9 Milestones in the Evolution of Charlize Theron

In this weekend's Young Adult, Charlize Theron plays a bitter teen lit author who returns to her hometown to reclaim her high school sweetheart. (A high school sweetheart who also happens to be a perfectly happy husband and new father.) So how did the South Africa-raised Theron transform herself from a delicate ballet dancer to a Oscar-winning onscreen homewrecker?

You can always trace a direct line through a few important roles to illustrate what led to an actor's current success. As such, let's look at nine pivotal performances that track the evolution of Charlize Theron.

2 Days in the Valley (1996)

After an uncredited role in the timeless classic Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, Theron's first big break came via John Herzfeld's 2 Days in the Valley, which co-starred the South African beauty as a hitman's girlfriend who has an epic catfight with Teri Hatcher. (Epic in that she wears head-to-toe white spandex, calls Hatcher a "bitch" and then throws her through a glass coffee table.) Perhaps I should rewind though: Before manhandling the future Desperate Housewives star, Theron flew to Los Angeles after an injury derailed her dancing career at the age of 19. There, she was reportedly discovered while yelling at a teller in a Hollywood Blvd. bank who refused to cash her check. Take note, aspiring Oscar winners.

The Devil's Advocate (1997)

How do you possibly follow up a spandex catfight? If you're Charlize Theron, by lending your services for bit parts in That Thing You Do! and the forgettable Michael Richards-Jeff Daniels comedy Trial and Error before landing your first significant role in a major Hollywood film, The Devil's Advocate. For the first time, Theron explored her dramatic range by playing a woman who unravels mentally when her husband (Keanu Reeves) sells his soul to the devil.

Cider House Rules (1999)

Next up is the role which helped Theron made her first mark on critics. In Lasse Hallström's Academy Award-winning Cider House Rules, Theron plays Candy, a young woman who falls for the film's protagonist [Tobey Maguire] while her boyfriend [Paul Rudd] is away at war. Her performance won her praise and her first Screen Actors Guild Award nomination. It also cemented her status as movie star enough for her to win roles in three highly publicized (but underwhelming) projects the next year -- Reindeer Games, The Legend of Bagger Vance and Men of Honor.

Sweet November (2001)

After securing her star, Theron reunited with her Devil's Advocate co-star Keanu Reeves for her most critically detested film at the time, Sweet November. About a dying woman and the man she lets love her for a month (or, as Roger Ebert described them, "two sick and twisted people playing mind games and calling it love"), the movie -- a remake of the 1968 original -- was laughably melodramatic and predictable. To paraphrase Reeves's character, this movie defies every law of nature I've ever known. It legitimately earned every Razzie nod and fan-made YouTube compilation that followed its release. Bad Movie We Love, party of one.

Monster (2003)

Then came the role that changed Theron's career. To play her first nonfictional character, a former prostitute-turned-serial killer named Aileen Wuornos, Theron gained 30 pounds and wore prosthetic teeth. Not only did she win an Academy Award for her starring role but critics like Roger Ebert praised her performance as "one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema." Monster also marked Theron's first producer credit.

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