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Zendaya in Movies: From Disney Darling to Hollywood Powerhouse

At just 26 years old, Zendaya is a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.

Known for her movie and TV roles, she’s described by GQ as “a mononymous fashion icon and the busiest young star in Hollywood,” the model turned Disney channel star turned musician turned Emmy-award-winning actress already has an impressive resume.

So, who is Zendaya?

Zendaya’s full name is Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman. Her name is based on a word that means “give thanks.” Early in her career, she decided to go simply by Zendaya because she thought it sounded cool. Zendaya’s parents are both teachers and she considers her mom her greatest role model.

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Who is Zendaya dating?

That’s a question that Zendaya wishes you wouldn’t ask her. If Zendaya has a boyfriend and wants us to know, she’ll tell us. We should all respect that, right? The argument that “she chose to be in the spotlight so she should share her entire life with us” is dated. This is 2021 Hollywood — part of why we no longer publish paparazzi photos on Hollywood.com.

Zendaya got her start on Disney Channel

Zendaya’s first big role was in 2010 at just 13 starring in the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up as Rocky Blue, a background dancer for a local Chicago show alongside best friend CeCe Jones (played by Bella Thorne). The show ran for three seasons.

In 2015, we saw her take the lead in a new Disney Channel sitcom K.C. Undercover, where she plays a high school math genius who also happens to be a government spy. With this show, Zendaya got to take an active creative role in the show’s process as an executive producer.

“I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t good at singing or acting or dancing. That she wasn’t artistically inclined,” she recalled in a 2017 interview with Vogue. “I didn’t want them to all of a sudden be like, ‘Oh, yeah, and then she sings this episode!’ No. She can’t dance; she can’t sing. She can’t do that stuff. There are other things that a girl can be.”

So, what happens after two successful Disney shows?

“Having a Disney past sometimes makes it difficult for people to take you seriously,” Zendaya says when Yara Shahidi asks her what she plans to do next during a November 2017 interview for Glamour. “I have to pick the right projects, make sure I do the right things, take my time. And then I want to produce and create shows and movies, whether or not I’m starring in them.”

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Reading this quote years later is pretty incredible considering how much she has accomplished!

Zendaya movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Zendaya went from Disney to Marvel to take on the role of Michelle, better known as “MJ,” in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Considered to be her breakthrough role and her first feature-length Hollywood movie, Zendaya was the first Black actress to play MJ —even though her role was not the love interest obsessed with Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland) as seen in the past Spider-Man movies.

While the actress admits she wasn’t into comic books growing up, Zendaya saw Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man movie in theatres on her first date! “I was obsessed with it immediately,” she told Good Morning America in June 2017. “(I) always kind of related to Spider-Man because, to me, he’s a real person. He’s not just a superhero all the time, he is at the end of the day Peter Parker, who is a 15-year-old kid, which we can all relate to.”

“We’ve all been that awkward teenager and had that time in our life,” she continued. “Everybody has. So I think he was always like the realest superhero. He was tangible to people. It just happened that that was my first date and here we are now. It’s crazy.”

Hollywood Reporter described Zendaya as a “scene stealer” and the movie was both a critical and commercial success.

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“Seemingly effortless perfection” feels like the perfect description of Zendaya’s acting chops

Buy or rent Spider-Man: Homecoming on Amazon.

Zendaya movies: The Greatest Showman (2018)

Then came The Greatest Showman, where Zendaya proved that she can sing, dance, act, and do her own stunts.

“She blew me away,” director Michael Gracey told Vogue. “I would shout out a direction or give the slightest adjustment, and while flying through the air, she’d do it.”

Zendaya absolutely killed it as Anne Wheeler, an acrobat and trapeze artist alongside Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum and fellow Disney alum Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle. 

Zendaya and Zac Efron’s “Rewrite The Stars” is a favorite from the movie soundtrack, which won the GRAMMY for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media (one of many awards won for the film). Zendaya herself won Favorite Movie Actress in the Kids’ Choice Awards and Choice Drama Movie Actress in the Teen Choice Awards.

“This is only my second film, so you could imagine the nerves but it was a magical night,” Zendaya shared in an Instagram post following the movie premiere.

After another successful feature-length film, Zendaya was starting to think of what to do next. Hugh Jackman gave her some advice while on set.

“I was trying to figure out what project to do next, and he told me don’t do it if it doesn’t make you happy,” says Zendaya, Variety reported in 2017. “You have to make your own decisions. Don’t listen to other people. Just trust your gut.”

Watch The Greatest Showman on Disney+.

Trusting her gut led to Euphoria

It’s a good thing Zendaya trusted her gut because it brought us Euphoria, where Zendaya stuns as Rue Bennett, a far stray from her wholesome Disney characters.

The show, created by Sam Levinson, was inspired by his personal life experiences. He actually had Zendaya on his mood board for the show.

“I fell in love with who Rue was,” Zendaya recalls to PAPER Magazine. “It felt special because I don’t like to read scripts, and for me to read through it faster than anything I’ve ever read before, obviously I connected with it somehow.”

Euphoria didn’t just connect with Zendaya; it connected with viewers and critics alike. Indiewire described her as “exceptional at every turn” and Hollywood Reporter said she was “an absolute revelation.”

Zendaya’s authenticity and dedication to playing Rue were obvious to everyone who watched.

“I just feel like to be able to tell those stories. It felt like something special as I was doing it, and I am grateful that people have been able to connect to it the way they have,” she says later in a conversation with Entertainment Tonight at the 2020 Critics’ Choice Awards.

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“I’m so grateful for this show. For the beautiful family, I’ve gained from it, for the self-discovery and purpose I’ve found in it, and the people that we’ve been able to connect with and speak to through it,” Zendaya remarks in an Instagram post before the premiere of Euphoria’s finale. “We spent months, hard months, pouring ourselves into something we love, and it was an honor to have done so beside so many insanely talented, extraordinary people.”

In 2020, Zendaya won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, making history as the youngest winner ever in the category. In her speech, acknowledging the dark subject matter of the show, she said, “There is hope for young people.”

“At this moment in time, it is hard to find joy and beauty in things, and I really think that is important, Zendaya says in a later interview with Timothée Chalamet for ELLE. “Right now, we as Black people need to embrace joy and not let it be taken away from us.”

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Production for the third season is expected to begin within the next couple of months. Watch the first two seasons of Euphoria on HBO Max.

Zendaya movies: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

The same year Euphoria premiered, we got to see Zendaya as MJ again in Spider-Man: Far From Home.

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Just like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zendaya’s second Marvel film was a hit, surpassing $1 billion at the box office, Sony’s highest-grossing film ever as of August 2019. The Wrap said how the movie “frequently feels like a charming teen road-trip comedy that occasionally turns into a superhero movie” in the best way, saying Zendaya’s performance serves “deadpan Daria-ness.”

Watch Spider-Man: Far From Home on Disney+.

Zendaya movies: Malcolm & Marie (2020)

Malcolm & Marie was born out of quarantine talks with Euphoria creator Sam Levinson. A few months in, Zendaya wondered if they could pull off making a full-length movie despite the limitations of quarantine. 

“I was fascinated with this idea of shooting a film with just two characters…It was like a play,” Zendaya says in an interview with Timothée Chalamet for ELLE. “It was an actor’s dream. But it was also a little nerve-racking.” 

The two didn’t have anything in mind at first, so they started brainstorming. Zendaya recounted Sam Levinson’s pitch to GQ: “ ‘What if I just stripped everything away? There’s no gimmick, no anything. What does that look like? What if it’s just a relationship piece? What if it’s just two people, one’s upset because the other one didn’t thank them for something, and they’re in one place? And that’s all it is.’ ”

The result is a black-and-white film starring Tenet’s John David Washington all set in a single L.A. house with just two actors and a 22-person crew shot in just two weeks.

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“Normally I’m pretty self-critical and that leads me to be far too fearful to make things myself or trust myself enough to even try,” Zendaya shared with her 90.6 million Instagram followers in a post following the movie’s premiere. “This is really my first time believing that maybe I could. This is my first time being a leading lady, but also my first time being this creatively involved in something, producing something, co-financing something, owning something, and sharing it all with my crew.”

“It feels curious, then, that while audiences are spending the pandemic returning to escapist comfort food like The Office, Zendaya has instead gravitated to the rawest, most emotionally rigorous role of her career yet,” Hunter Harris writes in his Zendaya profile for GQ.

Watch Malcolm & Marie on Netflix.

Zendaya movies: Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)

Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now: the Space Jam sequel is here and Zendaya is voicing Lola Bunny.

Director Malcolm D. Lee wanted to portray Lola Bunny better than the 1996 film, to “reflect the authenticity of strong, capable female characters.” 

“It’s hard to imagine a better person to help do that than Zendaya, one of the leading voices of her generation,” Entertainment Weekly says about Malcolm D. Lee’s decision.

You can also see LeBron James, Don Cheadle, and Jim Carrey in the long-anticipated sequel of the 1996 original movie.

Watch Space Jam: A New Legacy on Max.

Zendaya movies: Dune (2021) & Dune: Part Two (2024)

Zendaya continues to show her range as an actress in her role as Chani in the sci-fi movie Dune franchise.

“I had a great fricking time,” Zendaya recalls about being on set for Dune in a November 2020 interview with ELLE, where co-star Timothée Chalamet posed the questions. “I felt like such a badass, just wearing that suit and walking around on these beautiful rock formations. It felt cool and so exciting to be part of the magic.”

Watch the Dune trailer here:

And check out the Dune: Part Two trailer here:

Watch Dune on Max and be sure to catch Dune: Part Two in theaters today!


Zendaya movies: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

As if Zendaya hadn’t been busy enough, Spider-Man: No Way Home came out right after Dune in the same year.

Check out the trailer here:

Watch Spider-Man: No Way Home on Disney+.

Upcoming Zendaya movies: Challengers (2024)

Zendaya steps into a fresh cinematic world with director Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming project, “Challengers,” hitting screens on April 26, 2024. Watch Tashi (played by Zendaya), a retired tennis star turned coach, whip her hubby Art (played by Mike Faist) from zero to hero in the tennis world! Things get spicy when Art faces off against Patrick (played by Josh O’Connor), Tashi’s former flame, in a high-stakes challenger event! Game on for drama and rivalry on the court!

View the trailer here:

Be sure to catch Challengers in theaters on April 26, 2024!


Everybody loves Zendaya

Now, let’s turn to Zendaya’s celebrity friends and fans to describe what she means to them. Get ready for some wholesome content.

The most wholesome birthday tweet from Dune co-star Timothée Chalamet

Another wholesome tweet, this time from LeBron James 

This iconic moment where Rickey Thompson reenacted Zendaya’s “Replay” music video

Truly breaks the brain 

Not planned

We can’t wait to see what Zendaya does next in movies and shows, but it’s clear that the future is very bright for this young Hollywood actress.

“There’s this misconstrued idea that once you make it, there’s only room for yourself. I disagree,” Zendaya shared with PAPER Magazine in 2019. “Once you’re able to make room for yourself, you try to make as many freakin’ rooms as you can. I’m still in the beginning of my career and I don’t have all the power in the world, because, at the end of the day, a lot of the power still lies with people who have been making stuff since before I was born, who are one narrative and one color. Now, it’s just about getting to that point where I can do that on my own. If I wait for things to happen, they might not ever happen.”

If that doesn’t leave you feeling HollyGOOD and empowered to make things happen for yourself, I don’t know what will!

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