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Friends: Why Rachel Is Still Jennifer Aniston's Most Iconic Role (Even Though It's Not Her Best)
2023/09/06

Summary Jennifer Aniston's role as Rachel in Friends defined her career and made her a Hollywood icon, despite her success in movies and other TV shows. Rachel was the main character in Friends and her storylines, especially her relationship with Ross, sparked discussion and influenced the analysis of relationships in other shows and movies. Aniston excelled in romantic comedies during the 2000s, but also proved her talent in dramatic roles, breaking away from her comedic reputation and earning award nominations and acclaim.

Though her Friends role as Rachel isn't Jennifer Aniston's best part, it has come to define her career and is her most iconic turn. Debuting in 1994, Friends follows the exploits of six young adults who try to navigate life in New York City. Beloved for its irreverent comedy and self-aware spin on the sitcom formula, Friends has gone on to have a life all its own even years after the series concluded its 10-season run. The continued popularity of the show is due in large part to the iconic cast, and stars like Aniston became household names because of the sainted piece of '90s pop culture.

Rachel was Aniston's big break, though she had made her film debut a year earlier, playing Tory in the tongue-in-cheek horror film Leprechaun. In the role of Rachel, Aniston was given more time to shine, and she was an integral part of many of the best episodes of Friends during its decade on the air. Proving not to be a one-hit wonder, Aniston quickly became a bona fide movie star and shed her TV actor image, which wasn't easy to do in the early-'00s. Despite her massive success elsewhere, Friends has forever come to define who Aniston is as a Hollywood icon.

Jennifer Aniston Made Rachel A Fashion & Romance Icon Of The '90s

Though Friends was ostensibly an ensemble sitcom, it quickly became clear that Rachel was the front-runner as the show's main character. In Friends season 1, episode 1, "The Pilot", it was Rachel's sudden arrival at Central Perk that kicked off the events of the show, and her runaway bride persona jump-started much of the humor. As the sitcom carried on, Rachel was a popular enough character to begin having an impact on the real world. Though Jennifer Aniston hated the Rachel haircut, it caught on with viewers and was an iconic piece of late-'90s fashion.

Rachel's storylines were also usually the most hotly-debated among hardcore Friends fans, and her legendary will-they, won't-they relationship with Ross still inspires discussion about the show two decades later. Unlike other lasting moments from Friends which were merely humorous, Ross and Rachel's "break" not only sparked controversy but influenced the way that relationships are analyzed in other shows and movies. The show's creators obviously saw Rachel as the star as well, because she was the central figure in many celebrity guest-focused episodes like Friends season 8, episode 9, "The One with the Rumor" where her real-life then-husband Brad Pitt appeared.

Jennifer Aniston Became A Rom-Com Queen, But She Shines In Dramatic Roles

Even while starring in Friends as Rachel, Aniston was cultivating a successful big-screen career that saw her become a true queen of the romantic comedy during the 2000s. Though many of her biggest films of the era were looked down on, as rom-coms were often dismissed at the time, Aniston shined in movies like Along Came Polly and He's Just Not That Into You, in which she turned in stellar and underrated performances. By 2005 she had clearly positioned herself as a legitimate box office juggernaut, and The Break-Up raked in over $200 million on her star power (via Box Office Mojo).

During the height of her rom-com dominance after Friends, Aniston also tried her hand at dramatic roles such as 2005's Derailed, though she was overlooked because of her comedic reputation. However, 2014's Cake completely shattered Aniston's typecasting, and she earned SAG and Golden Globe nominations. Returning to TV, The Morning Show allowed Aniston to turn heads as news anchor Alex Levy, and she earned acclaim and a SAG win. While Rachel is the role Aniston will always be remembered for, her award success in recent years is proof she can do so much more.

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