Following the success of “Pretty Woman,” Julia Roberts became known as “America’s Sweetheart.” While the Oscar winning actress will always be known by that moniker, fellow actress (and Oscar winner) Resse Witherspoon has slowly earned that same level of respect and fame. Today, she headlines the FOX release “Water For Elephants,” an romantic drama based on the highly successful novel by Sara Gruen. With a string of successful box office films under her belt and a litany of awards, it’s interesting to look back at Witherspoon’s early breakthrough roles that would eventually lead to her bankable A-lister status.
Here’s your “Flicks Flashback” featuring Reese Witherspoon.
Pleasantville (1998) / Cruel Intentions (1999) / Election (1999)
Total USA Earnings: $40 million / $38 million/ $14 million
Over the course of eight months, Resse Witherspoon appeared in three movies that combined didn’t reach $100 million. While in this decade that could be looked at as a string of failures, the simple fact is that each of those movies either made back its original investment or vastly improved on it; and that’s not even the most important part of the story. These movies allowed Witherspoon the type of public exposure few actress have had in this day and age. As a result, she was able to show she could handle herself in a wide range of genres that in the end not only put her on the map with moviegoers, but with the critics.
Legally Blonde (2001)
Total USA Earnings: $95 million
While audiences knew of Witherspoon, she was still on the fringes of the A-list, despite the high profile company she kept onscreen. At the time (newly) married to her “Cruel Intentions” co-star Ryan Philippe, she was slowly beginning to gain some media traction. All she needed was that one break-out role and she found in the most unlikely place. Witherspoon not only took on the “blonde” stereotype but she firmly embraced it. “Legally Blonde” opened in the summer of 2001 to a $20 million opening; the highest yet of her career. All of sudden, Witherspoon was a household name and on the verge of being one of the most bankable young stars in Hollywood.
Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
Total USA Earnings: $127 million
While Witherspoon had a big success with “Blonde,” she still didn’t have a $100 million blockbuster on her resume. Furthermore executives wanted to make sure her big break wasn’t a big fluke. The next year she silenced all of her critics with “Sweet Home Alabama.” Starring alongside the Josh Lucas and Patrick Dempsey (before he was “McDreamy”), Reese saw her latest romantic comedy bow to a $35 million opening weekend. The movie essentially made back its entire production budget in just three days and would eventually haul in $127 million. Witherspoon had basically arrived!
Walk The Line (2005)
Total USA Earnings $119 million
After dominating the romantic comedy genre, she returned to her dramatic roots and took on the role of June Carter Cash. Following her early success in the genre it was no surprise that critics had labeled her an early frontrunner for award season. In the end, her portrayal of the wife of music icon Johnny Cash earned her an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actor Guild award and a slew of national film critic’s prizes. The result of which cemented Reese’s place as the next “America’s Sweetheart.”
Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
Total USA Earnings: $198 million
Unfortunately with the sweet came the sour, Witherspoon’s marriage to Philippe unraveled as did her next four films. Nothing was clicking for the actress, but then DreamWorks came calling with its debut run at the next generation of animated movies. This was a huge risk for the studio as it was championing a new 3D technology that many weren’t completely ready to welcome. Although enough people embraced it as the movie grossed close to $200 million, which was enough for big both DreamWorks and Witherspoon to make a pop culture impact.
While her most recent film “How Do You Know” faltered at the box office in big way, Witherspoon’s image has not wilted at all, which brings us back to the present and this weekend’s “Water For Elephants.” Now newly remarried and with an array of very interesting and anticipated projects rumored to be in the pipeline, Reese is once again in the spotlight and once again poised to regain her spot atop the box office.
“Water For Elephants” is now in theaters.