From leading the union charge to trying to hold the Union together, here are the Oscar-winning actress' greatest roles to date.
On March 25, 1985, Sally Field infamously exclaimed, "I can't deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!" from the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and for almost six decades, audiences haven't been able to deny that fact. Her oft-misquoted — and mocked — Oscar acceptance speech is still as true now as it was that evening when she won Best Actress for Places in the Heart.
But long before her box office and critical successes, the beloved performer found herself stuck in a creative box thanks to her early TV gigs on Gidget and The Flying Nun. Then in 1976, she had her true breakout roles in Sybil and The Girl with Something Extra, proving just how prescient the title of that short-lived sitcom was.
Fierce mamas, courageous union leaders, and runaway brides are just a few of the characters the versatile actress has brought to screens — both big and small — over the course of her acclaimed career. Read on to find out which of her many legendary turns made it onto EW's list of Sally Field's best movies and TV shows.
15. "Spoiler Alert" (2022)
An adaptation of EW alum Michael Ausiello's acclaimed memoir, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, this romantic dramedy chronicles the 14-year relationship of partners Michael (Jim Parsons) and Kit (Ben Aldridge). The film starts with Kit's death and then fills in the details of their life together, from first date to last days, with laughs and tears sprinkled throughout.
When it's time to meet the parents, we're introduced to Kit's loving, supportive folks, Bob Cowan (Bill Irwin) and Marilyn (Field), and the Oscar winner brings depth to the small role of the chatty triathlete mother. In his review, EW Editor in Chief Patrick Gomez wrote, "Spoiler Alert's delicate restraint is on full display as Field's Marilyn is informed of her son's diagnosis. The actress, known for her Oscar-worthy scene-chewing, goes subtle for a change with her understated yet still heartbreaking response."
14. "Forrest Gump" (1994)
In classic Hollywood fashion, Field plays Tom Hanks' mother in Robert Zemeckis's Best Picture winner Forrest Gump only six years after playing his contemporary in 1988's Punchline. She may not be in the movie for a significant portion of its runtime, but she makes an impact as Momma Gump, dishing out many of Forrest's now iconic sayings — particularly the one about life and a box of chocolates. When (spoiler alert) she goes off to that great bus stop bench in the sky, it's because of the down-home soul she brings to Momma that the audience feels her absence for the rest of the film.
13. "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993)
Some might say that the key to a happy marriage is laughter, but Miranda Hillard (Field) is tired of being the butt of the joke. Fed up as the only adult in the room, she files for divorce from her unreliable voice-actor husband, Daniel (Robin Williams), and is awarded full custody of their children. Desperate to see them, he dons layers of prosthetics and disguises himself as an elderly British nanny named Euphegenia Doubtfire so they can secretly spend time together. Hijinks ensue, and Mrs. Doubtfire ironically helps them both form better relationships with their kids.
Though Miranda is in opposition to our protagonist, Field still cements her as one of the most sympathetic characters in the comedy. Her frustration with the flighty Daniel comes from an authentic place, and when the overworked single mom discovers the truth about her miraculous nanny, the horror she feels is palpable. It's Field's performance that keeps the now classic hit grounded.
12. "Murphy's Romance" (1985)
Murphy's Romance was the first film produced by Field's company, Fogwood Films, and reunited the star with her Norma Rae director, Martin Ritt. The charming May-Dec. affair is one of the best romantic comedies in her filmography. When Emma (Field), a divorced horse trainer, moves back to Arizona with her 12-year-old son Jake (Corey Haim), she slowly falls for the widowed pharmacist Murphy Jones (James Garner), much to the chagrin of her deadbeat ex-husband (Brian Kerwin).
In this quiet union, the actress isn't fighting the system or insurmountable obstacles, she's simply falling in love, and it's a pleasure to watch unfold. The actors have great chemistry together, perhaps in part because of Garner's smooching skills. (Field once dubbed their cinematic lip lock her best onscreen kiss.)
11. "ER" (2000-2006)
Before she returned to the small screen through Brothers and Sisters, Field dipped back into television with a 12-episode guest arc on the hit NBC medical drama ER. Beginning in its seventh season, her prime time encore found her once again exploring mental illness, this time as Maggie Wyczenski, the mother of Maura Tierney's nurse Abby Lockhart, who struggles with bipolar disorder.
During her run, she explored mania, rage, and depression while crafting an honest (but fraught) relationship with her on-screen daughter. The storyline played out over four seasons and earned the Sybil star her second Emmy Award, this time for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.
Where to watch ER: Hulu and Max
10. "Absence of Malice" (1981)
Field stars opposite the legendary Paul Newman in this thriller about ethics in journalism. She plays ambitious investigative reporter Megan Carter, who unknowingly runs a false story accusing Newman's Miami liquor distributor Michael Gallagher of murder. When her attempt to fix her mistake causes a friend of Gallagher's to die by suicide, she tries to help him get revenge on the people who tricked her into smearing his name. Many critics at the time described it as a reverse All the President's Men, being a film that examines the dangers of sloppy, sensationalist reporting. Both leads received strong reviews, with Field earning her third Golden Globe nod while Newman secured his sixth Oscar nomination.
9. "Brothers and Sisters" (2006–2011)
In 2006, Field returned to her television roots full-time with the ABC drama Brothers and Sisters. The award-winning legend's role of Nora, head of the Walker clan, brought her first SAG Award win and a third Emmy, adding to her impressive collection of Best Actress accolades. The popular series followed the ups and (many) downs of the wealthy family in the wake of patriarch William's (Tom Skerritt) death and provided ample opportunities for Field to flex her impressive range.
When her late husband's many secrets bubble up to the surface, Nora and her five adult children navigate all the chaos that ensues with the help of healthy pours of wine, lengthy monologues, and each other. Its five-season run of high-stakes storylines allowed the star to lean into her trademark earnestness, and even provided a Norma Rae reunion in the form of a season 5 guest arc from Beau Bridges.
8. "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977)
One of her earliest big screen hits, the romantic action-comedy Smokey and the Bandit helped the former Gidget lead transition from television actress to movie star — a difficult shift for actors at the time. Her undeniable chemistry with costar Burt Reynolds propelled the road trip adventure to box office success, spawning two sequels and a five-year relationship between the pair in the process.
The story of two southern rebels on the run from the law in a Pontiac Trans Am, the film was the second highest-grossing movie of 1977 behind Star Wars. Field's performance as runaway bride Carrie, a.k.a. "Frog," is the fuel that powered the car chase picture's financial haul, as her plucky heroine was a hit with audiences and has remained so in the decades since its release.
7. "Hello, My Name is Doris" (2015)
Funny, heartbreaking, and often cringeworthy, this awkward dramedy about a lonely data entry clerk obsessed with her younger co-worker was sadly overlooked during the 2015 awards season. Sally Field imbues Doris with so much vulnerability that the audience almost roots for her scheme to win over John (Max Greenfield), the affable office hunk who sparks her romantic infatuation.
In Hello, My Name is Doris, the actress takes on one of her most complex roles and proves why she remains a sought-after talent. As she plots to make her fantasies come true, she struggles with a hoarding problem triggered by the loss of her mother, and Field expertly balances these multifaceted elements without ever making Doris feel like an object of derision.
6. "Lincoln" (2012)
Field fought hard for the role of Mary Todd Lincoln opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in director Steven Spielberg's lauded biopic. She was so committed to Lincoln, she even visited Mary Todd's childhood home and put on 25 pounds to match her physicality. It all paid off as she earned her third Oscar nomination, plus BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG Award noms for her portrayal of the beleaguered historical figure. As EW's critic writes, "Field's performance is shattering — in a few furious scenes, she redefines this First Lady as a woman whose supposed madness reflected a humane fervor as sterling as her husband's."
5. "Soapdish" (1991)
Celeste Talbert (Field), the insecure, aging star of the hit daytime soap opera The Sun Also Sets, is beset on all sides by ingenues, writers, and former lovers hellbent on taking her down. When her beloved niece Lori (Elisabeth Shue) lands a role on the sudser, and her former costar and paramour Jeffrey (Kevin Kline) makes a surprise return, Celeste finds herself caught up in a plot so wild it rivals the storylines on the soap itself.
Field is a melodramatic marvel as Celeste, willing to literally throw herself into the daytime diva's antics. Whether it's physical comedy — like scaling the side of a Manhattan apartment complex to spy on Jeffrey and Lori — or trading barbs with her rival, Montana Moorehead (Cathy Moriarty), the actress hits her marks with gleeful aplomb. In a 1991 EW interview on the set of the zany farce, Field said "Comedy's not really my territory…I don't feel as comfortable in it as I do in drama." But despite the star's misgivings, she more than holds her own amongst Soapdish's ensemble of comedic heavyweights, including Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr., Carrie Fisher, and Kathy Najimy.
Where to watch Soapdish: Max
4. "Places in the Heart" (1984)
In this Depression-era drama, Field plays Edna Spalding, a widowed mother who tries to keep her rural Texas farm from going under. She fights against a never-ending series of dire circumstances, including a tornado and the Ku Klux Klan, as she tries desperately to hold on to her 40 acres of land and raise her children alone. Starring alongside Danny Glover, John Malkovich, Lindsay Crouse, and Ed Harris, Places in the Heart brought Sally Field her second Best Actress Oscar win — and is the origin of her infamous "you like me" acceptance speech.
3. "Sybil" (1976)
In this two-part TV movie, Sally Field plays Sybil Dorsett, a teacher diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. After she suffers a breakdown in front of her students, she seeks the help of psychiatrist Dr. Cornelia Wilbur (Joanne Woodward), and they discover that the blackouts in which her various alters take control were brought on by repressed childhood abuse.
Sybil proved Field was capable of more than the lighthearted surfer girls and flying nuns she had become famous for portraying. In addition to the titular character, Field gave life to 16 different personas, showcasing her impressive dramatic range and garnering her first Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Special Program.
2. "Steel Magnolias" (1989)
Adapted from the off-Broadway play by Robert Harling, this tearjerker follows the lives, loves, and tragedies of a group of women gathered in a Louisiana beauty shop. Field leads the star-studded dramedy alongside Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts (in one of the Pretty Woman's earliest big screen roles).
As M'Lynn, mother to Robert's type-1 diabetes-afflicted Shelby, Field is the heart and soul of the film. After watching her fight to keep her daughter alive, you'll never hear the phrase "drink your juice" the same way again. While she has her legendary third-act breakdown, it's impossible not to join in her grief, as she deftly delivers M'lynn's monologue with alternating beats of fury and despair.
1. "Norma Rae" (1979)
Based on the life of labor leader Crystal Lee Sutton, Norma Rae is the story of a North Carolina textile worker who fights against the corrupt management of the factory she works in. After witnessing the toll the conditions have taken on the health of those around her, particularly her parents, she joins forces with a New York union organizer to rally her colleagues and demand change. When her employers fight back, things become increasingly more harrowing in both her professional and personal life, as she puts her job, and her new relationship with fellow millworker Sonny (Beau Bridges), on the line.
Norma Rae is a fierce, complicated character, and Field turns the southern single mother into an activist icon. The film is a watershed moment in her career, finally cementing her as one of the most capable and respected actresses of her generation — and earning her first Best Actress Oscar in the process.
Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.