Did this summer mark the moment in time when the model-turned-actress became legit? In 2015, a number of women who have achieved huge success in the fashion world — Cara Delevingne, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley — spoke out at length about wanting to leave the runways, editorials and ad campaigns behind to focus on film careers instead. During the summer movie season, they lit up the silver screen (and in some cases, helped to blow up the box office) with their breakout roles, though some of their performances were certainly more memorable than others.
We watched every film that featured a model in either a starring or supporting role this summer in order to bring you candid reviews of their acting chops. Read on for our findings.
Chanel Iman in "Dope"
I'll preface this by saying that I think "Dope" was one of the best movies of the summer, period. While my overall expectations were pretty high going into it — I'd read the reviews, which were almost universally glowing — I figured Chanel Iman would be relegated to the "token hot girl" role in which models so often wind up.
When we're introduced to her character, Lily, she's answering the door at her father's house wearing little besides a low-cut robe. Immediate thought: "Yep. Token hot girl." False. Before long, she's taken a bunch of Molly, puked on the film's geeky and winning lead, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and, after offering to drive him to a college interview (still high), runs out of the car in a panic to pee in the bushes outside the local Seven Bucks (wonderfully, the film's version of Starbucks). The incident gets filmed, goes viral and gives rise to a new street name for Molly: Lily.
Iman shifts seamlessly between slinky boredom and wild-eyed mania, carrying the whole episode with unbridled comic aplomb. Expectations definitely exceeded. —Eliza Brooke
Cara Delevingne in "Paper Towns"
Let's get this out of the way now: Cara Delevingne's American accent in the role of Margo Roth Spiegelman, the adventurous object of Quentin (Nat Wolff)'s affection in "Paper Towns," is not the best. Certain words like "car" cause particular difficulty. But that's beside the point. There are plenty of respected actors who struggle with foreign accents.
For her first leading role, Delevingne's acting is good enough, and she's helped along by the fact that the casting is so on the nose. Margo is beautiful, brave and mysterious — the most independent-minded sort of popular girl, but one who nonetheless finds herself chafing at the boxes others, including Quentin, want to put her in. In a lot of ways, that's Delevingne, who's currently fighting to distance herself from the industry that made her famous. She brings to the role all of the charisma that won her legions of fans in the first place — and that's where she wins. In multicharacter scenes, she's the one you're watching.
If not innately stellar, her acting will improve — she has enough films lined up to get the practice she needs — but the presence she already boasts is something you can't teach. —Eliza Brooke
Abbey Lee in "Mad Max: Fury Road"
As possibly my favorite model of all time, I had very high hopes for Abbey Lee Kershaw in her breakout performance in "Mad Max: Fury Road." Luckily, her role as "The Dag" — one of the evil, post-apocalyptic dictator Immortan Joe's five wives (or "prized breeders") — allowed her to let her freak flag fly. While she wasn't granted many speaking moments, her haunting beauty and slightly out-there mannerisms helped her to stand out from the other gorgeous women she starred alongside, including Zoë Kravitz and Riley Keough. She's feisty, spiritual and seems to have some psychic abilities, which adds to the otherworldly quality that her character emits.
Kershaw also provides a much-needed bit of comic relief in a film that can best be described as an unrelenting fiery car chase through the desert. However, due to her lack of significant scenes and screen time, I'm not sure that viewers who were unfamiliar with her modeling work would have appreciated her execution as much as I did. —Alyssa Vingan
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Being that she's an action film veteran, Huntington-Whiteley's casting as "Splendid" — Immortan Joe's favorite wife — did not come as a shock. Aside from Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa, she portrays the bravest, most badass woman in the film, and also shows the most range: Splendid is pregnant, a result of being held captive and repeatedly raped by the dictator she and the other "breeders" are trying to escape (with the help of Furiosa). She's grappling with her first-time maternal instincts and is going to very dangerous lengths to protect her unborn child; plus, the 28-year-old actress did all of her own stunts.
When Splendid takes the screen in the film, you can't take your eyes off of her, and it's not just because of her impossibly good looks. We're willing to bet that, as far as long-term leading lady potential goes, Huntington-Whiteley's career has real legs. (That's a supermodel pun, folks.) —Alyssa Vingan
Emily Ratajkowski in "We Are Your Friends"
You may have heard that Zac Efron vehicle "We Are Your Friends" proved to be one of the biggest wide-release flops in recent history — further proven by the fact that there was only one other human in the theater when I saw the movie on a recent weekday evening — so I took this into consideration while reviewing Emily Ratajkowski's performance. The 24-year-old has already tested the Hollywood waters with small parts in "Gone Girl" and "Entourage," but this marked her first time in a leading role, playing a lost college dropout named Sophie who is trapped in a "mutually beneficial" relationship with the rich, aging DJ she professionally assists (if you get my drift). Things get complicated when her boss-slash-boyfriend takes fellow dissatisfied millennial and aspiring EDM producer Cole Carter (Zac Efron) under his wing, and an Ecstasy-fueled love triangle ensues.
Despite the makings of a box office win (beautiful people, electronic music, tons of partying and buzzy director Max Joseph of "Catfish" fame), this movie was kind of difficult to watch — some parts felt way too try-hard and others were downright depressing. However, I can't fault Ratajkowski for this. Considering her super-hot character should be easy to hate, she's very likable on screen and I ended up rooting for Sophie as the movie came to a close. She's minimally expressive, but the story didn't require much more from her character than the occasional flirty smile, the "come hither" stare and, most frequently, the sexy (yet very sullen) pout, which is probably effortless for her, anyway.
If her big screen roles thus far are any indication, Ratajkowski will likely continue to be typecast as the "token Los Angeles mega-babe" that she is IRL, but hey, she can probably do that better than anyone else on the scene right now. —Alyssa Vingan