To accompany the latest episode of the CineChat Podcast, the team decided to compile our top 10 list of Julia Roberts movies. Problems quickly arose when Lee confessed to not being much of a fan, almost jeopardising the credibility of the list with crazed talk of voting highly for her outstanding performance as Tinkerbell in Hook! Did this mean that Matt’s favourite movie of all time would lose out on the top spot? Read on to find out… or just quickly scroll to the end to check the number 1.
10. The Pelican Brief (1993)
Mary: This is a great political thriller which seems to have been largely forgotten about. Julia is really great in this, only 26 at the time. She plays vulnerable so well here, as well as realistic shock and grief and what that does to a person. But as in many of her films there is an inner strength to her character which makes you root for her.
Matt: Once you get used to all the confusing names and political jargon in the first 30 minutes, Julia Roberts really shines here in a role that has her looking over her shoulder and out of her comfort zone in every scene – your heart will end up in your mouth!
9. Steel Magnolias (1989)
Mary: This is by no means her film, it is very much made to display the performances of Sally Field and Shirley Maclaine. But you could see immediately that Julia was not long for supporting roles, she has that something, a year later she made Pretty Woman.
8. Runaway Bride (1999)
Lee: I think I’ve managed to screw up this entire top 10 list, not just by being the only one of the us to vote for Runaway Bride, but for voting it so highly when, to be honest, I vaguely remember anything about it! I know I’ve seen it, I know I liked it. More importantly, I know I liked it more than Pretty Woman (sorry!). This is why I’ve kept out of much of the commentary on this list – I obviously don’t deserve to be contributing to this one…! Anyway, although Runaway Bride came out 9 years after Pretty Woman, and was obviously a desperate attempt to recreate that Richard Gere/Julia Roberts chemistry that worked so well for Pretty Woman, I actually saw Runaway Bride first, which is maybe why I enjoyed it more. It sticks very closely to the traditional rom-com clichés, and I probably wouldn’t like it at all if I saw it again. But, I still went and voted for it. Again, I’m truly sorry.
7. TIE: Hook (1991) / My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
Matt: So I bit the bullet and watched Hook for the first time this week (yes, I know, “You haven’t seen Hook?!”), it was one of those I’m pretty sure had been on in the background at some point so I’d technically seen it before in my periphery, but never actively put it on to watch myself. I liked it, it’s good! Though I think I prefer the scenes set in London with Maggie Smith to those set in Neverland (I especially didn’t understand all of the skateboarding…) A bit like what Mary said about Steel Magnolias, this isn’t Julia Roberts’ film – and I would argue it’s perhaps the strangest role she’s ever done – but she definitely gave Tinkerbell a voice.
Matt: My Best Friend’s Wedding on the other hand … oh dear! I mean, it’s not exactly good is it? Some iconic scenes, but the film would fall flat if it weren’t for Rupert Everett. And while Julia Roberts is amazing – as always – her character in this is simply just not very likeable, which is a real shame because in this sense it feels like she was miscast!
Clare: This is now the third post on the site with me declaring my love for Hook. Like Matt, I only saw it for the first time this year but I utterly adored it. Most of that isn’t down to Roberts, but she does a good job with her little (see what I did there?) role.
6. August: Osage County (2013)
Matt: I wish more people had seen this film – not only does it boast a phenomenal cast, including the Oscar-nominated Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, but also the likes of Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, and Abigail Breslin to name a few, but also it’s hard to find another film quite like it! It’s based on the play of the same name by writer/actor Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay) whose incredible dialogue and complex characters provide the perfect platform for these acting titans to showcase what they can really do. Julia Roberts really does reinvent herself here, and she is phenomenal alongside the legendary Meryl Streep. Prepare yourself for the 20-minute dinner table scene midway through (comprising nearly 1/4 of the film’s total run time) where all hell breaks loose, it’s fantastic and you won’t ever forget it!
5. Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)
Mary: My mum introduced me to this film, it is such a great thriller, this is a really underrated film. Julia plays a woman stuck in an abusive marriage, but with a plan to escape. I loved watching her character come out of her shell when she moves to a lovely small town with a new life, and meeting nice normal people and even a budding romance with a neighbour. Patrick Bergin who plays the abusive husband is terrifying, you truly believe he will not stop looking for her when he realises she has escaped him. He is a predator stalking his prey and you are on the edge of your seat the entire time.
4. Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
Matt: I loved re-watching Mona Lisa Smile this week because I picked up on so much more of the social commentary than I did when I was a teenager. I think it’s extremely clever how the film uses art as a metaphor; similarly to her off-syllabus approach to teaching History of Art, Julia Roberts’ character Katherine Watson pushes the students of the conservative women’s college Wellesley in 1953 to “look beneath the surface” of the traditional housewife image – a role they have all been taught to believe they were born to fill, regardless of their potential to achieve more. It’s a sophisticated message wrapped up in a film that is also a joy to watch – even if Kirsten Dunst plays an unbearable cow!
Clare: Mona Lisa Smile was one of my absolute favourite films when I was a teenager. It’s been so long since I’ve watched it, I think I’d convinced myself no-one else had ever seen it. It’s a wonderful ensemble film and all the women involved give their all. Roberts is great as Katherine Watson and it felt like an excellent choice of role to lose that rom-com notoriety.
3. Notting Hill (1999)
Mary: This is a perfect British Rom-com, I love Richard Curtis scripts and this is another one you can lose yourself in. The premise is nonsensical; there is no way this would really happen, but that is completely part of its charm. Julia and Hugh Grant make a strange couple but you want it to work out for them. This film at the time it was made was probably quite meta for Julia. She was the ‘It’ girl at the time, she was a huge movie star by this point and I’m sure playing this massive star wasn’t that far from the truth, which for me is why so much of the film and especially the drama works so well. If you are looking for a pick me up, feel good movie, this one would be right up there.
2. TIE: Erin Brockovich (2000) / Stepmom (1998)
Mary: Two of my favourites both dramas, showing she did not just make romance films which she was extremely well known for in the 90s. Stepmom is such a great film, it is a great double act, she goes head to head with Susan Sarandon, I have said in our recent podcast episode on Julia Roberts that they are like chalk and cheese and I really believe that. At first you feel like you need to take sides, pick one or the other. But the great thing about this film is by the end it brings them together and you want them to see eye to eye and when they truly accept each other in the last scenes it is truly touching.
Mary: Erin Brockovich is a very different film, but shows all of the fire she has shown in other roles but dialled to eleven. Julia won her Oscar for this film and when you watch it, it is no surprise. This is a true story about a woman who uncovers deception in a huge American company who are poisoning the residents of a small town. Every scene in this film Julia is spectacular, she is a fantastic dramatic actress I feel because she has such an emotive face, she can say so much with a look. But not only that, she has perfect comic timing which she displays here in great scenes opposite the late Albert Finney.
Clare: Stepmom is a perfect film. Susan Sarandon obviously wins the film, but Roberts is able to hold her own and meet her in every scene. I loved the turn on the other woman cliché, and that the pair were able to form their own relationship for the sake of the children. I cry every time, but it’s been far too long since I’ve given it a re-watch.
1. Pretty Woman (1990)
Matt: It just had to be, didn’t it? Pretty Woman is perhaps the film I have the deepest connection to of any I have ever seen, and that’s thanks in large part to accidentally stumbling across it late at night once as a child when I couldn’t sleep (back when TVs didn’t have a TV Guide button, and I didn’t have a clue who Julia Roberts was or anything that was going on!) and I was utterly captivated. It was right at the beginning, not that I realised that at the time, but the title had already been and gone … so for years and years Pretty Woman was my sleepy secret mystery memory, that movie with no name, the amazing music, the fun penthouse, and the naughty bits! Many years later, much more film-conscious, everything fell into place when I accidentally bumped into “my film” that I had thought about every day for more than half of my life – now complete with a title, a story, and actors’ names – and it was even better than I remember. I genuinely believe it was fate, I love it more than I can describe (check out Episode 22 of the CineChat Podcast to hear me try anyway!) I’m going to have to stop writing now as I’m getting emotional… We go way back, Julia and I.
Mary: This is such a great, warm 90s romantic comedy and I put that down to the greatness of director Gary Marshall. He is known to create inviting, fun, family sets with a great atmosphere and he always seems to create fantastic work in these environments, he has a great eye for small moments that really make scenes shine. I would definitely seek out more of his work. I don’t think it matters how many more films Julia makes in her career this is the one she is going to be remembered for. This is the film that put her on the map, that made her a superstar. Just as the characters in the film discover the woman behind the looks and warm to this pretty woman so do we as the audience and by the end of the film along with Richard Gere we are completely smitten with her too.
Mary: Once again when its all compiled together we see the quality on display, Julia Roberts is always an actress I would seek out. She is endlessly watchable and has such a great variety of genres to watch. She continues to create great characters, I look forward to seeing more of her work in the coming years.
Matt: On the whole, this is another fantastic list. Julia Roberts has always been a class act and is rarely not good! I’m obviously thrilled to see Pretty Woman top the list. Honourable mentions here from me would be Ben is Back (2018), Secret in Their Eyes (2015), Larry Crowne (2011) and Closer (2004), but I still have a few early roles that I’m excited to get round to, such as in Mystic Pizza (1988) and Flatliners (1990).
Clare: Quite opposite to Matt and Mary, I tend to avoid Julia Roberts films and wasn’t sure I had even seen 10 to participate. My personal list caused some contention, but I was pleased to see Stepmom and Mona Lisa Smile rank so high for all of us. What this list has definitely shown me is that whilst I might stay away from her earlier lead roles, I do like her ensemble film choices.
Lee: I’m the same as Clare, only clearly much much worse. I think I need to see more Julia Roberts movies…