Ranking Rachel McAdams’ Best Movies

Ranking Rachel McAdams' Best Movies

Born in London, Ontario, Rachel McAdams is one of Canada’s great supporting talents in Hollywood. She’s come full circle the past two decades, breaking through with the role of high school’s cruellest popular girl Regina George in Mean Girls and most recently, portraying the frazzled wife and mother Barbara Simon in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

McAdams never fails to captivate audiences in any role she takes. She’s been a self-destructive mess of a cop in season 2 of True Detective—and arguably kept people watching for longer than they otherwise would have—and became known as Canada’s sweetheart after her portrayal of Allie in the teen romance, The Notebook.


Despite taking time away from the industry when needed, McAdams’ body of work is extensive. We’ve rounded up Rachel McAdams’ best movies and have listed them in chronological order.

Mean Girls (2004)

Everyone knows McAdams for her vindictive portrayal of Regina George in the 2004 teen comedy Mean Girls. Written by Tina Fey and directed by Mark Waters, Mean Girls tells the story of a new student Cady Heron (played by Lindsey Lohan) as she integrates into a new high school in America after living abroad. The school’s most popular and feared student, Regina George, takes Cady under her wing to join her crew that includes Gretchen Wieners (played by Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (played by Amanda Seyfried). The girls rule the school and eventually turn on each other.

Initially, Lohan auditioned for the role of Regina George and McAdams auditioned for Cady Heron, but the roles were swapped, as McAdams’ polite and kind personality added an additional dimension to the vindictive character. Lohan also appeared to be intimidated by McAdams during casting, creating a natural dynamic that the director liked.

Mean Girls was an instant hit at the theatres and brought in over $130 million both domestically and internationally. It was well received beyond the target audience and has become a cultural phenomenon. The movie won three Teen Choice Awards, including Breakout Female Movie Star for Lohan—a category that McAdams was also nominated for. Mean Girls simply has to feature in any list of Rachel McAdams’ best movies.

The Notebook (2004)

For people of a certain age, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams will always be linked to young love for their portrayals of Noah and Allie Calhoun in The Notebook. This mid-aughts romantic drama was based on romance novelist, Nicholas Sparks’ New York Times bestseller from the ‘90s which revolved around a teenage fling that became much more than that. Gosling was cast as Noah and given his first big break in a movie role.

Set in North Carolina in the late ‘30s, Noah and Allie are two teenagers with very different economic backgrounds and little in common. They have a fling while Allie is on a summer vacation and it intensifies as the two are forced apart. Eventually, they must try to move on with their lives until they reconnect later. The movie is narrated by an elderly man (James Garner) who recites the plot out of a notebook to an elderly woman in a nursing home.

With a budget of $29 million, The Notebook grossed 117 million internationally in 2004, making it a major commercial success. It won eight Teen Choice Awards and became a generational romance story for years to come.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

The 2009 film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s enduring series, Sherlock Holmes, features Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes, Jude Law as Watson and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler. Although Adler appeared in just one of Doyle’s stories (A Scandal in Bohemia), she’s the most iconic female character in the series and was worked into the screenplay of this modern interpretation of England’s greatest fictional detective.

Holmes and his assistant, Watson are tasked with preventing Lord Blackwood from continuing on his path of destruction. The murderous aristocrat appears to be imbued with magical powers and after they catch him the first time, they think their job is done, as he’s sentenced to death. But he mysteriously returns from the grave and is bent on wreaking havoc on England.

In its opening weekend, Sherlock Holmes brought in over $62 million in the US and it ranked eighth internationally for box office revenue. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the movie three out of four stars for its compelling cast, stimulating scenes and exciting storyline. The movie was nominated for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction at the Academy Awards; Downey Jr. won Best Actor—Musical or Comedy—at the Golden Globe Awards.


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

The sequel to Sherlock Holmes came out in 2011 and is essentially a remake of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories: The Adventure of the Empty House and The Final Problem. The same cast returns, including Downey Jr. as Holmes, Jude Law as Watson, and McAdams as Irene Adler.

The villain in this one is Adler’s prior employer, Professor Moriarty, who had a dark presence in the prequel. Depicted as a criminal mastermind in Doyle’s stories, Moriarty is described as the spider in a web of murders, dubious business acquisitions, including an arms factory in Germany, and reigns of terror. As Holmes gets closer to understanding his archenemy’s end goal of creating and profiting from a massive European war, Moriarty attacks by targeting Watson and his fiancée. Jared Harris plays Moriarty.

Roger Ebert was even more enthusiastic about the sequel, giving it an extra half star for 3.5. Although he recognized the discrepancy between the methodical and introspective Holmes from the books and the high-flying action of the movie, he chalks it up to the modern interpretation that proved so successful in the 2009 edition.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Written and directed by Woody Allen, this romantic comedy has McAdams playing the role of Inez, the fiancée of a successful Hollywood screenwriter, Gil Pender, who’s played by Owen Wilson. The American couple tags along with Inez’ parents on their business trip to Paris at a time when Pender is having trouble getting started on his first novel. The unsatisfied and frustrated Pender begins to take late night walks around the city as he searches for inspiration. Unbeknownst to him, he’s able to go back in time and experience the city in the ‘20s and then further back to La Belle Epoque (1870 to 1910). As Inez and Gil immerse themselves in the city, flaws in their relationship come to light.

Midnight in Paris was nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Art Direction, and eventually it did win Best Writing/Original Screenplay. McAdams was nominated by Satellite Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and the entire cast that consisted of Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, McAdams, Michael Sheen and Owen Wilson, were nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture by the Screen Actors Guild in 2012.

About Time (2013)

This feel-good science fiction movie written and directed by Richard Curtis stars Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson as 21-year-old “Tim,” a character who learns that all of the men in his family, himself included, can time travel. He can’t use the power to make historical changes, but he’s able to make small adjustments to his everyday actions to improve things. He uses the power to pursue a love interest “Mary,” who’s played by McAdams. As he tests out the power in various situations, he learns that there are limits to what he can do and sometimes consequences too.

Rachel McAdams was coming off the romance, The Vow, and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, when she got the role of Mary. It became available after Zooey Deschanel had to drop out due to scheduling issues. This was McAdams’ second time acting in a time travel piece, as she was part of the cast in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

In 2014, the Saturn Award nominated About Time for Best Fantasy Film, Best Supporting Actor for Bill Nighy (Tim’s father) and Best Editing. It’s a treat, and every bit deserving of a place in our list of Rachel McAdams’ best movies.

Spotlight (2015)

This independent film earned McAdams the Screen Actors Guild Award, Critics’ Choice Movie Award, Satellite Award and Independent Spirit Award. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards in 2016. The movie itself won the Oscar for the Best Motion Picture of the Year.

The story follows the Boston Globe’s newspaper team of investigative journalists (called The Spotlight) as they took on a child molestation accusation that involved a Priest (John Geoghan) from the Roman Catholic Church. What begins as a single account expands to a network of coverups that the Archbishop of Boston repeatedly failed to address. The team of journalists conduct interviews and gather the evidence needed to prompt five criminal prosecutions that lead to prison sentences, and forever alter the Catholic Church’s culture of silence.

The story is based on true events in the early aughts. After publishing the series, the Boston Globe won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003. Their coverage of the crimes led to radical changes after many years of abuse. Rachel McAdams is Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the investigative journalists on The Spotlight team.

Southpaw (2015)

We had to include a sports movie in this list—and Southpaw is a good one. This Antoine Fuqua-directed movie tells the story of a champion boxer, Billy Hope, who reaches the top of his sport and appears to be unstoppable. He marries a woman, Maureen, he’s known since childhood, and together, they have a daughter. Unfortunately for Billy, his world is upturned when he begins a feud with a rival boxer, and he loses his wife and custody of his daughter. Billy is forced to rebuild from the bottom up if he wants to retrieve his daughter from social services.

The original screenplay for Southpaw was written to reflect the struggles of rapper Eminem, who inspired the character, Billy Hope. Eminem was pegged to play the lead, but dropped the offer to focus on music. Jake Gyllenhaal took the lead and trained as a boxer for months leading into the assignment. McAdams played the role of Maureen and received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress of the Year by the Golden Schmoes.

Doctor Strange (2016)

This Marvel Studios production came out in 2016 and featured Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, a self-centred but successful neurosurgeon at the Metro-General Hospital in New York City. After being in a life-altering car accident, the doctor begins a process of physical and spiritual healing in which he learns about a metaphysical realm that surrounds life on earth. He soon begins to straddle the two dimensions and protects the Earth from outside threats.

McAdams plays the role of Dr. Christine Palmer, another neurosurgeon at the hospital who dated Dr. Strange for a brief period before the action begins. She’s able to successfully portray her character’s balanced sympathetic nature with a deep inner strength. Palmer quickly becomes the doctor’s connection to the real world and his past as he delves deeper into mysticism. McAdams was nominated for the Teen Choice Award of Movie Actress in Fantasy genre, and the movie was nominated for an Oscar for visual effects.

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

In 2023, director Kelly Fremon Craig, who wrote and directed The Edge of Seventeen, turned the iconic Judy Blume book from the ‘70s, Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret into a screenplay. Like the book, the movie follows 11-year-old Margaret as she’s uprooted from the city to the suburbs and has to navigate all of the pre-teenage anxieties that are just as relevant today as they were when the original book was written.

In order to replicate the timelessness of the book on the screen, Craig set it in 1970 but created a nostalgia that was widely relatable—minus the cellphones. McAdams was cast as Margaret’s mother, Barbara Simon, who becomes overwhelmed when she tries to fit into her new life as a suburban house wife. McAdams points to being a mother of two as giving her a connection to the character.

The movie has been very well received by the public. The Rotten Tomatoes site has a 99% average score based on 211 reviews. Judy Blume, who resisted having her seminal book turned into a movie for 50 years, was very impressed and said that the movie was better than the book.



If you enjoyed this trip down memory lane, you’ll love our other recent articles ranking the best Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese movies.