Woman Crush Wednesday: Winona Ryder


If you’re a goth girl of a certain age, Winona Ryder is your spirit animal. She is us, we are her. We can’t help it. Beetlejuice (1988), Heathers (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), oh girl, you had us at “I, myself, am strange and unusual.” And then, she did historical costume movies, and we could not resist.

The naysayers (I’m talking to you, Kendra) can complain, but she is my doppelganger. At least in my dreams. That’s me and Gary Oldman’s super-sexy vampire in Dracula, that’s me slyly getting Daniel Day-Lewis for life in Age of Innocence, and that’s me as a feisty Jo in Little Women. Sometimes all we want is to see ourselves in the movies — you either want to be the star or do the star — and Winona Ryder works as our stand-in. Her version of all these characters is imperfect, flawed, complicated, and that’s how it should be. She’s not a screen goddess, but she’s our quirky, moody, weird little gothic star.

Here are my favorite of Winona Ryder’s historical costume movies — feel free to add ones I missed in the comments.


Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Wilhelmina “Mina” Murray / Elisabeta

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
My favorite historical costume role of Winona Ryder’s, although as much for the costumes as for the acting. She’s wearing gorgeous gowns in a gothic vampire romance, and really, that’s all I need.
Winona Ryder, Bram Stoker's Dracula


The Age of Innocence (1993) – May Welland

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Ryder is underrated in this film because her character is such a goody-two shoes who almost becomes part of the wallpaper. And yet, there’s a strength and determination to not let what is obvious (her fiancee’s / husband’s emotional affair) destroy her own plans.


Little Women (1994) – Josephine “Jo” March

Little Women (1994)

Katharine Hepburn‘s Jo holds a special place in my heart, but Ryder is equally good in a very different way. Ryder brings a nervous energy to the role that gives Jo’s story a defined dramatic arc.


The Crucible (1996) – Abigail Williams

The Crucible (1996)

This is probably Ryder’s best performance in a historical costume movie (despite the boring costumes). She is riveting as the young woman who stirs up the town’s girls into a witch-hunt frenzy. I’ve never found the book of The Crucible all that believable until watching this version.

Winona Ryder, The Crucible


Drunk History (2014) – Mary Dyer / Peggy Shippen

Drunk History (2014)

Hilarious! Playing to her strengths! It’s totally goofy, totally fun in ridiculous costumes.



Are you a fan of Winona Ryder’s historical costume movies?

13 Responses

  1. Charity

    Her Jo March is my favorite — she manages to capture Jo in a different way than most of them. Just a gorgeous film, all around.

    The Age of Innocence has such GORGEOUS costumes. Oh, my gosh. I just about had a teenage heart attack when I saw the amazing Victorian detailing on everything. I fell in love — not with the film, but the costumes. Cue drooling.

  2. Johnny

    This is one star I wish would have a big comeback in A list films.

  3. Susan Pola

    My favourite is her interpretation of May Welland in Age of Innocence. I don’t regard her as a goody two shoes, but more as a truly innocent young woman who loses her innocence regarding her husband and her cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. She with great presence of mind, realises to do nothing is the best move (cany, it brings the Old Guard – Society’s matrons to her side) and that will insure her victory in the end.
    I believe that that was what Ms Wharton’s book implied too. But it’s been ages since I’ve read the book.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      She’s innocent but surprisingly canny. The photo I used not only has my favorite purple gown but I believe it’s from the scene where she’s telling Newland that she’s pregnant — and this is right after he’s decided he’s totally in love with the countess & must leave his wife. Of course, he does the honorable thing & stays w/May.

      I always felt like it wasn’t coincidence or a plot point that she tells him right at that moment. She knew. She could tell he wanted to leave her. So she preempted him, forced his hand. I mean, obviously, they were having sex, there’s no immaculate conception going on, so the guy wasn’t ignoring her, he was conflicted. She made the choice for him.

      I love how Ryder played it — soft for the first part of the film, lulling you into thinking she’s nothing, just a silly dull girl, perfectly average, couldn’t possibly compare to the fabulous countess. But still waters run deep!

  4. Susan Pola

    That was what I was trying to say, in my own humble way, but Trystan put it more eloquently. I am in awe of her writing ability.
    But that is my favourite dress that she wore, too. Her opera gown in the opening was my second and the meh wedding dress was not even in the running.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      LOL, I didn’t want to write an epic about just one of the movies & not all of them in the original post! And agreed, the wedding dress doesn’t even rate, hah!

  5. ladylavinia1932

    Personally, May Welland is my favorite Ryder role. So sweet, oblivious and innocent on the surface, yet . . . ruthless and manipulative when the moment requires it. I think she should have took home an Oscar for that performance.

  6. Natasha

    I love this site, I love your writing, but please don’t call things your spirit animal. This is something I had to unlearn myself, so I understand.
    Yes, I realize a link to Tumblr risks me being labeled as a “social justice warrior” or a “feminazi” (although actually despite the stereotype, Tumblr is fairly diverse in political thought), so here are a few other links for good measure.

    Again, I love y’all and I love this site and I love that it’s a proudly feminist site that I believe values intersectionality (and thus appreciates a heads up when it makes a mistake).

    • Trystan L. Bass

      We appreciate & understand the comment. However, we are as much a comedy site as a movie critique site — we don’t take ourselves too seriously, & often use modern slang that some may find offensive. We do so knowingly, consciously, ironically, & for affect. It’s how we roll. We are not purists — we may offend on multiple levels ;-)

  7. Jen

    Age of Innocence is a fav of mine. I can’t say I wasn’t partly inspired by the color pallet in my latest bustle (well, Natural form, but who’s counting?) by the ball scene in this film.

    The more often you watch this film, the more you realize just how much she outplays him, at every moment. They play up the innocence thing – mom helping with the glove to make sure it doesn’t catch on the ring, but she fully pulls one on him, knowing he’s emotionally cheating, before they even marry. He thinks she is talking about something else. All he can see is her innocence, not that she’s as saavy as him in her own way. And she wins.

    I do wish they’d shown the Countess in the empire waisted gown they talk about in the book, at the first Opera. Very Dress Reform. And it wasn’t smart enough.

    You missed a period flick (show rather) though I know it is outside your purview. Stranger Things….