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Kristen Stewart Biopic Performances Ranked

Audience members seem to have a love/hate relationship with Kristen Stewart. Stewart first started off as a child actress, appearing in David Fincher's nail-biting thriller "Panic Room." The star continued to pop up in child-friendly projects like the sci-fi "Jumanji" spin-off "Zathura: A Space Adventure." However, it wasn't until 2008 when Stewart achieved international stardom for her role as Bella Swan in the cinematic adaptation of "Twilight," the hit teen romance series that focused on a teen girl falling for an age-old vampire.

Despite spawning four sequels and grossing over $3 billion at the worldwide box office (via The Numbers), the "Twilight Saga" was heavily panned by critics and general audiences alike, with a key criticism being Stewart's stiff and stilted performance. Since the franchise wrapped up in 2012 with "Breaking Dawn — Part 2," Stewart has gone on to prove haters wrong, starring in a number of fascinating projects that show a lot of range. In fact, The New Yorker recently made the bold claim that Stewart is "her generation's most interesting movie star."

The star has appeared in action films like "Charlie's Angels" and in moody psychological dramas like "Personal Shopper," but she has seemingly found her niche in the biopic genre. Over the years, the actress has starred in a number of biopics, all with varying degrees of success. As Stewart continues to define herself as one of the most engaging stars out there, it's time to look back and rank her best biopic performances to date.

5. Seberg

Kristen Stewart took on a chance to play the complicated, but beloved French New Wave actress Jean Seberg in "Seberg." Best known for appearing in Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless," Seberg solidified herself as one of the most memorable international stars of the '60s. While cinephiles remember the star for her stellar roles, history buffs know Seberg as an activist who openly voiced her support for the Black Panthers (via the Los Angeles Times).  

What notably made Stewart stand out was how she portrayed Seberg in a naturalistic and honorific way, which, in turn, led to a subtle performance. However, that subtlety certainly had its drawbacks. At times, it's difficult to discern how involved or interested Stewart's Seberg is in her activism. This led to a performance that was low on emotion and passion, which makes it difficult for audience members to understand Seberg's motivations and love for her cause. During a key scene where she first voices her support for the Black Panther Army by raising her fist, Stewart appears emotionless, failing to exude excitement for the cause or anxiety that she's now become a target of scrutiny from white individuals.

This direction isn't surprising, considering Stewart made it clear she had no interest in nailing the late starlet's mannerisms or actions. In an interview with Telegram, she said, "You take a cumulative impression and then fiercely try to protect her ... Then it was just kind of forgetting that those details were sometimes impossible to nail." While Stewart authentically brings Seberg's glamor and persona to the big screen, she doesn't strike too well in terms of conveying Seberg's emotion, enthusiasm, or passion. We understand how Seberg wants to create a better world but Stewart's performance doesn't tell us why. 

4. JT LeRoy

In 2018, Kristen Stewart signed on to appear in "JT LeRoy," a film that dramatized the JT Leroy debacle that shook the literary world in the 2000s. In 2000, Bloomsbury published "Sarah," a novel that was written by the then-unknown author JT Leroy. However, the novel was penned by Laura Albert, a woman who used the persona of JT LeRoy as an "avatar" (via YouTube) to tell stories she didn't feel comfortable penning herself. After the success of "Sarah," Albert roped in Savannah Knoop, her sibling-in-law, to assume the identity of JT LeRoy. Over six years, Knoop played the part until LeRoy's actual identity was revealed in 2005 (via The New York Times).

The film, based on Knoop's memoir "Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy” makes for a compelling film that doesn't feel entirely objective or interested in digging into Knoop's psyche. Stewart, who played Knoop, manages to nail the anxiety and confusion about the entire situation, particularly when she's presented with the idea to become LeRoy. However, the entire film doesn't feel involved enough to peel back the entire debacle, which in turn doesn't allow Stewart to deliver something complex. Nevertheless, Stewart gives a compelling performance that dabbles in moral ambiguity but never commits to it. She shines when she steps into LeRoy's shoes and expertly conveys sadness when she returns to Knoop.

What's disappointing is that the film surrounding her doesn't allow Stewart to further develop both sides of Knoop, resulting in a very black-and-white performance. In reviewing the film, The Independent put it best, writing that Stewart "is also an actor with a tendency to fade into the background unless the film surrounding her matches her slightly ethereal spirit."

3. Lizzie

Lizzie Borden is a name any true crime fanatic knows. In 1892, Borden was charged with murdering her wealthy, prolific father and stepmother in Massachusetts. She was eventually acquitted in 1893, though her story had already swept America, making her infamous (via Rolling Stone). In recent years, the mysterious circumstances surrounding Borden and her family's murder have become a fascination in several pieces of media, including "Lizzie," which provided audiences with one of Kristen Stewart's most compelling roles to date.

In 2018, Stewart starred in "Lizzie" alongside indie darling Chloë Sevigny, who played the titular murderer. The film opened to mostly positive reviews for recontextualizing the mythical and conspiratorial murders as a feminist story (via San Francisco Chronicle). Despite the reinterpretation of the true, muddled events, the film operates as a traditional, restrained biopic. However, the film's greatest strength is its captivating and engaging performances. Stewart appears as Bridget "Maggie" Sullivan, Lizzie's lesser-known accomplice. Maggie was a live-in maid for the Borden family and eventually struck up a romance with Lizzie.

The film is engrossing when it features Stewart on screen as the charismatic, but tortured Maggie. Opposite the veteran Sevigny, it's hard to deny the duo's chemistry as lovers-turned-murderers. Stewart starts anxiously restrained with her performance but slowly opens up to anger and joy as she gains confidence from Sevigny's character. By the end of the film, it's shocking how much the character has grown, and how passionate Maggie has become. When compared to her other biopic roles, Stewart was given an opportunity to portray someone who remains a lesser-known figure, which allowed her to fully step into the role of Maggie without any baggage or expectations. This led to a quiet, beautiful, and complicated performance that compliments one of America's most fascinating true-crime stories.

2. Spencer

Kristen Stewart portrayed Diana, Princess of Wales, in the 2021 biopic "Spencer." One of many biopics centered around the mysterious, yet elegant former royal family member, "Spencer" succeeded due to its insistence on portraying the princess as a human, not a character. Presented as a surreal psychological drama, often veering into horror territory, the film was a stark departure from the neutered and more traditional biopics like 2013's "Diana." "Spencer" focused on the princess as she mulled over the state of her marriage around Christmas 1991. Because of its execution, the film took considerable dramatic liberties as it showcased Diana dealing with her personal life.

Stewart was endlessly praised for portraying Diana through a sympathetic, raw lens that saw the historical figure dealing with genuine personal turmoil. The star particularly excelled in a claustrophobic dinner scene with the royal family, where Diana feels the monarchs eyeing her down, judging her for being herself. Stewart attempts composure, plays with her jewelry, and gobbles down soup to feign normality and calmness but ultimately fails, resulting in a devastating performance. Royal chef Darren McGrady told CultureMap Dallas that "Kristen Stewart is amazing as the princess... it was like her coming alive again."

Stewart dug deep into Diana's psyche to deliver a portrayal that didn't feel formulaic or performative but rather genuine and heartbreaking. It's fair to say that she gave the definitive portrayal of the late princess. Stewart eventually went on to receive her first Oscar nomination for the biopic.

1. The Runaways

In 2010, Kristen Stewart appeared as singer-guitarist Joan Jett in "The Runaways," a biopic that told the story of the all-female rock band of the same name. The film was partly based on lead singer Cherie Currie's autobiography "Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway." While the biopic, which shows the band forming and eventually breaking up, doesn't reinvent the wheel, it allowed Stewart to step into an assured and empowering role early into her career.

In a recent SiriusXM Q&A, Jett openly praised Stewart for stepping into her shoes, telling her "I was very impressed with your work ethic, how into me you were trying to get," she said. "It's the little things that other people might not notice but Kristen picked up on," the musician continued, addressing the panel. Stewart responded to the accomplished rock star's comments by saying that being able to star as Jett was an important experience as an actress.

During the film's musical sequences, it's invigorating to see how much spunk and bravado Stewart exudes as Jett. While Stewart matches Jett's energy on stage, she stands out during her most intimate moments with Currie (Dakota Fanning). Like "JT LeRoy," Stewart managed to play two different versions of her character, both on and off the stage. She effortlessly glides between a confident and vulnerable Jett as she effectively portrays one of the most compelling and vulnerable musicians to be put on screen.

 "The Runaways" marked a pivotal moment in Stewart's career. The star could have easily gone down the road of being typecast in roles similar to Bella Swan but instead opted to take the daring and challenging character of Jett. Appearing as the rock star is one of the few roles in Stewart's CV that sees her playing someone unreserved and assertive, which is why it's one of her best portrayals to date.