Winona Ryder's 10 Most Iconic Roles: Ranked

From a 1990s movie darling to Joyce on Stranger Things, Winona Ryder's variety of roles is admirable. In a time when actresses were often typecast or doomed to play the one-dimensional girlfriend, Winona Ryder stood apart. Each of her iconic characters portrays an inner strength and individuality.

RELATED: Stranger Things: 10 Best Team-Ups, Ranked

Winona Ryder seemed to disappear from popularity for a while, but luckily Stranger Things brought her back. We are happy to see her on the screen again, and she shines in the juicy role of Joyce. In taking a look back at her history of roles, we rank the ten most iconic.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

10 Bram Stoker's Dracula: Mina

More camp than scary, this film still featured some iconic performances and pairings. We have the amazing Gary Oldman as the Count himself, Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, Keanu Reeeves as Jonathon Harker, and Winona Ryder as Mina Harker. Much of the film is first told through Mina's observations. We learn that she is bright and a little uptight. Shortly, Dracula becomes interested in her and their relationship becomes more sexual than that with her husband. Ryder was able to bring the classic Mina to life, showing both her strength and vulnerability.

9 Edward Scissorhands: Kim

In this Tim Burton movie, Winona Ryder stars as the flaxen-haired Kim. Her family takes in the mysterious yet innocent Edward. Edward was artificially created and his creator died before Edward was complete. As such, Edward has scissors for hands. Initially, Kim fears Edward but she later feels a connection to him.

RELATED: 14 Weirdest Movie Romances of All Time 

An iconic scene is when Edward makes an ice sculpture of Kim. Snow falls from his scissors, leading Kim to dance in the snow. Visually beautiful, as many of Tim Burton's films are, this scene stands out. We witness Kim go through a transformation, well-demonstrated by our actress.

8 Girl, Interrupted: Susanna

Ryder serves as the protagonist in this film, adapted from a memoir of the same name. Her character is institutionalized after a nervous breakdown. While there, she meets many other young women portrayed by other talented actresses, such as Polly (Elizabeth Moss) and Daisy (Brittany Murphy). However, the character whom Susanna feels the most pulled to is Lisa, portrayed by Angelina Jolie.

A movie this stocked with strong actresses playing unique characters is bound to be a success, and it was. While Jolie received the most praise, Ryder's Susanna is what made Jolie's Lisa stand out. Susanna was the serious, less-damaged character to Lisa's morally bankrupt self. In addition, Girl, Interrupted opened the doors to discuss mental health in the mainstream media.

7 Mermaids: Charlotte

Mermaids was a family drama-comedy featuring Cher as the mother, Winona Ryder as the older sister, and Christina Ricci as the little sister. The movie is narrated by Charlotte, Ryder's character. Charlotte seeks to be different than her unconventional mother, looking up to the nuns who live nearby and fantasizing about being a saint. When she has her first kiss, Charlotte believes that she has sinned and tries to punish herself by fasting.

Ryder's Charlotte is quirky and a pure comic gem in this movie. In addition, she has dramatic moments with Cher. Charlotte had depth, humor, sincerity, and quirkiness, all of which made her iconic.

6 Reality Bites: Lelaina

Winona Ryder portrays Lelaina, a valedictorian, bursting with ambition. She lives with three of her friends from college, including Troy (Ethan Hawke), whom she has romantic feelings for. The movie portrays the feelings of being lost, dealing with money problems, and not measuring up to your full potential.

RELATED: 15 Movies That Make Us Miss the 90s

At one tender moment, Lelaina tells Troy that she doesn't know who she is and that she hoped that she would be something by 23. Troy tells her that all she needs to be at 23 is herself, and that she is loved. While labeled as a rom-com, the film dealt with deeper issues than its typical genre fare. Lelaina serves as our door into that world, and we feel for her. Once again, Ryder nailed the part.

5 Stranger Things: Joyce

This was a delightful role to bring Winona Ryder back into the limelight. As Joyce, Ryder explores a maternal role that isn't typical or flat, but has nuances. Ryder shows Joyce's determination, concern, and care about her children and the community. Joyce has layers, layers that a talented actress like Ryder brings to the surface.

RELATED: Stranger Things 10 of the Most Badass Joyce Byers Quotes

4 Little Women: Jo

This version of Little Women boasted a brilliant cast with many standouts, such as Claire Danes as Beth and Susan Saradon as Marmie. However the character that every girl wants to be is Jo. Winona Ryder captures Jo's independent spirit, sense of fun, and wariness of change. In addition, Ryder connects to the deep love that Jo has for her family as well as her irritation with her little sister Amy. A fun yet serious role, Ryder played all of the dynamics with aplomb.

3 How to Make an American Quilt: Finn

While not as famous as other films on this list, How to Make an American Quilt remains a fan favorite. Finn escapes to stay with her grandma and great aunt in order to think about the proposal she received from her boyfriend. Uncertain of her future, she needs time away as well as guidance from others. She isn't sure if she wants to be married. The grandma and great aunt are part of a quilting bee and they are in the midst of creating a quilt for Finn's wedding.

Each member of the quilting bee creates a unique square that tells a story about their lives: lessons learned, tales of suffering and hope. Finn learns these tales, discovering that there is more to these women whom she has known all her life. She serves as the sounding board and also provides a story about her own anxiety. Ryder's Finn doesn't run headfirst into her romance, but mulls things over. While this is considered a romantic film, the key intimacy is between the lasting friendships of these women.

2 Beetlejuice: Lydia

Thankfully, Winona Ryder worked with Tim Burton early in her career, setting her up for a future collaboration with him. This film is from the '80s, shortly after Ryder began acting in major productions. She stars as Lydia, the daughter to parents who just bought a recently deceased couple's house. The dead couple wants the living out of their house, so they ask Beetlejuice to help get rid of them. Lydia can see the ghosts and is fascinated with death. She then becomes a focus for Beetlejuice, as he wants her for his young bride. Hilarity ensues, and the deceased couple find themselves trying to save Lydia. In the end, she has become like a daughter to them. Ryder plays Lydia's cynicism and compassion well, becoming a character we like, laugh with and root for in the end.

1 Heathers: Veronica

Heathers is a classic dark comedy from the '80s. There really is no other film like it. It centers around Veronica, a member of the popular Heathers clique, though she's not happy being in it. Enter J.D., a rebel at the school who can sense Veronica's uniqueness and unhappiness. He influences her to do something about it; however, she is unaware at how serious his intentions are.

This is a story about Veronica breaking out of a role and embracing who she is. It is also a story about a sociopath targeting the popular clique. Winona Ryder played up Veronica's wit, humor, and intelligence. Without that, it is hard to imagine the film having the cult status it has had for decades.

NEXT: 25 Wild Truths Behind the Making of Heathers 


More in Lists