Every Zendaya Performance, Ranked

She's lived a dozen lives when it comes to her career, from her Disney days to music video star to the MCU. But which Zendaya era reigns supreme?

(Image credit: Future)

She's a fashion tour de force, an Emmy winner, a Disney Channel darling turned capital-M Movie Star—and Zendaya just getting started. In honor of The Challengers—the first feature film where the actress is billed in the leading role—Marie Claire is dedicating a week of content to all things Zendaya.

Zendaya is a woman of many talents. Since getting her start on the Disney Channel at the tender age of 14, the now-27-year-old multi-hyphenate has built a career that branches well beyond TV and into film, dance, fashion, activism, and more.

She’s also got pipes: Zendaya sang one part of the greatest duet of all time (consider this our petition to get “Rewrite the Stars” a belated Grammy), but her music career stretches far beyond The Greatest Showman. As Disney Channel stars are wont to do, she signed with Hollywood Records as a teenager and released her eponymous first album in 2013; its lead single, “Replay,” made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remains a certified bop. A planned second album never materialized, but Zendaya has since performed a pair of songs on the Euphoria season 2 soundtrack—“I’m Tired,” with Labrinth, and “Elliot’s Song,” with Dominic Fike—both of which she co-wrote and both of which were nominated for Emmy awards in 2022.

In between that (and being a red carpet staple) she's cycled through numerous on-camera film and TV eras, seamlessly transitioning from tween content to Emmy-winning appearances, dominating box offices with superhero and sci-fi franchises, and now, finally, topping the call sheet with Luca Guadagnino's Challengers.

With that extensive a resumé, it’s no easy feat to rank Zendaya’s best roles—but we’ve given it our best shot here, with a lineup of 15 of her best onscreen appearances.

(Disclaimer: We’ve stuck with the roles where you can actually see Z, meaning that, tragically, you won’t find her 2013 star turn in the Air Bud sequel Super Buddies here, nor her take on Lola Bunny in 2021’s Space Jam: A New Legacy. But don’t worry—we’ll never forget that Zendaya is Meechee.)

15. ‘Lip Sync Battle’

Zendaya showed off her many talents in a 2017 episode of Lip Sync Battle, in which she went head-to-head with her Spider-Man costar (and real-life boyfriend) Tom Holland. In any other situation, her performances of Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” and Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic”—in head-to-toe Bruno Mars garb—would’ve been major standouts from the show. Unfortunately, she never stood a chance against Tom’s instantly viral mashup, which started with “Singin’ in the Rain” to show off his tap-dancing talents and morphed into a truly incredible, leather-clad drag performance of Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” Sorry, Z.

14. “Bad Blood”

Way before Zendaya was tapped to star in some high-profile music videos, and even before she’d made it big on the Disney Channel, she scored one of the best possible gigs for a tween: a featured performer in the hilariously censored Kidz Bop cover of Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold” in 2009. Only a few years later, she’d graduated to a cameo in Taylor Swift’s 2014 “Bad Blood” video, appearing as the knife-wielding character Cut Throat amid the rest of T.Swift’s infamous girl squad. She didn’t get a ton of screen time in the video, but it was enough to cement her spot in 2010s pop culture history.

13. ‘Malcolm & Marie’

This Netflix original movie, written and directed by Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson, came out in early 2021 after being among the first feature films to be completely written and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in 2020. Shot in black-and-white and taking place over the course of one night, it featured John David Washington and Zendaya in the titular roles, a couple whose relationship is on the rocks. Reviews for the movie were mixed, but critics were in nearly unanimous agreement that Zendaya’s chemistry with Washington, and her overall performance, were spectacular.


12. ‘K.C. Undercover’

After getting her start alongside Bella Thorne in the Disney series Shake It Up, Zendaya stuck with the network for another series, K.C. Undercover. It was very much a Disney-fied kids’ show—read: the exact opposite of Euphoria—and not necessarily something even the biggest Zendaya fans need to revisit past their adolescent years, but the series still deserves a spot on this list as Z’s first producing credit. At just 16, she was already using her star power for good, convincing Disney execs to change the name of the show, cast other BIPOC actors, and ensure teen spy K.C. would have a completely different personality than her Shake It Up character.


11. “All Night”

Not long after showing up in the “Bad Blood” music video, Zendaya was tapped to appear in an even more iconic chapter in music history, with a role in Beyoncé’s “All Night” video, as part of the Lemonade visual album. The song, which falls in the “Redemption” category for Bey's album, is about rebuilding a relationship after infidelity. Zendaya was part of a group of several other then-rising stars—including Amandla Stenberg and Chloe and Halle Bailey—to appear in scenes that were spliced between home footage of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s wedding day and time spent with their families and each other.

10. “Versace on the Floor”

Rounding out Zendaya’s major music video appearances is her starring role in Bruno Mars’ “Versace on the Floor.” In the clip, she played the singer’s neighbor, who’s treated to a serenade through their shared wall that got her so hot and bothered that she was eventually inspired to step out of her dress and go knock on his door. You know, the usual reaction to hearing your neighbors’ loud music through the walls.

9. ’Spider-Man: Homecoming’

As the newest onscreen love interest to the web-slinging wonder, following Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, Zendaya charted her own path as Michelle Jones-Watson to Tom Holland’s Spidey. Her MJ was socially awkward and extremely smart, with a hilariously dry sense of humor, and Zendaya was credited with helping to flesh out the character from the start, including opting not to wear makeup in her initial screen tests and carrying around a mug of tea—all of which added up to her being labeled a certified scene-stealer in the first installment of the latest Spider-Man series, despite her minimal role.


8. ’Dune: Part One’

OK, so Zendaya was barely in the first Dune movie, but that didn't stop her from making a major impact on Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides (and audiences everywhere). For most of the film, her character, Fremen warrior Chani, appeared only in Paul’s visions, but even just those silently intense stares from her freaky Spice-blue eyes rank this role among her best performances—even edging out her much funnier and more relatable role in the first Spider-Man—and was haunting enough to keep her front of mind until the very end of the film, when Paul finally met the real Chani.


7. ‘The Greatest Showman’

Yes, you read that right—Zendaya’s role in this 2017 movie-musical beats out her mostly silent appearances in Dune: Part One by a landslide, and yes, I’m prepared to die on that hill. Her Greatest Showman role is also small but mighty: She appeared as Anne Wheeler, an acrobat and trapeze artist who falls in love with Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle amid the creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus in the mid-19th century, a time when interracial relationships were very much taboo. Their boundary-breaking romance was cemented with what just might be the best soundtrack song—or song, period—of all time: “Rewrite the Stars.” In any other world, having a hand in that absolute masterpiece would be enough for the No. 1 spot on this list, if only it weren’t for the nonstop hit factory that is Zendaya’s illustrious resumé.


6. ’Spider-Man: Far From Home’

In the second of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movies, Zendaya returned as MJ, this time with more lines and a plotline as both Peter Parker’s blossoming love interest and, apparently, the only person with enough sense to unmask his arachnid alter ego during a school trip to Europe. Once again, her smarts and dry wit all but stole the show from Spidey’s world-saving actions, as Peter spent every spare minute when not saving the world working on a plan to ask MJ out, including catering to her dark sense of humor by buying her a necklace in the shape of a black dahlia—her favorite flower, of course, “because of the murder.”


5. ‘Dancing With the Stars’

As if Zendaya’s teen years weren’t already impressive enough, she also appeared on the 16th season of Dancing With the Stars at the age of 16, which at the time made her the youngest star to compete on the show. She was paired with professional dancer Valentin Chmerkovskiy, and she was very good—because of course she was. Decade-late spoiler warning: Zendaya and Val came in second place, beating out a roster of competitors that included two Olympians, two pro athletes, and one Lisa Vanderpump, among others.

4. ‘Challengers’

The tennis-themed dramedy Challengers hasn’t even had its full global release yet, but it’s already generating Oscar buzz for stars Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor. That’s not exactly a surprise: What else would you expect for the latest movie from Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino, in which the trio appear in a tangly, throuple-esque relationship, and which includes Zendaya saying the already-internet-famous line, “I’m taking such good care of my little white boys”? It’s a recipe for cinematic gold.

3. ‘Dune: Part Two’

Zendaya was the heart and soul of Dune: Part Two. As the love interest to Timothée Chalamet’s Paul, she was the only person who could possibly rein in his (and his mother’s) belief in his own status as a messiah-like prophet. After being largely relegated to appearances in Paul’s visions in the first Dune film, Zendaya-as-Chani took on a much larger role in Dune: Part Two, often acting as the lone, much-needed voice of reason. And those facial expressions during the climatic finale? Heartbreaking, striking, and scene-stealing.


2. ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’

With Peter and MJ’s relationship status now settled after the tumultuous events of Far From Home, Zendaya added a new dimension to her character in the third Spider-Man installment: that of a full-fledged partner in Peter’s Spidey schemes. That gave her logic and intellect a chance to shine, of course, but it also allowed her to show a much softer, more optimistic side than we’d previously seen from MJ—just in time to rip out our hearts at the movie’s tragic ending.


1. ‘Euphoria’

As teenage drug addict Rue, Zendaya is not only the show’s narrator, but also the emotional center of Euphoria. For her incredibly nuanced and heart-wrenching portrayal of Rue, she earned the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series in 2020, when she was just 24, making her the youngest woman ever to win the the award. And her history-making feats don’t stop there: When she was nominated for the same award two years later for the show’s second season (which she also executive produced), she became the youngest-ever two-time nominee—while also cementing her spot that same year, with Euphoria’s outstanding drama series nod, as the youngest woman ever nominated at the Emmys for a producing role.


Zendaya next to "Zendaya Week: Read More"

(Image credit: Future)
Andrea Park

Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.