Total Recall

Reese Witherspoon's 10 Best Movies

We look at the ten best-reviewed films of the Hot Pursuit star.

by | May 6, 2015 | Comments

She’s one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood, with dozens of films to her credit and a lifetime box office gross total topping a billion dollars — and this weekend, Reese Witherspoon will add to that impressive sum with Hot Pursuit, an action comedy pairing her with Sofia Vergara. To celebrate Reese’s return to the big screen, as well as a terrific 2014 that included her Oscar-nominated work in Wild as well as a small supporting appearance in Inherent Vice, we decided to dedicate this week’s Total Recall to an appreciative look back at some of her best-reviewed releases.


10. LEGALLY BLONDE (2001) 68%


Critics tend to vilify the romantic comedy, but it’s an undeniable rite of passage for twentysomething actresses in Hollywood, and with 2001’s Legally Blonde, Witherspoon managed to enjoy the perks of the genre (such as the pay raise that comes with toplining a $141 million smash hit) without succumbing to its worst pitfalls (including dreadful scripts and scathing reviews). While Legally Blonde is far from groundbreaking, and its plot hinges on any number of silly contrivances, it’s never less than likable — largely thanks to a magnetic performance from its talented leading lady. In the words of Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, “As an actor of distinction who’s all of 25, Reese Witherspoon reveals interesting dark roots even as she plays golden girls.”

 


9. MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (2009) 72%


In real life, Reese Witherspoon is a hair under five feet, two inches tall, which might be why the idea of playing a freakishly tall woman nicknamed “Ginormica” appealed to her — or maybe it was just the chance to score one of those cushy voice acting gigs that all the major celebrities seem to get these days. Either way, the result was Monsters vs. Aliens, Witherspoon’s only film of 2009 and a $381 million 3D hit for DreamWorks Animation. Alongside the famous voices of Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Steven Colbert, Rainn Wilson, Will Arnett, and others, Witherspoon helped wreak family-friendly cartoon havoc — and helped earn praise from critics like the Houston Chronicle’s Amy Biancolli, who wrote, “True, the story doesn’t amount to much, but the plot tends to take a back seat when you’ve got a not-quite-50-foot version of Reese Witherspoon duking it out with a mighty alien robot alongside the Golden Gate Bridge.”

 


8. FREEWAY (1996) 76%


She’d made a few movies by the mid-’90s, but it was Reese Witherspoon’s work in 1996’s Freeway that really made critics sit up and take notice. At the center of this modern take on Red Riding Hood, playing a juvenile delinquent whose trip to her grandmother’s house is impeded by a wolfish sexual predator (Kiefer Sutherland), she essentially used her smoldering performance as a challenge, daring viewers to look away. It was a challenge unmet by many critics, including the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Margaret A. McGurk, who wrote, “I didn’t particularly want to like Freeway, but I couldn’t help myself. Reese Witherspoon made me.”

 


7. WALK THE LINE (2005) 82%


Witherspoon joined the ranks of Oscar-winning leading ladies for her sensitive portrayal of June Carter Cash in this Johnny Cash biopic, which follows the early years of the Man in Black (played by Joaquin Phoenix), including the beginning of his career and the romance that would endure through more than four decades of his life. One of the year’s biggest hits and a five-time Academy Award nominee, Walk the Line wasn’t without its concessions to Hollywood formula — or without its critics, including Cash’s daughter Rosanne — but most scribes had plenty of praise for the film, including Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who wrote, “I advise you catch up with Walk the Line, if only for Ms. Witherspoon’s transcendent joyousness as a still-growing legend within a legend.”

 


6. PLEASANTVILLE (1998) 85%


Gary Ross’ Pleasantville could easily have been nothing more than a gentle, simple satire about the way nostalgia changes our memories, but beneath the surface of the story — which sends a pair of squabbling modern teens (played by Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire) into the world of a 1950s sitcom — there’s some thoughtful commentary on civil rights and the cruelly arbitrary ways society can oppress those who don’t fit in. Pleasantville wasn’t a blockbuster hit, but it earned some of the best reviews of the year from critics like Louis B. Hobson of Jam! Movies, who wrote, “This wondrous little fable is a cross between The Truman Show and Back to the Future — and it’s better than both.”

 


5. THE GOOD LIE (2014) 88%


Befitting its title, The Good Lie practiced a bit of well-meaning subterfuge with its marketing materials, selling this fact-based drama about the American lives of Sudanese refugees once known as “lost boys” by putting Witherspoon’s face front and center on the poster. But if her character — a Kansas City settlement worker given the life-altering task of helping her charges adjust to their new environment — isn’t truly central to the story, her performance remains a solid anchor in a film whose ingredients run the gamut from Hollywood gloss to real-life horror. “This is very much a mainstream movie meant to shine a light on the plight of people who were ignored for too long,” wrote the Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz. “For that reason alone, it’s well worth seeing.”

 


4. THE MAN IN THE MOON (1991) 89%


For her first film, Witherspoon found herself in good company, including director Robert Mulligan (concluding a career that included To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of ’42) and co-stars Sam Waterston and Tess Harper. But in this sweet coming-of-age drama, it’s Witherspoon’s character that largely drives the story, and she carried the film with an assured performance that belied her youth and lack of experience. Man in the Moon “gets an outstandingly natural performance out of Miss Witherspoon, who has no trouble carrying a lot of the film single-handedly,” wrote Janet Maslin for the New York Times. “It falls to her to remind the audience that this story is at heart about a family, and she does.”

 


3. WILD (2014) 90%


The sort of physically and dramatically demanding role that an actor can spend an entire career waiting to score, Wild gave Witherspoon the opportunity to shoulder an entire film pretty much on her own — and she more than delivered, bringing Cheryl Strayed’s unflinching memoir to the screen with a suitably fierce drama (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée from a screenplay by Nick Hornby) that takes viewers on a harrowing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail while reliving key moments from its protagonist’s bumpy past. At the forefront of it all are solid performances from Witherspoon and Laura Dern, both of whom picked up Oscar nominations for their efforts. As Mick LaSalle wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, “This pensive, reflective, complicated Witherspoon feels more real than the one she left behind — and more in keeping with how she started, in hard-hitting independent movies 20 years ago.”

 


2. ELECTION (1999) 92%


It takes a special type of young actress to embody a character who is both seductive enough to destroy one high school teacher’s career and irritating enough to turn another teacher into an election-fixing madman — and that’s exactly what Witherspoon did as Election‘s Tracy Flick, the overachieving senior whose steamrolling campaign for student body president inspires one of her teachers (Matthew Broderick) to take desperate measures to keep her out of office. Critics expected great things from writer/director Alexander Payne after 1996’s Citizen Ruth, and Election delivered — and it also helped cement Witherspoon’s burgeoning reputation, thanks to reviews from critics like CNN’s Paul Clinton, who wrote, “Reese Witherspoon is proving to be one of the most versatile actresses of her generation.”

 

1. MUD (2013) 98%


Just when it seemed like she might be forever doomed to a lifetime of romantic comedies like Four Christmases and This Means War, Witherspoon turned up next to her fellow rom-com refugee Matthew McConaughey in 2013’s Mud — and although he received much of the movie’s accolades for one of the roles that helped spark his so-called “McConaissance,” there really are no false notes or out-of-place performances in writer-director Jeff Nichols’ tale of a mysterious man who claims to be on the run from bounty hunters and desperate to flee with the love of his life. Calling it “More than a mere tribute to Twain and Dickens,” the Vine’s Alice Tynan wrote, “This has all the makings of a modern classic.”

Tag Cloud

Tomatazos The Walking Dead strong female leads Avengers transformers screen actors guild cancelled television 2020 blockbuster Biopics ABC DirecTV Showtime discovery Columbia Pictures USA Dark Horse Comics indie Box Office Pirates television WarnerMedia Shondaland renewed TV shows TruTV cancelled TV series crime drama Awards Tour TNT Comedy Central Spike Shudder diversity vampires mutant free movies Tarantino unscripted supernatural President SXSW HBO Max quibi Pop series MSNBC NYCC DGA RT21 name the review cats Chilling Adventures of Sabrina spanish language cops Masterpiece Rocky theme song El Rey TCA 2017 Amazon Prime Film Festival Freeform elevated horror Paramount werewolf Family richard e. Grant 24 frames Hulu 2018 police drama directors boxoffice hispanic Paramount Network Comedy Amazon Prime Video LGBT comiccon WGN ABC Family Disney Channel Marvel Television LGBTQ Amazon Schedule Sneak Peek Spectrum Originals Calendar GLAAD Super Bowl Sundance Pixar dc PaleyFest witnail Star Trek Reality Musical Vudu Musicals Adult Swim Chernobyl 007 ITV Thanksgiving Sony Pictures comic Cartoon Network teaser YA award winner TBS A&E Hallmark Christmas movies game of thrones Nat Geo SundanceTV docudrama Teen CNN biography dceu Summer Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Discovery Channel Quiz finale The Witch Rocketman singing competition Nickelodeon OWN true crime FOX 45 TCM Crackle spider-man Warner Bros. FX anthology dragons Ovation Trophy Talk mockumentary Emmys CBS Food Network Universal MCU latino Marvel Studios DC streaming service Endgame HBO Holidays Horror politics The Purge Lionsgate Anna Paquin 2016 historical drama Comic Book MTV IFC Films Oscars E! canceled Pride Month TLC Ghostbusters video 21st Century Fox BBC America Winter TV Superheroes blaxploitation psycho BET aliens spain sag awards crime thriller cartoon Netflix cooking SDCC miniseries cars casting Countdown RT History harry potter war Election Polls and Games Disney Plus FXX TV renewals VICE Martial Arts 20th Century Fox Interview Apple TV+ doctor who CBS All Access anime Heroines canceled TV shows Pet Sematary Trivia Starz Best and Worst Rock Sci-Fi Tumblr composers cinemax Bravo VH1 what to watch Kids & Family APB christmas movies USA Network sequel DC Universe versus Classic Film E3 Turner Classic Movies streaming GoT NBC spy thriller Cosplay DC Comics Brie Larson Apple TV Plus joker Captain marvel stand-up comedy reboot revenge OneApp San Diego Comic-Con Lucasfilm Marathons YouTube Red AMC Academy Awards justice league Video Games PBS Music 2017 Marvel Awards IFC cancelled foreign political drama Mary Tyler Moore Apple disaster Women's History Month Animation Fantasy A24 Valentine's Day dramedy Premiere Dates Acorn TV Esquire CW Seed psychological thriller jamie lee curtis romantic comedy nature Character Guide Grammys natural history facebook Star Wars Action golden globes Binge Guide YouTube Premium Reality Competition Spring TV Elton John Lifetime Christmas movies Disney+ Disney Plus Creative Arts Emmys YouTube comics movies south america American Society of Cinematographers Superheroe National Geographic CMT book adaptation science fiction Mary Poppins Returns Turner sports Black Mirror Song of Ice and Fire Drama Sundance Now Emmy Nominations Film Watching Series See It Skip It breaking bad sitcom X-Men technology Mystery cancelled TV shows zombies ratings festivals Photos Year in Review First Reviews zombie Disney streaming service Arrowverse GIFs New York Comic Con The Arrangement Crunchyroll serial killer Country rotten movies we love binge Mudbound Baby Yoda Infographic 2015 talk show tv talk Peacock Stephen King TV Land toy story Cannes Lifetime 71st Emmy Awards Epix robots Set visit independent slashers Toys Tubi zero dark thirty Netflix Christmas movies game show Fall TV Holiday Sundance TV Nominations adventure romance Red Carpet Western screenings TV TCA Winter 2020 2019 period drama hist ESPN spinoff Extras BBC TCA Ellie Kemper based on movie Britbox Mary poppins Writers Guild of America Logo First Look space Winners Comics on TV children's TV social media Certified Fresh travel Christmas Hallmark kids medical drama Syfy TIFF thriller green book batman Trailer halloween Opinion Podcast Mindy Kaling ghosts History crime The CW Fox News cults animated Walt Disney Pictures Television Academy Rom-Com crossover Disney