Reese Witherspoon’s Birthday: Her 15 Best Movies and TV Shows Ranked

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Newsweek

American actress Reese Witherspoon, who turns 42 today, is best known for her roles in Legally Blonde, Election, Walk the Line and the television series Big Little Lies.

Born in New Orleans on March 22, 1976, she had her first taste of fame at the age of 14 when she attended an open-cast audition for a minor role in Robert Mulligan’s coming of age drama The Man on the Moon, but inadvertently secured the lead. Her performance was praised: "Her first kiss is one of the most perfect little scenes I've ever seen in a movie," Roger Ebert said.

In 1998 she received the Young Hollywood Award for Best Female Breakthrough Performance after starring alongside Toby Maguire in Pleasantville. “Maguire and Witherspoon are adept at playing strangers in a strange land, and do much to ground the fantastic premise in something resembling reality,” Joe Leydon wrote in Variety.

In 2000, Witherspoon played Tracy Flick, a ruthlessly ambitious high-school student in Alexander Payne’s lauded dark comedy Election. She received her first Golden Globe nomination and a Best Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics. In 2001, she received a second Golden Globe nomination and an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance for Legally Blonde—a huge box-office smash.

Witherspoon’s next big hit came in 2005 with Walk the Line, a biopic about Johnny Cash and his romance with June Carter. Her performance won many awards, including an Oscar for Best Actress and a Golden Globe.

Over the next few years, she starred in several romantic comedies that rarely received more than modest reviews. But a minor, deftly performed role in Jeff Nichols’ award-winning drama Mud (2013) signaled a career resurgence. The following year, she won her second Academy Award nomination for portraying Cheryl Strayed in Wild, about a woman’s 1,000-mile hike across America.

Since then, Witherspoon’s star has further soared, as producer of Gone Girl and executive producer and star of hit television series Big Little Lies. "It might have taken 18 years to find a part worth reviving her inner Flick for—but watching Big Little Lies, you can understand why Witherspoon waited so long," Willa Paskin wrote in Slate.

To celebrate her birthday, Newsweek has analyzed data from review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to rank Reese Witherspoon’s 15 best movies and TV series.

01 Cruel Intentions
Columbia Pictures

15. Cruel Intentions (1999). Total score: 59.25%. 
Directed by: Roger Kumble. Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair. 
Plot summary: Two vicious step-siblings of an elite Manhattan prep school make a wager: to deflower the new headmaster's daughter before the start of term.
What the critics said: "Reese Witherspoon has a natural talent that audiences have been aware of since her 1991 debut in The Man in the Moon. Next to her, both Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar come across as posers." James Berardinelli, ReelViews. 

02 Water for Elephants
Twentieth Century Fox

14. Water for Elephants (2011). Total score: 60.18%. 
Directed by: Francis Lawrence. Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz. 
Plot summary: Set in the 1930s, a former veterinary student takes a job in a traveling circus and falls in love with the ringmaster's wife.
What the critics said: "Witherspoon sparkles appropriately, Waltz is indeed one scary dude and Pattinson acquits himself well enough." Tom Long, Detroit News

03 Legally Blonde
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

13. Legally Blonde (2001). Total score: 61.11%. 
Directed by: Robert Luketic. Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis. 
Plot summary: Elle Woods, a fashionable sorority queen is dumped by her boyfriend. She decides to follow him to law school, while she is there she figures out that there is more to her than just looks.
What the critics said: "Keeps succeeding in spite of itself, thanks mostly to Witherspoon's beautifully energized performance." Bruce Newman, San Jose Mercury News

04 The Importance of Being Earnest
Miramax

12. The Importance of Being Earnest (2002). Total score: 62.01%. 
Directed by: Oliver Parker. Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson. 
Plot summary: In 1890s London, two friends use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") for their on-the-sly activities. Hilarity ensues.
What the critics said: "Oliver Parker's film is well cast. Reese Witherspoon, using an English accent that sounds convincing to me, is charming as Jack's tender ward, who of course falls for Algernon." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

05 Freeway
Republic Pictures

11. Freeway (1996). Total score: 64.19%. 
Directed by: Matthew Bright. Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Bokeem Woodbine. 
Plot summary: A twisted take on Little Red Riding Hood, with a teenage juvenile delinquent on the run from a social worker traveling to her grandmother's house and being hounded by a charming, but sadistic, serial killer and pedophile.
What the critics said: "Like it or hate it (or both), you have to admire its skill, and the over-the-top virtuosity of Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

06 American Psycho
Lions Gate Films

10. American Psycho (2000). Total score: 66.13%. 
Directed by: Mary Harron. Starring: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Chloë Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon. 
Plot summary: A wealthy New York City investment banking executive, Patrick Bateman, hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he delves deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies.
What the critics said: "An uneven movie that nonetheless bristles with stinging wit and exerts a perverse fascination." Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

07 The Good Lie
Warner Bros.

9. The Good Lie (2014). Total score: 68.61%. 
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau. Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Corey Still. 
Plot summary: A group of Sudanese refugees, given the chance to resettle in the U.S., arrive in Kansas City, Missouri, where their encounter with an employment agency counselor forever changes all of their lives.
What the critics said: "The Good Lie honestly earns its laughter and tears, even if it has to do so by way of some Hollywood window dressing." Peter Howell, Toronto Star

08 Pleasantville
New Line Cinema

8. Pleasantville (1998). Total score: 72.71%. 
Directed by: Gary Ross. Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy. 
Plot summary: Two 1990s teenage siblings find themselves in a 1950s sitcom, where their influence begins to profoundly change that complacent world.
What the critics said: "An ingenious fable, screenwriter Ross's directorial debut playfully spoofs the small-minded lifestyle idealized by 'family values' advocates, and the intolerance and insecurity underlying that ideal." Derek Adams, Time Out
 

09 Inherent Vice
Warner Bros.

7. Inherent Vice (2014). Total score: 73.6%. 
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro. 
Plot summary: In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles private investigator Larry "Doc" Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
What the critics said: "An aggressively weird movie, which you should take not as a warning but as a compliment and an invitation to see it, to let its stoner vibes wash all over you." Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

10 Walk the Line
Twentieth Century Fox

6. Walk the Line (2005). Total score: 73.81%. 
Directed by: James Mangold. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin. 
Plot summary: A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash's life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins.
What the critics said: "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." Andrew Sarris, Observer. 

11 The Man in the Moon
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

5. The Man in the Moon (1991). Total score: 74.26%. 
Directed by: Robert Mulligan. Starring: Sam Waterston, Tess Harper, Gail Strickland, Reese Witherspoon. 
Plot summary: A coming of age story set in the south of the U.S. when Elvis was King.
What the critics said: "Newcomer Witherspoon manages to strike exactly the right note as the tomboy on the verge of womanhood while Waterston works on several levels at once." Variety