While Sandra Bullock is more lauded in her present career than her early one, many of her roles at the initial stage of her acting repertoire were more enjoyable to watch. Sure, she’s got Academy Award winning films like The Blind Side and Gravity, but none of those can hold a candle to films like Love Potion No. 9 or While You Were Sleeping. And so, without further pomp, here are Bullock’s best early works (meaning up to 2000–which is kind of a shame because Murder by Numbers is the shit) that far surpass, say, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
Love Potion No. 9: Released in 1992, the one year Julia Roberts didn’t have a movie out, Sandra Bullock was given her first real chance to own a lead role. The premise of the film follows Diane Farrow (Bullock) and Paul Matthews (Tate Donovan), two biochemists who are rather unlucky in love. Paul’s infatuation with Diane leads him to let his friends take him to a palm reader (made all the better by Anne Bancroft’s role as said palm reader). Seeing that he’s a hopeless case, she gives him Love Potion No. 8, which attracts anyone near him of the opposite sex (try to ignore the homophobic overtones). Diane agrees to partake in an experiment to see how much their love lives improve by using it, though, naturally, they discover that they’ve been in love with each other the whole time.
Speed: Obviously among her most iconic films, Speed succeeded in making public transportation seem like the worst idea ever. Playing Annie Porter, an innocent bus passenger who must take helm of the wheel after the bus driver is accidentally shot, Bullock shares a strong chemistry with Keanu Reeves, who plays Jack Traven a SWAT officer for the LAPD who has been tracking the bombing patterns of a crazed man named Howard Payne.
While You Were Sleeping: Bullock was never averse to cheesiness in the 90s. And so, While You Were Sleeping with Bill Pullman (one of the least believable love interests of the decade) was made. Again, Bullock chooses to favor plots with a fair amount of implausibility. And this one’s in no short supply. The fact that amnesia is at play should give you some indication.
The Net: The height of modernity at the time (1995), The Net is an interesting and prophetic glimpse into the danger of computer technology. Playing an isolated systems analyst named Angela Bennett, Bullock must fight to reclaim the identity that was erased by an extreme group of cyberterrorists. It all must have seemed so futuristic and disturbing at the time. Though, now, it just feels natural.
Hope Floats: 1998 seemed to be the year the would foreshadow Bullock’s ultimate foray into the Hollywood A-list, meaning “I only do serious movies.” So confident in its critical success, Bullock even produced the movie, directed by Forest Whitaker. After appearing on a talk show, Birdee Pruitt (Bullock) is humiliated to find that she’s been summoned to the show not for a makeover like she thought, but to learn that her best friend (played by the always subtly trashy Rosanna Arquette) has been having an affair with her husband. The news sends Birdee’s life into a tailspin, and forces her to uproot her daughter, Bernice (Mae Whitman, who you may recognize as Ann “Her?” Veal on Arrested Development), back to her hometown of Smithville, Texas. With Gena Rowlands as her mother and Harry Connick Jr. as her persistent suitor, Hope Floats is easily one of the best Bullock movies.
Practical Magic: Signaling the advent of witches being a chic topic of pop culture, Practical Magic was one of the pioneering narratives for subsequent programming and films in the 00s. Directed by Griffin Dunne (who acted in such 80s gems as After Hours and Who’s That Girl), Practical Magic tells the story of two sister witches with extremely different personalities. In spite of a curse put on their family centuries ago by one of their ancestors that dooms them in love, Sally (Bullock) Owens can’t help but want a lasting relationship. Her sister, Gillian (Nicole Kidman), on the other hand, takes a more devil may care approach to love. This ultimately leads Sally to have to help her get rid of one of the bodies of Gillian’s insane lovers. But that’s what sisters do, right?
28 Days: Easily among her most underrated movies, Bullock plays an alcoholic named Gwen who is sent to a rehab facility after crashing a limo she stole from her sister’s wedding reception to replace the wedding cake she knocked over while drunk. Initially averse to the idea of treatment, Gwen gradually realizes she does, indeed, have a problem. But Dominic West and Viggo Mortenson are also in the mix to entertain her, so it’s all really fine.
Miss Congeniality: So here we are, at the end of 2000. Miss Congeniality came out on December 22nd, and may have been the last truly great classic we see from her with a comedic slant. She came close with The Heat (which, like Miss Congeniality will also have a sequel–though hopefully one that’s not as bad). Dowdy FBI agent Grace Hart (Bullock) is the only choice for an undercover operation in a beauty pageant. She soon becomes beauty pageant coach Victor Melling’s (Michael Caine) worst nightmare, though he ultimately pulls her together in time for the show. The moments leading up to this are quintessential Bullock comedic gold.
Alas, now that Bullock’s all Oscar-winning and shit, things will never be the same. But we’ll always have these kitsch-laden go-tos to keep us warm at night and to cleanse us of the Gravity experience.