Beautiful Girls, Garden State, and Black Swan are just a few of our favorites

By Drew Mackie
Updated January 29, 2016 02:20 PM
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This Friday, the Natalie Portman Western Jane Got a Gun hits theaters. The film has Portman playing the all-too-rare Western film heroine – a wife and mother who must fight off a gang of outlaws. (Watch a clip exclusive to PEOPLE here.)

The film, often described as a passion project of Portman’s, has been a long time coming. The actress first became attached to the project back in 2012, and various delays held up production. Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper were each attached as playing one of the film’s two main male characters, but then left due to conflicts with other films; in the end, Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor play the roles. And while Jane Got a Gun was originally to have been released in August 2014, it’s only now seeing the light of day (or, that is, the dark of theaters).

But let’s be stoked for Portman, who gets to add one more standout character to the list of ones she’s already played. And we’re celebrating by looking at the roles that led up to her (finally) playing a female hero in the Wild West.

1. Léon: The Professional (1994)

Tough right from her first starring role, Portman plays Mathilda, a twelve-year-old girl who forms an unlikely friendship with Léon (Jean Reno), a hitman living in her apartment building. He trains her to be an assassin, and more than a few people left the theater saying Portman would grow up to be a star. They were right.

2. Beautiful Girls (1996)

Portman stars as one of the titular girls opposite “grown-up” actresses such as Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, Lauren Holly, Martha Plimpton and Annabeth Gish. She’s a little Lolita-esque in her teenage love for the main character, Willie (Timothy Hutton), but she holds her own despite being the youngster of the group.

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3. The Diary of Anne Frank (1997)

Portman was already a burgeoning film star when she won the role of Anne in a 1997 Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank. It received two Tony Award nominations and helped solidify Portman’s reputation as one of the best up-and-coming young actresses.

4. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Of course, Portman jumped up to the A-list starting in 1999 when she played Padmé, the female lead of the Star Wars prequels and the future mother to Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. She reprised the role in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith, whereupon she fell in love with the little boy from the first movie. The clear moral: Love is ageless.

5. Garden State (2004)

It was Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown who helped coin the term “manic pixie dream girl,” that special sort of zany female character who seems to mostly exist to help a male character find his zest for life. The term has retroactively been applied to Portman in Garden State, who is quirk personified as the love interest for Zach Braff’s character. She does purposefully weird stuff – but always in an adorable fashion, of course.

6. Closer (2004)

Following closely on the heels of the indie quirk of Garden State, Closer had Portman playing a stripper involved in a bleak love quadrangle involving characters played by Clive Owen, Jude Law and Julia Roberts. Her most memorable scene takes place in a strip club, and while it features no explicit nudity, it effectively established her as a full-fledged “grown up” actress. She scored a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the role.

7. V for Vendetta (2006)

Back in 2006, audiences were still getting used to comic book adaptations that skewed dark and gritty. In her performance as the film’s female protagonist, a law-abiding citizen-turned-anarchist radical, shaved head and all, Portman helped sell movie-goers on the genre. Also? She turned out a decent British accent.

8. The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Portman put that accent to use again playing Anne Boleyn – that is, the main Boleyn girl – in this melodrama about the many loves of Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Reviews were mixed but most noted Portman’s performance being especially strong.

9. Black Swan (2010)

Playing a high-strung ballerina who dances into the dark side, Portman won her first Oscar. It’s well deserved. Black Swan is weird, challenging, beautiful and seriously messed up, and Portman rose to the occasion in ways that few other actors could have. It also introduced her to her husband, the French dancer Benjamin Millepied, with whom she had her first child, son Aleph, in June 2011.

10. Thor (2011)

While it may seem odd to follow up an art film like Black Swan with a blockbuster like Thor, it’s important to note how Portman’s character represented a new kind of a superhero movie heroine. The comics version of Portman’s character is a nurse. In the movie Thor, however, Jane Foster is an astrophysicist – and notably one who doesn’t get kidnapped and need rescuing by her superpowered boyfriend. Portman played the part with the right mix of smarts, strength and sex appeal.