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In preparation for the role, Mc Adams studied old films, particularly those of Kim Novak.
Todd Mc Carthy of Variety criticized her break from the big screen but felt that, despite a performance of "tender feeling", "her natural vivaciousness and spontaneity are straightjacketed" by the film noir format.
In 2005, she starred in the romantic comedy Wedding Crashers, the psychological thriller Red Eye, and the family comedy-drama The Family Stone.
She was hailed by the media as Hollywood's new "it girl", and received a BAFTA nomination for Best Rising Star.
Mc Adams was 25 years old when she was cast as the mean high school queen bee Regina George, and she modelled her character on Alec Baldwin's performance in the drama Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).
Tina Fey, who co‑starred in the film and wrote the screenplay, has credited Mc Adams with teaching her how to act in front of a camera rather than an audience: "She's a film actor. And so I kind of learned that lesson from watching her." Later in 2004, Mc Adams starred opposite fellow Canadian Ryan Gosling in the romantic drama The Notebook, based on Nicholas Sparks' novel of the same name.
In 2010, Mc Adams appeared in her first star vehicle, the comedy Morning Glory.
In 2015, her highest profile roles were in the second season of the HBO crime drama True Detective, and as journalist Sacha Pfeiffer in the drama Spotlight.
"Truthfully, I never really wanted to be a big movie star.Upon arrival on the photo set, Mc Adams discovered it was a nude session, declined and left.She later parted ways with her publicist at the time, who had not informed her in advance.For her performance in Spotlight, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.She also made her Canadian film debut that year in the comedy My Name is Tanino.