Some people may have questions about Vanessa Hudgens and Austin Butler, or Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron, but we don't give a crap. What we care about are Vanessa Hudgens' movies. And, yes, we know it all starts with the High School Musical trilogy, but it goes in a very different direction from there. If you haven't seen her in Spring Breakers, Sucker Punch, The Frozen Ground or Freaks of Nature, then you haven't really seen Vanessa doing her thing. But the good news is, it's never too late to get started.
Born on Dec. 14, 1988, Vanessa began starring in musical theater at the age of eight, in such productions as The Wizard Of Oz, Evita, The Music Man, Cinderella and Damn Yankees. Eventually she managed to score some commercials and made her film acting debut in 2003’s Thirteen. This led to her starring in the sci-fi adventure Thunderbirds (2004). She has also appeared in a number of television series, among them The Suite Life Of Zack & Cody, where she got to co-star with best friend (and High School Musical co-star) Ashley Tisdale.
Two years later, the original High School Musical aired on the Disney Channel and her life changed forever.
Lead image via Getty.
See all of the Vanessa Hudgens' movies by scrolling down.
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Former astronaut Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) runs International Rescue, a hidden organization on Tracy Island that houses the futuristic vehicles created by Ray "Brains" Hackenbacker (Anthony Edwards). But while Jeff is on a mission in space, his nemesis, The Hood (Ben Kingsley), invades Tracy Island. The Hood plots to use the island's technology for evil, and only Jeff's son, Alan (Brady Corbet), can stop him — with a team that includes Tin-Tin (Vanessa), who has psychic abilities. Being one of the lead characters in a film at a young age didn't seem to impact on Vanessa at all, who commented in a promotional interview at the time, "I wanted to see how it does in the finished product. I love it — it’s so neat. It gets my adrenaline going — it’s full of action.”
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High School Musical (2006)
A genuine pop culture phenomenon! In the first film, Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa) — two teens who are worlds apart — meet at a karaoke contest and discover their mutual love for music. Which pretty much leads to singing and dancing from everyone. "Well, growing up doing musical theater and seeing that the Disney Channel was going to be doing a musical was just automatically a spark of interest," Vanessa explains. "The fact that it hasn’t been done in so long, it had to have some kind of impact on kids. Musicals are a great thing, because they integrate singing and dance scenes. But no one knew it was going to be this big. It has become a phenomenon. It’s hysterical, especially when I go out with my friends and people start doing the scenes to us. It’s just funny."
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High School Musical 2 (2007)
School's out for summer and the East High Wildcats are ready to make it the time of their lives after landing jobs in a wealthy country club owned by Sharpay and Ryan's family. Vanessa says, "Gabriella wants to be all about the now and not about the future. She’s just about having fun. She’s never had one summer in the same place, because of her mom’s job. She’s all about having the time of her life and having a summer to remember with her first boyfriend.”
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Walt Disney Pictures
High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)
As seniors in high school, Troy and Gabriella struggle with the idea of being separated from one another as college approaches. Along with the rest of the Wildcats, they stage a spring musical to address their experiences, hopes and fears about their future. "I think the first and second ones were all leading up to this movie," Vanessa reflects. "We’re dealing with issues that we were talking about, like college and jobs and moving on and not knowing what’s next. That’s kind of what this is all about, this is our senior year and we’re facing adult issues. We don’t know what kind of colleges where they have scholarships, leaving your relationships behind, your friends, your family, and it’s everything everyone has gone through at one point."
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A modern-day take on Beauty and the Beast where a New York teen is transformed into a hideous monster (no fur on this one) in order to find true love.
Of the journey of her character, Linda Taylor (the "beauty"), in this film, Vanessa comments, "She gradually falls in love, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s really hard for her to open her heart, because she’s had to shelter herself and protect her dad, who’s a drug addict. I think when you go through something like that, you automatically put a lock on your heart and find it hard to open up. She definitely gets by and is a strong character, but you get to see her eventually open her heart and fall in love."
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Sucker Punch (2011)
Locked away, a young woman named Babydoll (Emily Browning) retreats to a fantasy world where she is free to go wherever her mind takes her. Determined to fight for real freedom, she finds four women — Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) — to join together to escape the terrible fate that awaits them. With a virtual arsenal at their disposal, the allies battle everything from samurais to serpents, while trying to decide what price they will pay for survival. "I had to fight for Sucker Punch," says Vanessa. "But I’m excited, because I feel like it’s the first part that people are not going to even notice that girl that’s running around with the 30 cal gun is the girl from High School Musical. It’s literally six movies put together as one. Five strong, sexy women, kicking ass. It’s very empowering."
It was also her first movie shot almost entirely against green screen: "It’s really interesting. You just have to take a leap of faith. In part of the movie I’m in a B-25 bomber plane and I’m shooting a 50 cal gun and a 30 cal gun out of the back, and I’m firing at a dragon. I’m screaming at it and I’m shooting at it and it takes a bite off the plane. It’s intense, but you just have to trust director Zack Snyder. If he says he needs more, you give him more. If he needs less, you give him less."
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New Line Cinema
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)
Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) partners with his mom's husband, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), on a mission to find his grandfather (Michael Caine), who is thought to be missing on a mythical island. Joining them, and representing an entirely different kind of family dynamic are Gabato and Kailani, played by Luis Guzmán and Vanessa Hudgens, a father/daughter helicopter team who flew Sean and Hank to the island from nearby Palau, New Guinea, in a blinding hurricane that has destroyed the copter and left them all stranded together.
“Kailani is tough because she has to be,” says Vanessa. “She looks after her father. She’s also very outspoken, and, from the start, the one thing she’s been most outspoken about is how this job was a bad idea. But embracing this experience and everything it offers means she’ll have to open her heart and Kailani has always been ruled by her head. But she gets pulled into this incredible world and ends up finding more than she expected.”
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Spring Breakers (2012)
Four college girls (Vanessa and Selena Gomez among them) hold up a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation. While partying, drinking, and taking drugs, they are arrested, only to be bailed out by a drug and arms dealer (James Franco). It was working with Franco that drew Vanessa to the project, as well as the bond of the four girl characters. "The relationships in the movie are such strong bonds," she explains, "like girlfriends who have been best friends since childhood. It's such an amazing connection that females have. In order to show that on film, we needed to establish a tight connection."
To prepare as a group, the girls did multiple read-throughs of the script together, "to build an amazing bond so it felt like we'd known each other for years," she says. They studied girls who were "hard and rough and tough — it really is this completely different world. They're just living in the moment. Our characters just do whatever they need to do to get what they want. As women, they know they're hot and empowered. Together as a crew, they know they can conquer the world."
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The Frozen Ground (2013)
A teenage escapee (Vanessa) provides a critical break in the case, as an Alaskan detective (Nicolas Cage) hunts a serial killer who has been preying on women for 13 years. Vanessa plays the real-life Cindy Paulson. “There’s a rawness that Cindy has, when she opens herself up and lets her emotions flow,” says Vanessa, who was drawn to the project by the chance to portray a real person. “I sat down with Cindy and got to know her whole life story from beginning to end. I was so fortunate to have her open up to me in such a welcoming way. At the end of the day she has a good heart and good soul, because all she really wants to do is to be able to capture the bad guy and to help out the victims that didn’t have a voice or a say or a chance to survive.”
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Open Road Films
Machete Kills (2013)
The U.S. government recruits Machete (Danny Trejo) to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who looks to launch a weapon into space. Vanessa's role is a small but memorable one. In an interview with Collider Vanessa enthused, "That was great. It was super fun and really quick. I play Cereza, which means Cherry in Spanish, which says a lot about the character. It’s a quick little cameo. I just wanted a chance to work with director Robert Rodriguez. I think he’s such an incredible filmmaker. Just his whole work ethic I found fascinating, so I jumped at the opportunity to be able to do something with him."
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Gimme Shelter (2013)
Vanessa plays pregnant teenager Apple Bailey, who flees her abusive mother in search of her father, only to be rejected by her stepmother and forced to survive on the streets until a compassionate stranger offers a hopeful alternative. Recognizing how important this role could be for her, and proving to others that she could handle more challenging roles, she came to the audition in character. "I knew I could bring her to life," Vanessa notes. "It was an opportunity to completely transform myself. When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see myself. The story, which is based on the lives a several young women who stayed at the shelter, is completely terrifying, which was all the more reason why I wanted to do it."
Landing the role was just the beginning of a long and challenging journey for her. "I chopped all my hair off," she says. "I had a neck tattoo with fake piercings and I wore baggy old clothes. When I walked around the building I lived in and no one recognized me, I started to get really excited about the role. The hardest thing was trying to stay away from paparazzi. I wanted the way I looked to be a complete surprise."
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Freaks of Nature (2015)
Dillford is a town that really encourages community spirit and harmony, and for the humans, vampires and zombies it's been working pretty well. But then came the alien apocalypse and everything went to hell. Now one member of each species teams up to stop the aliens. An excited Vanessa told
cambio.com of her human character, "She's completely bored with the life that she lives and she could care less about what's going on in the world. She lives in her own bubble, but things take a turn for her and she finally finds her way to happiness.
"I thought the script was a breath of fresh air," she adds, "and it was so fun. I'm a big zombie fan myself so reading the scene when Lorelei comes into a room full of zombies — that would be my heaven!" Yeah, until they start chowing down on her brains.
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Grease Live (2016)
First there was the play, then there was the movie (and a terrible sequel), and now it's come (or came) to prime time in this live production. After enjoying a summer romance, high school students Danny and Sandy are unexpectedly reunited when she transfers to Rydell High. There Sandy must contend with cynical Rizzo (Vanessa) and the Pink Ladies in an attempt to win Danny's heart again. Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Vanessa said, “I definitely watched [Grease] growing up. I feel like it always was a part of my life. And Rizzo is such an amazing part. Now that I’m older, I’m like, oh my God. She’s tough. She’s got grit.”
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Second Act (2018)
Here's the official line on the romantic comedy that is scheduled for some time this year: "A big box store worker reinvents her life and her life-story and shows Madison Avenue what street smarts can do." Vanessa stars along with Jennifer Lopez, Leah Remini and This is Us' Milo Ventimiglia.