Rachel McAdams stands out as one of the most prolific and versatile actresses in Hollywood. She radiates enthusiasm and boundless energy on screen. Her talents allow her to tackle various genres and different types of characters. Although Hollywood has a running joke that she holds the record for time travel movies, McAdams gives passion to every role, no matter the genre. Indeed, the best Rachel McAdams movies offer a treasure trove of enchantment.
1. Mean Girls (2004)
Mean Girls follows Cady Heron, the sweet, smart, but naïve teen who attends public school for the first time in her life and must learn to navigate this high school jungle. Making friends proves the most difficult when she becomes a member of the “Plastics,” the group of girls who rule the school.
The sharp writing finds a perfect balance of satire with goofiness and delivers plenty of heart and wisdom. The movie shows off its brilliance with purposeful comedy. The exceptional cast, particularly McAdams herself, Lindsay Lohan, Lacey Chabert, and Amanda Seyfried, all give distinctive, hilarious performances. Indeed, Mean Girls marks a career highlight for McAdams, who makes Regina George not just a caricature but a hilarious villain that isn't devoid of vulnerability, be it ever so subtle. We can quote the “so fetch.” Mean Girls all day.
2. The Notebook (2004)
How fascinating that in 2004, Rachel McAdams went from hilarious villain Regina George to the vibrant and passionate Allie Hamilton, two characters who couldn't be more different. Indeed, The Notebook has as much romance and earnestness as any movie. Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, the film follows a man who reads to a woman with dementia. Every day, he reads a bit of Allie and Noah's story, the couple who falls in love though family interference, war, and circumstance keep them apart.
The romantic film has poignant, moving, spirited, and swoon-worthy moments. Chock with dreamy flashbacks and a superb cast, including Ryan Gosling, James Marsden, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, and Joan Allen, gives the movie a life of its own. McAdams radiates charisma as the fiery Allie and has palpable chemistry with Gosling. The Notebook sweeps viewers away with a love story that transcends everything.
3. Sherlock Holmes/Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2009/2011)
The famed detective has been brought to life many times on the big screen. The 2009 and 2011 films with Robert Downey Jr. as the illustrious Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson make for the most dynamic of those adaptations.
In the first film, Holmes and Watson investigate the unearthly resurrection of the ruthless Lord Blackwell. Holmes' formidable former flame, Irene Adler (McAdams), assists and hinders their investigation. In the second film, Holmes and Watson help a woman who fears for her brother while also on the trail of the infamous Moriarty. McAdams only provides a cameo in that movie, but viewers feel her loss deeply.
These films are full of gothic atmosphere, intelligent and exciting mysteries, and excellent performances from Downey Jr., Law, and McAdams. Indeed, both Sherlock Holmes films have everything fans could hope for: a fantastic rapport between the actors, sumptuous production quality, and genuine thrills.
4. Morning Glory (2010)
The bright and touching Morning Glory follows Becky Fuller (McAdams), an energetic and ambitious go-getter who becomes the producer of the failing morning talk show Daybreak. To boost the ratings, she convinces illustrious news anchor Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to join the show, who fights everything and everyone, including his co-anchor (Diane Keaton). Through it all, Becky must find a way to save the show and her budding romance with a handsome journalist (Patrick Wilson).
The light and fun comedy showcases the struggles of balancing work and romance without sacrificing your integrity or happiness. McAdams gives Becky a believable perkiness, heart, intelligence, and energy that is admirable and a delight to watch. McAdams and Ford also demonstrate an unexpectedly touching rapport. Side note: McAdams runs in many of her films, and in this one, she gives her most incredible “running performance.”
5. Game Night (2018)
Game Night is an outrageous and raucous comedy with genuine twists, a terrific ensemble cast, and endless hilarity. The story follows a group of friends who meet regularly for game nights. One evening, masked men arrive and kidnap the host's brother, and they all think it's part of a crazy mystery game. A wild ride follows as they discover that the danger is real.
The entire cast of Game Night holds their own, but McAdams stands out, unraveling little by little. Jesse Plemons also gives a memorable performance as the odd neighbor who always wants to join in the fun. Game Night is a riot from start to finish.
6. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. (2023)
Judy Blume's poignant, coming-of-age story gets a beautiful adaptation with this 2023 film that stars McAdams, Kathy Bates, and Abby Ryder Fortson. The story revolves around the pangs of puberty and adolescence for 11-year-old Margaret, who moves with her parents to the suburbs in the 1970s. As Margaret struggles with making friends and liking boys, she also seeks out something absent in her life-religion- which brings up questions about faith and her own family.
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret balances comedy and drama with ease and features a touching story everyone should watch. Moreover, it is very relatable to women. The wondrous and scary realities of childhood, womanhood, and parenthood coincide in this film's excellent script and performances. Fortson is endearing as young Margaret, and McAdams is lovely and relatable as a mother trying to find her place in life. One moment feels particularly visceral when her estranged parents visit, and she blames herself for the pain that comes. The raw and honest performance makes this one of her most outstanding roles.
7. Midnight in Paris (2011)
The light and frothy Midnight in Paris makes keen observations about life, love, and dreams. In the film, a writer named Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) vacations with his beautiful but self-centered fiancée Inez (McAdams) and her parents, hoping to find inspiration. With a disconnect between Gil and Inez, he finds joy in the miraculous time travel he experiences each midnight, where he is transported to the 1920s and meets his creative artistic heroes like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Salvador Dali.
Primarily, this is an Owen Wilson vehicle. He is at the story's center, portraying a man enamored with the past. But McAdams is terrific at playing realistic, unlikeable women audiences still can't entirely hate. Overall, the beautiful Midnight in Paris challenges the mind and delights the soul.
8. About Time (2013)
Of all the time travel movies from the McAdams filmography, About Time is the sweetest, funniest, and most captivating. In the film, the affable Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers that all the men in his family can travel through time and alter their lives. Being a romantic, he uses this power to win the heart of the sweet Mary (McAdams). But as they create a happy life together, he often finds this ability to have unfathomable consequences.
About Time tells a luminous love story and a tender look at a father and son's relationship. Moreover, it reminds viewers to live life to the fullest, without fear and accepting the inevitable pain of loss. What matters are the tiny, beautiful, mundane, miraculous, and unique moments that make up the timeline of our lives.
9. Red Eye (2005)
Red Eye follows a hotel manager named Lisa (McAdams) and the seemingly charming but cold-as-ice assassin Jackson (Cillian Murphy), whom she meets on a flight to Miami. Their light banter quickly turns as Jackson terrorizes Lisa and threatens her unless she assists him in a political assassination, utilizing her position at the prominent resort.
Red Eye is horror master Wes Craven's only non-horror thriller, but the film proves the director was more than up for the task. The grounded but intense performances make the film soar. McAdams' Lisa shows natural fear but realistic resourcefulness, showcasing a fantastic depiction of what adrenaline can manifest. And Murphy is chilling as a man devoid of guilt or morality. Red Eye never wavers at a brisk 75 minutes and takes the audience on a fast-paced, gripping ride.
10. State of Play (2009)
State of Play sees McAdams in a supporting role as the young journalist Della Frye. She gets caught up in a twisty and dangerous political story, with the intrepid, unorthodox Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) helming the investigation. After an unknown assailant pushes a young political aide to her death on a subway platform, Cal and Della uncover a story with a scope far greater and more terrifying than either expected.
State of Play makes a pristine example of a nail-biting and intelligent thriller. The smaller moments also demonstrate the varied nature of humanity. The cast, including Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, and Robin Wright, makes State of Play powerful and compelling.
11. The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)
The most breathtaking, emotional, and moving of her time-traveling films, The Time Traveler's Wife follows Henry (Eric Bana) follows Henry, a man who has a genetic anomaly that causes him to travel time without warning or control. Throughout his travels, he meets Clare (McAdams) at many moments in her life, creating a unique and magical love story.
The Time Traveler's Wife is both mind-bending and unabashedly romantic. His travels work as a metaphor for the complexities, great joys, and tragedies that life can encompass. McAdams plays Clare as a luminous dream for Henry and a real woman who must deal with a frequently absent husband. And Bana gives Henry an aura of wonder and sadness. The Time Traveler's Wife sweeps the audience away with a lush musical score and a moving story.
12. The Family Stone (2005)
The Family Stone is a heartfelt anomaly of a holiday film. Not your typical lighthearted fare, this drama finds humor in life's awkward, heartbreaking, and uncomfortable moments. The story centers on the eldest son of the Stone family, Everett (Dermot Mulroney), who brings his uptight, conservative girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet his more liberal, free-thinking family for Christmas.
In the film, viewers see how common ground can be found between seemingly disparate personalities when people open their hearts and minds. The characters evolve, and the relationships are altered within days, yet it still feels believable. McAdams is excellent as Everett's sister, who has a chip on her shoulder but a good heart. The outstanding cast also includes Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, and Claire Danes.
13. Spotlight (2015)
Best Picture Oscar Winner Spotlight tells the true story of a group of Boston Globe journalists who uncover the coverup involving abuse within the Catholic Church. Each tackles different angles as they interview victims, lawyers, priests, and cardinals and unravel the horrific truths and how it's been hidden for so long. Due to the highly upsetting subject matter, many viewers may find the film triggering. It also moves at a snail's pace, mirroring the drudge of their investigation. But the well-told story and the performances from McAdams and Mark Ruffalo (who each received Oscar nominations) stand out.
14. Doctor Strange (2016)
In the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gives audiences one of the most fascinating characters. After a car accident, the gifted but arrogant surgeon can no longer use his hands properly. He hits rock bottom and loses the one good thing in his life- the empathetic doctor Christine Palmer (McAdams) but finds salvation by learning the mystical arts under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). But soon, he gets entangled in an epic battle against wayward sorcerers.
This installment in the MCU is one of the more dynamic, compelling, and underrated efforts. Cumberbatch embodies the role with gusto, and Strange has some of the most incredible powers of any hero. McAdams provides the heart of the film, grounding it with her tender performance.
15. The Vow (2012)
The Vow tells the beautiful true story of a young couple who must find a way to rekindle their relationship after a car accident. Paige (McAdams) wakes from a coma, knowing who she is and remembering her family. But she has no memory of her husband Leo (Channing Tatum) or her current life as an artist. He does everything he can to make her feel comfortable and safe, but the pain is acute as he feels her slipping away.
The most beautiful thing about The Vow is that it's based on an actual couple who fall in love twice. McAdams and Tatum make an affable on-screen pair in this beautiful story about second chances and a love that is meant to be.
16. Aloha (2015)
One of McAdams' more divisive films, Aloha receives appropriate criticism of one character and casting decision. But one flaw shouldn't dismiss the film's bright spots, and the movie has much going for it. The story centers on military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), who returns to his former home in Hawaii to oversee and obtain a Hawaiian blessing to build a gate and site of an imminent rocket launch. He meets up with his former flame Tracy, her husband John (John Krasinski), and unexpectedly falls for Allison (Emma Stone), an energetic Air Force pilot.
The criticism for Aloha stems from Stone's casting, whose character is one-quarter Hawaiian in ethnicity. The pleasant and breezy romantic comedy has that typical Cameron Crowe style of vignettes and scenes that develop the characters. It's often poignant and bolsters excellent performances from all of the cast.
17. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
The Doctor Strange sequel is a wild and exciting film with horror elements, courtesy of director Sam Raimi. In the movie, Stephen teams up with a teenage girl who can inexplicably travel through the multiverse. Their unlikely partnership stems from the threat of Wanda. After the events of WandaVision, the ancient Dark Hold book corrupts her soul. She wreaks havoc because of her desire to be with her children again.
The Multiverse of Madness centers on the battle against Wanda, giving McAdams' Dr. Christine Palmer a chance to shine even more than in the first film. Her brilliance is put to great use in another universe where Stephen died a hero. Their love story may be bittersweet, but we see their connection in every world.
18. Southpaw (2015)
Southpaw tells the dark, heart-wrenching, uplifting story of a boxer who picks himself up from rock bottom. The film begins with Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), the lightweight boxing champion at the height of his career. His supportive but ever-wise wife, Maureen (McAdams), wants him to retire from the sport, reminding him that the team around him will scatter and flee when his star falls.
Maureen and their daughter are his true rocks. But when Maureen dies, Billy's despair causes self-destructive behavior. He must find a way to regain custody of his daughter again.
Gyllenhaal gives a gripping performance as the protagonist. McAdams' has a significantly smaller role, but her character provides the film's heart. Billy and the audience feel her loss, but her presence remains. She makes a tremendous impact with limited screen time.
19. Wedding Crashers (2005)
The raucous and raunchy comedy Wedding Crashers follows best friends John and Jeremy (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn), who enjoy crashing weddings to seduce unsuspecting women. But when they crash the ceremony for the daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury, the two find their womanizing days may be over.
Jeremy is equally excited by and scared of clingy and wild Gloria (Isla Fischer). John gets smitten by the sweet and level-headed Claire (McAdams). The film has not aged well in many instances, especially with its explicit content and depiction of male consent. But it still produces many laughs, and McAdams and Wilson provide the film's steady heartbeat.
20. Married Life (2007)
The stylish, dramatic, and sobering period film Married Life examines love and marriage's realities. In the film, Harry (Chris Cooper) loves Kay (McAdams) but still cares about his wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson). Fearing divorce would irreparably hurt and affect his wife, Harry thinks poison will be the most merciful solution. But he doesn't know that his friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan) has also set his sights on Kay.
As morbid, sordid, and cliché as the plot sounds, Married Life subverts expectations and goes in many unexpected directions, with understated and affecting performances. McAdams, striking with her platinum blonde hair, gives a nuanced and sympathetic performance that compliments Cooper's tortured one.
21. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)
Unlike any film in McAdams' career, Eurovision Song Contest blends silly, high comedy, sweet sincerity, and fantastic music. The story revolves around the lifelong dream of Icelandic singers Lars and Sigrit (Will Ferrell and McAdams) to compete in the world's largest singing competition, Eurovision. Despite naysayers, insecurities, and meddling competition, the duo's rise in the contest is swift and inspiring. The movie has an uneven tone. But there are a lot of belly laughs, and when it goes for earnest emotions, it hits all the right notes.
Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature from San Diego State University. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture and geek related, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency, Christianity Today, and The La Jolla Light. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video. She resides in San Diego, California.