Daughter of Hollywood royal and Four Weddings and a Funeral star Andie MacDowell, Margaret Qualley was always bound to have a knack for acting, and since she began her on-screen career back in 2013, it’s been a whirlwind of great film and television shows. Qualley has turned up in all kinds of content, including gut-busting comedies, surreal mysteries, and heartbreaking, realist character-driven pieces. Among all her roles, though, there are a few that stand out for her brilliance. Sometimes, she shimmers as part of a brilliant cast, and sometimes she’s carried an average script on her back. But what are her best performances? Here’s our list of the 10 best Margaret Qualley movies and TV shows!
10. Stars at Noon
This romantic thriller is based on a novel of the same name by the legendary writer Denis Johnson, and stars Qualley as a young American journalist who’s stuck in Nicaragua thanks to the pandemic. Bored and frustrated, she seduces an Englishman, before getting to know him and realizing that he might be her only real chance of escaping getting home. However, as their love affair continues, she begins to realize he might be putting her in danger, rather than helping her get out of it. Qualley is commanding as Trish, the journalist at the center of the plot, and while at points the movie meanders and feels drawn out, her performance stops it from turning into something dull.
9. Strange but True
A messy film that’s elevated by Qualley, Strange but True is a virtuoso performance almost wasted. The mystery centers on Melissa (Qualley), a pregnant woman who appears on her dead boyfriend’s brother’s doorstep five years after the car accident that killed him, heavily pregnant, and convinced the baby belongs to the deceased man (Ronnie, played by Connor Jessup in flashbacks). What seems like a psychological thriller eventually devolves into something a little more sinister, and although some may really dislike the ending, others will find the surprise an enjoyable one. Either way, Qualley is magnetic.
This queer romantic comedy-drama delves into the complications that can arise in modern relationships with their ever-shifting labels and fluid nature. It follows Adam, a man who falls in love with a lesbian and lies to her about his gender identity (she assumes he’s a trans man and he doesn’t correct her), only for it all to come out in the end. While there’s real heart and good intentions in the film, it was also the subject of controversy as many felt it would offer bigots ammunition, as one of the biggest talking points offered up by trans-exclusionary radical feminists and their allies is that greater recognition of trans folk would lead to men lying about their gender identity to abuse women. All of that aside, it’s a cute watch, and while Qualley isn’t one of the leads, she’s a bright, funny presence who steals every scene she’s in.
FX has produced some truly quality series’ over the years, from Atlanta to The Americans, and Fosse/Verdon deserves to join that pantheon of brilliant shows. The show depicts the relationship and creative partnership between Bob Fosse, a filmmaker and theater choreographer/director, and Gwen Verdon, an acclaimed actress, and dancer with multiple Tonys. Told in flashback style, it delves into different aspects of the entertainment industry, while also exploring how the power dynamics between the pair shifted over the years. Qualley plays Ann Reinking, another legendary dancer, and choreographer, and is utterly compelling. A great watch.
6. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
This Tarantino flick could do with about an hour less of runtime (or more of a focus on Margot Robbie’s story, instead of the dull, predictable relationship between Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio’s characters), and compared to the director’s other quasi-historical work, Inglorious Basterds, is a bit of a letdown. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood follows an aging actor and his stunt double as they try to maintain relevancy, all while the prospect of the Tate/Manson murders hangs ominously in the background. Qualley is brilliant as Pussycat, one of the deranged cult members who is introduced as a hitchhiker. She plays the part incredibly, making viewers feel uncomfortable as her character’s delusions shine through the dialogue.
5. The Nice Guys
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star in this hilarious and underrated buddy caper set in L.A. in the late ’70s. Gosling plays Holland, a PI who’s been tasked with investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl named Amelia (Qualley). But it transpires Amelia is in hiding, and she sends Jackson (Crowe) to scare off Holland. However, two hitmen then try to get Jackson to snitch on Amelia and give away her location, at which point he reluctantly joins up with March. From there, the case spirals into something completely out there, with tension, action, and a lot of laughs. The best thing about this film is the chemistry between all the actors, and Qualley (in one of her earlier roles) is fantastic throughout. A great watch.
4. My Salinger Year
Literary films are pretty hit-and-miss, but My Salinger Year is a truly entertaining bit of film, buoyed by a wonderful Qualley performance. She stars as Joanna, an aspiring poet, and writer who takes a job with a prominent literary agent in the hopes of breaking into the industry, only to find that her new place of work represents that legendary but highly reclusive Catcher in the Rye author J.D Salinger. One of her tasks is to respond to the volumes of fan letters the writer receives, and she soon begins to write real responses to fans. As her status at the agency grows, she ends up getting some advice from Salinger, and soon her life changes course completely as she decides to focus fully on her writing. Qualley is charming, funny, and sweet in this role, and she manages to make her own while still staying true to the script. The film itself would be middling were it not for the performances by Qualley and her fellow castmates.
3. The Leftovers
If you like apocalyptic, religious-tinged dramas, then this brilliant HBO series will be right up your street. The Leftovers follows various communities in the States (and in the third season, Australia) after an event called “the sudden departure” leads to two percent of people on Earth disappearing with no explanation. The series deals with the societal outcomes of this strange occurrence. Qualley plays Jill Garvey, the daughter of one of the focal points of the series, and seamlessly blends drama with vulnerability. A great, intriguing watch, made even better by stunning acting all around, especially a young Qualley.
Although it only came out last year, this daring psychological drama is undoubtedly one of Qualley’s best performances, and is likely to be one that people reference in years to come when mentioning her ability. The premise of the film seems like it could be a terrible watch: a hotel heir, now in charge of a vast hospitality empire after his father’s death, attempts to end his long, hidden relationship with a dominatrix named Rebecca. As they spend the night in a room, the two battle it out with each other about the future of their relationship, all while keeping a sparkling edge of sexual tension. A film like this needs phenomenal performances to work, and Qualley (alongside her co-star Christopher Abbott) is truly brilliant, keeping the audience glued to the screen with their mesmerizing acting. A great watch for film lovers, and even if you’re more into action and adventure, you’ll still enjoy it because it’s just so good.
Maid made waves when it dropped on Netflix, and for good reason: the miniseries is truly beautiful while also being a real tear-jerker of the best kind, and all of this is thanks to Qualley’s unforgettable appearance in the lead role. She plays a single mom named Alex, who escapes an abusive relationship and takes on a menial role as a maid to try and better her daughter’s situation. We see Alex struggle and scrape, dealing with the horrors of being poor in modern-day America, and the result is incredibly affecting. Qualley earned several award nominations for this series, and deservedly so.