She began her career on stage at an early age. At the age of nine, she was selected to play one of the orphan girls in a West End production of the musical Annie and at 12 years old she played the lead role of Annie in a Swansea production of the musical, paving her way to many other theatre roles.
She first made a name for herself in the early 1990s when she starred in the Yorkshire Television Dramedy series The Darling Buds Of May. The series was a success and made her one of the United Kingdom's most popular television actresses, but she was dismayed that it led to her being Typecast as the token pretty girl in British media and relocated to Los Angeles, believing that the anonymity she would have in America could help her get roles on merit and not due to her public image.
In 1996 she starred on the CBS miniseries Titanic, which got her the attention of Steven Spielberg who recommended her to Martin Campbell who was then directing The Mask of Zorro. Campbell cast her as the leading lady Elena Montero which was a big success and launched her Hollywood career.
She is married to Michael Douglas with whom she has a son and a daughter.
- Les 1001 Nuits (1990) as Scheherazade (her debut role in film)
- Christopher Columbus The Discovery (1992) as Beatriz Enríquez de Arana
- Splitting Heirs (1993) as Kitty Farrant
- The Return of the Native (1994) as The Return of the Native
- Blue Juice (1995) as Chloe
- Catherine The Great (1995) as Catherine the Great
- The Phantom (1996) as Sala
- The Mask of Zorro (1998) as Elena Montero
- Entrapment (1999) as Virginia "Gin" Baker
- The Haunting (1999) as Theodora
- High Fidelity (2000) as Charlie Nicholson
- Traffic (2000) as Helena Ayala
- America's Sweethearts (2001) as Gwen Harrison
- Chicago (2002) as Velma Kelly
- Intolerable Cruelty (2003) as Marilyn Rexroth
- The Terminal (2004) as Amelia Warren
- Ocean's Twelve (2004) as Isabel Lahiri
- The Legend of Zorro (2005) as Elena De La Vega
- No Reservations (2007) as Kate Armstrong
- Death Defying Acts (2007) as Mary McGarvie
- The Rebound (2009) as Sandy
- Lay The Favorite (2012) as Tulip Heimowitz
- Rock of Ages (2012) as Patricia Whitmore
- Playing For Keeps (2012) as Denise
- Broken City (2013) as Cathleen Hostetler
- Side Effects (2013) as Victoria Siebert
- Red 2 (2013) as Katja Petrokovich
- Dads Army (200) as Rose Winters
- Cocaine Godmother (2018) as Griselda Blanco
- Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003) as Marina
Tropes in Catherine Zeta-Jones's works include:
- Awesome, Dear Boy: She was offered the role of Roxie in Chicago but she requested the slightly smaller part of Velma, just so she could sing "All That Jazz".
- The Cast Show Off: She's actually a trained singer and dancer, which she was all too happy to show off in Chicago.
- Dyeing for Your Art: Cut her long hair into a '20s Bob Haircut for Chicago. The script didn't call for it but Catherine chose to do it so that the press wouldn't be able to accuse her of not doing her own dancing - as long hair could hide her face and make people think it was a double. Ironically she wears a wig in America's Sweethearts but has the short hair in a scene from the Film Within a Film.
- Fake Nationality: She rarely finds herself playing Welsh characters. After The Mask of Zorro people mistook her for Spanish for a while, and she was often cast as Spicy Latina characters, despite having no Latin ancestry herself. She has naturally played a lot of Fake Americans in her time as well.
- Hide Your Pregnancy: She was actually a couple months pregnant in Chicago. When she started to show they would sometimes use a body double from the back and then shoot her from the waist up so you could not see the slight bump that started to appear in certain scenes.
- Ms. Fanservice: Her beauty and sex appeal has always been a part of her roles. In 1998 she ranked first in People magazine "Most Beautiful People" and continued to be in the list from 2000 to 2004.
- No Stunt Double: She performed most (some sources say all) of the climbing and gymnastics in Entrapment herself.
- Omniglot: She speaks English, Welsh, French, and Spanish.
- Plays Great Ethnics: She's Welsh, but because of her coloring they often get cast as Hispanic or Middle Eastern characters. After playing Spicy Latina Elena so well in The Mask of Zorro she said that the movie instantly gave her a new ethnicity as people thought that she was Spanish for ages.
- Real-Life Relative: In Traffic her character is married to her Real Life husband Michael Douglas.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: She was cast in Traffic while pregnant, so they rewrote her character to be pregnant as well.
- Star-Making Role: While The Darling Buds Of May brought her to the attention of the British public, it was The Mask of Zorro that turned her into an international household name. In June of 1998, she was reported as the most searched actress on Yahoo.
- What Could Have Been:
- She was the first choice for Claudia in the film version of Nine. The part was quite small, and she wanted it expanded. When Rob Marshall refused, she backed out and Nicole Kidman got the part instead.
- Was considered for two roles that Angelina Jolie got, Jane Smith in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) and Lara Croft in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
- In Brassed Off, she was considered for the role of Gloria.
- She was considered for the role of Felicity Shagwell in Austin Powers.
- Was a contender to play Satine in Moulin Rouge!.
- Was the first choice to play Vivien Leigh in 'My Week with Marilyn'', but she declined.
- In Ant-Man and the Wasp, Michael Douglas hoped she would get the role of his character's wife, Janet, before Michelle Pfeiffer was chosen.