Nicole Kidman has had an admirably diverse career so far—she’s won an Oscar and tons of acclaim across multiple film genres. While her filmography is filled with intense dramas that aren’t quite horror (recommended: Stoker), she has ventured wholeheartedly into the realms of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy on occasion. Let’s count ‘em down!
Kidman is best known for her dramatic performances, but once in awhile, she busts out some humor. Sometimes it works (Practical Magic, which we’ll get to later on this list, has its moments), but sometimes—as in the case of this stridently campy remake—it’s not so hot. Frank Oz’s update of The Stepford Wives casts Kidman as a successful TV network exec who suffers a nervous breakdown after a disgruntled reality show participant goes wild with a gun. She and her family move to the ‘burbs, but since they choose Stepford of all places, she soon realizes there’s something very off about all the women who live there. Though Kidman gets to play both a burned-out overachiever and a bimbo faux-robot housewife, even she can’t save this movie—which tries very hard but fails as both a comedy and as social commentary.
George Miller (of the Mad Max series) took one of his family-friendly detours with this Oscar-winning animated tale of a scrappy young penguin named Mumble (Elijah Wood) who can’t sing—a necessary penguin mating trait, you see—but man, can he dance. The movie opens with Kidman, who plays Mumble’s gentle mother, singing Prince’s “Kiss” in a romantic duet with Hugh Jackman, who sings “Heartbreak Hotel,” then they sing the two songs together, and then there’s an egg! Between Miller, Kidman, and Jackman, it’s a cute Australian all-star moment before Happy Feet’s main plot begins.
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers narrative gets a not-terribly-interesting update in this 2007 sci-fi tale. Kidman plays Dr. Carol Bennell, a chic Washington, DC psychiatrist who tends to a busy client schedule when she’s not hanging out with her young son or attending dinner parties with her sorta boyfriend (Daniel Craig). We already know going in that something alien is going to start turning humans into soulless beings hellbent on assimilating everyone, so The Invasion doesn’t need to spend the first half of the movie building up to Carol’s eventual realization of that fact. But it does.
There’s a bit of an X-Files-meets-modern-medicine twist involving how the body-snatching is accomplished; it involves a strange new flu that’s really genetic reprogramming via alien DNA. But the movie doesn’t innovate much beyond that, down to the last-act “gotta stay awake!” marathon that the holdout characters in Body Snatchers movies must always engage in. But an intense Kidman—who is indeed believable as a classy doctor/single mom/spontaneous action hero—is occasionally able to rise above a would-be thrilling storyline rendered meh by its familiarity.
One of Kidman’s first big roles was starring in this Phillip Noyce thriller opposite Sam Neill (who plays her husband) and Billy Zane (who plays the psycho who worms his way into their isolated yachting getaway). Her performance as a woman pushed to do some uncomfortable things to survive obviously caught Hollywood’s attention, and a showbiz breakthrough with Tom Cruise and Days of Thunder soon followed. While she’s since proven herself to be a master of all different accents, Dead Calm is still one of the best places to hear Kidman in her full-on natural Aussie mode.
Not long after The Stepford Wives, Kidman fared a bit better with another overtly nostalgic project. Bewitched, directed and co-written by Nora Ephron, aims to be sort of a meta remix of the classic sitcom, with Kidman playing a real witch named Isabel who moves to Los Angeles in search of a “normal” life, only to be hired for a Bewitched reboot after Will Ferrell’s vain actor character, who’s set to play Darrin, spots her perfectly adorable nose twitch. A killer cast (Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Kristen Chenoweth, Steve Carell) helps elevate this lightweight romance, as does a script that draws parallels between pampered celebrities and powerful witches—two very different cultures that are both obsessed with the idea of instant gratification.
But while Kidman’s resemblance to Elizabeth Montgomery is undeniable, this is the kind of movie that isn’t sure we’ll notice on our own, so it goes out of the way to make sure it’s explicitly mentioned in the script. Far more problematic is Ferrell’s Hollywood caricature; Bewitched came out between Anchorman and Talladega Nights, but his signature blend of “he’s a buffoonish manchild nightmare, but so hilarious you can’t help but love him” doesn’t quite gel here. It’s so obvious that Isabel could do better, in fact, the script can’t resist covering its butt by making a joke about that, too.
Kidman goes old-school punk as Boadicea, or “Bo,” the elaborately coiffed den mother of an underground club in 1970s London. In John Cameron Mitchell’s raucous, offbeat rom-com (based on a Neil Gaiman story), we meet punky teen Enn (Alex Sharp), then Enn meets Zan (Elle Fanning), a pretty alien visiting Earth who’s dying to break free from her conformist society. What better way than...embracing punk rock? Lucky for Zan, the scene embraces her right back, and even the prickly Bo takes a shine to her, giving her advice, a grimy make-over, and a spot doing guest vocals on her venue’s vaunted stage. Enn and Bo end up joining forces to keep Zan safe on Earth, and while there’s not a ton of Kidman in this one, she pretty much devours every scene she’s in, quite clearly having a blast playing way against type.
Kidman plays sinister taxidermist Millicent Clyde in this sweet family film, a villainess so despicable her life’s goal is to capture a bear like Paddington and stuff him for a museum display. There’s a bit of backstory to explain her Cruella de Vil-esque awfulness; seems her late father was an explorer sent to Peru to hunt down a very special type of bear, only to return empty-handed after befriending the creatures instead. His kindness ended up robbing him of fame and fortune, or so his daughter believes. Anyway, Paddington is mostly concerned with the wayward bear’s hopeful hunt for a home in London, with Millicent providing danger as just one of the obstacles in his journey. Despite her evil intentions, the gadget-wielding Millicent is really there for comic relief—especially when a dorky Peter Capaldi pops up as neighbor so smitten with her that he’s initially blind to her true nature.
Now that HBO’s His Dark Materials has given Philip Pullman’s fantasy series such a prominent platform, it seems likely that few will ever revisit this version, which failed to make the impression necessary to kick off what was intended to be a big-screen franchise. That said, Kidman more than exudes the necessary blend of menace and glamour to play mysterious antagonist Mrs. Coulter.
This early-career turn paired Kidman with Val Kilmer’s Batman (and Jim Carrey’s Riddler), and while she’s more or less just another sleek dame that tempts Bruce Wayne to re-think his loner lifestyle, at least her character—Dr. Chase Meridian—is given a bit of a brain to work with. She’s a shrink who’s brought in by Gotham City PD to help capture the pesky Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), specifically because she specializes in studying people with dual identities; that also makes her the ideal person to pick Bruce’s Bat-brain. While Chase is eventually reduced to a classic damsel in distress in what’s definitely one of the worst Batman movies to date, she’s still got sass to spare—the first time she meets Bruce, he bursts into her room thinking she’s being attacked, only to see her clobbering a punching bag (and looking fab while doing so).
This is another one of those “intense dramas that aren’t quite horror” that Kidman is so fond of—except The Killing of a Sacred Deer actually does cross that “not quite” line into full-blown horror, layering psychological terror with some very intense bodily trauma. Directed and co-written by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Favourite), Sacred Deer deploys mannered dialogue and highly detailed production design to construct its tale of a wealthy surgeon (Colin Farrell) and his wife (Kidman), whose family is targeted in a bizarre revenge scheme by a teen (Barry Keoghan) who blames Farrell’s character for his father’s operating-table demise. Kidman’s icy character begins to show some cracks as soon as her children fall mysteriously ill, but she holds it together in the movie’s most uncomfortable moments—like when she gives her husband’s sleazy colleague a furtive handjob in exchange for medical records she hopes will explain WTF is happening to her.
This over-the-top fantasy musical from noted showman Baz Luhrmann is definitely Peak Kidman: she sings, she dances, she swoons, she wears an array of sparkly costumes, she’s desired by every man in Paris (for better and worse), her hair is flaming and fabulous, and, after coughing delicately throughout the entire movie, she gets the most luminous death-by-tuberculosis scene ever. What else can we say?
James Wan’s Aquaman is chock-full of wild, unexpected moments—and one of its most fun elements was the casting of Kidman as Queen Atlanna, Aquaman’s loving mother and the reason he has superpowers. Her forbidden but passionate relationship with Aquaman’s father (Temura Morrison) sets the tone for the whole movie, as Arthur (Jason Momoa) must grapple with her loss at a young age, something that makes him turn his back on the Atlantis part of his heritage. When she pops back up, it’s another one of those wild, unexpected moments—and how cool was it to see Kidman level up from Batman’s DC damsel to Aquaman’s kick-ass DC hero?
In this Halloween-season favorite, Sandra Bullock and Kidman play Sally and Gillian Owens, sisters who come from a long line of witches doomed by an ancestor’s curse: any man falls in love with them will die. For the “I just want to be normal” Sally, this means tragically losing her husband early in the movie; for the flighty Gillian, it means the sisters will need to poison her abusive boyfriend to prevent him from murdering her. When they resurrect him with a flurry of panicked spellcasting, he rebounds as something even more monstrous, even possessing Gillian as the ultimate torment before he tries to kill her again. Kidman deftly balances Jillian’s mix of devil-may-care humor—the scene where she rigs the outcome of a PTA meeting to favor Sally is a delight—and deep pain, rounding out a complex character whose crisis brings Practical Magic to some unexpectedly dark places.
The impact of Alejandro Amenábar’s Gothic horror drama might have been lessened a bit at the time of its release thanks to The Sixth Sense, which came out just prior and has a similar last-act twist regarding characters who don’t know they’re ghosts. But The Others, about a family and their handful of servants rattling around a gloomy mansion in the Channel Islands as World War II draws to a close, has plenty of its own merits: the elegant production design, the careful balance of creeping dread and sudden frights, and some outstanding performances, especially Kidman as Grace, the tightly wound lady of the house.
The Others, from start to finish, essentially charts Grace’s escalating nervous breakdown as she tries (and repeatedly fails) to come to terms with what’s actually happening in her home. It’s soon clear that her emotional fragility is caused by a variety of factors—extreme isolation and loneliness, worry over a long-absent soldier husband whose wartime fate is unknown, intense psychic denial of what’s really going on around her, deep-seated religious guilt. Plus, her way of working through the pain is to be as controlling as possible with her children, be it through forced Bible recitations or monitoring their exposure to sunlight, which they are seemingly allergic to. And yet, because it’s Kidman, we still feel sympathy for Grace as the tension builds. After a movie sprinkled with clues that become easier to spot after repeat viewings, we eventually find out her gruesome secret—but the moment when she realizes the whole truth is never not devastating.
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