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From 'Halloween' to 'EEAAO': Jamie Lee Curtis's best genre roles, ranked

The ultimate scream queen has an impressive genre filmography. These are her best roles. 

By Tara Bennett
Jamie Lee Curtis

Oh, Jamie Lee Curtis, how we love thee...

In your storied four decades (and counting!) on the silver screen, you have played the gamut of women, from the terrorized teen to an angry I.R.S. auditor with hot dog fingers. While you may have started out the ingenue, cutting your teeth in slasher films from Halloween to Prom Night, as you matured, so too did your choices and the women you embodied. Especially in genre roles, where you decided that funny and smart characters could be just as memorable as the ones wielding a knife or chasing monsters, as proven in Freak Friday or True Lies.

And when you did return to the iconic role of Laurie Strode in the Halloween franchise, you always ensured that the character had grown into a woman with agency and intent. No longer were you just fleeing from the boogeyman — you were facing him and putting him in the ground. Michael Myers could never have imagined a nemesis as unrelenting as you. 

And so, as you celebrate a year where Halloween Ends and Everything Everywhere All at Once put you in the middle of the pop culture zeitgeist once more, let us count the roles we love the most.

Terror Train (1980), Alana Maxwell

Jamie Lee Curtis in Terror Train (1980)

Terror Train came very early in Curtis' theatrical career and is among her first horror films. She plays Alana, the instigator of Kenny Hampson's mental breakdown and the spark for his revenge agenda, which makes up the spine of this slasher film. The film's misogynist and "of the times" premise makes it forgettable at best, but for all its faults it certainly allows Curtis to take the spotlight as a sympathetic character who makes amends in the end.

Virus (1999), Kelly Foster

Jamie Lee Curtis in Virus (1999)

Not exactly a barn burner at the box office or with critics, Virus was like the poor man's Deep Rising (1998).  Even Curtis kicks this movie in the gut, as she's said it's one of her worst. But, we give her points for playing the competent ex-Navy officer, Kelly "Kit" Foster who gives it her all fighting against Russians and a spider-creature!

Prom Night (1980), Kim Hammond

JAMIE LEE CURTIS in Prom Night (1980).

Essentially a knock-off Halloween, just staged at a high school prom, Prom Night isn't the most original slasher film of the era. That's okay, because it knew how to use Curtis well as the popular girl-turned-prey, centering the action on her as she helps save her circle of friends who are being stalked by a murderer with a secret. Curtis helps the crazy reveal at the end pay off, which is a testament to her selling the "emotion" in the moment. 

Scream Queens (2015-2016), Cathy Munsch 

Jamie Lee Curtis as Dean Cathy Munsch in SCREAM QUEENS

Ryan Murphy shows are not exactly subtle, and that goes for his two-season celebration of all things horror and horror heroines/tropes. Curtis' turn as Dean, and then Dr. Cathy Munsch in the two seasons was exactly what she needed to be: arch, bitingly funny when needed and the brains in the room as the serial killers close in. At the very least, it's great watching her embrace her legacy in horror and play against it for all its worth.

Forever Young (1992), Claire Cooper

Jamie Lee Curtis and Mel Gibson in Forever Young (1992)

An emotional tear-jerker from the '90s, Curtis played the sympathetic shoulder, and then lips, to Captain Daniel McCormick (Mel Gibson). He's a cryo-frozen in 1939 and woken up in 1992, so it's a fish-out-water tale mushed with a romance that begs you to bring out the Kleenex. Curtis does a great job as the single-mom who helps Daniel acclimate to this time, and eventually helps him return to his soul mate. 

Freaky Friday (2003), Tess Coleman / Anna Coleman

Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday (2003)

This comedy classic let Curtis relish in the opportunity to play an angsty teen stuck inside her mother's middle-aged body. Whether she's wailing into a mirror screaming, "I'm old!" or going punk in her daughter's band, she makes the familiar, high-concept movie trope feel fresh and fun. 

The Fog (1980), Elizabeth Solley

Jamie Lee Curtis And Nick Castle in The Fog (1980)

Curtis reunited with John Carpenter for The Fog, which at the time of release didn't do well critically or at the box office. It has since been acknowledged as a minor horror classic in Carpenter's catalog. Curtis plays Elizabeth Solley, a resident of Antonio Bay trying to navigate the strange occurrence that follow a deep fog that settles over their town. She helps sell the fear and paranoia that settles over the community, as deaths start to mount and bodies come back to life. 

True Lies (1994), Helen Tasker 

True Lies

Curtis is luminous as bored housewife Helen Tasker, who blooms into a spy sidekick to her secret spy husband, Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Curtis has always been able to sell mousy well, but the way she does it in True Lies is the best as she literally sheds her soccer mom exterior to bring the smart, sexy and brave woman on the inside to the outside. She's steals the film as the burgeoning action hero that saves her husband.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), Deirdre Beaubeirdra

Jamie Lee Curtis as Diedre in Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

Curtis gets to play a little bit of literally every kind of role as Deirdre Beaubeirdre in Everything, Everywhere All at Once. Initially positioned as the heavy auditing the Wang for their multiple businesses and threatening their financial ruin, she then segues into a martial arts Big Bad. Then she gets to play the besotted and caring alt-verse partner to Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), complete with frankfurter fingers and piano-playing piggies. And then she convincingly lands a current-verse Beaubeirdre compassionately coming to Evelyn's aid. It's a whip-lash inducing movie, but Curtis helps dial in every emotion needed to make this one of her very best roles in this year's best film.

Halloween (1978-2022), Laurie Strode

Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween 2018

Having slipped into the skin of Laurie Strode for 45 years, Curtis has shaped her into a horror icon that extends far beyond her victim origins. Over the many films and iterations of Strode, Curtis has always given her a warrior's heart and unrelenting bravery in the face of true evil. She's also figured out how to make Laurie grow beyond her trauma and take the reins of her destiny, despite the rinse/repeat scenarios. She's always going to be synonymous with this character, but through her characterization, Laurie has been molded into a woman worth idolizing. 

Stream Halloween Ends on Peacock.