The Evolution Of Winona Ryder

Lucas (1986)

The Role: Ryder makes her screen debut in this teenage tale of early love, sadness and redemption. She’s Rina, best mate to Corey Haim’s titular lead and one of the people who helps him, while harboring a crush.

There’s not a whole lot to the role, but she made enough impact at her audition for another movie (Desert Bloom) to get cast in this one. She was on her way…

Ryder Trivia: Her real name is Winona Laura Horowitz; she got the Ryder part from a Mitch Ryder album that was playing when she was asked how she wanted to be credited.

Beetle Juice (1988)

The Role: Goth teen Lydia Deetz, who moves with her family into the house once owned (and now haunted) by ghosts Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis.

Disaffected girls have since become Ryder’s trademark, but few live up to Deetz, whose loopy style and charm fits perfectly into Burton’s world, even up against the loony antics of Michael Keaton’s wild spirit.

Ryder Trivia:
Like Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara and Alec Baldwin, Ryder initially turned down the film. Ballsy move for a young actress…

Heathers (1989)

The Role: Her other breakout performance as Veronica solidified her as a go-to-gal for nervy, empathic parts that steal scenes even when acting alongside screen hogs such as Christian Slater.

The film flopped, but became a cult hit and Ryder an equally cult star in the making who drifted between smaller fare and bigger movies with seeming ease… at least for a while.

Ryder Trivia: The high school’s name, Westerberg High, is taken from The Replacements, who just happened to be Ryder’s favourite musos at the time.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

The Role: Back with Burton for box office success and a role alongside then-boyfriend Johnny Depp.

Though she’s initially seen as part of suburbia, Ryder’s Kim is in fact one of her classic outsider characters, who longs for a different life and sees the possibilities in Edward’s tortured soul.

Ryder Trivia:
Ryder was approached by Burton but didn’t sign on to the film until Depp did – maybe she was put off by the fact that Michael Jackson had been lobbying for the role…

Mermaids (1990)

The Role: 1990 was a busy - and successful - year for the actress, since she also cropped up in this comedy drama.

Sinking into a role alongside Christina Ricci and Cher, she gets the plum part of Charlotte Flax, who initially dreams of becoming a nun but finds love in the small town her family moves to.

She’s never overwhelmed by the flamboyant Cher, and carves out her own chunk of the film.

Ryder Trivia:
Emily Lloyd initially got her part, but Cher didn’t think she looked enough like her to be her daughter. Ryder was brought in as a replacement.

Dracula (1992)

The Role: Ryder nabs the twin roles of bosom-heaving Mina Murray and Elisabeta, the reincarnated former lover of the Count.

The movie divided critics, but Ryder at least did a better job at her accent than Keanu Reeves. And it was her first stab – pun intended – at stretching herself with period work.

Ryder Trivia: Ryder is actually responsible for the film getting going, after showing the script to Francis Ford Coppola when it was all set to be made as a TV movie by Michael Apted.

The Age Of Innocence (1993)

The Role: More period work as Ryder’s career began to blossom and she snagged parts for the best directors. Scorsese this time, and the adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel.

She gets to play the wronged society woman as her fiancee (Daniel Day-Lewis) falls in love with another (Michelle Pfeiffer). The cad! Ryder’s performance won her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod.

Ryder Trivia: She’d clearly done her research… Well, she wrote a book report about the novel in school when she was a teenager.

Reality Bites (1994)

The Role: Mid-‘90s malaise takes hold and Ryder seems to have found her ideal role in Lelaina Pierce, a directionless young former high-achiever recording her fellow Gen X bods’ lives through her camcorder.

Studio bosses hoped this would piggyback on her fame and the subject matter, but Ben Stiller’s movie largely tanked. She still does solid work, however, though then this is the sort of role that she can crank out easily.

Ryder Trivia:
She was dating ‘90s rock stalwarts Soul Asylum’s leader singer Dave Pirner at the time –he crops up in some of the videos.

Little Women (1994)

The Role: Gillian Armstrong “handpicked” Ryder (we always wonder about that phrase - was she on a farm at the time?) to play Jo, the headstrong heroine who helps care for her sisters during the US Civil War.

Ryder, clearly an old hand at the bodice by now, got great reviews and helped her career rebound from the failure of Reality Bites.

Ryder Trivia: She was so successful in the part that she snagged her second Oscar nod for the film, and showed how firmly established she was in pop culture by providing a guest voice on The Simpsons.

The Crucible (1996)

The Role: Despite a hefty pedigree (Arthur Miller adapting his play, Daniel Day-Lewis co-starring with her again and Nicholas Hytner directing), The Crucible ended up a dud at the box office.

But as seems to have been a trend throughout her career, she received healthy acclaim for the part of a woman looking to off her lover (Day-Lewis)’s wife as the Salem witch trials swirl.

Ryder Trivia: Kirsten Dunst - who had auditioned for, and lost, a part in Little Women - went up for Ryder’s role here. She’d have to wait a little longer to start winning films…

Freelance Journalist

James White is a freelance journalist who has been covering film and TV for over two decades. In that time, James has written for a wide variety of publications including Total Film and SFX. He has also worked for BAFTA and on ODEON's in-cinema magazine.