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Tessa Thompson's 11 Best Genre Roles (So Far)

Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in a not-at-all suggestive moment from Thor: Ragnarok.
Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in a not-at-all suggestive moment from Thor: Ragnarok.
Image: Disney

Tessa Thompson is a versatile actress who’s done way more than just sci-fi and fantasy stuff—you’ve probably seen the Creed movies, and you should check out Little Woods if you haven’t yet. But she sure is in a lot of genre projects, which is a big reason why we love her so much. Behold, our favorite tales of Thompson!

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When a Stranger Calls (2006)

Blink and you might miss her, but Thompson has one scene in this tepid remake of the horror classic; she plays the main character’s sympathetic pal in an art-class scene. “Who needs some stupid bonfire party anyway?” she reassures her friend, who’s being forced to babysit instead of attending said party because she went over her allotment of cellphone minutes. Ah, 2006.

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The Initiation of Sarah (2007)

This made-for-TV movie is, like When a Stranger Calls, a so-so remake of a ‘70s relic. The plot follows twins (one of whom is played by Firefly’s Summer Glau) who become embroiled in a supernatural war within their college’s Greek system. As part of a cast that’s loopy enough to include Jennifer Tilly and Morgan Fairchild, Thompson (who was also still doing “high school” roles on shows like Veronica Mars and CW soap Hidden Palms at the time) pops up as one of the magical sorority girls.

Heroes (2009)

Thompson played another sorority sister in three episodes of Heroes’ fourth season (“Hysterical Blindness,” “Strange Attractors,” and “Shadowboxing”). At first, she’s all chipper and welcoming, inviting the main character Claire to consider rushing her house—but we soon learn she has the power of invisibility and is caught up in a larger plot to manipulate poor Claire, who’s just over here trying to have a normal college experience.

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666 Park Avenue (2012-2013)

Remember ABC’s short-lived “real estate snuff porn” series about the sinister forces lurking within an upscale New York City apartment building? Thompson—whose character fakes her own death and lives under an assumed identity for a decade, in classic soap-opera tradition—had a small role as the daughter of the building’s billionaire, soul-sucking owners, played by Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams.

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Charlotte, or “Charlotte,” as the case may be, in Westworld.
Charlotte, or “Charlotte,” as the case may be, in Westworld.
Image: HBO

Westworld (2016-2020)

After several years focusing mostly on non-genre projects (including BBC America historical drama Copper, and movies like Dear White People, Selma, and Creed), Thompson made a dramatic entrance at the midpoint of Westworld’s first season, playing ruthless Delos executive Charlotte Hale. Charlotte is still a major character in Westworld’s current third season; though her character has changed...a lot, and Thompson’s had to deftly shift the way she plays her. Her cunning and fashion sense, however, remain razor-sharp.

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Thompson as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok.
Thompson as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok.
Image: Disney

Thor: Ragnarok (2017); Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Thompson’s most high-profile and fun role to date has gotta be Valkyrie, the hard-drinking warrior (Hulk calls her “Angry Girl”) who swaggers her way through Thor: Ragnarok, begrudgingly joining Thor’s quest to save Asgard from his evil sister, and eventually becoming a valuable ally. In Endgame, after she rides her flying horse to help the Avengers in their massive battle against Thanos, Thor makes her the ruler of New Asgard, a seaside community established on Earth and populated with the war-torn realm’s survivors. The character’s queerness will be more overtly explored in Thor: Love and Thunder, making her one of the first LGBTQ heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Thompson as Detroit in Sorry to Bother You.
Thompson as Detroit in Sorry to Bother You.
Image: Annapurna Pictures
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Sorry to Bother You (2017)

What could have been just a “girlfriend” part in this tale of one man’s spectacularly twisted journey into the heart of corporate corruption is so much more than that, thanks to director Boots Riley’s script and Thompson’s powerful performance. She plays Detroit, who takes no bullshit and speaks up immediately when she detects her BF is dangerously close to selling his soul. Her art is practically a character in the film—it includes an outstanding array of oversized, outspoken earrings, and a performance piece that involves quoting The Last Dragon and being pelted with water balloons filled with sheep’s blood.

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Annihilation (2018)

This moody sci-fi thriller is heavily focused on Natalie Portman’s troubled biologist, but Thompson makes an impression as part of the supporting ensemble. She plays a young astrophysicist who’s part of the all-female group that ventures into Annihilation’s mysterious “shimmer,” and like the others finds the alien-altered environment affects her in ways nobody can understand. Though she’s had issues with self-harm in her past, and the mystifying shimmer is full of violent horrors, her character’s end—which feels more like a consensual transformation than a death—is easily the movie’s most peaceful.

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Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer [Emotion Picture] (2018)

The vivid visual accompaniment to Janelle Monáe’s acclaimed album of the same name, Dirty Computer casts Monáe as Jane, a woman in a future where people who won’t fall in line are captured and sapped of everything that makes them unique, including their memories. As she fights against the cruel “cleansing” process, she encounters her lost love: a woman named “Zen” (played by Thompson) who has since been assimilated. It’s a heartbreaker, especially since Dirty Computer is filled with joyous, sensual memories of their relationship, which Zen manages to remember just as Jane’s brain is being wiped for good.

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Lady and the Tramp (2019)

This isn’t technically a genre film, but this Disney+ remake does offer proof that Thompson can make even a talking CG cocker spaniel sound cool. (Was there ever any doubt?) Her other animation voiceover roles of note include guest spots on Tuca & Bertie and BoJack Horseman.

Men in Black: International (2019)

Thompson’s nerdy Agent M, who joins Men in Black after a childhood alien encounter leads to a lifelong obsession with the top-secret branch, is one of few highlights of this disappointing sequel. Though it re-teams Thompson and her Thor: Ragnarok co-star Chris Hemsworth, the chemistry they have within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is weirdly neuralized here. At the very least, she seems to be having fun with the gadgets, cars, outfits, and alien brawls, and she gets to be the smartest person in the room a lot of the time.

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DISCUSSION

alirisexile
A Lantern of Hope

Sorry To Bother You was insane. I don’t know what I expected, but it definitely wasn’t that. I loved it though.