Monday, April 25, 2011

My Picks: The 50 Best Female Performances in Film

I was inspired to do this post/meme after seeing it featured on Defiant Success and True Classics. (I'll also be posting my top 50 male performances later in the week.)  I am not, however, limiting myself to only one role per actor. Many of the actresses on this list are remembered for several performances and I think more than just one should be celebrated.

My top 50, in order by film title:

Katharine Hepburn as Rose Sayer in The African Queen (1951, John Huston).

Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950, Joseph Mankiewicz)

Myrna Loy as Milly Stephenson in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler)

Judy Holliday as Emma "Billie" Dawn in Born Yesterday (1950, George Cukor.)

Celia Johnson as Laura Jesson in Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean)

Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)

Elizabeth Taylor as Margaret "Maggie" Pollitt in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958, Ricard Brooks)

Shirley MacLaine as Martha Dobie in The Children's Hour (1961, William Wyler)

Bette Davis as Judith Traherne in Dark Victory (1939, Edmund Goulding)

Lee Remick as Kirsten Clay in Days of Wine and Roses (1962, Blake Edwards)

Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)

Patricia Neal as Marcia Jeffries in A Face In the Crowd (1957, Elia Kazan)

Deborah Kerr as Karen Holmes in From Here to Eternity (1953, Fred Zinnemann)

Ingrid Bergman as Paula Anton in Gaslight (1944, George Cukor)

Rita Hayworth as Gilda Farrell in Gilda (1946, Charles Vidor)

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming)

Greta Garbo as Grusinskaya in Grand Hotel (1932, Edmund Goulding)

Katharine Hepbun as Christian Drayton in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967, Stanley Kramer)

Ida Lupino as Marie in High Sierra (1941, Raoul Walsh)

Susan Hayward as Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (1958, Robert Wise)

Lana Turner as Lora Meredith in Imitation of Life (1959, Douglas Sirk)

Susan Kohner as Sarah Jane Johnson in Imitation of Life (1959, Douglas Sirk)

Donna Reed as Mary Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)

Jane Wyman as Belinda McDonald in Johnny Belinda (1948, Jean Negulesco)

Claire Trevor as Gaye Dawn in Key Largo (1948, John Huston)

Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven (1945, John Stahl)

Katharine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor in The Lion In Winter (1968, Anthony Harvey) 

Greer Garson as Marie Curie in Madame Curie (1943, Mervyn LeRoy)

Ginger Rogers as Susan Applegate in The Major and the Minor (1942, Billy Wilder)

Mary Astor as Brigit O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston)

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins (1964, Robert Stevenson)

Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce in Mildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz)

Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Hubberman in Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock)

Bette Davis as Charlotte Vale in Now, Voyager (1942, Irving Rapper)

Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle in On the Waterfront (1954, Eliz Kazan)

Joan Fontaine as The Second Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

Audrey Hepburn as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler)

Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina Fairchild in Sabrina (1954, Billy Wilder)

Claudette Colbert as Anne Hilton in Since You Went Away (1944, John Cromwell)

Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Cunningham in The Snake Pit (1948, Anatole Litvak)

Dorothy McGuire as Helen Capel in The Spiral Staircase (1946, Robert Siodmak)

Natalie Wood as Deanie Loomis in Splendor In the Grass (1961, Elia Kazan)

Judy Garland as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star Is Born (1954, George Cukor)

Barbara Stanwyck as Stella Dallas in Stella Dallas (1937, King Vidor)

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd (1950, Billy Wilder)

Grace Kelly as Frances Stevens in To Catch a Thief (1955, Alfred Hitchcock)

Lauren Bacall as Marie "Slim" Browning in To Have and Have Not (1944, Howard Hawkes)

Mary Badham as Jean Louise "Scout" Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Robert Mulligan)

Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton in Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock) 

Merle Oberon as Cathy Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights (1939, William Wyler)

This was so hard. I seriously have no idea how I'm going to finish my top 50 male performances. Unfortunately,  I had to leave a lot of great roles out (Adam's Rib, Spellbound) but these are my all-time favorites, and I hope you enjoyed this post.


  1. This is such a great list! I especially love that you included Mary Badham--she was so absolutely perfect as Scout, and just as important to the success of TKAM as the amazing Gregory Peck. Looking forward to seeing your male list later!

  2. Looks like we share a few choices. Great minds think alike, I suppose.

  3. What a great list of film favorites. I'm so glad that you included, Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven.

  4. What a many great actresses and performances....and films!! I agree whole heartedly with K Hepburn on top. Of course we all have our own favorites etc. I would have to add Vivian Leigh's role in A Streetcar Named Desire in there somethere. One of my most films of all time. But a list like this is difficult as there is always something you have to leave out.
    For me personally the best male performance is Alec Guinness in The Bridge Over the River Kwai. I can never get over how brilliant he is even though he battled incessantly with Lean over the interpretaion of Col. Nicholson. I'll be waiting to see your male list!
    Great blog...I wish I had seen all the films on it you have! Just can't beat classic films. I recently was riviledged to see charade and four of Lean's films on the big screen. Brilliant stuff. Lawrence of Arabia was just magic and Charade an unbelievable amount of fun. I'm lucky as I have a local theatre that plays a few of the classics in a year. Have seen several Clark gable pre- Gone with The Wind films last year. The Women ( fantastic!! )The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, etc. Just wonderful to see them in a theatre!