Buzz is already swirling around Reese Witherspoon’s latest film, Wild, an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about solo hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after her mother’s death. While Witherspoon is best known for her bubbly rom-com characters, she’s always brought surprising depth even to her silliest roles, all while flirting rather convincingly with the wild side. Since this new film will see the actress testing the edges of the untamed wildernesses of both the West Coast and her own psyche, it’s time to look back upon the brief history of Reese Witherspoon feature films — and, of course, rank them from least to most wild.
32. Trumpet of the Swan (2001)
This is a movie where Reese Witherspoon is an animated swan. So.
31. Legally Blonde (2001)
The perkiest of the perky Reese Witherspoon movies, a pleasant, weightless fairy-tale about a bubbly sorority girl who goes to Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend, only to discover that she’s a better lawyer than him and that he sucks.
30. Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003)
Like the last one, but in D.C. and with more dogs.
29. Four Christmases (2008)
28. This Means War (2012)
27. Little Nicky (2000)
26. The Man in the Moon (1991)
Welcome to Reese Witherspoon’s film debut, a coming-of-age romance about a 14-year-old girl in a small town who falls in love with an older boy. It’s a bit reminiscent of My Girl, the Macaulay Culkin flick that came out the same year, but ends with tractors instead of bees.
25. Pleasantville (1998)
Reese Witherspoon and her brother (Tobey Maguire) get sucked into an idyllic 1950s sitcom, where she teaches the repressed black-and-white townspeople the concept of sex and makes them burst into color. Or, as the movie unfortunately frames it, makes them “colored.” Booooo.
24. Twilight (1998)
Not that Twilight. A detective story about an aging P.I. (Paul Newman), it briefly features Reese Witherspoon as a runaway whose boyfriend shoots Paul Newman in the crotch.
23. Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
Reese Witherspoon’s most commercially successful film ($180 million!), this was a southern Legally Blonde in reverse: The country girl makes it big in New York City only to decide that she wants to go back to her small-town roots and marry a glassblower.
22. The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)
Even based on a play by Oscar Wilde, it is still not that wild.
21. S.F.W. (2004)
Reese and Stephen Dorff get kidnapped by terrorists who dorkily call themselves SPLT Image (read: split image) and have the edgy, mind-blowing idea to videotape their captives and broadcast it live on TV. Reese is a teenage hostage named Wendy Pfister, but despite her name, neither she nor this movie is exciting.
20. Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
19. How Do You Know (2010)
18. Overnight Delivery (1998)
When Paul Rudd thinks his long-distance girlfriend is cheating on him, he takes a topless picture with a stripper (Reese Witherspoon) and mails it to his girl, because it was the ‘90s and texting was a not a thing yet. Turns out she’s not cheating on him, so he travels across the country to destroy the evidence of what a terrible person he is before she can see it. Romance!
17. Cruel Intentions (1999)
Originally marketed as scandalous teen-sex romp, it’s kind of tame in retrospect. Yeah, there’s some stepsibling flirting and a lesbian kiss, but the basic premise is straight rom-com: A teenage boy (Ryan Phillippe) sets out to seduce a virginal good girl as part of a bet, but Reese Witherspoon is so wonderful that Ryan Phillippe falls in love and jumps in front of a car to save her and dies. In the end Reese gets his Jaguar, though, so it’s okay.
16. Vanity Fair (2004)
15. Walk the Line (2005)
14. The Good Lie (2014)
13. A Far Off Place (1993)
Okay, this one is literally pretty wild. Set on an African game preserve, it stars Reese Witherspoon as the daughter of a gamekeeper who gets murdered by ivory poachers, sending her on a journey across the Kalahari Desert with her Magical Black Friend, a stuck-up kid from New York City, and a dog.
12. Jack the Bear (1993)
Danny DeVito plays a television celebrity whose career collapses after the tragic death of his wife. One of his sons has a romance with Reese Witherspoon; the other one gets kidnapped by neo-Nazi Gary Sinise, who murders their dog and is later murdered by dogs. There are no bears.
11. Just Like Heaven (2005)
10. Rendition (2007)
9. Water for Elephants (2011)
This gets wild points for being a circus romance about a veterinarian (Robert Pattinson), not to mention the finale, where the villain gets killed by a vengeful elephant.
8. Mud (2013)
This hugely underrated film about a rural Arkansas town precedes Matthew McConaughey’s star-making turn in True Detective but is arguably just as good. Reese Witherspoon plays the supremely messy drawer of a human being that McConaughey tragically can’t stop loving.
7. Devil’s Knot (2014)
6. Freeway (1996)
This loose “Little Red Riding Hood” adaptation cast Reese Witherspoon as the illiterate daughter of a prostitute who gets a ride from a serial killer named Bob Wolverton (yes, Bob Wolverton) after her stolen car breaks down on the freeway. She goes to (and escapes from) prison, steals another car — and then Bob murders her grandma. Also, her boyfriend is named Chopper Wood.
5. Best Laid Plans (1999)
Reese Witherspoon conspires to seduce a college friend of her boyfriend, then threatens to tell the police he’s committed statutory rape unless he gives her a bunch of money.
4. Fear (1996)
Remember the batshit domestic-abuse movie where Mark Wahlberg played Reese Witherspoon’s stalker-rapist boyfriend who carves her name into his chest, kills her dog, and takes her family hostage? In the end, she kills Marky Mark with a letter opener shaped like a “peace pipe.”
3. American Psycho (2000)
If you forgot Reese Witherspoon was in American Psycho, don’t feel too bad; she’s basically just a beard for the sociopathy of a man who tries to feed cats into ATMs. This is a pretty unequivocally wild movie, from its ultratense business-card freakouts to its disturbingly elaborate scenes of murder, torture, and cannibalism.
2. Wild (2014)
I mean, you know.
1. Election (1999)
Yes, it’s a movie about a goody two-shoes who wants to be class president, but Tracy Flick is undoubtedly Witherspoon’s wildest role. Is there anything so terrifying as the ferocious spark in the eye of the straitlaced acolyte, the religious convert, the young Republican who believes with all her heart that she is destined for glory, like the instrument of a righteous and infallible god? The people around them will always be naught but stepping stones on the path to their great, golden trophy of perfection, and they will always be climbing. Fear them.