As her fans prepare to watch her in Eat Pray Love on the big screen, we thought it would be a good time to look back at Julia’s magical career and pick out the essentials. If you’re looking for a cinematic appetizer to director Ryan Murphy’s main course, try one of these:
In Julia Roberts’ second credited screen performance, she plays Daisy Arujo, one of two sisters who work at a pizza parlor in Mystic, Connecticut. Along with their friend JoJo, the girls learn about life and love while serving the community some grade-A, gourmet pizza. Roberts’ care-free, extremely likable character helped shape the image that she would maintain throughout her career. When he reviewed the film for it’s initial 1988 release, Roger Ebert noted that the picture “may someday become known for the movie stars it showcased back before they became stars" and he couldn’t have been said it better: both Annabeth Gish (Kat Arujo) and Lili Taylor (JoJo) eventually worked on bigger and better projects, but Roberts became a true cinematic icon.
This beloved dramedy succeeded in balancing an all-star cast and bringing in major bucks. Roberts play Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, a small-town girl with a looming wedding date and a terminal case of diabetes, but that doesn’t stop her from living her life. A poignant look at small-town southern women and the friendships/relationships that define them, Roberts’ heart wrenching performance proved that she could hold her own on the screen opposite living legends like Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis. She earned her first Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actress with Steel Magnolias, but it wouldn’t be the last time she’d take the Oscar stage.
Garry Marshall made Julia Roberts a household name with this cheerful romantic comedy about a hooker with a heart of gold and the wealthy businessman who can’t get enough of her. By letting her own wholesome personality anchor the character, she showed audiences that the real, down-to-Earth Roberts was just as enjoyable to watch as the artist. And just like that, America had a new Sweetheart.
Sleeping With The Enemy
Now the most in-demand actress in Hollywood, Julia was picking up work at an incredibly quick and tiresome pace. In 1991 she put out three films, including this taut thriller in which she played a fearful wife determined to get out of an abusive marriage. Roberts was able to exhibit a wide array of emotions, from fear to hate to love to anger and did so genuinely so that there was no need to sell the character – we never doubted the marital terror she faced for a moment.
The Pelican Brief
How do you follow up a year in which your films grossed a total of over a quarter-billion dollars at the North American box office? Make another $100 million hit. Julia teamed with Denzel Washington and director Alan J. Pakula (Sophie’s Choice) for this adaptation of John Grisham’s best-selling novel. The story follows a law student and a journalist working to expose a major conspiracy that ties into big business and the US government. Roberts was as exciting to watch as ever as she showed her ability to handle physical action and intellectual dialogue while looking great in the process.
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Having already proved herself as a bankable star and a fine actress, by 1997 Julia Roberts was free to make any kind of movie she wanted to. She returned to the kind of lighter fare that thrust her to stardom in the first place with My Best Friend’s Wedding, an ensemble rom-com that pitted her against Cameron Diaz for the affections of long-time friend Dermot Mulroney. Once again, Roberts proved that her name is as good as gold to American audiences and after a few years of mediocre hits, this charming film put her right back on top.
Chris Columbus’ 1998 hit marked Julia’s first credit as a producer. The film followed her Isabel Kelly as she adjusts to the role of stepmother to her new man’s children, but she’s met with sharp criticism and adversity from the dreaded ex-wife, played by the inimitable Susan Sarandon. Roberts is at her best when surrounded by performers of the same caliber and working alongside Oscar winner Sarandon and Oscar nominee Ed Harris, she delivered an authentic portrayal of a woman in a realistic domestic situation. The tear-jerking dramedy remains one of her very best.
Writer Richard Curtis and director Roger Michell showed the world what it’s like to live in Julia’s shoes in this playful, endearing rom-com. We follow the most beautiful and beloved actress on the planet as she forges an innocent friendship with steadfast romantic lead Hugh Grant, but art imitates life and we see how hard it is for a relationship to blossom when fame is a factor. If anyone else portrayed uber-celeb Anna Scott, the character’s case of paparazzi paranoia may not have felt as genuine, but Roberts’ personal experience with the press helped her navigate Anna’s emotional arc through an already enjoyable narrative.
A reunion of the creative talent that made Pretty Woman the biggest film of 1990, Runaway Bride sent Richard Gere’s journalist to investigate the strange case of Roberts’ perennial fiancée, who’s broken the hearts of many men in a small American town. As usual, Julia’s well-rounded, enchanting personality guided her performance and filled the movie-theaters, but the bankable chemistry between her and Gere made the film a worldwide hit.
Roberts’ crowning achievement, she teamed with independent-minded filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to tell the true-story of a down-on-her-luck file clerk on a quest to shed light on a corporate conspiracy to cover up the industrial poisoning of the residents of Hinkley, California. Her bold portrayal of Brockovich was aided by having the real Erin on call (she even has a brief cameo in the film as a waitress named Julia), but Julia’s Oscar win was all her own: never before was she so comedic, dramatic and romantic in perfect proportion. It was the kind of role that an actress works their entire career for and Roberts didn’t disappoint.