It’s been years since Reese Witherspoon made her debut on the big screen in 1991 with The Man in the Moon. In the years that came after that, she has become one of the most memorable names in the media, largely due to the success and staying power of Legally Blonde (2001). While the actress still stars in the occasional show or movie, much of her work today involves being a producer and telling women-centered stories with her company, Hello Sunshine.
With movies like Gone Girl (2014) under her belt, there’s no doubt Reese Witherspoon is killing it as a producer. That said, we’re still big fans of seeing her on screen, so here are the best shows and movies the actress has starred in that you might be interested in watching this week.
1. Legally Blonde (2001)
Legally Blonde (2001) is easily the most iconic role Reese Witherspoon plays. In case you can’t tell, she plays Elle Woods in the movie. Elle’s confidence, intelligence, and unabashedly feminine way of presenting herself made her a feminist icon way before we evolved past the action girl variety of the strong female protagonist.
The movie may have been a comedy, but it was truly ahead of its time. It featured a sorority packed with female friends who were all capable because of their feminine interests, not in spite of them.
2. Vanity Fair (2004)
The 2004 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair may not be the most popular of its kind, nor of Reese Witherspoon’s roles, but there’s just something charming about seeing an actress in a period drama. The elaborate hairstyles, the detailed costumes, and the historical sets are the kind of thing Elle Woods would enjoy if she were born a few centuries earlier.
The movie stars Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp, a relatively poor young woman who has to work as a governess for Sir Pitt Crawley. She’s not actually poor poor, just poor compared to the landed gentry and really, poor because she has to work for a living. Like many women of her time, Becky struggles to move up in society because she has no dowry. If you think this is going to be a Pride and Prejudice situation where the leading male character loves Becky anyway, buckle up because Becky spends the movie fighting tooth and nail for her happiness.
3. Cruel Intentions (1989)
If you liked Gossip Girl (2007) and the many adaptations of Dangerous Liaisons, you’ll likely enjoy Cruel Intentions. The film is about a group of wealthy teenagers living in New York and scheming against each other while using each other as tools to wreak havoc on the lives of anyone who happens to piss them off. It’s dark, it’s sexy, and it has all the romantic tension and drugs you would expect from a Gossip Girl core movie. To be more accurate, however, it’s likely the other way around.
4. The Man in the Moon (1991)
The Man in the Moon may be Reese Witherspoon’s first film, but it undoubtedly features one of her strongest performances. Witherspoon plays Dani Trant, a 14-year-old girl who ends up in a romantic relationship with Court Foster, a 17-year-old who recently moved into the house near theirs. While Court is initially hesitant because of just how young Dani is, the two grow closer and nearly kiss. However, Dani’s youth keeps her and Court from settling into a steady romance — and it just so happens she has an older sister.
5. Election (1999)
Teen black comedies were big in the 80s to 2000s, with shows like The Heathers establishing entire tropes and storytelling conventions that still show up in today’s media. The 1999 film Election is just one of those many films where teenagers battle for supremacy to become the ultimate ruler of their high school—something about high school being a caricatured microcosm of the larger society.
Reese stars as Tracy Flick, a ruthlessly ambitious young woman who is running in the high school elections with no one to oppose her run. There’s this whole drama about people trying to rig the elections, but you’ll walk away with a much more sympathetic view of Tracy than the film may have originally intended.
6. Big Little Lies (2017)
Big Little Lies was an HBO show that featured Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Mackenzie. Based on Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story is set in California and follows the events that unfold after a murder at a school fundraiser. Reese’s character is effectively a Hallmark movie female lead as she is a rich, career-driven woman who was left behind by her husband for a younger woman. Go figure. The story could have been a more benign slice-of-life style drama where the most exciting thing that happens is that PTA moms spread rumors about each other, but there’s a slight mystery/thriller bent to the story.
7. Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
Monsters vs. Aliens isn’t anywhere near being one of DreamWorks Animations’ best movies, but it’s the only one where Reese Witherspoon plays a lead role in an animated movie. It’s super easy to forget she was in it, too, considering we don’t really see her face. Witherspoon voices Susan Murphy, a woman who is able to transform into a giant version of herself and has the superstrength to match. Now a government-classified weapon, Susan must team up with a group of other superpowered “heroes” and try to save the Earth from an invading alien legion.
8. Water for Elephants (2011)
Water for Elephants is another book-turned-movie film that tells the story of a veterinary medicine student who finds himself joining a circus and becoming embroiled in a love triangle. Reese Witherspoon plays Marlena, the wife of a cruel circus ringmaster who abuses his animals just a little bit more than he abuses her. The gentle nature of the two leads draws them to each other and from there, it’s not really a hard choice for Marlena between the student and her husband.
9. The Morning Show (2019)
Reese Witherspoon not only served as a producer in The Morning Show but as an actress playing Bradley Jackson, the co-host of an in-universe show of the same name. The show is a drama centered around the workplace tensions and scandals we never see behind the faces and sets of morning news and talk shows.
10. Little Fires Everywhere (2020)
For a quick watch, you can check out Little Fires Everywhere. This miniseries was both produced and starred by Reese Witherspoon, who plays the journalist Elena Richardson in the show. Like The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere is a drama but a more intimate one that focuses on the lives of two women who come from different backgrounds but share the struggle of living in the world as a woman who is a mother who is a worker who is herself.