Sandra Bullock’s top 20 films – ranked!

The unseen menace in Bird Box causes anyone who looks at it to commit suicide, hence the blindfolds that Bullock, as a frantic mother, forces her children to wear. The film itself has been a magnet for eyeballs: as of late 2021, it was Netflix’s most-watched movie, although Trent Reznor, who composed the score with Atticus Ross, accused some of the creative personnel of “phoning it in”.

19. A Time to Kill (1996)

“There’s no place in my court for grandstanding!” booms the judge (Patrick McGoohan) in this cornball John Grisham adaptation. Clearly, he hasn’t seen the hammy performances of his co-stars, among them Kevin Spacey as the attorney prosecuting a father (Samuel L Jackson) for killing the men who raped his daughter. Bullock is a plucky law student assisting Matthew McConaughey, with little more than a library card and a highlighter pen.

18. Who Shot Patakango? (1989)

This shoddy-but-sweet late-1950s coming-of-age drama resembles a very minor Diner. The 24-year-old Bullock has a small role as the Sarah Lawrence student who catches the eye of a rough-and-ready Brooklyn lad when she and her friends recite the EE Cummings poem [Buffalo Bill ’s]. Also includes the screen debut of Allison Janney.

A rehab comedy that’s never quite as funny nor as serious as it needs to be. Bullock is an alcoholic who hits rock bottom after tumbling into her sister’s wedding cake and crashing a limousine. The high-calibre supporting cast includes Steve Buscemi as Bullock’s counsellor, Viggo Mortensen and Marianne Jean-Baptiste as fellow addicts, and Dominic West as her boozy, bad-lot boyfriend.

16. Forces of Nature (1999)

Ben Affleck is en route to be married when his plane crashes during take-off; Bullock is the fellow passenger with whom he teams up to make the journey by road, their attraction to one other throwing his marital plans into turmoil. She may be an unlikely fit as the weed-smoking part-time party animal, but top marks for the attempt at diversifying.

Marc Lawrence (who wrote Forces of Nature and Miss Congeniality) made his directing debut with this mixed-bag romcom about the unlikely relationship between a millionaire property developer (Hugh Grant) and a conscientious lawyer (Bullock). Gross-out low-lights: she gets the runs in a traffic jam, he hobnobs with Donald Trump.

With Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal. Photograph: Warner Bros/Sportsphoto/Allstar

A tyrannical Canadian publishing executive (Bullock) decides to marry her despised PA (Ryan Reynolds) to stay in the US when her visa expires. “Can’t fight a love like ours,” she grimaces, desperately improvising the plan in front of her bosses. Comic inspiration evaporates thereafter, save for the sight of Bullock offering a puppy to an eagle in exchange for her stolen phone.

Time has done funny things to this routine tech-thriller, made back when home internet was still several years away from ubiquity. Now it looks somehow both innocent and prescient. It was correct to warn of the dangers of surrendering personal information – that’s how Bullock’s character, a computer analyst unwittingly caught up in espionage, has her identity stolen – yet still underestimated the damage heading our way.

Bullock received her only Oscar to date for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy, the Christian Republican mum who adopts a hulking, neglected African American teenager, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), and inspires his greatness on the football field in this fact-based white-guilt-fest. The movie is all bludgeoning inspirational uplift, but Bullock’s performance – nuanced, faintly enigmatic and closed-off – hints that Leigh Anne is less at ease than she might appear.

The devilish Barbet Schroeder, director of Maîtresse and Single White Female, was a wise choice for this thriller loosely based on the Leopold and Loeb case (which also inspired Rope, Compulsion and Swoon). Bullock is the cop closing in on cerebral young psychopaths Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt while dealing with demons of her own.

10. The Thing Called Love (1993)

The last film River Phoenix completed before his death in October 1993, Peter Bogdanovich’s drama about aspiring country-and-western singer-songwriters is worth watching mainly for Bullock as the Alabama hopeful Linda Lue. It’s rare for the actor to sing on screen, rarer still for her to perform a number she had a hand in writing. Her song, Heaven Knocked on My Door, isn’t supposed to be much cop. “I took great pleasure in making it as bad as possible,” she said.

Miss Congeniality.
Miss Congeniality. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Bullock’s goofiness was fruitfully exploited in this comedy about an FBI agent going undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. The actor never quite convinces as an ungainly slob; in one scene, she is called upon to secrete doughnuts in her underwear, which is funny partly because there’s barely room in there for a Tic Tac. But she has a gas opposite Michael Caine as the prim fashion consultant ensuring that she scrubs up in time for the speeches about world peace.

8. Demolition Man (1993)

A cop (Sylvester Stallone) and a criminal (Wesley Snipes) cryogenically frozen in the 1990s are defrosted in 2032. In this brave new world, Bullock (a last-minute replacement for Lori Petty) is Lenina Huxley, whose task it is to bring Stallone up to speed with 21st-century developments, including the Schwarzenegger presidency and the advent of virtual sex. Offered the physical kind instead, she recoils: “Eww, disgusting! You mean … fluid transfer?”

This is You’ve Got Mail but with a zip code in The Twilight Zone. Bullock moves out of her lakefront home in 2006 and leaves a note for the incoming resident, whose reply to her is dated – WTF? – 2004. Bullock, back with Keanu Reeves for the first time since Speed, invests exactly the right amounts of incredulity and longing. Temporal complexities make this one of the few love stories that can leave your heart and your head aching.

With Channing Tatum in The Lost City.
With Channing Tatum in The Lost City. Photograph: Paramount/Kimberley French/Allstar

Like Romancing the Stone, this knockabout romp concerns a Mills & Boon-adjacent novelist caught up in one of her own adventure yarns. In a spangly purple jumpsuit, Bullock nails every last bit of physical comedy: failing to climb a stool elegantly, kicking over a bin during a tantrum, being hauled through the jungle while tied to a chair. Highlights include her exasperation at being kidnapped (“What is this, Taken?”) and the sight of her peeling leeches from Channing Tatum’s naked butt.

This is the other Truman show. Held back a year by its distributor but made around the same time as Capote (which similarly covered the researching and writing of In Cold Blood), Infamous arguably has even more to recommend it, including a richer portrait of its subject’s life. Toby Jones is eerily good as the lisping literary socialite; Bullock, armed with a flawless Alabama accent, is the novelist Harper Lee.

4. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

It’s an age-old story: female transit worker idolises male commuter from afar then saves him from an oncoming train; he ends up in a coma; she poses as his fiancee to his family. Just as Julia Roberts made the sleaziness of Pretty Woman borderline palatable, Bullock is charming enough here to launder the creepy scenario. The double-whammy of this breezy romcom and the previous year’s Speed catapulted Bullock on to the A list, as well as anointing her the queen of public transit movies.

Has Bullock ever had as much fun on screen as she does in Paul Feig’s raucous and raggedy odd-couple comedy? She plays the prissy new partner to an uncouth, armed-to-the-teeth cop (Melissa McCarthy), their bickering morphing gradually into bonhomie. There’s no end of euphorically coarse gags and standout slapstick. Sample line, delivered in high dudgeon by Bullock to passersby after McCarthy has suggested publicly that her “lady business” is full of “broken shoes and dolls’ houses” – “That is a misrepresentation of my vagina!”

“I hate space,” complains Ryan Stone (Bullock), an astronaut stranded after an accident wipes out her vessel and her team (including George Clooney in a float-on part). For all the technical sophistication of Alfonso Cuarón’s visually expansive, dramatically minimalist thriller, and the supreme joke of a space movie in which the protagonist almost drowns, the real special effect here is Bullock’s unflashy, Oscar-nominated performance as the grieving mother who feels no more alone in space than she does back on Earth. Carrying most of the movie alone, she makes the dramatic heavy-lifting look weightless.

Foot to the floor … with Keanu Reeves in Speed.
Foot to the floor … with Keanu Reeves in Speed. Photograph: Cine Text / Allstar/Sportsphoto Ltd. / Allstar

One of the most ingenious entertainments of modern action cinema, this high-concept hit bolts together elements of disaster movie, siege thriller and car chase. Bullock is the commuter who takes the wheel of a Los Angeles bus that is primed to explode if it drops below 50mph. Having an intelligent female action lead was remarkable enough. Making her drive the bus, and the movie, was another coup. Casting Bullock, as unfamiliar to audiences as she was appealing, was the stroke of genius that lent the film its freshness, and gave her career the boost it needed. Even Speed 2: Cruise Control couldn’t ruin that.

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