The Man in the Moon (1991)
Reese Witherspoon made an early impression in this laid-back 50s-set drama. As Dani Trant, she discovers the exquisite pain of adolescence as she longs unrequitedly for Court Foster (Jason London).
It's slight, with a tendency to dither, but the era is effectively evoked, and with To Kill a Mockingbird director Robert Mulligan calling the shots, and legendary cinematographer Freddie Francis ensuring everything looks pretty, this was far from the embarrassing debut picture many a future star is saddled with.
Smart Blonde? She's plays it fairly naive here.
Witherspoon continued to keep good company in this sophomore effort, even if it was a made-for-TV movie. Wildflower gave the young actress the chance to work with Diane Keaton (who was directing), and Patricia Arquette and Beau Bridges co-starred.
Arquette had the showiest role, as a partially deaf girl abused by a detestable stepfather, but as a rare friend, Ellie, Witherspoon was able to demonstrate her sensitivity.
Smart Blonde? Her morals are straight down the line
Desperate Choices: To Save My Child (1992)
As the oppressively melodramatic title indicates, this was another TV movie for Witherspoon. She plays Cassie, a happy-go-lucky teen who has a great family life until she gets struck by the movie's 'issue': leukaemia.
It turns out her brother (Joseph Mazzello, of Jurassic Park and later The Social Network ) is a bone-marrow match, but she doesn't want him to undergo the risky operation. Mawkish and sentimental decision-making ensues.
Smart Blonde? The material's not the finest, but the young actress proves she can hold her own front and centre.
A Far Off Place (1993)
Witherspoon's next movie was produced by Amblin Entertainment, and distributed by Disney, though the premise sounds a little harsher than you might expect from kid-friendly fare.
Witherspoon stars as Nonnie Parker, one of only two survivors of an African farm massacre. To escape the killers, she sets off on a trek across the Kalahari desert with the other young survivor and a native bushman.
Smart Blonde? She proves her survival skills like a tween Ray Mears.
Jack the Bear (1993)
Witherspoon continued to associate herself with big-name talent, bagging a role in this Danny DeVito starring dramedy.
The diminutive funnyman plays a TV clown struggling to raise his two sons after the death of his wife, while contending with the neo-Nazi across the street. Witherspoon turns up as the love interest of DeVito's older son, though her interest wanes when the TV performer goes off the rails.
Smart Blonde? She was probably well advised to steer clear of this dysfunctional lot.
Return to Lonesome Dove (1993)
This TV miniseries was an unauthorised follow-up to Lonesome Dove . The earlier series was adapted from Larry McMurty's novel, but this was an invented sequel.
While it lacked the star power of the original outing, it still boasted Jon Voight in the lead role, and Oliver Reed played the seedy husband of Witherspoon's young character. Despite modest production values, this failed to live up to the epic original.
Smart Blonde? She's not without her wits, defying her youthful visage with a world-wearied conviction.
This marked a departure for Witherspoon, as she moved away from the wholesome material she had been associated with to star in something a little edgier (the title, cuss-word fans, is an abbreviation of 'So fucking what?)
Stephen Dorff stars as a man taken hostage in a televised convenience-store siege. After escaping the ordeal, he doesn't know how to deal with his new found stardom, and longs for a relationship with fellow captive Wendy (Witherspoon).
Smart Blonde? She's not showing any signs of dumbing down yet.
Before Catherine Hardwicke and Amanda Seyfried were reimagining the age-old fairytale, Witherspoon starred in a modern update of Little Red Riding Hood.
She plays Vanessa Lutz, a trailer-trash teen from LA making her way to her grandmother's house; Kiefer Sutherland plays serial killer Bob Wolverton, whom Vanessa will run into en route. Slightly silly and OTT it may be (Vanessa's gang member boyfriend is called Chopper Wood), but it's well worth a look.
Smart Blonde? She was showing a predilection for offbeat material.
Witherspoon was edging ever closer to a mainstream breakout with this one, here playing the naive young girlfriend of Mark Wahlberg's possessive thug.
High-schooler Nicole (Witherspoon) meets David (Wahlberg) at a party, but it's not long before he's ruining his perfect boyfriend image by beating up anyone close to her, forcing himself on her best friend and planning ever more disturbing acts of devotion.
Smart Blonde? He might be a dreamboat with his own car, but she does gradually realise that she should stay away from him. Could've been quicker on the uptake though…
No, not that one. This may not have had the cultural impact of the Stephanie Meyer adaptation, but it has retained seedy curiosity value for a scene in which Reese gets 'em out.
In a supporting role, Witherspoon gets her name listed alongside some big-hitters: Paul Newman is a private detective hired to look for the daughter of actors Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon, before a bigger conspiracy unspools…
Smart Blonde? It must have seemed like a failsafe move, but the film isn't worthy of its star power, and it sank relatively unnoticed.
Overnight Delivery (1998)
This romantic comedy paired Witherspoon with How Do You Know co-star Paul Rudd, and had a plot conspicuously similar to Todd Phillips' later Road Trip .
Rudd (mistakenly) believes his virginal long-distance girlfriend is cheating on him, so he sends her a picture of himself with a stripper (Witherspoon). When he realises his error, a cross country chase to intercept the package with said stripper ensues. The familiar faces keep this on the right side of likeable (just).
Smart Blonde? She went brunette here, and she deserves credit for playing against type as the sassy stripper instead of the angelic girlfriend.
This stylised drama was a major breakout hit for Witherspoon. The visual trickery takes a backseat to characterisation, as siblings David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Witherspoon) are sucked into the wholesome world of a retro sitcom.
The new arrivals in the black-and-white town introduce their passions to the locals, and find objects (and people) changing into colour, which leads to controversy and segregation. Witherspoon once again subverted her apple pie image to play an unexpectedly feisty character.
Smart Blonde? The witty premise is undercut with profound real-life parallels, making for a teen movie with a high IQ.
Cruel Intentions (1999)
A role in this Dangerous Liaisons update continued Witherspoon's star-making streak. She plays Annette, the prize at the centre of spoilt step-siblings Kathryn and Sebastian's seductive bet.
She doesn't get to have as much fun as her fellow cast-members, but she ensures that her character (the rich, virginal daughter of a private school principal) is anything but a sap, investing the MTV-generation antics with a real emotional wallop.
Smart Blonde? It takes no effort to buy her performance as an unattainable overachiever.
Witherspoon capitalised on her rising stardom with another superb performance, eschewing any hint of type-casting despite playing on her goody two-shoes image.
She plays obsessive overachiever Tracy Flick (think Lisa Simpson in 10 years' time), who decides to run for student body president. She doesn't count on the fact that she's made an enemy of Matthew Broderick's beleaguered teacher, who decides to ruin her plans by getting a popular jock to run in the election.
Smart Blonde? With Alexander Payne at the helm, this was guaranteed to have a higher grade point average than your typical high-school comedy.
Best Laid Plans (1999)
Still choosing to topple to expectations with her film choices, Witherspoon next starred in this intriguing, tautly-plotted thriller. Nissa (Witherspoon) and boyfriend Nick (Alessandro Nivola) conspire to blackmail a load of cash from his mate Bryce (Josh Brolin).
Not everything goes according to the itinerary though… The cast make up for what the twisty narrative lacks in substance, with Witherspoon plumbing new depths as the desperate seductress.
Smart Blonde? The actress has clearly put more thought into the long game than her character has.
American Psycho (2000)
Despite her burgeoning reputation, Witherspoon was still displaying a willingness to appear in supporting roles in interesting material. In the sinisterly comedic adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' notorious novel, she played the girlfriend of Bale's psychotic banker Patrick Bateman.
It's a small role, but it benefits from Witherspoon's presence, as she engages in a subtle power-play dynamic with Bateman, leaving her character curiously ambiguous (much like the movie itself).
Smart Blonde? This was another clever decision from Witherspoon.
In a natty spot of casting, Reese Witherspoon appeared in a couple of episodes of Friends as Jill, Rachel's spoilt younger sister (although she can't quite compete with Christina Applegate in the 'uncanny sibling-likeness to Jennifer Aniston' stakes).
Jill turns up in Season 6, looking for support from Rachel after their father has cut her off. She purposefully causes a stir by dating her sister's on-off beau Ross in a short-lived fling.
Smart Blonde? Conniving, more like.
King of the Hill (2000)
Witherspoon followed her guest role on Friends with a two-part appearance on another sitcom, albeit an animated one. She became one of a huge number of Hollywood stars who have lent their pipes to Mike Judge's oddly realistic rib-tickler.
She appeared as Buck Strickland's secretary-turned-mistress, and her death sparks a murder investigation that crosses two episodes.
Smart Blonde? She was taking a small break from the movies and earning some pop culture points at the same time.
Little Nicky (2000)
This is one of the most irritating screen incarnations of Adam Sandler's manchild persona, packing an eardrum-scraping inflection, an atrocious haircut and no redeeming features.
He's the disappointing son of Satan (Harvey Keitel), and he realises he doesn't want to continue the family business, especially after discovering love while on Earth. Tonally uncertain from the get go, Witherspoon makes a mercifully brief appearance as Nicky's angelic mother.
Smart Blonde? This wasn't her wisest career move.
The Trumpet of the Swan (2001)
Another voice-acting gig for Witherspoon, but this adaptation of E.B. White's children's novel attracted little love on release, and it's not hard to see why.
The garish animation looked pretty dated on release, and the movie retained none of the simple charm of the source material. The story sees a voiceless trumpeter swan learn to play his namesake instrument to attract beautiful pen Serena (Witherspoon). This Tri-Star animation only had a limited release in the US, and didn't make it to the UK.
Smart Blonde? Her trademark judgment was beginning to look questionable.
Legally Blonde (2001)
This comedy confirmed Witherspoon's status as a megastar. It's a testament to the actress for making the astringently perky Elle Woods so likeable, as she sounds damn-near unbearable on the page.
Elle has a change of plans and decides to go to law school to make her ex respect her. She discovers she has an aptitude for the profession, and rises above leery professors and cliquey sorority girls to land an enviable Harvard degree. The film was a monster hit, and served to increased Witherspoon's already considerably clout.
Smart Blonde? You betcha.
The Simpsons (2002)
With her megastar status back on track, Witherspoon scored another supporting role in an iconic American sitcom, playing Greta Wolfcastle in the thirteenth-season episode 'The Bart Wants What It Wants'.
Yes, she's the daughter of McBain star Rainier Wolfcastle, and she develops a crush on a disinterested Bart. When he realises the error of his ways, it's too late, as she has moved on to his best buddy Milhouse.
Smart Blonde? There's no surer way of asserting your pop culture eminence than taking a trip to Springfield
The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)
Next up was another change of pace for Witherspoon, opting for this Oscar Wilde adap. Wilde's plays have rarely been improved on the big screen, but it's still easy enough to enjoy his unmatchable gift for dialogue when it's put on film.
The romantic, mistaken-identity farce also benefits from a gifted cast, including Colin Firth, Rupert Everett and Judi Dench, and Witherspoon once again shows off her knack for comedy, proving she's can make 'em laugh in any era.
Smart Blonde? The film wasn't much of a success, but it didn't do her reputation any harm.
Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
As if it was in any doubt, this romcom certified Witherspoon's Hollywood standing, and launched her into the leagues of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood.
It says a lot of Witherspoon's audience magnetism that the film was actually a bit of dud, with a trite romcom plot that sees Witherspoon's spoilt Southern gal returning home after building a successful fashion career in NYC. Inexplicably, she picks her irritating childhood sweetheart over her gentlemanly (and not to mention rich) NYC fiance (Patrick Dempsey).
Smart Blonde? She could have demonstrated a better choice in blokes here...
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003)
After appearing in US TV documentary series Freedom: A History of US , Witherspoon returned to her most famous character for a lacklustre follow-up (perhaps the reason she's steered clear of sequels before or since).
Suffering from follow-up fatigue, the plot is a re-run of the original rise over adversity transplanted to an animal rights case in Washington. Diehard Elle Woods fans will squeal, but there's little of the charm that made the first outing an unpredicted treat.
Smart Blonde? Only in terms of economics, as Red, White & Blonde *shudder* was another financial success.
Vanity Fair (2004)
We knew Witherspoon could do the English accent and corsets after Earnest , but this so-so adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel felt like it should have been bigger (and better) than it was.
Witherspoon is fine, but it was an odd decision to force Becky Sharp into the traditional romcom mould, when she should have been a deviously scheming anti-heroine. There's a decent supporting cast, but the Indian influence is the only truly memorable aspect of this version.
Smart Blonde? Becky Sharp is no fool, though Witherspoon sports a ginger 'do for the role.
Walk the Line (2005)
If Vanity Fair didn't attract the awards as expected, this Johnny Cash biopic certainly rectified that, with Witherspoon bagging her Best Actress Oscar, and earning plaudits aplenty alongside Joaquin Phoenix, who excelled as The Man in Black.
Despite the conventional rock-biography trappings (success, excess, rehabilitation), the movie is grounded in the astonishing relationship between Cash and June Carter, perfectly played by Phoenix and Witherspoon (who also acquit themselves admirably well on the singing front).
Smart Blonde? As brunette Carter, Witherspoon was showing new levels of maturity as an actress.
Just Like Heaven (2005)
Despite being a serious, Oscar-winning actress, Witherspoon wasn't one to shy away from a hokey romcom. The eyebrow-raising premise (man moves into an apartment and falls for the spirit of its former occupant) gets a chemistry boost from its extremely likeable central coupling of Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo.
Director Mark Waters doesn't recreate the pizzazz of his earlier efforts ( Freaky Friday , Mean Girls ), hamstrung by a weak support cast (Jon Napoleon Dynamite Heder irritates) and unsatisfying plot lurches.
Smart Blonde? You can't blame her for thinking that the ingredients might have resulted in a more effective end product.
Witherspoon produced this flaky fairytale about a girl born with a piggy nose and ears, and opted to take a modest supporting role.
Predictable and lacking in weight, the movie is nonetheless driven along by Christina Ricci's possessing performance as the cursed lovelorn heroine, and James McAvoy makes for a captivating suitor. Witherspoon relaxes as a spunky secondary character.
Smart Blonde? She's proving she can do more than just act. Her production company, Type A Films, also produced Legally Blonde 2 , and have since been behind Four Christmases and TV spin-off Legally Blondes .
This topical political drama explored the disconcerting practice of 'extraordinary rendition', by which the CIA sent terror suspects to foreign countries for some behind-closed-doors torture.
Witherspoon is the distraught wife whose Egyptian-born husband has been targeted for interrogation and shipped off to an unnamed North African country. She fiercely badgers CIA man Jake Gyllenhaal and politically-connected ex Peter Sarsgaard in her quest for answers. Regardless of 'relevance', this thriller grips in its own right.
Smart Blonde? This is challenging material.
Four Christmases (2008)
Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn are a couple with a curiously modern conundrum, visiting the quartet of divorced parents that they've got between them. The unlikeable pair usually holiday to avoid the problem, but airline problems put an end to that.
The impressive support cast is the only thing that could possibly sustain your interest in this rather unpleasant festive dud.
Smart Blonde? She should've known that hooking up with Vaughn for a festive comedy wasn't a wise move: has she not seen Fred Claus ?
Monsters vs Aliens (2009)
Banishing the memory of that previous stinker, Monsters vs Aliens is another superior effort from DreamWorks Animation. Sure, it can't touch the best of Pixar (it lacks the emotional weight), but it was sound cinematic fun, and the inventive action scenes made it worth catching in 3D.
Witherspoon's voice was well-matched to Susan (AKA Ginormica) an everygal who mutates into a 50-foot woman on her wedding day, and joins a top-secret government-sanctioned monster task force.
Smart Blonde? This had hit written all over it, and Susan makes for an endearing heroine.
How Do You Know (2010)
In fairness to Witherspoon, most of her turkeys have sounded like successes on paper. This thoroughly dissatisfying romcom boasts James L. Brooks as writer-director, and Witherspoon can count Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson among her co-stars.
There's just no escaping the leaden pace, the knowingly-pensive characters, and the complete lack of oomph, as Witherspoon's disillusioned pro-softball player struggles to choose between two blokes.
Smart Blonde? At least her character's gifted more brains and ambition than your average romcom bimbo.
Water for Elephants (2011)
Witherspoon is back in cinemas this week in 30s-set Water for Elephants , as the star attraction in the Benzini Bros travelling circus. She's torn between ringleader husband August (Christoph Waltz) and romantically inclined stowaway Jacob (Robert Pattinson).
Not wasting a drop of Witherspoon's old-school charm, WFE effectively recreates the thrill of the fair, and gives Pattinson the opportunity to show what he can do outside of the glittery-vamp franchise.
Smart Blonde? She plays to her strengths again here...