Blue. Green. A cartoon. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the role, Zoe Saldana will likely knock it out of the park. That’s because Zoe Saldana movies (and TV shows) are almost always engaging. Sometimes called the “sci-fi queen” due to her roles in Avatar, Star Trek, AND Guardians of the Galaxy, the New Jersey native also has a wide variety of other, non-space related projects to enjoy, which you’ll see from this list.
But it really can’t be stated enough just how monumental an achievement it is to be attached to such major sci-fi movies, two of which (Avatar and Avengers: Endgame) being the highest grossing movies of all time. It’s little wonder that Zoe Saldana has said that she’s quite proud to be “living in space”. And the fans couldn’t be happier, either. So, here are Zoe Saldana’s best performances, ranked. Engage!
10. Drumline (Laila)
Head dancer at the fictional Atlanta A&T University, Zoe Saldana stole both my and Nick Cannon’s hearts when she starred in 2002’s Drumline, which I consider to be one of the quintessential black movies of the 2000s. Though she plays a love interest in the film, her performance stands out because she has a life and story arc of her own. You see, Laila loves dancing, but she doesn’t want to tell her parents since she thinks they won’t approve.
But Zoe Saldana plays the role both confidently and shyly at the same time, showing a vulnerability that makes her performance stand out in a movie that is essentially just story beats strung together to get to the next rousing band performance.
9. Rosemary's Baby (Rosemary Woodhouse)
Mega fans of Roman Polanski’s classic, Rosemary’s Baby, might have been a little disappointed by the NBC miniseries. But this was a totally different beast, and Zoe Saldana is not Mia Farrow. And I mean that in the best possible way, since this Rosemary Woodhouse has some (Hell) fire in her belly. Taking place in Paris rather than New York, this Rosemary feels more sophisticated than the one Mia Farrow portrayed. But she’s also the kind of woman who will fight back and is not just a woman with the seed of Satan living inside of her.
What I like about this version is that Zoe Saldana’s Rosemary is much more of an equal to her husband and doesn’t just feel like a victim. I’m also told that this version is much closer to the novel, and if that’s so, then I prefer this version of Rosemary. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s played by Zoe Saldana, who’s always wonderful.
8. I Kill Giants (Mrs. Moile)
As if starring in one comic book movie wasn’t enough, Zoe Saldana has to go and be in another one in the sneakily great, I Kill Giants, which is about a girl who, er, kills giants. But not really, since the movie is actually a metaphor for grief and growing up. Zoe Saldana plays a school psychologist, and though her role isn’t huge, it’s essential to the plot in helping this young student come to grips with her fantasy world.
Honestly, this movie is held up by its performances. Madison Wolfe and Imogen Poots are the stars of the show, but for a movie about giants, I find it interesting how Zoe Saldana’s character has so much power in the face of this coming of age story. She shows both empathy and kindness in a narrative that needs it. It’s also funny to think that if this were any other kind of comic book movie, Saldana would likely be slaying the giants rather than helping a troubled student mentally deal with them.
7. Colombiana (Cataleya Restrepo)
Colombiana is not a great movie. In fact, it’s kind of terrible. Plus, Zoe Saldana is not even Colombian. Her father was of Dominican and Haitian descent, and her mother is Puerto Rican and Lebanese. But boy does she kick ass in this movie. And unfortunately, we don’t have many ass-kicking female-driven action movies, so we have to take what we can get. Thankfully, Zoe Saldana can kick quite the ass.
Coming from the Luc Besson school of action movies, Colombiana has a lot of gunplay and kicks to the face, which Zoe Saldana delivers with gusto. But she also handles the emotional aspects of this character well since this is a woman who is swearing vengeance against the people who murdered her family. So even though it’s a pretty one-dimensional role, Zoe Saldana somehow manages to fill in the contours of this character to give a three-dimensional performance. Because that’s just how Zoe Saldana rolls.
6. Death At A Funeral (Elaine Barnes)
You ever see the original British Death at a Funeral? It’s pretty good. But like the American version of The Office being superior to the British one (yes, I went there), I feel like the American version of Death at a Funeral is superior to the British one. And while most people would probably disagree with me, I like the broader comedy of the American remake. I also prefer Zoe Saldana to Daisy Donovan. But I mean, come on now. How could I not? It’s Zoe Saldana.
Playing the cousin of Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence’s characters, and also the fiancé to James Marsden’s character, Zoe Saldana acts out worried and frantic in such a committed way that you can’t help but laugh. Especially at the famous “Valium” scene. And like I said with Rosemary’s Baby, I like that Zoe Saldana always brings the fire. Because nobody can play concerned, but also angry, better than Zoe Saldana. It’s a shame that she doesn’t do more comedies. She’s good at them.
5. The Book Of Life (Maria Posada)
You know when you’ve made it in Hollywood? When they’ve got you voicing a cartoon. Well, the enjoyable The Book of Life is Zoe Saldana’s cartoon, and she’s playing a (what else?) independent woman who knows her way with a sword and can also do kung-fu. Did you honestly expect anything less from Zoe Saldana?
The role could have ended up bad, since her character is essentially the love interest in an unwanted love triangle. But Zoe Saldana adds warmth and tenderness to the voice, but also an oomph that lets the audience know that this is a strong and powerful woman. She can make her own choices and live her own life, which is honestly the kind of woman I want my own daughter to look up to.
4. Infinitely Polar Bear (Maggie Staurt)
There’s no denying that Infinitely Polar Bear, which is about a family struggling with a father and husband diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is the Mark Ruffalo show. But Zoe Saldana, who plays his wife and the mother of their two children, is the anchor who holds it all together. In her character, you have the true center and emotional core of this movie—the woman just struggling to get by.
Infinitely Polar Bear is a touching, but frustrating film since Zoe Saldana’s character is working so hard just to keep her family together. But you never get the sense that she hates Mark Ruffalo’s character. There’s just so much devotion to this role, that it’s proof that Zoe Saldana doesn’t just have to play roles in outer space to be badass. She can be a badass right down here on Earth.
3. Star Trek (Uhura)
I know this might be sacrilege to some, but I actually prefer Zoe Saldana’s Uhura to Nichelle Nichols’. I know, I know. Nothing is better than the original, and Nichelle Nichols broke boundaries when she starred as the character in the original. But I just love how Zoe Saldana doesn’t take crap from anybody, not Captain Kirk, and especially not Spock, who she’s dating in this timeline.
Zoe Saldana shows that she can handle her own, and I love that her character is just as essential to the crew as everybody else’s, just as Nichelle Nichols was in the original. It’s really apples to oranges, but I just prefer Zoe Saldana’s personality more, even if it means I’m boldly going where no fan (or very few) have ever gone before.
2. Avatar (Neytiri)
The Na’vi, which are the fictional aliens in the hit movie Avatar, are 10 feet tall and blue. Zoe Saldana is 5’7 and definitely not blue, but you know what? Zoe Saldana’s performance as Neytiri is so good, that I forget she’s even in the movie when I rewatch Avatar every year or so. I always have to be reminded when I read the end credits since I get so lost in her role as she tries to protect Pandora.
And here’s the thing. The Pandorans are very alien. The way they move, the way they speak, and even the way they fight. But Zoe Saldana really sells the hell out of this performance, which is part of the reason why Pandora actually feels like a living, breathing world. And even though I don’t think there’s any way in hell Avatar 2 could beat Avengers: Endgame at the box office, I can say with quite certainty that I am looking forward to seeing Zoe Saldana back in this famous role.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (Gamora)
And here it is, Zoe Saldana’s best performance. It’s kind of weird that Gamora would even stand out in a movie with a talking raccoon and a sentient tree, but she does. Because Gamora is bad, man. I mean, really, really bad. She’s a stone cold killer! But she’s also incredibly caring, just like most of the characters on this list.
But the true beauty of this character is Zoe Saldana’s commitment to the role. Even more so than with Avatar, Gamora just feels so ingrained in her universe. When Marvel was introducing the cosmic side of Marvel with Guardians of the Galaxy, I really didn’t think it would work since it’s just so out there. But Zoe Saldana’s Gamora somehow grounds it and helps to make it all somehow relatable. And for that reason, I think Gamora is Zoe Saldana’s greatest performance ever.
We’re very lucky to have Zoe Saldana in our movies and TV shows. But what’s your favorite role of hers? Voice your opinion in the poll or the comments section down below.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.