There are movie stars, and then there's Julia Roberts. With her trademark red curls and her big smile, Roberts became an undeniable star in the late '80s thanks to her leading roles in Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias, for which she earned her first Oscar nomination.
She has since been nominated for three more Oscars, winning Best Actress for her performance in 2000's Erin Brockovich. Three decades into her career, Roberts is perhaps best known for her '90s reign as queen of the romantic comedy. She kicked off the decade with her role in Pretty Woman, solidified her place in rom-com history with My Best Friend's Wedding, and capped off the decade with Notting Hill — three movies guaranteed to be found on any rom-com watchlist.
Over the years, Roberts has tried her hand at any and every genres, from science fiction (1990's Flatliners), to thriller (2015's The Secret in Their Eyes), and even a musical (1996's Everyone Says I Love You). Her latest film Ticket to Paradise is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. In celebration of her birthday on Oct. 28, A.frame has put together a list highlighting some of her essential films.
Roberts' breakout role came in the Donald Petrie-directed Mystic Pizza, a drama about three teenage girls who work together at the local pizza parlor in the town of Mystic, Connecticut. Roberts played Daisy, the more daring of the three, who falls in love with a rich boy and struggles to balance her working class world with his high society. The film also starred Annabeth Gish as her sister, Kat, and Lili Taylor as their best friend, Jojo.
Roberts received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance in this classic film is about six Southern women, each more different and stubborn than the last, who, despite all odds, are the best of friends. There's Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), a grumpy single woman who loves to pretend that she’s above local gossip; Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), who loves making fun of Ouiser; M'Lynn (Sally Field), the mother who struggles to let go of her adult daughter, Shelby (Roberts); new girl Annabelle (Daryl Hannah), and Truvy (Dolly Parton), the local beautician who brings them all together in her salon. But don't be fooled by the big hair, this drama packs a punch that will have you sobbing before the credits role.
The classic story of boy meets girl gets an R-rated makeover in this romantic comedy that still somehow manages to make the story of a prostitute who falls in love with a millionaire romantic. The Garry Marshall classic stars Richard Gere as the millionaire who wants a companion for the weekend, and Julia Roberts as the escort, Vivian Ward. The film delivered some of Robert's most iconic on-screen moments — "Big mistake. Huge!" comes to mind — and earned her a second Oscar nomination. Gere and Roberts, whose chemistry is undeniable, went on to reunite in another Marshall rom-com, 1999's Runaway Bride.
To an entire generation, Roberts' Tinkerbell in Steven Spielberg's Peter Pan-inspired Hook is the definitive interpretation of the fairy. She might be missing the iconic green dress and blonde bun of the animated Tink in Disney's Peter Pan, but she makes up for in grit and actual dialogue. In Hook, Roberts plays the fairy opposite Robin William's grown up Peter Pan and Dustin Hoffman's Captain Hook.
Based on the John Grisham novel of the same name, director Alan J. Pakula's thriller stirring thriller that paired Roberts opposite Denzel Washington as law student Darby Shaw and journalist Gray Grantham, respectively, who get caught up in a government conspiracy involving the deaths of two Supreme Court justices. Roberts and Washington have undeniable chemistry, which makes the end of the film that much more bittersweet.
Of all her rom-coms, My Best Friend's Wedding is the most unique. There is no meet-cute or first date; in fact, the two main characters Julianne (Roberts) and Michael (Dermot Mulroney) aren't even in a relationship. They're best friends, and one of them — spoiler alert — is about to get married to the woman of his dreams, Kimberly (Cameron Diaz), which forces Julianne to wonder, what if she's supposed to be the one marrying Michael instead?
Roberts plays against type in this Chris Columbus-directed tear-jerker about a divorced mother of two, Jackie (Susan Sarandon), who is forced to befriend his ex’s new wife, Isabel (Julia Roberts), when she is diagnosed with cancer. Isabel is less likable than Roberts' usual characters. She’s combative and a bit full of herself, which just makes her unexpected friendship with Jackie all the more delightful. The film also stars Jenna Malone as Jackie's teenage daughter and Ed Harris as Jackie's ex.
Roberts ended the ‘90s on a spectacular high note with a rom-com that combined her all-American charm with Hugh Grant's extremely English everyman awkwardness. The film, about an American movie star (Roberts, naturally) who falls in love with a British bookstore owner (Grant), is a classic opposites-attract romance that balances biting wit with truly swoon-worthy dialogue. Julia Roberts will always be "just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."
Roberts took home the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance as Erin Brokovich, the unlikely legal assistant who helped expose PG&E's water contamination in the town of Hinkley, California. The drama also earned four other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director for Steven Soderbergh, Best Supporting Actor for Albert Finney, and Best Original Screenplay for Susannah Grant.
"This movie was sinfully fun to make," Roberts said onstage while accepting her Oscar "Steven Soderbergh — hi, there you are — you truly just made me want to be the best actor that I suppose I never knew I could be, or aspire to. And I made every attempt, so I thank you for really making me feel so... [laughs] I love it up here!"
Roberts and George Clooney started their onscreen relationship playing exes in this remake of the 1960 classic heist film. Directed by Steven Soderberg and co-starring Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Bernie Mac, Elliott Gould, and Don Cheadle, to name a few of the film's many stars, Ocean’s Eleven launched two sequels, Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen, which saw Roberts reprise her role as Tess Ocean.
Far from the rom-coms that made Roberts a household name, the Mike Newell-directed Mona Lisa Smile is a more subdued drama about a professor who teaches art history at Wellesley College in the 1950s and shakes up the traditional women's college with her modern, feminist ideas. Roberts led an all-star cast of young women, including Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julia Stiles, and Ginnifer Goodwin.
Roberts earned her fourth Oscar nomination for her supporting role in this John Wells-directed film adaptation of the Tracy Letts play. Roberts and Meryl Streep are pitted against one another as an estranged mother and daughter reunited when the family patriarch dies. Other members of the dysfunctional extended family are played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, and Chris Cooper. The film also reunited Roberts with her My Best Friend’s Wedding co-star, Dermot Mulroney.