The Best Movie Of Each Of The 10 “Greatest” Movie Stars Of All Time

Summary

  • Fred Astaire’s “Top Hat” is a timeless classic with joyful musical numbers and iconic visuals.
  • Greta Garbo’s performance in “Ninotchka” showcases her versatility and comedic talent beautifully.
  • Marlon Brando’s role in “The Godfather” solidifies his lasting impact as a legendary actor.



Although the classic age of Hollywood cinema is now long-gone, its brightest stars created movies which are still being discovered by new fans decades later. In 1999, the American Film Institute curated a list of the greatest movie stars of classic Hollywood cinema. (via AFI) The list includes 25 men and 25 women who appeared in many of the greatest movies of all time.

While these stars have earned their place in history, they have such impressive bodies of work that it can often be hard to decide where to start. Despite their consistent excellence, some actors still have movies which stand out from the rest. They are not just their greatest movies. They are also a great introduction for any newcomers, as they show these classic Hollywood stars at the peak of their powers.

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10 Fred Astaire

Top Hat (1935)

“Cheek to Cheek” has since been covered by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holliday, but the original version which appears in
Top Hat
has become iconic for its visual splendor.

Fred Astaire is perhaps the greatest dancer that Hollywood has ever known, and his movies with Ginger Rogers are a huge reason why. He and Rogers made 10 movies in total.Top Hat is one which has stood the test of time, and is just as charming for musical fans and newcomers almost 90 years later. Astaire plays an American tap dancer who travels to Britain to star in a West End show, but he becomes more consumed by his attempts to woo a local woman he meets.


Top Hat is a classic screwball comedy, with a series of risible misunderstandings and a few oafish side characters. Ultimately, the plot isn’t as important to the movie’s enduring appeal as its joyous musical numbers. “Cheek to Cheek” has since been covered by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holliday, but the original version which appears in Top Hat has become iconic for its visual splendor, with Rogers’ feathered dress and a lavish Old Hollywood set. “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” shows Astaire at his best without a partner.

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9 Greta Garbo

Ninotchka (1939)

Garbo is brilliant as the deadpan Soviet agent, and the role suggests that she could also have been one of the greatest comedy stars of the era if she had wanted to be.

Greta Garbo is one of a few movie stars who successfully rode out the transition from the silent era to “talkies,” and she became known for her subtlety and emotional nuance, traits which aren’t often associated with silent movies. She delivered a string of powerful dramatic performances in the 1930s, including in Mata Hari, Anna Karenina and Camille, so Ninotchka was an unexpected turn toward comedy.


Although it isn’t the movie which best represents the whole picture of her career, Ninotchka is arguably Garbo’s best and most entertaining work. She stars as an icy Soviet diplomat whose heart begins to thaw when she meets an American in Paris. Despite her dedication to her cause and her hatred of the west, Ninotchka relaxes her hard exterior. Garbo is brilliant as the deadpan Soviet agent, and the role suggests that she could also have been one of the greatest comedy stars of the era if she had wanted to be.

8 Marlon Brando

The Godfather (1972)


Release Date
March 24, 1972

The Godfather
showed that Brando was still a towering talent long after outgrowing the kinds of roles which made him famous.

Marlon Brando exploded onto the scene in the 1950s, earning Oscar nominations for Best Actor four years in a row. His most enduring movies from this era are A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, but neither have had the lasting impact of The Godfather. Brando plays Vito Corleone, the head of a prestigious Italian-American crime family who wants to ensure that his family and his legacy outlast him.


Marlon Brando is a formidable presence on screen as Vito Corleone, and the fact that The Godfather takes inspiration from real-life gangsters makes his performance even more chilling. He was already a screen legend at this point in his career, and he helped propel Al Pacino and Francis Ford Coppola to stardom. The Godfather showed that Brando was still a towering talent long after outgrowing the kinds of roles which made him famous.

7 Ingrid Bergman

Casablanca (1942)


Director
Michael Curtiz

Release Date
November 26, 1942

Cast
Humphrey Bogart , Ingrid Bergman , Paul Henreid , Claude Rains , Conrad Veidt , Sydney Greenstreet

It’s practically impossible to find any list of the greatest movies of all time which doesn’t place
Casablanca
somewhere near the top.

Ingrid Bergman stars opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, one of the greatest love stories in the history of cinema. While Bogart is often credited for so much of the movie’s success, and he certainly gets the lion’s share of Casablanca‘s best quotes, Bergman’s influence on the movie’s appeal cannot be overstated. She is pitch perfect as Ilsa Lund, a woman from Rick Blaine’s past who walks into his nightclub in Casablanca in need of help.


It’s practically impossible to find any list of the greatest movies of all time which doesn’t place Casablanca somewhere near the top. The timeless story touches on the universal human struggles of love versus responsibility, and serving oneself versus serving the greater good. Bergman and Bogart share an electric dynamic as two lovers whose time has sadly passed, and Casablanca gives them the perfect ending to their story.

6 James Stewart

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)


Director
Frank Capra

Release Date
January 7, 1947

Cast
James Stewart , Thomas Mitchell , Lionel Barrymore , Donna Reed , Henry Travers

James Stewart won his third Oscar nomination for
It’s a Wonderful Life,
which is something that seems unthinkable by the standards of modern Christmas movies.

James Stewart mastered a variety of genres, from taut thrillers directed by Alfred Hitchcock to romantic comedies like The Philadelphia Story. He also starred in one of the best Christmas movies of all time. It’s a Wonderful Life is much more than typical holiday fluff, however. While it still delivers an uplifting finale, It’s a Wonderful Life has some truly dark moments, and a strong moral argument that goes beyond the clich├ęs of the genre.


James Stewart won his third Oscar nomination for It’s a Wonderful Life, which is something that seems unthinkable by the standards of modern Christmas movies. The plot is loosely inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but it puts an original spin on the story. Stewart plays a man who contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve, but he is visited by a guardian angel who shows him what the world would be like without him.

5 Audrey Hepburn

Roman Holiday (1953)


Although it was a very early role in her career, Hepburn is perfectly cast as the adventurous and naive princess.

Audrey Hepburn may have delivered her most iconic performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with a little help from some iconic costume designs, but Roman Holiday is her greatest movie, and it has aged much more gracefully too. Roman Holiday stars Hepburn as a rebellious princess who runs away from her chaperones to enjoy a whirlwind romance in Rome with an American reporter played by Gregory Peck.

Roman Holiday is a must-watch for fans of romance movies. It’s a sweet and sincere movie which believes wholeheartedly in its message, and it would take a hard heart to resist its charms. Although it was a very early role in her career, Hepburn is perfectly cast as the adventurous and naive princess. She and Peck are fantastic company to spend time with, and the script gives them plenty of breathing room to let their natural charms shine through.


4 Cary Grant

North by Northwest (1959)

Release Date
September 8, 1959

Cast
Eva Marie Saint , James Mason , Cary Grant , Leo G. Carroll , Jessie Royce Landis

Hitchcock strings together his fast-paced action set pieces with a lot of humor and a compelling mystery. This gives Grant the chance to show off many of his best traits.


North by Northwest is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies, and it bears many of the hallmarks of the great director, including a case of mistaken identity and a beautiful blonde-haired companion. Cary Grant stars as an advertising executive who gets pursued by a mysterious criminal organization across the country when they get him confused for a spy. The chase leads him all across the United States.

North by Northwest is a relentlessly entertaining thriller. Hitchcock strings together his fast-paced action set pieces with a lot of humor and a compelling mystery. This gives Grant the chance to show off many of his best traits. He shares a sparkling dynamic with Eva Marie Saint, but he has plenty of moments where he has to hold the audience’s attention by himself. The iconic scene in which he is chased by a low-flying plane is made even more exciting by his wordless terror.


3 Bette Davis

All About Eve (1950)

Director
Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Release Date
October 13, 1950

Cast
Bette Davis , Anne Baxter , George Sanders , Celeste Holm , Gary Merrill , Hugh Marlowe , Thelma Ritter

In a movie filled with great performances –
All About Eve
received four acting nominations at the Oscars – Davis is still a cut above the rest.


Bette Davis may not be as widely-beloved today as some of the other names on this list, but she was undoubtedly one of the finest dramatic actors of classic Hollywood cinema. She received an astonishing 10 Oscar nominations, and she even placed third in 1934 as a write-in candidate. All About Eve remains her most compelling performance, and therefore one of the greatest of the era.

All About Eve stars Davis as Margo Channing, a Broadway actor who turns 40 and starts to fret over the future of her career. Margo is a legend in the theater scene, and she takes pity on a young fan and allows her into her orbit. She soon discovers that Eve Harrington is not as naive as she first appeared to be. In a movie filled with great performances – All About Eve received four acting nominations at the Oscars – Davis is still a cut above the rest.


2 Humphrey Bogart

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Director
John Huston

Release Date
October 18, 1941

Cast
Humphrey Bogart , Mary Astor , Gladys George , Peter Lorre , Barton MacLane , Lee Patrick

The Maltese Falcon
set the blueprint for countless hardboiled detective movies which followed, but Bogart’s cool, competent detective has never been bested


Humphrey Bogart built a reputation for gangster movies, but he could just as easily play characters on the other side of the law. The Maltese Falcon stars Bogart as Sam Spade, a private detective who gets caught up in a complex case involving a stolen statue, a femme fatale, and a pair of cold-blooded villains. Sam Spade has gone down in history as one of cinema’s most iconic detectives, and this is largely thanks to Bogart’s performance.

The Maltese Falcon is a masterpiece of film noir. In many ways, it set the blueprint for countless hardboiled detective movies which followed, but Bogart’s cool, competent detective has never been bested. Bogart has an unparalleled ability to make every line out of his mouth memorable. He takes to the role of Sam Spade with ease, and he’s supported by a strong cast including Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, who both appeared alongside Bogart in Casablanca a year later.


1 Katharine Hepburn

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Director
Howard Hawks

Release Date
February 18, 1938

Cast
Katharine Hepburn , Cary Grant , Walter Catlett , Barry Fitzgerald

Bringing Up Baby
may have flopped at the box office, but it has since been re-evaluated as a classic.


Katharine Hepburn stands alone at the top of the list of the most Academy Awards for Best Actress. She won four in total, with her first in 1934 and her last coming in 1982. She wasn’t even nominated for Bringing Up Baby, but there’s no denying that the screwball comedy is one of Katharine Hepburn’s best movies. It may have flopped at the box office, but it has since been re-evaluated as a classic.

At the time, Bringing Up Baby was met with confusion for its absurd style of comedy. The plot features plenty of wild antics, overblown misunderstandings and even a live leopard. However, these are some of the things which have made the movie so popular in the decades since its release. Hepburn and Cary Grant are a delight to watch as they match wits and try to outdo one another, and the leopard is a bold way to stir things up in their dynamic.