From Beetlejuice to Black Swan: Winona Ryder’s career-defining roles

Ahead of her expected return for Beetlejuice 2, we look back at Ryder's best-known roles, from angst-ridden teens to a washed-up ballerina

Beetlejuice is returning for a much anticipated sequel, and it’s bringing Winona Ryder with it. In 1988 a relatively unknown Ryder launched her career from behind a black net veil as goth teen Lydia Deetz in Tim Burton’s surreal supernatural comedy. The young Ryder played the sultry kook so convincingly that she got two decades of work out it, playing a steady stream of witty, waifish young heroines in films such as Heathers, Reality Bites and Girl, Interrupted.


Ryder’s brand of teen angst offers a chain-smoking foil to the preppies of Clueless and Saved by the Bell. While her films have not always been huge commercial hits, many have enjoyed slow-burning success as cult classics – even with viewers who were but a mere twinkle in their parents’ eyes when the films were made.

Two weeks ago director Tim Burton confirmed in an interview with MTV that Ryder will be back for Beetlejuice 2, so to celebrate her return to the film where it all began, we look back at her career-defining roles.

1. Lydia Deetz, Beetlejuice (1988)

Ryder’s first notable role was as fearless teenager Lydia in Burton’s offbeat comedy horror. Ryder holds her own alongside Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, who play ghosts attempting to scare Lydia and her insufferable parents out of their new home. While the film’s special effects appear a tad dated (much of it seems to have been filmed on a crazy golf course) its whacky charm has not waned and Beetlejuice 2 is in the pipeline – with Michael Keaton lined up to reprise the role of deranged “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse.

2. Veronica Sawyer, Heathers (1988)

This film’s flippant take on teen murder would raise some eyebrows if it were made today. The Heathers are three girls, all called Heather, who are the school’s ruling clique in a film satirising the politics of high school. Ryder plays Veronica Sawyer – a part-time Heather who becomes an accomplice to her murderer boyfriend, played by Christian Slater. The film flopped at the box office but developed a cult following (as well as doing its bit for the hair scrunchy industry). Heathers was adapted into a stage musical in 2010 and Ryder has often hinted at a possible sequel, although so far nothing has materialised.

3. Kim Boggs, Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Ryder plays then boyfriend Johnny Depp’s love interest in Tim Burton’s heavily stylised modern day fairytale. And for once Ryder is not the social outcast – that role is reserved for poor Edward. As the man-made product of an inventor, Edward must be taught how to be human, although he clearly needs no lessons in how to love Ryder’s character Kim.

4. Mina Harker, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Ryder proposed the script for this Dracula revamp to director Francis Ford Coppola. She plays Mina Murray, the object of Dracula’s obsession. The corsets and erotica pose a stark contrast to Ryder’s previous roles, allowing her to embrace over-dramatisation in this breathy, pouty, gothic spectacle.

5. May Welland, The Age of Innocence (1993)

Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel landed Ryder a Golden Globe for best supporting actress. But in spite of this accolade – and an all star cast boasting Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis – the film was not a commercial success. Ryder puts in a poised performance as May Welland – an upper class New Yorker who must scheme to win back her husband (Day-Lewis) after he falls for the brazen charms of Countess Ellen (Pfeiffer).

6. Lelaina Pierce, Reality Bites (1994)

Reality Bites marks another of the unconventional coming of age tales that defined Ryder’s early years, set among a group of graduates trying to translate their dreams and relationships into the adult world. Ryder plays Lelaina – a college valedictorian in a state of limbo, unable to hold down a job selling hot dogs but desperate to become a documentary maker. A must-see for anyone stuck between the warm womb of education and the harsh realities of the grown-up world.

7. Josephine March, Little Women (1994)

Ryder received a best actress Oscar nomination for her role as passionate, aspiring author Jo March in a 1990s adaptation of Louise May Alcott’s Little Women. The role had plenty of scope for a young Ryder, with Jo throwing an almighty temper tantrum when her novel’s manuscript is burnt, before switching to a tender parenting role when her sister falls ill.

8. Nola, Celebrity (1998)

This black and white Woody Allen film sees Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh) suffer a mid-life crisis that prompts him to leave his wife and pursue a series of inappropriate relationships with younger women – one of whom is Ryder’s character, actress Nola. The film was critically panned for its overstuffing of famous faces left underdeveloped (Melanie Griffith, Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlize Theron are among the pop ups), but Ryder nonetheless captures the untameable, nonchalant spirit of Nola in the small space she is given.

9. Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Set in a psychiatric institute in the 1960s, Girl, Interrupted addresses the dark corners of mental illness. Ryder’s character, Susanna Kaysen, is diagnosed with a “borderline personality disorder” after an aspirin overdose. Angelina Jolie stars as a manipulative sociopath who forms a close relationship with Susanna – a portrayal that won Jolie an Oscar – in a film focusing on the women’s relationships with one another within the confines of the institution.

10. Beth Macintyre, Black Swan (2010)


After a career spent embodying young, angst-ridden women, Ryder graduates to a grown-up in this film. And while the lead performance belongs to Natalie Portman, Ryder makes an impression as an ageing, mascara-smeared ballerina forced into retirement and hitting the bottle to mask the pain.