“Big mistake. Big. Huge!”
“My colors are ‘blush’ and ‘bashful.'”
“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”
How many classic Julia Roberts lines can you recite by heart? With her wide, brilliant smile and effortless charm, Roberts won our hearts in the late 1980s and early 1990s with roles in movies like “Steel Magnolias” and “Pretty Woman.” She later matured into an even more versatile performer, taking on an array of characters in tender dramas, psychological thrillers, period pieces and, of course, even more romantic comedies.
There’s a Julia Roberts movie for every mood and every kind of movie night (romantic night in, family night, solo weepfest). Of the many titles that have featured this beloved actor, we’ve ranked the top 25 based on critical and audience reception, awards buzz and pop cultural impact.
25. ‘Eat Pray Love’
People seem to delight in ridiculing “Eat Pray Love” now, but just a few years before this movie was released in 2010, Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, which the film is based on, was wildly popular. There was something enticing about this globe-trotting story of self-discovery — at least enticing enough to make the book an international bestseller and skyrocket Gilbert to writerly stardom.
The film version, starring Roberts in the lead role as Gilbert, was directed by Ryan Murphy, who went on to create such campy, melodramatic TV series as “Glee,” “Feud” and “American Horror Story.” Reviews mostly panned the movie as a shallow depiction of a privileged woman getting a free trip around the world to do some soul-searching.
One of the few rave reviews, from Time Out’s Joshua Rothkopf, lauded Roberts’ performance as “gloriously complex.” He wrote, “Roberts has a movie star’s size, which she constantly underplays, curling into balls of insecurity and lifting her wine glass in tear-rimmed ruefulness. Even if you know where this story is going (how could you not?), it’s rare when Hollywood indulges such a robust woman’s picture.”
Still, unlike with some of Roberts’ other movies, there are probably not many people who will choose to re-watch “Eat Pray Love.”
24. ‘Money Monster’
George Clooney is at the center of this thriller as a TV personality who’s held hostage on live television by a crazed investor, but Roberts turns in a capable performance as the show’s producer who has to try and resolve the situation without any bloodshed. Directed by Jodi Foster, the tense drama showed a lot of promise with such charismatic leads, though it’s certainly not a beloved title in either actor’s filmography.
Audiences and critics agreed that the movie was pretty “meh,” with both Rotten Tomatoes ratings hovering around 50-60%. The Sydney Morning Herald reviewer found the heavyweight acting to be enough to recommend the thriller, though, writing, “It may be Hollywood melodrama but it’s top of the range, giving Clooney and Roberts every opportunity to demonstrate the value of star power.”
23. ‘Conspiracy Theory’
By 1997, Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson were two of the hottest A-list actors in Hollywood, so it only made sense to cast them together in the tense thriller “Conspiracy Theory.” Gibson played paranoid NYC cab driver Jerry nursing a mild obsession with Justice Department attorney Alice (Roberts). Roberts’ character mainly serves as “straight man” to Gibson’s wack-a-doo conspiracy theorist, but she gives her performance just as much sincerity as any other she’s had.
In her review for CNN, Carol Buckland called “Conspiracy Theory” the “smartest thriller of the summer” and wrote that Roberts “reasserts her theatrical chops as Alice. She brings a compelling mix of intelligence and vulnerability to her role.”
22. ‘Mary Reilly’
“Mary Reilly” may be nobody’s favorite film, but it was an adventurous role for Julia Roberts in the mid-1990s, after a series of mediocre movies such as “I Love Trouble” and “Ready to Wear.” “Mary Reilly” would mark one of the last duds before Roberts struck gold with “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Notting Hill” and “Stepmom” in the next few years.
The horror movie was a retelling of the Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde tale from the perspective of an Irish maid, Mary Reilly (Roberts). One of the more positive reviews came from Roger Ebert, who praised the movie as a clear example of Gothic storytelling and described the performances as “subtle and well-controlled.”
In 2009, “Duplicity” came and went and was largely forgotten. Audiences didn’t love this movie; the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is a mere 37%. But the film — which blended genres into a mixture of romantic comedy and spy thriller — wasn’t a total wash, with a solid cast including Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, and the attractive re-pairing (after appearing together five years prior in “Closer”) of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in the lead roles.
Many critics even liked this movie, including the reviewer at The New Yorker, who called it “enormously enjoyable,” and wrote of Roberts and Owen, “These two glamorous people make a terrific team.”
20. ‘Runaway Bride’
“Runaway Bride” was a valiant attempt to revisit the magic created between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman” — this time without the icky power dynamic of rich guy and prostitute. Ultimately, however, the romantic comedy (“comedy?”) ended up being a bland facsimile of Julia Roberts rom-coms of yore, with a story about a chauvinist writer (Gere) who writes an article about a woman (Roberts) who can’t commit to marriage.
Critics and audiences agreed that the movie was a bit of a snore, with most viewers lamenting the unimaginative predictability of the script. Another interesting shortcoming of this film, though, was the lack of chemistry between the iconic pairing of actors. Whatever spark the two had found in 1990’s “Pretty Woman” had dissolved by the time this movie limped along in 1999.
19. ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’
By 1991, Julia Roberts was known for her roles in sentimental dramas and romantic comedies, so her lead role in the suspenseful “Sleeping With the Enemy” was a somewhat surprising turn. Roberts plays a woman who fakes her own death to get away from her an abusive, obsessive husband (Patrick Bergin) and have a fresh start. But as she starts to relax in her new life, she discovers that her husband has found out about her plan.
The opinions of critics and audience members differed wildly when it came to “Sleeping With the Enemy;” the critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a very low 21% while audiences were far more generous at 61%. One of the positive reviews came from Variety, which lauded Roberts for being “terrific in a layered part.”
18. ‘Everyone Says I Love You’
It’s a little awkward to herald a Woody Allen movie produced by Harvey Weinstein’s production company, Miramax, but before these names marred their own projects, “Everyone Says I Love You” was an enjoyable musical comedy with a winsome cast featuring Julia Roberts alongside Goldie Hawn, Drew Barrymore, Alan Alda and many others.
Critical reception of this 1996 comedy was largely positive, as many viewers delighted in seeing a throwback to the old Hollywood musical movie. Roger Ebert even suggested that “Everyone Says I Love You” might be Woody Allen’s best film, “because he finds the right note for every scene, and dances on a tightrope between comedy and romance, between truth and denial, between what we hope and what we know.”
17. ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’
This Aaron Sorkin creation, set in 1980s Washington, DC, brought together three heavy-hitting actors of the time (2007): Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts. Some viewers felt Roberts was miscast here, but she did her best as a wealthy conservative Texan in Sorkin’s witty, political period piece.
As with many Sorkin projects, many critics enthusiastically ate up what he served, and while most of the praise was heaped on Hanks and Hoffman, Roberts deserved some credit for, as The New Republic put it, delivering “an adequate performance, rescuing an act of miscasting that could easily have proven disastrous.”
16. ‘Something To Talk About’
Not everything needs to be a weepy dramatic slog! The totally watchable “Something to Talk About” features Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid as a married couple in a proper, Southern small town where gossip runs rampant.
Callie Khouri, who wrote “Thelma and Louise” and later created the TV series “Nashville,” penned the script for “Something to Talk About,” and most critics were disappointed with it, calling it “dull” and “corny.” Newsweek’s review, however, called the movie a “smart, highly entertaining comedy,” and noted that “[i]t’s nice to see Roberts working with good material again, showing she can be both a star and a fine team player.”
15. ‘Ocean’s Eleven’
“Ocean’s Eleven” is much more fun than many of the other titles on this list, but it’s ranked lower because it’s not exactly Julia Roberts’ film. Her role is peripheral to the main (and much more exciting) story of the Las Vegas heist and, at very best, she’d be considered the 12th-most important character.
She is, however, effective in her role as Tess Ocean, the cool ex-wife to George Clooney’s Danny Ocean. Perhaps her most memorable moment from this film comes when Danny asks of Tess’s new beau, played by Andy Garcia, “Does he make you laugh?” And Tess replies evenly, “He doesn’t make me cry.” It’s a small moment of triumph for exes of cads everywhere.
This romantic drama with an incredibly attractive cast may not immediately come to mind when thinking of Julia Roberts’ most iconic roles (especially since it was released not long after “Mona Lisa Smile” and just before “Ocean’s Eleven”), but “Closer” was relatively well-received when it came out in 2004.
Under the direction of Mike Nichols (with whom Roberts would later work on “Charlie Wilson’s War”) the London-set tale of love and betrayal weaves together four strangers’ lives, with the other leads played by Natalie Portman, Clive Owen and Jude Law.
Audiences found much to enjoy in this film with an audience score of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, versus a critic’s score of 68%. Many reviews highlighted the performances of Portman and Owen, though Roberts received praise as well. The Rolling Stone review noted that Roberts departs from the “safety of her Hollywood comedies” in “Closer,” and she “excels as a woman who uses truth as a survival tactic.”
13. ‘August: Osage County’
Soon after Tracy Letts’ dramatic play “August: Osage County” opened in late 2007, it became the hottest thing on Broadway. Anyone who’s anyone wanted a ticket to this show about an Oklahoma family destroying itself.
So, when it came time to make a movie adaptation, casting was absolutely crucial. Meryl Streep was, of course, given the lead role as the volatile family matriarch, Violet Weston, and Julia Roberts was cast as Violet’s daughter, Barbara.
Many viewers had high hopes going into seeing this epic family drama on the silver screen, and some were disappointed that the intensity of the play — which packed a major punch in a live theater — didn’t exactly translate to film. Still, with this cast, the movie was easily redeemed for many viewers, and it managed to earn a fair amount of awards buzz (including an Oscar nod for Roberts).
Time Out’s review praised Roberts’ efforts in particular, writing that she “gives her all, too, bellowing expletives like a seasoned pro. … In fact, it’s tempting to see this as Roberts’s audition to be the next go-to gal for meaty older-lady roles when Meryl finally hangs up her spurs.”
12. ‘The Pelican Brief’
Julia Roberts has been paired with many handsome, talented leading men over the years, including Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Clive Owen, among others. In “The Pelican Brief,” we got to see her work alongside the deeply charming and intelligent Denzel Washington, who was himself enjoying a scorching-hot career streak in 1993, just after playing Malcolm X in 1992 and right before his excellent turn in “Philadelphia” in 1994.
For many viewers, these two actors were the best part (by far) of this film adaptation of John Grisham’s suspenseful thriller. The Hartford Courant review detailed the effectiveness of both leads, writing that Roberts, “whose deep, vulnerable eyes make her a perfect victim to engage our fears and sympathies, fills her character with an edgy weariness mixed with determined resourcefulness.”
11. ‘Mona Lisa Smile’
Roberts was basically born to play the inspiring teacher in “Mona Lisa Smile,” a period drama set in the all-female Wellesley College in 1953. The story examined the conflicted desires of young women (of a certain class) in the early 1950s, when women were expected to set aside their careers and throw themselves into being good housewives — conforming to the norms of the time by becoming supporting characters in their own lives.
As an art history professor during an era when “feminist” was just another offensive F-word, Roberts’ character challenges her students to think outside the white picket fence.
While many critics (most of whom are men, it bears noting) found “Mona Lisa Smile” to be a schmaltzy female version of “Dead Poets Society,” the film resonated more with non-critic viewers. Audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as recent as this year deem the movie very enjoyable, with several calling Roberts’ performance “excellent.”
This tender drama from 1998 saw the brilliant pairing of two hugely popular actors: Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts. Roberts’ character, Isabel, is intimidated by her boyfriend’s first wife (and mother to his children), Jackie (Sarandon). As she becomes more involved in the children’s lives, Isabel is forced to navigate a tricky relationship with Jackie — one that ultimately morphs into a sweet friendship.
The film clearly resonated with viewers, earning it an audience rating of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, but critics were less enthused, peppering their reviews with words like “formulaic,” “disjointed” and “cartoonish.” Still, audiences and critics agreed that the two leads elevated the material with their heartfelt performances.
Despite it all, “Hook” remains a beloved cult film, and the audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a much more enthusiastic 76%. This story of a grown Peter Pan rediscovering his inner child was also a massive box office success.
Integral to the story is Peter’s relationship with Roberts’ Tinkerbell. Though written as a side character, fans assert that Tink’s involvement in the film’s pivotal plot points prove she is the film’s true hero.
8. ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’
According to Rotten Tomatoes, audiences and critics are in complete agreement about how “refreshing,” “amiable” and “sweet” this romantic comedy is. Both the critical and audience ratings are at a solid 73%, with many audience reviews (written in the years since the theatrical release) calling “My Best Friend’s Wedding” a “classic.”
Indeed, there is a timelessness to the story of a woman (Roberts) in love with her best friend (Dermot Mulroney), bereft at the thought of him marrying someone else — even someone as adorable and eager to please as Cameron Diaz. The two women — Roberts and Diaz — shine the brightest in this film, though the supporting cast (especially Rupert Everett) is a pleasure to watch as well. The lasting power of the group sing-along rehearsal dinner scene and Roberts’ earnest plea to Mulroney to “choose me, marry me, let me make you happy” have secured “My Best Friend’s Wedding” a spot in the romantic comedy hall of fame.
Released in 1997 after a few minor roles and film flops, this movie also gave Roberts a much-needed boost, and the next few years saw her starring in hit after hit, such as “Stepmom,” “Notting Hill” and “Erin Brockovich.”
Released in 2017, “Wonder” tells the story of a 10-year-old boy named Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) with facial differences who starts attending a New York prep school after years of being homeschooled by his mother (Julia Roberts). The tale is told from various perspectives, building out the world beyond just Auggie’s viewpoint, so we can fully see the impact this unique boy has on his family, friends and community.
It would be hard to actively dislike “Wonder,” with its themes of acceptance and childhood friendship. Viewers and critics agreed, with the movie earning an 85% fresh critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and 88% from audiences.
Roberts plays the caring, protective mom of a boy who’s different with ease and tenderness. A writer for the U.K.’s The Times even wrote that Roberts was the standout performer in the film, claiming that she “lifts every one of her scenes in ‘Wonder’ to near-sublime places.”
6. ‘Mystic Pizza’
For movie fans of a certain age, our nostalgic fondness for “Mystic Pizza” may color our ability to see the movie for what it is: a melodrama about teen lovers from opposite sides of the tracks. As coming-of-age stories go, though, this one has plenty of charm and sweetness, as it follows three friends (played by Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish and Lilli Taylor) who work together at a pizzeria in a small Connecticut coastal town. It marked Roberts’ first big role — the one that put her on the map.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, critics were actually more generous toward Mystic Pizza than audiences were, giving the movie a 70% fresh rating versus the audience score of 55%. Still, the captivating Julia Roberts elevated what might have been a schmaltzy tale of summer romance into something that many viewers who watched the movie as teens would call a Slice of Heaven.
5. ‘Ben Is Back’
“Ben Is Back” is the most recent film project (to date) that Roberts completed, and it is a huge testament to her capacity as an actor that her performances in this later stage of her career are as impressive as many of her earlier roles. “Ben Is Back” finds Roberts again in the role of a mother — this time trying to help her 19-year-old son who struggles with drug addiction.
Released in late 2018, this family drama was awards bait, and critics certainly appreciated the effort. Kevin Maher of The Times wrote that Roberts was “luminescent” and played the role of Ben’s mother with “sadness, desperation and inner steel. She is the primary reason to see this film.”
4. ‘Pretty Woman’
The fact that Julia Roberts’ most iconic role continues to be the clever, sensitive prostitute Vivian in 1990’s “Pretty Woman” speaks volumes about her enormous versatility and endless charm. Nearly 30 years later, audiences still love quoting the famous lines (“You work on commission, right? … Big mistake. Big. Huge!”) and reliving that moment when Edward (Richard Gere) nips Vivian’s fingers in the necklace case and Roberts’ toothy smile gives way to that crazy cackle.
By the time it was released, Roberts had endeared herself to audiences in “Mystic Pizza” and “Steel Magnolias,” but as the “Pretty Woman,” she basically stole our hearts forever. This tale of an unlikely relationship between the suave, monied Edward and the vivacious woman-of-the-night Vivian somehow manages to be as sweet and romantic as any other love story.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone accurately predicted in his 1990 review that “Pretty Woman” would be the rocket that shuttled Roberts to long-lasting stardom. “The Roberts smile — full-lipped, a mile wide and gleaming — is the closest the movies have yet come to capturing sunshine,” he wrote. “Such dazzle should not be taken lightly.”
3. ‘Notting Hill’
If you’re surprised by how highly ranked “Notting Hill” is on this list, we would encourage a re-watching of this endearing rom-com ASAP. The movie winningly pairs Roberts, as international megastar Anna Scott, with Hugh Grant as small-bookshop-owner William Thacker, and sets the story in the charming London neighborhood, Notting Hill. Romance blossoms between the civilian and the famous movie star, as Scott becomes smitten with the witty, bookish Brit and his circle of quirky friends and family.
Roberts expertly ushers us into the world of being a famous star — obviously a reality not far from her own personal experience — and all the loneliness and boredom that can accompany that lifestyle.
“Notting Hill” remains Roberts’ best-reviewed romantic comedy, with an 83% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In his 2019 look-back at the 1998 film, the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw admits he wasn’t generous enough in his initial review of the movie, which he now calls an “enduringly lovely, warm-hearted rom-com” featuring Roberts’ “career-best performance.”
2. ‘Steel Magnolias’
One could argue that nostalgia is fueling the high placement of “Steel Magnolias” on this list, but there are other factors supporting this decision besides just a personal aching fondness for the film. Sentimental and hilariously funny, this play-turned-movie featured a stellar cast in its prime.
The slice-of-life glimpse at a folksy Southern town focused on the mother-daughter duo played by Sally Field and Julia Roberts. Roberts’ character is diabetic and makes the decision to become pregnant, knowing that it’ll be risky, while her mother struggles to accept her decision. Colorful supporting characters — played by Dolly Parton, Darryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine — grapple with their own problems and regularly catch up with each other in the hair salon.
The pop-cultural staying power of this epic drama trumpeting the importance of female friendship is not to be overlooked. There’s a reason this movie resonated with so many people — primarily women — as it gave vibrant warmth and voice to the experience of having close girlfriends, the mother-daughter bond and, ultimately, to finding strength and hope beyond grief.
Julia Roberts — in a role that earned her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win — was an integral part of this heartstring-tugging opus that earned a place among contemporary cinema’s greatest hits.
1. ‘Erin Brockovich’
This is one of those situations in which we truly cannot imagine anyone else besides Julia Roberts in this role that earned her tremendous acclaim. Who else could you see embodying the brash, blunt, single mom, Erin Brockovich, as she takes on a corporate behemoth in what would become one of the biggest class-action lawsuits of all time?
The critical praise for Roberts in this role is almost dizzying (with words like “masterful,” “stunning” and “movingly human”), and some credit also went to director Steven Soderbergh for fully utilizing Roberts’ immense talent. Reviewers compared her to some of the most legendary actresses in Hollywood history, including Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck.
Salon’s Charles Taylor articulated it well in his lengthy rave review, writing, “Roberts is a movie star who has often been underestimated because of the way she looks. And because of that, she has a natural affinity with Erin. … ‘Erin Brockovich’ gives Roberts the chance to marry her audience rapport to a performance that doesn’t cancel out her gutsiness.”
This movie earned Roberts the most awards buzz of her career by far, leading to her winning the Oscar for Best Actress, along with a BAFTA, Critic’s Choice Award, Golden Globe and SAG Award, among others.