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10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

Kathy Bates has broken every mold that Hollywood has created and, in doing so, she has forged a career full of memorable characters and powerful performances. From Annie Wilkes to Dolores Claiborne, Molly Brown to Madam Delphine – Kathy Bates has proven to be one of the best actors, in any era, of any sex, in the world. Like the great-aunt you’ve always wanted (until she poisons the cookies she just baked you and then makes you write her an entire book), Kathy Bates has made a career out of being extremely comforting or delightfully terrifying.

10) Mama – The Waterboy (1997)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

Back when Adam Sandler was making good movies, The Waterboy was released and was generally well-received. Much of that success was due to Sandler’s performance of the savant-like water boy, Bobby Bouchier. It was Kathy Bates, however, that stole the show as a “Carrie’s Mom-esque,” overbearing, religious mother. “Mama,” as she was called by everyone, was hilarious but she also brought a lot of heart to the film. Mama wasn’t a villain, like the mother in Carrie. She just loved her boy and wanted to protect him from all of the things that were the devil, that’s all.

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9) Libby Holden – Primary Colors (1998)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

If your movie needs a tough-talking, sarcastic, irreverent character, you could cast nobody better than Kathy Bates. This was an opinion held by director Mike Nichols when he cast Bates as Libby Holden in his political drama, Primary Colors. The film, adapted from the novel of the same name, details Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992, in a roman a clef style. (That means they changed the names to protect the not-so-innocent). The film received rave reviews, with John Travolta playing (definitely not) Bill Clinton, Emma Thompson as (certainly not) Hilary Clinton and Kathy Bates as (we’re not sure who she’s supposed to really be) Libby Holden. Bates was even nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this role.

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8) Roberta Hertzel – About Schmidt (2002)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

Make no mistake, About Schmidt is totally Jack Nicholson’s movie. As Walter Schmidt, Nicholson plays a retired, unenthused-with-life man whose wife suddenly passes away. He then goes on a cross-country journey to find himself while simultaneously trying to stop his daughter’s wedding to the affable but unmotivated Randall. Randall’s mom is played by Kathy Bates. It’s a small role, but boy is it memorable.

Bates plays the kooky Roberta Hertzel, a whimsical free-spirit with an affinity for pain meds and skinny dipping in her hot tub. Yes, this is the first and possibly only role Kathy Bates bares more than her soul in, and it only adds to the surrealism of the whole film. Kathy Bates proved in this movie that she’s fully capable of being a leading lady or a supporting character and that she will shine (or moon, rather?) in either role.

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7) Gertrude Stein – Midnight in Paris (2010)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

If America in the 2010’s was Paris in the 20’s, Kathy Bates would be Gertrude Stein. Unfortunately, America is not Paris in the 20’s. Luckily, Woody Allen made a film that combined the best of both worlds and, coincidentally, Kathy Bates was cast as Gertrude Stein!

Stein, herself, was a bit of a muse for many of the great writers and artists in 1920’s Paris. An underrated writer herself, Stein was more of a matriarch than anything, and she was an inspiration for some of the world’s best art and artists. So, too, is Kathy Bates. That is why this role was such a perfect fit for her. Midnight in Paris was a fun journey back into a simpler time, and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein was a true highlight.

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6) Frances Lacey – A Home of Our Own (1993)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

This was one of Kathy Bates’ more underrated roles, but it was an important one, especially in this day and age of women empowerment. Bates starred as Frances Lacey, a single mother of 6 children who move from LA to head north for a new life. While driving, the Lacey Clan comes across an old, dilapidated house. Frances sees this house and immediately knows that it will be theirs, truly a home of their own. The plot is not a complicated one. It’s the performances of the actors, most specifically Bates, that make this such a memorable film. A Home of Our Own is for anybody who has ever hit rock bottom and must scratch and claw their way back to the top. The Lacey Clan never makes it to “the top,” per say. But they do end up getting a home their own. More importantly, they realize that home is much more than wooden beams and plastered walls. For the Lacey’s, home is each other.

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5) Evelyn Couch – Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

For many, this is the role most associated with Kathy Bates. In Fried Green Tomatoes, Bates plays Evelyn Couch – a housewife trying to rekindle the romance in her marriage. When that fails, she begins volunteering at a nursing home, where she encounters Ninny, a firecracker with a hell of a story to tell. Throughout the course of the film, Ninny regales Evelyn with tales of life, love and train tracks and the two form a friendship that crosses time and circumstance. Evelyn uses the lessons she learned from Ninny and applies them to her own life, hopefully saving her marriage in the process.

Kathy Bates plays the role of Evelyn completely differently than any of her other roles. Usually, Kathy Bates plays a loud, wisecracking spitfire herself. In Fried Green Tomatoes, however, she is much more subdued. This just speaks to the range of Kathy Bates.

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4) The Unsinkable Molly Brown – Titanic (1996)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

There are very few actors who can bring so much to a part so little, but that’s exactly what Kathy Bates did with her portrayal of The Unsinkable” Molly Brown in James Cameron’s Titanic. As one of the only “real” characters in the film, Molly Brown was a loud, sardonic, uncouth woman and Bates showed off all of those qualities in spades with her performance. She was perfect for the role, really, as she humanized a lot of the cardboard characters that were aboard the Titanic. She also brought a little light-heartedness to an otherwise pretty tragic movie; just like the actual Molly Brown did with the real-life tragedy of the Titanic.

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3) Dolores Claiborne – Dolores Claiborne (1995)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

When one thinks of Stephen King adaptations of which Kathy Bates stars, Dolores Claiborne is usually not the first one to come to mind. This is a shame, as Bates’ performance in this film is both heart-breaking and powerful. Bates stars as the titular character who is accused of murder…decades after being accused of another murder. The fact that Claiborne actually committed the crimes of which she was accused, yet the audience is still firmly on her side, speaks to both the story and of the performance of Bates. In the film, Dolores Claiborne is a broken, beaten down, tired, old woman. The woman who portrays her, however, has never looked stronger.

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2) Madame Delphine LaLaurie – American Horror Story: Coven (2011)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

Kathy Bates has starred in a number of television series’ throughout her career, but it was her debut in the world of American Horror Story that truly stood out. If you thought Annie Wilkes was bad, honey, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Bates stars as Delphine LaLaurie, a vile racist who tortures black men, as well as her own daughters, simply for entertainment purposes. We start out firmly loathing the character but, as AHS loves to make us do, we sort of get tricked into liking her? Still, the character is one of Bates’ most evil roles and, if it weren’t for the number 1 pick on our list, it would serve as Kathy Bates’ greatest performance.

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1) Annie Wilkes – Misery (1990)

10 Best Performances of Kathy Bates

And then there was Annie. Annie Wilkes is not only the best character Kathy Bates has ever played; it’s also one of the very best characters Stephen King has ever written. Still, it was Bates that gave Annie her power and it is Bates that we will forever associate with the role of Annie Wilkes.

In the story, Wilkes is a crazed fan who happens to come across her favorite writer (because she was following him), after a serious car wreck. Annie saves his life but then holds him captive in her remote farmhouse. James Caan played the role of the writer, Paul Sheldon, and his performance cannot be understated either. This was Bates’ movie though, and she proved that throughout the 147-minute runtime.

Misery is a battle of wills that shows the resilience of the human spirit and the healing power of art. We pity Annie. We feel bad for her. The audience empathizes with her and that’s what makes her so terrifying; we see little parts of ourselves in Annie Wilkes and we don’t like what we see. While we may never capture our favorite writer in our back bedroom, we do obsess over things that, in the end, don’t really matter. Annie Wilkes taught us that it is life that creates art; not the other way around. Kathy Bates taught us that art, even when it’s scary, can be beautiful.

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