Lily James, who currently headlines The Pursuit of Love on Amazon Prime Video, has starred in 16 films so far, and here are all of her movies ranked worst to best. The versatile British actress has tackled multiple genres and has proved herself in everything from historical romances to action spectacles to musicals to becoming a live-action Disney princess.
A graduate of London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, James gained worldwide fame for playing Lady Rose MacClare in Downton Abbey. Her big Hollywood break came when Disney chose James to play the title role in Kenneth Branagh’s live-action adaptation of Cinderella. From there, James has had a fascinating career making feature films with A-list directors like Joe Wright and Danny Boyle but she also challenges herself with roles in smaller independent films and prestigious dramas streaming on Netflix. Yet even after James gained movie stardom, she didn’t abandon her TV roots. James starred in 2016’s War and Peace miniseries, 2021’s The Pursuit of Love, and she will next be seen portraying Pamela Anderson in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy.
Along with her 16 feature-length movies, James appeared in the short films Chemistry, The Tale of Thomas Burberry, and One Red Nose Day and a Wedding. She also voiced White Detroit in 2018’s Sorry to Bother You. Next, James will play Zoe in the upcoming British rom-com What’s Love Got To Do With It? James has also had a stellar career in theater, starring as the title characters in Romeo & Juliet and All About Eve.
Given her bankability and popularity, it’s a little surprising that Lily James hasn’t been snatched up to play a superhero by Marvel Studios or DC Films but perhaps that may still happen down the road. Regardless, in both starring and supporting roles, Lily James has built an impressive and eclectic body of films to her credit so let’s find out which Lily James movie is the best of all.
16. Wrath of the Titans (2012)
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, Wrath of the Titans is the sequel to 2010’s Clash of the Titans, which, in turn, remade the 1981 cult classic starring Harry Hamlin with special effects by Ray Harryhausen. In Wrath of the Titans, the demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) is called back to action when the Titans break free from their prison and rise to kill the Greek Gods. It’s Lily James’ first role in a big-budget Hollywood action movie but Lily James only briefly appears as Korinna, a female warrior from Argos, and it’s a tiny, forgettable part in a cacophonous and unmemorable sequel.
15. Burnt (2015)
Burnt, directed by John Wells, stars Bradley Cooper as temperamental Parisian chef Adam Jones, who has to start over after his drug-fueled antics curtail his culinary career. Burnt also stars Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Alicia Vikander, and Daniel Brühl, but Lily James’ role as Sara only amounts to a cameo, which is disappointing since Burnt immediately followed her Disney star turn in Cinderella. But perhaps it’s better James bears no blame for this little-seen, cliché-ridden food comedy.
14. Rare Beasts (2019)
Lily James’ second TV role was Poppy in Secret Diary of a Call Girl starring Billie Piper, so it’s no surprise that Piper recruited James for Rare Beasts, which Piper wrote, directed, and starred in. Rare Beasts is a bold “anti-romcom” about Mandy (Piper), a career-driven single mother navigating the choppy seas of modern dating. As Cressida, whose wedding Mandy attends, James charms in her scenes, although the film itself is a touch-and-go, with a few sparkly moments of biting insight into modern relationships.
13. Broken (2012)
Directed by Rufus Norris, Broken is a gritty coming-of-age drama about Emily Cunningham (Eloise Lawrence), an 11-year-old diabetic girl nicknamed “Skunk” who witnesses a violent attack by one of her neighbors. Broken utilizes a time-shifting narrative to connect three stories in a British housing complex. Broken also stars Cillian Murphy, Tim Roth, and Rory Kinnear, while Lily James only briefly appears as Skunk when she’s older. Broken neatly connects the stories of three families with comedy and tragedy, and it’s an early role for James that shows her promise.
12. Rebecca (2020)
Adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel, director Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca, which is available to stream on Netflix, inevitably pales in the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock’s version. James plays Mrs. de Winter, the second bride of the fabulously wealthy and mysterious Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). As the new Mrs. de Winter moves into Maxim’s estate, the specter of his dead wife, Rebecca, hovers over their marriage. James and Hammer struggle to generate romantic heat together, despite the lavish production design and the lush scenery of Monte Carlo. Unfortunately, Rebecca is sorely lacking in gothic horror and the film’s lack of a pulse couldn’t be saved by the star power of its leads and the performances of Rebecca‘s cast.
11. The Dig (2021)
The Dig, which is streaming on Netflix, stars Lily James in a supporting role as Peggy Piggott, the neglected wife of archaeologist Stuart Piggott (Ben Chaplin). Directed by Simon Stone, The Dig, which is based on a true story, is primarily about excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) discovering a Viking relic at Sutton Hoo, which was financed by Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). As Peggy, James shines in a subplot where she begins a romance with Edith’s dashing cousin Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn) but it’s a relatively minor role in The Dig, a restrained but satisfying historical drama.
10. Fast Girls (2012)
Fast Girls, directed by Regan Hall, is the first lead movie role for Lily James. She plays sprinter Lisa Temple, who competes against Shanaya Andrews (Lenora Crichlow) as part of the British 4×100 meter relay team as they attempt to win the World Championships. Fast Girls was timed to be released during the 2012 Olympic Games in London but the film was slightly hurt by the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to allow the Olympics to be represented officially. Nonetheless, the performances by James and Andrews as rivals who must work together to bring Britain a sprinting medal are strong in this feel-good sports movie thematically reminiscent of Rocky.
9. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is adapted from Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling novel and it’s a lead movie role for Lily James that turns her into an action heroine in director Burr Steers’ colorful spectacle. James stars as Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen’s heroine turned zombie fighter in a 19th-century London besieged by legions of the undead. Unfortunately, James and the other Bennet sisters, including Bella Heathcote as Jane and Ellie Bamber as Lydia, as well as Sam Riley’s Mr. Darcy, are swallowed up by the cartoony action and the performance of Matt Smith as Parson William Collins steals the show. But Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an over-the-top and entertaining romp that has its tongue firmly in cheek.
8. Darkest Hour (2017)
Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour dramatizes the ascent of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as Prime Minister, taking over for Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) as Britain declares war on Germany during World War II. Lily James plays Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s new secretary, who endures his overbearing temperament but admires the man’s eloquence. James’ role is relatively small but crucial and she holds her own against the scenery-chewing Oldman. The film is occasionally riveting as Churchill tries to hold England together in this tumultuous time, which culminates with the successful evacuation of British soldiers from Dunkirk in what was dubbed Operation Dynamo (which Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk later dramatized). However, in Darkest Hour‘s fictionalized version of events, it’s Elizabeth’s friendship and patience with Churchill that helps the Prime Minister hold firm and save thousands of England’s sons to bring them safely home from the war.
7. The Exception (2016)
Directed by David Leveaux, The Exception is an underrated World War II romantic drama about a plot to assassinate the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) and the Wehrmacht officer, Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney), sent to investigate. Lily James plays Mieke, one of Wilhelm’s maids, who intends to assassinate the visiting Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) as revenge for the SS murdering her father and husband. James is exceptional as the complex and driven Meike, who falls in love with Brandt, and The Exception’s twists and turns are held together by an excellent performance by Christopher Plummer as the deposed German emperor.
6. Yesterday (2019)
Yesterday, directed by Danny Boyle, is a warm and charming fantasy based on the oddball premise that no one in the world remembers The Beatles ever existed except for one struggling musician, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel). Jack then records The Beatles songs and takes credit for them, which turns him into the world’s biggest pop star, although his sham is eventually discovered. Lily James plays Ellie Appleton, Jack’s childhood friend and manager who has loved him her whole life but is heartbroken when he sells out for superstardom based on deceit. Ed Sheeran also self-deprecatingly plays himself. While the Beatles gimmick and the Fab Four’s timeless songs help carry Yesterday, the true heart of the movie is Jack slowly coming to realize that Ellie is more important to him than his dreams of being a rock star. James and Patel really click together and the closing montage set to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is incredibly sweet and heartwarming.
5. Little Woods (2018)
Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s directorial debut Little Woods, which is available to stream on Hulu, is a stunning and bleak neo-Western about two desperate sisters in North Dakota struggling after the death of their mother. Tessa Thompson plays Ollie Hale, who has eight days left on her probation from illegal border crossings into Canada while Lily James plays her pregnant sister Deb. In dire need of money, Ollie decides to sell a bag of 500 pills she hid in the woods prior to her arrest in order to prevent foreclosure on their house. In the meantime, Deb seeks an abortion, which she can only have done through an illegal provider. DaCosta’s story of two sisters living on the edge in a country that has forgotten them keeps ramping up the tension, while Thompson and James deliver stellar, heartbreaking performances that show both actresses at the top of their games.
4. Baby Driver (2017)
In director Edgar Wright’s propulsively entertaining Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, an Atlanta-based getaway driver on-call to a criminal kingpin named Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby has a hearing condition called tinnitus after he survived a car crash that left him orphaned, and he is obsessed with music and remixes of recorded conversations. At his favorite diner, Baby meets a waitress named Debora, played by Lily James. They begin dating when Baby tries to quit his life of crime but Doc comes calling with one more heist and threatens to hurt Debora if Baby refuses. Baby Driver is loaded with an amazing cavalcade of criminals played by Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx. But the sweet, offbeat love story between Baby and Debora is the heart of the movie and it’s easy to root for the two young lovebirds trying to get free from his criminal life. Wright’s movie never ceases to be an inventive rollercoaster with a killer soundtrack.
3. Cinderella (2015)
Director Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella cemented Lily James as a movie star and, with a $542-million worldwide gross, Cinderella is the highest-grossing movie to date starring James. Bringing Disney’s 1950 classic to live-action, Branagh surrounds James’s Ella with an incredible cast including Cate Blanchett as the Wicked Stepmother, Richard Madden as the Prince, Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother, Sophie McShera and Holliday Granger as the Wicked Stepsisters, and Hayley Atwell as Ella’s mother. The production design and costumes are lavish and James is a gorgeous and charming Cinderella. Meanwhile, between James, McShera, Madden, and Nonso Anozie, Cinderella turns out to be a cinematic crossover between Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones. Cinderella is a magical fairytale come true and it’s one of the best Disney live-action adaptations.
2. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
In Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, James took on the unenviable task of portraying the younger version of Meryl Streep’s character Donna Sheridan but she, and the musical comedy itself, prove equal to their beloved predecessors. Director Ol Parker’s prequel is set in 1979 and charts how Donna, a graduate of Oxford New College, ran away to Greece and met the three men who would be the fathers to her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). The original Mamma Mia cast, including Meryl Streep herself in a cameo, also appear while James enthusiastically leads their younger versions in the musical numbers. Of course, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is driven by the irresistible music of ABBA but the story of Donna settling in her beloved Greece is wildly entertaining and endearing. As the young Donna, James cheerfully bounces from song to song and from romance to romance in one of her all-time best Hollywood leading roles.
1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
Netflix’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a gem and stars Lily James in her finest lead performance. Set in post-World War II England, James plays Juliet Ashton, a writer who visits the island of Guernsey and falls in love, not just with the location but with the local club of book-lovers who make up the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. As Juliet learns about the heartbreaking secrets of the survivors of the Nazi occupation, she begins to realize Guernsey is where she truly belongs, especially when she and Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) fall for each other. James also reunites with her Downton Abbey co-stars Jessica Brown-Findlay, Penelope Wilton, and Matthew Goode, while Huisnman’s presence makes the film another Downton Abbey/Game of Thrones crossover. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is filled with endearing characters and a palpable love of the written word but Lily James shines brightest in the best starring role of her movie career.
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