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5 Ways Vivian Ward Is Julia Roberts’ Best Role (& 5 Better Alternatives)
2023/07/11

Throughout most of the 1990s, Julia Roberts was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. She received her first Oscar nomination for her role as the doomed bride Shelby in 1989's Steel Magnolias. It was the role of Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, though, that turned her into a Hollywood icon.

Roberts finally won the Oscar in 2001 for playing Erin Brockovich in the film of the same name. She continued enjoying success in different genres, eventually also conquering television and streaming. To this day, audiences still relate Roberts with Vivian Ward. However, her resume is ample and varied, and numerous other roles could easily claim the title of being the best in her respected career.

Vivian Is Best: More Than A Pretty Face

When Pretty Woman premiered in 1990, critics met it with a divisive reception. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman infamously panned the film, focusing much of his review on Julia Roberts' looks and how "she's not beautiful in the way movie stars are." Other critics called the movie superficial, ugly, and obsessed with appearances and status.

And yet, the film remains popular amongst audiences, in large part because of Roberts' winning performance. The actress is luminous on screen, flashing that bright and contagious million-dollar smile.

 Pretty Woman may be somewhat problematic, but Roberts's charm is more than enough to help the film overcome its shortcomings.

Elizabeth Gilbert Is Better: Elevating The Material

And speaking of elevating the material, Roberts does it again in the 2010 movie Eat Pray Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir. Roberts plays Gilbert, a recently divorced woman who embarks on a self-discovery journey around the world.

Directed by Ryan Murphy, Eat Pray Love does little to include the emotional depth of the source material. Instead, it opts to focus on the more shallow parts of Gilbert's journey, to the film's ultimate detriment.

Still, Roberts shines through the mess, delivering an irresistible performance full of warmth and empathy.

Vivian Is Best: A Timeless Classic

Thirty-one years after its premiere, Pretty Woman still holds a special place in pop culture. There are many things that modern-day audiences would change about the story, but that doesn't make the film any less popular.

For a while, Pretty Woman enjoyed a "guilty pleasure" status. These days, however, audiences are willing to reclaim the movie's legacy, accepting it for what it is, flaws and all.

The movie perfectly captures a specific time in American culture when success meant money and status. And while those concepts are outdated by today's standards, the film remains a relic of a bygone time.

Anna Scott Is Better: A Timeless Star

Notting Hill often goes unnoticed when discussing Julia Roberts' filmography. It's easy to forget that the movie was both a critical triumph and a huge box office success. However, it isn't as recognizable as Roberts' Pretty Woman or Hugh Grant's Four Weddings And A Funeral, and that's a shame.

Roberts plays Anna Scott, a world-famous actress who falls for a small bookshop owner. The story oozes with charm and intimacy, and Roberts and Grant share a chemistry that's both soft and electric. Notting Hill often repeats how big a star Anna Scott is and how timeless she is. If it was any other actress, audiences might react with skepticism. But when it's Julia Roberts, there's no way of denying it.

Vivian Is Best: Becoming An A-Lister

Despite already having a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination to her name, Julia Roberts still wasn't a Hollywood star in 1990.

The release of Pretty Woman changed that. The movie was a huge box office success and propelled Roberts to instant A-List status.

She won a second Golden Globe and received another Oscar nomination, consolidating herself as a star with commercial and critical appeal. During the rest of the decade, Roberts cemented her place as Hollywood's leading lady, eventually becoming the highest-paid actress in the business.

Julianne Potter Is Better: An Unconventional Romantic Lead

During the mid-nineties, Roberts' career hit a slump. Movies like 1995's Something to Talk About and 1996's Mary Reilly were critical and commercial disappointments.

Success came back to her door thanks to the 1997 romantic comedy My Best Friend's Wedding.

Roberts plays Julianne Potter, a food critic who, after realizing she's in love with her best friend, goes out of her way to stop him from getting married. The role is atypical for a rom-com lead, and audiences welcomed the change. Julianne is spirited and selfish but still charming and likable. My Best Friend's Wedding was a subversive spin on a well-known genre that proved Roberts was still a star like no other.

Vivian Is Best: Consolidating A Genre

The romantic comedy genre is as old as Hollywood itself. Movies like The Philadelphia Story, Roman Holiday, and Adam's Rib are prime examples of the genre in classic Hollywood. The romantic comedy suffered a decline during the seventies and early eighties.  It came back and reached a peak in terms of quality and relevance in the late eighties and early nineties.

Movies like Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and of course, Pretty Woman revitalized the genre, making it relevant once again. Roberts became the de-facto Queen of the genre, a title she shared with Meg Ryan throughout most of the 1990s.

Erin Brockovich Is Better: Oscar!

After two nominations, Roberts finally won her Oscar for playing Erin Brockovich in Steven Soderbergh's biopic of the same name. The film tells the true story of the title character, who successfully fought the PG&E conglomerate for its involvement in the Hinkley water contamination incident.

The film was not only critically acclaimed but also a commercial success. With Erin Brockovich, Roberts received the best reviews of her career. She is the story's heart and soul, appearing in nearly every scene of the film and dominating every moment.

Her presence looms large, authoritative, and effervescent, delivering every line with fiery conviction.

Vivian Is Best: An Instant Icon

Vivian Ward is an undeniable cinematic icon. From the moment she first appears, with her wild red hair and black thigh-high boots, she becomes an indelible part of movie history. Pretty Woman is full of memorable moments, from Vivian laughing before submerging into a tub full of bubbles to her makeover to the tune of Ray Orbison's classic "Oh, Pretty Woman," to her opera night in that unforgettable red dress.

Through and through, it's Roberts' incandescence that powers Vivian. The actress's irresistible charm creates a sweet and charming character that's impossible to dislike. And even with the movies' flaws and dated ideas, fans still love to see Vivian telling those snobby sales girls off.

Barbara Weston Is Better: A Tour De Force

It's not easy going toe-to-toe with an acting giant like Meryl Streep. Yet Roberts does it and makes it look effortless in the family drama August: Osage County. The movie tells the story of a dysfunctional family, led by an unstable and drug-addicted mother, that reunites for the patriarch's funeral.

Roberts plays the eldest daughter, Barbara, an embittered woman who grows tired of her family's antics. The movie has so much acting that it threatens to overwhelm, but Streep and Roberts stand tall among the wreckage. The movie's pivotal dinner scene, in which both actresses get their moment to shine, is an acting tour de force and the perfect example of the heights Roberts can reach with the proper role.

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