Hollywood filmmakers and casting agents have arguably the most powerful positions in the entertainment industry, since they have the unique ability to make or break a career. While portraying villains onscreen can be extremely satisfying for an actress, nothing is more fulfilling than having the love of the public.
While there are a number of actresses that have tried their hand at acting through various television and film roles, there aren’t many that can be considered to be beloved by all. Yet being considered America’s sweetheart isn’t just about having the love of the people. Since Hollywood takes its cues from the opinion of the public, the actresses chosen for specific roles are based on whether or not the world actually wants to see them onscreen.
Just as the journey to achieve the status of an American sweetheart on film is an arduous one, so is the ability to maintain it. As always, public opinion is a fickle thing that can quickly turn against an actress. From issues in their personal lives to mistakes in their film role choices, there are only a handful of actresses that can still truly be thought of as one of America’s sweethearts on the silver screen.
For those that have had the pleasure of being in the public’s good graces, there have, however been some film roles that have changed public perception. Whether it was for better or worse, check out our list of the 20 most shocking film moments by America’s sweetheart actresses on the big screen.
20. Jennifer Lawrence In Silver Linings Playbook
Before Silver Linings Playbook gained eight Academy Award nominations and became a huge box office success, it was just a small movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s difficult to categorize the film into one specific genre, since there are so many underlying themes throughout the film. From the father and son relationship between Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro to the mental health issues from Cooper’s bipolar character, the film even has an underdog storyline behind all the romance. Jennifer Lawrence had already gained a large fan base for her role on The Bill Engvall Show and Winter’s Bone, as well as clips circulating online that made her even more endearing. Her performance in Silver Linings Playbook was more of the same, in that it sealed the deal in capturing America’s heart. It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Lawrence wound up taking home the Academy Award for Best Actress, but the dance scene in the film was plenty surprising enough. Without enough time to practice the “big move,” the end dance resulted in Cooper’s face pressed up against Lawrence’s crotch in a shocking cringe-worthy moment of the film.
19. Mila Kunis In Friends With Benefits
When Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis were cast together in Friends With Benefits, both were rising stars that were at the peak of their popularity. Kunis had been previously known for her role on That 70’s Show, and hadn’t yet shed the young teenage persona she created on screen. Timberlake had already gained a huge female following as the heartthrob breakout from NSync, but he was still earning his stripes as a film star. So, when the two were paired up in a romantic comedy, the biggest anticipation revolved around the sex scene. The steamy sex scene was definitely shocking in itself, since it was the biggest catalyst in shedding away the little girl image of America’s sweetheart, Jackie Burkhart. Yet the most shocking moments came after reports that Kunis actually fell asleep during some of the love scenes with Timberlake. Kunis addressed this rumor by saying, “Apparently, I closed my eyes for a solid 20 minutes. Nice little power nap. Next thing I know, I wake up at ‘CUT,’ and the scene is over.”
18. Dakota Johnson In 50 Shades Of Grey
As the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, Dakota Johnson started her life as one of the privileged few in Hollywood. Just as her mother stepped out on stage as Miss Golden Globe 1975, Johnson was presented on stage in 2006. This annual title has become similar to a debutante coming out for the first time, with the world holding them in a particular esteem. As the granddaughter of Tippi Hedren and daughter to Melanie Griffith, Dakota Johnson already seemed like American film royalty before she was even seen on screen. When Hollywood was in search of the actress to play Anastasia Steele in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, there was a bit of controversy over Dakota Johnson in the role. Reports came out that Griffith was against her daughter playing in this highly sexual role, and there was even a heated exchange on the red carpet between mother and daughter about her refusal to watch the film. Yet no one could blame a mother for not wanting to watch their daughter being chained, whipped, and degraded onscreen – it was shocking enough for viewers who weren’t related to her.
17. Meg Ryan In When Harry Met Sally
Prior to Meg Ryan starring in When Harry Met Sally, she had already starred in the blockbuster hit Top Gun. Yet none of her scenes in Top Gun ever amounted to half the infamy as Ryan’s scene in a New York diner. Released in 1989, Meg Ryan’s scene where she simulates an orgasm while sitting across from Billy Crystal in the middle of a restaurant continues as one of her most memorable scenes in film. The exact booth where the scene was filmed in Katz’s Delicatessen has a sign overhead that reads, “Where Harry Met Sally… Hope you have what she had! Enjoy!” It was a shocking move on behalf of Sally in the film, but it actually made her character more endearing to fans. What was once a shocking scene that divulged a little too much about the elusive female orgasm soon became an iconic moment in film that many seek to recreate.
16. Selena Gomez In Spring Breakers
When Selena Gomez was cast in the controversial film, Spring Breakers, fans worried what was happening to this baby-faced Disney star. Often compared to the equally controversial film, Kids, Spring Breakers was more than just a film about a group of girls partying while on break from school. Instead, the film is filled with drugs, sex, guns, and all sorts of depravity. The parts including Selena Gomez weren’t just shocking to viewers, but also to her costar Ashley Benson. In a 2014 interview with Complex magazine, Benson stated, “But I remember looking over to the floor at these two girls rolling around and making out completely naked. At that moment, I literally closed Selena’s eyes. I felt like I had to mother her.” The fact that even her costar felt that certain scenes in the film were too shocking for this tender-aged former Disney beauty, shows how far Gomez was willing to go to shed her good girl image.
15. Vanessa Hudgens In Spring Breakers
As another budding film hopeful stemming from the Disney channel, Vanessa Hudgens already had the chips stacked against her when she started her acting career on the big screen. The public had already become weary of former Disney stars, since so many have gone into a downward spiral after hitting their peak. When Hudgens was cast alongside her former Disney costar in the film, Spring Breakers, she wasn’t the main star or even the actress that was most anticipated to be seen onscreen. Yet, she was the only one that could be truly remembered at the end of the film. She shocked viewers with her character portrayal of Candy, from the partying to the cocaine use. Yet, she also shocked filmmakers with her stellar performance. In January 2016, Hudgens was given the role of Rizzo in the television production of Grease: Live. Delivering a performance worthy of gaining the respect of everyone in Hollywood, Hudgens was praised as a true professional after performing live the day after the death of her father.
14. Jennifer Aniston In Cake
When Jennifer Aniston was first introduced to audiences through her role on the hit sitcom, Friends, she quickly became everyone’s favorite best friend. The world all ran out to copy the “Rachel” hairstyle, and she even married one of the hottest men in Hollywood, Brad Pitt. While other actresses found it difficult to transition into film, Aniston seemed to thrive on the silver screen in various romantic comedy roles. While it was shocking to fans when she appeared topless in the film, The Good Girl, the true shocker came in the 2014 film, Cake. Aniston played the role of Claire Simmons, a woman that was suffering from chronic pain, and had to tone down her usually glamorous look. The transformation was shocking in that she looked overweight, wrinkled, and downright ordinary with her no makeup and frazzled hair look. There was speculation that Aniston took on the role to be considered more of a serious actress, and hopefully go on to receive awards and accolades from the Academy. While it did seem to help her gain more respect from her peers, it’s difficult for fans to get that image out of their heads from the former Mrs. Pitt.
13. Tara Reid In Sharknado
After some very public plastic surgery blunders and wardrobe malfunctions on the red carpet, it seemed that Tara Reid’s personal life was overshadowing her professional career as an actress. Many are surprised to learn that Reid had a pretty substantial acting career throughout the years, starring in over 20 roles on the big screen. Yet, it was her role in the American Pie film series that people most remember her for. With characters like Stifler’s Mom and Paul Finch, the film series will live on in infamy as one of America’s comedies likened to blockbuster successes like the National Lampoon films. With the release of the first American Pie film in 1999, Tara Reid was America’s sweetheart that seemed to be going on to bigger and better things. However, her partying ways and snafus on the red carpet proved she would be short-lived in Hollywood. Once thought of as a beautiful and talented actress, Reid shockingly became a bit of a joke in the entertainment industry. Starring alongside other has-been actors in the Sharknado film series, the only thing more surprising than Reid being cast is that the world even still remembers who she is.
12. Nicole Kidman In Eyes Wide Shut
Technically, Nicole Kidman didn’t grow up in the public eye as one of America’s sweethearts, since she is Australian-born. Yet, her marriage to one of America’s hottest film stars pretty much inducted her into this coveted group. Her marriage to Tom Cruise seemed like something out of a fairy tale, and fans couldn’t get enough of seeing them together onscreen or on the red carpet. When news leaked about the couple acting together again for the film, Eyes Wide Shut, fans wondered if it would be at least a little similar to their stellar romance film, Far and Away. Yet once the film was released, people were shocked at not only the premise of the film, but also their acting choices. The sex scene that shows these two A-list Hollywood actors going at it pretty good became the closest thing the world will ever get to seeing a Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman sex tape, and it was super surprising that the couple even agreed to do it.
11. Anne Hathaway In Les Miserables
While there was a time when Anne Hathaway was considered one of America’s sweethearts, she quickly became a cautionary tale of how the public can change their opinion at the drop of a dime. Audiences started to grow weary of her squeaky clean public persona, and were quick to embrace Jennifer Lawrence in her place. When Hathaway was cast as Fantine in the film adaptation of Les Miserables, people wondered whether or not she would be able to capture the intensity and despair of the character. Not only did she excel in her performance, but she shocked fans and critics alike with the way she fully embodied the character. Singing one of the most recognized songs from Les Miserables, Hathaway brought many viewers to tears with her rendition of, “I Dreamed A Dream.” It was surprising that she could sing a Broadway song, much less make fans forget that they actually hated her in real life.
10. Sandra Bullock In The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock has a long history as a professional actress, getting her start in the late ’80s and ’90s. While she starred in some memorable films like Speed and Love Potion No. 9, they weren’t exactly Schindler’s List. Pigeonholed into a number of romantic comedy films that were ripped to shreds by critics, it seemed that Bullock would never truly be considered a serious actress. Yet films like Miss Congeniality and While You Were Sleeping ingratiated her into the hearts of Americans, and made her a Hollywood actress worth rooting for. Bullock’s personal life-shocker came when multiple mistresses revealed themselves as having an affair with her husband, but the real shocker came with her portrayal as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side. As one of the few actors to win both a Golden Raspberry for worst actress and Academy Award for best actress in the same year, nothing shocked the industry more than Bullock’s stellar acting ability that she seemed to be keeping in for the perfect role.
9. Cameron Diaz In The Counselor
When Cameron Diaz was first introduced to audiences as the ultra-hot female counterpart in The Mask, she was mostly thought of as just another hot blonde in Hollywood. It was her performances in such films as There’s Something About Mary and the Charlie’s Angels film series that truly gained her the reputation of being one of America’s sweethearts on the big screen. Unlike other actresses that seemed stuck in a certain type of role, Diaz had the ability to captivate audiences in a wide array of film genres. When she was cast in the 2013 film, The Counselor, her role as a villain wasn’t the part that shocked viewers. It was the Ferrari scene with Javier Bardem that truly had jaws dropping. Diaz isn’t a stranger to rolling around on the hood of a car for a film, but it was the fact that she was having sex with the windshield that made the scene truly unique. In the film, Bardem described it as, “It was like one of those catfish things. One of those bottom feeders, you see, going up the side of the aquarium. Sucking its way up the glass. I mean it was, hallucinatory.”
8. Lily Tomlin In I Heart Huckabees
Long before Julia Roberts ever walked the streets in Pretty Woman, Lily Tomlin was the actress that stole America’s hearts on film. During the ’70s and ’80s, Tomlin had a number of hit films including 9 to 5 with Dolly Parton and Big Business with Bette Midler. Yet, it was her portrayal in I Heart Huckabees that still has the world buzzing about who Tomlin was when the cameras weren’t rolling – or were they? While filming, Tomlin butted heads with director and producer, David O. Russell and cameras were still rolling during a few of their altercations. This has seemed to be a regular occurrence for actors working with O. Russell, and he’s since had difficulties working with various other actors. George Clooney infamously had a fistfight with the director while shooting Three Kings, but it wasn’t caught on tape like Tomlin’s I Heart Huckabees. Tomlin can be seen screaming and cursing, and then David O. Russell can be seen having a full-blown temper tantrum. With the tirade scenes being leaked online, it’s difficult to watch the film without thinking about Tomlin’s crazy persona offscreen.
7. Jessica Biel In Powder Blue
Jessica Biel started off her career in television and endeared herself to fans through the wholesome series 7th Heaven. While she was obviously a striking beauty, there was innocence to her stoic beauty that made her even more likable to fans. Yet the journey to the big screen from television isn’t always smooth sailing, and there are often bumps and detours along the way. Biel had some success in her portrayals in such films as The Illusionist, Total Recall, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but her time in the limelight was short-lived. Nowadays, Biel is known more as just the wife of Justin Timberlake than an actor, and is often thought of as just another “Whatever happened to…” actress. Starring as a stripper in the 2008 film, Powder Blue, Biel just added it to a long list of films that didn’t do much to help her career. Whether she was trying to shed her “good girl” image or just thought acting alongside Ray Liotta would give her some more credibility in Hollywood, the result wasn’t too favorable. Not only was it hardly seen by American audiences, but the stripping scene was almost too shocking to watch.
6. Halle Berry In Monster’s Ball
As one of the most sought-after leading ladies in Hollywood, Halle Berry has seemed to cross all race boundaries set forth in the entertainment industry. From being an African American Bond girl to playing Catwoman onscreen, Berry can’t be pigeonholed in her portrayals on the big screen. While she was topless in Swordfish, it was her nude scene in Monster’s Ball that was the true shocker for viewers. The sex scene between her and Billy Bob Thornton was more like full-on pornography, with audiences wondering what in the world they had just watched. The role earned Berry the Academy Award for Best Actress In A Leading Role, making her the first Black woman to win this coveted award in the leading lady category. Obviously, even the Academy felt that she went all out for the role, and audiences felt the same. While the dramatic parts of the role were undoubtedly key in earning her an Oscar, the shock factor of the graphic nature in the sex scene had to help a little.
5. Julia Roberts In Pretty Woman
Starring in films like Mystic Pizza, Steel Magnolias, and America’s Sweethearts, Julia Roberts can seemingly do no wrong onscreen. While she’s played in a number of films that remained in the romantic comedy genre, she’s acted in a number of roles that have given her respect and legitimacy as an actress. When she was cast in the 1990 film Pretty Woman, it seemed like such a stretch for Roberts to play hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, Vivian Ward. Yet not only did she take the role, but it is arguably her most memorable performance onscreen. As fans reminisced about her Steel Magnolias character, Shelby, Roberts shockingly walked Hollywood Boulevard looking for Johns. Surprisingly, the sex scenes involving Roberts as a prostitute weren’t as raunchy as one would hope for, but it was the street-walking scenes that were raunchy enough. Wearing an ensemble that truly screamed, “Hooker,” Roberts may have shocked die-hard fans, but she also entranced audiences with her most famous prostitute role.
4. Charlize Theron In Monster
Prior to the release of the 2003 film, Monster, Charlize Theron was thought of as the unbelievably beautiful blonde that hailed from South Africa. She had starred in a number of roles onscreen, but hadn’t yet reached the full potential of her acting career. Completely transforming to play the real-life serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, Theron fully embodied the character. Gaining weight for the role, stripping down from her usual glamorous self, and donning artful makeup and hair to mimic Wuornos, Theron’s performance was shocking not just for her transformation but also for her stellar acting skills. Theron wound up taking home the Academy Award for Best Actress and deservedly so. By the end of the film, audiences were left wondering whether or not that truly was Charlize Theron embodying the Wuornos character. Everything from the physical features to the idiosyncrasies of her facial and body movements seemed to tell the story of Wuornos in a way that the public never knew could come from this South African beauty.
3. Reese Witherspoon In Wild
Reese Witherspoon started off her acting career at a young age, and had many fans remembering her as a much younger actress. Films like Jack the Bear and The Man in the Moon solidified Witherspoon as a budding child actress, and her child-like facial features didn’t help the matter. She seemed to grow up in the public eye, and starred in many other films that helped to perpetuate the America’s sweetheart title she earned through the years. From her Southern charm to her ultra likable Legally Blonde character, Witherspoon seemed like the last actress in Hollywood that would fall from grace. Yet her 2014 film, Wild, proved that even she could get down and dirty on the big screen. Not only was the sex scene completely raunchy, but audiences got to see her in her birthday suit. Audiences were shocked to see Witherspoon shoot a nude scene after she worked so hard at building a particular reputation in Hollywood, but many felt that it was done to help legitimize herself as a true actress.
2. Natalie Portman In Black Swan
Natalie Portman was first introduced to audiences as a child actress with the release of her first film, Leon: The Professional. While some actresses run through a string of box office flops as they grow up in front of the cameras, Portman has been involved in some of the hottest films in Hollywood. Starring in hit films like Heat, V for Vendetta, and even the Star Wars franchise films, Portman made some great choices in film throughout her career. Yet another winning film choice by Portman was her portrayal as Nina in the 2010 film, Black Swan. Portman won the Academy Award for Best Actress, but that wasn’t the shocking part since she fully embodied the troubled persona in this psychological thriller. The shock factor came within the film, since there were so many scenes that used sexuality as part of the storyline. From the masturbation scene to the over-the-top sex scene with Mila Kunis, Portman shocked fans with how far she would go for a part.
1. Marisa Tomei In The Wrestler
Marisa Tomei became America’s sweetheart in the ’90s, when she hit the peak of her fame with films like My Cousin Vinny and Untamed Heart. Tomei was even part of the storyline in the sitcom Seinfeld as one of the most beautiful women in the world – thought so by George Costanza himself. Unlike other actresses that reach their peak of fame and get shunned from receiving Hollywood roles, Tomei has had a steady career and numerous acting roles throughout her career. While she’s had continued work, it wasn’t until her role in The Wrestler that she received a newfound notoriety in her career. Starring as an aging stripper, audiences were shocked to not only see Tomei dance in the nude but also see the new roles she was forced to take so late in her career. The film earned her a third nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards, and showed a true vulnerability for this beloved actress.