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Frank Beddor
John Drain
March 22, 2024

Top 10 Julia Stiles Performances Ranked

Julia Stiles recently wrapped production on her directorial debut, “Wish You Were Here,” which she adapted from the bestseller of the same name by Renee Carlino. The romance stars Isabelle Fuhrman (The Hunger Games, The Novice) as a directionless server whose whirlwind one-night-stand with a terminally ill painter changes both of their lives. The film marks the culmination of an evolution for the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Stiles. With her tour-de-force breakthrough in the thriller Wicked, directed by Michael Steinberg and produced by Frank Beddor, Stiles launched a near-thirty-year career in front of the camera, which has produced a wide range of entertaining, compelling, and iconic performances. With her first directorial effort in the can, let’s take a look back at Julia Stiles’ top ten roles.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger covered in paint from the 1999 teen romantic comedy film "10 Things I Hate About You".

10 Things I Hate About You

Following the rabid reaction at Sundance to her debut lead role in Wicked, Julia Stiles was cast in the 1999 romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, Gil Junger’s modern-day retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Stiles is transcendent as Katarina “Kat” Strafford, an antisocial high schooler who is pursued by Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), an Australian bad boy who is paid to woo Kat as part of a plot designed to get her father (Larry Miller) to relax his restrictions regarding dating for Kat and her younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). Starring opposite the sublime Ledger, Stiles deftly blends rage, intelligence, and vulnerability to create a beautiful portrayal of a young woman learning to allow herself to be loved and be loved. The film grossed $60 million at the box office and has become an iconic piece of 90s pop culture. The emotional core of the movie, Stiles’ performance was lauded by critics and led to a Most Promising Actress award from the Chicago Film Critics Association and established her as an up-and-coming star.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas dancing from the 2001 romance film "Save the Last Dance".

Save the Last Dance

Stiles cemented her status as a cult teen hero with her turn as Julliard hopeful Sara Johnson in the 2001 hit Save the Last Dance. A part of the wave of early 2000s teen dance movies, Save the Last Dance follows Sara, who quits ballet and moves to the South Side of Chicago with her father after her mother dies in a car accident. Depressed and struggling to navigate her new life, Sara is reinvigorated when she falls for Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) at a hip-hop dance club at her new school. Their love motivates Sara to continue to pursue her passion for ballet and her dreams of attending Julliard. Stiles again imbues her character with a strength and wit uncommon for the genre and displays undeniable chemistry with Thomas. Stiles trained in ballet and hip-hop for two months ahead of shooting, preparation that paid off when Save the Last Dance debuted at #1 at the box office en route to taking in $131.7 million worldwide. Stiles was nominated for a host of awards and that dance scene has become an iconic teen movie moment, which she reenacted alongside Chloe Fineman on Saturday Night Live in 2023.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Michael C. Hall in a bathroom from Season 5 of the Showtime crime drama television series "Dexter".

Dexter – Season 5

Julia Stiles breathed new life into Dexter with her performance as Lumen Pierce in Season 5. Pierce is a survivor of an attack by a group of men including rapist-serial killer Boyd Fowler. When Pierce witnesses Dexter (Michael C. Hall) kill Fowler, she tries to convince the vigilante to help her take revenge on the rest of her attackers. Initially reluctant, Dexter eventually agrees to help her get vengeance and the two kindred souls develop a romantic relationship. In Dexter, Stiles showcases her ability to portray strength through vulnerability. Her grounded style lends authenticity to the sometimes over-the-top show and helps to humanize Hall’s murderous forensic technician. Stiles’ ten-episode arc as Lumen Pierce “totally changed” her mind about working in television and proved to be one of the most critically acclaimed roles of her career, resulting in Golden Globes and Emmy nominations.

Still image of Julia Stiles in a red shirt and heavy eye shadow from the 1998 thriller film "Wicked".


Julia Stiles’ audition for disturbed Ellie Christianson in the 1998 thriller Wicked blew away director Michael Steinberg and producer Frank Beddor, who said, “…we knew. She was Ellie. She also had IT.” The sixteen-year-old Stiles continued to wow her employers and co-stars with her intense portrayal of Ellie, a fourteen-year-old whose twisted obsession with her father (William R. Moses) and hatred of her mother (Chelsea Field) leads to horrifying consequences. Stiles’ performance is pure adolescent rage, depicting a girl who hates the world and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. But Ellie is no caricature. Stiles continuously reminds us that Ellie is still a child, adding depth and shading by showing her character’s insecurities. The result is a nuanced portrayal that still incites empathy for a character whose actions are truly detestable. Wicked proved to be Stiles’ breakthrough. The film was a smash at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival where Stiles’ performance made her “the darling of the festival” and she won the award for Best Actress at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Matt Damon from Paul Greengrass' 2007 espionage action-thriller film "The Bourne Ultimatum".

Bourne Franchise

Julies Stiles stole scenes with her role as CIA logistics technician Nicky Parsons in four of the Jason Bourne films opposite Matt Damon’s amnesiac assassin. An adversary turned ally, Parsons works for Treadstone, a shadowy CIA black-ops program that utilizes behavioral modification to develop almost superhuman assassins. In the first two films, The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, Parsons is a CIA operative who aids the hunt to capture Bourne. But in the third film, The Bourne Ultimatum, Parsons grows disillusioned with the CIA and helps Bourne evade his pursuers. As a character archetype, Nicky Parsons could’ve simply been a functionary. A character whose sole purpose was to move the plot forward by feeding information and exposition to the protagonist. But in Stiles’ hands, Nicky becomes essential to Bourne’s growth as a character. Stiles matches Damon’s intensity step for step, helping to set the foundation for a series of brooding, gritty, and spellbinding action thrillers.

Still image of Julia Stiles in a sauna from the 2001 drama film "The Business of Strangers".

The Business of Strangers

Tony-winning actor Stockard Channing said of her The Business of Strangers co-star: “In addition to her talent, she has an almost feral quality, something that can make people uneasy. She has an effect on people.” Rave reviews from critics are wonderful, but it’s arguably more important when praise comes from those you work with. In Patrick Stettner’s indie drama, Julia Stiles plays Paula, an assistant who helps her former boss Julie take revenge on Nick, a headhunter with whom Paula has a dark connection, when the three are stuck in a hotel after their flights are canceled. Paula is a woman of many secrets, and Stiles plays it perfectly, setting up a series of thrilling twists and turns. Her chemistry with Channing is electric and their back-and-forth drives the emotional resonance of the story. Stiles again reveled in success at Sundance as the film was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize and she was later nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Satellite Awards.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Alec Baldwin in front of a window from the 2000 David Mamet dark comedy film "State and Main".

State and Main

One of the hallmarks of Julia Stiles’ career is her ability to elevate an ensemble. This talent is conspicuously on display in David Mamet’s 2000 comedy State and Main. The film tracks the effects that a film production and its crew have on a small Vermont town. It’s packed with stars, including William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (and John Krasinski in his acting debut). Stiles plays Carla, a crafty local who develops a relationship with Alec Baldwin’s Bob Barrenger, the film’s star who is attracted to underage girls. Stiles is electric in her nuanced portrayal of Carla, showcasing once again her ability to show strength through vulnerability. Her performance is an essential piece of a stellar cast, one that earned Best Cast awards from the Florida Film Critics Circle, the Online Film Critics Society, and the National Board of Review.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Jennifer Lopez in a prison interrogation room from the 2019 crime comedy-drama film "Hustlers".


Lorene Scafaria’s 2019 crime comedy-drama Hustlers is a visually stunning caper that blends piercing comedy with profound character work. The surprise hit drew comparisons to Goodfellas and praise for the star-studded cast, which included Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Lizzo, Cardi B, and, of course, Julia Stiles. Stiles portrays Elizabeth, a journalist following the exploits of a group of New York City strippers who drug and rob stock traders and corporate executives who patronize their club. Stiles doesn’t have the most glamorous role in the film, but she performs an essential function that makes the movie work. Her character represents the audience, giving us a platform through which we empathize and come to love these characters. Her blend of strength and warmth is on full display as she endeavors to tell the story of this diverse, multi-dimensional group of women.

Still image of Julia Stiles, Jennifer Lawrence, and Bradley Cooper from the 2012 David O. Russell romantic dramedy film "Silver Linings Playbook".

Silver Linings Playbook

Julia Stiles once again proves a scene stealer in David O. Russell’s Oscar-nominated 2012 romantic dramedy Silver Linings Playbook. The film follows a former teacher, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), with bipolar disorder who endeavors to win back his ex-wife after being released from a psychiatric hospital. But his plans are thrown into glorious disarray when he meets Tiffany Maxwell, a widowed dancer who promises to help Pat win his wife back if he enters a dance competition with her. In a supporting cast filled with heavyweights including Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker, Stiles stands out as Veronica, Tiffany’s spirited sister. Stiles punctuates brilliant performances from Cooper and Lawrence with her strength and energy, perfectly encapsulating the Philadelphia energy. Stiles earned a host of awards nominations as part of the ensemble, winning at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, as the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, with Lawrence winning for Best Actress.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Mekhi Phifer sitting in a high school gym from the 2001 romantic thriller film "O".


The turn of the century saw a run on modern-day retellings of William Shakespeare’s works and Stiles seemed to appear in every one. After starring in 10 Things I Hate About You and Hamlet opposite Ethan Hawke, Stiles plays the Desdemona character in Tim Blake Nelson’s adaptation of Othello, O. Led by Mekhi Phifer as Odin (Othello), and Josh Hartnett as Hugo (Iago), O sets the Bard’s tragedy in a posh prep school where Hugo concocts a devious plan to destroy Odin due to his jealousy of Odin’s heroic exploits on the basketball court. Stiles and Phifer have electric chemistry as the doomed lovers, playing their complex relationship with nuance and power. Stiles imbues Desi with a hidden strength and engenders empathy in the viewers, making for a heart-wrenching experience when Hugo’s plot comes to fruition and Odin tragically murders Desi. Stiles’ firm grasp of her craft and psychology helps to show the continuing relevance of Shakespeare’s work.

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

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