John (a government administrator and voice coach) and Helga (a German opera singer) shuttle their teenage daughters, Sandra and Gesine, between Europe and the Washington, D.C. area. "I landed back in the United States hitting puberty, not looking like an American kid," she tells PEOPLE in 2007 of her time in Arlington, Va. "And everything in junior high's about how you look. It was hell."
New York Magazine theatre critic John Simon singles out Bullock for her Off-Broadway performance as a Southern belle in No Time Flat. The review helps her land an agent, and soon after she makes her TV acting debut as a crippled girl-turned-bionic woman in NBC's Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman with Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner (left).
After starring in the short-lived NBC sitcom version of Working Girl, Bullock stars as a nerdy psychobiologist in Love Potion No. 9. While filming, she falls for costar Tate Donovan (right), who she dates for more than three years. "The person who needed me most was always the person I was attracted to," Bullock tells PEOPLE of the split. "My priorities were him first, me second."
Bullock squeezes into a skin-tight body suit opposite Sylvester Stallone's in the sci-fi action flick Demolition Man (left), which opens at No. 1 at the box office. Entertainment Weekly says Bullock makes "something out of a nothing role" and "even makes stilted lines like 'I find this lack of stimulus to be truly disappointing' sound natural."
In the action movie Speed, Keanu Reeves (right) recruits Bullock to drive a bomb-rigged bus, and in the chaos, they fall in love. "Everyone told me not to do Speed," she tells The Virginian-Pilot. "I mean, it looked like I'd be just 'the girl,' [but] I've learned to do things by instinct." The film grosses more than $121 million at the box office, and while Reeves doesn't return for the disappointing sequel, the two stars reunite for the romantic drama The Lake House in 2006.
Bullock plays a hopeless romantic who pretends to be the fiancée of a coma patient in the romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping (left), which opens at No. 1 in the box office. "I think people are under some misapprehension that what she's doing on-screen is just being herself," writer-director Marc Lawrence later tells Vogue. "I've always felt, because of her ability to do physical comedy, that she is the reincarnation of Lucille Ball."
Bullock stars with Matthew McConaughey (left) in A Time to Kill, and they are linked romantically for the remainder of the 90s. "I just look at her and I think, Wow!" McConaughey tells In Style. "But she doesn't know how beautiful she is or how much people like her. She's just so regular about everything." In 1998, Bullock moves near McConaughey in Austin, Texas, where she builds a home and eventually opens a Cajun-inspired restaurant. "You never know when you'll fall in love; you don't expect it. And I fell in love with Austin," Bullock tells In Style. "I've gone there to build my home. My roots. I'm building a home there with family in mind, children and grandchildren."
Bullock forms her own production company Fortis Films, which her younger sister Gesine (right) helps run. She writes, produces, directs and stars in the 30-minute short Making Sandwiches with McConaughey. After it screens at Sundance, Bullock signs a three-year production deal at Warner Bros, which proves fruitful with seven movies, all starring Bullock, including Hope Floats and Two Weeks Notice, that rake in a total of $700 million at the box office, plus $255 million in DVDs by 2007, according to Forbes.
Bullock plays a frumpy FBI agent who goes undercover at a beauty pageant in Miss Congeniality, also starring Benjamin Bratt and Michael Caine. The film, coproduced by Bullock's production company Fortis Films, earns more than $106 million at the box office and she reprises her role for 2005's Miss Congeniality: Armed and Fabulous.
After meeting stand-up comedian George Lopez at one of his gigs, Bullock develops a sitcom for him. "Who would have thought that my life would go from 'me, me, me' to 'George, George, George,'" Bullock jokes to Variety in 2001. She executive produces the Latino sitcom, George Lopez (left), which runs for six successful seasons on ABC.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Globe; Everett Collection; Ron Galella/WireImage; Everett Collection; KOBAL; Kobal Collection/Wireimage; Janet Gough/Celebrity Photo; Jacqui Wong/AdMedia; Kobal Collection/Wireimage; ABC