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Kathy Bates’ 10 Best Movies, Ranked

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  • Bates’ talent shines in nuanced performances, showcasing emotional depth and humor in classic films like Misery and Dolores Claiborne.
  • Whether as the intrusive yet well-meaning grandmother in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret or the delusional Stella Mae in ‘Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, ‘Bates captivates audiences.
  • From intense roles like Annie Wilkes in Misery to lighter characters in Fried Green Tomatoes, Bates’ versatility and depth continue to impress.



Kathy Bates is celebrated as one of Hollywood’s finest actresses of her generation, known for her standout performances in several acclaimed films, many of which are considered her best work. With a career spanning over 50 years across film and television, Bates has built a robust and versatile body of work marked by emotional depth and complexity. Though she found success on Broadway and on the small screen, Bates broke through to wide renown with her Oscar-winning turn in the 1990 thriller Misery, becoming the first woman to win Best Actress for a horror role.

Audiences and critics continuously laud her ability to compellingly convey the full spectrum of human experience. Recently showcasing her talents in the cast of the 2023 coming-of-age dramedy Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Bates remains at the top of her game. While she disappears fully into even her smaller roles, certain starring performances like Misery and Dolores Claiborne cement her legacy through their sheer, unrestrained power. At her frequent best, Bates combines technical excellence with daring creativity to craft indelible characters conveying both the light and darkness within the human spirit.

10 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023)

Kathy Bates plays Sylvia Simon

Kathy Bates as Sylvia Simon, smiling in Are You There God It's Me Margaret

In Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Bates embodies the role of Sylvia, Margaret’s intrusive yet well-meaning grandmother. From the beginning to the end of Are You There God? It’s Me, Maragaret, Bates’ nuanced performance provides emotional depth and humor to this classic coming-of-age story. As Margaret navigates puberty, friendship, and faith, Sylvia both hinders and helps her granddaughter’s growth. Her chemistry with young lead Abby Ryder Fortson gives the film heart. Bates makes the most of limited screen time to craft a hilarious portrait of a grandmother’s loving interference.

9 Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

Kathy Bates plays Stella Mae

Stella Mae laughing in Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

Kathy Bates shines brightly in her supporting turn as Stella Mae in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. As one member of a Jimmy Dean fan club holding their 20-year reunion, Bates brings dimension and sympathy to the delusional yet heartwarming Stella Mae. From funny scenes about her invented connection with Dean to quieter disclosures of self-doubt, Bates’ performance offers a mesmerizing emotional range. Though not the lead, her acting choices have a lasting imprint. Come Back to the Five and Dime reveals Bates as a rising talent through her impactful and hilarious supporting role.

8 At Play In The Fields Of The Lord (1991)

Kathy Bates plays Hazel Quarrier

Hazel in At Play in the Fields of the Lord

Kathy Bates sinks her teeth into a meatier role as Hazel Quarrier, the wife of a missionary in the drama At Play in the Fields of the Lord. As the preacher’s pragmatic spouse along for his Amazonian exploits, her character simmers with skepticism toward her husband’s evangelical zeal. Bates expertly conveys Hazel’s buried resentment and longing for intimacy beneath a veneer of loyalty. When passion finally ignites with another, Bates unleashes Hazel’s repressed desires. Bates’ talent shines through, making it worth the watch. Her realistic portrayal of a pastor’s wife stranded in her marriage injects the film with much-needed humanity.

7 Richard Jewell (2019)

Kathy Bates portrays Bobi Jewell

Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell

Release Date
December 13, 2019

Nina Arianda , David Shae , Ian Gomez , Mitchell Hoog , Sam Rockwell , Randy Havens , Paul Walter Hauser , Olivia Wilde , Kathy Bates , Jon Hamm

As Bobi Jewell in the Clint Eastwood-directed movie, Richard Jewell, Bates gives a tour de force performance that showcases her profound emotional range and empathy. In a career filled with incredible roles, her portrayal of the loyal mother of a wrongly accused man demonstrates her mastery. With both fiery defiance and gentle compassion,Bobi leaps off the screen as she defends her son. For her moving work, Bates earned her most recent Best Actress Oscar nod. This benchmark performance will be remembered among her very finest as it’s a testament to her continued unparalleled skill.

6 Primary Colors (1998)

Kathy Bates portrays Libby Holden

In the satire Primary Colors, Kathy Bates earned an Oscar nod as Libby Holden, the prickly political fixer managing scandals on a presidential campaign. Behind Libby’s sardonic exterior, Bates touchingly conveys her private loneliness and self-doubt.When an old affair reignites, Libby’s hunger for genuine human connection pierces through. Both hilarious and humane, Bates makes Libby one of the film’s most resonant characters. Over 20 years later, the performance remains a pinnacle of Bates’ ability to draw complexity and compassion out of even cynical roles and shows why she’s one of film’s most compelling stars regardless of genre or story.

5 About Schmidt (2002)

Kathy Bates portrays Roberta Hertzel

As the vivacious, pleasure-embracing Roberta Hertzel in About Schmidt, Kathy Bates earned another Oscar nomination with her character reawakening Jack Nicholson’s retired and reticent persona. Bates infuses Roberta with bold sensuality and a contagious lust for life, instantly lighting up the screen in her few scenes. Her portrayal of Roberta encourages Schmidt to rediscover new adventures, leaving a memorably liberating impact on the film. Despite being a supporting character, Bates’ performance underscores her consistent ability to create indelible characters, captivating viewers with her talent regardless of screen time.


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4 Titanic (1997)

Kathy Bates portrays Molly Brown

Molly Brown talking to Rose in Titanic


Release Date
December 19, 1997

In one of her most memorable roles, Bates’ Molly Brown in the classic blockbuster Titanic, creates a fan favorite performance. As the “unsinkable” American socialite, Bates stands out with charm and fiery integrity. Whether organizing rescue efforts or challenging upper-class indifference, her spirited Molly counters the tragedy with genuine understanding and warmth. Bates’ stellar turn remains etched in popular memory, outshining even the leads. Even though another actress was almost cast as Molly Brown, Bates’ memorable role proves she’s simply one of Hollywood’s most gifted scene stealers.

3 Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

Kathy Bates portrays Evelyn Couch

Evelyn in Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

Release Date
December 27, 1991

Jon Avnet

Kathy Bates , Jessica Tandy , Mary Stuart Masterson , Mary-Louise Parker , Cicely Tyson

Bates’ role in Fried Green Tomatoes shines in a departure from prior darker roles. Playing an unsatisfied 1960s housewife, her moving performance charts Evelyn’s transformation through her friendships. She compellingly conveys both Evelyn’s initial feelings of quiet desperation and her subsequent renewal through the nurturing bond she forms with an elderly nursing home resident. Layer by layer, Bates reveals growth, light and agency filling spaces once occupied by neglect and limitations. In Evelyn, Bates created an arguably enduring fan favorite character, a statement not on others’ reception, but on the depth of her acting choices selling this character’s profound evolution.

2 Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Kathy Bates portrays Dolores Claiborne

Dolores and Selena in the garden in Dolore Claiborne

Bates delivers a commanding performance as the defiant and complex titular character accused of murder in Dolores Claiborne. In her portrayal, she navigates Dolores’s public reckoning with police suspicion and private struggles with her estranged daughter with emotional intricacy. Bates skillfully transitions between projecting hardened strength against hostile forces and revealing vulnerability when confronting long-buried wounds. Scene by scene, Bates captivates viewers, drawing them into the multifaceted character’s battle against adversity. Through her portrayal of Dolores Claiborne, Bates demonstrates her talent for mesmerizing audiences and elevating challenging roles with her exemplary acting craft.

1 Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates portrays Annie Wilkes


Release Date
November 30, 1990

Rob Reiner

Kathy Bates solidified her reputation as one of cinema’s most talented and intense actors in her career-defining performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. Her portrayal of the unhinged superfan holding her favorite author captive brings gripping emotional complexity to the character. She chillingly embodies Annie’s delusions and instability while also infusing her with moments of warmth and humanity. The only Stephen King horror movie to win an Oscar, Bates makes Annie utterly compelling. Annie Wilkes remains an iconic character, and Kathy Bates’ performance in Misery stands as a masterclass in acting range and commitment to bold creative risks.

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