The film roles that made Amy Adams a household name, from princess to sociopath and opioid addict

Posted by for Film

With Amy Adams’ new Netflix drama Hillbilly Elegy out this week, we reflect on the career highs of a towering screen talent. 

Amy Adams is the kind of chameleonic film actress who can turn her hand to any role. One minute, she’s all goofy and adorable (Catch Me If You Can) and the next, she fizzles with devious intent (American Hustle). 

Like all the best in her trade, however, Adams lives and breathes the parts that she plays: wherever she’s going, she pulls you in on her journey in a way that’s wholly believable. 

And it’s this versatility – the ability to change on a dime with a screen presence that is nothing short of captivating – that has secured Adams’ standing as one of Hollywood’s most respected talents.

This is a woman who can effortlessly build chemistry in the company of other industry greats, including Meryl Streep, Joaquin Phoenix and Susan Sarandon. Adams’ career has seen her deftly handle a string of multifaceted and wildly different characters, amassing no less than six Oscar nominations in the process. 

Yet more awards are beckoning with the release of new Netflix drama Hillbilly Elegy this week, starring Adams as an opioid addict in one of her grittiest performances yet. In honour of Adams’ irresistible appeal, we take a look back at her most memorable screen roles. 

Catch Me If You Can

One of Adam’s earliest screen roles saw her play a delightfully ditzy nurse opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in 1950s fraud drama Catch Me If You Can. Though a minor part, this 2002 performance put Adams firmly on the map as a quirky and endearing screen talent. 

American Hustle

Adams landed her first – and surely not last – Best Actress Oscar nomination for this slick 2013 crime comedy co-starring Jennifer Lawrence (who also secured an Oscar nod for her efforts). As sultry sociopath Sydney Prosser, Adams is a con artist with some serious issues bubbling beneath. And the drama wasn’t restricted to the screen; Adams later admitted that working alongside director David O Russell was such a demanding experience, she ended up crying almost every day.

Julie & Julia

A more cheerful project saw Adams team up with Hollywood royalty Meryl Streep for this charming 2009 biopic based on the life of American chef Julia Child. Adams is at her relatable best as Julie Powell, a woman approaching her 30s whose identity crisis sets her on a mouthwatering collision path with the woman she admires the most.


Adams got to know Streep well in 2009; they also starred together in this hard-hitting drama about Catholic guilt set in a 1960s Irish-American church in the Bronx. Adams plays Sister James, a kind young nun whose optimism is tainted by the dark suspicions of parish principle Sister Aloysius (Streep). This film shows Adam’s ability to hold her own against industry heavyweights Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, earning her another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.


This heartwarming indie comedy is based on the cultural crossed wires that come about when an English art dealer travels to the American south to meet her in-laws for the first time. Adams is part of the in-law crew, finding her forte as a loquacious and heavily pregnant housewife, whose comic appeal is as brilliant as it is subtle. Adams’ emotional range comes to the fore, though, in a devastating scene in which her character loses her baby. 

The Master

Adams joined ranks with Seymour Hoffman once more as the on-screen wife of “The Master” in this psychological thriller co-starring Joaquin Phoenix. An unsettling film about the influence of cult figures and conspiracy theories in postwar America, Adams’ performance is understated yet mesmerising (including a masturbation scene you’ll find hard to forget).

Man of Steel

Adams auditioned three times for the Superman franchise before hitting the jackpot as Lois Lane, the legendary reporter and Superman love interest in this 2013 blockbuster. Announcing the casting, director Zack Snyder said: “Amy has the talent to capture all of the qualities we love about Lois: smart, tough, funny, warm, ambitious and, of course, beautiful.” Adams sought to amplify her character’s independent streak in a semi-fantasy setting, later remarking: “It was so fun, such a departure from anything I had done before.”


From one magical universe to another, this 2007 Disney delight remains one of Adams’ greatest on-screen outings. Adams plays Giselle, a princess whose nemesis – the scheming Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) – banishes her to modern-day New York. Lost and abandoned, Giselle embarks on a mission to find her prince in this messy metropolis; a quest that sees her cross paths with a handsome yet cynical divorcee (Patrick Dempsey). Adams was still an up-and-coming talent at this point but the makings of a major star is clear to see in one scene alone, where she traverses a full gamut of emotion in under three minutes.

Want a front row to more of Amy Adams’ performances? Hillbilly Elegy is available to stream on Netflix now.

Images: Getty

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Share this article

Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.