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Sarah Jessica Parker's Best Movie And TV Performances

Sarah Jessica Parker is so closely associated with her iconic role of Carrie Bradshaw that it is sometimes easy to forget that the actress has had a long career filled with many great performances. Beyond "Sex and the City," the beloved Parker — often called SJP by her fans — has sparkled in other television roles, in film, and on stage. In a career spanning more than four decades, Parker has played everything from an ancient witch to an airheaded mistress.

Parker began in the theatre, but she got her on-screen start with an uncredited role in "The Little Match Girl," a 1974 television film. She had a couple of other small television roles before breaking out with the canceled-too-soon teen show "Square Pegs" in 1982. She continued working throughout the 1980s and 1990s, gaining attention for her roles in films such as "L.A. Story," "Honeymoon in Vegas," and "Miami Rhapsody." In 1998, her fame skyrocketed when she began starring in "Sex and the City," and she has maintained a high profile ever since.

In the years since "Sex and the City," Parker has made some good movies, such as "The Family Stone," and some bad ones, such as "I Don't Know How She Does It." But even when she is starring in something truly awful — like "Sex and the City 2" or "Did You Hear About the Morgans?," for example — Parker's innate screen presence cannot be denied. Here are some of Sarah Jessica Parker's best movie and TV performances.

Square Pegs

Parker's first big role was as a series lead in the CBS teen sitcom "Square Pegs," which aired for only one season, from 1982 to 1983. The show revolved around a pair of teenage girls named Patty Greene (Parker) and Lauren Hutchinson (Amy Linker), who do their best to navigate high school life from outside of the popular group. The two square pegs do not quite fit, and the show follows their awkward attempts at climbing the social ladder. "Because none of these kids looked or acted cool — and because even Weemawee High's popular kids were kind of gawky—Square Pegs smartly captured the high-school experience for a large number of '80s teens," wrote the A.V. Club in 2008, when the show was released on DVD.

"Square Pegs" was notable for being a teen-centered program at a time before teen shows exploded into the mainstream. The show was one of the first shows to truly explore the discomfiture and complexities of high school, and Parker shone in her role as smart outcast Patty. "Only 17 when the series began, Ms. Parker delivers her laugh lines with the school-play smile she later employed on 'Sex and the City,'" said the New York Times in 2008. "When she's rejected by a hunky senior or gives advice to the love-struck Lauren, there are glimpses of a younger, string-bean Carrie Bradshaw: confident yet insecure, creative yet desperate to be part of another, hipper world."


A year after the end of "Square Pegs," Parker appeared in the well-known feature film "Footloose." The movie centered on Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), a Chicago teenager who moves to a small town where dancing –- and rock music in general –- has been banned. Parker played fast-talking Rusty, one of the small-town teens who Ren exposes to the joys of dance. While the film received mixed reviews at the time of its release, it has since gone on to become a cult classic -– thanks at least in part to its Oscar-nominated music.

"Footloose" is notable for being the movie that put Kevin Bacon on the map, but Parker shone in her supporting role as the best friend of Ren's love interest Ariel (Lori Singer). The New York Times review called her out for being "impressive" in the part -– though Parker almost did not appear in the film due to one hairy issue. "I first got it and turned it down. They wanted me to cut my hair off and dye it red because the character's name was Rusty, and I was like, 'Oh God, my hair just grew back from Annie,'" Parker told People magazine in 2016. The producers went on to hire another actress when Parker refused to change up her hair, but they eventually came knocking again when that other actress did not work out. Parker got her way, and Rusty was a long-haired brunette.

L.A. Story

Parker continued to work in both television and film in the aftermath of "Footloose," but her next great role did not come until 1991, when she played ditzy SanDeE* opposite Steve Martin in the romantic comedy "L.A. Story." In the film, weatherman Harris Telemacher (Martin) falls for a serious journalist named Sara McDowel (Victoria Tennant) after being cheated on by his long-time girlfriend Trudi (Marilu Henner). When it seems like things with Sara are not going anywhere, Harris dates Parker's superficial aspiring spokesmodel. "She has like no definition, really," Parker said of SanDeE* in a 2018 GQ YouTube video. "She's sort of this floating, ever-changing – this person who's soaking up other ideas of a definition or an identity."

"L.A. Story" has a whopping 93% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes –- Parker's best-reviewed film (aside from "A Life Apart: Hasidism in America," for which she serves as narrator). Critics consistently praised her performance, which was called "delightfully lightweight" by the Orlando Sentinel and "unquenchably frisky" by the Los Angeles Times. "Sarah Jessica Parker has figured out a Valley Girl airhead right down to the ground," wrote legendary critic Roger Ebert in his review. Newsweek commented upon Parker's "hilarious gusto" in the role, and the New York Daily News (whose reviewer disliked the film) commented upon Parker's charismatic take on SanDeE*. "It is Sarah Jessica Parker who walks away with this film," the reviewer wrote. "Pardon the cliché, but the screen just sparkles whenever this seemingly natural comic comes into view."

Honeymoon in Vegas

Parker's career was in takeoff mode in the early 1990s, and she continued her hot streak with a starring role in the 1992 film "Honeymoon in Vegas." The movie has Parker's character Betsy Nolan caught in a love triangle between her commitment-phobic fiancé Jack Singer (Nicholas Cage), with whom she has come to Las Vegas to elope, and wealthy gambler Tommy Korman (James Caan), who offers to forget Jack's debt in exchange for a weekend with Betsy. When Tommy proposes marriage, Betsy must decide which man she sees a future with, and in typical romantic comedy fashion, everything works out in the end. According to a GQ video posted to YouTube, Parker did not have to audition for the film — which was a first for her at that point in her career.

"Honeymoon in Vegas" was nominated for Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, but received mixed reviews from critics. Parker was generally praised for elevating the film, which positioned her character as a prize to be won. "Parker's natural, unforced charm and honest, strong-willed personality give 'Honeymoon in Vegas' a scintillating uncertainty after she begins taking Caan seriously," wrote Variety's reviewer. "Honeymoon in Vegas" would later be adapted into a stage musical, with the most notable run being its Broadway version, featuring Tony Danza as Caan's character Tommy Korman (via the New York Times).

Hocus Pocus

"Hocus Pocus" is one of Parker's most memorable films, with a popularity that has grown from year to year. In fact, the movie is so beloved that a sequel is currently in production, set to be released in 2022. In the original film, Parker plays Sarah Sanderson, one of three ancient witches revived from the dead when a curse is accidentally enacted by a young teenager. "I play a weird half-wit, a psychotic Lolita witch. She's dumb — oh man, is she dumb," Parker once said (per the Seattle Times). Along with her sisters and fellow witches Winifred (Bette Midler) and Mary (Kathy Najimy), Sarah aims to prey on the children of Salem, Massachusetts, using her delicate singing voice as a tool to lure them in.

"Hocus Pocus" was not well-reviewed when it came out in 1993 – the film has a 38% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, its audiences ratings are solid, and it has become a Halloween classic. As dim, sultry Sarah, Parker easily goes toe-to-toe with comic forces Midler and Najimy. "Najimy and Parker have their moments of ramshackle comic inspiration," said the Entertainment Weekly reviewer. The Hollywood Reporter also praised the three actors for their comedic talents, writing that, "you don't need a crystal ball to predict that turning Midler loose as a comic witch is magical, but Parker, with her spastically sexy movements, and Najimy, with her flittery doofy reactions, remarkably hold their own."

Ed Wood

Parker did some of her best work in 1994's "Ed Wood," a Tim Burton film that was nominated for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. The film is based upon real-life filmmaker Ed Wood (Johnny Depp), and Parker portrays one of his girlfriends, Dolores Fuller. Dolores eventually breaks things off because she is uncomfortable with Ed's crossdressing and his circle of friends, and later becomes a songwriter for the king himself, Elvis Presley. To recreate scenes featuring Fuller acting, Parker told GQ that she watched the old clips "over and over again," but confessed to not trying to mimic the actress outside of those recreations. Variety praised Parker's take on those scenes and her "niftily pulling off some deliberately bad acting."

The film made many critics' year-end lists, and it was overall very well-received. Multiple reviews – like one from The Guardian that said the actors, including Parker, "add considerably to the fun by playing relatively straight" — praised the supporting cast as a whole, and Parker's performance was called "hysterically funny" by The Washington Post. Parker so enjoyed working with Burton that she appeared in another of his movies two years later, the science-fiction comedy "Mars Attacks!" "He's just absolutely fantastic to work for, because he's so clear, it's so specific," Parker told GQ of Burton's directorial style. "You understand so well what he wants. I think his specificity is enormously helpful."

Miami Rhapsody

Some of Parker's most memorable roles have been in romantic comedies, such as her turn as Gwyn Marcus in the 1995 film, "Miami Rhapsody." In the film, Gwyn is a recently engaged woman questioning her stance on love and marriage, bolstered by her messy family members and the affairs that plague their own marriages. As she learns that her sister Leslie (Carla Gugino), brother Jordan (Kevin Pollak), and mother Nina (Mia Farrow) are cheating on their spouses, Gwyn becomes increasingly unsettled with her feelings about tying the knot with her fiancé Mat (Gil Bellows).

Reviews for "Miami Rhapsody" were all over the board, but Parker received solid mention from most critics. "Sarah Jessica Parker, who delivers her pithy lines with the self-assured timing of a sexy cardsharp, is essentially a brilliant one-woman show," wrote Entertainment Weekly's reviewer. Variety's review was nothing short of a rave for Parker and her sizeable comedic gifts. "This is an outstanding, potentially star-making vehicle for Parker," wrote renowned film critic Todd McCarthy. "Sexy and funny, caustic and vulnerable, she carries the picture in the zingy manner of the best comediennes." Even unfavorable reviews singled out Parker's performance, such as one in The Austin Chronicle, which said that "Sarah Jessica Parker turns in a performance that's so seductively delightful that the viewer always feels glad just to be in her company."

The First Wives Club

Parker did not have a huge role in the 1996 film "The First Wives Club," but it just further proved that it does not take a large part for Parker to sparkle. The popular movie focused on three women — played by Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Better Midler — seeking revenge on their husbands, who have left them for younger, newer models. Parker portrays Shelly Stewart, whose fiancé Morty Cushman (Dan Hedaya) was once married to Brenda Morelli-Cushman (Midler). Shelly was in Morty's employ when he left Brenda for her and is purely interested in Morty for the financial and social gains.

"The First Wives Club" is not the first time Parker has played dumb, but it is perhaps one of the most fun instances. Parker was nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical or Comedy, and many critics noted how she humorously inhabited the role of a vapid wannabe socialite. Variety called her "memorable," while Rolling Stone said Parker "expertly spoofed" a quintessential gold digger and The New York Times said she was "slyly good."

Sex and the City

There is no question that "Sex and the City" altered the course of Parker's career, as it catapulted her to a level of fame that few actors ever reach. The HBO show began in 1998 and ran for six seasons, after which it was spun off for two movies (the first was fine, the second insufferable). If you have been living under a rock for the past few decades, "Sex and the City" was a dramedy about four unmarried New York women dealing with the unpredictable ups and downs of their personal and professional lives. Parker's Carrie Bradshaw — a sex columnist and later, author — served as the central protagonist, connecting all of the other characters as the linchpin of the group. Carrie was a fixture of the big apple's social scene, and along with her three best friends, provided a high level of wish fulfillment to viewers.

There are many aspects of "Sex and the City" that don't hold up well, and many have argued that Carrie is problematic (like Glamour, from 2013). Even if you think of Carrie as an entitled, selfish narcissist, Parker's perfection in the role is undebatable. Amongst other awards, Parker was nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards (winning four) and six Primetime Emmy Awards (winning one) for the role, and that's not counting the nominations she got as a producer. Parker will soon revive her most famous character when the revival series, entitled "And Just Like That...," comes to HBO in December 2021.

State and Main

Parker did not appear in many films during the run of "Sex and the City," but we are glad she took on the 2000 flick "State and Main" because she gives a great performance in the David Mamet ensemble film. The movie is about a troubled film production, which moves filming to a small Vermont town after being banished from its original location in New Hampshire. Parker plays the film's lead actress, Claire Wellesley, who is holding out for more money before she will agree to film a nude scene to which she previously agreed.

The satirical comedy went largely under the radar, but it was a hit with critics, earning an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. Rolling Stone's famed Peter Travers called Parker "sly" and "sexy" in the role, and the San Francisco Chronicle's reviewer maintained that "Sarah Jessica Parker also shines as the leading lady who gets a sudden attack of modesty, even though, as one of the crew members says, most Americans can draw her breasts from memory." It would be five years after "State and Main" before Parker would appear in another feature film — "Strangers with Candy" — devoting herself fully to starring in and producing "Sex and the City."

The Family Stone

Parker settled back into film in the years following the end of "Sex and the City," but no other film captured her talents as well as "The Family Stone," which came out in 2005. The movie is a comedy-drama that starred Parker as a fish-out-of-water named Meredith Morton. The tense and neurotic Meredith is a Christmas guest of the Stone family, brought along by eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney). While Everett plans to marry the uptight, conservative Meredith, she does not quite make a good impression with most of his vibrant, Liberal family members.

Parker was nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for the role, which saw her playing against type as a controlling, unlikeable businesswoman. The San Francisco Chronicle's longtime movie critic Mike LaSalle said, "Parker is lovely and funny" in the role." While critic reviews for the movie were mixed, Parker was generally favorably received by others as well. "Sarah Jessica Parker-haters will be awed by the bang-up job she does as the highest of high-strung fiancées that populate these sorts of movies—and her big drunk scene, in which her inhibitions explode, explodes whatever inhibitions we might have about her," wrote Slate's reviewer.


Parker stayed away from television for quite a while after "Sex and the City" wrapped, so when she decided to film another series, the expectations were high. The actress chose "Divorce" as her re-entry into the television waters, and she both starred and executive produced the series. Running on HBO from 2016 to 2019, "Divorce" starred Parker as Frances Dufresne, a woman who is caught cheating on her husband, and Thomas Hayden Church as Robert, the husband who then divorces Frances. The show was set in the suburbs north of New York City and offered a realistic, but comical, look at the downfall of a marriage, the process of divorce, and the aftermath of betrayal. 

For her role as Frances, Parker was nominated for Best Actress in a Television Series Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globe Awards in 2017. Critics were mostly positive, though seasons two and three were significantly more acclaimed than season one. "With the help of former 'Sex and the City' writers, Sarah Jessica Parker shines in the show's second season," proclaimed The New Republic. Season three was similarly well-received, as the show had by then found its groove in the mixture of comedy and drama, realism and caricature. "Divorce now in its third and final series, has been a sleeper hit, and that's because it has found the magic ingredient of successful sitcoms: a plot that rings true and great comic timing," said the Evening Standard.