Friends: Why Rachel Remains Jennifer Aniston’s Most Iconic Role (Despite Not Being Her Best)

Jennifer Aniston

Starring as Rachel in Friends defined Jennifer Aniston’s Hollywood journey and turned her into an iconic figure, even with her accomplishments in movies and TV.
Rachel was the main character in Friends, and her storylines, especially her relationship with Ross, sparked discussions and influenced the way relationships are portrayed in other shows and movies.

During the 2000s, Aniston shone in romantic comedies and displayed her talent in dramatic roles, breaking free from her comedic image and earning award nominations and praise.
Although her role as Rachel in Friends isn’t Jennifer Aniston’s best performance, it has become synonymous with her career and is her most iconic role. The show premiered in 1994, following the lives of six young adults navigating life in New York City. Known for its witty humor and unique take on sitcoms, Friends remains popular even after its 10-season run. The show’s enduring appeal is largely due to the iconic cast, and stars like Aniston became household names thanks to this beloved ’90s cultural phenomenon.

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Rachel was a breakthrough role for Aniston, even though she had made her film debut a year earlier in the horror film Leprechaun. As Rachel, Aniston had more opportunities to shine, and she played a crucial part in many of Friends’ best episodes during its decade-long run. Aniston quickly established herself as a movie star, shedding her TV actor image, which was no easy feat in the early 2000s. Despite her immense success in other projects, Friends forever defines Aniston’s status as a Hollywood icon.

Jennifer Aniston Turned Rachel into a Fashion and Romance Icon of the ’90s

While Friends was an ensemble sitcom, Rachel emerged as the show’s central character. In the first episode, “The Pilot,” Rachel’s arrival at Central Perk set the show’s events in motion, and her runaway bride storyline added much of the humor. As the show progressed, Rachel’s impact extended beyond the screen. Though Jennifer Aniston initially disliked the Rachel haircut, it became a popular late ’90s fashion trend.

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Rachel’s storylines sparked intense debates among passionate Friends fans, especially her iconic will-they, won’t-they relationship with Ross, which continues to be discussed even decades later. Unlike other humorous moments from Friends, Ross and Rachel’s “break” not only caused controversy but also influenced the portrayal of relationships in other shows and movies. The show’s creators recognized Rachel’s significance, featuring her prominently in episodes with celebrity guests, such as Brad Pitt in Friends season 8, episode 9, “The One with the Rumor.”

Jennifer Aniston Became a Queen of Rom-Coms, But She Shines in Dramatic Roles

While starring as Rachel in Friends, Aniston also built a successful movie career, becoming a rom-com queen in the 2000s. Although rom-coms were sometimes dismissed during that era, Aniston delivered stellar and underrated performances in films like Along Came Polly and He’s Just Not That Into You. By 2005, she established herself as a box office hit, with The Break-Up grossing over $200 million (via Box Office Mojo).

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Alongside her rom-com success, Aniston explored dramatic roles, like 2005’s Derailed, but faced challenges due to her comedic reputation. However, in 2014’s Cake, Aniston broke free from typecasting and earned SAG and Golden Globe nominations for her dramatic portrayal. Returning to television in The Morning Show, Aniston impressed as news anchor Alex Levy, earning acclaim and a SAG win. Despite her unforgettable portrayal of Rachel, Aniston’s recent award successes prove her versatility and talent beyond the iconic role.