Acting since she was in kindergarten, Drew Barrymore has played everything from a roller derby queen to an alien’s best pal to a fairy tale princess.
Drew Barrymore is only in her 40s, but she still has an incredibly long list of credits. That's no surprise given that she made her big-screen debut at the age of 5 in Altered States (1980), cemented her star status with Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and went on to a series of starring vehicles as a child actor. Consequently, Barrymore was troubled at a young age, grappling with addiction and a mental health crisis while most kids were still in middle school.
But Hollywood likes nothing better than a comeback story — and Barrymore's redemption arc is epic. She leaned into her somewhat notorious post-rehab reputation, bolstered by her 1990 memoir, Little Girl Lost, to continue to star in movies and TV shows for decades to come.
Nowadays, Barrymore is busy racking up Daytime Emmy nominations (and some criticism) as the host of her own talk show, but acting is where she really shines. Consistently charming, usually smiling, and frequently surprising, here are the best Drew Barrymore movies and TV shows, ranked.
17. "Firestarter" (1984)
Coming off of the success of E.T., young Barrymore was inundated with movie offers and bravely took on this titular character. At only 8 years old, she holds her own against seasoned vets like Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, and Louise Fletcher as the pyrokinetic Charlie, whose parents were experimented on in a research lab, giving them both special powers while their daughter developed a formidable one of her own.
Fans of Stranger Things will find many parallels between Charlie's story and Eleven's, but it's hard to think of another actress in the single-digit ages who could have commanded such a challenging lead role by making Charlie both sympathetic and terrifying. Barrymore was so successful in Firestarter that she was tapped for another Stephen King adaptation, the anthology film Cat's Eye, the following year.
16. "Irreconcilable Differences" (1984)
Along similar lines, Barrymore earned her first Golden Globe nomination for starring in what is essentially a cinematic adaptation of Peter Bogdanovich and Polly Platt's divorce. Once again, she's a formidable match against movie parents Ryan O'Neal and Shelley Long as Casey, whose parents get so caught up in the trappings of fame and success that they lose track of each other — and their daughter. Casey gets fed up and declares that she wants to live with the family housekeeper Maria, the only adult in her life who is properly taking care of her. The 8-year-old Barrymore stands out as the most mature lead in the film (and she was emancipated from her parents in real life six years later).
Where to watch Irreconcilable Differences: Not available to stream
15. "Guncrazy" (1992)
In 1992, a still-teenaged Barrymore made a number of projects that simultaneously signified her comeback and capitalized on her then-scandalous reputation. Guncrazy, which also nabbed her a Golden Globe nomination, is one such case. Although based on a 1950s B-film, the movie is an early example of the "murderous young lovers on the run" craze of the '90s (see also: Kalifornia, Natural Born Killers). Anita (Barrymore), who is trapped in a trailer with her sexually abusive, not-quite stepfather and also defiled by the boys at school, teams up with her prison inmate pen pal Howard (James Le Gros). Naturally, things don't end up too well for the modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, but Barrymore gives Anita a sunny sympathetic portrayal even in the midst of depravity.
14. "Poison Ivy" (1992)
This 1992 sleeper was among the best of young Barrymore's comeback efforts, as a modern-day Goldilocks who invades the prosperous home of three bears by way of baby bear Sylvie (Sara Gilbert). Barrymore's Ivy cleverly and insidiously worms her way into the wealthy family headed by Georgie (Cheryl Ladd) and Darryl (Tom Skerritt). Like Sylvie, her parents, and even her dog, we can't help but be drawn in by Ivy's strangely hypnotic appeal, even as the family starts crumbling to pieces. Barrymore never returned to the role (for somewhat obvious reasons if you've seen the movie), but Poison Ivy still spawned several straight-to-video sequels.
Where to watch Poison Ivy: Not available to stream
13. "Whip It" (2009)
Barrymore made her directorial debut with this engaging, energetic portrayal of young Texas teen Bliss (Elliot Page), who rejects her mother's preferred beauty pageant path in favor of making the local roller derby team. Barrymore gathered a bunch of pals to help flesh out her ensemble, like her frequent impersonator Kristen Wiig and former Fever Pitch co-star Jimmy Fallon as the derby announcer. The result is a sweet, empowering coming-of-age story, with Barrymore casting herself as the aptly named Smashley Simpson, the hilarious terror of the arena and a ferocious mentor for Bliss.
12. "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (2002)
George Clooney's directorial debut is really just a showcase for Sam Rockwell to inhabit Chuck Barris alongside a number of smaller roles and showy cameos by Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Clooney himself. But Barrymore's Penny (a fictitious character in this quasi-biography) is the heart of the whole thing as the only person Barris can really be himself around. Penny functions as his moral compass as she transforms from cool cat to hippie chick. She's such a great character, it makes you sad that Barris didn't actually have her in his life. (She also swears a lot in this movie, which is jarring because it makes you realize how rarely Barrymore does so in her films).
11. "Music and Lyrics" (2007)
Drew Barrymore's most underrated rom-com performance is not with her frequent collaborator Adam Sandler, but in this charmer of a movie. She plays Sophie, a poet who gets roped into collaborative songwriting with Hugh Grant as the Andrew Ridgeley equivalent of a Wham!-esque '80s band. The two have cute chemistry to spare, but while many of Grant's duet partners (Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts) can get lost in the shuffle, Barrymore's Sophie stands out due to her unabashed niceness despite her struggle to get over a previous toxic relationship (with a dastardly Campbell Scott). Her flightiness and his magnetism bring out the best in each actor, but unfortunately, the film is Barrymore's only pairing with Grant (so far).
10. "Santa Clarita Diet" (2017–2019)
Barrymore takes a bite out of suburban life in Netflix's critically acclaimed horror comedy Santa Clarita Diet. Barrymore teams up with Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood) to play Sheila and Joel Hammond, a pair of real estate agents living in Santa Clarita, Calif., with their daughter, Abby (played by Liv Hewson of Yellowjackets). After Sheila begins craving human flesh and exhibiting signs of zombie-esque behavior, the Hammond family must learn to navigate her new unusual appetites while juggling their jobs, managing their neighbors, and attempting to find a cure for Sheila's condition.
Featuring three seasons that Barrymore also executive produced, Santa Clarita Diet represents her only real foray into TV stardom, and she chose her entrée into the medium well. Funny, gory, and surprisingly touching, Santa Clarita Diet balances murder with matrimony and focuses on the lengths humans — and zombies — will travel to be there for the ones we love.
9. "Donnie Darko" (2001)
Drew Barrymore might not have had the biggest part in the sci-fi drama Donnie Darko, but she did play a significant role in helping the film get made, with her cast billing securing an extra million for the budget. After troubled teenager Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins sleepwalking and experiencing visions — most of which involve Frank, a giant costumed rabbit who predicts the world will end in 28 days — Donnie's family and friends become increasingly concerned about his health.
Featuring a stacked cast that includes everyone from Jake's real-life sibling Maggie Gyllenhaal to Seth Rogen, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze and Ashley Tisdale, Donnie Darko was quickly adopted by college kids and film students as the movie to watch in the early aughts. According to Gyllenhaal, the film remains one of his proudest career moments, and Barrymore is excellent as Donnie's devoted (but moody) teacher, who is more than happy to challenge her students and their small town ideals.
8. "Never Been Kissed" (1999)
Never Been Kissed, in which Drew Barrymore goes undercover as a reporter in a Chicago high school, is not a great rom-com, unless you want to see her get straight-up tortured by teenagers (in two separate decades!) for at least half of the movie. (Never mind her teacher's (Michael Vartan) problematic attraction to her before he realizes that she's not underage.) The only reason why it works at all is due to Barrymore's performance, heartbreakingly diving into her Josie Grossy persona and revealing the raw pain that can come with rejection at any age.
7. "Charlie's Angels" (2000)
Charlie's Angels was a passion project for Barrymore, who loved the original series as a child and served as a producer. With the help of director McG and costars Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu, she reinvents the Angels for a new century, ditching the guns, inserting impressively-advanced martial arts, and adding her Confessions costar as a client with a secret (frankly, we're game for any role where Sam Rockwell gets to dance).
Barrymore's Dylan is not the flashy Jill type (that would be Diaz's Natalie) or the Sabrina-like brains of the outfit (that's Liu's Alex). Instead, she's the Kelly, the heart of the entire organization, who treats her fellow Angels like family because they are. But she still gives herself a killer scene in which Dylan takes down an entire room full of armed thugs while tied up, then moonwalks away.
6. "50 First Dates" (2004)
In this post-Wedding Singer reunion with Adam Sandler, Barrymore plays the challenging part of Lucy, who has short-term memory loss and keeps living the same day over and over. Sandler costars as Henry, a commitmentphobe who falls for her and tries to craft a relationship with someone who will never remember him. It takes a special actor to create a character so winningly beautiful inside and out, but Barrymore is perfect for the part, imbuing Lucy with a wide-eyed innocence as she continually sees so much of the world for the first time. The result — for a movie that basically reveals its entire plot in its title — is a surprisingly romantic story about steadfast devotion and the search to find happiness no matter how odd the circumstances. For Henry, Lucy makes every day a new revelation.
5. "The Wedding Singer" (1998)
The Wedding Singer is far and away one of the greatest Adam Sandler comedies, and much of that is due to Barrymore's charismatic performance as his love interest, Julia. She slides right into the retro nostalgia, as becoming closer to heartbroken wedding singer Robbie (Sandler) makes her question her own engagement to the horrific Glenn (Matthew Glave). Reportedly, script doctor Carrie Fisher focused on playing up the character of Julia so that she's not just "the girl," but actually has warmth, wit, and humor (we suspect that's where Julia's phrase of "church tongue" comes from), which Barrymore of course delivers in spades.
4. "Scream" (1996)
Drew Barrymore was first offered the showier role of Sidney Prescott in the first Scream movie, which would have landed her a franchise gig for decades. Instead, she switched to portraying Casey, our very first onscreen Ghostface victim, in an opening sequence for the ages. The fact that Casey is carried by Barrymore, a known pop-culture icon by that point, makes her an immediately sympathetic character as she starts off flirty on a phone call that ends in tragedy (and in a total subversion of audience expectations). Her early death then becomes the most shocking demise in a horror movie since Janet Leigh in Psycho.
3. "Ever After: A Cinderella Story" (1998)
Ever After offers an inspired feminist take on the classic Cinderella fairy tale for the '90s, moving the setting to France and introducing a fiesty fairytale heroine. Barrymore's Danielle is the kind of future princess who actually sticks up for everyday peasants in the face of royalty, and who prefers to save herself instead of relying on a charming prince to do it for her. The magic in this spell-free story comes from Barrymore's spirited portrayal (she's called it the favorite of all her films), while the fairy godmother gets replaced by Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey), Anjelica Huston gets to play the wicked stepmother of a lifetime, and Melanie Lynskey is the rare step sister who's at least on Cinderella's side.
2. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)
She may have enjoyed her screen debut in Altered States, but Drew Barrymore made her first big cinematic splash with the now-classic E.T. Unusually for an actor so young, she's able to gift Gertie with an appealing naturalness that made her star power immediately apparent. Gertie is only about the same size as E.T. himself, yet she's strong, sarcastic (her eye-rolling delivery of, "Give me a break," when Elliott tries to tell her that the visitor is invisible is priceless), and as smart as her older brothers. She's the one who teaches the creature how to talk, after all. (Yes, she also dresses him in an amazing outfit.) But part of the magic of E.T. isn't just the love for the alien, but also his love for these kids, and Barrymore's Gertie is one of the most vital (and most adorable) parts of that.
1. "Grey Gardens" (2009)
Barrymore finally won that Golden Globe for her heartrending portrayal of Little Edie in this dramatic production of the famous 1975 documentary. (She said she tried to stay in character throughout the filming, becoming very solitary even off-camera.) This Grey Gardens was able to explore what might have made Edie the way she was, showing her as a young debutante fleeing from romantic disappointment to the remote, insular safety of the estate she shared with her mother, Big Edie (Jessica Lange). But it also contains a welcome triumphant moment when she gets to perform in a nightclub, and Barrymore's joy at bringing this complicated, beloved persona to life is genuine.
Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.