This paper presents the design and performance of an electrostatic actuator consisting of a laterally compliant cantilever beam and a fixed curved electrode, both suspended above a ground plane. A theoretical description of the static behavior of the cantilever as it is pulled into contact with the rigid fixed-electrode structure is given. Two models are presented: a simplified semi-analytical model based on energy methods, and fully three-dimensional (3-D) coupled electromechanical numerical simulations using CoSolve-EM. The two models are in qualitative agreement with each other, and predict stable actuator behavior when the beam deflection becomes constrained by the curved electrode geometry before electrostatic pull-in can occur. The pull-in behavior depends on the shape of the curved electrode. Test devices have been fabricated by polysilicon surface micromachining techniques. Experimental results confirm the basic theoretical results. Stable behavior with relatively large displacements and forces can be generated by these curved electrode actuators. Depending on the design, or as a result of geometrical imperfections, regions of unstable (pull-in) deflection behavior are also observed.