In The Toast series today, we celebrate the birthday of Oscar-winner and Hollywood Goddess Julia Roberts. She’s been named the world’s most beautiful woman a record-breaking five times, starred in over 50 films in a 3-decade long career and is still going strong today.
Once upon a time, it was Hollywood 1990. And like young Britney Spears who would be crowned the new princess of pop music ten years later in 2000, this young actress in 1990 would be crowned the new princess of film. Her name was Julia Roberts.
As tall as a runway supermodel, and blessed with a bright 1000-watt smile that could grace countless print magazine covers (and did), this starlet was visual dynamite. And that’s not even counting her acting skill. At the very beginning of her career, between the years of 1988 and 1991, she starred in eight films, with nearly all being blockbuster hits. Julia played an ill bride, a hooker with a heart of gold, a domestic abuse survivor, and even the beloved fairy Tinker Bell in Steven Spielberg’s fantastical Peter Pan hit called Hook (1991). These are just a few.
Attacking her roles with strength, determination, and skill, Julia Roberts proved her acting chops time and time again, leaving audiences in awe, and with no doubt that she was a New Hollywood superstar absolutely defining her generation. The audience loved her. Directors scrambled to work with her. And publishing companies feverishly sought out that dazzling smile.
For anyone around during those heady days of Julia’s early career, it’s hard to imagine how much higher this superstar could get. She was a beautiful bona fide whirlwind, breathing rarified air, and lounging with the gods, up in those pristine white clouds. After all, a princess can be a goddess, too, right? And Julia accomplished this all before the age of twenty-five. Astounding.
Julia’s Rise To Superstardom
Julia Roberts earned her first Oscar nomination for the 1989 tearjerker Steel Magnolias, but her breakout hit was really 1990’s naughty romantic-comedy Pretty Woman. A story about a lovable Los Angeles prostitute named Vivian (Julia Roberts) who “befriends” a stuffy, but gorgeous biz exec named Edward (Richard Gere), the beautiful Julia Roberts created a pop culture phenomenon with her sweet black-booted streetwalker. Can we all say Rumpelstiltskin?
Yes, like the fairy tale, Julia spun straw into gold. She and Richard Gere sizzled on-screen together, managing to bring a harmless “G” quality wholesomeness to a plot premise that would otherwise be considered a seedy, risqué “R”. Straw to gold. Miraculous. Call it the power of Julia, who could do no wrong.
Hailing from the Atlanta, Georgia, suburbs, Julia was a modern Southern belle who moved up to New York City in the mid-1980s after high school, landing small parts on TV. Legend has it she pro-actively “lost” her enchanting Southern accent (so as to not limit her opportunities for roles). She also even claimed, on at least one audition, that she was from the state of Connecticut (nearby to New York) and not Georgia. Call it the Georgia Peach becomes a Connecticut Nutmegger.
Then cut to a “rockin” part (pun intended) in the music flick Satisfaction in 1988 alongside respected actors Liam Neeson and Justine Bateman, and Julia was off and running. Satisfaction was movie #1 of that aforementioned eight-movie winning streak for Julia.
Julia Flourishes Today
Unsurprisingly, Julia Roberts is still “rockin” today. Her most recent film was 2018’s Ben Is Back. In total, she’s starred in over 50 films, won one Oscar for 2000’s Erin Brockovich, and continues to be one of the biggest money makers for Hollywood. Want your movie to make lots of money? Put Julia Roberts in it. She’s wondrously endowed with nearly universal appeal. Further accolades, she’s also been named by People magazine as “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” a whopping, record-breaking five times. Congrats, Julia!
In short, the glittery list of commendations on superstar Julia Roberts is long. Celebrating her 54th birthday this October 28th, we’d also say she’s been promoted from Hollywood princess to Hollywood queen. Cheers to the new title!
In honor of her past, present, and hopefully future career, here are 6 must-see films of the world-renowned actress. They showcase her versatility, lovability, and most of all, that high-as-the-clouds star power. This October 28, let’s lounge in the clouds alongside Hollywood goddess Julia Roberts.
6 Essential Julia Robert Films
1. Steel Magnolias (1989)
Here’s a feel-good “chick flick” of the highest caliber. Starring a bevy of Hollywood legends like Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, and Sally Field, kudos to 21-year-old Julia for landing this plum role. Better still, she shines as a young bride who’s battling diabetes. Set in the gorgeous South (Louisiana), hear Julia bring back her Southern accent (a Louisiana accent not the same as Georgia, but still Southern!). Julia breathes sweet, heartwarming life into her complicated role, and no surprise that she earns an Oscar nom. She’s tasked with a lot, and delivers. This role could’ve easily dissolved into a one-dimensional sympathy-inducing caricature, relying on the heartbreaking situation to carry the load, but no. Julia gives it her all. The result? Tissue companies everywhere can thank Julia Roberts for the spike in sales back in ol’ 1989.
2. Pretty Woman (1990)
Cue that 1964 Roy Orbison tune “Pretty Woman.” Then add in a playful poster with scantily-clad Julia Roberts and suit-clad Richard Gere, and we’re in business. Some might say this movie’s theme song and promo poster are more popular than the actual movie, but that’s not giving the cast, director, cinematographer, etc., their due credit. Pretty Woman is simply a great slice of entertainment where all the ingredients make for one delicious little treat. Importantly, it’s a perfect vehicle for Julia Roberts to showcase her “rom-com” talent, a film genre she’d become known for later in her career. This is where it all started. Naughty, seedy, and risqué? Not Julia Roberts. This lady of the night made us absolutely love her, understand her, and root for her. No wonder Richard Gere fell head over heels.
3. My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
After a huge string of hits in the early 1990s, Julia Roberts had a few movies that were less popular with fans, as is the case with every actor at some point. But then enter My Best Friend’s Wedding, a hilarious rom-com sometimes cited as Julia’s “comeback hit.” It’s easy to see why. We love a slightly devilish Julia, whose character is trying to break up her best friend’s wedding, right? After all, a stellar actor makes its audiences want to experience and understand everything about them, even the imperfect parts. Jealous friends have feelings, too, of course (or at least that’s what we imagine her endearingly devious character rationalizing). But can this friend course-correct before those important nuptials? Julia’s “devil in a lavender dress” (as opposed to the popular “devil in a blue dress”) is definitely worth seeing. Be prepared to laugh, cringe, then repeat.
4. Erin Brockovich (2000)
This film gave Julia her Oscar. Directed by uber talented Steven Soderbergh, here Julia inhabits a serious role. Better still, this is a biopic of a still-living person. Gulp. The pressure was on, and Julia was up for it. She plays a divorced single mom strapped with medical bills and no job. Who would guess then that her new small-in-stature job at a local law office would become the successful humanitarian mission of her life? Inspirational. Julia co-stars with legendary British actor Albert Finney, which we’re guessing was a huge highlight for Julia as Albert Finney once starred with Julia’s all-time favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn, in 1967’s Two For The Road. Old Hollywood meets New Hollywood in Erin Brockovich. This film is sobering, delicate, and powerful. And Julia’s performance is strong, compassionate, and no-nonsense.
5. Eat Pray Love (2010)
What’s not to love about Julia Roberts strolling around Italy, India, and Bali? We love a forty-something Julia who’s more mature, introspective, and still beyond beautiful. She shows us this through her intriguing character of Liz Gilbert. Eat Pray Love takes us on the spiritual journey of a lifetime, leaving us all pleasantly disheveled by the end. And Julia is the perfect tour guide. We watch her eat scrumptious pasta, try to “let it be” and meditate, and then fall in love with a caring man amid a garden of pink tropical flowers. Some might say this movie lacks flash, and has potential left unearthed, but there’s still a welcome bravery to Eat Pray Love. Couple that with Julia’s ability to bring depth and conviction to every role she plays, and this movie is a poetic breath that ultimately asks its audiences to connect the dots for themselves. It proves to be one of Julia’s most convincing and fine performances.
6. Wonder (2017)
No specific spoilers here, but as a general recommendation, bring tissues for this one. Julia Roberts plays mom to a boy with genetic facial deformities. Told in a modern, clever, and compelling way, this movie unfolds beautifully and is thoroughly touching. Similar to Steel Magnolias, the actors could’ve easily rested on the film’s premise to carry the acting load and build sympathy, but no. All of the actors, including Julia, shine. No resting on situational laurels. The result is a finely crafted dramedy (part drama/part comedy) that has audiences laughing through its tears. For Julia, we get to see her continuous bravery in character choices. She’s never shied away from tough roles, instead tackling them, and thus expanding our humanity and capacity for love. In Wonder, Julia manages, once again, to miraculously spin straw into gold. Thank you, Julia Roberts, for being really and truly a magical superstar.
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I'm a published poet, travel writer, and "vintage" pop culture blogger. I love movies, and especially those dusty old classics. I "heart" the rich history of film.