Oprah Winfrey Is Back on the Big Screen (And We Hope She Never Leaves Again!)

It's been 15 years since the Queen of Talk has appeared in a major film role, and now she's making a major comeback in the buzzed-about The Butler

Oprah Winfrey has dominated the small screen for decades. The big screen, however, is a different story. Since her Oscar-nominated debut in The Color Purple (1985), Oprah has spent long stretches of time away from film acting, returning occasionally to perform in a movie she feels passionate about, or as a favor to a friend.

The Butler, opening on Aug. 16, marks her first major acting role in 15 years -- and it's a doozy. But will it be a hit? As we wait for the box office verdict to come in, let's take a look back at Oprah's history on the silver screen.

The Color Purple (1985)



You'll get chills just watching this little clip of Oprah playing Sofia, who inspires the film's protagonist (Whoopi Goldberg) to stand up to the men who are oppressing her.
Reception: Oprah's first movie is the one that changed her life. The Color Purple was a smash hit with 11 Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nod for Winfrey. Oprah went on to name her production company Harpo, which is the name of her husband in the film (and also happens to be her own name, backwards).

Native Son (1986)



After she won raves for The Color Purple, Oprah chose as her next project Native Son, in which she played the poor mother of a young black man on trial for killing a rich white girl.
Reception: The low-budget film got a brief theatrical release and not much attention. Still, Roger Ebert gave it three stars, calling Oprah's performance "powerful."

Beloved (1998)



Bringing Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved to the big screen became a passion project for Oprah, who starred as a former slave haunted by her past.
Reception: Her performance received good notices, but the film met with mostly bad reviews. When "her baby" failed at the box office, Oprah says she temporarily went into a "'massive, depressive macaroni and cheese-eating tailspin."

Charlotte's Web (2006)



Oprah's first film as a voice actress was this part live-action, part-computer-animated adaptation of the classic children's novel. She has said that the highlight of playing Gussy the Goose was working with Cedric the Entertainer, who played her husband, Golly the Gander. "You made me better because you're really good," Oprah told Cedric on her show. "You were really good being henpecked."
Reception: The family film was fairly well-reviewed, but was buried on opening weekend by Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness.

Bee Movie (2007)

Most of the characters in this Jerry Seinfeld-produced animated film are bees, but not Oprah; she plays a New York Supreme Court judge with a striking resemblance to herself.
Reception: The movie did well in theaters, but not well enough to move forward with a planned sequel. 


Ocean's 13 (2007)

In the second Ocean's Eleven sequel, casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) appears on Oprah to discuss his charitable endeavors. While promoting the film, Garcia revealed that he showed up to Harpo Studios in character, and that the scene between him and Winfrey was "unscripted and completely improvised."
Reception: The freewheeling action-comedy was a No. 1 box office hit. Even so, it was the lowest-grossing of the three Ocean's films.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)


Oprah was a natural fit for the voice of Eudora, the seamstress who teaches daughter Tiana to follow her heart.
Reception: Rave reviews, big box office and three Oscar nominations made this an instant Disney classic -- and Oprah's most successful film since The Color Purple.

Jesus Henry Christ (2012)


Julia Roberts
enlisted "lifelong friend" Oprah for this quirky indie, which Roberts produced. While you don't see Winfrey's face, you do hear her voice trashing Michael Sheen's character's novel.
Reception: This limited-release film received mixed reviews and was quickly forgotten.

The Butler (2013)

This ambitious historical epic stars Oprah as the wife of a former slave (Forrest Whitaker) who becomes the butler to eight consecutive U.S. presidents. 
Reception: So far, so good. In advance of its opening, The Butler is racking up positive reviews and Oscar buzz. EW calls Winfrey's performance "beautifully nuanced," and The Hollywood Reporter says that she is "quite enjoyable to watch."

Donna Kaufman is a freelance writer and iVillage contributor. Find her on Twitter and Google+

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