The Rundown: Julia Roberts’ Most Memorable Roles

Above (top): Steel Magnolias, My Best Friend's Wedding / Above (bottom): Notting Hill,  Erin Brockovich
Above (top): Steel Magnolias, My Best Friend's Wedding / Above (bottom): Notting Hill, Erin Brockovich

Pretty Woman turned 25 on Monday.

That doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem like it has already been 25 years since Julia Roberts played Vivian Ward and swept Richard Gere’s Edward Lewis off his feet. It can’t have been 25 years ago that Viv rocked out to Prince’s “Kiss” with her Sony Walkman in a gigantic bubble bath or since she woofed it up Arsenio style at the polo grounds.

Okay – that last one made it sound real because there is an entire generation that has no clue who the hell Arsenio Hall is outside of being the guy that’s at a fancy dinner party eating “some good-ass cheese” from that Chappelle’s Show skit.

To commemorate Pretty Woman turning 25, today’s edition of The Rundown looks at some of the best from the film’s breakout star, Julia Roberts.

Mystic Pizza (1988)

From her pre-star days, this coming-of-age flick about a pizza joint in a small Connectitcut town, two sisters, their best friend and their relationships saw Roberts not playing the good girl, the smart girl or the girl next door. She was the “bad daughter” – the promiscious one whose parents feel isn’t going to amount to much. It’s great because down the road, she never returned to these roles.

Steel Magnolias (1989)

You can’t talk about Roberts’ career ascension and classic roles without mentioning the performance that earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe win. Starring alongside a powerhouse line-up Sally Field, Shirley McLaine and Olympia Dukakis, this was the movie where people started to sit up and take notice of the girl with the big smile and red hair that was holding her own next to these fabulous leading ladies.

Hook (1991)

Legitimately a little part, as Roberts played Tinkerbell in this Steven Spielberg adaptation of the J.M. Barrie classic, it was a big deal to lock up Roberts for the role and add her star power to a movie that already featured Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman. The movie did well at the box office, but was poorly received critically, but there is no denying there was a lot of buzz about inking “Breakout Star Julia Roberts” to play the tiny role of Peter Pan’s pixie friend when it happened.

Something to Talk About (1995)

This is only an average movie, but it makes the list of memorable Roberts performances for two scenes – the one where she bangs on the restaurant window while her cheating husband (Dennis Quaid) is out for dinner with his mistress and when she asks everyone at the town assembly if anyone else in the room has “had any kind of sex with (her) husband?”

My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)

Seven words: I’ve got moves you’ve never seen before. Everyone reading this list has said those words to someone in response to comments like “Nice moves” or “Where’d you learn to move like that?” at some point in their life. If you say you haven’t, you’re probably lying.

Stepmom (1998)

Most of the time, Roberts is the biggest female star (or biggest star period) in a film, but here, she took a bit of a backseat to Susan Sarandon and was better for it. Of course, she is the titular would-be “Stepmom,” but still. This could have been a case where two hyper-talented females battled for space and tried to out-perform each other in every shared scene, but Roberts seemed to defer a little, similar to how her character did, and it worked really well. This is an underrated “the room gets all dusty” movie.

Notting Hill (1999)

Roberts playing “the most famous movie star in the world” was more than a bit on the nose, but if anyone was going to do it and do it well, it was her. She has a “sure she’s famous, but there is something normal about her” quality that either means she’s a tremendous actress, genuinely is girl next door-ish or a bit of both. It’s not impossible to see her actually using the “I’m just a girl asking a boy if he likes her” line in real life the way it would be impossible to picture Leo DiCaprio getting heartbroken over some girl. Plus, Rhys Ifans is magic in this movie as Spike.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Her tour-de-force, trophy-winning performance as an unemployed single mother of three, this is Roberts at her absolute best in every possible way. There have been a lot of times where she’s basically Julia Roberts, but this was an actress bring all her abilities to the table; not a star playing a character that is basically herself. Not as re-watchable as some of her rom-coms (but that’s what rom-coms are for), but still a strong performance that really stands out in her career filmography.

Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve (2001, 2004)

Rather than split them up, her two turns as Tess Ocean get paired together because they’re really a two-for-one deal. In the first movie, she’s the object of Daniel Ocean’s grand scheme and in the second, she’s in on the whole scam, complete with the Julia Roberts as Tess Ocean pretending to be Julia Roberts bit. The first is better than the second, if only because it’s more of an actual movie as opposed to a bunch of celeb friends hanging out in exotic locales and playing dress-up.

Closer (2004)

Roberts is one of four “stars” in this Mike Nichols-directed adaptation of Patrick Marber’s play, but again takes a bit of a backseat to another female. In this case, Natalie Portman, who really shines in this one. That being said, Roberts’ performance is strong, the film is excellent and it stands as one of her best “see – she can be more than the female half of a rom-com” roles to date.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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