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Julia Roberts films: 16 greatest movies ranked from worst to best
2023/08/24

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For over three decades,  Julia Roberts has been the most iconic American movie actress around the world. That face! That smile! That laugh! In the late 1980s and 1990s, Roberts made hit after hit ("Steel Magnolias," "Pretty Woman," "My Best Friend's Wedding," "Erin Brockovich") among them, earning her a mantel of industry awards. She has been nominated for four Oscars, with a win for 2000's "Erin Brockovich"; nominated for eight Golden Globes with three wins ("Steel Magnolias," "Pretty Woman," "Brockovich") and three Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning for "Brockovich.

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Although her output slowed a bit in the mid-2000s so that she could care for her twins, when she did return to work, she broadened her horizons a bit with turns on Broadway (2006's "Three Days of Rain") and television (her Emmy-nominated performance in "The Normal Heart"). After her Oscar-nominated turn in "August: Osage County," Roberts slowed down her film career, often appearing in only one major film a year. This decision was also partly to accommodate filming her first TV series, "Homecoming," still streaming on Amazon Prime.

Tour our photo gallery above ranking her 16 greatest movie performances from worst to best.

In addition to the titles listed above, our gallery also includes "Notting Hill," "Mystic Pizza," "Stepmom" and "Ben Is Back."

Photo : Atsushi Nishijima/Tristar/Lstar Capital/Kobal/Shutterstock

16. MONEY MONSTER (2016)

Director: Jodie Foster. Writers: Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden.

Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West. Roberts reunited with her "Oceans" co-star George Clooney in this thriller which marked the fourth feature film of director Jodie Foster.

Clooney plays Lee Gates, the flashy star of a cable business channel — sort of a Jim Cramer type on steroids. Gate's longtime director is Patty Fenn (Roberts), with whom he may have once had a romantic relationship but whose day-to-day interactions are now routine and strictly business. That is, until disgruntled viewer Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell) suddenly bursts into the studio during a live telecast and holds Lee hostage, because Kyle put his life savings in a recommended stock by Lee that tanked. Audiences showed up to see the Clooney/Roberts chemistry, and, despite the film's mixed reviews, the two stars delivered.

Photo : Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock

15.  The OCEAN'S series (2001, 2004) 

Director: Steven Soderbergh.  Writers: various.  Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts.

Like the 1960 Rat Pack original, Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's" series of films is simply a lark, a chance for movie stars who are friends to kick back and have a good time together.  Roberts appears in the first two "Ocean's" films of the trilogy, "Ocean's Eleven" (2001) and "Ocean's Twelve" (2004).

  (She skipped the final film, "Ocean's Thirteen" in 2007.)  Basically, she is playing the Shirley MacLaine part from the Rat Pack years — she's the gal who's one of the guys, although here she is the ex-wife of robbery mastermind Danny Ocean (George Clooney).  These aren't films that are exactly designed to make room for brilliant performances  — they're made for fun, and Roberts, for one, looks like she's having a blast.

Photo : Moviestore/Shutterstock

14. WONDER (2017)

Director: Stephen Chbosky.

Writers: Jack Thorne, Steven Conrad, Stephen Chbosky. Starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs.

Roberts earned strong reviews in this popular adaptation of the best-selling novel centering on 10 year-old Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) who suffers from Treacher Collins Syndrome, a genetic facial deformity that has prompted his parents Isabel (Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) to home-school him. But by fifth grade, both parents agree that he needs the social skills that only interacting with other kids can provide so they enroll him in a private school where he soon becomes a social outcast.

Surprisingly, Roberts and Wilson make for a believable married couple, and the maternal love that Roberts' Isabel displays helps to sock home the film's powerful ending.

13. TICKET TO PARADISE (2022)

Director: Ol Parker. Writers: Ol Parker, Daniel Pipski. Starring Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Maxime Bouttier, Lucas Bravo.

Roberts delivered one of her most memorable comic performances in this popular romcom where she is paired once again with her longtime costar (and romantic nemesis) George Clooney as Georgia and David Cotton, a divorced couple who loathe the sight of one another but who must team up to stop their daughter's rushed marriage in Bali.

It's a joy watching Roberts become Georgia, carrying herself regally without David but devolving into a bickering mess the moment she sees him. Since their first film together, the chemistry between the two stars is unrivaled in Hollywood, and time has not diminished their wattage together with Roberts' comic instincts brought to even greater heights.

Photo : Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

12.  CLOSER (2004) 

Director: Mike Nichols.  Writer: Patrick Marber, based on his play.  Starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen.

Written by Patrick Marber based on his play, Mike Nichols' "Closer" opens up the four-character theatre piece for the screen.  Roberts plays Anna Cameron, an American photographer, who begins an affair with writer Dan Woolf (Jude Law), who then breaks up with American stripper Alice Ayres (Natalie Portman), who takes up with dermatologist Larry Gray (Clive Owen).  And the sexual equivalent of musical chairs goes on and on.  It's great to see Roberts have the chance to work in a small ensemble of the caliber of her three co-stars, whom she matches scene for scene.

Photo : Demmie Todd/Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

11.  STEPMOM (1998)

Director: Chris Columbus.  Writers: Gigi Levangie, Jessie Nelson, Steven Rogers, Karen Leigh Hopkins, Ron Bass.  Starring Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris. 

"Stepmom" takes on the issue of potential remarriages when kids are involved.  Roberts portrays Isabel Kelly, a fashion photographer who is the girlfriend of divorced attorney Luke Harrison (Ed Harris).  Luke still wants to be a presence in the lives of his kids, which means that Isabel must have some interaction with Luke's ex-wife Jackie, who still resents her husband and, by extension, Isabel.

There is something about pairing movie stars that's indescribable, and like her chemistry with Hugh Grant in "Notting Hill," Roberts has it with Sarandon here, slowly becoming a team, despite the sometimes downbeat subject matter.

Photo : Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

10.  EAT PRAY LOVE (2010) 

Director: Ryan Murphy.  Writers: Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt.  Starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco, Richard Jenkins.

Based on the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat Pray Love" is Julia Roberts' show all the way.

  As Gilbert, she is a woman who would appear to have everything, but somehow she feels that she isn't satisfied and sets out on a journey to find herself.  The trek takes her all over the world — she travels to Italy to satisfy her tastebuds, goes to India to renew her spiritual soul and finally to Indonesia where she finds true love.  In a film career that usually sees her cast as a member of an ensemble or as part of a romantic couple, "Eat Pray Love" gives Roberts the rare opportunity to become the focus of the entire film, and she makes the most of it.

Photo : Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock

9.  MYSTIC PIZZA (1988)

Director: Donald Petrie.  Writers: Amy Holden Jones, Perry Howze, Randy Howze, Alfred Uhry.  Starring Annabeth Gish, Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Vincent D'Onofrio.

The one that started it all for Roberts.  Here she portrays Daisy Arujo, a waitress at a coastal Connecticut pizza parlor who dreams of nothing more of falling in love and getting up and out of Mystic.  In an ensemble filled with up and coming young actors — Annabeth Gish, Lili Taylor, Vincent D'Onofrio, Billy Moses and, in his screen debut, Matt Damon — Roberts got the lion's share of critical attention.

  And it was just that kind of critical attention that opened doors and led to "Steel Magnolias" (1989).  And from there, a career was born.

Photo : Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

8.  CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (2007) 

Director: Mike Nichols.  Writer: Aaron Sorkin.  Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman. 

In Mike Nichols' final theatrical film, Roberts plays the real-life Joanne Herring, a wealthy Houston socialite who was not only the love interest of Rep.

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) but who was the driving force in getting Wilson involved with the people of Afghanistan and the impetus behind him meeting with the leadership of Pakistan.  As always, Hanks and Roberts display their familiar and delightful movie-star chemistry between each other, but she also brings an upper-class physicality to Joanne in a way that I had never previously seen in a Roberts performance.  For her performance as Joanne, she was nominated for her sixth Golden Globe Award.

Photo : Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

7.  AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013) 

Director: John Wells.  Writer: Tracy Letts, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play.  Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch. 

John Wells' film version of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play attracted a staggering cast of top actors anxious to portray the drama's very juicy roles.  But among the platoon of supporting actresses in the film. the performance that stood out as Roberts' turn as Barbara, the family's eldest daughter and, in Roberts' hands, the one sibling who shows the backbone to stand up against their drug-addicted mother Violet (Meryl Streep).

  For her performance as Barbara, Roberts received her fourth Oscar nomination, her eighth Golden Globe nod and her third Screen Actors Guild nomination.

Photo : Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock

6.  NOTTING HILL (1999) 

Director: Roger Michell.  Writer: Richard Curtis.  Starring Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Rhys Ifans, Hugh Bonneville. 

Will Thacker  (Hugh Grant) is a humble bookstore owner in the affluent London neighborhood of Notting Hill.  His quiet life is disrupted one day when Hollywood superstar Anna Scott (Roberts), in town to promote her latest movie, steps into his shop.

  Later they meet cute again, and after getting to know him, Anna is surprised to find herself falling in love with this guy.  All looks promising for romance until who comes into town but Anna's obnoxious Hollywood boyfriend Jeff King (Alec Baldwin, who can do obnoxious probably better than anyone else around).  For her performance as Anna, she was nominated for her fourth Golden Globe Award.

Photo : Philip Vaughan/Ace Pictures/Shutterstock

5. BEN IS BACK (2018)

Writer/Director: Peter Hedges.

Starring Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton.

In the past several years, Julia sightings on film have been few and far between, but she returned to the screen in 2018 as Holly, the mother of a young man, Ben (Lucas Hedges), who has been sent to rehab for his opioid dependency. Ben surprises Holly and the entire family on Christmas Eve for a temporary visit, and a wary Holly, who suspects that her son might fall back into using, agrees only if Ben never leaves her sight. As Holly, Roberts embodies the parent who finds herself torn between a desperate love of her drug-addicted child and a lack of trust that that same child won't fall back into the throes of addiction.

Peter Hedges has created a wonderfully tortured role for Roberts who, now that she's firmly settled into mother roles, offers a particularly complex one here.

Photo : Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock

4.  MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING (1997) 

Director: P.J. Hogan.  Writer: Ronald Bass.  Starring Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz, Rupert Everett.

In one of Roberts' most beloved romantic comedies, she actually plays someone not very likeable — restaurant critic Joanne Potter, who made a pact with her best friend Michael that if neither of them married before age 28, they would marry each other.

  Just days before their 28th birthdays, Joanne is heartbroken when she receives an invitation to Michael's wedding to Kimmy (Cameron Diaz), a 20 year-old college student whom Michael had only recently met.  For Joanne, this will not do, so he heads for the nuptials in order to sabotage this marriage.  For her performance as Julianne, Roberts was nominated for her third Golden Globe Award.

Photo : Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock

3.  STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) 

Director: Herbert Ross.

  Writer: Robert Starling, based on his play.  Starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts. 

Based on Robert Starling's popular play, "Steel Magnolias" brought Roberts her first bit of attention on the awards scene.  She plays Shelby Eatenton, who is about to be married and heads with her mother M'Lynn (Sally Field) to the local hair salon run by Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton), a shop that appears to attract every woman with a sharp tongue in Northern Louisiana.  In a cast of Oscar-winning heavyweights, the actress who wound up getting all of the awards attention was Roberts who,for her performance won her first Golden Globe Award and her first Oscar nomination.

 

Photo : Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

2.  ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) 

Director: Steven Soderbergh.  Writer: Susannah Grant.  Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart.

Awards-wise, Steven Soderbergh's biography of the consumer crusader Erin Brockovich marks the pinnacle of Roberts' film career to date.  She made the most of the juicy role, written by Susannah Grant, as she gets to show the many sides of Erin — unemployed single mom who improbably lands a job at a prominent California law firm run by Edward Masry (Albert Finney).

  Masry throws her a file to work on — a seemingly hopeless against corporate behemoth Pacific Gas and Electric, which is accused of contaminating drinking water.  To Masry's surprise, Erin finds herself drawing on reserves of strength she never knew she had to take on the polluting giant.  For her performance as Erin, Roberts won her first Academy Award, her third Golden Globe Award and her first Screen Actors Guild Award.

Photo : Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock

1.  PRETTY WOMAN (1990)

Director: Garry Marshall.  Writer: J.F. Lawton.  Starring Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizando.

OK, Garry Marshall's "Pretty Woman" may not be the best-made film on the Julia Roberts list among these 12, but it is the film which forever established the Julia Roberts image in the public eye. For a film that was once conceived as a dark, cautionary tale about the lives of sex workers in Hollywood, Marshall rethought the film as a romantic comedy and made the key casting choice of Roberts.  Once America saw that smile and heard that laugh, forget it — we were smitten.  Just as important to the film's success, however, was Roberts' chemistry with Richard Gere.  He helped to make you believe that this hooker, Vivian Ward, was not only worthy to stand alongside on a red carpet but that she was also the greatest catch in the world.  For her performance as Vivian, Roberts earned her second Golden Globe Award and her second Oscar nomination.

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