Whether you know the actress best as the pregnant high schooler in ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the grieving, self-dependent young woman in The Descendants, the traumatized single mother in HBO's Big Little Lies, the smitten cancer-stricken 16-year-old in The Fault in Our Stars, or the freedom fighter in Divergent, there's a good chance that you've seen Shailene Woodley throughout the past decade.
On screens both big and small, the versatile performer has proven her talents many times over, and that will hopefully remain true in the years moving forward. If you love the Emmy-nominated actress and activist and you want to see some of her best work, you're in luck. Here are Shailene Woodley's best or most notable movies and TV shows.
Big Little Lies (HBO Max)
The well-to-do lives of affluent upper-class mothers start to unravel when a single mother (Shailene Woodley) moves to their quaint Californian suburban beach town.
Why You Should Stream If You Love Shailene Woodley: In what's easily the young actress' most acclaimed performance to date, Shailene Woodley deservedly got an Emmy nomination for her mesmerizing portrayal of Jane Chapman, a single mother living with the lasting trauma of her sexual assault, in Big Little Lies. Gently showcasing the deep-seated sadness and loneliness of her pain, Woodley gives one of her most empathetic and engaging performances, one that is given ample time to breathe and live through the expanded narrative. Even when she must act opposite Oscar-winning heavyweights like Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, Woodley holds her own quite spectacularly, demonstrating her quietly powerful ability to play tender characters trying to make peace with their torment and terror. While we've seen Woodley performances that are equally as soulful, HBO's prestigious drama really allows the actress to flourish.
The Spectacular Now (Showtime/Kanopy)
A hard-drinking, hard-partying high schooler (Miles Teller) gets a new lease on life when he falls for a girl (Shailene Woodley).
Why You Should Stream If You Love Shailene Woodley: Most high school dramas crumple under their own artifice, their innate inability to connect with the emotional reality of their young protagonists. That's not the case for The Spectacular Now, an immensely perceptive, wistfully sensitive character piece that finds even more honesty through its extraordinary lead performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. Though it's easy to celebrate Teller's bravado and charisma, it's ultimately Woodley's complex performance that takes the cake here. She provides so much raw, invigorated intimacy and integrity to this young role, bringing a wealth of depth and clarity to this teenager trying to find her own sense of self within a surely ill-fated and appropriately intoxicating relationship. Thanks to her compassion and conviction, this punch-drunk and hazy-eyed romance is given some clear and devastating bits of sobering realism.
The Fault in Our Stars
Two teenage cancer patients (Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort) travel to Amsterdam to visit a reclusive author.
Why You Should Stream If You Love Shailene Woodley: Based on the best-selling weeper by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars provided Shailene Woodley with a moving and emotional character to embody with Hazel Lancaster, a 16-year-old cancer patient who finds unexpected love from a similarly affected teen boy (Ansel Elgort) in a love story that's, at once, traditional and unconventional. While the novel was quick to fall into some predictable tropes, Woodley's wise-beyond-her-years performance brings a lot of humane pathos to her ailing character, thus providing the actress with another great opportunity to shine at playing hard-pressed characters who shine through their struggles with their wit, dignity, and unsuspecting moments of bleeding tenderness. Her chemistry with her leading man is natural and reflexive, further showcasing the actress' naturalism and emotional intensity. It's a stunning performance, arguably among her best, and it's certainly one of her most celebrated to date as well.
The Mauritanian (Showtime)
A man (Tahar Rahim) fights for his freedom and sanity when he's detained and imprisoned without charge in Guantanamo Bay.
Why You Should Stream If You Love Shailene Woodley: Though hindered by its conventional storytelling approach, one that sometimes robbed the movie of its affecting rawness that's core to the movie's devastating emotional core, The Mauritanian remains impactful through its strong central performances, especially from Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster. Additionally, Shailene Woodley holds her own as Teri Duncan, a young, eager lawyer who wants to do what's right, even when she's left in doubt about the man she's been hired to protect. The weighted conscious that she brings to this mentally tormented character is well-suited for the actress, as she conveys the layers of insecurity and determination well to provide a complex look at this young law-abiding woman who wants to push back against oppression, even when she's not certain of who she's representing or what she needs to do in order to protect an incarcerated man's lost freedoms.
White Bird In A Blizzard (Tubi, Crackle And More)
The life of a teenage girl (Shailene Woodley) spirals when her mother (Eva Green) disappears.
Why You Should Stream If You Love Shailene Woodley: Though it doesn't always gel with Eva Green's broader, campier performance, Shailene Woodley gives another acclaimed performance at the center of White Bird in a Blizzard, writer-director Gregg Araki's adaptation of Laura Kasischke's 1999 novel. Certainly, the actress and the arthouse director were a natural fit. The provocative, soul-searching filmmaker and the emotionally vulnerable and physically open actress are well-suited for each other's tastes, and its most well-liked moments come when their sensibilities are harmonious. Alas, while the narrative storytelling wasn't widely praised, White Bird in a Blizzard continued to showcase the depths of this dedicated actress.
A young, adventurous couple (Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin) face uncertain waters during one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history.
Why You Should Stream If You Love Shailene Woodley: As a movie, Adrift sinks more than it swims. Its melodramatic approach doesn't play well to the inherent humanity of its story, and it can be lost at sea when it comes to navigating its true-life story into blockbuster mode. Nevertheless, the dramatic movie is often kept afloat through the undying commitment of its lead actress and producer, Shailene Woodley. In the role of Tami Oldman, Woodley gives yet another visceral, versatile lead performance, one that demonstrates her natural talents at commanding the screen — even when she must act opposite herself. It's an incredibly challenging role that Woodley tackles without fear or reservations, yet the tenderness that she brings to her character remains vibrantly on display. Though Adrift battles rocky waves and soggy sentimentalism, it's anchored by the shining empathy and invigoration that Woodley provides on both sides of the lens.
The Secret Life Of The American Teenager (Hulu)
Following a one-night stand at band camp, 15-year-old Amy (Shailene Woodley) winds up pregnant, throwing her life upside down.
Why You Should Stream If You Love Shailene Woodley: Though it was hardly a critical sensation, The Secret Life of the American Teenager was a major hit for ABC Family (now Freeform), resulting in one of the station's most well-watched shows and paving the way for Shailene Woodley's career ascension. While the show was often derided for its corny sensibilities and its less-than-accurate writing, audiences were quick to notice Shailene Woodley's growing talent as a lead actress, and how she would fine-tune her skills in the seasons to follow. Certainly, as her profile grew and Woodley got even more opportunities to prove herself, this hit TV series developed with its star, becoming more challenging over time. It's not her finest hour, but it was an important one for Woodley.
The Last Letter From Your Lover (Netflix)
An ambitious modern-day journalist (Felicity Jones) attempts to discover the truth behind a trove of love letters dated back to 1965.
Why You Should Stream If You Love Shailene Woodley: Given a quiet Netflix release earlier this year, The Last Letter From Your Lover didn't make a big impression upon its release, but select critics and audiences were quick to praise the central performances, including another exceptional turn from Shailene Woodley as a young woman lost in her time and yearning for the affections of another man. The sentimental movie didn't appeal to everyone, but Woodley's performance had its fans.
A dysfunctional dad (George Clooney) struggles to reconnect with his daughters (Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller) after his wife is injured in a grave boating accident.
Why You Should Rent If You Loved Shailene Woodley: While ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager was the lead performance that made Shailene Woodley something of a household name, her emotional, exquisitely aching turn in Alexander Payne's The Descendants is the one that turned her into a critical darling. While some critics were quick to dismiss her work in the aforementioned show due to its hackneyed premise and hokey sensibilities, the assured balance of humor and heart in this darkly comedic dramedy demonstrated a bright young performer with range, depth, wit and cutting precision. It's not easy to stand toe-to-toe with George Clooney, but Woodley held her own, even from a young age, to be arguably the scene-stealing star of this Oscar-winning movie. While she's strictly in supporting character mode here, this is arguably the performance that turned the actress into the movie star that she is today.
In a futuristic world in which society is divided into five factions, a young woman chooses to be Dauntless — pursuing bravery above all else.
Why It's Worth Renting If You Love Shailene Woodley: Compared to other YA movie franchises like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, Divergent doesn't stand out — especially with the less-than-stellar sequels to follow. Yet, despite its middling reviews and lackluster follow-ups, the first film isn't without its high points. Most notably, Shailene Woodley's headstrong performance as Tris Prior. Through her grounded performance, the up-and-coming actress demonstrated herself to be a dependable screen presence; she breathes some gravitas into this outlandish, teen-centric sci-fi world and brings more life to the screen than its rote screenplay might otherwise provide. She can only do so much, of course, but it's easy to see why this adaptation found an audience. Woodley has a wry assurance that's earthbound, providing a fine mix of assurance and vulnerability that makes it easy to see why she became a star.
Also, check out SXSW's award-winning favorite, The Fallout, whenever it premieres!
Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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