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Keri Russell’s 14 Best Movie and TV Projects, Reverse Ranked

The Golden Globe winner got her start on ‘The All-New Mickey Mouse Club’ before she delved into drama with ‘Felicity’ and went into combat with ‘The Americans’ and ‘Mission Impossible.’

Keri Russell has been lighting up the small screen since 1991 when she became a member of Disney Channel’s All-New Mickey Mouse Club. Winning a Golden Globe in 1999 for the starring role in Felicity catapulted her to a new level of fame, and she was able to trade her TV success for a film career, flitting back-and-forth since 1993’s Honey, I Blew Up The Kid.

MUST READ: ‘The All-New Mickey Mouse Club’: See Superstars Like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Keri Russell Then And Now

Does she have a preference?

“They’re both so different that they each have their good things,” Keri Russell said during a 2007 press conference for August Rush. “The thing about film that’s enjoyable is it’s like going to summer camp for something in this intensive way. When I did the Western [We Were Soldiers], I learned to ride horses, mount and grip the hair. You get to do that. For [August Rush], it’s all cello. You get to learn something and then walk away from it and learn something else. For Mission Impossible, it was machine-gun assembly blindfolded and jumping off buildings with Tom Cruise. Film is nice, because you get to walk away from something after four months.”

Despite steady showbiz work for the past 30+ years, Russell keeps it real with lifelong pals such as The Mickey Mouse Club’s Ilana Miller and Lindsey Alley, according to a 2023 W Magazine interview.

And she remains down-to-earth as a mom of three children — son River and daughter Willa, whose father is first husband Shane Deary; and son Sam with Americans costar and current husband Matthew Rhys.

Motherhood unavoidably changes you,” she told OK!. “I’m bossier. It opens everything up in a way that you can’t anticipate. The highs are so much higher, the lows are so much lower. I think you just sort of feel more, which is good, because in life you want to feel. In that way, it’s nice. It’s a strange thing to be so out of your control, like something is completely taking over and for someone – I am a little bit of a control freak – that’s out the window. There’s change every single moment. It’s good.”

To get the best of Keri Russell, take a look at her essential projects:

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14. Cocaine Bear (2023) Keri Russell

In the R-rated comedy thriller directed by Elizabeth Banks, Russell plays nurse and single mom Sari, who needs to find her runaway daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) before a murderous bear hopped up on cocaine gets to her.

The tale is based on the true story of a 1985 incident.

“It was just wacky enough that I couldn’t say no,” Russell told UPI.

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13. The Upside of Anger (2005)

Suburban mom Terry (Joan Allen) wants the best for her daughters Emily (Russell), Hadley (Alicia Witt), Andy (Erika Christensen) and Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood), and is horrified after her husband leaves the family. She grapples with romantic entanglements and family dynamics in this R-rated comedic drama. Kevin Costner plays retired baseball player-turned-radio disc jockey Denny, who supports Terry in his own way. Costner “is a marvel,” Rolling Stone reported.

12. We Were Soldiers (2002) Keri Russell

In the R-rated historical drama about the first major battle of the Vietnam War, Russell plays Barbara Geoghegan, who must deliver news to the war wives that their husbands are dead. Madeleine Stowe is Julie, who takes on the same gig. Mel Gibson serves as the battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore.

11. Extraordinary Measures (2010)

In this inspiring PG-rated drama based on a true story, Russell is Aileen Crowley, who joins her husband John (Brendan Fraser) in trying to find a researcher (Harrison Ford) who may be able to cure the genetic disorder that afflicts their two children.   

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10. August Rush (2007) Keri Russell

Dubbed a “contemporary fairy tale” by The New York Times, this PG-rated drama about a musically-gifted orphan’s search for his birth parents features Russell as a woman who was forced to give her son Evan (Freddie Highmore) up for adoption. After he runs away from the orphanage, he is helped by the Wizard (Robin Williams), who is a homeless man who lives in an abandoned theater.

Being a mom informed her role. “It changes everything,” she said during the film’s press conference. “It changes the way you view movies. I was watching Finding Nemo and burst into tears. ‘I hope he finds his parents! That’s so sad!’ But you do, and it’s uncontrollable, it’s weird. Or you’ll be with somebody and they’ll tell you this story about this little kid, and you’re like [theatrics], ‘Oh my God, he’s not going to make it through, I hope that kid’s OK.’ It’s uncontrollable. It just happens.”

She got to show off her musical background. “I was a dancer, so I have a sense of music, and I can fake my way through a few Tracy Chapman songs on guitar. Learning cello was slightly different. We literally started with ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ and then went to box solos. She taught me a modified version of the fingerings. I am feasibly playing that piece. There was a lot to learn, so I hope it comes off OK.”

9. Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Russell suits up in a full maroon bodysuit, complete with helmet, to tackle the role of Zorii Bliss, human female native to frozen planet Kijimi, in the PG-13-rated installment of Star Wars. She is the previous love interest to Poe (Oscar Isaac), and the leader of the Spice Runners of Kijimi.

“Zorii is the best version of every person I want to be,” she said during the movie’s junket in Pasadena, California. “She can take care of herself. She’s a survivor. Her costume tells you a little bit about her, too, because she doesn’t want to reveal anything about herself. She lives in an occupied territory, where everything is the underworld, and to have freedom in the underworld, you don’t want anyone to know your identity.”

USA TODAY reported that the “chemistry pops” between Russell and costar Isaac.

Directed by JJ Abrams, the man behind Russell’s career-making Felicity, plus Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Mission Impossible III, and TV dramas Alias and Lost, the film was the final chapter in the latest trilogy.

It follows the adventures of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe, and redemption arc of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver). The storyline reveals the answers to Rey’s parental lineage, and Emperor Palpatine’s (Ian  McDiarmid) grand plan.

8. Mission Impossible III (2006) Keri Russell

Russell portrays an IMF agent held captive in Berlin in the PG-13-rated third installment of the blockbuster action-adventure series. Also directed by Abrams, the PG-13 flick follows IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as he fends off a villainous arms dealer who threatens his life and the life of his fiancé (Michelle Monaghan).

It’s pretty amusing, being known as action girl,” she tells the Kansas City Star. “I’ve always been a dancer. That’s been my physical outlet. But for Mission: Impossible I had to do an entirely different kind of training for the stunts, fights and weapons handling.”

However, it’s not too far off. “My dad’s a hunter, a very Midwestern sort of guy,” she says. “There’s a photo of me at age 5 in overalls with a rainbow on the front. I’m holding a rifle as tall as I am in one hand and a dead bird in the other.”

Still, filming had its tough times. “There was a moment early on when I got scared because it was all so intense,” Russell says. “I credit Tom with getting me through it. He has a way of making you feel capable and necessary and important.”

She is also grateful for Abrams. “JJ spoils me,” she states. “He really ‘gets’ women. And while Alias is regarded as a big spy/action series, I think his real strength lies in personal relationships. He can observe and celebrate life’s little moments, and there’s quite a bit of that in his Mission: Impossible. I think he’s the best thing that could happen to this series.”

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7. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Humans and apes are on the cusp of war to gain control of the Earth in this critically-acclaimed PG-13-rated action-adventure sci-fi drama. Russell plays Ellie, the medic wife of Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who forms a relationship with the apes after surviving the ALZ-113 virus. Andy Serkis is Caesar, the main ape in the film, and Gary Oldman plays revenge-seeking Dreyfus, who wants to get even with the apes for the “Simian Flu” that killed so many humans between 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and this film.

6. Leaves of Grass (2009) Keri Russell

Lauded as one of the year’s best films and called a “masterpiece” by Roger Ebert, this R-rated comedic crime drama casts Ed Norton as twin brothers, Ivy League professor Bill and marijuana grower Brady, who strives to topple the local drug trafficker. Bill comes home to Oklahoma believing Brady had been murdered, but it’s just the lie it took to get him there. Russell serves as a hippie-like poet who lives in the backwoods that captivates Bill. If you can handle it, watch her catch and gut a fish with her hands.

5. Waitress (2007)

Russell plays pregnant waitress Jenna, who is trapped in an abusive marriage, in this PG-13 comedic romantic drama in which she meets a new man who may give her the happiness she deserves. The movie became a Broadway musical in 2016 and has starred Sara Bareilles (2017-2018), Jordin Sparks (2019) and Katharine McPhee (2018-2020). It was the final film directed and written by Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered in 2006.

4. The Diplomat (2023-Present) Keri Russell

The political thriller stars Russell as a foreign services officer who becomes the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom in the middle of an international crisis.

“I’m the diplomat,” Russell told UPI of the Netflix series. “She’s a fish out of water there and has this bombastic husband, who is sometimes a liability. It’s, again, marriage-based in the diplomatic world.”

The difference between this project and The Americans? She’s funny. The Hollywood Reporter noted, “It’s the story of a woman thrust into a job she doesn’t want, with responsibilities she isn’t qualified for, which may make her the perfect woman for the job.”

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3. The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, Disney Channel (1991-1993)

The world was introduced to Russell when she joined the All-New Mickey Mouse Club at the same time as JC Chasez, two seasons before Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling. Russell was renowned for her dancing skills on the variety show thanks to her background in jazz and ballet. Here she is on display with “You Showed Me” and “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” As for acting? Not only could she be seen in skits like “As The Mall Turns,” but she is memorable as Andrea in the made-for-MMC drama Emerald Cove, which is a dramedy about teen relationships, friendships and hardships in a beach town (reality:  Cocoa Beach, Florida). In it, Andrea is home for the summer and hails from a wealthy, distinguished family. Episodes were 10 minutes long and aired several times per week as part of The Mickey Mouse Club. Chasez plays surfer Wipeout.

Looking for more early footage? Check out Russell visiting a fan in Boston for the “Mouse In The House” segment.

2. Felicity (1998-2002) Keri Russell

Post-Mickey Mouse Club and Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (1993) fame, it took Russell several false starts with two short-lived TV series — the sitcom Daddy’s Girls (1994) and soapy drama Malibu Shores (1996) — to become a household name playing the title character in the romantic drama about a California student who ditches Stanford to follow her crush Ben (Scott Speedman) across the country to attend college at the fictional University of New York. There she is faced with deciding between love interests Ben and freshman-year fling Noel (Scott Foley).

Former Power Ranger Amy Jo Johnson plays her best friend Julie, Donald Faison plays Tracy, the boyfriend of her lab partner Elena (Tangi Miller), and Amy Smart is pal Ruby.

In 1999, Russell won Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama, for her role.

In season two, she lobs off her much-coveted curly, long mane. “I feel like I loved that the director and the writers wanted me to cut my hair for Felicity,” Russell told OK! in 2013. “I feel like it was so perfect for the story of the college girl breaking up with her boyfriend. I loved that. I think it was so perfect and appropriate. I thought it was such a good storyline. Would I ever cut my hair again? Yeah! I’m sure. At some point.”

The haircut sparked major backlash.

1. The Americans (2013-2018)

Set during the 1980s Cold War, Russell and real-life beau Matthew Rhys are Russian spies Elizabeth and Phillip, who pose as an American couple with kids Henry (Keidrich Sellati) and Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor).

Critically lauded as “one of television’s greatest series” by The Hollywood Reporter, the crime drama won four Emmys.

The costumes and the combat are standouts. “I did Krav Maga training with a very femme fatale, beautiful, Canadian-Israeli girl named Avital, who taught me some moves,” she said at the 2013 premiere.

Russell is a big fan of this project. “My favorite thing about this series is I know that it’s couched in this cool spy world, but what interests me is the complicated marriage and the concept of the spy world. I love that it was an arranged marriage, they were strangers, they met at 19, they don’t really even know each other’s full story — that’s such a strange place to start. And then they’re in this world, they’re having two kids, and maybe now, after 10-15 years, they’re just now really starting to fall in love with each other in a real way. I think that’s an interesting dynamic.”

Indeed, the role required full commitment. “I love the idea, especially of a mother,” she continued. “Especially in the pilot, I love that you meet her and she’s giving some dude a blowjob in a hotel room, and in the next scene, she’s making school lunches. Because everyone has this whole inner life — everyone does. That’s interesting to show. I like that she’s so tangled emotionally, and has a problem with intimacy, but she’s so adventurous sexually outside of her marriage — for work, but in her own marriage, she struggles so much. It’s a great place to start a show, because there’s a place to go.”

Rhys had high praise for his future wife. “She’s great when she’s sober, which is rare,” he told OK! with a laugh at the premiere. “She’s everything you want her to be. She takes it seriously enough, but not too seriously. She has an incredible sense of humor. She’s got a lot of grit. Usually we’re filming in locations late at night, and it’s cold. She’s always the one who is the morale booster and rabble-rouser. She’s definitely the cheerleader.”

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