipe's loyalty to Etienne and the woman — Isabeau of Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer) — grows, and he becomes committed to helping them find a happy ending.

"Ladyhawke" has stunning settings, and it injects a nice bit of leavening humor into its grand fantasy. Its cast is its biggest draw, however, and it deploys them perfectly, making the most of Broderick's insouciance, Hauer's intimidating presence, and Pfeiffer's sense of grace. It all adds up to what Empire rightly calls "a criminally neglected piece of good gothic fairy tale fun."

13. The Witches of Eastwick

Can three suburban witches take on the devil himself? "The Witches of Eastwick" answers that question by introducing the sinister but compelling Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson), who suddenly appears in one small town and starts systematically charming and seducing Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), Alexandra (Cher), and Jane (Susan Sarandon). They accidentally summoned him up to play the role of the man of their dreams, but he's actually a living nightmare.

Darryl likes spurring them on, enabling them to take their gifts to new and wicked places. When they try to pull away from them, he makes them pay — but he doesn't know what he's getting himself into.

"The Witches of Eastwick" is stylish, dark, and bitingly funny, and all of its performances have a magnetic appeal. Its only real fault is its ending, where, as The Hollywood Reporter says, "What was heretofore a bright and somewhat piercing look at male domination, as well as a perceptive insight into the female spirit, degenerates into a zap-dash, special effects war." Everything bright, piercing, and perceptive holds up just fine, however, making this a lasting favorite.

12. Stardust

"Stardust" is an elegant, delightful confection of a film: an original fairy tale in which a young man seeks to win a girl by bringing her a fallen star (who happens to be named Yvaine, and who takes the form of the girl we immediately know he's really meant to be with). There's a lot going on in this buoyant fantasy film, but Michelle Pfeiffer definitely stands out as Lamia, one of the witches seeking to rejuvenate herself by gorging on Yvaine's heart.

The New York Times had nothing but praise for Pfeiffer's scene-stealing abilities: "[She is] as deliciously evil a witch as the movies have ever invented. Shooting deadly green lightning from rings on her tapering long-nailed fingers, she suggests a seriously lethal beauty contestant of a certain age who will stop at nothing to seize the crown. ... Ms. Pfeiffer goes for broke with the relish of a star who figures she has nothing to lose." Nothing is more fun than an inspired villain performance. In a movie with a literal star, Pfeiffer still brings the mega-wattage sparkle.

11. Batman Returns

Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" is a worthy successor to his 1989 "Batman," and it adds even more Gothic-infused comic book style. Plus, while it may lack the glories of Jack Nicholson's Joker, it soups up its rogues' gallery with the equally flamboyant (and more pitiable) Penguin (Danny DeVito), sinister industrialist Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), and, of course, the morally ambiguous femme fatale Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). As Catwoman, she fights Michael Keaton's Batman; as Selina Kyle, she loves his Bruce Wayne. Their love-hate chemistry and secret identity shenanigans are some of the best parts of the movie.

The characters and their larger-than-life performances complement the film's superb visuals: This is Tim Burton's sensibility at its absolute best. As Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times, "Costumes, attitudes, gadgets and the great ingenuity of Bo Welch's dazzling production design will linger in the mind long after the actual story of 'Batman Returns' becomes a blur." We're perfectly happy to forgive a few bits of weak plotting for this much delicious, lurid fun.

10. The Prince of Egypt

1998's sumptuously animated "The Prince of Egypt" retells the story of Exodus, adding a few intriguing dramatic flourishes and some exceptional songs. While the movie's main storytelling coup is the developing a deep and painful conflict between Moses and Rameses — his beloved adopted brother who grows up into the Pharaoh who famously won't let Moses' people go — it has a second touch that's almost as good: the romance between Moses and the lively, independent Tzipporah. The two have about as inauspicious a first meeting as you could imagine, they eventually wind up with a tender, supportive marriage — and a whole lot of crackling chemistry.

Voice work doesn't tend to carry the same visibility as on-screen performances — literally and figuratively — so we don't wind up ranking these roles as often. Michelle Pfeiffer's Tzipporah, however, is too good to ignore. She injects an unforgettable charisma into the role, and it also makes use of her considerable singing chops in the Oscar-winning "When You Believe." This deserves to be considered as one of her top roles, especially since it's in a film SyFy argued might just be the "greatest animated movie of all time."

9. mother!

Undoubtedly the strangest film on our list, Darren Aronofsky's "mother!" is a horror fable about art and narcissism — and probably a lot of other things, as well. The movie tells the surreal story of "Mother" (Jennifer Lawrence) whose husband, "Him" (Javier Bardem), is a famous poet whose hunger for adulation forces her into both danger and discomfort. Huge, subterranean changes start when "Man" (Ed Harris) and "Woman" (Michelle Pfeiffer) become Mother's barely tolerated houseguests, eventually leading to uproar, inspiration, pregnancy, and tragedy.

This is a hard movie to understand, which means it can also be a hard movie to like. Its defenders, however, are eloquent in their passion — and, in Martin Scorsese's case, eloquent in his insistence that you don't have to understand or "define" a film to admire it. In an essay for The Hollywood Reporter, Scorsese wrote, "The horror, the dark comedy, the biblical elements, the cautionary fable — they're all there, but they're elements in the total experience, which engulfs the characters and the viewers along with them. Only a true, passionate filmmaker could have made this picture, which I'm still experiencing weeks after I saw it."

8. Where Is Kyra?

"Where is Kyra?" is the kind of small film that can be easy to miss, but it's well-worth seeking out if you're at all interested in tightly focused and aching character dramas. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Kyra, a woman with few resources, living a life that seems to get narrower and more hopeless by the day. She's lonely and desperate, and the movie makes you acutely aware of how carelessly the world treats her and how often it disregards her completely.

There isn't a plot here so much as an agonizing downward slide, which means the film really needs a strong central performance to carry it. Luckily, Pfeiffer turns in some of her best work here. As The Arizona Republic puts it, "[She] may be stripped of her luminosity, but she is vivid onscreen. ... Complicated, emotionally wrought conversations play out with only her drawn face in the frame, leaving us to imagine the other person's reactions based solely on her subtle changes in expression. It's a heavy load, and one that she bears with grace." This could be a one-woman show, and we probably still wouldn't be able to look away.

7. Ant-Man and the Wasp

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" ditches some of the caper and heist tropes of its predecessor, but it keeps the madcap charm, comedic complications, and crucial sense of heart. Here, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reunites with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who reluctantly need him for a crucial task: tracking down Hope's mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who vanished into the Quantum Realm years ago. Scott shocked them with possible evidence that Janet is still alive, and now they're determined to get her back on their level of reality.

Pfeiffer has a suitably profound, ethereal presence — one that really sells both the wrenching family reunion and the sense that Janet has become a little otherworldly after so much time in the quantum realm. Her performance is one more great touch in a movie that really fires on all cylinders, and it adds some good gravitas alongside all the fun.

6. Scarface

The violent and unsentimental "Scarface" is one of the greatest gangster films ever made. It recounts the rise and fall of drug lord Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who enters America — sponsored by drug dealer Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), as payment for a hit — and quickly starts to climb the criminal ladder, where it turns out every rung is slick with blood. He soon acquires not only Frank's empire but his trophy wife, the beautiful and bitter Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Pfeiffer was essentially unknown when she shot "Scarface": Her first starring role was in "Grease 2," which had premiered only a few months before and was hardly in the same genre. Producer Martin Bregman later recounted (via Movieline) that her no-name status made her casting controversial just about everywhere, including with Al Pacino himself. Needless to say, Pfeiffer came through with flying colors, with The New York Times review at the time noting that "though she's not on screen that much, [she] will not be easily forgotten."

5. Married to the Mob

Angela de Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer) can't stand being a mobster's wife. Her son is hustling his classmates, her husband is filling their house with stolen goods, and the other mob wives won't stop gossiping about her. Even her husband's death doesn't solve her problems: She tries to throw herself into a new, honest life, but now she has a lovelorn Mafia boss on her tail. That's the kind of problem that attracts the attention of the FBI, who assume Angela is in on everything. Luckily, the agent who has her under surveillance is falling in love with her ....

"Married to the Mob" is funny, colorful, and unique, and it's hard to resist its madcap blend of hairspray, fake mustaches, and explosive gunfire. On top of all that, Pfeiffer's performance gives the movie soul. As The Washington Post put it, "[The film is] all decked out in Godfather kitsch, but underneath its loud exterior, a complex heroine struggles for freedom ... Michelle Pfeiffer has the pivotal role of the movie and perhaps of her career as Angela De Marco." For comedy fans, this alone would be enough to assure her stardom.

4. Hairspray

2007's film adaptation of the musical "Hairspray" is every bit as bright and peppy as its heroine, Nikki Blonsky's Tracy Turnblad — but it showcases more of a gift for withering put-downs and incisive satire. That's a winning combination.

All Tracy wants is to dance on the locally broadcast "Corny Collins Show," but that tiny empire has a couple of dangerous queen bees: high school mean girl Amber (Brittany Snow) and her haughty, prejudiced mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is still happy to tell you all about her glory days as a teen beauty contestant. Over the course of the movie, Tracy's sweetness, optimism, and skill eventually help her get onto the show, land Amber's boyfriend, and spearhead an integration campaign.

The movie has even more brilliant casting choices than it does catchy songs, but Pfeiffer still stands out as the icily manipulative Velma Von Tussle, who is slowly losing her cool at the way the world is changing right underneath her.

3. The Fabulous Baker Boys

Jack and Frank Baker (Jeff and Beau Bridges) are the not-so-famous "Fabulous Baker Boys," musician brothers who are slowly seeing the number and quality of their gigs declining. To shake things up, they hire a new singer: the bold Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), who can deliver an achingly sexy version of "Makin' Whoopee" and bring a whole club to its knees. Unsurprisingly, though, the group's sibling tension, romantic conflict, and artistic differences only get worse with success.

"The Fabulous Baker Boys" is a bittersweet and enthralling study of life on the lower end of showbiz, with all the artistic and personal compromises that entails. It finds time for music, romance, and character drama — and sometimes accomplishes all three at once.

The film holds a special place in Pfeiffer's career. As The Guardian put it, "This is Pfeiffer's movie, the one that made her the biggest female film star in the world, and catapulted her to the top of every Most Desirable Female survey for most of the '90s." Unsurprisingly, Pfeiffer still feels a lot of affection for it: In a 2021 talk with Deadline, she revealed that she and Jeff Bridges have been campaigning for a sequel.

2. Dangerous Liaisons

The period drama "Dangerous Liaisons" focuses on two libertines. The Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) gets to flaunt his heartless, rakish reputation openly, while his confidante and ex-lover, the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close), hides her fondness for sex and cruel power games under a spotless reputation. As the movie begins, Merteuil sets about on a campaign to ruin the innocent young Cécile (Uma Thurman), while Valmont tries to seduce the famously devout and virtuous Marie de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer). All the hopping in and out of bed and switching of partners makes it feel like a farce, but here the motives are dark and the consequences are often horrific.

"Dangerous Liaisons" gathered up a whole host of Academy Award nominations for its acting, writing, production design, costuming, and score, and they were richly deserved. Film critic Pauline Kael wrote, "This is a first-rate piece of work by a director who's daring and agile. The unfussiness of [Stephen] Frears' approach is tonic. The movie gets at the important things and doesn't linger over them. It's heaven — alive in a way that movies of classics rarely are." There's absolutely nothing staid here.

Of Pfeiffer's performance, The Washington Post review said, "Of the three principal roles, Pfeiffer's is the least obvious and the most difficult. Nothing is harder to play than virtue, and Pfeiffer is smart enough not to try. Instead, she embodies it."

1. The Age of Innocence

So much of Martin Scorsese's reputation is tied to films like "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," and "Goodfellas" that it's easy to forget that he also made a gorgeous adaptation of the 1920 novel "The Age of Innocence" — but this lush and quietly tragic period piece ranks as one of his best films. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Newland Archer, a member of New York's upper crust who vacillates between hewing to the conventions of his class and rebelling against them in the search for something passionate and true. When the unhappy and scandalous Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) comes back to New York, Archer's spotless engagement to the more conventional May (Winona Ryder) suddenly feels like a weight around his neck. He and Ellen fall in love — but in this claustrophobic social environment, and with Archer's indecision, that's no sure route to happiness.

"The Age of Innocence" is elegant, complex, and poignant; in fact, we're prepared to deem it essentially flawless and say this could be the crown jewel of Michelle Pfeiffer's career. It captures her at her absolute best, channeling vulnerability, intelligence, romance, and independence. Rolling Stone called her work "brilliantly nuanced" and said, "Pfeiffer gives the performance of a lifetime as the outcast countess. With her hair in tight curls that accentuate her pale beauty, she seems lit from within." That incandescence lingers long after the movie's credits have rolled.