The 10 best Jenna Ortega movies and TV shows, ranked (2024)

Jenna Ortega became a household name in 2022 thanks to her turn as Wednesday Addams in the Netflix hit Wednesday, but she's hardly a Hollywood newcomer.

Prior to becoming one of Gen Z's scream queens, the 20-year-old actress was a child star who appeared on TV shows like CSI: NY and in the mega-sequels Iron Man 3 and Insidious: Chapter 2. Her Insidious horror stint foreshadowed Ortega's later genre work, but not before she appeared on a number of Disney series in the 2010s, including her breakout role as Harley Diaz on Stuck in the Middle.

Last year, Ortega's career — and reputation as a horror icon — exploded after she headlined a tetrad of scary movies along with Wednesday, which cemented her status as one of the most sought-after young stars working today.

With many more projects in the works — including Beetlejuice 2, in which Ortega's reportedly set to play Lydia's daughter — it's clear that she will be gracing our screens for years to come. Join EW as we review Jenna Ortega's 10 best movies and TV shows (so far), ranked by the weight of her performance.

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10. Yes Day (2021)

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In their younger days, Allison (Jennifer Garner) and Carlos (Édgar Ramirez) said "yes" to every new opportunity, but they now spend every day saying "no" to their children. As a way to alleviate the family's collective anxiety — especially that of their teenage daughter Katie (Ortega), who desperately wants her parents to let her attend a concert — Allison and Carlos agree to a "Yes Day" in which all of their progeny's wishes are granted without question.

Directed by journeyman filmmaker Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, Beatriz at Dinner), Yes Day fills a slot in family-friendly entertainment that these days is too often left vacant. It's a live-action film with A-list actors, which is unashamedly for parents and their very young children, one that doesn't resort to making self-conscious overtures to appeal to an older demographic and nicely balances its ballistic slapstick set pieces with more grounded emotional beats.

As the oldest of Allison and Carlos' three children, Ortega brings nuance to the familiar haughty teen role. She taps into something genuine and believable, and her chemistry with Garner is the movie's best attribute.

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9. The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)

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After surviving a killer cult in 2017's The Babysitter, Cole Johnson (Judah Lewis) is enrolled in a psychiatric facility by his parents, who don't believe his version of events from the first film. Cole escapes along with a group of friends to attend a lakeside retreat, but the resurrected cult members aren't far behind. With the help of new student Phoebe Atwell (Ortega), Cole must make his best efforts to save the day yet again.

Ortega's character in Killer Queen is the proto-final girl role. Phoebe isn't allowed the agency of Tara in Scream or even Lorraine in X, but Ortega's showing all the shades of her eventual horror bona fides here. Her performance is relatively strong, particularly when you consider the sheer amount of stunts and pyrotechnics on display. (It is, after all, a film by McG.) But what sells it is how Ortega injects her first lead role in a major studio project with personal flourishes that tether Phoebe to a recognizable reality.

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8. American Carnage (2022)

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Imagine, if you will, Get Out crossed with a tonally consistent version of The New Mutants. That's more or less the hook of Diego Hallivis' jocular comic thriller, which posits a world in which the children of illegal immigrants are branded criminals and have warrants issued for their arrest. After detaining them, the powers that be offer the teenagers a chance to commute their sentence by volunteering in an elder-care home, but it becomes increasingly apparent that this is a ruse to obscure a much darker plan.

For whatever American Carnage might lack in subtlety, it more than makes up for in its retro go-for-brokeness. At its best, Hallivis' movie recalls the zany straight-to-video teen thrillers of the late '80s and early '90s.

Carnage was the fourth of Ortega's horror projects to be released in 2022 alone, and here she shows a different side to the relatively subdued characters she played in Scream and X. As Camila, the spitfire of the incarcerated group, Ortega is able to sink her teeth into a character that foreshadows the edgy intensity and finely honed comedic chops that viewers got to see, just a few months later, in her portrayal of Wednesday Addams.

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7. Jane the Virgin (2014-2019)

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Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) is a good girl who's determined not to repeat her mother's mistake of having children too young, but that doesn't stop her from suddenly and inexplicably becoming pregnant with the child of her boss Rafael (Justin Baldoni). As her world is turned upside down, Jane must face difficult decisions and absurd trials that threaten the perfectly planned version of her life.

Ortega plays the young version of Jane in 30 episodes of this effervescent comedy series, a role which launched her into Disney Channel stardom and more. It's easy to see why she would appeal to Disney execs, but what most stands out about Ortega's time on Jane the Virgin is how she eschews the trappings of a typical child actor. She's knowing without being cute, her delivery natural and, at times, tossed off in a way that veteran performers struggle to master.

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6. You, season 2 (2019)

The second season of Netflix's acclaimed, deeply perverse serial thriller moves protagonist Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) to Los Angeles, where he falls for — and obsesses over — Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) while navigating relationships with his next-door neighbor, investigative reporter Delilah Alves (Carmela Zumbado) and her 15-year-old, film-obsessed sister Ellie (Ortega).

You was the first role that broke Ortega out of her kiddie Disney-star persona, putting her in some fairly harrowing situations (none more so than having Chris D'Elia as a scene partner), but it's all handled in that gauzy, we're-just-joshing vibe that You so perfectly masters. Ortega's performance makes it clear why she's become a favorite of horror filmmakers: She grounds the terrors of assault and deception with a genuine charisma that translates into pure anxiety when her character is imperiled.

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5. Scream VI (2023)

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In the latest Scream installment, Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Ortega), along with Chad and Mindy (Mason Gooding and Yellowjackets MVP Jasmin Savoy-Brown, respectively), attempt to escape the specter of 2022's massacre by leaving Woodsboro for the Big Apple. Who could have guessed, though, that a new wave of Ghostface murders would begin immediately upon their arrival?

Whether intentional or not, Scream VI plays exactly like many of the post-Scream slashers from the '90s and early aughts, such as Urban Legend or Wrong Turn. It's a blatantly silly movie, lacking the focused intent and unpredictability of returning directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin's 2022 installment, though this may be by design. (What is a slasher sequel, after all, if not a slightly more fun but equally empty retread of itself?)

Scream VI belongs to Ortega, who appears in nearly every scene and is at all times guiding the audience through the increasingly deranged plot mechanics. She takes a more central role here than she did in 2022's Scream, and one of the great pleasures of this sequel is that it lets her character Tara breathe and have a bit of fun — despite still processing the savage murder of several of her friends. Plus, her budding romance with Gooding's character is a well-tuned grace note amidst the 122 minutes of escalating carnage.

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4. Scream (2022)

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Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) became the first directors post-Craven to wade into the Scream franchise with this critically acclaimed legacy sequel (or "requel"). Twenty-five years after Sidney (Neve Campbell) was targeted in Woodsboro, she, Gale (Courteney Cox), and Dewey (David Arquette) unite with a new cast of characters — including the Carpenter sisters, Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Ortega) — to unmask the latest Ghostface killer(s).

Despite its regrettable title, Scream (why not 5cream??) ranks solidly as the third-place holder for the best of the franchise. It returns the series to its properly grisly, so-violent-you-can't-believe-it roots and does an admirable job of mixing new faces with legacy characters. It's also the only installment aside from the first to attain genuine life-or-death stakes: You truly believe that anyone could die (or be revealed as the killer) before the final credits roll.

Ortega's inclusion in the film is itself a piece of meta-winking. Her appearance in the cold open — the sequences known in this franchise for their brutality and star power — likely caused many audience members to query who exactly this person was. "Don't worry," the movie seems to say, "in about a half hour you'll know her all too well." Ortega became the first (and still, only) character to survive the beginning of a Scream movie, and she quickly went on to become one of the franchise's most indispensable characters.

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3. X (2022)

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Kicking off A24's first franchise, a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers, including self-anointed "sex symbol" Maxine (Mia Goth) and wallflower boom operator Lorraine (Ortega), set out to film a p*rno on a rural estate in the Texas hills. Troubles arise, however, when the elderly couple who owns the property — Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (Goth, so successfully disguised you wouldn't recognize her) — take issue with the low-budget film's content.

Ti West (House of the Devil, The Sacrament) hit his professional stride with this gooey, impeccably designed throwback to '70s exploitation movies. It's both an embrace and a subversion of slasher tropes, featuring reliably brilliant work from Goth (star of sequel Pearl and soon MaXXXine) and, of particular note, a fearlessly barnstorming turn from Brittany Snow as onscreen talent Bobby-Lynne.

As the initially sheepish Lorraine, Ortega does some of her most subtle work here. She exists for the first third on the periphery of the narrative before emerging to enact the most compelling, complicated character arc in the entire film, which we won't spoil if you haven't seen X for yourself.

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2. Wednesday (2022-present)

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Enrolled against her will at Nevermore Academy, Wednesday Addams (Ortega) finds herself embroiled in a series of murders, as well as a mystery that vexed her parents, Gomez (Luis Guzmán) and Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), decades ago.

In many ways, Tim Burton's Wednesday was the perfect vehicle for Ortega when she landed the role. It reminded audiences all over the world that she was ready to be seen as more than a scream queen, but was macabre enough so as not to alienate genre fans the actor had amassed over the previous year.

The show is a technical and stylistic marvel, with Ortega at the center, effortlessly moving through each set piece with the range and bravado similar to that of a young Winona Ryder, who was also mentored by Burton.

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1. The Fallout (2022)

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After surviving a horrific school shooting together, Vada (Ortega) and Mia (Maddie Ziegler) forge an unlikely bond. As Vada struggles to reacclimate to her family life, she explores her friendship with Mia while finding solace in fellow survivor Quinton (Niles Fitch), whose brother was killed in the massacre.

Megan Park's searing drama features Ortega's finest work to date, a thoroughly inhabited performance that combines all of her singular skills as an actor. That The Fallout as a whole matches the quality of Ortega's work is a tremendous bonus. Park's film is restrained and sensitive without pulling punches. The weight of the scenario is never discounted, but the film somehow manages to be light and breezy (the 92-minute running time helps that) and errs on the side of hopeful. It is assuredly the first of many notable films from Park — and one of Ortega's early seminal movie performances.

The 10 best Jenna Ortega movies and TV shows, ranked (2024)


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