There are so many things that Taylor Swift excels at: Brilliantly emotional, gut-punch songwriting; planting Easter eggs in the lore of her discography for diehard fans; breaking Ticketmaster and potentially leading to the dismantling of their monopoly; shaming people for saying her name in a Netflix show! Over the years, it has often seemed as though her talent is boundless. Anyone who has been there from the very start of her monumental rise into the most famous person in the world knows that there is nothing she can’t do.
Well, except act.
Throughout her career, we’ve seen Taylor Swift take the occasional detour from music to dabble in TV and movies, getting roped into acting roles like a sort of reverse Disney Channel star. Instead of being encouraged to try music after starring in a popular kids’ series, Swift has been scouted for screen work because of the undeniable popularity of her music.
It’s not a stretch to assume that Swift’s natural theatricality on stage and in her songs would translate to acting. After all, this has worked well for dozens of celebrities over the last few decades. Hello, look at Queen Latifah, Cher, Jennifer Hudson, and Lady Gaga—these women all have Oscars! (Yes, Gaga’s statue is for Best Original Song, but my point still stands since we all know she won’t make another pop album until she’s clenched half of her EGOT.)
But something about Swift’s natural pluckiness and intrepid optimism hasn’t transferred to projects outside of her own music videos, at least not so far. Maybe some faces are just so recognizable that it’s impossible to disappear into a role. Maybe she could just stand to audit a few more classes at Julliard. Whatever the reason is, that dissonance peaked this fall in Amsterdam—Swift’s latest bit part and her biggest box office flop to date—which has just landed on HBO Max.
With Amsterdam meandering its way out of theaters and walking the long, lonely road to streaming like a forgotten fart in the wind, it’s a good time to take stock of Swift’s acting performances in all of their high-definition glory. Actually, “glory” is not the word I’d use to describe any part of a David O. Russell film, so let’s go with “infamy.” And to all the Swifties sharpening your pitchforks at this very moment, just know this is a celebration of iconic campsterpieces. Not every actor can say that, now can they?
How much can really be said about the movie that managed to terrify a generation? It’s oft-joked that Cats started the pandemic, and that might not be too far from the truth. Sickness was born and bred with this abomination of a film. The little CGI fursuits; Rebel Wilson tap dancing with mice and cockroaches; and, my god, the perspective of life-sized cats hopping around on giant furniture. Cats spat in the face of God and laughed.
In the film, Swift gets the distinct dishonor of playing Bombalurina, a cat with a small part who gets to sing one of the musical’s best songs, “Macavity.” Bombalurina is in charge of creating a creepy air of mystery around the Jellicle cat gatherings, and though Swift does her very best to do justice to the song, the film gets in her way the entire time. The CGI makes her look like a menace, her face often jumping between movements with several frames missing.
This level of flop isn’t on Taylor Swift’s shoulders, but rather Tom Hooper’s for bringing such a dark force into the world. Campy? Yes, sure. I’ll give it that. Horrifying? Much more so. Whatever cosmic door this film opened can never be locked again.
Rating: 10/10 — Oi, luv, issa ’uge flop, innit!
The Giver (2014)
In the film adaptation of that one book everyone pretended to read in middle school, Taylor Swift plays Rosemary, the daughter of the titular Giver. In a futuristic society, all memory has been locked away to prevent judgment and uprising, and is held by one person called the Receiver of Memory. The Receiver was due to be Rosemary, but overwhelmed by the collective weight of billions of people’s trauma, Rosemary politely volunteered to be killed by lethal injection. Heavy stuff! Maybe even heavier than the unforgivable rock of a wig they threw onto her head.
The Giver dropped in prime post-aughts dystopia mania, and critics could tell how rushed it felt by the sloppy writing and wooden performances—Swift’s unfortunately included. Swift only appears in a small handful of scenes, once as a singing hologram. This lands at the very bottom of our list due to it being the strangest possible decision post-Red and pre-1989. But then again, who doesn’t make some truly unfathomable decisions in their early twenties?
Flop Rating: 8/10 — Positively flopalicious.
Ah, the reason for the season! Amsterdam was essentially dead on arrival, met with months of backlash against its stars for signing on to a film made by David O. Russell, after Russell admitted to sexually assaulting his trans niece 2011. Even if the film were a grand masterpiece, the entire cast’s judgment would need to be called into question. But the screenplay is convoluted and busy to no end, with nary an effective punchline. We’re going to need at least 10 pages of written statements from each of the film’s star-studded cast explaining why they would possibly agree to this.
In the film, Swift stars as Elizabeth Meekins, a woman whose father, a senator, has just suspiciously turned up dead. Elizabeth’s father’s death is the catalyst for the film’s events, so while I can’t spoil that for you in case you’re firing up HBO Max tonight, we can discuss the scene that made the rounds in October. Scroll down to the next film if you’re not terminally online like the rest of us, but Taylor Swift is only in Amsterdam for about 13 minutes. And not only that, her character is pushed in front of a car in a screaming blaze of gory glory. It was even featured in the film’s marketing, to the tune of 545k views on Twitter alone.
In all fairness, Swift’s does pretty well with her limited lines, but even a just-alright performance can’t dredge Amsterdam—and Swift’s decision to star in it after years of outspoken feminist action—out of its own ick factor.
Flop Rating: 9/10 — A flop the size of The Netherlands
You may not believe me, but there was a time when all up-and-coming stars had to be on a network detective procedural. It was a rite of passage, like the celebrity version of going to prom. Except, instead of getting dressed up in an ill-fitting dress from Bebe, they laid in a pool of fake blood for a couple of hours.
In her 2009 episode, Swift played a young murder victim named Haley Jones. At the time of her death, Haley was going through a bad girl phase, as evidenced by her facial piercings and jet-black hair, as well as the ripped-up grey skinny jeans and black hoodie that definitely can’t be returned to Hot Topic with bloodstains.
The episode is told in a series of flashbacks, illustrating Haley’s acquaintanceship with Crime Scene Investigator Nick Stokes (George Eads), after the two met when he first showed up to solve another murder at her apartment complex one year earlier. But times were different then, as evidenced by the series of spectacularly wild wigs Swift wears throughout the episode. Aside from those suspicious hairpieces, Swift is actually pretty damn charming in this little guest appearance! Still a teenager herself and not yet too recognizable for anyone to take her seriously, Swift pulls off the whole sympathetic, victim-of-the-week thing. This might even be her best role to date! It’s also responsible for the Goth Taylor picture beloved by Swifties.
Rating: 3/10 — It’s actually so goth to flop.
New Girl (2013)
Taylor Swift is never booking more than a couple of days on set—she’s far too busy for anything that demands a more consuming commitment. But her appearance in one single episode of New Girl is the smallest in a filmography of microscopic roles. Swift appears for a whopping 30 seconds in her Season 2 episode, as a woman named Elaine who breaks up Cece’s (Hannah Simone) wedding to her boyfriend Shivrang (Satya Bhabha).
Swift’s appearance here is really more of a cameo than a role as a guest star, but since she has a couple of lines, it still counts. Her character is supposed to be over the top, giving an ironically “Speak Now”-ish declaration of love mid-ceremony. And if there’s anything Taylor Swift knows how to do, it’s over the top declarations of love.
Rating: 3/10 — Not too floppy but still a bit sloppy
The Lorax (2012)
Based on the famous Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax is a time-honored, eerily prescient tale about the importance of protecting the environment. In the film, Swift is the voice of Audrey, the next-door neighbor to Ted (Zac Efron), who dreams of seeing a tree in real life. It’s not surprising that voiceover work is more suited toward Swift’s wheelhouse given her comfort around a studio microphone, but Swift’s work here is actually very charming and delivered with confidence.
Flop Rating: 2/10 — A push to save the environment is decidedly not a flop!
Valentine’s Day (2010)
If you’re a Swiftie who saw Valentine’s Day in theaters, you’re eligible for both a pension and a government-sponsored subscription to AARP magazine. You also should get a couple of titanium knees before The Eras Tour kicks off in 2023, just to be safe—I’ve already made my appointment. Yes, I bravely saw the first of Garry Marshall’s wackadoo holiday trilogy how it was made to be seen: With a lot of other people who wandered in on a cold February evening with nothing better to do.
In America’s answer to Love Actually, Swift stars as a high school student named Felicia, who couldn’t be more thrilled that it’s Valentine’s Day because of how in love she is with her track star boyfriend, Willy (Taylor Lautner). Yes, this is that cultural relic, the one leftover from the Taylor-on-Taylor romance that gave us “Back to December.” That alone is reason enough for Valentine’s Day to have some merit.
Weirdly, Swift totally works in this film. Her character is a lovestruck, naive teenager, cringey to the nth degree. At one point, Felicia shows a local news reporter a cheer that she’s made up for Willy, and it might stand as one of the weirdest things she’s ever done—not just in her brief filmography, but in her entire career. That might just be why Valentine’s Day is such a weird, silly little gift; it’s both the perfect time capsule and the perfect role for Taylor Swift.
Flop Rating: 1/10 — Today might’ve been a fairytale, but it was not a floppytale.