Drew Barrymore is a child of Hollywood royalty and a Golden Globe winning actress whose career has spanned nearly her entire life, making her first credited screen performance at the age of three. But how many of her titles remain classics? Let’s take a look back at 15 of her greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Barrymore was born to a celebrated acting family though she never really knew her famous ancestors. Her grandfather was John Barrymore, star of “Grand Hotel”, “Twentieth Century” and “Dinner at Eight” among others. She is also the great grand niece of Oscar winners Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore. Lionel won one of the earliest Oscars as Best Actor for “A Free Soul” in 1931 but is probably best remembered as the villainous Mr. Potter of the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” His sister Ethel won the 1945 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “None but the Lonely Heart” and followed that with three more subsequent Best Supporting Actress nominations throughout the forties.
Drew herself has had a long career in movies (she started at age five in “Altered States”), but first became known to audiences worldwide in Steven Spielberg‘s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” She has had an eclectic run in films, including “Firestarter,” “Scream,” “Charlie’s Angels” and “Ever After.”
But some of her most acclaimed work has come for her television roles. In 2010 she won a Golden Globe as well as a SAG Award for the TV movie “Grey Gardens.” That project was a dramatization of the popular documentary from the 1970ss which told the story of an eccentric mother and daughter (and relatives of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) whose lives had deteriorated to the extent that they lived as virtual recluses in a dilapidated Long Island mansion. (Barrymore missed out on the Emmy for the film since her co-star Jessica Lange took home that award.)
Tour our photo gallery featuring Barrymore’s top 15 best film performances.
15. RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS (2001)
Director: Penny Marshall. Writer: Morgan Ward. Starring Steve Zahn, James Woods, Brittany Murphy.
This film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences but Barrymore works hard to tell this story of a young woman who aspires to go to New York and be a writer. She has to overcome an unplanned teen pregnancy amongst other odds. Barrymore and director Penny Marshall do their best to help this somewhat cliched story not fall into sentimentality.
14. EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (1996)
Director: Woody Allen. Writer: Woody Allen. Starring Julia Roberts, Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton.
This experimental Woody Allen musical features actors with little or no singing experience singing classic songs. Allen particularly wanted the actors not to sound like real singers and instead wanted them to sound like ordinary people breaking into song. Barrymore felt she was a particularly bad singer though and asked Allen to have someone else dub her in her singing voice which he did.
13. POISON IVY (1992)
Director: Katt Shea Ruben. Writers: Andy Ruben and Katt Shea Ruben. Starring Tom Skerritt, Sara Gilbert, Cheryl Ladd.
Following the huge success of “Fatal Attraction,” there was a plethora of movies about unstable women acting obsessed with and stalking men. Movies such as “The Temp,” “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” and “Basic Instinct” abounded at this time. Barrymore’s contribution was this story of a high school girl who becomes obsessed with a friend’s father. While the film is somewhat simplistically constructed Barrymore has her moments and brings real pain to the tormented teenager.
12. GUNCRAZY (1992)
Director: Tamra Davis. Writer: James Le Gros, Ione Skye, Jeremy Davies.
The same year as “Poison Ivy” Barrymore appeared in this thriller about a young woman who murders her step-father then takes up with an ex-convict and embarks on a crime spree. This is another of Barrymore’s troubled teen movies but she creates an interesting character in this film that earned Barrymore a Golden Globe nomination.
11. THE WEDDING SINGER (1998)
Director: Frank Coraci. Writer: Tim Herlihy. Starring Adam Sandler, Christine Taylor, Alan Covert.
Barrymore had one of her best box office tallies with this Adam Sandler comedy about a guy who learns he is in love with the wrong woman. Barrymore plays the “right” woman who Sandler gradually grows to realize he should be with. Drew is at her most charming in this film and remains calm and centered while Sandler performs his antics and shtick around her.
10. CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2000)
Director: McG. Writers: Ryan Rowe, Ed Solomon and John August. Starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray.
Barrymore was the driving force behind getting this film version of the television series made. The show was a childhood favorite of Barrymore’s. She changed the concept of the films to make the angels gun free and also graciously gave co-star Cameron Diaz the flashier scene stealing role.
9. MAD LOVE (1995)
Director: Antonia Bird. Writer: Paula Milne. Starring Chris O’Donnell, Matthew Lilliard, Joan Allen.
Barrymore had a tough childhood which she has documented in an autobiography and numerous interviews. She apparently drew on all that young angst to create her character in this film. She plays an unstable young woman who gets involved with a straight arrow young man much to the dismay of his family.
8. FIRESTARTER (1984)
Director: Mark L. Lester. Writer: Stanley Mann based on the novel by Stephen King. Starring George C. Scott, Louise Fletcher, Art Carney.
This adaption of the Stephen King novel was Barrymore’s third film and also her first lead role at only the tender age of nine. King is working in familiar territory here giving his lead character a mysterious power of the mind (whereas “Carrie” could move objects with her mind, the lead here can make things burst into flames.) The film received mixed reviews and box office but it is fascinating to see such a young child carry a dark thriller like this.
7. NEVER BEEN KISSED (1999)
Director: Raja Gosnell. Writer: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein. Starring Michael Vartan, David Arquette, Molly Shannon.
Barrymore moved from trouble characters in the early nineties to more lovable goofy ones in the later part of the decade. Here she plays a newspaper copy editor who is assigned to go undercover in a local high school and report back on her findings. She goes through what might be a nightmare for some, going back to high school. As she battles through feeling like a geek and facing the mean girls who dominate her school she finds her first love in an English teacher who won’t date her because he thinks she is a student. (The prom sequence of the film also plays nice homage to the horror prom classic “Carrie.”)
6. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (1999)
Director: George Clooney. Writer: Charlie Kaufman. Starring Sam Rockwell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julia Roberts.
Barrymore plays the true love of game show host Chuck Barris (“The Gong Show”) and does well playing the caring girlfriend and eventual wife of Sam Rockwell’s manic character. The whole sub-plot regarding whether or not Barris was really a CIA assassin is up for speculation but Rockwell and Barrymore’s chemistry isn’t.
5. EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY (1998)
Director: Andy Tennant. Writers: Susannah Grant, Andy Tennant and Rick Parks. Starring Angelica Huston, Dougray Scott, Judy Parfitt.
This retelling of the Cinderella story as historical fiction won Barrymore a lot of praise. The film currently has a very strong 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert noticed the change in direction the film took Barrymore’s career and commented “Here, as the little cinder girl, she is able to at last put aside her bedraggled losers and flower as a fresh young beauty, and she brings poignancy and fire to the role.”
4. SCREAM (1996)
Director: Wes Craven. Writer: Kevin Williamson. Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan.
Barrymore was the first victim of the serial killer(s) in the highly popular series of films that terrified audiences in the nineties. Aided by Wes Craven’s riveting direction Barrymore creates great tension as the young teenager home alone who receives a strange telephone call from what turns out to be homicidal fellow teens. Barrymore is all alone on screen for most of her scenes and uses her comic and dramatic skills to great effect in what became one of the most memorable and frightening movie death scenes of all time.
3. IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES (1983)
Director: Charles Shyer. Writer: Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer. Starring Ryan O’Neal, Shelley Long, Sharon Stone.
This somewhat forgotten film seemed gimmicky at first with its ripped from the headlines story of a young girl divorcing her parents but upon full viewing it is a very entertaining film featuring strong comedic turns from Ryan O’Neal and Shelley Long as well as Barrymore in a Golden Globe nominated supporting performance. Not just the cute little girl anymore Barrymore manages to show true despair and anger at her parents who neglected her by focusing too much on their careers and divorce. The film is interesting to film buffs since it is loosely based on the life of famed director Peter Bogdanovitch who divorced his wife to be with Cybil Shepherd the star of his acclaimed film “The Last Picture Show.” He would go on to direct Shepherd in a disastrous musical called “At Long Last Love” just as Ryan O’Neal directs his new young protégé in a disastrous musical version of “Gone With the Wind” in this film. It is also interesting to see “introducing Sharon Stone” among the film’s opening credits since this was Stone’s first major role in a film (she plays the O’Neal character’s new love interest) and would launch her highly successful own career.
2. BOYS ON THE SIDE (1995)
Director: Herbert Ross. Writer: Don Roos. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker, Matthew McConaughey.
Barrymore is simply wonderful in this road movie about three women motoring across country to escape various parts of their troubled lives. Barrymore plays a young pregnant woman fleeing from an abusive boyfriend. As the most naïve and innocent of the three women Barrymore shines in her comic moments (particularly a sequence on a bus where she mistakenly makes funny faces at the other women) before ending up in a romance with a young police officer (Matthew McConaughey in one of his first major roles.)
1. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
Director: Steven Spielberg. Writer: Melissa Mathison. Starring Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton.
Steven Spielberg cast the young girl with the family legacy of great acting as the youngest child in perhaps his most beloved film based mostly on the young actress’s improvisational skills and her use of imagination when she told him a made up story of how she was a singer in a punk rock band. Barrymore at the tender age of seven was given the task of being the comic relief in the science fiction film and she certainly delivered. As every kid’s nightmare of a nosey little sister Barrymore made film history especially in the classic screaming sequence when she first gets a glimpse of the extra-terrestrial her brother has hidden in his bedroom.