One of the most successful and adored actresses of her generation, the presence of Emma Stone in a movie or TV show is usually a sign of immense quality.
As we will see here, Stone, from the very beginning, and despite the quality of the project in hand, is either the best thing about the movie, or the only good thing in it. Only in our first entry is she neither…
Here are 15 of Emma Stone’s movies ranked from worst to best.
15. Aloha (2015)
We start with a doozie, with Almost Famous director Cameron Crowe’s controversial 2015 romantic comedy, Aloha. Based on a true story, Aloha follows Bradley Cooper as a former US Naval Officer who is tempted out of retirement while also falling for Emma Stone’s Air Force liaison, Captain Allison Ng.
Sounds innocuous, right? Except that Stone’s character is based on a Hawaiian woman who is stated as being of one quarter Chinese and one quarter Hawaiian descent. Deserved accusations of whitewashing ensued and Aloha is something that everyone involved would rather be forgotten.
14. The House Bunny (2008)
While the Anna Faris comedy vehicle, The House Bunny, has gained a cult-following in the 14 years (we feel old) since its release, it shows us the difference between Faris’ career trajectory to that of her co-star Emma Stone.
The House Bunny is a college-set comedy that tries to give Faris’ titular character the Legally Blonde treatment, with Stone playing a shy, bookish young woman who is primed to come out of her shell. It’s fine, everyone is fine, but while this is a highlight of its stars’ filmography, Stone would soon be leveling up.
13. Gangster Squad (2013)
Gangster Squad is the kind of movie that doesn’t get made anymore, and you don’t need to look far to see why. Ruben Fleischer’s action drama follows Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling as renegade police officers trying to take down the legendary Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen, played by Sean Penn.
Emma Stone plays Cohen’s girlfriend who is predictably also Gosling’s love interest (more on that as we go). Apart from the effortless chemistry with Gosling, Stone is largely wasted here with a character that feels more like set dressing than a fully-fledged human being.
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12. Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
What a difference a decade makes. Zombieland was a surprise cult-hit, coming as it did, not at the height of the zombie boom, but just as we were all starting to get tired of it. With Double Tap we are definitely tired of it. Actually, we’re exhausted. And by the looks of returning stars, Jesse Esienberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Abigail Breslin, they are too.
Stone comes out the worst of the four as Wichita, not because she’s bad, but because in the time between the first movie and Double Tap, she’s become a genuine superstar who shouldn’t need to be playing characters this flimsy. Let’s hope this franchise can take its own advice and double tap itself before a trilogy is completed.
11. Cruella (2021)
We’re still not exactly sure who or what Cruella (Disney’s supposedly punk-rock origin story for puppy murderer Cruella DeVille) is actually for. No, wait, we’ve cracked it – it’s for Emma Stone fans.
Ignore Disney’s sanitized version of the late ‘70s London fashion scene; forget the idiocy of the plot that tries to explain why a cackling cartoon villain became that way; forget the damn Dalmatian slander. Just enjoy Emma Stone’s high-wire performance. Stone carries Cruella with style, poise, and some appropriate madness, it’s a shame that the movie can’t keep up with her – otherwise it would rank higher.
10. The Help (2011)
The Help has aged poorly in the years since its release. Despite being well-meaning, it has (along with the likes of The Green Mile, Driving Miss Daisy, and the ridiculous Green Book) become a potent example of the white savior trope and Hollywood’s willingness to pat itself on the back for its own ideas of diversity.
This book-turned-movie is hard to watch in this context, but it is worth a go for the performances of Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and, yes, Emma Stone, all of whom give the material far more grace than it deserves.
9. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Let’s get something straight. The Amazing Spider-Man sucks. No amount of Andrew Garfield/No Way Home publicity tour charm can change that. The reason? Everyone in the movie is really, really dumb. All except Gwen Stacy, and that has everything to do with Emma Stone.
Unlike Mary-Jane Watson, who was there to get kidnapped a lot, this Spider-Man movie had the novel idea of making Gwen a pivotal part of the plot, as well as being properly active in it. Like Cruella, it may be that we’re exaggerating Stone’s skill here, but that’s better than spending two and a half hours shouting at the screen for her to get the heck away from these people.
8. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
While not as wasteful as Gangster Squad, Crazy, Stupid, Love asks a little more of Emma Stone and her excellent onscreen chemistry with Ryan Gosling. The movie is not about her, making it the second collaboration on this list where Stone is merely there to make Gosling look good.
Thankfully she brings out the best in the actor who is known for his strong silent types humanizing what is a pretty reprehensible character. It’s not exactly Grant and Hepburn, but it’s close enough.
7. Superbad (2007)
Superbad is one of the most iconic teen comedies of all time. A funny, gross, and ridiculous odyssey of two losers and a McLovin trying to lose their virginities to the girls they have a crush on and thinking alcohol is the way to do that (spoiler, that’s very, very wrong and they eventually understand that).
All of which means that it would take a special kind of actor to make one of these objects of desire stand out in any way. Emma Stone does more than this as she effortlessly punctures the fallacy that a lot of teenage boys have about their crushes – that she’s actually human and not some goddess of desire. While merely a supporting player, Stone is so effortlessly likable in Superbad, that it would become her mainstream breakthrough.
6. Zombieland (2009)
Despite its dispiriting sequel, the original Zombieland is a bloody good time of a movie. It helps that, despite the familiarity of the zombie genre, and Zombieland’s critique/celebration of its style and conventions, the movie lasts past that self-satisfied first watch because, like Scream in the horror genre, Zombieland is still a very fun zombie movie in its own right.
Unlike the sequel, the cast here just pops, probably because at this point in their careers they hadn’t played a million different versions of these characters (we’re looking at you Eisenberg) just yet. Here, Stone brings some world-weary action to her wheelhouse of whip-smart characters, something she truly honed in our next entry.
5. Easy A (2010)
We used to be surrounded by teen comedies, usually populated with sex-obsessed teenage boys and the women they wanted to see naked. It might be a good thing that we’ve moved on from this. Easy A is one of the reasons for this cultural shift.
It’s a frank and funny discussion of sex as social currency for teenagers. The idea that it doesn’t matter if you did it, as long as people think you did. This is anchored expertly by Stone, whose character culturally updates Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter tale of female oppression into a movie that you will actually want to see. We’ve read The Scarlet Letter, and we’d rather watch Easy A. Come at us American Lit graduates!
4. The Battle of the Sexes (2017)
The defining aspect of Emma Stone’s popularity is that she is one of the best actors at toeing the line between drama and comedy. Most of her movies share both genres characteristics, but it’s rare for Stone to be in a movie that goes fully one way or the other.
This is why she is the perfect choice to play Tennis legend, Billie Jean King in The Battle of the Sexes, who takes on the self-confessed chauvinist male player Bobby Riggs. It’s both a story of a hugely significant match of any sport with a gender divide, but Stone also brings a lot of levity by playing up the ridiculousness of her having to be in this situation in the first place.
3. La La Land (2016)
Finally, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling get to be in a movie where he doesn’t overshadow her. La La Land fully utilizes the strong creative connection between these two actors by making the movie about them striving for creative and romantic connections.
Whether you think it should have won the Best Picture Oscar over Moonlight is your business, but La La Land doesn’t need a gold statue, though it certainly helps that Stone has a deserved Best Actress Oscar, for you to enjoy its many charms and woes.
2. Birdman (2014)
How do you take Birdman away from Michael Keaton? You can’t, it’s his revelation everyone else is just watching. What you can do is match his talent and intensity in every scene you share with him, and that’s exactly what Emma Stone does.
Playing Keaton’s daughter, who herself is a recovering addict, Stone is ferocious, funny, and deeply sad in the role that garnered her Oscar nomination. She’s the heart of Birdman, a must for a movie that is so obsessed with the head, and announces herself as a heavyweight performer in her own right.
1. The Favourite (2018)
And so we’ve arrived at Emma Stone’s best movie.
This should have been impossible. What is an American actor doing in a British period dramedy trying to take on two of the greatest English actors that ever lived and matching them all the way? That is what Emma Stone did with The Favourite, playing a scheming upstart who worms her way into the affections of a childish queen (Olivia Colman), much to the annoyance of her rival Rachel Weisz.
Not only is her English accent not distractingly bad (rare for an American), it’s quite good, she nearly steals the whole movie out from under her legendary co-stars. Colman may have won the Oscar, but the most impressive and revelatory performance in The Favourite belongs to Stone.
Emma Stone clearly has a library chock-full of basic as well as brilliant movies. She’s taken on some average performances, yet aced the majority of her movie roles.
What Emma Stone movie would you rank as her worst and best? Did we leave any out in our ranking? Let us know in the comment section below!
This article was originally published in November 2013.
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