Every decade seems to be defined by one particular actress who taught us about life and love. Whether it was Meg Ryan keeping up her correspondence with an unsuspecting Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts shutting down rude saleswomen, we all learned a lesson or two from America’s sweethearts . We couldn’t help but make a list of our most iconic roles and what we took away from their performances.
#1 Audrey Hepburn
Back in the day, Audrey Hepburn was America’s sweetheart. Arguably, she still holds that title in the hearts of many, especially those who grew up watching her onscreen. While there are dozens of roles we can choose, her legendary performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s taught us several lessons.
For example, we’ve often heard the phrase “money doesn’t buy happiness,” and this movie just proves it. Throughout the film, it’s obvious that she thinks a rich man will keep her happy and protected, but she understands in the end that money doesn’t make the man. She finds love with a modest, humble man who isn’t all about his riches.
#2 Meg Ryan
Oh, Meg. There was a time when you couldn’t turn your head without seeing Meg’s piercing eyes and killer hair gracing a movie poster. Of her work, I can say that I appreciated You’ve Got Mail the most (and not just because I’m an English major). Some of the biggest takeaway lessons from that film were that everyone has multiple levels to who they are and things don’t always work out how you think.
Throughout the film, Ryan and fellow brilliant actor Tom Hanks converse online while rivaling each other in real life. As they battle in the real world, they come to know each other online in a completely different environment. A good thing to take away is that everyone has another side to them, even if they don’t seem like it right off the bat. They both uncover that they’re not the monsters they thought of each other.
We also learned that not all of your dreams or plans will come through. It’s disheartening to understand that, especially as an adult, but it’s an important lesson. It’s okay that things don’t work out sometimes. The most important thing to recognize is that your perseverance will get you through.
#3 Julia Roberts
Who didn’t love Julia Roberts? Heck, who doesn’t love her still?! Her radiant smile and stellar performances always captivated audiences, no matter which character she played. Perhaps her most iconic role was from Pretty Woman, where she plays a woman of the night who meets a wealthy businessman. As you can imagine, the two grow closer over their time together, unleashing tons of vulnerabilities.
One of the best scenes of the movie is when Vivian (Roberts’ character) tries to buy new clothing in a ritzy store, only for the shop girls to completely shun her. She then returns after going on a huge shopping spree. She walks up to the same saleswomen and tells them that they made a huge mistake not helping her, especially since they work on commission.
Throughout the movie, Roberts showed us that you should stand up for yourself. Not only is that a good lesson on its own, but it also reminds others — particularly strangers — that they don’t know you, so who are they to judge? Vivian kept her head high and never let on that sometimes, people cut her deep. She presented herself as a confident person until she later revealed that she did feel the sting of strangers judging her. In the end, that also taught us that it’s okay to be vulnerable and to treat people as we’d want them to treat us.
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#4 Jennifer Lopez
It’s not hard to see that J.Lo is still huge in today’s world. From her awesome performance at the Super Bowl to her most recent role in Hustlers, she’s still prominent in our lives. But, one of her most memorable roles was in a film called Maid in Manhattan. If you’ve never seen it, Lopez plays a single mother who works as a housekeeper in order to provide for her family. She and the other maids eventually start roleplaying in their employer’s extravagant clothing, which winds up convincing a gentleman caller that she’s wealthy.
Romantic entanglement aside, that movie drove home an important lesson. Housekeepers, especially women of color, are often disregarded. Not only are they mistreated at times, they’re sometimes seen as inferior because they “clean the toilets.” Maid in Manhattan showed audiences that housekeepers and maids have stories of their own and are just as hardworking as anyone else. It also reminded everyone that they’re people and should be treated as such, not just a silent sweeper.
#5 Emma Watson
As for the sweetheart of today’s day and age, it’s hard not to think of Emma Watson. She may have annoyed us initially as Hermoine, but she taught us pretty quickly that she was smart, independent, and kind-hearted. Watson’s roles have always been rooted in themes of feminism, which taught wonderful lessons.
Unless you live under a rock, you know that Watson recently donned the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast. For lovers of the classic Disney story, we all knew that Belle wasn’t preoccupied with looks or fake personality traits. She was a down-to-earth girl who occupied her time with helping her father and broadening her knowledge. Even when others insulted her, she brushed it off and kept doing her thing.
Watson kept the character’s main traits alive in her portrayal. It’s ultimately unsurprising that she was selected to play Belle because Watson has long-since been an advocate for feminism. She’s always been the kind of gal we could look to for advice on how to love yourself and be comfortable in your own skin.
America’s sweethearts definitely taught us a bunch of awesome things over the years and we can’t wait to see what future leading ladies bring to the table!