Also in 1998, Zellweger portrayed the character of Ellen in One True Thing opposite William Hurt and Meryl Streep.
She was also named Hasty Pudding's Woman of the Year in 2009, Zellweger's first major film role came in the horror sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), which she followed with a critically acclaimed appearance in Empire Records (1995).
She played Jenny, a teenager who leaves a prom early with three friends who get into a car accident, which leads to their meeting a murderous family, led by the iconic Leatherface.
However, Janet Maslin of The New York Times, praised her and co-star Mc Conaughey, remarking that both "do show signs of what would soon make them famous. Zellweger, sweet and sprightly and a natural-born ditz, may be the only actress who could point a gun bravely at a killer, then simply shriek and drop it and scamper away".
Marc Savlov of Austin Chronicle applauded the main cast saying they were "all excellent in their roles" and noted that "Zellweger's character – all squeals and caged sexuality – seems a bit too close to Juliette Lewis' Mallory Knox (of Natural Born Killers) to be as fresh as it should be".
The movie had a negative critical reception but Zellweger was considered a stand out among the cast members; Rotten Tomatoes' consensus was: "Despite a terrific soundtrack and a strong early performance from Renee Zellweger, Empire Records is mostly a silly and predictable teen dramedy." Zellweger became widely known to audiences with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she played the romantic interest of Jerry, Tom Cruise' character.