1. The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

Storyline: Shailene Woodley plays Hazel, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who, despite her mother’s attempts to stop her from attending a support group, gains life-changing insight after she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort). The two teenagers, drawn together by their shared unconventional outlook, embark on a journey of love and self-discovery, despite the impending darkness that looms ahead, caused by their declining health.

Why it’s a major performance: Shailene Woodley’s heart-wrenching performance as Hazel brings a youthful yet profound perspective to the themes of love, life, and death. Her portrayal of a teenager navigating through her terminal illness while simultaneously experiencing the pangs of first love is potent and incredibly realistic. Woodley’s skillful handling of such a complex character won her widespread critical acclaim and established her as the successful actress she is today.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): Emotional yet understated, Woodley’s performance went beyond the sappiness typical of teenage love stories. She infused her character with such authenticity and insight that it led to an entirely new level of viewer engagement. By portraying Hazel with a rare combination of fragility and strength, Woodley ensured her remarkable performance remains etched in the minds of viewers.

2. Big Little Lies (2017-2019)

IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Storyline: Set in the picturesque community of Monterey, California, “Big Little Lies” is a darkly comedic drama revolving around three emotionally troubled women, including Shailene Woodley’s character, Jane Chapman. With a complicated past, Jane tries to start afresh in this new town; however, after her son gets accused of bullying, she finds herself battling her old demons as well as the elitist culture of her new community.

Why it’s a major performance: Woodley brings to life a character who is raw, realistic and effortlessly human. Jane, a rape survivor and a single mother, is fraught with struggles and complexities, and Woodley’s dignified portrayal not only does justice to her complexities but also provides a quiet commentary on the societal stigma associated with victims of sexual violence. Also, her dynamic with other leading ladies, including Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, adds depth to the show and her character.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): Woodley’s Jane is not merely a supporting character in this ensemble cast. Instead, her journey of struggling with PTSD and self-acceptance, coupled with her efforts to raise her son as a single mother, become crucial narratives themselves. Led by her captivating performance, Jane’s character eventually becomes a powerful symbol of the fight against victim-blaming, adding further relevance and impact to the series.

3. Divergent (2014)

IMDB Rating: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%

Storyline: In a society divided into factions based on human virtues, Shailene Woodley plays Tris Prior, a ‘Divergent’ who doesn’t fit into any one group. As she uncovers a conspiracy to destroy all Divergents, she must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.

Why it’s a major performance: Despite being a young adult film, ‘Divergent’ required Woodley to bring a grim determination and stoic resilience to the terminal screen. Her portrayal of Tris Prior, who is constantly torn between survival and loyalty, showcased her range as an actress. The physicality of the role, coupled with the emotional arc of her character, helped Woodley deliver a stand-out performance in this dystopian saga.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): The success of Divergent and its subsequent sequels owes much to Woodley’s performance. She brought depth and nuance to the character of Tris, making her more than just a run-of-the-mill, dystopian heroine. Her layered performance ensured that Tris Prior stood out among a sea of similar characters, bringing a sense of genuineness to a fantastical setting.

4. The Spectacular Now (2013)

IMDB Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Storyline: Woodley plays Aimee Finicky, a socially awkward and naive high schooler who becomes the unlikely love interest of the charming, yet self-destructive, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller). Through their budding relationship, the pair learn valuable lessons about the joys of living in the moment and the perils of neglecting the future.

Why it’s a major performance: Woodley’s portrayal of the shy and introverted Aimee offered an engaging contrast to Miles Teller’s outgoing Sutter. Despite her character’s simple and naive demeanor, Woodley managed to bring out Aimee’s depth and complexity; from her expectations of love to her internalized fears and insecurities. With this excellent performance, Woodley further solidified her place as a remarkable young talent in the industry.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): The authenticity that Woodley brought to her character in The Spectacular Now was universally lauded. Her relatability as Aimee and her subtle exploration of teen experiences made the character more than just a stereotype of a high-school love interest. In doing so, Woodley elevated an otherwise typical teenage romance to something much more meaningful and insightful.

5. Adrift (2018)

IMDB Rating: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

Storyline: Woodley’s character, Tami Oldham, is a free-spirited wanderer who embarks on a sailing trip with her lover, Richard (Sam Claflin). When they get caught in a catastrophic hurricane, they’re left stranded in the Pacific Ocean. With Richard badly injured, Tami must find the strength and determination to survive and get them to safety.

Why it’s a major performance: Masterfully conveying the physical and emotional resilience demanded by her role, Woodley offers a stellar performance in ‘Adrift.’ The film relies heavily on her portrayal of Tami, as she battles the raw elements of nature. Her believable performance of Tami’s strength, determination, and journey from fear to courage make the movie an emotionally compelling watch.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): In ‘Adrift’, Woodley not only had to portray a character fighting for survival, but she also had to convey the tenderness of romance and harsh reality of desolation convincingly. She embraced the physical challenges of the role and convincingly delivered Tami’s transition from a carefree adventurous soul to a determined survivor, making it another milestone in her acting career.

6. Snowbird (2018)

IMDB Rating: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: NA%

Storyline: In this short film, Woodley plays a young woman living off the grid in the desert community of Slab City, California. As she goes about her day, sharing food and stories with her eclectic neighbours, viewers get a glimpse into an alternative way of life, far removed from mainstream society.

Why it’s a major performance: Even in the less-than-30-minute runtime of ‘Snowbird,’ Woodley spectacularly manages to leave an impression. Playing a character who chose an offbeat lifestyle, Woodley convincingly portrays the sufficiency and contentment her character finds in her solitude. Her performance reveals her character’s tranquility and also subtly portrays her unorthodox choice as an act of resistance against the norms of society.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): Woodley gives an understated yet meaningful performance in this overlooked gem, bringing a nuanced subtlety to her role. The absence of a traditional narrative demands that the emotional arc of the film be conveyed solely through her performance, and she manages to do so with remarkable precision and delicacy. Her compelling performance adds a layer of depth to the straightforward story, making it a profound commentary on freedom and independence.

7. White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

IMDB Rating: 6.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%

Storyline: Shailene Woodley plays Kat Connors, a teenager whose complicated relationship with her mother takes an unexpected turn when she mysteriously disappears. As Kat grapples with her mother’s disappearance, she is forced to emerge from her childhood into adulthood with an abruptness that overwhelms and defines her.

Why it’s a major performance: Woodley’s portrayal of Kat showcases a complex interplay of emotions and shifting identities. Her character’s journey from a carefree teenager to an adult dealing with loss and uncertainty is phenomenally portrayed. The emotional depth Woodley brings to her character is commendable; she seamlessly moves between the vulnerabilities and strengths of her character, offering a performance that elevates the film.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): This film added a significant dimension to Woodley’s acting range. Playing a character who deals with abrupt changes, heartbreaking revelations, and haunting pasts, she proved that she could handle intense drama with the same ease as mainstream roles. Woodley’s performance in ‘White Bird in a Blizzard’ also demonstrates her ability to carry a film with her convincing emotive performances.

8. The Descendants (2011)

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Storyline: In “The Descendants,” Woodley plays Alexandra King, the elder daughter of Matt King (George Clooney), a man who attempts to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife falls into a coma following a boating accident. As Matt struggles with his newfound responsibility, he also learns a disturbing truth about his wife’s infidelity.

Why it’s a major performance: In one of her early significant roles, Woodley gives an absolutely fantastic performance as the rebellious and troubled Alexandra, who has been thrust into adulthood too soon. Woodley perfectly captures her character’s depth – a teen stuck between her rebellious persona and the unwanted responsibility thrown upon her due to her mother’s coma.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): Woodley’s raw and honest portrayal opposite an actor of Clooney’s caliber displays tremendous maturity and talent. By bringing to the fore the complexities of her character and putting forth a genuine understanding of her character’s emotional upheaval, she truly shines in The Descendants. This marked one of her most significant big-screen breakthroughs and cemented her status as an up-and-coming actor to watch.

9. Insurgent (2015)

IMDB Rating: 6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%

Storyline: This sequel to “Divergent” sees Woodley reprise her role as Tris Prior. Following the events of the previous film, Tris and Four (Theo James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris’s family sacrificed their lives to protect and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them.

Why it’s a major performance: Woodley returns as Tris in “Insurgent” with a more nuanced and matured performance. Her portrayal of the heroine Tris struggling with guilt, grief, identity, and destiny is intense and relatable. Despite the grandeur and furious pace of the film, Woodley ensures that Tris remains a well-rounded character whose emotional upheaval is as interesting as the film’s scale and action.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): As Tris, Woodley exhibits an striking emotional arc and character growth. Though she finds herself in high-stakes situations fraught with danger, it is her exploration of Tris’s mental state, and the guilt and trauma of loss that adds emotional depth to the film. Her standout performance enhances the thrills and action sequences, adding a personal touch to the dystopian world of the Divergent series.

10. The Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008-2013)

IMDB Rating: 5/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%

Storyline: In “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” Woodley plays Amy Juergens, a promising musician who becomes pregnant after a one-night stand. The show follows Amy’s journey through teenage pregnancy and her navigating through high school while preparing to be a young mother.

Why it’s a major performance: As Amy, Woodley perfectly captures the emotional turmoil, vulnerability, and the grit of a teenager who has to face motherhood. Her comprehensive understanding of the character allows her to portray Amy’s determination, her insecurities, her moments of strength, and weakness brilliantly. The show essentially revolved around Woodley’s character, and she carried the weight of it admirably, ensuring the audience connected with Amy’s journey on a deep level.

Why it’s a major performance (Cont’d): Woodley’s excellent performance boosted the show’s popularity and longevity, despite mixed reviews. Her poignant portrayal of a teenager grappling with the realities of premature adulthood garnered her the attention and accolades she needed at the inception of her impressive career. This early career performance paved the way for Shailene Woodley’s future success in the industry, affirming her talent and potential.