Jamon Jamon (1992)
Penélope Cruz’s first feature role came in this Spanish melodrama of big appetites. It also professionally paired her with future-husband Javier Bardem years before they got together personally.
There’s more than a touch of the ludricrous in the town’s silly romantic merry-go-round, but Bigas Lunas' tale of meat, machismo and boxer briefs is strangely engrossing.
Feisty Firecracker? While her role as Silvia, a poor girl impregnated by the heir to the underwear factory she works at, doesn’t shy away from her sexuality, it also allows her to show a tender, passionate side.
Belle epoque (1992)
This Oscar-winning Spanish movie casts Cruz as the youngest of four sisters who are each seduced in turn by wayward soldier Fernando (Jorge Sanz).
Despite being set at the verge of the Spanish Civil War, the tone is light and punchy in a typically European way. The familial strife makes this more an incisively engaging melodrama rather than an overtly political piece.
Feisty Firecracker? Cruz’s Luz is equally partial to fits of hysterics and passion, though Fernando eventually decides she’s the most suitable marriage material.
Next up, Cruz briefly left the glamour of the Mediterranean for a British TV thriller starring David Morrissey and a post-Bond Timothy Dalton. Prime Suspect 's Lynda La Plante was on scripting duties.
Morrissey is the out-of-his-depth cop given the task of escorting Dalton’s unhinged, but seedily charismatic, crim back to the UK from his hideout in Spain. Cruz adds a touch of local flavour as the elusive Lola.
Feisty Firecracker? It’s a typically Cruzian combo of irresistible charm and capriciousness.
La ribelle (1993)
AKA The Rebel , this saw Cruz putting her natural fire into Enza, a runaway teen. As a kind of female Wild One , Enza is arrested for shoplifting and subsequently sent to a reformatory.
Rather than slipping into a habit and seeing the proverbial light, Enza rebels even harder, sleeping her way through a mission to find a decent bloke. Her search becomes all the more urgent when she discovers she’s up the duff.
Feisty Firecracker? The title says it all, really.
Alegre ma non troppo (1994)
Cruz was still mainly working in her native Spain at this point in her career though she did head to Italy to play Mary (Jesus’ mum) in nativity story For Love, Only for Love .
Back on home soil for this one, Cruz has a support role here. Pablo (Pere Ponce) is a young man struggling to not only make it as a musician, but also to get his family to accept his gay lifestyle. Cruz turns up as Salomé, a seductive young lady who inexplicably turns up in Pablo’s bed one morning.
Feisty Firecracker? This role plays more to her mysterious side.
La Celestina (1996)
Cruz looks equally at home in historical fare as she does tackling modern material. La Celestina is an adaptation of a Spanish medieval tale; here Cruz plays Melibea, the object of Calisto’s affection.
When his soujourn down the traditional wooing route doesn’t bear any success, Calisto ill-advisedly decides to seek help from witchy brothel madam Celestina. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go well for the young lovebirds.
Feisty Firecracker? She’s strong willed, but defenseless again the witch’s cunning.
Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health (1996)
Cruz’s next screen romance was a more light-hearted affair. At a royal function, Diana meets Santi, who’s now a royal bodyguard. The pair were lovers some 30 years earlier (when she looked like Penélope Cruz…)
The film counterpoints the relationship of the young ‘uns with their older selves, weaving their lives into a historical backdrop (they first met at a Beatles gig) in a not totally uneffective way.
Feisty Firecracker? She’s pretty high maintenance, hence why she decided to ditch her lowly boyf after their 60s fling.
Live Flesh (1997)
Live Flesh marked the first time the Cruz worked with influential collaborator Pedro Almodóvar and the second time she shared a cast-list with now-hubbie Javier Bardem.
Oddly, the movie takes inspiration from a Ruth Rendell mystery, but the sex, tension and inimitable style are pure Pedro. Victor is a small-time ruffian who accidentally paralyzes Bardem’s copper in a struggle. When the former has finished up his stretch in prison, he discovers that the now disabled cop has taken up with his woman. Cruz appears in a early scene as Victor’s mother, when she gives birth to him in a bus.
Feisty Firecracker? If her incendiary offspring is anything to go by…
Open Your Eyes (1997)
Another formative movie in Cruz’s early career, this moving sorta-sci-fi from Alejandro Amenábar got widespread recognition, and a Hollywood remake followed (more on that later).
Playboy César has a seemingly perfect life, which is upended after a night of flirtation with Sofia (a never more beguiling Cruz). César’s jealous ex-lover doesn’t take kindly to being sidelined, and exacts revenge by crashing his car, killing herself and disfiguring him beyond recognition. What follows is an absorbing blend of fantasy and reality in a pleasingly tender thriller.
Feisty Firecracker? She’s more quietly intriguing here…
Don Juan (1998)
Not to be confused with the Johnny Depp vehicle Don Juan De Marco which was released a few years earlier, this was a more straightforward take on the story of the legendary lothario.
Cruz plays one of two young girls who fight naively for the cheeky nobleman, even though he’s not interested enough in either of them for them to be able to hold his attention satisfactorily. He’ll get his comeuppance though, smug git…
Feisty Firecracker? No, she trades her vitality for screechy adolescent exasperation.
If Only (1998)
What Cruz, whose star was slowly but surely rising on the international circuit, wanted with this lame Brit romcom is anyone’s guess. Victor (Douglas Henshall) is the cheating douche who get a chance at another shot with his girlfriend (Lena Headey) when a wish he makes to turn back time comes true.
It turns out that even if he doesn’t admit his transgressions, his girlfriend will still fall for Mark Strong’s goateed suitor. Perhaps he should just get with the hot Spanish chick who's been hanging around…
Feisty Firecracker? Things perk up considerably whenever she’s on screen.
The Girl of Your Dreams (1998)
Cruz’s Mediterranean spirit shone particularly brightly in this period drama. In the late 30s, Spanish film-makers under Franco’s reign are forced to make there movies in Germany and Italy.
In this loosely-based-on-fact story, Cruz plays the vacationing company's lead player, who catches the attention of one Joseph Goebbels. The film wasn’t widely seen outside of Spain, where it bagged seven Goya awards (including one for Cruz).
Feisty Firecracker? Her decorative costumes (and unconvincingly dubbed singing) help her to stand out in a Berlin ravaged by war.
The Hi-Lo Country (1998)
At the centre of Stephen Frears’ handsome 40s-set western is the bromance between Pete (Billy Crudup) and Big Boy (Woody Harrelson): think Brokeback Mountain without the sex and you’re there.
Cruz is sidelined as Pete’s neglected girlfriend, while the two boys lust after local married woman Mona (Patricia Arquette). The film provides an impressive approximation of a lived-in friendship, but some of the characters have a tendency to grate.
Feisty Firecracker? Cruz plays it homely here, albeit in a slightly downtrodden manner.
All About My Mother (1999)
Pedro Almodóvar’s widely acclaimed drama acted as another notable leg up for Cruz on her path to ascending the A-list ladder. For all its flamboyance, Mother remains endlessly touching (as well as being the easiest entry point into Pedro’s world).
Cruz took a supporting spot as a nun who works in a women’s refuge, amid a veritable smorgasbord of fine performances, all connected by Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse overseeing her dead son’s organ transplants.
Feisty Firecracker? She’s on the quietly subdued side here.
Woman on Top (2000)
Cruz adds a pinch of spice to an otherwise fairly standard-template romcom. She plays Isabella, a downtrodden underappreciated wife who decides to leave Brazil for LA after catching her husband cheating.
There she uses the skills she carved slaving away in her husband’s restaurant to become an overnight TV cookery sensation. Jarring magical flourishes aside, the film at least has enough piquant touches to make it a worthy time-passer.
Feisty Firecracker? Once she’s summoned the courage to escape from her boorish other half.
All the Pretty Horses (2000)
Cruz continued to make tentative footsteps towards Hollywood, scoring a part in Billy Bob Thornton’s flawed epic. The Cormac McCarthy adaptation was mercilessly hacked at in the cutting room, leaving an uneven, often tantalising, final result.
It looks great, and Matt Damon was also demonstrating that he was destined for great things as a young cowboy heading for Mexico. There, he falls for Cruz, much to her family’s chagrin. The romance isn't given room to breath under the mercenary editing.
Feisty Firecracker? She doesn’t get the fuel to ignite here…
Another foray into Hollywood film-making, this drug-dealing drama cast Cruz opposite her future Pirates of the Caribbean co-star Johnny Depp. Depp stars as marijuana (and later cocaine) dealer George Jung, and Cruz gets the unflattering role of maltreated wife.
Depp and Cruz can bring sparkle to the murkiest of flicks, but between seen-it-all-before story and stylistic light-fingeredness that frequently reminds you that you could be watching a much better film, there’s not much to recommend here.
Feisty Firecracker? This story is all too lacking in explosiveness (literally and figuratively).
Captain Corellis Mandolin (2001)
Cruz’s stardom continued to swell when she bagged the lead role in this Louis de Bernières adaptation, though the project didn’t quite live up to the sum of its parts.
The scenery is consistently stunning, and Cruz is beguiling as the innocent Pelagia, who yearns for something more than her idyllic, isolated Greek island can offer. Why she falls for Nicolas Cage’s bumbling ‘Mamma Mia’-voiced Italian soldier goes totally unexplained though, leaving little besides the cinematography to hook you in.
Feisty Firecracker? Another quieter performance, though Cruz was vindicating the casting directors making her the go-to girl for exotic, winsome love interests...
Sin noticias de Dios (2001)
Also known as Don’t Tempt Me , this Dogma -esque comedy sees two angels - one from heaven, one from hell (or cheap approximations at least) – fight for the soul of a boxer with a terminal brain condition.
An intriguing cast (Gael García Bernal plays one of hell’s top execs) and potentially funny premise just don’t yield the results you’d hope for. In a trivial oddity, Javier Bardem appears (in photo form) as the male incarnation of Cruz’s character.
Feisty Firecracker? She was the natural choice to play the bad angel.
Vanilla Sky (2001)
Penélope Cruz reprised her role as Sofia in Cameron Crowe’s US remake of Open Your Eyes . While this version remains intriguing as a standalone effort, it's a largely pointless, identikit retread with a couple of perfunctory tweaks (just to rob the Hollywood market of a little bit of ambiguity).
On the plus side, Tom Cruise is a fine choice as the unlucky playboy, Cruz is suitably alluring as the catalyst of his problems, and the opening Times Square sequence is genuinely arresting. Besides that, you’re just left scratching your head, asking if people really think subtitles are that bad…
Feisty Firecracker? No, she sets her screen profile to subtly mysterious here.
In another move that looked set to condemn her chances in Hollywood, Cruz took a support role in this naff chiller. You can’t blame her for being interested though, as the film boasts an impressive pedigree: Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr head things up, and La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz was making his Hollywood debut behind the camera.
Cruz provides a rare positive note, as a spooked inmate treated (and then joined) by Berry’s jittery psychiatrist.
Feisty Firecracker? Her usually sultry look is savaged by a dodgy haircut and lashings of black eyeliner, as befits the movie’s reductive approach to the gothic.
Dont Move (2004)
By this point, Cruz had shifted from ballsy babe roles to the damaged victim stage of her career. Director Sergio Castellitto also stars as Timoteo, a surgeon who is plagued by memories of an old affair while his daughter is undergoing emergency surgery.
He reminisces about his relationship with Italia (Cruz), and its ups and downs. Though it seems fairly obviously doomed from the outset, the unfolding story of conflicting emotions manages to sustain interest.
Feisty Firecracker? An abusive past and a string of misfortune mean she’s not the most confident sort.
Head in the Clouds (2004)
In this OTT historical romp, Cruz plays gooseberry to real-life couple Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend, not that she’s unwelcome in this odd ménage a trois.
Scholar Guy (Townsend) has a chance encounter with society gal Gilda (Theron) shortly before the outbreak of World War II. When he later meets her in Paris, he gets cosy with her and her Spanish roommate (Cruz) before WWII and the Spanish Civil War interrupt their photogenic lives.
Feisty Firecracker? This film is all glossy surfaces, with little heat emanating from beneath.
This portmanteau Christmas piece in the Love Actually vein bears weightier themes than that earlier effort, but it’s not much less sappy. Susan Sarandon’s struggling Rosa, who dotes on her Alzheimer’s-patient mother, is the link between a bunch of characters facing personal problems on Christmas Eve.
Cruz’s story thread sees her relationship with Paul Walker’s cop hit an obstacle in the form of his smothering jealousy.
Feisty Firecracker? The Cruz-Walker combo doesn’t raise the screen temperature by much, though she does find time for a lively salsa dance.
Cruz’s first foray into blockbuster territory didn’t go on to launch a franchise as per the original intention. In fact, the sandy action adventure didn’t even break even as a result of whopping production costs.
The movie itself is far from a disaster though. Your stomach for McConaughey will affect your enjoyment to a degree, but he makes a decent fist of the cheeky adventurer larks, and he’s more than ably flanked by an immensely likeable Steve Zahn, and Cruz has much more pep than your average romantic interest.
Feisty Firecracker? She holds her own in this boy’s own adventure.
This drama is flecked with socio-political concerns like the similarly-themed Crash (Haggis not Cronenberg), and packs an impressive cast, but it never grabs the heartstrings like it should, ultimately feeling too drab and too cold to really connect.
The title should give you some indication of the movie’s heavy-handed treatment of the ‘issues’. The performances are still strong though, and Cruz’s strand sees her playing a sick prostitute badgered by Rhys Ifans’ slyly creepy social worker.
Feisty Firecracker? Not here…
Cinema screens everywhere were in danger of combusting when this lighthearted adventure paired fiery lovelies Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek. Or at least, they would have been, had Bandidas received a wider release.
Set in nineteenth-century Mexico, Cruz and Hayek are from opposite sides of the tracks, but they unite for Robin Hood-esque bank-robbing antics, which attracts the attentions of a sleazy landowner.
Feisty Firecracker? It’s didn’t trouble critics’ end-of-year lists, but there are a couple of reasons this stays in your memory…
Working with Pedro Almodóvar again earned Cruz her first Oscar nomination (though she was sadly brushed aside by the Helen Mirren juggernaut that year). Awards or no awards, this deserves tons of attention in its own right.
This being Almodóvar, things are naturally complicated, over-the-top, lurid, brightly-hued, and thoroughly engaging. Cruz has rarely been better, blowing away the memory of some of her underwhelming Hollywood efforts as the sensual, spirited mother, forced to cover up a murder and confront literal ghosts from her past.
Feisty Firecracker? Her energy is simply electric here…
The Good Night (2007)
Jake Paltrow (brother of Gwynnie) directed this odd Woody Allen descendant, although that tag is a little over kind as this contains barely a fraction of the insight, warmth and wit of Allen at his best.
Paltrow summons a talented cast (including his sister, Martin Freeman and Simon Pegg) who are above the weak script, but Cruz comes off best in a dual role. She plays a model who becomes the Freeman’s dreamtime obsession, before he meets her in real-life.
Feisty Firecracker? Indeed, though she’s more placid and compliant in Freeman’s fantasies than in person…
Creating a pretty decent niche for herself as the idealised, almost untouchable male fantasy figure, here Cruz plays Consuela, a former student of professor David (Ben Kingsley). Despite the fact he’s double her age, he’s no slack when it comes to charming her into bed.
Handsome production values don’t mask the fact that this is fairly impenetrable stuff, as screenwriter Nicholas Meyer once again does a Philip Roth text injustice.
Feisty Firecracker? Her enigmatic, unreadable nature is entirely filtered through Sir Ben’s fretting prof.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Cruz returned to scintillating form (as did director Woody Allen) in this seductive dramedy. The movie once again paired Cruz with Javier Bardem: they play a pair of artists with a violently tempestuous relationship.
Woody regular Scarlett Johansson is Cristina, one of two travellers caught up in a love rectangle with the fiery couple whilst holidaying in Barcelona. Funny, witty and sexy, it was reason enough for Allen fans to breathe a long-awaited sigh of relief.
Feisty Firecracker? Cruz’s incendiary turn bagged her an Oscar.
The Passion Within (2008)
This bullfighting drama, which recently limped to a DVD release in the UK has suffered the ignominy of being shuffled around the globe under different titles (it’s been called Manolete , Blood and Passion and A Matador’s Mistress in various countries).
It’s a surprisingly tame affair, given the ripe subject matter: it documents the last days of tragic bullfighter ‘Manolete’ (Adrien Brody) and his affair with actress Lupe Sino (Cruz).
Feisty Firecracker? Cruz is enticing as ever, but she doesn’t seem to be able to inspire any life in a listless Brody.
Broken Embraces (2009)
It seems that uniting with Pedro Almodóvar is a one-way ticket to a career highlight for Cruz. They make a perfect pairing, with Cruz fronting his melodramatic themes and stylistic tics with gusto.
Cruz plays the movie star mistress of a dodgy producer, who has an ill-advised affair with a screenwriter. It’s not the finest of the Penélope-Pedro collabs, but that’s no stinging criticism.
Feisty Firecracker? You know that Cruz playing a movie star for Almodóvar isn’t going to result in a pared-back performance.
Pre- Pirates , Cruz worked with Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney in this kid-friendly actioner. She lends her distinctive tones to Juarez, possibly the world’s sexiest guinea pig.
The secret agent rodent storyline is purely for the under-10s, but if you’re roped into watching it, Cruz is joined by an interesting enough voice cast (Sam Rockwell, Nicolas Cage) to keep you smirking.
Feisty Firecracker? As far as guinea pigs go…
Cruz scored another Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her turn in Rob Marshall’s musical remake of Federico Fellini classic 8½ . While the stagey film doesn’t quite deliver on its promise (could it ever live up to that cast?), there’s much to enjoy.
Such as? Cruz’s sultry, sulky, showstopping turn as Guido’s sparky mistress, for one thing. Plus Marion Cotillard delivers another stellar performance, Daniel Day Lewis adds singing to his long list of talents, and the songs are admittedly catchy.
Feisty Firecracker? Hell yeah.
Sex and the City 2 (2010)
Cruz only turned up for a brief cameo in this critical piñata, apparently because she was a fan of the TV show (wonder if she was as disappointed with this as everyone else was…)
She shows up at a film premiere, not as herself but as a business acquaintance of Mr Big’s, and she's the source of much consternation for screeching harridan Carrie.
Feisty Firecracker? Nothing sizzled in this lame sequel.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Cruz is back in multiplexes this week for the return of Jack Sparrow. Pirates 4 sees the actress reteam with Nine director Rob Marshall to play Angelica, daughter of Blackbeard and erstwhile love interest of Sparrow.
She’s on a mission to find the Fountain of Youth, but can Sparrow trust his duplicitous ex? Will they find the fountain? Will the franchise get its mojo back? You can find out for yourself this week…
Feisty Firecracker? She looks set to appease the fans who found Keira Knightly a little bland…