Why Anya Taylor-Joy Is My Favorite Modern Horror Actress

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch
(Image credit: A24)

The term “Scream Queen” is one that has been attributed to Academy Award winner Jamie Lee Curtis for decades, but she is really just one of many great horror icons (specifically ones who are female) to hold the title. Throughout the decades, we have seen a magnificent rotation of many amazing Scream Queens whose filmographies define the state of horror for their given era. When considering who I believe best represents the genre for this generation, the answer is easily Anya Taylor-Joy.

The Miami-born actor, who was raised between London and Argentina (and whose first name is pronounced “ann-ya” and not “ahn-ya,” in case you did not know), is one of the most acclaimed talents working today and has a stellar filmography to prove it. However, as far as I am concerned, she earned that distinction immediately after giving her breakthrough performance in what just happens to be considered one of the greatest horror movies in recent memory, The Witch. I shall start there as I present my argument for why Taylor-Joy is my favorite Scream Queen working today.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch

(Image credit: A24)

She Earned Her Place Right Out The Gate 

Technically, Anya Taylor-Joy made her screen acting debut with an uncredited appearance in 2014’s adaptation of Richelle Mead’s YA novel, Vampire Academy — which does, in some ways, count as horror, but is not the movie that made her a star. That would come just a year later when the then 19-year-old actor landed her first credited feature film role for writer and director Robert Eggersmasterpiece of slow-burn horror, The Witch.

As the lead character, Thomasin — the oldest child of a devout Christian family falling prey to a mysterious evil and of their own distrust in one another in 17th century New England —  Taylor-Joy gives the kind of astonishingly bold, deeply layered, and inspiring performance that is rare for someone of her age. It is no wonder how, so soon after the movie came out, she would get offers for plenty more new horror movies, in which she continued to surpass our expectations.

Anya Taylor-Joy sits shocked in her seat in The Menu.

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

Her Versatility Is Nearly Unparalleled 

While Taylor-Joy’s performance in The Witch, alone, is one of great versatility, the word “versatile” could accurately describe her career in horror movies so far as a whole. For evidence, you do not need to look much further than the characters she has played since Thomasin, such as the emotionally bruised, but resilient and refreshingly sympathetic Casey Cooke — from the M. Night Shyamalan movies Split and Glass — or the vain and deceptively sinister Lily Reynolds in 2018's underrated, pitch-black coming-of-age comedy, Thoroughbreds.

How about when she invoked a sense of charismatic elegance to hide the darker true nature of aspiring singer Sandie Collins in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho in 2021, or the following year when she beautifully played a charmingly brash fish-out-of-water in The Menu cast as Margot? There is very little similarity between each of these characters and, especially, in Taylor-Joy’s approach to portraying each of them. Not many Scream Queens — most of whom end up playing the same character countless times (no offense, Jamie Lee) — can claim to have managed such an achievement.

The main characters in The New Mutants.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

She Consistently Elevates The Material In Every Project 

On the other hand, one thing that, just about, all Scream Queens in history do have in common is a movie or two that were not quite the hit they may have hoped for. Even the great Anya Taylor-Joy is no exception — having played the title role of 2016’s sci-fi thriller Morgan, starred in 2020’s horror-inspired Marvel movie, The New Mutants (which received underwhelming reviews despite years of fan anticipation), and the aforementioned Glass, which is the least favored installment of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable Trilogy. However, what matters is not how these films were received — critically or commercially — but how our woman of the hour approached her role in them.

I think that many people would agree that the New Mutants cast was still well chosen, especially with Taylor-Joy donning a convincing Russian accent as the irresistibly bleak Ilyana “Magik” Rasputin. The actor also managed to earn audiences’ sympathies even when playing a deadly, artificially created humanoid creature in 2016’s Morgan and I believe that Glass is still worth watching, especially to see more of Casey Cooke and her touching relationship with James McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb. She is the not-so-secret weapon that makes all of her films worth a look, no matter what the aggregated reception may be.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit.

(Image credit: Netflix)

She Has Avoided Being Pigeonholed Flawlessly 

The thing that has kept Jamie Lee Curtis at the top of the iconic Scream Queens list for so many years — in my opinion, at least — is how well she has navigated a brilliant and diverse career outside of her defining role as Laurie Strode in the Halloween movies. However, not only has Taylor-Joy also flourished when diverting from scarier titles, I think you could argue that her flagship character does not even come from any of her horror movies, but might be her Emmy-nominated, Golden Globe-winning role in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit cast as chess prodigy, Beth Harmon. 

She has received just as much — if not more acclaim — for her roles outside of the horror genre, which also include the title role of 2020’s Jane Austen adaptation, Emma. (which also earned her a Golden Globe nod), her reunion with Eggers in the action-packed, Viking-era epic, The Northman, as Olga of the Birch Forest, and her recurring role on Netflix’s Peaky Blinders as Gina Grey. 

She has plenty of darker roles in the works at the moment — namely a movie from Sinister director Scott Derrickson called The Gorge, and an adaptation of Vladimir Nobokov’s Laughter in the Dark — but is also continuing to subvert her Scream Queen reputation as the voice of Princess Peach in The Super Mario Bros. Movie and as a younger version of Charlize Theron’s Mad Max: Fury Road hero in Furiosa.

It think that horror movies from more recent years have made this a great time for the genre, especially with talented, modern A-listers like Scream VI's Jenna Ortega, Ready or Not's Samara Weaving, and It Follows' Maika Monroe in the lead. Yet, I cannot help but believe that Anya Taylor-Joy is the one who is most deserving of the reigning Scream Queen honor for this day and age for a range of talent that keeps her darker characters fresh and her entire resume even fresher. On a horror movie buzz? We've ranked the ultimate horror movie franchises.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.