Meg Ryan is one of the rom-com queens, as the end of the ’80s and most of the ’90s were when she became known for these kinds of films (especially those written by Nora Ephron). She then tried to do other kinds of roles, so she could prove how of a good of an actress she was, and get out of the box that Hollywood had put her in. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as well as she would have liked, and those failures, plus the fact that she was getting older (Hollywood and their impossible age standards for women), made her disappear from our screens.
Ryan is finally back with a new rom-com that she also directed and co-wrote, getting back to the genre that always loved her and making a movie about falling in love at an older age, that we can’t wait to see. While we wait, here are her 10 best films, according to Rotten Tomatoes score.
10 Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) – 66%
Joe Versus the Volcano is the story of Joe Banks, a shy, sad, hypochondriac man who, after being diagnosed with a rare terminal condition, accepts being used as a human sacrifice inside a volcano to appease the gods. Ryan plays Patricia, who accompanies Joe on the trip to the volcano, and on their way there, they fall in love. This was the first time Ryan and Hanks worked with one another, and their chemistry saves the film’s goofy premise, as every moment they spend together is a moment you want to watch.
9 When a Man Loves a Woman (1994) – 69%
When a Man Loves a Woman is one of Ryan’s best films of the ’90s, as she plays a very different character than what audiences were used to from her. Here, she’s an alcoholic woman with a husband who loves her (Andy Garcia) and two kids. Once she goes to rehab, everything changes at home. Both Ryan and Garcia give incredible performances (she doesn’t mind looking bad for the role), as this movie is all about its characters, and how living with addiction affects not only the person with the sickness, but everyone around her.
8 You’ve Got Mail (1998) – 70%
You’ve Got Mail is the last of four collaborations between Ryan and Tom Hanks, in which they again fall in love. This time, things are a bit different, as Hanks’s character isn’t as lovely as he usually is, and the film is one of the first rom-coms where the internet is part of it, as both characters fall in love having e-mail conversations while not knowing who the other is in real life; they’re rivals as both have bookshops in the same area of New York. As always, the chemistry between the two leads, and the dialogue written by Ephron make the movie much better than it could’ve been, making it another rom-com staple.
7 Restoration (1995) – 71%
Restoration shows a different Meg Ryan, one where she’s part of a period piece drama adapted from the novel by Rose Tremain. This is the story of Merivel (Robert Downey Jr.), an English physician who is forced to leave Court after falling in love with the King’s mistress. So he goes to London to help those in need and meets a Scottish beauty named Katharine (Ryan). With an incredible cast that also includes Sam Neill, Hugh Grant, and Sir Ian McKellen, the actress is still one of the brightest spots in the movie.
6 Promised Land (1987) – 73%
Although it was the first film ever commissioned by the Sundance Film Festival, Promised Land is an almost forgotten movie, and that’s a shame, as both Ryan and Kiefer Sutherland have great performances in it. This is the story of disillusionment with the American Dream, as two high school acquaintances meet again years later, David (Jason Gedrick) a basketball high school star who has become a police officer, and Danny (Sutherland), a man full of potential who has become a drifter.
Ryan plays Danny’s wife and steals every scene she’s in, as she’s like a shot of adrenaline to a more passive film, making every moment she appears much more interesting and being the catalyst for everything that happens in the last act of the film, once she’s convinced her husband to rob a convenience store.
5 Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – 75%
Sleepless in Seattle was the second collaboration between Nora Ephron (in one of her best films), Tom Hanks, and Meg Ryan, and might be the best of them all. This is a story that pays homage to An Affair to Remember and is all about Sam Baldwin (Hanks), a widowed man whose son says on the radio that he wants his father to find a new love, and the woman, Annie (Ryan), who is in another part of the country when she hears the story and becomes infatuated with this man she has never seen. The story works in big part thanks to Ryan, who sells both the idea of how naive she is in thinking she’s destined to meet this man, while also being absolutely smitten by him.
About her work with Ephron, Ryan told Entertainment Weekly: “We speak in shorthand. At one point we were doing a scene, and she said to me, ‘Act like you’ve been turned down for a part in a movie, and now you have to go to the movie’s premiere and it’s a big hit.’ She’s intensely articulate and can language anything.”
4 Innerspace (1987) – 82%
Innerspace is a sci-fi comedy with a weird starting point: naval aviator Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) gets miniaturized and injected into a living human named Jack Putter (Martin Short, as funny as always). Pendleton’s girlfriend, Lydia (Ryan), is the only one trying to help them while a war between scientists who want the technology for themselves happens all around them. Ryan proved here that she had the talent for comedy, as she spends many scenes with Short and hangs with him, creating as many funny moments as him, and proving she could’ve been part of a comedy troupe like Saturday Night Live in the process.
3 Anastasia (1997) – 84%
Anastasia is one of the few non-Disney animated projects from the ’90s that worked with audiences, as it told the story of Anastasia, the lost granddaughter of the Romanov, who disappears after a coup when she gets amnesia after falling from a train, so she never knows who she was. That is, until she goes to Paris to meet what might be her last surviving relative.
Ryan voiced Anastasia in the movie, proving she was also a great voice actor, as her performance is playful, and curious, making audiences understand how everything is new and exciting for her. As always, she also sells the romance between her character and Dimitri (John Cusack) fantastically, proving she’s a rom-com queen even when she only uses her voice.
2 Courage Under Fire (1996) – 86%
Courage Under Fire is all about the investigation Nat Serling (Denzel Washington) has to do to decide if the military is going to give the Medal of Honor to the first woman ever to receive that honor, Capt. Karen Walden (Ryan). Using a Rashomon-like structure, Serling interrogates all the members of Walden’s squad to understand what really happened in the desert that night, and how she really died.
This film had a lot of firsts: it’s one of Meg Ryan’s first serious roles, one of the first times Matt Damon proved he could act and was an actor to watch for, and one of the first times Denzel Washington played a military man, making for a very entertaining film where Ryan proved she could also play tough and serious if she was asked to.
1 When Harry Met Sally… (1989) – 91%
When Harry Met Sally… is still one of the best rom-coms ever made. Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Ryan) drive together from Chicago to New York and hate each other. Many years later, they meet again and start a friendship that might end up being something more. This is the film that made Ryan a movie star and a rom-com queen, and it makes perfect sense, as she’s funny, interesting, and playful, and her chemistry with Crystal works perfectly.
From their first meeting to the fake orgasm scene at Katz and everything that comes after, the actress bats a 100 throughout the film, making it her best movie and performance. About the actors, director Rob Reiner told Us Magazine: “They started reading, and in the first 10 seconds, I said, ‘This is it. They connected right away. You always look for chemistry. It was right there from the beginning.”