Earlier this week, news broke that Mary Elizabeth Winstead would be reprising her role as Lucy McClane in the upcoming 5th installment of the Die Hard franchise. The movie is slated for release on Valentine’s Day 2013, so I guess I don’t have to make dinner reservations for that night. Her presence in the franchise is just one of the many reasons she is becoming my favorite actress. Her selection of scripts has me smitten and puts her in a spot where she could become a contender for the title of Geek Queen, a reign currently held by Natalie Portman.
Over the last two decades, Natalie Portman has put together résumé that has made her the undisputed Geek Queen. Starring in the 90s action masterpiece Léon: The Professional at the age of 13, she presented herself as a stellar performer, and her follow-up role in the equally brilliant Heat cemented her reputation as one of the best young actresses in film. While Léon and Heat weren’t movies you would classify as ”geek bait,” most geeks recognize and respect them for their brilliance. A year later, Tim Burton cast her in screen version of Mars Attacks!, which inserted her into an all-star cast; though the film wasn’t that well received, its problems had nothing to do with her.
It was in 1999 when things really took off for Portman when the then 18-year-old was cast by George Lucas to play Queen Padmé Amidala – future mother to Luke and Leia, wife to Darth Vader, and all-around badass senator. Being Luke Skywalker’s mom for three movies should be enough to establish geek cred, but Portman kept adding to her résumé. In 2005, she was the lead in the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, and she was later cast as Jane Foster in Marvel’s Thor franchise, playing love interest to the Thunder God, a role she will reprise in the upcoming sequel. These things, combined with guest spots on The Simpsons and SNL, and her Oscar win for best actress for 2010’s Black Swan, have made comic and film geeks alike accept her stardom to sit atop the pyramid of Pop Culture Geekiness. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that she is beautiful.
So, after all I’ve just written, how could I suggest that someone could dethrone her? I’m not, not exactly any way. I’m instead here to talk about how, despite her impressive résumé, Portman does have someone who’s legitimately vying for the title: Mary Elizabeth Winstead. And while Winstead is not yet a household name the way that Portman is, she is well on her way.
Of course, Winstead could probably compete for another Hollywood title as well: Scream Queen. To me, that title has always been held by Jamie Lee Curtis. Be it her iconic work in the Halloween franchise (where she was involved in five of the eight movies, (pre-Rob Zombie-reboot) or the plethora of other horror flicks she did in the early ’80s, including Prom Night, Terror Train and The Fog – Curtis always seemed to own the genre. In addition, she was immortalized in ‘the movie that saved the genre’, 1996′s Scream, when the movie’s resident film geek explained why she should hold the title. If that weren’t enough, she comes from genre royalty as the daughter of Janet Leigh, star of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho.
So along comes Mary, whose largest chunk of early work falls in the horror genre. Beginning with Wolf Lake, a 2001 show that was about werewolves (before Twilight and MTV ruined them). CBS aired only the first five episodes before canceling the show because of low ratings, but reviews were mostly favorable, and the show was eventually aired on UPN. She followed that up with plenty more genre stuff, like Monster Island and The Ring Two, which weren’t great, though she was good. Right after this is when I really took notice of her in Final Destination 3 despite not previously being a big fan of the Final Destination franchise. Any guess as to which one of the five I own? Shortly after this, she appeared in a remake of the classic ’70s horror movie Black Christmas, which, at the age of 22, gave her five horror titles under her belt. Hell, Curtis only had four when she was 22.
In 2007, not only did she add another horror movie to her credit with Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse chapter “Death Proof,” she also jumps genres into Live Free or Die Hard, the 4th installment of the franchise. This is where she starts to challenge Natalie Portman. Let’s face it, Die Hard is the single greatest action movie of all time, so major geek cred is earned when you get picked to play the hero’s daughter in the sequel and you actually hold your own opposite Bruce Willis and Timothy Olyphant.
From here, she made a move that won over comic and video game geeks alike: playing Ramona Flowers in Edgar Wright‘s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. To have done a comic book movie that so perfectly captured the soul of the book as the object of our hero’s desire, I couldn’t be more impressed by the choices she was making.
And that includes the next one, too: 2011’s The Thing. The progression here went from “badass damsel in distress” in Die Hard to ”hero’s object of desire” in Scott Pilgrim to ”heroine” in The Thing. And I know several people who are less than thrilled that this prequel (it’s a prequel, not a remake) exists, but the 1982 John Carpenter classic is one of my favorite movies, and while the new movie really doesn’t compare, I can understand how someone would have jumped at the chance to be part of the franchise. And while she was no Kurt Russell (star of the ’82 movie and her co-star in Sky High), she did an admirable job in a film most people went into with a hostile opinion.
That brings us back to Portman, who in 2009 was set to star and produce a film adaptation of the “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith, which we’ve not heard a whole lot about since. However, it was Winstead who starred in another Grahame-Smith adaptation earlier this year: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, in which she played First Lady Lincoln and did a little ass-kicking at her husband’s side with an especially epic silver bullet to the forehead kill. And now, she’s Lucy McClane again.
So just to recap: Winstead has played John McClane’s daughter, only survivor of The Thing; Abe Lincoln’s wife; and she’s already worked with two of the coolest directors in the industry: Tarantino and Wright. Not too shabby for someone still in her 20s. So is it enough to dethrone Portman or Curtis? Probably not. Portman still has the cach of the Star Wars prequels (as flawed as that sounds) and her upcoming involvement in The Avengers universe. Plus, Léon and Heat are still better than anything Winstead has done (yet). And Curtis is too iconic to ever be dethroned. So where does that leave Ms. Winstead (besides in my heart)? It leaves her in a position to make herself an icon like Curtis, or to capture the imagination of geeks everywhere like Portman. In her next few movies, she’ll be working alongside big stars such as Bill Murray and Bruce Willis, and a plethora of comedic talent in A.C.O.D. and A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.
God I love that song…
So Winstead may not be the Scream Queen, or Geek Queen, but she’s certainly a threat to the throne. And right now, she’s definitely my It Girl.