For the past 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, Robert made hit after hit (“Steel Magnolias,” “Pretty Woman,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Erin Brockovich”) among them, earning her an Academy Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and three Golden Globe Awards.
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”).
But Roberts is now back on the nation’s movie screens in Stephen Chbosky‘s “Wonder,” in which she portrays Isabel, a supportive mom of a young boy (“Room”‘s Jacob Tremblay), who was born with a facial deformity and who must transition from being home-schooled to sitting in a classroom with other children and potential bullies.
Let’s take a look back and rank the 12 greatest performances of Roberts, ranked from worst to best.
12. The OCEAN’S series (2001, 2004)
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. 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).
11. CLOSER (2004)
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).
10. STEPMOM (1998)
“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.
9. EAT PRAY LOVE (2010)
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.
8. MYSTIC PIZZA (1988)
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.
7. CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)
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.
6. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)
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).
5. NOTTING HILL (1999)
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.
4. MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (1997)
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.
3. STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989)
This movie 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.
2. ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000)
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).
1. PRETTY WOMAN (1990)
For a film that was once conceived as a dark, cautionary tale about the lives of sex workers in Hollywood, Garry 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.