Kathy Bates was a 42-year-old stage actress when she was suddenly thrust into move stardom and an Oscar for her work in the film “Misery.” It was highly unusual for an actress with only limited film credits to take on a starring film role and win the industry’s highest honor but Bates accomplished just that.
Prior to “Misery,” Bates was a highly respected stage actress but when her acclaimed theater roles were adapted into film, she was never apart of the transfer. She did get to join the cast of the play “Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” when director Robert Altman filmed the play but in other cases she missed out. In the fall of 1986 Bates saw two of her stage characters adapted to the screen but she was a part of neither: “Crimes of the Heart” (replaced by Diane Keaton) and “night Mother” (replaced by Sissy Spacek).
Bates also lost out on the film version of another play that was written for her “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” This time she was replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer. Bates has said all she could do was laugh and think it was just typical Hollywood when the role of Frankie, an unattractive middle-aged waitress was given to the gorgeous Pfeiffer.
On the occasion of Bates premiering in the eighth season of “American Horror Story: Apocalyse,” take a photo gallery tour of her 15 greatest film performances, ranked from worst to best.
15. SHADOWS AND FOG (1991)
This is an unusual type of film for Woody Allen. Instead of his usual New York City based urban dramas and comedies, this film tells the story of a meek book keeper who gets thrust into the search for a serial killer that is loss in some fictional European country in an unspecified time period in the past. Bates plays one of a group of prostitutes, including Lily Tomlin and Jodie Foster, who are among the vigilantes trying to stop the killer.
14. MEN DON’T LEAVE (1990)
Bates and Jessica Lange would be go on to great success working together on “American Horror Story” and both would win Emmys for the “Coven” season of that show. Lange plays a widow dealing with financial issues and two sons grieving their father in various ways. Bates plays the genuinely nasty shop owner that Lange goes to work for only to have her life made more difficult by Bates.
13. PRELUDE TO A KISS (1992)
Based on the Tony-nominated play of the same name, this film is a body switching comedy in which a nervous bride on her wedding day is transported into the body of an elderly man who has wandered into her wedding ceremony. Her husband then tries to unravel the supernatural phenomenon and restore his bride to her own body. Bates plays the bride’s aunt who is a bubbly happy character unlike many of the darker roles she has taken on her career.
12. THE WAR AT HOME (1996)
Produced on Broadway under the name “Home Front” and starring Carroll O’Connor, this play opened to less than stellar reviews and only ran a week and a half. Emilio Estevez took the property anyway and directed his real life father, Martin Sheen, in a film version of it. The story is about a young Vietnam veteran who returns home from the war and has trouble adjusting to life. Bates plays the mother trapped in the middle of the families battles.
11. THE BLIND SIDE (2009)
Sandra Bullock won as Best Actress Oscar for this story of a wealthy Tennessee woman who adopts a neglected high school football player. Bates has a supporting role in the film as a tutor the family hires to help the boy bring up his grades.
10. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)
This Woody Allen movie explores the idea of a person feeling like they were born in the wrong time in history. Owen Wilson stars as a screenwriter visiting Paris who is transported back in time to the days when it was an enclave for many famous writers. Allen won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the film. Bates plays the famed writer Gertrude Stein, whom Wilson meets on one of his fantasy nights on the town in Paris.
9. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008)
“Revolutionary Road” tells the story of a deeply unhappy married couple in 1940s suburbia. The film reunited Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Bates, who had all appeared to great success in “Titanic.” Bates plays the busybody real estate agent who finds the couple their house. She is also the mother of Michael Shannon (in a Best Supporting Actor nominated role) as a psychologically tormented young man.
8. COME BACK TO THE 5 AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN (1982)
Bates first gained attention on the New York stage. One of her early roles there was in this ensemble comedic drama directed by Robert Altman , who then filmed the play which is largely credited as being Cher‘s first prominent film role and launching her acting career. The film tells the story of a reunion of a James Dean fan club where secrets are revealed and old grievances and conflicts played out.
7. AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD (1991)
This underappreciated film takes place in the Brazilian rain forest. Bates plays a devout Christian woman who comes to Brazil with her husband and young child in order to spread Christianity to the primitive tribes people who live there. Bates has particularly riveting scenes in which she is driven mad with grief over the death of her son and the harsh conditions under which they are living.
6. TITANIC (1997)
Eleven Oscars and major box office success went to this story of the famed unsinkable ocean liner which hit an iceberg and sunk killing over 1,500 people. While most of the main characters in the film are fictional, Bates play the real life Molly Brown whose life had previously been dramatized by Best Actress Oscar nominee Debbie Reynolds in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Her haunted reaction to the ship sinking as she watches from a lifeboat and her pleas to the crew member to have the lifeboat return to save the drowning passengers are among the film’s most memorable moments.
5. ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002)
Bates received her third Oscar nomination (as Best Supporting Actress) for this film that stars Jack Nicholson as a directionless widower who finds life difficult after his retirement. Bates plays the mother of Nicholson’s daughter’s fiancee, who is as free-spirited as Nicholson is troubled. Her hot tub attempt at seducing Nicholson is one of Bates’ most memorable comic moments on screen.
4. PRIMARY COLORS (1998)
The book on which “Primary Colors” is based was written anonymously (later journalist Joe Klein was revealed to be the author) as an insider account of a president and first lady very closely based on Bill and Hillary Clinton. Bates plays a political operative in the film and received her second Oscar nomination (as Best Supporting Actress for the film.) Bates also won the SAG Award for her doomed character.
3. FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991)
Bates followed up her malevolent Oscar winning role in “Misery” with this completely opposite type of role as a shy and somewhat timid housewife who gains strength thru stories told to her by a nursing home resident played by Oscar nominee Jessica Tandy. The film has a classic movie moment when a young woman steals a parking space in a supermarket from Bates declaring she got it because she is younger and faster.
2. DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1995)
Bates has declared this Stephen King film the favorite of all her roles she played. Dolores Claiborne is a mother of a young girl who is being molested by her abusive father. The film flashes back and forth in time telling the present day story of how the daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) hasn’t spoken to her mother in years and their uneasy reunion. That part is contrasted with the past story of how Dolores plotted to kill her husband to protect the daughter from the abusive father.
1. MISERY (1990)
Many major stars such as Lange and Bette Midler passed on the lead role of this King story of an obsessed fan who holds her favorite author hostage in her remote home. Director Rob Reiner saw Bates in the play “Aunt Dan and Lemon” in Los Angeles and decided to take a chance and cast the little known film actress in the lead role of his film. Bates when on to win a slew of awards for the film including the Oscar for Best Actress.