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Keke Palmer's 7 Best And 7 Worst Movies Ranked

Actor, talk show host, and singer Keke Palmer has accomplished a great deal from a very young age. Since making her debut in 2004's "Barbershop 2: Back in Business" at age 11, the Illinois native has amassed over 100 film and television credits. This is in addition to her career as a Billboard-charting recording artist and Broadway's first Black Cinderella (per Vanity Fair). As a voice actor, she has worked on everything from the glittery "Winx Club" to the Disney+ reboot of "The Proud Family" to the raunchy Netflix comedy "Big Mouth" and its spin-off, "Human Resources." Her work has been recognized many times over by the Emmys, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the NAACP Image Awards, among others.

In Summer 2022, Palmer appeared in two very different sci-fi blockbusters: the Pixar adventure "Lightyear" and Jordan Peele's UFO-centric mind-bender "Nope." In both films, she exhibits the range and talent that have made her a star for nearly two decades. Palmer is often the best part of any project she's involved in, making good films even better and rescuing not-so-great ones through her sterling work. In honor of her impressive past, busy present, and glittering future, we're ranking Keke Palmer's seven worst and seven best movies.

14. Worst: Brotherly Love

Gang warfare, high school basketball, and Shakespeare collide in Jamal Hill's 2015 drama "Brotherly Love." The title refers not just to the film's West Philadelphia setting, but the fraternal pride that sets the plot in motion. After his father's death, June (Cory Hardrict) turns to a life of crime in order to provide for his younger siblings, basketball phenom Sergio (Eric D. Hill Jr.) and cheerleader Jackie (Keke Palmer). He pours his dreams of a better life into these two, but trouble soon comes in the form of Chris (Quincy Brown), a handsome kid from the right side of the tracks whose whirlwind romance with Jackie may be more complicated than it appears.

"Brotherly Love" is weighed down by overwrought drama and crime movie clichés. But it does boast an impressive cast, which includes singer Macy Gray, comedian Faizon Love, and "Cool Runnings" and "New York Undercover" star Malik Yoba. Hardrict has been a journeyman actor since the late 1990s, and shines here in the lead role. Likewise, Palmer does her best to bring some life to her part. Sadly, Jackie is more of a pawn manipulated by June and Chris than an actual person.

13. Best: The Longshots

Keke Palmer was just two years out from her breakout role in "Akeelah and the Bee" when she starred in the 2008 sports drama "The Longshots." Palmer plays Jasmine Plummer, a bullied teenager who finds her calling on the football field as the first female quarterback in Pop Warner league history. Coached by her uncle Curtis (Ice Cube), Jasmine takes her team all the way to the Pop Warner Super Bowl.

Palmer and Ice Cube have excellent chemistry, and director Fred Durst (of Limp Bizkit fame) knows to stay out of their way, particularly in early scenes when Jasmine is dragged into football and a relationship with her uncle. Durst is less restrained in game sequences, which are filled with fast cuts and slow-motion shots. Despite being based on a true story, the script runs every play in the sports movie cliché book, including a late-developing complication involving Jasmine's dad. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially since Palmer throws herself wholeheartedly into the film's dramatic moments. If there is a nit to pick with her performance, it's that it's almost too dramatically effective; she's playing in a more realistic register than a lightweight sports movie can completely handle.

12. Worst: Cleaner

Renny Harlin's 2007 neo-noir "Cleaner" is one of those films that might have ended up on the "best" side of this list if we could cut out every scene Keke Palmer isn't in. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Tom, a former cop and current crime scene cleaner raising his teenage daughter Rose (Palmer) alone after his wife's murder. When Rose starts working on a school project about her mother, she starts asking questions that Tom doesn't want to answer.

"Cleaner" is an affecting drama, especially when it focuses on the clash between Rose and Tom — Palmer and Jackson make a great father-daughter team. Unfortunately, their story is little more than a side street to the film's main plot, which sees Tom get framed for murder by his crooked ex-partner (Ed Harris) and a femme fatale (Eva Mendes). The film's twists are about as clunky as it gets, and Harlin's direction has little of the energy he brought to his previous collaboration with Jackson, 1999's "Deep Blue Sea." Finally, as is the case with more than one movie on this list, Palmer is saddled with a block of plodding ending narration, just in case anyone watching missed the point.

11. Best: Pimp

Keke Palmer got about as far away from the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards as possible in the gritty 2018 indie drama "Pimp." After learning the ins and outs of the pimp game from her father (DMX), small-time Bronx hustler Wednesday (Palmer) struggles to maintain her own stable of sex workers while caring for her mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and longtime girlfriend Nikki (Haley Ramm). But when Wednesday courts beautiful Destiny (Vanessa Morgan), she incurs the wrath of Destiny's vicious pimp (Edi Gathegi).

Written and directed by Christine Crokos, "Pimp" works best as a showcase for Palmer, giving the one-time child star an explicitly adult role that proves how thoroughly she commands the screen. Audiences have seen the small-time pimp yearning for a better life before, from Morgan Freeman in "Street Smart" to Terrence Howard in "Hustle & Flow," and Crokos' screenplay breaks little new ground, other than making the titular pimp female. But that might just be enough in Palmer's hands. Wednesday is a complex character navigating a unique space: She's a pimp, but being a pimp does not spare her from the sexual violence women in her world must contend with. Though Palmer is once again freighted with opening and ending narration blocks, her performance shines.

10. Worst: Alice

On an antebellum Georgia plantation, an enslaved woman named Alice (Keke Palmer) makes a desperate escape from her brutal master (Jonny Lee Miller). Just as she reaches the edge of the grounds, she's nearly killed by an 18-wheeler. It turns out it's actually 1973, a fact carefully kept from Alice and her fellow slaves. Under the tutelage of a former Black Panther (Common), Alice gets a crash course in the 20th century and sets out for bloody revenge.

By making its "modern" setting the early 1970s, 2022's "Alice" riffs off the blaxploitation genre, particularly the righteous violence of Pam Grier in movies like "Coffy." Palmer certainly looks the part of a latter-day Grier, but she has a barely-there screen partner in Common. Worse, she's trapped inside a film that lacks the courage of its convictions, pulling punches in order to reassure an assumed white audience. As critic Odie Henderson put it in his review for RogerEbert.com, "A movie like this should unapologetically provoke their discomfort. It would have if it were made in the year it takes place."

9. Best: Lightyear

Space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) and commanding officer Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) crash-land on a hostile alien planet. To return to Star Command, they must make use of an experimental hyperspace fuel. Buzz volunteers to test it, but, thanks to time dilation, the minutes he spends in hyperspace are years on the planet's surface. Before long, decades have passed. Buzz, still the same age, finds that Alisha has died; her granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer) is now defending the planet from the forces of the evil alien warlord Zurg (James Brolin).

2022's "Lightyear" is the movie that inspires Andy of "Toy Story" fame to ask for a Buzz Lightyear action figure. This explanation doesn't exactly hold water — the film is clearly a product of 2022, and Andy is a '90s kid — but once you get past it, "Lightyear" reveals itself as a thrilling space adventure with real poignancy. While it's not an adult weepie like the best of the "Toy Story" films, Buzz faces the same kind of crisis his plastic counterpart tackles: He's forever a young man of action, while those he loves get older and move on. Evans is a solid Buzz, while Palmer's Izzy is a charming and hypercompetent hero.

8. Worst: Joyful Noise

Single mom Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) is handed the reins to her church choir after the previous director's death, much to the chagrin of G.G. (Dolly Parton), his wealthy widow. After a disastrous showing at the annual Joyful Noise competition in Los Angeles, Vi Rose is determined to return the choir to its former glory. She decides to bank on a medley of family-friendly secular songs, led by her daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) and G.G.'s handsome grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan), who carry on a chaste romance behind the scenes. 

"Joyful Noise," which hit theaters in 2012, is too genial to have any real villains and too formulaic to end any other way than with the choir winning it all. Even its Great Recession backdrop ends up being more set dressing than anything else. Its pleasures are almost entirely found in its musical numbers, where Palmer and Jordan get a chance to shine alongside mainstream legends Latifah and Parton and gospel icons Kirk Franklin and Karen Peck.

7. Best: Imperial Dreams

"The hood is the cruelest of prisons," writes Bambi (John Boyega) in the 2014 drama "Imperial Dreams." Recently released from prison, Bambi returns to his Los Angeles neighborhood to claim his young son Daytone. He dreams of writing a book about his experiences as a street criminal and convict. Other people around him have similar dreams of getting out through money, education, or talent, but just as Bambi writes, escaping the ghetto can be more difficult than escaping from prison. Thanks to his Uncle Shrimp (Glenn Plummer) and a lack of anywhere else to turn, Bambi is soon led back to a life of crime. 

Malik Vitthal's film vividly captures the dehumanizing system that awaits convicts on the other side of the bars. Its killer cast is key to this success: There are no weak links in "Imperial Dreams." Keke Palmer plays Samaara, Day's mother, serving a stretch of her own for shoplifting out of necessity when her EBT payment was late. It's a small role — just two scenes — but it's vital to the film's vision of a social safety net that's little more than holes.

6. Worst: Shrink

Movies about psychiatrists offer actors the chance to deliver dramatic monologues while sitting in tastefully appointed rooms. This can result in excellent storytelling — but it can also lead to something like 2009 indie dramedy "Shrink." Here, half a dozen thespians pace around a therapist's office, reciting overwritten speeches. If this doesn't already sound like a bad time, consider this: Henry (Kevin Spacey), the eponymous shrink, operates in Hollywood. The sheer indulgence of actors playing actors is, to put it simply, a bit much.

Exactly two talents emerge from "Shrink" with their dignity intact. One is future Oscar nominee Jesse Plemons, who plays Jesus, Henry's cheerful weed dealer — a small but memorable role. The other is Keke Palmer, who underplays her scenes as a troubled high schooler reeling from her mother's suicide. Sadly, she gets caught up in a silly late-film plot twist involving a screenplay written about her life by one of Henry's other patients. At least she doesn't have to narrate the ending this time.

5. Best: Akeelah and the Bee

Keke Palmer's breakthrough film role came in 2006's "Akeelah and the Bee." As the titular Akeelah, a Los Angeles middle schooler with a head for letters and a chance at winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Palmer is a winsome delight. She has the same prickly-but-loving dynamic with Laurence Fishburne, who plays her coach, as she would go on to have with actors like Ice Cube and Samuel L. Jackson. Their bond makes her feel wise beyond her years, but it also reveals she's still a kid searching for guidance.

This might sound formulaic. But formulas become formulas for a reason: They work. The "smart kid with a mentor" thing might have started to feel like a cliché by the time Palmer was in "Shrink," but as Akeelah, she's fantastic. Palmer centers the entire film, holding her own against heavyweights like Fishburne and (in a surprise "What's Love Got to Do with It" reunion) Angela Bassett, who plays her mother. Likewise, the film's sports movie-esque structure is given a shot of novelty by its unusual setting, making the correct spelling of "logorrhea" as nail-bitingly tense as a Hail Mary pass straight into the end zone.

4. Worst: Madea's Family Reunion

Writer-director Tyler Perry's "Madea" films are a mess of contradictions, pivoting from slapstick comedy to overwrought drama at the drop of a hat. But they also make money, which allows him to stack his films with wildly overqualified casts. Perry, who plays Madea and various other members of her family, is often the worst actor in his own films. This is never more true than in 2006's "Madea's Family Reunion," which boasts Blair Underwood, Lynn Whitfield, Jenifer Lewis, Cicely Tyson, poet Maya Angelou in her final screen appearance, and Keke Palmer.

As Madea prepares for her family reunion, she must also deal with her niece's violent marriage to a wealthy businessman (Underwood) and serve as a court-ordered foster parent to Nikki (Palmer), a troubled teen. Palmer seems like she's in a far more grounded movie than everyone else, finding real pathos in her character. But all the while, Perry does his sub-Eddie Murphy schtick all around her. Her talent remains apparent, but it's swamped by this lousy flick.

3. Best: Nope

Jordan Peele takes on Hollywood history, UFOs, and our impulse to turn trauma into entertainment in 2022's "Nope." California horse trainers OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood are a brother-sister duo who have inherited a ranching legacy that goes all the way back to the earliest days of cinema. Crushed by mounting debts, they decide to make their fortune by documenting the bizarre cloud above their ranch, which somehow never moves ... until it does.

There's a lot going on in the gleefully terrifying "Nope," from the erasure of Black cowboys in Hollywood and history to the strange toll child stardom takes on a person. But the alien looms above it all, literally and figuratively. Palmer and Kaluuya anchor the film with utterly spectacular performances as the Haywood siblings. Palmer is especially affecting as a daughter with an ambivalent view of her father and the family legacy, given the dreams she's had to shelve.

2. Worst: Ice Age: Collision Course

It takes an awful lot to make Keke Palmer fade into the background, but that's exactly what the "Ice Age" franchise manages to do. The first "Ice Age" film, which came out in 2002, concerns a trio of prehistoric mammals voiced by Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo. By the time the fifth release, "Ice Age: Collision Course," turned up in 2016, the main cast had expanded to include female counterparts for each of the guys, including a mate named Ellie (Queen Latifah) and a daughter named Peaches (Palmer) for sad sack mammoth Manny (Romano).

After battling climate change, dinosaurs, and pirate weasels in previous installments, "Ice Age: Collision Course" sees our heroes face certain doom from an asteroid hurtling towards Earth. But for Manny and Ellie, the real disaster is that Peaches is preparing to leave home with her doofus fiancé Julian (Adam DeVine). Palmer has next to nothing to do here, as she and her "Joyful Noise" mom Latifah are pushed off to the side in favor of hacky son-in-law bits for Romano and DeVine. It's the only film on this list that is not improved by casting Palmer, and that is entirely the film's fault.

1. Best: Hustlers

For a perfect example of a film that doesn't squander Keke Palmer's talent in a thankless ensemble role, look no further than 2019's "Hustlers." Constance Wu stars as Destiny, the new girl at Manhattan strip club Moves, who learns the ropes from Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), the top act. As it's 2007, everyone is riding high — but a year later, the financial crisis guts both Wall Street and Moves, which relies on a finance bro-heavy clientele. Soon, Ramona ropes Destiny and fellow dancers Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Palmer) into a new hustle: Drugging men so that the club can run exorbitant charges on their credit cards.

Director Lorene Scafaria doesn't shy away from the glamour of the club or the righteous anger that drives the central grift. As the titular hustlers, who are based on a real-life crew of strip club scammers, see it, they're stealing from those who are getting rich in the recession when so many others have lost everything. We all know that the party can't last forever, though, and sure enough, doubt starts to creep in. Palmer's Mercedes is a key part of this sea change: She's a sweetheart until she and Destiny have to take a mark to the emergency room. Real life hits Mercedes hard in this moment, and the only thing she can do is shout "No!" and run away. Palmer makes this simple action one of the most meaningful, hilarious, and surprising moments in the film.