With the release of The Girl in the Spider's Web, there are now five feature films about the goth anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander AKA the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but which one is the best? Created by Stieg Larsson, Salander has been portrayed by three actresses - Noomi Rapace, Rooney Mara, and Claire Foy - in a trilogy of Swedish-produced films and two American adaptations of the late author's best-selling "Millennium Trilogy" of novels, as well as a continuation novel by David Lagercrantz.
The critically-acclaimed, original Swedish-produced film trilogy adapted Larsson's novels The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, with all three starring Noomi Rapace as Salander and the late Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist. They were so successful, in fact, that those iconic roles launched both actors' Hollywood careers: Rapace went on to star in Ridley Scott's Prometheus and David Ayers' Bright while Nyqvist played the villain opposite Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol before his death in 2017.
Once Hollywood jumped on the Stieg Larsson bandwagon, director David Fincher helmed the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, casting Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Salander. However, Fincher's Dragon Tattoo failed to become the box office sensation it was expected to be and the franchise laid dormant for a few years until Sony announced a reboot of the film saga, skipping the next two Larsson books and adapting David Lagercrantz's The Girl in the Spider's Web instead. When Fede Álvarez (Don't Breathe) signed on to direct, the lead roles were recast yet again, with Golden Globe-winner Claire Foy becoming the newest Lisbeth Salander and Sverrir Gudnasson portraying Mikael Blomqvist.
Taking stock of the full scope this complex, international franchise, let's look at all five films and determine which version of Lisbeth Salander stands above the rest.
5. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest concludes the Swedish-produced Lisbeth Salander trilogy and resolves the labyrinthine conspiracy that targeted Lisbeth her whole life. Directed by Daniel Alfredson, Hornet's Nest picks up immediately where the prior film left off, with Salander hospitalized from the injuries she suffered confronting her evil, crime lord father in The Girl Who Played With Fire. As the hacker heals, Mikael Blomkvist tries to protect Lisbeth from members of the Section, rogue elements from the Swedish Security Service who worked for Lisbeth's father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), who framed Lisbeth for murder, and try to have her assassinated. It's all resolved when long-buried secrets about why Lisbeth was institutionalized and tortured as a child are revealed at last, with the tape of Lisbeth being raped by her court-appointed guardian played at Salander's murder trial. Finally, Mikael and Lisbeth unite and bring all of her enemies to justice.
With Lisbeth hospitalized for much of the film (and composing her life story on the QWERTY keyboard of a cell phone), The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is a very talky film that has to navigate a dense amount of story and characters. By this third film in the saga, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist have mastered their roles but are apart for most of the film, which loses out on their shared chemistry, and their final reunion is bittersweet. Ultimately, by The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, the Swedish trilogy has run out of steam and it's the weakest of the lot.
4. The Girl In The Spider's Web
Warning: SPOILERS in this section for The Girl in the Spider's Web!
A tonal departure from all of its predecessors, director Fede Álvarez's reboot transforms The Girl in the Spider's Web into a more James Bond-like action thriller as Lisbeth Salander races to capture a computer program called Firefall, which allows an individual to access the world's entire nuclear arsenal. Claire Foy (The Crown) is the newest Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a vigilante known as "the girl who hurts men who hurt women", but she finds herself caring for the autistic son of Firefall's creator Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), who is the key to accessing the program. Lisbeth's past comes back to haunt her in the form of her sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), who now runs a crime syndicate called the Spiders and wants revenge from Lisbeth.
The Girl in the Spider's Web still showcases Lisbeth's skills at investigation and hacking, but now the goth loner can perform miraculous action stunts like ride her motorcycle across a frozen lake to avoid police, and her sidekicks have Bond-like gadgets like a rifle that can target like a video game. Adapted from David Lagercrantz's novel, Spider's Web also downplays the sordid sex and S&M torture prevalent in Stieg Larsson's stories. That said, the reboot's action-oriented direction does inject some new life into the adventures of Lisbeth Salander.
- The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018) release date: Nov 09, 2018