The older of two girls, a young Sandra Bullock makes frequent trips to Europe so her mother Helga, a German-born singer, could perform during opera season. “In just about any opera, there’s a gypsy child in the background,” the Oscar winner said of her first brush with fame. “That was my part.”
MOST LIKELY TO...
At 12, Bullock and her family finally settle in Arlington, Virginia, where she excels as a cheerleader and is voted “Most Likely to Brighten Your Day” by her peers at Washington-Lee High. “She could make anyone laugh,” one classmate recalled.
A SHOT AT 'LOVE'
After a series of minor stage (No Time Flat) and TV (Working Girl) success, Bullock stars as a nerdy scientist in 1992’s Love Potion No. 9, co-starring Tate Donovan (left).
As Sylvester Stallone’s sexy sidekick in 1993’s Demolition Man, Bullock makes “something out of a nothing role,” says EW. That something is a No. 1 box office hit – her first of many.
“Everyone told me not to do Speed,” Bullock said of the 1994 blockbuster that made her a star. “I mean, it looked like I’d be just ‘the girl.'” But, she added, “I’ve learned to do things by instinct.”
A SLEEPER HIT
The rising star takes over a role originally conceived for Demi Moore in 1995’s While You Were Sleeping. As a railroad clerk who pretends to be the fiancée of a coma patient, Bullock is a refreshing wake-up call, earning the romantic comedy $75 million at the box office.
Bullock forms her production company Fortis Films, which her younger sister Gesine helps her run. From 1998’s Hope Floats to 2009’s All About Steve, the actress produces nearly every film she stars in. “I worry 24/7. I have to,” she says of producing. “The first one who’s going to get blamed is me.”
THE HIT FACTORY
Her production company’s first big hit is Miss Congeniality, in which Bullock plays a frumpy FBI agent who goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. The comedy grosses more than $200 million, and helps Bullock earn her biggest paycheck yet – a reported $17.5 million! – by the time the sequel hits theaters five years later in 2005.
BEHIND THE SCENES
After working the comedy club circuit for 25 years, George Lopez gets his own ABC show – with the help of Bullock, who develops and serves as executive producer of the groundbreaking sitcom. “A lot of it is wanting to make Lopez a star,” she says of the comedian, whom the actress counts among her inner circle of friends.
Taking what she considers a risk as an actress, Bullock stars in 2005’s Oscar-winning film Crash. Her small role as a bitter politician’s wife “gave me so much pride,” she says. “It was re-inspiring.”
After a brief retirement from romantic comedies, Bullock returns with the 2009 blockbuster, The Proposal. As Ryan Reynolds’s overbearing boss and faux fiancée, she helps push the film past the $300 million mark at the box office.
GIVE HER A HAND
Giving $1 million to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, Bullock also donates tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild New Orleans’s Warren Easton High School. “I just write the checks,” says the actress, who also donates another $1 million in relief aid to the victims of the Jan. 12 Haitian earthquake.
BETTER THAN EVER
At 45, Bullock breaks box office records with the drama The Blind Side, making her the first female star to lead a film into the $200 million mark. “I’ve never had this many opportunities in my lifetime,” says Bullock, who earns a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for her role as Leigh Anne Tuohy.
After acting for more than 20 years, America’s Sweetheart officially becomes an Oscar winner for The Blind Side. She dedicates her Academy Award to her late mother Helga, whom she calls a “trailblazer.”
Bullock surprises the world in 2010 with some big news: she’s adopted a son! Little Louis (now 5) comes to her from New Orleans, and though she chooses to keep their lives private, friends can’t help but gush about her parenting skills. “She’s an unbelievable mom,” George Clooney tells PEOPLE. “And that kid’s unbelievably great.”
VIEW FROM THE TOP
Bullock is named Hollywood’s highest-paid actress by Forbes magazine in 2010, having raked in an estimated $56 million between June 2009 and June 2010. She’s also the magazine’s eighth-most-powerful star on its annual Celebrity 100 list.
“I think there will be a collective sigh amomgst women across the United States when I say [Ryan Reynolds] is not my lovah,” Bullock says at the 2011 Golden Globes. (She was right – we felt it.) “He’s been an amazing friend for 10 years,” she continues. At the time, Bullock is filming Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and says that her then-1-year-old son Louis is “all I can handle.”
THE HEAT IS ON
Bullock picks up an Oscar nomination in 2014 for Gravity. “I had already felt overwhelmingly blessed to have had the creative ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity that I did on Gravity,” she says. “The life experience I garnered on this journey is something for which I will forever be grateful.”
HERE'S TO ANOTHER DECADE
Bullock dons a pair of “mantlers” in this promotional picture for the 2014 Spike Guys’ Choice Awards, at which she is honored with the Decade of Hotness award. “We’ve been courting Sandra so long for this award that she was eventually going to say yes or take out a restraining order,” Viacom’s Casey Patterson jokes.
THE WORLD'S MOST BEAUTIFUL
She represents true beauty on the inside and out – so it’s a no-brainer when PEOPLE names Bullock the World’s Most Beautiful Woman in April 2015. “Be a good person, be a good mom, do a good job with the lunch, let someone cut in front of you who looks like they’re in a bigger hurry,” she says, expanding on her philosophy that “real beauty is quiet. The people I find most beautiful are the ones who aren’t trying.”
MAKING ONE FOR THE LITTLE GUY
“I wanted to make something my son could see and watch and enjoy,” Bullock says of her role in 2015’s Minions. “Even though he doesn’t know what I do, and he doesn’t know it’s me – I can sit in the theater and watch him.” She adds: “Nothing makes me happier than hearing that boy laugh.”
TAKING OVER FOR CLOONEY
Bullock’s role in the political thriller Our Brand Is Crisis was originally meant for George Clooney, she reveals in August 2015. “About two-and-a-half years ago, I just put out the feelers saying, ‘I’m not reading anything I’m excited about. Are there any male roles out there that they don’t mind switching to a female role?’ ” She gets her wish: “You don’t get to read roles like this a lot,” the actress adds.
WELCOME TO THE FAMILY!
Just in time for the holidays, Bullock introduces her new baby girl (a sister for Louis!) to the world on the cover of PEOPLE in December 2015. Like Louis, Laila, 3½ was also adopted from Louisiana. “When I look at Laila, there’s no doubt in my mind that she was supposed to be here,” says the glowing mom.