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Reese Witherspoon's Best Movies, Ranked by Metacritic

From 'Election' to 'Walk the Line,' discover Reese Witherspoon's best movies, ranked by Metascore.
by Taylor Freitas — 
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Reese Witherspoon

ABC / Getty Images

Since making her cinematic debut as a teenager in 1991's The Man on the Moon, Reese Witherspoon has impressed audiences and critics alike, becoming an award-winning actor and producer. Over the years, she's made it clear that she's a highly versatile performer, appearing in everything from biographical films to romantic comedies to period dramas.

By the late 1990s, less than a decade after her debut, Witherspoon became a household name, with memorable performances in such movies as Freeway, Fear, Cruel Intentions, and Election. Her success continued into the early 2000s when she landed some of her most famous roles, including Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and June Carter Cash in Walk the Line(which won her an Oscar).

Since then, she's kept a busy schedule, starring in films including Mud, Wild, and The Good Lie,and acting and producing in TV shows including Big Little Lies, The Morning Show, and Little Fires Everywhere. Last year, Forbes named Witherspoon theworld's richest actress, following the news that her production company Hello Sunshine was valued at $900 million.

Audiences will see more of the Louisiana-born Witherspoon in the coming years, as she has several new projects coming out in 2022 and beyond. First, she's set to star in Your Place or Mine, a romantic comedy with Ashton Kutcher, scheduled to come out later this year. Plus, in 2023, she's due to reprise her role as Woods in Legally Blonde 3.

Here, Metacritic highlights the top 10 movies Witherspoon has acted in, ranked by Metascore.


Election (1999)

Metascore: 83
Best for: Fans of satirical comedies
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, , Paramount+, Vudu
Runtime: 103 minutes

In Election, Witherspoon stars as Tracy Flick, an ambitious Omaha teen who's determined to become her school's next student body president. Everything seems to be working in her favor until civics teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) encourages Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), a popular athlete, to run against her. Later, Paul's sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) also decides to join the race. The result? A chaotic series of events fueled by revenge, sabotage, and desire. Election was nominated for Best Screenplay at the Oscars, while Witherspoon earned a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical.

"The satire of the season, a hilarious, razor-sharp indictment of the American Dream." — Desson Thomson, The Washington Post


Inherent Vice

Metascore: 81
Best for: Fans of crime and mystery movies
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 148 minutes

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice revolves on Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a free-spirited private investigator in 1970s Los Angeles. One day, his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) unexpectedly shows up at his house, boasting about her new relationship with a married real estate tycoon. Later, when Shasta and her new love interest go missing, Doc takes the lead on finding her — and encounters a strange cast of characters along the way. Witherspoon plays Penny Kimball, an assistant district attorney who's romantically linked to Doc. The film, which was based on a book by Thomas Pynchon, netted two Oscar nominations.

"An aggressively weird movie, which you should take not as a warning but as a compliment and an invitation to see it, to let its stoner vibes wash all over you." — Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic


Mud (2013)

Metascore: 76
Best for: Fans of sentimental dramas
Where to watch:

, Google PlayiTunes, Tubi, Vudu
Runtime: 130 minutes

Set along the Mississippi River in rural Arkansas, Mud follows a pair of teenage boys named Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). While exploring the river, the teens befriend a troubled boat-dwelling man named Mud (played by Matthew McConaughey). As the three grow closer, the boys learn about Mud's complicated past, including his issues with his current girlfriend, Juniper (Witherspoon). Their unconventional friendship is put to the test when Ellis and Neckbone try to help bring Mud and Juniper back together — and find themselves in the middle of a bitter and dangerous standoff.

"An art-house movie that will pull mainstream audiences along as inexorably as the Mississippi River." — Lou Lumenick, New York Post


Wild

Metascore: 74
Best for: Fans of adventure films and biographical dramas
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 115 minutes

Wild is inspired by the real-life story of Cheryl Strayed (played by Witherspoon), a Minnesota woman who sets out to hike the 1,000-plus mile Pacific Crest Trail by herself. Strayed, who was not an experienced hiker, was inspired to tackle the trail by her late mother, who passed away from cancer when Strayed was in her teens. Wild, which is set in 1995, showcases her battle with the harsh elements on the trail, as well as her inner demons caused by her mom's death. It also features an appearance from Strayed's real daughter, Bobbi, who was named in Strayed's mother's honor.

"This movie is a gift. It's also a journey." — Mike Scott, New Orleans Times-Picayune


The Man in the Moon

Metascore: 73
Best for: Fans of romance dramas
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 99 minutes

Witherspoon makes her film debut in 1991's The Man in the Moon, a coming-of-age story set in Elvis-era Louisiana. The movie follows 14-year-old Dani Trant (Witherspoon), a rebellious girl who lives with her distant and strict father Matthew (Sam Waterston), her pregnant mother Abigail (Tess Harper), and her smart and beautiful older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield). Over the summer, Dani forms a relationship with Court Foster (Jason London), an older boy who has recently moved into town — until he develops feelings for Maureen and puts Dani through her first heartbreak.

"A wonderful movie, but it is more than that, it is a victory of tone and mood. It is like a poem." — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


Walk the Line

Metascore: 72
Best for: Music lovers, fans of biopics
Where to watch:

, fuboTVGoogle PlayiTunes, Tubi,
Runtime: 136 minutes

Walk the Line is a re-telling of the love story between musicians Johnny Cash (Phoenix) and June Carter Cash (Witherspoon). It showcases the real Cash's traumatic childhood and his rise to country music fame in the 1950s, including his tumultuous first marriage with Vivian Liberto (Ginnifer Goodwin) and his substance abuse struggles. Witherspoon, who sang and acted in the film, received immense critical praise for her performance and won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe, and SAG Award for Best Actress. Walk the Line also won the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Musical or Comedy. 

"A big, juicy, enjoyable wide-canvas biography with a handful of indelible moments." — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly


Pleasantville

Metascore: 71
Best for: Fans of fantasy and alternate reality films
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 124 minutes

Released in 1998, Pleasantville revolves on a pair of teenage twins, David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Witherspoon). One night, the siblings are transported into a 1950s sitcom called Pleasantville, where they take on the identities of Bud and Mary Sue Parker, two characters in the show. Together, they help introduce more "modern" concepts to the town (such as sexuality and civil rights), helping transform it from black-and-white into color. The film, which is written and directed by Gary Ross, also features Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, and William H. Macy as residents of Pleasantville.

"Ingeniously conceived and impressively executed, Pleasantville is a provocative, complex and surprisingly anti-nostalgic parable." — Joe Leydon, Variety


The Good Lie (2014)

Metascore: 65
Best for: Fans of heartfelt dramas
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 110 minutes

The Good Lie is the story of a group of young South Sudanese refugees who flee their country after their parents are killed. First, they relocate to Kenya before eventually heading to the United States. There, they meet Carrie Davis (Witherspoon), an employment counselor who helps them find work in their new home of Kansas City. With the support of Carrie and each other, the resilient refugees begin to adjust to life in America — while coming to terms with the trauma of their past. The Good Lie, which was released in 2014, was directed by Philippe Falardeau and co-produced by Ron Howard.

"It works as well as it does precisely because of an intelligence, humanity and restraint we rarely see in Hollywood films." — James Rocchi, The Wrap


American Psycho

Metascore: 64
Best for: Fans of psychological thrillers
Where to watch:

, Google Play, HBO Max, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 102 minutes

Based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same title, American Psycho delves into the life of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a New York investment banker with a dark side. The movie follows him at his high-stress day job, including his jealousy and hatred toward fellow banker Paul Allen (Jared Leto), as well as his sociopathic after-hours exploits. In the film, Witherspoon plays Evelyn Williams, Bateman's fiancée, whom he resents but tries to impress. In the years since its 2000 release, this Mary Harron-directed thriller has evolved into a cult classic.

"A lean and mean horror comedy classic." — Stephen Holden, The New York Times


Freeway (1996)

Metascore: 61
Best for: Fans of black comedies
Where to watch:

, Google Play, Pluto TV, Tubi
Runtime: 110 mins

A reimagining of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale, 1996's Freeway was written and directed by Matthew Bright.The plot focuses on Vanessa Lutz (Witherspoon), a troubled teenager from Los Angeles. After her mother and stepfather are arrested, she sets out to visit her grandmother but deals with car trouble on the way. She's rescued by Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), a guidance counselor who seems genuine but ultimately turns on her — forcing Lutz to fight for her life. Although the film grossed less than $300,000 at the box office, Witherspoon's performance (one of the earliest in her career) was applauded by some critics

"With one foot in the grind house and one in the art house, the smarts in Freeway are more than equal to its visceral kick." — Charles Taylor, Salon