Total Recall

Reese Witherspoon's 10 Best Movies

We look at the ten best-reviewed films of the Hot Pursuit star.

by | May 6, 2015 | Comments

She’s one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood, with dozens of films to her credit and a lifetime box office gross total topping a billion dollars — and this weekend, Reese Witherspoon will add to that impressive sum with Hot Pursuit, an action comedy pairing her with Sofia Vergara. To celebrate Reese’s return to the big screen, as well as a terrific 2014 that included her Oscar-nominated work in Wild as well as a small supporting appearance in Inherent Vice, we decided to dedicate this week’s Total Recall to an appreciative look back at some of her best-reviewed releases.

10. LEGALLY BLONDE (2001) 68%

Critics tend to vilify the romantic comedy, but it’s an undeniable rite of passage for twentysomething actresses in Hollywood, and with 2001’s Legally Blonde, Witherspoon managed to enjoy the perks of the genre (such as the pay raise that comes with toplining a $141 million smash hit) without succumbing to its worst pitfalls (including dreadful scripts and scathing reviews). While Legally Blonde is far from groundbreaking, and its plot hinges on any number of silly contrivances, it’s never less than likable — largely thanks to a magnetic performance from its talented leading lady. In the words of Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, “As an actor of distinction who’s all of 25, Reese Witherspoon reveals interesting dark roots even as she plays golden girls.”


9. MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (2009) 72%

In real life, Reese Witherspoon is a hair under five feet, two inches tall, which might be why the idea of playing a freakishly tall woman nicknamed “Ginormica” appealed to her — or maybe it was just the chance to score one of those cushy voice acting gigs that all the major celebrities seem to get these days. Either way, the result was Monsters vs. Aliens, Witherspoon’s only film of 2009 and a $381 million 3D hit for DreamWorks Animation. Alongside the famous voices of Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Steven Colbert, Rainn Wilson, Will Arnett, and others, Witherspoon helped wreak family-friendly cartoon havoc — and helped earn praise from critics like the Houston Chronicle’s Amy Biancolli, who wrote, “True, the story doesn’t amount to much, but the plot tends to take a back seat when you’ve got a not-quite-50-foot version of Reese Witherspoon duking it out with a mighty alien robot alongside the Golden Gate Bridge.”


8. FREEWAY (1996) 76%

She’d made a few movies by the mid-’90s, but it was Reese Witherspoon’s work in 1996’s Freeway that really made critics sit up and take notice. At the center of this modern take on Red Riding Hood, playing a juvenile delinquent whose trip to her grandmother’s house is impeded by a wolfish sexual predator (Kiefer Sutherland), she essentially used her smoldering performance as a challenge, daring viewers to look away. It was a challenge unmet by many critics, including the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Margaret A. McGurk, who wrote, “I didn’t particularly want to like Freeway, but I couldn’t help myself. Reese Witherspoon made me.”


7. WALK THE LINE (2005) 82%

Witherspoon joined the ranks of Oscar-winning leading ladies for her sensitive portrayal of June Carter Cash in this Johnny Cash biopic, which follows the early years of the Man in Black (played by Joaquin Phoenix), including the beginning of his career and the romance that would endure through more than four decades of his life. One of the year’s biggest hits and a five-time Academy Award nominee, Walk the Line wasn’t without its concessions to Hollywood formula — or without its critics, including Cash’s daughter Rosanne — but most scribes had plenty of praise for the film, including Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who wrote, “I advise you catch up with Walk the Line, if only for Ms. Witherspoon’s transcendent joyousness as a still-growing legend within a legend.”


6. PLEASANTVILLE (1998) 85%

Gary Ross’ Pleasantville could easily have been nothing more than a gentle, simple satire about the way nostalgia changes our memories, but beneath the surface of the story — which sends a pair of squabbling modern teens (played by Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire) into the world of a 1950s sitcom — there’s some thoughtful commentary on civil rights and the cruelly arbitrary ways society can oppress those who don’t fit in. Pleasantville wasn’t a blockbuster hit, but it earned some of the best reviews of the year from critics like Louis B. Hobson of Jam! Movies, who wrote, “This wondrous little fable is a cross between The Truman Show and Back to the Future — and it’s better than both.”


5. THE GOOD LIE (2014) 88%

Befitting its title, The Good Lie practiced a bit of well-meaning subterfuge with its marketing materials, selling this fact-based drama about the American lives of Sudanese refugees once known as “lost boys” by putting Witherspoon’s face front and center on the poster. But if her character — a Kansas City settlement worker given the life-altering task of helping her charges adjust to their new environment — isn’t truly central to the story, her performance remains a solid anchor in a film whose ingredients run the gamut from Hollywood gloss to real-life horror. “This is very much a mainstream movie meant to shine a light on the plight of people who were ignored for too long,” wrote the Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz. “For that reason alone, it’s well worth seeing.”


4. THE MAN IN THE MOON (1991) 89%

For her first film, Witherspoon found herself in good company, including director Robert Mulligan (concluding a career that included To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of ’42) and co-stars Sam Waterston and Tess Harper. But in this sweet coming-of-age drama, it’s Witherspoon’s character that largely drives the story, and she carried the film with an assured performance that belied her youth and lack of experience. Man in the Moon “gets an outstandingly natural performance out of Miss Witherspoon, who has no trouble carrying a lot of the film single-handedly,” wrote Janet Maslin for the New York Times. “It falls to her to remind the audience that this story is at heart about a family, and she does.”


3. WILD (2014) 90%

The sort of physically and dramatically demanding role that an actor can spend an entire career waiting to score, Wild gave Witherspoon the opportunity to shoulder an entire film pretty much on her own — and she more than delivered, bringing Cheryl Strayed’s unflinching memoir to the screen with a suitably fierce drama (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée from a screenplay by Nick Hornby) that takes viewers on a harrowing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail while reliving key moments from its protagonist’s bumpy past. At the forefront of it all are solid performances from Witherspoon and Laura Dern, both of whom picked up Oscar nominations for their efforts. As Mick LaSalle wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, “This pensive, reflective, complicated Witherspoon feels more real than the one she left behind — and more in keeping with how she started, in hard-hitting independent movies 20 years ago.”


2. ELECTION (1999) 92%

It takes a special type of young actress to embody a character who is both seductive enough to destroy one high school teacher’s career and irritating enough to turn another teacher into an election-fixing madman — and that’s exactly what Witherspoon did as Election‘s Tracy Flick, the overachieving senior whose steamrolling campaign for student body president inspires one of her teachers (Matthew Broderick) to take desperate measures to keep her out of office. Critics expected great things from writer/director Alexander Payne after 1996’s Citizen Ruth, and Election delivered — and it also helped cement Witherspoon’s burgeoning reputation, thanks to reviews from critics like CNN’s Paul Clinton, who wrote, “Reese Witherspoon is proving to be one of the most versatile actresses of her generation.”


1. MUD (2013) 98%

Just when it seemed like she might be forever doomed to a lifetime of romantic comedies like Four Christmases and This Means War, Witherspoon turned up next to her fellow rom-com refugee Matthew McConaughey in 2013’s Mud — and although he received much of the movie’s accolades for one of the roles that helped spark his so-called “McConaissance,” there really are no false notes or out-of-place performances in writer-director Jeff Nichols’ tale of a mysterious man who claims to be on the run from bounty hunters and desperate to flee with the love of his life. Calling it “More than a mere tribute to Twain and Dickens,” the Vine’s Alice Tynan wrote, “This has all the makings of a modern classic.”

Tag Cloud

AMC revenge diversity blaxploitation Binge Guide hist suspense rt labs critics edition Pacific Islander live event dark Comics on TV Starz new zealand 21st Century Fox President comic USA Network GoT superman Cartoon Network Britbox documentary LGBTQ YouTube Red romantic comedy renewed TV shows mockumentary The Purge 2017 laika WarnerMedia Amazon Prime 93rd Oscars scary movies technology Paramount Plus hollywood zero dark thirty TruTV 2019 nfl mission: impossible hispanic Awards black comedy telelvision Acorn TV Chernobyl comic books PlayStation Year in Review child's play The Walt Disney Company biography ghosts TCA Awards YouTube Premium IMDb TV reboot Creative Arts Emmys sitcom Chilling Adventures of Sabrina nbcuniversal feel good DGA criterion Comedy lord of the rings The Walking Dead Musical Syfy The Witch thriller PaleyFest Drama NBC cancelled Comic-Con@Home 2021 worst movies singing competition spider-verse rotten movies we love BET Apple A24 game show cinemax National Geographic VOD comedies 007 talk show richard e. Grant 20th Century Fox Netflix Tokyo Olympics rt labs documentaries TBS Kids & Family mcc VH1 DirecTV facebook Disney OWN asian-american festivals obituary crime thriller batman Shondaland ratings canceled TV shows sopranos Showtime 24 frames Fall TV best sequels Trivia Mary Poppins Returns strong female leads 2016 Superheroe Polls and Games Academy Awards DC Universe Watching Series cats Sundance Now nature Thanksgiving international Comic Book movie ESPN Mindy Kaling First Look werewolf versus comics miniseries theme song YA films FOX Adult Swim docudrama Film Festival Food Network Dark Horse Comics Paramount Schedule king kong Reality Competition American Society of Cinematographers Prime Video rom-coms live action Hallmark Christmas movies 2018 a nightmare on elm street Horror science fiction disaster ViacomCBS king arthur vs. adaptation Fargo animated series Ellie Kemper natural history game of thrones new york 4/20 RT21 Pop TV mutant popular Music anthology Photos remakes streaming 71st Emmy Awards Captain marvel sequel Disney streaming service Election indie DC streaming service Emmys E3 video on demand Hallmark MCU discovery FXX HBO Max toy story SDCC kaiju Awards Tour Travel Channel political drama video stop motion Pixar archives Mary Tyler Moore Anna Paquin Holiday Quiz Winners ID stoner debate biopic transformers parents Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt adenture golden globes Box Office OneApp Exclusive Video mob superhero AMC Plus Calendar Black Mirror children's TV composers cancelled TV shows Arrowverse indiana jones book IFC Films south america SXSW ABC Signature cartoon Marvel Studios TLC aliens sports CBS All Access travel 99% japan Summer CMT The CW blockbusters prank art house Martial Arts Epix HFPA Masterpiece docuseries ABC kong reviews Walt Disney Pictures spinoff adventure scorecard fresh HBO Go Endgame 73rd Emmy Awards TCM trailers royal family A&E venice italian TV movies halloween based on movie Columbia Pictures ITV Disney Plus chucky BBC Emmy Nominations doctor who The Arrangement binge Fox Searchlight christmas movies FX Certified Fresh TCA 2017 Image Comics Interview TNT 2021 cancelled television anime Holidays Star Wars Animation TCA Apple TV Plus CNN Logo Ghostbusters New York Comic Con jamie lee curtis trophy GLAAD Discovery Channel medical drama zombies new star wars movies Song of Ice and Fire Sony Pictures Superheroes Baby Yoda casting 45 Christmas Tarantino Mudbound Neflix dogs comic book movie crime drama Premiere Dates news hidden camera Marvel Television justice league Spike classics Fox News Podcast Rock festival Bravo television space true crime SundanceTV 2015 pirates of the caribbean Universal rt archives Lionsgate The Academy Marathons Oscars Tumblr Broadway monster movies deadpool spy thriller Hear Us Out Legendary marvel comics dexter Rocky emmy awards independent TV renewals unscripted canceled action-comedy Reality Lifetime zombie know your critic concert TCA Winter 2020 Instagram Live Set visit Toys LGBT witnail Tubi Extras universal monsters VICE Best and Worst Video Games BBC One BET Awards Valentine's Day PBS Avengers supernatural Comedy Central 90s Television Academy franchise Film YouTube Hollywood Foreign Press Association psychological thriller green book crime Black History Month Crackle Wes Anderson TV Rocketman heist movie Sundance TV critics historical drama scary black robots Rom-Com Spectrum Originals Pop olympics Musicals war fast and furious 72 Emmy Awards quibi name the review Disney Channel saw screenings NBA Grammys australia Turner Classic Movies FX on Hulu critic resources Trailer X-Men Marvel Infographic romance See It Skip It razzies Countdown what to watch Pet Sematary politics Character Guide Pride Month football high school Women's History Month Mary poppins Teen RT History Red Carpet Spring TV Esquire IFC toronto CW Seed dreamworks dc finale cars women Action USA comic book movies Tags: Comedy Amazon Prime Video El Rey serial killer cops BBC America Heroines Universal Pictures Turner APB WGN golden globe awards genre Nominations CBS Warner Bros. legend godzilla spain DC Comics aapi Biopics vampires spanish language screen actors guild elevated horror Ovation Freeform young adult directors 2020 cults period drama gangster HBO slasher Classic Film Amazon Studios Fantasy hispanic heritage month streaming movies TIFF Cosplay Family harry potter Sundance worst Stephen King award winner french Crunchyroll Tomatazos japanese History Paramount Network TV Land Sneak Peek BAFTA ABC Family satire Nat Geo TV One MSNBC GIFs Brie Larson Pirates all-time Alien kids scene in color Winter TV Amazon spanish Television Critics Association posters marvel cinematic universe cancelled TV series San Diego Comic-Con Mystery tv talk Opinion Netflix Christmas movies twilight Sci-Fi comiccon latino foreign leaderboard dragons boxing Writers Guild of America stand-up comedy wonder woman Super Bowl police drama cooking NYCC dceu basketball book adaptation sag awards Apple TV+ Star Trek breaking bad halloween tv dramedy Hulu Disney+ Disney Plus Lucasfilm Western psycho crossover Country boxoffice joker Trophy Talk blockbuster Vudu Peacock MTV spider-man Lifetime Christmas movies Elton John target teaser Nickelodeon slashers First Reviews jurassic park Funimation 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards free movies james bond 1990s Cannes E! 79th Golden Globes Awards Shudder rotten social media movies die hard