Elizabeth Olsen may have risen to international stardom thanks to her portrayal of Wanda Maximoff in the MCU, but she made a name for herself in the industry well before. Being the younger sister of the famed Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Elizabeth has been surrounded by cameras since the early age of four, and the passion never left her. In the pursuit of an acting career, she attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which she successfully graduated from in 2013. Not too long after, she had already bagged several nominations for her harrowing performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Indeed, Olsen cemented a reputation in the world of independent cinema before getting cast in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since then, she has successfully flitted back and forth between grand MCU productions and smaller, quieter pieces. Olsen is definitely an actor whose work deserves to be revisited and appreciated. Here are ten of her best performances.
Updated December 11, 2022: If you love Elizabeth Olsen, you’ll be happy to know we’ve updated this article with new entries.
10/10 I Saw the Light
The MCU isn’t the only time Olsen and Tom Hiddleston have joined forces to create something special. In the 2015 biographical drama I Saw the Light, they starred alongside each other to portray the tragic and musical life of famous country singer Hank Williams and his rocky marriage to Audrey Williams. Although the movie itself received a handful of criticism for the singing, the performances deserve acknowledgment. Many praised Hiddleston for his acting, but it’s Olsen’s beautifully heart-wrenching performance as Audrey that steals the show. Not only did she perfect her southern accent for this role, but she also showed extraordinary range in depicting the complexity that comes with feeling frustrated and helpless when dealing with an alcohol abuser who happens to be someone you love.
Sometimes the best films are those with the smallest budgets. Netflix financed and produced Kodachrome in such a way, and it was met with lots of critical praise. Led by the talented cast of Jason Sudeikis, Ed Harris, and, of course, Olsen, the film follows an ailing photographer, his son, and his nurse as they travel to develop Kodachrome film at the last remaining store that handles it before it closes. Of course, the plot was criticized for being formulaic, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of this movie. It doesn’t dilute the chemistry between the three actors, either. Kodachrome is a hidden gem on Netflix and a must-watch for anyone looking for a good movie.
8/10 Liberal Arts
As early as 2012, Olsen was already showing her acting ability in the comedy-drama Liberal Arts, which received mostly positive reviews from the audience and the critics. Olsen plays the character of 19-year-old college sophomore Zibby who falls for 35-year-old Jesse (director Josh Radnor). Even though Olsen had already been known as an up-and-coming actress, her ray of sunshine persona in this movie sealed the deal. The Independent Critic wrote how Olsen took what could have easily been a stock character and turned her into a vibrant, warm, funny, and intelligent human being. Her performance ultimately earned her a nomination for the 2013 EE Bafta Rising Star Award.
7/10 Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Readers of this list will see a common thread in which Olsen plays emotionally damaged characters suffering from loss and grief. Although Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness may not have been a favorite for Marvel fans, Olsen’s performance was a stand-out. Having previously played a grieving Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision, Olsen returned as her popular character to up the ante in Wanda’s journey. Here we see Wanda go from hero to villain as she relentlessly hunts a teenage girl who can jump between dimensions to steal her powers and reunite with her children. While her character direction was questionable, fans could not get enough of Olsen’s performance as Wanda is still very much haunted by the loss of her loved ones. Fans now wait eagerly to see what the next chapter will be for the Scarlet Witch.
6/10 Kill Your Darlings
This movie sees Olsen surrounded by incredible talent. Having previously acted opposite Tom Felton, this time around, Olsen was working with Harry Potter himself. Kill Your Darlings revolves around the famous Beat Generation and tells the story of the murder of David Kammerer. Olsen has a small part in this film as Edie Parker, but her talent is still comparable, even when surrounded by stars like Daniel Radcliffe, David DeHaan, and Michael C. Hall. Even if there isn’t a lot of Olsen in this film, it’s still highly recommended because the story is just so great and shocking. Having Olsen is just a bonus.
5/10 Wind River
Olsen once again collaborated with one of her MCU co-stars Jeremy Renner in the murder mystery Wind River. The plot focuses on the neglected social problem of the recurring disappearances and sexual abuse of Indigenous women. Cory Lambert (Renner) and Natalie Hanson (Olsen) come together as a Wildlife Service worker and an FBI agent, respectively, to solve a murder on the reservation. The two stars have undoubtedly inexplicable chemistry on screen. As the movie’s director Sheridan stated, Olsen had a really difficult role to play, someone who’s simultaneously an innocent rookie agent and someone with surviving confidence (via Bustle) — and she did an excellent job.
4/10 Ingrid Goes West
With a high score of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival of 2017, where it won the Waldo Salt Screening Award, the dark comedy-drama Ingrid Goes West was a huge success. It follows the story of a mentally unstable woman Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), who becomes obsessed with Instagram influencer Taylor Sloane (Olsen) and goes over the board to befriend her. Olsen pulled double duty for this and Wind River. She secretly stalked some social media celebrities to fully grasp and embody the role of an influencer since she had never been good at social media. It’s difficult to believe she had little to no experience with this phenomenon when her character is so naturally convincing.
3/10 Sorry For Your Loss
Olsen has broad experience in depicting a character dealing with an unexpected loss and depicting what grief can cause to the human mind in the hit Facebook Watch series Sorry For Your Loss. In this drama series with approval ratings of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, Olsen plays a widowed character Leigh Shaw, who struggles to reorganize her life after losing her husband. Olsen gave quality acting until the show was canceled after its second season. Her outstanding portrayal of grief earned her a nomination at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Best Actress in a Drama Series.
2/10 Martha Marcy May Marlene
This dramatic thriller revolves around Marlene Lewis (Olsen). After escaping a cult, Marlene develops a strong sense of paranoia and startling hallucinations as she struggles with everyday life. Martha Marcy May Marlene‘s plot was an exceptional idea as it explores the haunting effects of cults, but as critics’ consensus stated, Olsen is the genuine discovery. She brought a wide range of emotions to the movie, and it was her first major role too. Olsen instinctively knew how to connect the fragments of her character’s emotional state. Olsen is unquestionably immaculate in everything she does, but this thriller was the big starting point for everything to come in her remarkable career. The brilliant portrayal of PTSD secured her numerous awards, such as Most Promising Performer at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards.
The MCU started 2021 strongly with the release of WandaVision as its first miniseries on Disney+. This project can only be described as an utter masterpiece with a unique take on dealing with such a strong emotion as grief. We had already known how exquisite the chemistry between Olsen and Paul Bettany was from the previous MCU movies they appeared in as a duo. Not only has the idea of interconnecting the notion of sitcoms astonished the critics and the audience, but Olsen has also made sure that if you didn’t acknowledge her acting talent before, you do now. While watching, you can feel every ounce of Wanda’s pain she experiences after losing Vision each time we get a glance at her on screen. Olsen’s star performance has deservedly the actor her first Emmy nomination.