Neal starred in The Breaking Point, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Operation Pacific before 1952. She suffered a nervous breakdown in that year when her affair with Cooper came to an end, but she recovered, and returned in 1957 to star in A Face in the Crowd.
In 1963, Neal won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Hud. In 1965 she suffered a series of strokes, and went through extensive rehabilitation, returning in 1968 to star in The Subject Was Roses, for which she was again nominated for an Oscar.
Neal starred in the television movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which proved to be the pilot episode for The Waltons. She did not, however, reprise her role of the mother in the series. She was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, but turned it down, feeling it had come too soon after her stroke.