Many leading critics at the time took favorable notice to Holmes in the film.
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said she was "just right as the beauty with kind of a crush on the old man." Her second feature film during 2000 was The Gift, a Southern Gothic story directed by Sam Raimi and starring Cate Blanchett, she played the antithesis of Joey Potter: a promiscuous rich girl having affairs with everyone from a sociopathic wife-beater (Keanu Reeves) to the district attorney (Gary Cole), and is murdered by her fiancé (Greg Kinnear).
Her marriage to actor Tom Cruise At age 14, she began classes at a modeling school in Toledo which led her to the International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA) Competition held in New York City in 1996. I've got other commitments.'" The producers permitted her to audition on videotape.
Eventually, Holmes was signed to an agent after performing a monologue from To Kill a Mockingbird. Holmes read for the part of Joey Potter, the tomboy best friend of the title character Dawson, on a videotape shot in her basement, her mother reading Dawson's lines.
An audition tape was sent to the casting director for the 1997 film The Ice Storm, directed by Ang Lee, and Holmes made her big-screen debut in the role of Libbets Casey in the film, opposite Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. The Hollywood Reporter claimed the story of Holmes's audition "has become the stuff of legend" and "no one even thought that it was weird that one of the female leads would audition via Federal Express." Creator and executive producer Kevin Williamson said Holmes has a "unique combination of talent, beauty and skill that makes Hollywood come calling. To meet her is to instantly fall under her spell." Holmes was soon on the covers of magazines such as Seventeen, TV Guide, and Rolling Stone.
In January 1997, Holmes went to Los Angeles for pilot season, when producers cast and shoot new programs in the hopes of securing a spot on a network schedule. I thought, 'There is no way I'm not playing Lola to go audition for some network. Jancee Dunn, an editor at Rolling Stone said she was chosen for the cover because "every time you mention Dawson's Creek you tend to get a lot of dolphin-like shrieks from teenage girls.
Holmes had a small role (six and one-half minutes of screen time) as Hannah Green, the talented student who lusts after Professor Grady Tripp (Douglas's character, who is her instructor and landlord)."It was very difficult for me to leave Wilmington, to have my little glass bubble burst and move on. On the other hand it was refreshing to play someone else", she said in 2004.Holmes' first starring role post-Dawson's Creek was in 2003's Pieces of April, a gritty comedy about a dysfunctional family on Thanksgiving.On the November 9, 2003 episode, she was Punk'd by Ashton Kutcher and the next year she was the subject of an episode of the MTV program Diary. She later played the President's daughter in First Daughter, which was originally to be released in January 2004 on the same day as Chasing Liberty, another film about a president's daughter, but was ultimately released in September 2004 to dismal reviews and ticket sales.First Daughter, directed by Forest Whitaker, also starred Michael Keaton as her father and Marc Blucas as her love interest.