Florence Pugh has quickly become one of cinema’s most respected young stars, putting in thoughtful and committed performances no matter the story – so how do her 10 movies so far rank from worst to best? In five short years, the English actress has made an outsized splash in Hollywood and indies alike, appearing in a true spectrum of films from historical epics and Marvel Cinematic Universe action blockbusters, to mystery teen dramas and thrillers. No genre seems to be off the cards for Florence Pugh, and each one of her performances lifts the production to new levels.
Pugh’s breakout role came in 2016’s haunting Lady Macbeth – not a Shakespeare adaptation, but a differently intense kind of role where the young actress (she was only 19 at the time of filming) could exhibit her extraordinary talent for understated performances that still resonate with full force. She went on to work with Chris Pine and Anthony Hopkins in Outlaw King and King Lear, respectively, in 2018, the same year she drew praise for The Little Drummer boy TV series. Pugh has already been nominated for the BAFTA Rising Star Award and, after a stellar 2019 during which she starred in Little Women, Midsommar, and Fighting with My Family, she was nominated for her first Academy Award.
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It’s clear Pugh’s star is indeed rising quickly, and she has a busy few years ahead with a prominent role in Phase 4 of the MCU as Yelena Belova, first appearing in Marvel’s Black Widow in 2021 alongside Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz, as well as Olivia Wilde’s upcoming Don’t Worry Darling. She will also appear in the MCU Disney+ series Hawkeye, to premiere in late 2021. Here’s every one of Florence Pugh’s movies, ranked worst to best.
10. Malevolent (2018)
This grim haunting has a clever beginning: Two siblings fake a connection to ghosts and clear terrified peoples’ houses for money – only it’s real for Angela (Pugh). They take on a job at a country estate where several young girls once died in a fire, and the owner (Celia Imrie) comes to believe Angela and her team are fakes and takes revenge. While the tense setup and conflict at the heart of Pugh’s character are promising, the movie devolves into a needlessly gory third act that doesn’t pay off its mental-health allegory nor its theme that there are scarier things out there than ghosts. But Pugh commits everything to the role of the seer who can’t help but look, and she pulls off many scenes with a spooky should-I-or-shouldn’t-I sensibility, raising the level of the entire production.
9. The Commuter (2018)
Michael MacCauley (action movie regular Liam Neeson), an ex-cop and insurance salesman, is let go from his decade-long job while in a precarious economic position and is approached on his commuter train by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who gives him a task that will earn him $100,000: Find the passenger who doesn’t belong and tag them with a GPS tracker. This run-of-the-mill action flick is targeted squarely at Liam Neeson’s Taken fans who want more of the same, and Neeson dishes it out as requested. Pugh plays one of the passengers who is not a regular commuter, and thus a target of MacCauley’s investigation, playing the annoyed girlfriend of an abusive boyfriend who has convinced her to be the mule to carry his stash of fake IDs. Pugh only has a few lines but conveys the conflicted nature of her character aptly.
8. The Falling (2014)
Florence Pugh’s first film role came as a supporting character in Carol Morley’s The Falling, a teen drama following a mysterious fainting illness that spreads through a girls’ school. Pugh plays Abbie, who is exploring her sexuality and becomes pregnant. Abbie has fallen into the obsessive focus of her friend, Lydia (Maisie Williams) when she starts to suffer from a fainting illness, from which she eventually dies. The fainting illness spreads through the school, and Lydia has tense encounters with her brother and reclusive mother. Pugh’s character may only appear in the first act of the movie, but Abbie looms large to the very end. Pugh’s performance is wonderfully charismatic – impressively so for her first feature film – and she has the presence to remain front of mind throughout the remainder of the film.
7. Outlaw King (2018)
A gritty depiction of the 14th-century Scottish war for independence from England, David Mackenzie’s ambitious Outlaw King is a period war epic that features Chris Pine (Wonder Woman) as Robert the Bruce, who leads a bloody rebellion to take back the Scots homeland from their ruthless English overlords. Florence Pugh plays Elizabeth de Burgh, the goddaughter of the English King Edward I, who is forced to marry Robert in an attempt to forge an alliance and prevent an uprising. This clearly doesn’t work – Pugh plays de Burgh as an independent woman who chooses her own allegiance, becoming loyal to Robert, shown as a kind and loving husband, and remaining his devoted wife despite being captured, held hostage, and separated from their daughter by the English forces. Pugh demonstrates a subtlety that convinces audiences that her autonomous Elizabeth de Burgh – who might have seemed anachronistic in a less skilled portrayal – is believable, and brings fire and authority to the role of Scottish queen consort.
6. Black Widow (2021)
Warning: Black Widow spoilers to follow.
After five years of appearing in a variety of films that run the gamut of style, narrative, budget, and genre, Pugh landed a leading role in the blockbuster MCU, starring alongside Scarlett Johansson in the long-awaited Black Widow as Yelena Belova. It sets the two up as foster sisters, and part of a spy family alongside their quasi-parents (Rachel Weisz and David Harbour). The narrative sees the two escapees of the nefarious Red Room end the abusive regime for good, setting up Pugh’s Yelena Belova for several more MCU appearances, the next coming in the Disney+ series Hawkeye, to premiere before the end of 2021. As Yelena, Pugh expertly balances comic timing and action hero moves to deliver the standout performance in the Marvel blockbuster, while also carrying the emotional weight of revisiting old family ties and forging her own path after breaking free of the Red Room’s brainwashing. Black Widow has its problems, with a CGI-heavy third act that drains the movie’s emotional resonance, as well as weak villains and a character twist that feels forced – but Pugh shines with a performance that bodes well for her role in the future of the MCU.
5. King Lear (2018)
Among a stellar cast of British character actors telling King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s greatest stories, Florence Pugh stands apart. Where her older sisters Goneril (Emma Thompson) and Regan (Emily Watson) scheme and lie, Cordelia refuses to play the games of superficiality her father forces upon his children. King Lear (Anthony Hopkins) brings his family together to announce the division of his kingdom between his daughters and asks them for declarations of love – Regan and Goneril comply but Cordelia refuses, resulting in Lear casting her out and disinheriting her, setting up the confrontations to come. In a production where she’s surrounded by charismatic character actors, also including Jim Broadbent, Andrew Scott, and Tobias Menzies, Pugh is able to convey the simple love she has for Lear that brings them back together by the end of the movie, and brings weight to Cordelia’s ultimate fate.
4. Fighting with My Family (2019)
Florence Pugh had an incredible 2019, with three distinct films arriving that showed just how diverse her talent can be. In WWE movie Fighting with My Family, Pugh plays Saraya “Paige” Knight, who, along with her brother Zak “Zodiac,” dreams of hitting the big time in wresting. Her parents (Lean Headey and Nick Frost) are also ex-wrestlers who encourage her to go big time when the WWE holds auditions for NXT (a pro wrestling training program) in London – Saraya makes the cut, but her brother does not. The movie follows Saraya’s struggle to fit in and adhere to the tenets of the NXT program when she’s more experienced and skilled than the rest of the candidates, and finds a way to balance her wrestling sportsmanship with the WWE’s signature showmanship. Pugh pits Saraya as a conflicted soul who regrets leaving behind her family, and has to come around to believing she’s worthy of pursuing her ambitions. She pulls that off (as well as a grungy goth look she claims in a triumphant moment) easily while proving she has the physicality and action potential to be a star in movies like Black Widow.
3. Lady Macbeth (2016)
Based not on the bloody-handed Shakespeare character but for thematic resonances between that murderous wife and this one. Lady Macbeth announced to the world that Florence Pugh had the gravitas and nuance to portray a morally bereft character while convincing the audience they should root for her – at least at first. Viewers meet Katherine after she’s been sold into marriage and is preparing for the wedding night with her steely, distant husband. She’s abused and shamed by both her husband and his father, then left alone, during which time she commences a relationship with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) the estate groom. While the story first portrays Katherine as the ingenue swept up in events over which she has no control, she soon exerts her will over those around her through both manipulation and blunt force, proving she’s not one to be messed with. It’s a genius performance from Pugh, who portrays Katherine in the same opaque manner from beginning to end, yet brings the audience right alongside her, every step of the way.
2. Midsommar (2019)
Throughout Ari Aster’s incredible horror-but-make-it-floral film Midsommar, Florence Pugh gives a masterful showing of eviscerating emotion. Dani Ardor is a psychology student in an unsteady relationship with Christian (Jack Reynor); the film opens with Dani discovering her sister has killed herself and her parents by filling their house with carbon monoxide. This coincides with a trip Christian intended to take with his friends to visit a Swedish commune, the home of another of the groups’ friends. What follows is a series of perpetually magnifying gruesome rituals by the commune, intending to rid the community of evil. While Dani deals with panic attacks, regret at the loss of her family, and feelings of abandonment and ostracism from her boyfriend and their friends, Pugh conveys an immense and unforgettable emotionality as Dani comes to terms with seizing control of her own life and those of the people around her.
1. Little Women (2019)
“I want to be great, or nothing,” says Amy March during Florence Pugh’s pivotal scene in Greta Gerwig’s stunning Little Women. It’s a scene that reflects Pugh’s own approach to her work; she’s often said in interviews that she can never do anything halfway. This connection may be why Pugh brings so much to the role of the second-youngest March sister, reinvented via Gerwig’s canny script to remain the archetypal annoying younger sister to main character Jo (Saoirse Ronan), but also to become an ambitious, daring, and headstrong young woman who will make the practical choices that suit her. Florence Pugh’s portrayal of Amy presents a dichotomy between the girls’ bratty, loving, and competitive youth and a true maturation into a responsible young woman capable of making decisions that will deliver the life she wants. Florence Pugh’s performance in Little Women is outstanding, and earned her first Academy Award nomination (for Supporting Actress). But Florence Pugh is just getting started, and there’s plenty to look forward to from the fierce, funny, intelligent actress.
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