Kirsten Dunst characters, ranked
The many faces of Kirsten Dunst
Ever since her breakthrough role as the angel-faced bloodsucker Claudia in Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire — which turns 25 this month — Kirsten Dunst has been a compelling player in American movies. And while she herself has acknowledged that she’s long gone unrecognized by the industry, there’s no denying the power of her extensive filmography. Even when she’s bringing on the pep or lounging in a candy-colored palace, Dunst’s underlying gravitas has made her an aching, intelligent presence since she was a child. See how we’ve ranked her various personae ahead.
9. Manic Pixie Dream Kirsten
Oh, dear. The term “manic pixie dream girl” — which actually was coined as a description of a bad kind of writing and not a legitimate kind of character type — was inspired by Dunst’s role in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown. But hey, we salute her for being the true ur-MPDG, for speaking such fluent Movie that she could nail this figure that “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors” so well that she inspired critic Nathan Rabin to crystallize this phenomenon in a phrase that has caught on widely enough to be widely misinterpreted. That said… it still ranks last.
8. Midcentury Kirsten
America in the middle of the 20th century is a setting seemingly tailor-made for Dunst. The wardrobe suits her, and the perpetual tension she brings to the screen — between her character’s own desires and the expectations of the world in which she finds herself — is already written into every woman in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s (…’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s…). Which is maybe why her role in Mona Lisa Smile isn’t quite so piercing as her other films; she thrives most in settings where her particular pain is hers alone.
SEE ALSO: Hidden Figures, The Two Faces of January, On the Road
7. The Kirsten Next Door
Does pop culture have a more essential girl next door than Mary Jane Watson? As the love interest in the Spider-Man trilogy that helped kick off the current superhero cinema revolution, Dunst made the classic comic book character — whose struggles to become an actress and choose the right path for herself were just as real as Peter Parker’s own problems — a girl next door worth fighting for.
SEE ALSO: The Virgin Suicides, Dick, Bring It On, Get Over It
6. Kirsten the Contender
Though Bring It On is cheerier than some of Dunst’s more dramatic fare, it’s just as indelible as the Melancholias of the bunch (don’t even pretend you’ve forgotten so much as a single word to “Brr! It’s Cold in Here!”). And even when she’s playing an in-it-to-win-it competitor, Dunst’s characters always know — and wrestle with the fact — that there are more important things than just the trophy on the line.
SEE ALSO: Drop Dead Gorgeous, Wimbledon, Get Over It
5. Get Kirsten Outta This Town
Dunst is a master of being trapped (keep reading!), but never in such a deceptively grim environment than in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, a melancholy coming-of-age tale of suburban ennui that marked the actress' first collaboration with the director. As one of the five teenage Lisbon sisters, whose strict parents isolate them at home, Dunst expertly telegraphs her aching desire for something more, anywhere else.
SEE ALSO: Drop Dead Gorgeous, Fargo, Little Women
4. Not a Girl, Not Yet a Kirsten
While Dunst, whose career began as a child, has affectingly played girls thrust into adulthood before they were ready for it, her greatest onscreen struggle with growing up happens in reverse. As Interview with the Vampire’s Claudia, an ages-old vampire trapped in the body of a child, Dunst is a woman at odds not only with her surroundings but with her own body, forced to wear her long-gone innocence every day in a maddening eternity of frilly dresses, rather than having it ripped from her too soon.
SEE ALSO: Marie Antoinette, The Virgin Suicides
3. Poor Little Rich Kirsten
Mary Jane may have been the ultimate girl next door, but just four years later, Dunst took on the ultimate poor little rich girl as history’s doomed French queen in Sofia Coppola’s anachronistic, aesthetically dreamy Marie Antoinette. Gorgeous as it all looks, though, we all know that this party can’t last, and Dunst’s Marie, dropped into a world of lavish wealth and courtly intrigue without a road map, tears through it like any teenage girl would who doesn’t know the way out — until she is horribly provided with one.
SEE ALSO: Crazy/Beautiful
2. Rage Monster Kirsten
All these Kirstens wear their angst in different ways (though make no mistake, it’s always there), but perhaps the most satisfying is the full-blown bitchery of Regan in Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette. This is rage that cannot be contained. This is bitterness laced into every change in her face, every word out of her mouth. This is a woman who’s done everything right, who’s adhered to every rule, who’s passed every test, and yet here she is, so miserable that she can’t not punish the people around her who are lesser than but still somehow have more. She’s brilliant. She’s breathtaking. And yet… she only ranks second.
SEE ALSO: On Becoming a God in Central Florida
1. (is) The Loneliest Kirsten
As a muse to Sofia Coppola, American cinema’s poet laureate of lonely girlhood, Dunst has plumbed the depths of feminine existential isolation more than a few times — but none more wrenchingly than in Lars von Trier’s towering Melancholia, as a bride suffocated by depression on the eve of the apocalypse. Her unique talent for being deeply, profoundly alone on screen — even surrounded by party guests, or ladies-in-waiting, or so-called friends — is Dunst’s greatest power.
SEE ALSO: Marie Antoinette, The Beguiled, Woodshock