The 32 greatest Reese Witherspoon movies

Legally Blonde
(Image credit: MGM)

As pop punk bards Bowling For Soup put it in their song "High School Never Ends": "Reese Witherspoon, she's the prom queen." Since her debut in the coming-of-age romance The Man in the Moon in 1991, Reese Witherspoon has been one of Hollywood's premier movie stars. While mostly known for romantic dramas and comedies, the best Reese Witherspoon movies see her stretching her creative muscles into the realm of thrillers, sci-fi fantasies, and even action. In 2001, Witherspoon cemented her stardom with the blockbuster Legally Blonde, with her role as Elle Woods becoming a millennial icon. In 2006, she won an Oscar for her portrayal as country singer June Carter in James Mangold's Walk the Line.

Spinning from her success as a movie actress, Witherspoon has become a powerhouse producer, with films like Gone Girl, Lucy in the Sky, and Where the Crawdads Sing under her company Hello Sunshine. She has also jumped into television, starring in hits like The Morning Show and Little Fires Everywhere. On top of that, she also has her own book club, in case you want to beef up your reading list. In celebration of the actress' continued success, here are the best Reese Witherspoon movies, ranked. (For clarity, we're excluding her TV roles from consideration.)

32. Hot Pursuit (2015)

Hot Pursuit

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

If there's one genre that Reese Witherspoon never successfully transitioned into as an actor, it's action. In the 2015 buddy movie Hot Pursuit, directed by Anne Fletcher, Witherspoon plays a by-the-book Texas cop who must protect a drug lord's widow (Sofia Vergara) from criminals and corrupt cops on their tail. Hot Pursuit is one of Witherspoon's worst-reviewed movies of her career with just an 8% score on Rotten Tomatoes. But going in with the right mindset, it's a joy ride, with Witherspoon and Vergara playing one heck of a comedic tag team.

31. Best Laid Plans (1999)

Best Laid Plans

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

In this mostly forgotten crime drama from director Mike Barker, Reese Witherspoon stars as Kathy, a waitress and temptress who seduces a wealthy man (Josh Brolin) as part of a scheme to pay off a $15,000 debt to a small-time crook. While there's some novelty in watching such a small, obscure movie boast outsized talent – alongside Witherspoon and Brolin, the movie also stars Alessandro Nivola and Terrence Howard – Best Laid Plans is unremarkable in its pale imitation of the Coen Brothers. 

30. Devil's Knot (2013)

Devil's Knot

(Image credit: RLJ Entertainment)

The real-life case of the West Memphis Three, a grisly crime with occult underpinnings committed in 1993 in a deeply religious corner of Arkansas, has been covered in many acclaimed true crime documentaries. Thus, critics found a fairly routine narrative film version of the story underwhelming; the movie has just a 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, Reese Witherspoon dazzles in her sympathetic performance as Pamela Hobbs, the mother of one of the victims. If only the rest of the movie was on her same level.

29. Your Place or Mine (2023)

Your Place or Mine

(Image credit: Netflix)

Released at a time when audiences expressed widespread yearning for the near-extinct breed of studio romantic comedies, Netflix's Your Place or Mine hardly heralded its resurrection. Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher lead as best friends with a romantic past who swap homes and learn new things about each other. While cozy, Your Place or Mine can't help but evoke other, better rom-coms that have come before, with Witherspoon and Kutcher lacking the right onscreen chemistry to make their connection feel electric.

28. A Far Off Place (1993)

A Far Off Place

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Years before Reese Witherspoon broke out as an A-list mega-star, she appeared in this obscure (and tonally confused) family adventure movie about American teenagers who endure the Kalahari Desert in Africa after their parents are killed by poachers. Witherspoon plays Nonnie, an idealistic 14-year-old activist who aspires to stop elephant poaching. Dark subject matter clashes with the movie's overall Disney-ness, including the teenage characters' hijinks and abundance of affectionate animals. Though hardly worth hunting down, Witherspoon exhibits very early promise of her destined movie stardom.

27. Home Again (2017)

Home Again

(Image credit: Open Road Films)

In this saccharine rom-com so sugary it threatens sickness, Reese Witherspoon plays a divorced mother whose father was a famous movie director. After a one night stand on her 40th birthday, she befriends three young men – themselves aspiring filmmakers – who find a place in her home as they cultivate their dream project. Despite its ridiculous premise, Home Again allows Reese Witherspoon to continue exerting her movie star powers as a rom-com lead with texture, an individual seasoned by years of experience.

26. Overnight Delivery (1998)

Overnight Delivery

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Amid the dawn of raunchy comedies, Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon co-starred in Overnight Delivery, an obscure direct-to-video rom-com. A heartbroken college student named Wyatt (Rudd) embarks on a cross-country road trip with a stripper, Ivy (Witherspoon) to stop a package containing staged lurid photos of themselves in an effort to make Wyatt's girlfriend jealous. While Overnight Delivery is undeniably a late '90s teen comedy – a prescient one at that, predating American Pie by an entire year – there's still a real heart of gold beating beneath its coarse surface.

25. S.F.W. (1994)


(Image credit: Focus Features)

In this limp grasp to seize Gen X milieu, S.F.W. stars Stephen Dorff as a rebel who is held hostage by terrorists and becomes a national celebrity through his defiance. S.F.W. is both emblematic of its time (of the dominance of 24-hour cable news) yet predictive of the warped reality that constant media attention creates. Reese Witherspoon co-stars as love interest Wendy, another hostage who for Cliff represents a reprieve from the storm. S.F.W. is painfully heavy-handed, but provocative enough in its Radiohead needle drops, and worth visiting to see the evergreen appeal of its themes.

24. Penelope (2006)


(Image credit: Summit Entertainment)

Storybook whimsy meets Love Is Blind in Penelope, a 2006 rom-com where Christina Ricci plays the titular wealthy heiress who suffers from an ancient curse put on her family by a vengeful witch. Reese Witherspoon plays a supporting role as a down-to-Earth delivery girl who befriends Penelope and helps her live life outside of her own walls. Penelope is a bizarre film, with its awkward collision of Disney fantasy with adult-oriented romantic comedy conventions. Still, there's charm beneath its facade, and it's fascinating to see a fully mature Witherspoon – who a year prior won an Oscar for Walk the Line – take a backseat in a supporting role.

23. Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde (2003)

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde

(Image credit: MGM)

It's the lesser of the Legally Blonde films starring Reese Witherspoon, but it still has enough laughs to clear a low bar and make a statement. Witherspoon returns as Elle Woods, a fabulous Harvard Law grad who now works as a lawyer. Elle Woods navigates the political swamp waters of Washington D.C. and its apathy towards animal rights, with a case stemming from her own pet chihuahua and her own law firm representing an unethical cosmetics company. While it ranks far below its predecessor in the hilarity department, Legally Blonde 2 is simply more of Witherspoon having a ball as one of her all-time greatest movie characters.

22. Little Nicky (2000)

Little Nicky

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Reese Witherspoon has only a modest supporting role in Adam Sandler's riotous supernatural comedy Little Nicky, but she makes every moment as a heavenly angel who giggles like a sorority sister. The movie primarily centers on Satan's son (Sandler) who comes up to Earth and learns to harness his good side. Witherspoon appears halfway through the movie, appearing as Nicky's mother Holly, to inform him that there is a light within him to balance out the dark. Witherspoon joyously plays up her popular image as Hollywood's "it" girl, even when Sandler awkwardly calls her "mommy."

21. A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

A Wrinkle in Time

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

In Ava DuVernay's majestic adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's classic YA science fantasy, Reese Witherspoon plays the lively Mrs. Whatsit (not Mrs. Who, who is like a billion years older), an astral being who tells them that their missing father's study of space travel is, in fact, all true. Mrs. Whatsit whisks the children away into an unbelievable adventure through the cosmos, and she does so with gusto. Throughout A Wrinkle in Time, Witherspoon exhibits a different and no less fun side to her onscreen persona, mixing known archetypes like "sassy grandma" and "curious space alien" to create something totally new.

20. Rendition (2007)


(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

In this grounded, if also clumsy political spy thriller released in the heat of the Iraq War, Reese Witherspoon stars as the wife of an Egyptian-born chemical engineer accused of links to terrorism. Witherspoon is only one of many A-listers in the movie, which also includes Meryl Streep, Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, and J.K. Simmons. But Witherspoon takes center stage as a woman determined to know the whereabouts of her husband, who has fallen victim to the CIA's ghoulish practice of racially-motivated extraordinary rendition.

19. Vanity Fair (2004)

Vanity Fair

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Admittedly, Reese Witherspoon doesn't have the right bite to accurately play the conniving lead Becky Sharp from the 1848 novel Vanity Fair. Still, Mira Nair's big screen version of the story from 2004 picks up the slack with delectable set design, ostentatious costuming, and immersion of its period Victorian settings. And yes, Witherspoon is still quite good in it even if she wasn't the best choice for a character with extremely specific sharp angles.

18. The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

The Importance of Being Earnest

(Image credit: Miramax Films)

Oliver Parker's film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1895 classic play maintains the light, fluffy vibe of Wilde's famous satire of mistaken identities and high society. Reese Witherspoon plays an admirable Cecily, a flower child in 1890s London who has fallen for an "Ernest," unaware that he's actually Algernon (Rupert Everett). Parker's movie is a serviceable version of the story for any high school student shirking any obligations to actually read the thing, and Witherspoon charms as a delightful Cecily.

17. Twilight (1998)

Twilight starring Reese Witherspoon

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

No, not that Twilight. In this modern L.A. detective story, Reese Witherspoon is eclipsed by stars of previous generations: Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, and Susan Sarandon, with Newman as a private eye who is taken in by aging movie stars (played by Hackman and Sarandon). Witherspoon has a minor role as 17-year-old Ames, the daughter of the movie stars whose disappearance and rescue makes up the prologue. Though Twilight fails to seize on its full potential, it still has some of the best actors Hollywood has ever seen working together – and that includes Witherspoon, who comes in and out of its noir shadows.

16. Water for Elephants (2011)

Water for Elephants

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

In 2011, Francis Lawrence helmed the handsome romantic drama Water for Elephants, based on a 2006 historical novel set in and around a famous circus. While the movie's primary lead is Twilight's Robert Pattinson, an aimless med student who ends up working for a circus, his co-star is none other than Reese Witherspoon who delights as the enchanting performer Marlena. There's not enough chemistry between Witherspoon and Pattinson for Water for Elephants to really swim, but it's nevertheless a beautifully sweet movie for the hopeless romantics in all of us.

15. Four Christmases (2008)

Four Christmases

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Critics in 2008 received Four Christmases like a bad fruit cake. The late, great Roger Ebert published a negative review, cleverly in the style of a failed pitch session with an imaginary studio executive deriding the movie's lack of intelligence. But time has been good to this foul-mouthed gem of a holiday comedy, with both Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vauhgn leading as a couple who reluctantly visit four different parties – hosted by each of their divorced parents – after their own holiday plans are derailed. Four Christmases is far from a lump of coal, with an effervescent Witherspoon balancing out Vaughn's sandpaper dry cynicism.

14. American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Let's be clear: American Psycho is a searing, stone cold classic. It's easily one of the best movies of the 21st century. But is it a great Reese Witherspoon movie? That's up for debate. Witherspoon only appears in the movie for a few onscreen minutes as Evelyn, the vapid fiance of Christian Bale's sociopathic serial killer Patrick Batmean. Frankly, any other up-and-comer at the time could have played her, and Evelyn would still have the same nominal impact. Still, all of American Psycho is phenomenal, and Witherspoon's subsequent superstardom has only made her bit part all the more fascinating.

13. The Good Lie (2014)

The Good Lie

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

It's easy to roll eyes at its painful white savior narrative (which happens to be based on a true story), but Philippe Falardeau's The Good Lie has more warmth than its nauseating sheen implies. Reese Witherspoon stars as Carrie Davis, a lonesome employment counselor who is tasked with helping three Sudanese brothers – left orphaned years earlier by the Second Sudanese Civil War – find jobs in America. Over time, Carrie grows close with the brothers. It's sentimental and sweet, maybe too much, but The Good Lie isn't a dishonest experience.

12. Wild (2014)


(Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Based on Cheryl Strayed's 2012 best-selling memoir, Wild stars Reese Witherspoon as the real-life author who goes on a solo hiking trip on the 1,100 mile-long Pacific Crest Trail to meditate on her life's aimless directions. Occupying the Venn Diagram between Into the Wild and Eat, Pray, Love, Wild has a magnetic Witherspoon, who shoulders the movie's hefty weight as a woman in desperate search for self-actualization. Fittingly, Witherspoon received a Best Actress nomination for her performance.

11. Cruel Intentions (2000)

Cruel Intentions

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Once upon a time, Hollywood studios openly made smut for teenagers. In this brazenly lurid thriller from Roger Kumble, which modernizes a 1782 French novel, two wealthy New York stepsiblings make a bet for one of them, Sebastian (Ryan Philippe) to sleep with the chaste Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon) who is set to join their elite prep school in the fall. The movie's primary romantic tensions rest in steadfast Annette slowly falling for a known womanizer like Sebastian, and vice versa. But the rest of Cruel Intentions' gaudy qualities make it one of the most fascinating relics of late '90s mainstream teen culture, a chronicle of a generation's widespread fixation on sex. 

10. Freeway (1996)


(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

In this dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, troubled and illiterate teenager Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) escapes Los Angeles to live with her grandmother. Along the way she evades danger, including the clutches of a "wolf" – a serial killer named Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland). Freeway is a grimy movie, with plenty of dirt in its fingernails and a startling Witherspoon exhibiting her evolving maturity as an actress. In just a few years Witherspoon would be known for characters like Tracy Flick and Elle Woods, but Freeway has her going in a completely different and no less compelling direction.

9. Inherent Vice (2014)

Inherent Vice

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Paul Thomas Anderson's surreal epic Inherent Vice – set in '70s Los Angeles – is an expansive comedy-drama that sends up hard boiled detective stories with hippie humor. It's an incredible movie destined for a place in the canon of new American classics. Much like another towering classic, American Psycho, Reese Witherspoon only has a small part; she has just a few minutes of screen time as a buttoned-up district attorney in a secret fling with main protagonist Doc (Joaquin Phoenix). Though Witherspoon's role is minimal, she's still a key part in contributing to the many layers of humanity seen in Inherent Vice.

8. Fear (1996)


(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Co-starring with her then real-life boyfriend Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon makes the absolute most of a middling psychological thriller tailor made for young adults. Witherspoon stars as 16-year-old Nicole Walker, who falls for a mysterious young man named David (Wahlberg). David quickly exhibits horrifically abusive behavior, which kicks off a propulsive plot that sees Nicole try to outrun David's reach. Witherspoon does not have fond memories of shooting Fear; in a 2023 interview with Harper's Bazaar, Witherspoon revealed how uncomfortable she was on the day she shot the movie's infamous roller coaster sex scene. "I didn't have control over it," Witherspoon said, "It wasn't a particularly great experience."

7. Pleasantville (1998)


(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

An affectionate parody of '50s sitcoms, Pleasantville basically pulled off WandaVision before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon co-star as siblings from the real (and modern) world who are magically transported into the black and white universe of Pleasantville, a fictional '50s TV show. Because Maguire and Witherspoon are cool teens from the late '90s, their presence disrupts Pleasantville to literally and figuratively become more colorful. Pleasantville is understated yet fantastical, with most of its entertainment value in its tender satirizing of a Leave It to Beaver-esque America that never really existed.

6. Just Like Heaven (2005)

Just Like Heaven

(Image credit: DreamWorks Pictures)

Like the dreamy alt rock song it's named after ('Just Like Heaven' by The Cure), this 2005 rom-com has Reese Witherspoon play the ghost of a comatose woman who "haunts" her apartment's new tenant: David (Mark Ruffalo), an architect and widower. Naturally, the two begin to fall for each other as David seeks to restore Witherspoon's Elizabeth’s soul before her doctors disconnect her from life support. Just Like Heaven isn't the funniest nor sexiest rom-com, but for hopeless romantics who want to believe love exists beyond the physical world, Just Like Heaven has enough spirit to keep heads in the clouds.

5. The Man in the Moon (1991)

The Man in the Moon

(Image credit: MGM)

Reese Witherspoon made her feature acting debut in Robert Mulligan's The Man in the Moon, and what a debut it was. Set in '50s Louisiana, The Man in the Moon stars Witherspoon as a teenage tomboy who falls in love with her new neighbor (played by Jason London). The Man in the Moon sounds simple and familiar, but it is more simply timeless in its evergreen appeal as a universal coming-of-age romance. There's just something about those long, lush days of summer that allows all things to grow, only to eventually fade with the cruel passage of time. For such a rookie early in her career, Witherspoon dazzles as lead character Dani, who shows exactly what kind of force she would soon grow up to become.

4. Mud (2012)


(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Mud is a vehicle made for Matthew McConaughey, who plays the title character Mud, a fugitive who hides on a small Mississippi River island and befriends two teenage boys. But Reese Witherspoon still seizes on her time in the movie as sympathetic Juniper, Mud's girlfriend. Through careful direction by Jeff Nichols, this part of the southern United States feels properly textured and alive, with characters desperate to find peace in a deceptively dangerous stretch of the world. While Witherspoon is far from being the reason to watch Mud, it is an overall phenomenal movie that allows Witherspoon to inhabit the darker corners of her talent.

3. Walk the Line (2005)

Walk the Line

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

In her Oscar-winning performance as country singer June Carter, Reese Witherspoon electrifies with Southern fire in this biographical drama on the life of Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix). While Witherspoon's June puts on a good and impressive show – Witherspoon can really belt out a tune with Virginian twang – it's the other layer of her persona, that of a tired woman sick of society's suffocating expectations and come-ons by drunk men, that allows June to feel alive with dimensions. Truly, there's no wonder why this is the role that Witherspoon won her first Oscar.

2. Legally Blonde (2001)

Legally Blonde

(Image credit: MGM)

It just may be Reese Witherspoon's defining movie. The 2001 rom-com Legally Blonde, which stars Witherspoon as a quintessential sorority girl who enrolls in Harvard Law School. (What? Like it's hard?) There's no explosions, superheroes, or special effects, yet Legally Blonde is a certified Hollywood blockbuster, grossing $118 million and spawning a multimedia franchise that includes sequels and even a Broadway musical. Elle Woods, whose bubblegum pink surface belies her learned intelligence and determination, is Witherspoon operating at maximum power, embodying the role with exactly the precise calibrations to make the character an icon for generations.

1. Election (1999)


(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Sadness pervades in Alexander Payne's 1999 satirical comedy Election. Set in the dog-eat-dog world of a Nebraska high school, Reese Witherspoon stars as the overambitious and tragically lonely Tracy Flick. While Tracy is all set to win her school's election for student body president uncontested, a petty history teacher (Matthew Broderick) inspires a popular jock (Chris Klein) to run against her. Election is darkly hilarious, with the movie going to unexpectedly bleak thematic places in its portrait of unhappiness and discontent in mediocre, dead-end surroundings. But Reese Witherspoon is anything but average, and her timeless portrayal of Tracy Flick illustrates our inherent need for balance.

Eric Francisco

Eric Francisco is a freelance entertainment journalist and graduate of Rutgers University. If a movie or TV show has superheroes, spaceships, kung fu, or John Cena, he's your guy to make sense of it. A former senior writer at Inverse, his byline has also appeared at Vulture, The Daily Beast, Observer, and The Mary Sue. You can find him screaming at Devils hockey games or dodging enemy fire in Call of Duty: Warzone.