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Scarlett Johansson has been playing leading roles since before she was a teenager. Beginning with MANNY & LO in 1996 and continuing into Robert Redford’s THE HORSE WHISPERER, Johansson's career got off to a rapid and amazing start.
Roles in a few major indie movies of the early 2000s helped Johansson define herself as one of the most important talents of the decade. From there she was positioned to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Widow, a role which carried her through several of Marvel's most important releases. While the character's story came to an end in AVENGERS: ENDGAME, Johansson is going back to the role one last time for this year's solo adventure, BLACK WIDOW. While we wait for that flashback movie to arrive on November 6, we wanted to look back at Johansson's best roles.
[Image Credit: United Artists]
Scarlett Johansson's first big role may have been in the indie MANNY & LO — which is great, and very much worth tracking down — but you probably first saw her in this wry and sarcastic adaptation of comic book stories by Daniel Clowes. Johansson plays Rebecca, who with her best friend Enid (Thora Birch) navigates the difficult waters of friendship during the summer after high school. Rebecca realizes that she and Enid are developing in different directions, and Johansson's performance captures Rebecca's personal growth — and a mixture of sadness and annoyance with her friend's limitations — in every scene.
[Image Credit: Focus Features]
Just a few months after GHOST WORLD came to theatres, Johansson turned up in a supporting role in this black and white sort-of-noir by Joel and Ethan Coen. Johansson plays Birdy, a teen musician who becomes a fixation for Ed (Billy Bob Thornton) after everything else in his life falls apart. In true Coen Brothers fashion, Ed's interest in Birdy only makes things worse for the poor guy — and Johansson plays the role with a perfect blend of innocence and "cusp of adulthood" awareness.
This indie megahit from Sophia Coppola, who proved her talent beyond any doubt with this second outing as director, features Johansson as Charlotte, who meanders listlessly through a Tokyo hotel while her photographer husband is off on assignment. She meets Bob (Bill Murray), a fading American actor staying in the same hotel while in town to film a whiskey commercial. Charlotte and Bob are both lonely and dealing with doubts about their marriages. They forge a temporary but important bond, which culminates in a final ambiguous encounter that — thanks to the naturalistic and utterly believable performances by Johansson and Murray — still lingers in our minds.
[Image Credit: Dreamworks Pictures]
Not long after becoming a star thanks to LOST IN TRANSLATION, Scarlett Johansson began a three-movie run with Woody Allen. Beginning with MATCH POINT, the director left behind his well-trodden New York City locations for London. In this thriller, Johansson plays a struggling American actress who begins an affair with a retired tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) despite the fact of his recent marriage. There are secrets, multiple murders, and even maybe a ghost or two in this midpoint between "Crime and Punishment" and a Coen Brothers movie.
[Image Credit: Marvel Studios]
Johansson entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Widow in IRON MAN 2, and two years later THE AVENGERS turned her into one of the most important characters in Marvel's massive story cycle. Without the extraordinary powers of most of the other Marvel heroes, Black Widow begins at a disadvantage — and because the movies prioritize spectacle, Johansson often has to get a lot across with just a single line, a glance, or a movement. She excels in doing so.
[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Plenty of actors do voice acting for animation, and Johansson is no different; she has voiced characters in movies like THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE and THE JUNGLE BOOK. But HER represents something… different. In this movie by Spike Jonze, Johansson voices Samantha, a Siri-like operating system who captures the heart of a writer played by Joaquin Phoenix. You might think you know how this is going to end but we're willing to bet you're wrong, because HER is innovative and surprising. We never see Johansson on screen, but she's the ideal voice for Samantha, whether she's playing a friendly AI or a far more evolved being. (Ironically, HER director Spike Jonze is said to have inspired the husband of Johansson's character in LOST IN TRANSLATION.)
[Image Credit: A24]
Which of Johansson's characters is more inhuman: The AI in HER, or the hungry alien in UNDER THE SKIN? Johansson did a few sci-fi movies around the same time (LUCY and the remake of GHOST IN THE SHELL are also in the mix) but none is as striking as this tale of an alien who consumes humans — at least until she becomes fascinated with them. This is a brooding movie that has more in common with sci-fi like the David Bowie film THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH than, well, anything else ever made. Johansson strides through the movie fearlessly, and is crucial to making us believe she's truly not of this Earth.
[Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures]
Johansson plays a supporting role in Taika Waititi's story of a German boy whose faith in Adolf Hitler is shaken when he discovers that his mother is sheltering a young Jewish girl during World War II. As Rosie, Johansson is the movie's moral center. She counter's Jojo's young and idealistic dedication to the Nazi regime, and brings light into his life during dark times. Johansson doesn't often get to project the warmth she does here, and she's so good at it that you really feel her absence when she's not on screen.
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