Reese Witherspoon: Career Curve

Reese Witherspoon has repeatedly proven she has true star power, so here's hoping her next films break her out of a mediocre rom-com rut.

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 15: Actress Reese Witherspoon arrives at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
Reese Witherpsoon's new film, "This Means War," opens Friday, in which she plays a women in love triangle with tow CIA agent who also happen to be best friends, played by Tom Hardy and Chris Pine. Now's a good time to look back at her impressive career and think about where she's headed.
Witherspoon's career began almost by accident, as the then 15-year-old went with friends to an audition for a bit part in film being made near her hometown and suddenly found herself cast in the lead in 1991's "The Man in the Moon," a coming-of-age story set in the '50s in which she falls for a boy three years her senior. The film earned her critical acclaim and sent her on her way.
It was in 1996 that Witherspoon found her breakout role, in "Freeway," a hyper-violent satirical retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood," in which she played a white-trash runaway who finds herself being chased by Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Southerland). She was tough, sexy and funny, with more than enough star-power to carry the film.
That same year she starred opposite another young up-and-comer, Mark Wahlberg, in "Fear," as a relatively innocent teen who starts dating a guy who at first seems like a polite and decent fellow, but slowly reveals himself to be a stalker-y sociopath who launches a full-on home invasion.
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One of the hallmarks of Witherspoon's early career was her ability to switch back-and-forth between good girl and bad girl. She returned to her bad girl ways as Tobey Maguire's boy-crazy twin In "Pleasantville," in which the pair get sucked into a "Leave it to Beaver"-like world inside their television.
EMPTY_CAPTION"Cruel Intentions" (yet another retelling of "Dangerous Liaisons") in 1999 had her again playing the innocent, as Annette, the virginal pawn in the sick manipulative games of a pair of step-siblings played by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe. It was how she met her future husband, Philippe.
That year Witherspoon also delivered her first performance to catch the attention of "serious" awards bodies, earning a Golden Globe nomination for her turn as irrepressible class president candidate Tracy Flick, in Alexander Payne's "Election," alongside Matthew Broderick. The film is one of the great high school comedies of all time, as well as a brilliant send-up of electoral politics.
Witherspoon also had a small part in one of our favorite overlooked classics, playing Christian Bale's girlfriend in "American Psycho." It's a minor blip on Witherspoon's career, but it's a masterpiece, and maybe the most biting commentary on the Reagan Era ever filmed.
EMPTY_CAPTION"Legally Blonde" in 2001 was the film that finally established Witherspoon as an A-list superstar. She played the plucky, not-nearly-as-vapid-as-she-seems Elle Woods, a pampered shopaholic with a fashion merchandising degree from USC who fights her way into Harvard Law to be near her ex. She ends up winning a stunner of a murder trial based on her knowledge of hair.
That fall, Witherspoon took on one of her toughest assignments ever, hosting the first broadcast of "Saturday Night Live" since the attacks of 9/11, gamely leading the way as stars and fans tried to re-establish a sense of normalcy.
Tragically, Witherspoon's next big move would be a blessing and a curse, as she starred in "Sweet Home Alabama," a romantic comedy in which she must decide between a wealthy New Yorker and her childhood sweetheart. It was a huge hit, making more than $127 million, but it also started her down the path to run-of-the-mill romcom.
This was followed by the inevitable "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde," in which Elle goes to Washington,D.C., to fight the testing of cosmetics on animals, during which she learns her Chihuahua, Bruiser, is gay. Enough about that.
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Witherspoon finally struck Oscar gold in 2005, as June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line," which starred Joaquin Phoenix as the Man in Black. Witherspooon's work was made all the more impressive by the fact that she did all her own singing and playing. It stands as her last good film.
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There's been the come-and-gone romcom "Just Like Heaven," in which she played a ghost haunting Mark Ruffalo's apartment; the political thriller "Rendition" (above) where she met temporary BF Jake Gyllenhaal; another romcom, "Four Christmases," with Vince Vaughn…
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There was a two-year stretch where Witherspoon didn’t appear in any live-action films, but not exactly by choice. “There are a lot of really, really, really big movies about robots and things — and there’s not a part for a 34-year-old woman in a robot movie," she told EW in 2010.
The drought ended with "How Do You Know," in which she played a pro softball player who finds herself in a love triangle with a major league baseball player (Owen Wilson) and an unemployed guy under federal investigation (Paul Rudd). The film looked "like TV, feels like greeting-card poetry and sounds like a self-help manual," said Variety.
Then came the hotly anticipated adaptation of "Water for Elephants," co-starring Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz, which The Hollywood Reporter said " lacks the vital spark that would have made the drama truly compelling on the screen." To be fair, it received some positive reviews, and enjoyed modest box-office success, but hardly ranks among her better efforts.
And now comes "This Means War," her third consecutive love triangle, this time with two best friends and CIA agents, played by Tom Hardy and Chris Pine, using all the tricks of the spy trade in an effort to win her heart. Early reviews have been rough and the studio is so nervous they changed its release date a week before it was to originally open.
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But things may be about to turn around, as she's currently working on "Mud," with the gifted filmmaking Jeff Nichols ("Take Shelter") and co-star Matthew McConaughey. The film tells the story of a fugitive who enlists the help of two teens to help win back Witherspoon's character. And then she's off to work with Atom Egoyan on an adaptation of "Devil's Knot," an in-depth examination of the West Memphis 3, with Witherspoon playing the mother of one of the victims.
In October, she was being courted to join Jason Segel for "Sex Tape," about a couple who film their bedroom exploits only to have the video go missing, in April it was announced that she would star in "Wish List" about a 10-year-old girl who makes 10 wishes that don’t come true until 25 years later, and more recently she signed on for "Big Eyes" with Ryan Reynolds, as the painting couple behind those creepy vintage portraits.
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OK, Reynolds has stumbled badly of late, and we're not so psyched about that last film, but we're heartened to hear she's getting back to work with talented people like Nichols, Egoyan and Segel. She still brings the total package to the table, it'd be a shame to see her follow the likes of Kate Hudson and Katherine Heigl into oblivion.
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