Top 10 Reese Witherspoon Performances

Script written by Spencer Sher Reese Witherspoon is a talented actress and she has a handful of impressive performances under her belt. Her role as Juniper in Mud, Vanessa Lutz in Freeway, Annette Hargrove in Cruel Intentions, Melanie in Sweet Home Alabama, Tracy Flick in Election, Madeline Martha Mackenzie in Big Little Lies and Elle Woods in Legally Blonde are some of her best performances. We can’t wait to see what she’ll do next!

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Top 10 Reese Witherspoon Performances

She’s been in the biz for over 25 years, which means she racked up a long list of solid film roles. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Reese Witherspoon Performances.

For this list, we’ll be taking a look at the best performances to date in Reese Witherspoon’s film and television career.

#10: Juniper
“Mud” (2012)

If you didn’t get a chance to see this movie we highly recommend checking it out. Released at the onset of the McConaissance - the word used to describe Mathew McConaughey’s inexplicable comeback that started around 2011 – “Mud” is a coming-of-age drama set in the backwaters of a small Arkansas town. Witherspoon plays Juniper, the former girlfriend of the titular Mud. While her role in the film is a small one Witherspoon still manages to leave a strong impression, stepping into her character with ease; something a seasoned vet like her has no problem doing.

#9: Vanessa Lutz
“Freeway” (1996)

After her parents are arrested and thrown in jail, streetwise teenager Vanessa Lutz attempts to drive to her grandmother’s house, but things take a dark turn when she encounters a mysterious man on the road. The film is loosely based on the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”; and when we say loosely we mean it: the film involves prostitution, serial killers, and a protagonist who doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. Witherspoon is magnetic in the lead role. Her take on the scrappy, tough-talking Lutz might have been too much for a lesser actor to handle, but not Witherspoon. “Freeway” is just one in a long line of examples that shows off Witherspoon’s impressive range.

#8: Annette Hargrove
“Cruel Intentions” (1999)

An adaptation of an 18th century French epistolary novel, “Cruel Intentions” is a romantic teen drama set in modern day New York City. The film is about two stepsiblings and a bet to see whether or not one of them can deflower the headmaster’s virgin daughter. Witherspoon plays Annette, the young woman saving herself for marriage. We’ll be honest, this film hasn’t aged well, but that doesn’t mean Witherspoon’s performance doesn’t deserve a shout out. Witherspoon contrasts her co-stars performances beautifully, playing the role of virtuous schoolgirl to a tee. While it wasn’t exactly Oscar material, Witherspoon is solid from start to finish.

#7: Melanie
“Sweet Home Alabama” (2002)

Ah the early 2000’s rom-com, was there anything better? “Sweet Home Alabama” is the story of Melanie, a transplanted Southerner living in Manhattan, who gets caught in a love triangle with her upper class fiancé and an old flame from back home. We dare say that this film is one of the cutest Witherspoon has ever done. It’s got laughs, tears and charm throughout, with Witherspoon leading the way from the get-go. Her turn as a New York City fashion designer desperate to hide her southern roots is downright adorable and guaranteed to have you smiling from ear to ear every time she steps on screen.

#6: Jennifer
“Pleasantville” (1998)

After they are inexplicably transported into a 1950’s sitcom, 90’s teenagers David and Jennifer soon find that their actions have unintended and far reaching consequences on the world around them. Witherspoon plays Jennifer, one of the teens whose presence slowly transforms the idyllic town of Pleasantville. Her performance in the film was well received by fans and critics alike, earning her the award for Best Breakthrough Performance at the Young Hollywood Awards. It’s clear they made a good choice, as Witherspoon soon found herself winning awards on a regular basis.

#5: Cheryl Strayed
“Wild” (2014)

This entry serves as the turning point on our list, where we shift from “movies Reese Witherspoon was good in” to “movies Reese Witherspoon straight-up owned”. “Wild” is the incredible true story of Cheryl Strayed, a young woman who decided to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail on her own, all the while coming to terms with her mother’s death, her divorce, and the other hardships she’s faced. Witherspoon is sensational in the role, one that required her to carry a 65-pound backpack across rugged terrain for large portions of the shoot. Her performance earned her a second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress as well as numerous other individual accolades. Whether you’re a fan of her work or not, consider this film a must-watch.

#4: Tracy Flick
“Election” (1999)

One of a handful of late 90’s films that helped catapult Witherspoon into the upper echelons of the Hollywood elite, “Election” was the high school comedy the world didn’t know it needed. Witherspoon’s character is a ruthlessly ambitious high school student who will do anything to win the upcoming election. Starring opposite 80’s screen legend Matthew Broderick, the young actress more than holds her own; and as their two characters delve deeper into the depths of their own depravity one thing becomes crystal clear: Witherspoon, like her character, will do whatever it takes to be the best. While the film didn’t perform at the box office, Witherspoon’s performance was widely acclaimed and even earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

#3: Madeline Martha Mackenzie
“Big Little Lies” (2017-)

Set in the idyllic community of Monterey, California, “Big Little Lies” is the story of three mothers and the lengths to which they will go to keep their seemingly perfect lives intact. Witherspoon is at the top of her game in this HBO miniseries. She plays Madeline, a wealthy mother of two who uses her social status to intimidate others into doing her bidding. The series received widespread critical acclaim upon release, with many citing Witherspoon’s performance as one of the main reasons for its success. Witherspoon and co-star Nicole Kidman both received nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards.

#2: June Carter
“Walk the Line” (2005)

“Walk the Line” is the story of Johnny Cash and his tumultuous relationship with music, women and ultimately himself. Reese Witherspoon plays Cash’s second wife June Carter, who at the time was also a renowned country music star. To say Witherspoon’s performance is one of her best would be a gross understatement. The Nashville native imbues a level of realism into the character the likes of which you’d be hard pressed to find in the history of Hollywood biopics. Her most acclaimed role to date, her turn as June Carter earned her an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA award for Best Actress in 2006. Now that’s a lot of hardware!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

Nicole Walker
“Fear” (1996)

Dani Trant
“The Man in the Moon” (1991)

Carrie Davis
“The Good Lie” (2014)

#1: Elle Woods
“Legally Blonde” (2001)

After being dumped by her politically ambitious boyfriend, scorned sorority girl Elle Woods enrolls at the prestigious Harvard Law School in the hopes of winning him back. This laugh-a-minute flick turned Reese Witherspoon into a household name. While her character may look like a dumb blonde, she proves to herself and everyone around her that looks can be deceiving. Witherspoon’s natural charisma is on full display from start to finish, as she switches from hard-nosed law student to bubbly coed at the drop of a hat. Earning a couple of Golden Globe nominations thanks to Witherspoon’s performance, the film would ultimately spawn a sequel two years later as well as a Broadway musical in 2007.


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