Michelle Pfeiffer is back!

Well, in truth she was never really gone, but she did decide about fifteen years ago to downshift her career in order to raise her kids with TV producer husband David Kelley. Imagine making a choice like that in the dog-eat-dog world of the movies!

Now that her kids are launched, it seems she’s back to stay. You can see her in Kenneth Branagh’s remake of “Murder on the Orient Express,” and in a distinguished cast including Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi, critics have singled out her performance.

Meanwhile, in “The Wizard of Lies,” HBO’s drama about the Bernie Madoff scandal, she plays wife Ruth to perfection, and you only wish she had more screen time.

Born into humble circumstances in Santa Ana, California, Michelle had no time or money to study acting formally. After several years of TV work, she finally broke through in 1982, co-starring in the ill-fated “Grease 2.”

Her performance was much better than the movie, and the following year, she won the pivotal part of Elvira, Tony Montana’s coke-addled girlfriend, in Brian de Palma’s “Scarface.” That role revealed her acting chops and launched her career in earnest.

Over the next two decades, Michelle would become one of the top female stars in Hollywood. Indeed, shes almost as famous for the roles she passed on as for those she actually played. Among others, she turned down the leads in “Pretty Woman,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Basic Instinct” that respectively advanced the careers of Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, and Sharon Stone.

Michelle’s talent remains as remarkable as her beauty. She has always embodied a fresh, natural, All-American look that manages to be striking and accessible all at once. Her sparkling smile lights up the screen. It’s awfully nice to see it again.

The 21 pictures below celebrate the glory of Michelle Pfeiffer: past, present and future.

Who wears short shorts?

The girl next door...and what a neighborhood.

American beauty.

Babys got blue eyes.

Beautiful when bored.

Shes watchful, and of course, so are we.

Its my profound fear of embarrassment that keeps me going. Really?

The eyes have it!

One smile, and your day is made.

Sensing danger in Dangerous Liaisons, with John Malkovich.

I still think people will find out Im not really very talented. Well, it hasn't happened yet.

Id like to do an action movie...Id like to kick butt.

I cant see myself ever retiring. Phew!

Cute in curls.

Lovely while listening.

Feeling — and looking — good. Or is that an understatement?

Talk about blossoming!

I dont look so tough, but I am. We believe it.

She can vamp it up with the best of them.

Shes a vegan, and it shows.

If you think hitting 40 is liberating, wait till you hit 50!

More:  18 Sexiest Women Over 50 in Hollywood