Reese Witherspoon is a hugely talented actress and producer who's also extremely likable, making her a beloved star worldwide.
She has two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress, including one win (for Walk the Line), and has been at the top of her game since the early 1990s, having appeared in some excellent movies.
In this piece, we'll rank the actress' best 22 movies, from the 22nd best up to the very best one.
1. Rendition (2007, directed by Gavin Hood)
Rendition is a political thriller about the controversial practice of extraordinary rendition by the CIA. It dramatizes the true story of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen captured and beaten by the CIA after being mistaken for Khalid al-Masri, a man involved in the 9/11 attacks.
Witherspoon plays Isabella Fields El-Ibrahimi, the wife of the fictionalized version of the mistakenly captured man, and she's terrific in the role. The rest of the superb cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Alan Arkin, and Meryl Streep. Rendition is a watchable, complex, intriguing drama about personal responsibility, but it should have been better, given its talented ensemble.
2. Vanity Fair (2004, directed by Mira Nair)
Vanity Fair is a historical drama based on William Makepeace Thackeray's 1848 novel. It's about a young woman, orphaned as a child, who defies her poverty-stricken background and climbs the social hierarchy alongside her best friend.
The main character, Becky Sharp, is played by Witherspoon in this one, and she's adept in the role. The talented, primarily British and Irish supporting cast includes Jim Broadbent, Gabriel Byrne, Bob Hoskins, Rhys Ifans, James Purefoy, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. It's an inoffensive, well-acted movie that's full of wit. However, its most significant criticism is that Sharp is more likable than in the book, which makes it too safe.
3. Penelope (2006, directed by Mark Palansky)
Penelope is a fantasy rom-com about the eponymous Penelope Wilhern, who, thanks to a curse that a vengeful witch placed on her family, was born with a pig's snout where her nose should be.
Christina Ricci charmingly portrays Penelope, and Witherspoon plays Annie, a delivery girl who befriends her. The brilliant supporting ensemble includes James McAvoy, Catherine O'Hara, Peter Dinklage, and Richard E. Grant. Penelope comes with a great message and is fun for all the family without ever being great.
4. Just Like Heaven (2005, directed by Mark Waters)
Just Like Heaven is a fantasy adventure rom-com based on Marc Levy's 1999 French novel If Only It Were True (Et si c'était vrai…). It's about a landscape architect and widower who, while suffering from loneliness, falls for the ghost of the attractive woman who lived in his apartment before him.
Witherspoon plays Elizabeth Masterson, the woman who becomes a ghost after losing her life in a car accident. Mark Ruffalo plays the widower who falls for her, with Donal Logue and Jon Heder among the supporting cast. Just Like Heaven is a sweet movie with good dialogue and characterization, and its likable cast performs it well.
5. The Importance of Being Earnest (2002, directed by Oliver Parker)
The Importance of Being Earnest is a romantic comedy-drama based on Oscar Wilde's classic 1895 comedy of manners. In this one, set in 1890s London, two friends use “Ernest” as a pseudonym for their covert activities, resulting in merriment galore.
It's a clever, humorous, sophisticated movie with a great cast. The characters and dialogue are close to those in the original play, making the film a lovely tribute. Witherspoon portrays Cecily Cardew, a love interest of one of the main characters and a high society woman. She plays her role well amidst many top British talents, including Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, and Tom Wilkinson.
6. Water for Elephants (2011, directed by Francis Lawrence)
Water for Elephants is a romantic drama based on Sara Gruen's 2006 novel. It's about a former veterinary student in the 1930s who accepts a job caring for the animals in a traveling circus and falls in love with the ringmaster's wife.
Witherspoon plays Marlena Rosenbluth, the ringmaster's wife, with poise and elegance. Christoph Waltz and Robert Pattinson portray her husband and the former student who falls for her, respectively. Pattinson and Witherspoon lack chemistry, but the movie is still solid family entertainment and gorgeously filmed.
7. Twilight (1998, directed by Robert Benton)
Having just mentioned Robert Pattinson, we come to Twilight – but no, it's not that one. Twilight is a neo-noir thriller about an aging, retired detective who accepts a simple task without knowing about the old wounds it would open up.
This movie has an unbelievable cast, including Paul Newman as the seasoned gumshoe, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, and James Garner. Witherspoon portrays Mel Ames, a 17-year-old runaway, and she gives a nuanced performance. Twilight is compelling, with a great script, clearly made with great care, and well worth watching solely for the talent on display.
8. American Psycho (2000, directed by Mary Harron)
American Psycho is a satirical horror movie based on Bret Easton Ellis' 1991 novel. It's about a New York City investment banker seemingly leading a double life as a serial killer. Or is he?
With scares and dark humor galore, American Psycho is thoroughly entertaining. It brilliantly satirizes 1980s yuppie culture and consumerism, and Christian Bale is outstanding as the main character Patrick Bateman. Witherspoon ably plays his fiancée Evelyn Williams, whom he hates. The excellent supporting cast includes Justin Theroux, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, and Chloë Sevigny.
9. Legally Blonde (2001, directed by Robert Luketic)
Legally Blonde is a rom-com based on Amanda Brown's 2001 novel. It tells the story of a fashion student and sorority girl who attempts to win back her ex-boyfriend by getting a Juris Doctor degree at Harvard Law School. She overcomes stereotypes by becoming a successful lawyer.
It's arguably Witherspoon's most iconic role, and she gives a star-making, funny, nuanced, sassy, and all-around fantastic performance as the main character Elle Woods. She's simply magnetic in this film. Legally Blonde is a witty, charming, lighthearted movie that's almost impossible to dislike.
10. Sing (2016, directed by Garth Jennings)
Sing is a computer-animated comedy jukebox musical and the opening installment in the franchise of the same name (a third movie is on its way). It features anthropomorphic animals and is about a struggling theater owner who hosts a singing contest to stop his theater from entering foreclosure.
Matthew McConaughey and Witherspoon brilliantly lead an ensemble voice cast that includes Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Nick Offerman, Rhea Perlman, and Jennifer Saunders. Sing is wholesome entertainment, legitimately funny, the animation is beautiful, and it'll have you tapping your feet to some great tunes.
11. Sing 2 (2021, directed by Garth Jennings)
Sing 2 is the sequel to Sing and the second movie in the eponymous franchise. Another computer-animated comedy jukebox musical, this sees the theater owner from the first movie putting on a show in a nearby big city, trying to impress an entertainment mogul and recruiting a reclusive rock star to perform with his singers.
It's a slight improvement on its already excellent predecessor. Sing 2 is utterly joyous, with great animation and catchy songs aplenty. The original cast members are joined by big names like Bobby Cannavale, Pharrell Williams, and Halsey, making it even more of an impressive star-studded affair than the first film.
12. Monsters vs. Aliens (2009, directed by Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman)
Monsters vs. Aliens is a 3D computer-animated monster movie about a group of misfit monsters hired by the U.S. military to fight an extraterrestrial villain intent on invading and taking over Earth. In exchange for saving the world, the monsters will gain their freedom.
Witherspoon voices Susan Murphy AKA Ginormica, a woman who grew to over 50 feet tall after a radioactive meteorite hit her on a wedding day. She's excellent in the role, giving an energetic performance, and Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Amy Poehler, and Kiefer Sutherland are also fantastic. It's a solid movie with excellent special effects, laughs, and over-the-top action that will entertain every demographic.
13. Inherent Vice (2014, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
Inherent Vice is a neo-noir period mystery comedy based on Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel. It's set in 1970 Los Angeles and follows a drug-fueled and inept but well-meaning private investigator as he investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend and three interrelated cases.
It's a unique movie you'll need (and want) to watch more than once to take it all in. Inherent Vice is interesting, provoking, and funny. Witherspoon plays Penny Kimball, a District Attorney with whom Joaquin Phoenix's private investigator is having an affair, and she does so adeptly. The extended cast includes top talent like Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, and Maya Rudolph.
14. Freeway (1996, directed by Matthew Bright)
Freeway is a black comedy crime movie, essentially a dark take on the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairytale. It's about a teenage juvenile delinquent who, while on the run from a social worker and trying to get to her grandmother's house, is pursued by a seemingly charming man who, in reality, is a pedophile and serial killer.
This little-known and commercially unsuccessful movie is a gem. Witherspoon's coming-of-age performance as Vanessa Lutz, the runaway teenager, is terrific, and Kiefer Sutherland's scary portrayal of the vile man stalking her is equally good. Freeway is a wild, rude, dark movie with some humor, and it's despicably good.
15. Cruel Intentions (1999, directed by Roger Kumble)
Cruel Intentions is a romantic teen drama and a modern retelling of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' 1782 novel Les Liaisons dangereuses. It's about two conniving step-siblings at an elite Manhattan prep school who make a bet with each other that they'll seduce the new headmaster's innocent daughter into bed before the other and before the start of term.
It's a hugely underrated movie in which the young cast performs phenomenally. Witherspoon plays Annette Hargrove, the headmaster's daughter, and she's fantastic alongside Ryan Phillipe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Selma Blair. Cruel Intentions is dark, funny, and incredibly dirty-minded. If that's your thing, definitely fill your boots with it.
16. Walk the Line (2005, directed by James Mangold)
Walk the Line is a biographical drama based on two autobiographies by the iconic late singer-songwriter Johnny Cash: 1975's Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and 1997's Cash: The Autobiography. It chronicles Cash's early life, love life, musical success, and drug addiction.
Witherspoon plays June Carter, Cash's second wife, and her performance was so brilliant and energetic that she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Joaquin Phoenix portrays Cash, and his performance (which includes some surprisingly excellent singing) earned him a Best Actor nomination. Walk the Line bubbles with the charisma of its leads and is charming, fun, and thoroughly entertaining.
17. Pleasantville (1998, directed by Gary Ross)
Pleasantville is a teen fantasy comedy-drama about a brother and sister trapped in a 1950s television sitcom – the eponymous smalltown Midwest-based Pleasantville – where all the residents appear flawless.
Along with Tobey Maguire, Witherspoon plays one of the siblings, Jennifer, who becomes the character Mary Sue Parker when she gets transported into Pleasantville. Both young stars are excellent. Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and J. T. Walsh also appear, further increasing the movie's appeal. It's lighthearted, funny, visually dazzling, and a brilliant, clever social commentary.
18. The Good Lie (2014, directed by Philippe Falardeau)
The Good Lie is a drama movie about a group of Sudanese refugees arriving in Kansas City, Missouri, after getting a chance to resettle in the United States and their experiences with an employment agency counselor that alters their lives forever.
This story undoubtedly underwent Hollywoodization, as any real-life nuance or relation to actual events gets surrendered for entertainment. That said, it's still moving, compelling, and entertaining. The Good Lie is well-acted by everyone in its cast, but Witherspoon is outstanding as Carrie Davis, the brash employment counselor who deals with the refugees.
19. Wild (2014, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée)
Wild is a biographical adventure drama based on Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” It's about Strayed's 1995 solo backpacking trip on the said trail after many personal issues had left her life in a mess.
This brilliant movie resulted in a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Witherspoon and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Laura Dern. Witherspoon portrays Strayed, and Dern plays her mother, Bobbi. They make the movie with their excellent performances. Wild is powerful, moving, gritty, witty, and honest. What's particularly impressive about Witherspoon in this one is that she appears in nearly every frame and totally bosses it.
20. The Man in the Moon (1991, directed by Robert Mulligan)
The Man in the Moon is a coming-of-age drama about a 14-year-old tomboy in 1950s Louisiana who experiences love and heartbreak for the first time when a 17-year-old boy moves in next door to her.
It was Witherspoon's movie debut, and she was outstanding and so natural as Dani Trant, the young girl who falls for the older boy next door – she carries the whole thing at times. At its heart, The Man in the Moon is a lovely, sentimental movie about family, and it's pure, poetic, and generally fabulously wholesome viewing.
21. Election (1999, directed by Alexander Payne)
Election is a black comedy movie based on Tom Perrotta's 1998 novel. It's about a high school U.S. history and civics teacher who meets his match in an over-achieving student politician during a student body election.
It brilliantly satirizes politics and high school life. It's intelligent, darkly funny and witty, and entirely enjoyable. Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, the student over-achiever, and Matthew Broderick plays the resentful teacher, and they're both excellent. Election is a rarity because it's a high school movie that adults will appreciate due to how good it is.
22. Mud (2012, directed by Jeff Nichols)
Mud is a coming-of-age drama about two teenagers who meet the eponymous fugitive when he's hiding on a small island and agree to help him evade the vigilantes chasing him and reunite him with his supposed true love.
Witherspoon portrays Juniper, the apparent love of Mud's life. She does so in a typically adept and confident style, but Matthew McConaughey in the title role makes the movie so brilliant. Mud is a sweet and heartwarming movie with a lot of tension, and it's incredibly engaging and probably the best movie Witherspoon has ever been in.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Writer and editor with ten years of experience working full-time in this capacity. I've written over 2000 pieces of published work and managed teams of 50+ writers. I've produced content for some of the world's most prominent entertainment and sports platforms. My published work includes feature articles, news and opinion pieces, listicles, quizzes, voice-over scripts, viral content, and more. I'm a British 80s kid who loves movies (horror, superhero stuff, and all things 80s are my favorites), boxing, and football (soccer), a former business owner and executive headhunter, and a Tottenham Hotspur FC fan for my sins.