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5 Breakout 90s Movies: Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow is an Academy Award-winning actor who has been in the business for more than 25 years, gaining attention for her stunning, classic beauty and her defining, empowering female roles. Comfortable in a comedy as much as a drama, she is a worldwide star who has influenced many while continuing to make waves as a movie star and more. But like everyone, she had to start somewhere. Here are 5 breakout roles from the 90s that helped make her a household name.

Se7en (1995)

Gwyneth Paltrow
Se7en, 1995 ©New Line Cinema
DIRECTOR: David Fincher    STARS: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman

When a serial killer uses the seven deadly sins as motive for a murder spree, it’s up to experienced homicide detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and his newest partner, a young hot-tempered rebel named David Mills (Brad Pitt), freshly transferred to the precinct to try and stop him. Following the disturbing clues, they meet John Doe (Kevin Spacey), a man on mission who has some changes in mind to his grand plan when he encounters Mills. A dark, gruesome, and always entertaining bit of madness from Fincher, this shocking film earned high critical acclaim for its direction and story while propelling its actors to superstardom. Paltrow has a supporting role as Mills’ young wife Tracy, who becomes a kind of psychological target Doe uses against Mills, confessing his jealousy of the detective’s happy life and marriage to a beautiful woman. A small part for Paltrow, it nonetheless is highly impactful due entirely to her fate, one that is crucial to the disturbing end that will effect all three men. What’s in the box? Yeah. You know.

Great Expectations (1998)

Gwyneth Paltrow
Great Expectations, 1998 ©20th Century Fox
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón     STARS: Ethan Hawke, Robert De Niro

Based on the classic Charles Dickens‘ novel of the same name, it follows a young boy who meets two very different yet life-changing people. The first is an escaped criminal (Robert De Niro) he encounters on a beach as a boy who will have great influence on him later in life. The second is a lovely young girl, the niece of an eccentric, heartbroken woman who lives is isolation after being left at the alter. The girl doesn’t much like him but admires his drawing skills. Flash forward years later. The boy, now a young man (Ethan Hawke) has a strange new life as a unseen benefactor has given him the chance at artistic fame in New York City. To his surprise, he meets the girl again, now a ravishing young woman (Paltrow), with whom he starts a non-reciprocated love relationship, despite a night of passionate sex. An intriguing film that met with mixed reviews, it has aged well and Paltrow stands out in a defining performance that is melancholy and yearning. Not for everyone, this is a curious experience that despite its flaws is well-worth giving a watch. And that green one-button peek-a-boo blouse. Nice.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Gwyneth Paltrow
The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999 ©Paramount Pictures
DIRECTOR: Anthony Minghella     STARS: Matt Damon, Jude Law

Set in the 1950s, a young man named Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is struggling to make a living. When he is approached at a cocktail party by a man who thinks he might know his son, he is offered a large sum to go to Europe and bring his boy back. Of course, he’s never met the man his looking for and never attended the same school as the father believes. Even still, he heads off and once there, finds it’s easy to lie and assume a different identity. This escalates when he meets Dickie (Jude Law), the man he’s meant to bring home, but instead enjoys the lavish lifestyle he and his girlfriend Marge (Paltrow) enjoy, not to mention his own sexual obsession with the man, making a fateful decision that has horrific consequences. Paltrow is exquisite as Marge, an intelligent woman who is lulled by Ripley at first but comes to suspect the worst in him later. It’s an inspired performance, one that harkens back to the Golden Age of classic beauties in melodramatic roles.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Gwyneth Paltrow
Shakespeare in Love, 1998 ©Miramax Films
DIRECTOR: John Madden     STARS: Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush

Despite the controversy over it’s Best Picture win, this cleverly written and well-performed film is lot of fun to watch, telling the fictionalized story of a young Shakespeare who has run out of ideas as he struggles with his new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. One of the players he auditions for the play is a young man named Thomas Kent, whom he thinks is a good fit but runs aways before he can be cast. William pursues him to a stately home where, after sneaking in for a party to celebrate the betrothal of Viola de Lesseps (Paltrow), he dances with the lovely bride to be and becomes smitten beyond words. Of course, she too falls for the playwright and it’s not long before he learns the she and Kent are the same person. They begin a torrid affair and she inspires him to create one of the most beloved plays in all of literature. Paltrow gives what many might say is her finest performance, winning an Academy Award and earning legions of fans for her stirring work. Sure, Saving Private Ryan should have won that year, but that aside, this is great entertainment and Paltrow simply shines.

Flesh and Bone (1993)

Gwyneth Paltrow
Flesh and Bone, 1993 ©Paramount Pictures
DIRECTOR: Steve Kloves     STARS: Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan

A young boy, who seems lost, is taken in by a farming family in a nice home, but pay the price when the boy in turn lets his real father enter in the night and rob the home, and when caught, murder the entire family, save for a baby girl. Damaged by the experience, the boy, now a man named Arlis (Dennis Quaid), lives an isolated life, traveling the backroads and trucks stop along the midwest. Along his travels he meets a woman (Meg Ryan) with her own demons and the two find compatibilty in the wake of her failed marriage. Meanwhile, Arlis’ father Roy (James Caan) travels with a far younger woman (Paltrow), a cynical, street savvy hard-as-nail grifter with a sour disposition. When the four collide and deeper truths are revealed, secrets can no longer hide and the haunts of their pasts bring dire consequences. What is cited as Paltrow’s first major movie role (she has bit parts in a few films prior, including Steven Spielberg‘s Hook), she is a smoldering star in the making in a role that is undeniably one of her best, though probably not seen by most. Lithe, wickedly sharp, sexy, and compelling with every word, this big screen debut is her real breakout role. Make sure you see it.