Three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer has established a rich and varied acting career as she enters her fifth decade on the big screen with her recent role in Sony Pictures Classics’ “French Exit” (which drops into additional theaters on April 2). Since her debut in the cable TV classic “The Hollywood Knights” (1980), she's demonstrated an astonishing range in everything from comic book adventures to murder mysteries to musicals—all without missing a beat.
In Martin Scorsese’s opulent, Oscar-winning adaptation of the classic Edith Wharton novel, Pfeiffer shines as Ellen Olenska, a scandalously estranged married woman whose presence causes a stir in New York’s upper classes when she catches the eye of an already-engaged Daniel Day-Lewis. Pfeiffer expertly conveys longing and frustration just under the surface with impeccable ease.
Tim Burton’s Gothic follow-up to his breakthrough superhero film starring Michael Keaton gave Pfeiffer one of her most iconic roles. She plays Selina Kyle, whose murderous boss ignites her new alter ego, the whip-wielding, leather-clad Catwoman. “Meow…”
Pfeiffer earned her first Academy Award nomination (Supporting Actress) during one of the busiest periods of her career in the late ‘80s, here playing the honorable Madame de Tourvel, whose potential corruption becomes part of a twisted wager between Glenn Close’s Marquise de Merteuil and John Malkovich’s Vicomte de Valmont. This sumptuous mixture of acidic comedy and tragedy, adapted from the classic French novel by Choderlos de Laclos, was a popular Christmas release in theaters and went on to win three Oscars out of its seven nominations.
In this very different kind of “Dangerous” project for Pfeiffer, she took on the role of real-life Marine turned inner-city teacher Louanne Johnson. The film was a major win for Pfeiffer’s own production company, Via Rosa Productions, and helped put her on the map as a producer, while also spawning one of the biggest songs of the decade, Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” (whose music video was directed by a young Antoine Fuqua).
As the magnetic struggling singer Susie Diamond, Pfieffer captivated audiences and real-life siblings Jeff and Beau Bridges in this story of a lounge duo whose new addition strains the bonds of brotherhood. Pfeiffer’s musical showstopper on top of a piano became an iconic movie moment no viewer has ever forgotten, and the role would earn her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
This gender-switching sequel to the explosively popular throwback musical features Pfeiffer as Stephanie, the no-nonsense Pink Lady harboring a deep passion for motorcycles. Though poorly received at the time, the film has since gone on to build a big cult following thanks to home video and frequent TV airings. And Pfeiffer's fiery “Cool Rider” number is simply one for the ages. The film also inspired Pfeiffer to make a radical about-face one year later opposite Al Pacino in “Scarface” (1983).
Pfeiffer’s third Oscar nomination came with this evocative road trip film, directed by Jonathan Kaplan. Pfeiffer plays Dallas hairdresser Lurene Hallett, who's so affected by the assassination of JFK that she embarks by bus to his funeral in Washington, D.C., only to have her outlook affected by an encounter with single dad Dennis Haysbert and his daughter.
Pfeiffer’s impeccable comedic chops are nowhere better in evidence than in Jonathan Demme’s quirky cult classic about a recently widowed Mob wife who has to reinvent herself and start a new life—only to find out the family doesn’t want to let go. Hip, wild, and hilarious, it’s a gem that still catches many first-time viewers off guard.
In this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s oft-filmed, game-changing whodunit, Pfeiffer shines as Caroline Hubbard, the elegant American at the heart of a seemingly impossible locked-room mystery aboard the snowbound train of the same title. Her searing performance during the climax is a high point of her career and very different from the earlier rendition by Lauren Bacall.