Meg Ryan films – ranked! | Movies

10. In the Land of Women (2007)

By 2007, Meg Ryan was already well into a wilderness period that still hasn’t ended. Indeed, it has been more than five years since she was in a film at all (Ithaca, her harmless but forgettable directorial debut). If highlights of this era have been few, her restrained, affecting turn as an unhappily married, cancer-stricken housewife in this uneven indie soap opera was a reminder that the industry did her dirty. At the very least, more little films like this could use her wattage.

9. Top Gun (1986)

In only her third film, Ryan’s ostensibly insignificant part as the sparky wife (named, amusingly, Carole Bradshaw) of the protagonist’s best friend – multiple degrees of supporting separation there – shouldn’t have stood out against Tom Cruise’s squinting heroics. But she attacks her couple of scenes with such determinedly sunny star-is-born energy (“Take me to bed or lose me for ever!”) that you wonder if the producers ever regretted picking Kelly McGillis, a chemical mismatch with Cruise, as the film’s leading lady.

8. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

The third of Ryan’s team-ups with Tom Hanks was the least interesting but the most commercially popular, which kind of figures. Nora Ephron’s now quaintly digitised update of The Shop Around the Corner was cornball stuff, but its two stars were by that point so comfortable with each other, playing so effortlessly off each other’s established personae, as to make the enterprise irresistible.

As Rita Boyle in Prelude to a Kiss.
As Rita Boyle in Prelude to a Kiss. Photograph: 34/20th Century Fox/Allstar

7. Prelude to a Kiss (1992)

Through the 90s, Ryan alternated romcoms with loftier efforts, of which this extremely precious romantic fantasy was the most bizarre. Adapted from a hit Broadway play, its blend of body-swap gimmickry with more poetic musings on true soul attraction was perhaps easier to swallow on stage. But Ryan, handed the near-impossible role of a manic pixie dream girl accidentally possessed by a dying male pensioner, is really rather good, by turns suitably strange, prickly and beguiling.

6. Promised Land (1987)

Michael Hoffman’s low-budget drama was the first film ever commissioned by the Sundance festival, and feels like it. A veritable checklist of earnest indie cliches, its familiar tale of small-town disappointment and Reagan-era hardship gets a vital shot in the arm from Ryan’s blazingly charismatic turn as the gobby, tattooed bride of Kiefer Sutherland’s feckless drifter. She got an Independent Spirit best actress nomination for her pains; her Next Big Thing status was official.

With Keifer Sutherland in Promised Land.
With Keifer Sutherland in Promised Land. Photograph: The Oxford Film Company/Allstar

5. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Ephron’s riff on An Affair to Remember hinged on a high-risk high concept for a romantic comedy. Keeping its meant-to-be lovers apart until the very final scene, it nonetheless requires them to convince us of their chemistry in isolation. That it works is down to the aforementioned perfect pairing of Hanks and Ryan: she has the harder job of the two – her character’s wildly irrational whimsy has to make sympathetic sense, and it does.

4. Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

Still, the peak of the Ryan-Hanks partnership remains their first outing, John Patrick Shanley’s fully batshit, cult-forming fatalist romance, in which Ryan flits between three roles of varying degrees of eccentricity, sort of like the ghosts of dating past, present and future. One of them is the One, suitably wily and winsome to divert Hanks’s supposedly dying protagonist from his mission to throw himself into a volcano. Well, it shouldn’t take much, should it?

With Andy García in When a Man Loves a Woman.
With Andy García in When a Man Loves a Woman. Photograph: 37/Touchstone/Allstar

3. When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

It’s the oldest Oscar-grabbing tactic in the book: a wholesome, beloved comic star dirties up, turns that smile upside down, and laughs (or rather, doesn’t laugh at all) all the way to the podium. In this slick but solemn marital drama, Ryan had reason to be hopeful: her performance as an alcoholic school counsellor was fully committed, and in many ways tougher than the film itself. Her peers in the Screen Actors Guild bought it and nominated her for the inaugural SAG awards – but the Academy remained unmoved.

With Jennifer Jason Leigh in In the Cut.
With Jennifer Jason Leigh in In the Cut. Photograph: Pathe/Allstar

2. In the Cut (2003)

Ryan’s gutsiest against-type performance, however, didn’t earn her so much as a sniff of a nomination – she had been done for by cool reviews and a disastrous publicity trail for Jane Campion’s sharp, challenging, female-gaze-driven erotic thriller, which reached a nadir with an infamous Parkinson interview in which his misogyny won the public’s favour. Their loss: in a role turned down by Nicole Kidman, Ryan’s performance as an introverted writer testing boundaries of desire and masochism is a thing of nervy, tensile daring.

1. When Harry Met Sally … (1989)

Still, sometimes a comfort zone is a comfort zone for a reason, and the reason Ryan will for ever be identified with romantic comedies is her pitch-perfect, megastar-making turn in one of the genre’s all-time peaks. Playing the fussy, maddening but lovably vulnerable Sally Albright across multiple phases of life and romantic philosophy, she had our hearts even before she faked a dead-on orgasm in a sandwich shop, though that certainly didn’t hurt.

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