It’s not exactly a secret that Hollywood has some pretty unfair standards when it comes to beauty. Look at the fact that Amy Schumer is considered “big” by conventional celebrity standards. Women don’t get a lot of great roles in the movies and on television unless they’re a size two and traditionally beautiful, unless they’re okay with being purely comic relief. But despite what casting directors around Tinseltown want to try to stress to us in movies, not every woman on the planet looks like Rose Byrne or Sandra Bullock. Here are some of the best “plus size” women who have ever graced the screen.
It’s weird, but actors and actresses with just one name don’t typically get the kind of recognition or respect they deserve. For Mo’Nique, a renowned stand-up comic who really got her acting start on shows like Moesha and The Hughleys, it’s been a long road to acclaim and respect. There’s no denying her talent after a scintillating performance in Precious, for which she won an Academy Award in a role she took in order to raise awareness for sexual abuse victims.
It’s kind of amazing looking back at movies like Beerfest, in which she was absolutely hilarious, by the way, and realizing that’s an actress who would soon enough be honored with the highest award in her profession. Unfortunately her career hasn’t taken off quite the way she probably would have hoped since bringing home that glorious, golden statue, which she attributes to supposedly being blackballed by Hollywood.
9. Rebel Wilson
Now, before you say anything, yes, Rebel Wilson is basically used as “comic relief,” as we alluded to as being a bit of typecasting above. But while there are many actresses who could fit the bill, she’s become a standout in the role of the weird, blunt, hilarious woman in movies like Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect. The Australian comedienne is one of the funniest, most outrageous women working in the industry today and certainly has no shortage of opportunities ahead of her.
Yes, her short-lived sitcom Super Fun Night crashed and burned, but she’s going to make another splash in Pitch Perfect 3 and has branched out to steal scenes in movies like Michael Bay’s underrated Pain & Gain, and will soon be seen in Sacha Baron Cohen’s film Grimsby alongside stalwarts like Ian McShane, Mark Strong, and Penelope Cruz.
8. Gabourey Sidibe
Few young actresses have burst onto the scene quite the way Gabourey Sidibe did with her star-making turn in the movie Precious, which we already mentioned as having garnered Mo’Nique and Oscar, and got Sidibe a nomination for Best Actress. These days she’s continued her ascent in the wildly popular series Empire, and is also in the upcoming movie Grimsby alongside Rebel Wilson.
Sidibe has moved a bit away from movies, appearing in television shows like American Horror Story and The Big C in addition to her role on Empire. Not only that, but she’s also one of the stars of the Hulu original series Difficult People. Basically, the former Oscar nominee is currently, quietly beginning to assert her complete dominance over the small screen, even though most people still only think of her as “that girl from Precious.”
7. Shelley Winters
The late, great Shelley Winters is, more than likely, sadly forgotten by many of today’s youth but was a tremendous talent in her day, appearing in movies like A Place in the Sun, Lolita, Alfie, and The Poseidon Adventure, along with numerous television appearances. For most people these days, she’s probably best remembered as Roseanne’s abrasive, blunt grandmother on the legendary sitcom Roseanne.
Along with the films listed above, she was a two-time Academy Award winner for the films The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue, and received two more nominations during her 50 year career. One of those nominations came for the aforementioned Poseidon Adventure, in which she shared the screen with Gene Hackman and stole every scene she was in, particularly with her heroic death scene in that film. Er, spoiler alert for a 43-year old movie, we guess? The only reason she’s not a little higher on this list is the fact that, when she began her career, she was a blonde bombshell and only later transitioned into “plus size” territory as she grew older and into the later stages of her career.
6. Jennifer Hudson
It’s kind of amazing to reflect on Jennifer Hudson’s career at this point, isn’t it? The former American Idol also-ran has become one of the most successful women working today, and with the incredible accolades she’s collected, the only reason she’s not higher on this list is the fact that she’s no longer what anyone with a brain would consider “plus size.” But that doesn’t change the fact that, when she skyrocketed to fame, she fell firmly into that category.
The now-svelte Hudson has pretty much proven she can do it all in show business, earning an Oscar and a Grammy, putting her halfway to becoming one of the very few people to ever pull off the coveted EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). And at age 33, there’s still plenty of time left for her to pull off that feat. Only now, she’ll be doing it as a thin performer, rather than the previously plus size superstar she used to be.
5. Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah may not be quite as accomplished an actress as some of the other names on this list, but in terms of sheer star power, few “plus size” women are in her stratosphere. The hip hop legend started out on the small screen in television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Living Single, but she really started to make a big time impression in movies with her performance in the Academy Award-winning Chicago.
The larger than life personality and charisma Queen Latifah possesses has led to her headlining movies with the likes of Steve Martin, Will Ferrell, and Dolly Parton, among others. It’s also led to her running and starring in her own daytime talk show. She’s pretty easily handled the worlds of music, television, and movies – winning a Golden Globe and a Grammy and earning an Academy Award nomination – making her one of the most powerful “plus size” women in the show business industry.
4. Octavia Spencer
Over the last couple of decades, Octavia Spencer has been quietly putting together one of the most impressive resumes of any actress working on Hollywood. The Academy Award-nominated actress for her role in The Help made her first on screen appearance in A Time to Kill and has been working steadily since, with movies like Being John Malkovich, Bad Santa, Fruitvale Station, and Snowpiercer.
She’s equally adept at comedy and drama, and has proven she can shine in genre films as well, appearing in the film Insurgent in a pivotal role, as well as the second Percy Jackson film. She’s one of the rare actresses who can switch back and forth between manic hilarity and somber seriousness at a moment’s notice, which is just one of the reasons she’s become one of the go-to actresses of her generation.
3. Margo Martindale
You know how people refer to character actors as “That Guys”? Well, Margo Martingale definitely qualifies as the female version of a “That Girl” after appearing in projects like Lonesome Dove and Million Dollar Baby before really gaining fame with her Emmy-winning turn in the second season of the television show Justified. It was in that show she became a genuine critical darling, later evidenced by her Emmy nomination for her guest role on the acclaimed series The Americans.
While she hasn’t had the big movie appearances some of the other actresses on this list have on their resumes (though she had a high profile role opposite Meryl Streep in August: Osage County), her talent is undeniable. Her performance as Mags Bennett in Justified is revered as one of the greatest villainous turns in recent TV history, her combination of power, charisma, vulnerability, and intimidation lighting up the screen with every appearance.
2. Kathy Bates
Perhaps no other “plus size” actress has enjoyed as acclaimed a career as Kathy Bates, who first really emerged as a major Hollywood force with her starring role in the movie Misery, and has kept churning out great performance after great performance for the past couple of decades. Her roles are legendary and far ranging, from portraying “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown in Titanic, a memorable guest turn on The Office, and most recently, a high profile starring turn on American Horror Story.
Bates is so revered that you can pretty much count on any performance she gives earning her some kind of nomination, be it of the Golden Globe, Emmy, or Academy Award-variety. She received her first Tony Award nomination in 1983, and has steadily been raking in the accolades ever since. Kathy Bates has basically become the type of actress who, when you cast her, you’re automatically adding a “prestige” tag to your production.
1. Melissa McCarthy
The reigning box office champ among plus size actresses, Melissa McCarthy is pure gold whenever she’s on screen. She’s earned Oscar and Emmy nominations for her performances in Bridesmaids and Mike and Molly, respectively, and was the featured star in the recent smash success Spy, in which she held court alongside the likes of Jason Statham and more than held her own in a film that was both critically and publicly acclaimed.
The 45-year-old actress may have risen to fame a little later than she probably deserved (compared to her famous cousin, Jenny, who gained fame early and then showed people that she was basically an insane person as she got older…and yes, they’re actually cousins), but has been working steadily over the past few years. She’s not just a comedic talent, either. Sure, she’s great with pratfalls and physical comedy, but she’s also great at nuanced, subtle choices in movies like St. Vincent, and is the featured attraction in the Ghostbusters reboot.