Julia Roberts was in her prime during the 90s - until suddenly, out of nowhere, the A-list actress was no longer starring on the big screen. And it didn't take long before whispers and rumors began to follow…
With back-to-back rom-com appearances and a notorious smile, for many years, Julia Roberts was dubbed "America's sweetheart." She was the it-girl. But suddenly, that all came to a hard stop.
From the early 1990's all the way to the 2000s, the actress was the lead star in some of the decade's biggest films. From Pretty Woman to Notting Hill and My Best Friends Wedding, Roberts was at the top of her game. In 2001 she even received her very first Oscar award.
Making a Comeback
But sadly, it looked like her time in the spotlight was short-lived because Roberts eventually stopped appearing in Hollywood films. Fans were sad and confused as to why one of the biggest stars in the industry was no longer the top female lead in romantic comedies.
It's only in more recent years that her fans have finally spotted her in a few movies here and there. In 2022, the 54-year-old actress accepted not one but two roles! Roberts was joined by Sean Penn in the political drama Gaslit. And she even filmed a rom-com, Ticket to Paradise, with another 90's star, George Clooney.
The Reviews Are In
Before this year, Roberts had only made one comeback into the world of romantic comedies. In 2016 she was featured in the star-studded film Mother's Day. It was even directed by no other than Garry Marshall, a.k.a. the same man who gave us Pretty Woman.
Despite the queen of chick flicks being in the movie alongside many other iconic stars, the movie seemingly flopped. Fans and critics were harsh about their reviews, and Rotten Tomatoes even gave them a low approval score of 8%! How could this have happened?
"Worst Ensemble Comedies"
Apparently, critics were not big fans of the large ensemble cast, which included Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Jason Sudeikis, and more. The entertainment website IndieWire described Mother's Day as "one of the worst ensemble comedies ever made." Ouch…
But beyond that, they also thought Robert's performance wasn't one of her best. The same website referred to her part as having a "'We all know that I owe Garry Marshall my star-making role' quality to it." Perhaps that's why it took the actress 6 years to finally reappear in a new film.
The Cost of Fame
Luckily for Roberts, the judgemental reviews did not stop her from getting her big paycheck. The Hollywood bombshell was given a whopping $3 million dollars for her appearance in the movie. And that was after only for 4 days of being on set. We guess it pays to be such an infamous person in the industry.
But still, fans were skeptical that the star with the million-dollar smile could potentially ever fully regain the fame and success she had back in the 1990s. Variety magazine even went as far as to write that her role was “a reminder that Roberts’ days as an A-list star who could carry a movie on her own could be over.”
From the Big Screen to the Small Screen
This all came a few years after Roberts was praised for her other performances in the 2010s. She appeared on August: Osage Country back in 2013 and then again was on the big screen for The Normal Heart a year later. But it wasn't until 2018 that she made headlines once again.
This time around, she was on a TV show, something out of the ordinary for the star. But her performance as a shrink on Homecoming was admired by many. Yet still, some were critical, with The Guardian saying, "Here she was, late to the party, making her television debut half a decade after every other big-name star in Hollywood."
Thankfully, not all media outlets were harsh about her debut on the small screen. In fact, others weren't surprised that Roberts could give such powerful acting. The website Vox wrote, "Roberts's performance intensifies as her character's confusion grows, crescendoing to a fever pitch..."
"And a sublime visual trick — that will induce gasps even if you can see it coming. It's a reminder of why she's one of the last real movie stars in an entertainment landscape where that label has become increasingly rare." Wow, talk about a compliment!
Reflecting on Her Hiatus
After this success, fans hadn't seen Roberts star in... anything. It had been four entire years with many people wondering whether she had quit - or maybe she just wasn't landing any roles? The questions increased - until, one day, Roberts sat down to address her hiatus herself.
"It wasn't by design so much as not finding something that I was interested in. I was surprised how quickly the years seemed to go by," she opened up to The New York Times in 2022. We guess the scripts being passed around Hollywood haven't been good to her standards in many years...
Growing Up in the Spotlight
Despite her explanation, many still pondered whether it was the actress's age that led to her downfall in Hollywood. Unfortunately, women over 50 tend to be cast less than their male counterparts. There have even been studies surrounding it. In 2020, the Geena Davis Institute published one on Gender in Media.
Together with the brand TENA, they discovered that women over 50 aren't represented in the industry enough. Their research found that, "Older adults are stereotyped as mentally feeble or senile, inflexible in thought and manner, and old-fashioned in morality and skills."
Ageism In Hollywood
Ageism isn't something new in the world of the glitz of glam. Many other stars have actually opened up with their experience and the discrimination allegedly received. In 2017, Jessica Lange opened up to AARP magazine about her encounters with being an older woman in acting.
"You don't often see women in their 60s playing romantic leads, yet you will see men in their 60s playing romantic leads with co-stars who are decades younger." This was true for Roberts, who was 18 years younger than her Pretty Woman co-lead Richard Gere. Although Roberts doesn't seem to think Lange is right…
While she was way younger than the actor who played her beau in the film, and despite not landing many roles in her 50s, Roberts is a firm believer that ageism doesn't exist on sets or in casting rooms. During an interview with I News in 2018, she explained why.
"I don't think anybody buys into that. I don't think I am special. I've always been fortunate that I have found the work I am looking for. I mean, 30 years is a long time - and I am grateful and satisfied," she confessed. But maybe her earlier success in life was beneficial in her case... we can't know for sure.
Roberts's acting career isn't the only thing she is thankful for. She also has three kids whom she holds near and dear to her heart. She and her cinematographer husband, Danny Moder, share twins Finn and Hazel and another younger child, Henry. In 2017 she told InStyle magazine how much love she has for them.
“There’s no way to describe it without sounding sappy or ridiculous because everything in my mind ends with an exclamation point. And the thing is, we have these three human beings who are just a complete reflection of the affection we have for each other,” Roberts confessed.
New Life, New City
Spending time as a mother made Roberts realize that she didn't want her little ones (who are now all teenagers) to be surrounded by the world of fame. So she and her family picked up and moved to a nice area in San Francisco. While it may be close to the city of angels, it is quite a different atmosphere.
And that's exactly what the star wanted when she bought her massive mansion in the Bay Area back in 2020. According to a source from Closer magazine, an anonymous friend revealed that Roberts wanted her children "to have the experience of a city with a different energy and vibe."
Changing It Up
Luckily the decision to get away from Los Angeles was reciprocated by Roberts's husband. The alleged source also shared that Moder had "also grown tired of Hollywood." Sounds like it was a great move for the family of 5 - especially because their new city had everything they wanted.
"There's a new scene for them to explore, and although they're both working less, it's still less than an hour's flight to LA," added the source. We're going to assume this major life change may be another reason why Roberts hasn't been on the big screen for some time now.
Family vs. Business
In fact, Roberts almost turned down a film because of her attachment to her family. In her 2022 New York Times piece, she confessed, “I almost didn’t do August: Osage County because they were going to start filming right as our youngest son was starting kindergarten. And I was like, ‘How could I miss this?’”
When asked hows she decides what to film “from a business perspective rather than a family perspective,” Roberts answered, “I’ve never put the work in a place of, ‘Doing this part, what will people think?’ I read it. I want it or I don’t want it. That’s how I’ve made my decisions for 50 or whatever movies.”
Like Riding a Bicycle
Yet when she's back on set, Roberts feels like she never left. Especially when filming for her latest romantic comedy, Ticket to Paradise. The actress was asked how she felt about it, "Was it easy to stretch the rom-com muscles again?" To which she replied, "The good news is yes. I love to laugh and be funny."
“You get into that mode of those endorphins going off when you’re clever and people going, ‘Oh!’” the star continued. “Then that becomes this automatic thing, where you’re always thinking in terms of creating fun. It’s a joy to play in that sandbox. It has been a long time.”
Obviously, with the topic of smiling and laughing on the table, Roberts's notorious smile came up during the interview. Arguably anyone who knows the A-lister can recognize that lip and smile combo from a mile away - especially because she can't really help it!
Roberts was asked if she could beam "without any self-consciousness." She replied, "If something's funny, I'm going to laugh. If something's not funny, nothing's going to make me laugh. I would probably get a lot further in my career if I had more control over those things."
A Simple Explanation
For years she laughed her way through movie after movie. It was a big aspect of her success, especially since Roberts was the lead of hit rom-coms, which obviously include comedic scenes. So why did the star who adores having fun ever stop being in these fun movies?
There have been many assumptions made by fans, like the fact that she became a mother, moved away from Hollywood, or possibly it was her age that led to her career halting. But at the end of the day, Roberts just found herself simply being interested in any of the offers she was given.
Match Made in Heaven
“People sometimes misconstrue the amount of time that’s gone by that I haven’t done a romantic comedy as my not wanting to do one,” Roberts explained. “If I had read something that I thought was that Notting Hill level of writing or My Best Friend’s Wedding level of madcap fun, I would do it.”
So what was it about the script of Ticket to Paradise that made her accept? Her co-star. Roberts confessed, “But even with that, I thought, ‘Well, disaster,’ because this only works if it’s George Clooney. Lo and behold, George felt it only worked with me. Somehow we were both able to do it, and off we went.”
A Dying Genre
Just like us, fans were in disbelief to hear that there wasn't at least one good movie idea after all these years. But perhaps Roberts might have been onto something because she wasn't the only one who believed the genre has diminished in its greatness…
Director Nancy Meyers has long been an icon in the industry. She and Roberts even co-wrote 1994's I Love Trouble. Meyer's admitted to Vulture in 2020, "Once superhero movies really became the only movie studios cared about, the experience of making a movie like mine changed." Meyers also added she's done making movies.
The Ugly Truth
How could a once such beloved movie genre, all of a sudden, be gone? Even today, many fans long for the 90s or early 2000s films that made us all swoon while also having a laugh! Some speculate that those in the industry who made rom-coms what they were are simply too old now.
Fellow icon in the genre, Hugh Grant, who played alongside Roberts in Notting Hill, told The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in 2020, "I think it's just that I got old and ugly, and I'm not appropriate for romantic comedy films anymore, which has been a great blessing."
“I Love To Be in Them”
Roberts has also spoken about her feelings on the genre. In 2018 she confessed to Entertainment Tonight, “There came a point in my career where people thought I had turned on romantic comedies, which I love. I love to be in them, I love to watch them.”
She continued, "But sometimes, they just don't work at a certain point of life experience. It's not about age, it's just about what people know that you know." That didn't mean she was totally against them - she actually said she was willing to play "the parents of the people that are rom-com-ing."
The Adventures Continue
It seems she spoke the truth into existence because Roberts's character on Ticket to Paradise is a mother! Based on reports from Variety, the Ol Parker-directed film "follows two divorced parents who rush to Bali to stop their teenage daughter from rushing into an unwise marriage, like their own."
The highly anticipated movie is set to be released later this year, so no one knows yet whether or not it will be beloved or loathed by critics and fans. Either way, it looks like in the upcoming years, more rom-coms will be made - at least if Roberts has any say...
The Return Is Near
Earlier in 2022, there was an article published in Parade magazine that discussed the idea that the adored genre may actually be okay. The hilarious romantic films aren't doing as badly as people may have assumed. According to the experts, the hiatus in the industry may finally be coming to an end.
Scott Meslow, the writer of From Hollywood With Love: The Rise and Fall (And Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy, revealed to the magazine, “Over the past decade or so, the studios really were making fewer romantic comedies - but the genre seems to be on the rise again at the studio level.”
A "Sure Bet"
Other members who are high up in Hollywood have also added their own beliefs on what they think will happen to the once-extremely-popular movie genre. Even a few film reviewers have shared their opinion, including Los Angeles Times film critic Kimber Myers.
She explained, "The legacy studios are definitely making fewer romantic comedies than they were 20-30 years ago during the genre's modern heyday. And that's largely because they stopped being such a sure bet at the box office." We've got a feeling Roberts was one of those sure bets who sold out films.
Luckily as Gen-Z continues to grow, the demand for these hilarious films is back on the rise. Many older rom-coms have been remade - like She's All That's reboot, He's All That, starring TikTok star Addison Rae. Movie creators are hopeful to see the admiration for these projects return.
"The fact that these movies are doing so well with Gen-Z gives me hope for the future of the genre," Meyers opened up. "Though I don't know if it will translate to the big screen, since younger audiences' viewing habits are different than previous generations," she said, referring to Netflix and other streaming platforms.
Hopefully, the return of the romantic comedies will boost Roberts's career again to what it once was. But of course, only if they are able to reach her definition of greatness. Because, after all, she is no rookie, and she won't settle for less than she deserves.
Especially since she has other priorities now. She told The New York Times, “Here’s the thing: if I’d thought something was good enough, I would have done it. But I also had three kids in the last 18 years. That raises the bar even more, because then it’s not only, ‘Is this material good?’”
A Lot To Juggle
Ever since the actress had her three children, she has had a hard time accepting roles. Leaving them for a long period of time while she filmed on set wasn't easy for the mother. During the height of her success, she was able to go wherever and whenever.
But as Roberts got older, her life changed - and her priorities. She never intended to completely remove herself from Hollywood and from starring in hit movies, it was just how things panned out. She never saw a movie worth leaving her youngsters for. So we're sure her future films will be worth the wait...
Best Of Both Worlds
Nevertheless, there have been instances where she inevitably had to say yes to opportunities, but that didn't make it any easier. Roberts opened up, "I do have a sense of responsibility for showing my children that I can be creative and that it's meaningful to me…"
"…so meaningful that for periods of time, I will choose to focus on that almost more than my family, which has been hard for me to come to terms with." At the end of the day, though, the actress gets to go home to her loving family while also giving us quality films.
Only Up From Here
It seems like things for Roberts are up in the air. We guess we'll have to wait and see what else she has in store for us. In the meantime, we'll be binge-watching her rom-com classics until the new ones hit our screens. And just like us, Robert is excited to see what the future holds.
She's even confessed herself, "I'm living my acting dreams," when speaking about filming her new movie with George Clooney. But if we had a say in it, we'd say the A-list actress has been living a dream for a few decades now. Either way, we can't wait to see what comes next!