Marilyn Monroe: Overrated or Underrated?

Few movie stars can boast an iconic status like Marilyn Monroe. Does that mean she’s one of the greatest actresses of all time? Movie Irv addresses the complicated appraisal of Marilyn’s screen career and renders his personal verdict:




How does the blonde bombshell fare in your estimation? Share your take on Ms. Monroe’s ranking on the pantheon of movie greats. And if you’re hungry for more Marilyn, check out the archives for more articles, polls, and her moments in film history.

  • frankiedc

    Marilyn Monroe was, above all else, a star. She possessed that elusive quality that made her enchanting on the screen. One has to just remember those “blonde bombshells”who were groomed to be the “new” Marilyn, Diana Dors, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie VanDoren, Sherri North, to recognize that Marilyn was exceptional. As Irv points out, she was a competent actress in most of her dramas, but she was a very good one in comedies like Some Like It Hot or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or How to Marry a Millionaire. However, I shudder to think what an even bigger disaster Cleopatra would have been if the original casting of her in the title role had come to fruition.

    Women like Geraldine Page, Sandy Dennis, and Kim Stanley are considered “great” actresses, but I definitely would prefer to watch a Marilyn Monroe performance over any of theirs.

    • LindaM

      First of all, I loved Marilyn. But while she was not necessarily a dramatic actor, she held her own in Bus Stop, Niagra, and The Misfits. Of these, The Misfits, was totally raw and therefore I couldn’t see anyone but Marilyn doing this role. She was exceptional in dramedy roles too, such as the ones you listed because we got to see her flirty, fun, sexy side along with her vulnerability. As for the other comedy/musicals, well not as good; but then she was Marilyn so the audience was still there.

      In regards to the other “blonde bombshells” which came after her, they couldn’t hold a candle to Marilyn – except for possibly their cup size.

  • bmoss

    When I watch a Monroe movie, I watch a unique style of touching vulnerability, never seen on the screen, before she came along. Long before they blew her up at the studio, her magic in front of a camera, and her intuitive need to show herself, insecure as she was, raised her into the hall of talent, standing alone as a great comedienne. an under-rated, tremendous talent. There is never a time I watch “Some Like It Hot”, or any of her other movies, that I don’t find myself satisfied, with the joy she exhumed from the bowels of her personal mental illness. She dug deep.

    Her tragedy left a legacy of joy and talent on the big screen which I never tire of. What a tribute to life itself.

    bmoss

    • LindaM

      I think that I mostly agree. It was a tragedy to lose her so young, and in the way that she left us.

  • Lloyd Kay

    underrated. she was terrific. my favorite is bus stop and some like it hot.

  • Don

    Guess I am in the minority. I never thought much of her and think she was way over-rated. In watching GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES I always find myself watching Jane Russell when the 2 of them are on the screen together.
    Reputation always becomes exagerated when some one dies young and in mysterious circumstances.
    Lord what would she have become if she had lived to 75? I dread to think.

  • Wayne P.

    How could she ever truly be taken seriously with that face and body to die for (literally, just ask the Kennedys about that, sadly)? But she had real skill as a good actress and her roles in River of No Return, Niagara and The Misfits all adequately attested to that fact. The eye-candy musicals and romcoms werent bad either and lets face it, some women mayve wanted to be her (at least until Joe D. got a hold of her, unfortunately) & some men probably just wanted her!

  • John M

    I have to agree with your opinion of Marilyn Monroe. She played the roles that best resembled her image….that of a whimsicle blonde…not as good as Judy Holiday or Jean Harlow perhaps, but was delightful in that respect besides her over the top beauty.

  • BernardS

    Underrated in her lifetime, overrated in her death. Yes, she created a new kind of sex bombshell
    dumb-blonde image, unlike Jean Harlow, Mae west or even Mae Murray. Great actress, No. More
    than a capable actress , Yes. She was nowhere near Carole Lombard, Judy Holliday. They were
    better actresses. I like her very much in “Bus Stop”, “Seven Year Itch” AND “Gentlemen prefer
    blondes”. In ” The Prince and the Showgirl”, “The Misfits”, she was just trying too hard. Had she
    lived longer after her looks had faded, maybe we would have the opportunity to see her acting
    chops—like what would she be like in “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf” or ” The Trip to Bountiful” ?
    Over the years the Monroe Myth had overtaken any kind of objective analysis of her acting ability.
    I always enjoy watching her movies, she was NEVER DULL.

  • talaktochoba

    Marilyn Monroe was simply the Muhammad Ali of bimbo blondes;

    perhaps the most beautiful white woman ever, no one expected her to have talent to match it;

    too bad she got messed up with bums like DiMaggio and the Kennedys;

  • ganderson

    Was Marilyn underrated or overrated? The answer would have to be ‘yes.’ I agree with one of the comments that she was very good in musical comedies and less adequate in serious drama. There is no doubting her screen presence and she was, as were many stars of her era, primarily an image and a persona than she was a first-class actress. But, boy what an image! When she died, I think the world lost a genuine and rising commedienne. I would really have liked to see what talents she would have developed, given another 20 years and some roles that really suited her unique talents and screen persona. I for one, and regardless of her abilities, miss her. A candle in the wind.

    • LindaM

      I agree. There’s been no one like her since.

    • Bruce Reber

      All anyone has to do is listen to Elton John’s classic MM tribute song “Candle In The Wind” and they’ll know what she was all about.

  • Bill Dunphy

    I thought she was getting better with age, and experience, I’m sure the powers that be at that time just wanted to keep exploiting her. I thought she showed great dramatic promise in Niagra, and Don’t bother to Knock, and even River of no Return . Comedically, she had already played with the big boys. her best in my estimation being Bus Stop, or The seven Year Itch !
    You know what is kinda sad, go to IMDB and look up her filmology, according to that she’s still alive, and working til 2011. Every time a movie has a song/exerpt or vocal from one of her “few” films she gets a credit although it might be listed as “uncredited ! If that doesn’t make her “underrated” then what does it take, almost 60 yrs. after her death she’s still being used ?
    Bill Dunphy

  • williamsommerwerck

    I’d have to agree… slightly underrated. Her comedy performances are awfully good, the “serious” ones not so good. She’s a female Rock Hudson.

  • C.J. Gelfand

    At her best in Bus Stop and Some Like It Hot. Wonderful in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her brief appearances in All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle were previews of the star she would become. She was a fine actress, but she caved under the burden of trying to live up to the demands of the powerful in Hollywood and New York.

  • Nick Z

    Monroe is iconic for many reasons not the least of which was for her perfect pitch farce of the platinum bubble head. People still think that is Marilyn Monroe. But like Cary Grant, she created her own public persona and mined it for all it was worth. It wasn’t who she was.

    Recall for a moment her speech at the end of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes where she tells her boyfriend’s father, “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty. You may not marry a girl just because she’s pretty…but my God, doesn’t it help?” When the father exclaims, “Say, they told me you were stupid…you don’t sound stupid to me!” Monroe slyly replies, “I can be smart when it counts.”

    Monroe today is fondly, and justly remembered for keeping up this appearance in films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, How To Marry A Millionaire and Some Like It Hot – to name but a handful.

    But take a look at the other Marilyn – the one briefly glimpsed in The Asphalt Jungle, or given full reign to be deliciously diabolical in chillers like Don’t Bother to Knock, or the magnificent Niagara in which she plays a cold, calculating murderess. Or the wounded Monroe, lost and unable to accept the future in The Misfits.

    These movies attest to Monroe’s skills as an actress. That Hollywood and her audiences wanted nothing more from her than a flash of that wide-eyed blank smile and swivel of the hips is not Marilyn’s fault or her shortcoming. And lest we forget, she was the blonde that gentlemen preferred. Overrated?!? Are you kidding?!?!?!?

    • LindaM

      I totally agree. Marilyn was beautiful to look at, and not quite so dumb. I loved that speech in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes too.

      I just wish that whatever demons, spiritual or otherwise, she brought into her life had not destroyed her and ultimately kill her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.a.nicholson Keith A. Nicholson

    Very much overrated. Plus, a pain in the behind off-camera. And I never need to see another “never before seen ” photos of her. Other than her small role in “All About Eve”, she is not worth the bother.

  • Bill Thackeray

    Absolutely never get enough of Marilyn! From way back in my youth when she was just getting started, I thought she was charming and the greatest star ever (next to Liz Taylor).

  • Terry

    Have you ever had the chance to view the surviving footage that was shot for the never-released “Something’s Gotta Give?” The scene between her and her two children captures Marilyn’s ability at heartbreaking drama. If you never see this, ten you will tend to UNDERrate her.

    • LindaM

      Yes, I agree. It seemed much more tender than Doris Day’s part in Move Over, Darling, the following year. I don’t know if it’s the exact movie, but definitely the same premise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patricia.lehman.180 Patricia Lehman

    I was always an MM fan. She is definately under rated. She knew what she was doing. I like almost everything she did. Bus Stop is one of my faves along with River of No Return. Heck – I liked the Misfits and Niagra. Her musicals were fun. She left a wonderful legacy with her body of work and she’ll never grow old.

  • Abraham Remson

    Marilyn Monroe was definitely overrated she was a terrible actor

  • fbusch

    How do you rate MM, against others? She was smart enough to capitalize on her smashing good looks at a space in time when the major studios put her in roles that just exploited her great looks and body. They had many “great” actresses in their stables, but her attributes were visible. I saw bits of acting ability when she could sneak them into her roles. As to what she would be like at an older age, Would she stand up to someone like Sophia Loren who in her late sixties still had head turning beauty and class? Guess we’ll neverknow……….Norma Jean Baker did pretty well over all.

  • fbusch

    How do you rate MM, against others? She was smart enough to capitalize on her smashing good looks at a space in time when the major studios put her in roles that just exploited her great looks and body. They had many “great” actresses in their stables, but her attributes were visible. I saw bits of acting ability when she could sneak them into her roles. As to what she would be like at an older age, Would she stand up to someone like Sophia Loren who in her late sixties still had head turning beauty and class? Guess we’ll neverknow……….Norma Jean Baker did pretty well over all.

    • Linda M

      I agree.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chinaclipper Ronald Williamson

    I think she was overrated. She had a weak voice and was greatly inferior to most preceding leading ladies from Lombard to Ava Gardner. She was very limited compared to such actresses as Loretta Young and Greer Garson. She led to the concept of women as mere sex objects, more so than Harlow and most other actresses, who seemed to portray more intelligent women.

    • SML

      AMEN! I agree with your assessment totally. Well said.

  • TedC

    MM is both underrated and overrated. She was a better actor (especially in light comedy) than she gets credit for. Aside from comedy, she was quite good in “River of No Return”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carolyn-Ferrante/100000671220210 Carolyn Ferrante

    I’m was 12 years old when I heard of her passing, so I guess I can say I was part of her audience while she was alive. She was adored, almost like a goddess, during the 1950s. I don’t think at that time any of her fans took into consideration her acting ability. Yes, it was underrated.

    • SML

      I was also 12 (well, a month away), but I always thought people at the time treated her like a joke. As a young girl, I was mortified by her “performance” at JFK’s birthday–of course, having no idea he was “seeing” her whenever he could. Peter Lawford’s snide comment and Cheshire cat grin when introducing her at JFK’s “party” still makes me want to hurl. Instead of flicking the microphone, she should have used it to hit him over the head. So, I guess I must respectfully disagree that she was “adored”…I never saw that until way after her passing.

  • JoAnne McMaster

    You know, I used to like Marilyn. Now one if my nieces thinks she IS Marilyn (and she’s not a kid, she’s 40). No more Marilyn for me…..

    • Lorraine M.

      You’re blaming Marilyn Monroe for your niece’s self-delusion?

      • JoAnne McMaster

        And you’re taking my response too seriously. Lighten up, it’s a joke…..

  • Thom Thomas

    I asked Arthur Miller’s son what Marilyn was like. He had known her when he was a teen-ager and she was his step mom. He said that if you watch her in The Misfits, that is the closest to being the real her than any other film.

    • Mick Dee

      nice

  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.minor1 Ken Minor

    To me, Marilyn Monroe was an alluring POSSIBILITY: Something emerging that would be beautiful, witty, charming, captivating, and fully satisfying–in all respects! That was her “hook in me.” I still feel the sense of anticipation at what will be when it arrives! Magical? Possibly. Captivating? Without a doubt. Some–begging for more–always and forever!!! Her lure is as memorable inside me now as it was those many years ago! I hope it stays that way forever!!! Ken Minor

  • jumbybird

    Underrated… there isn’t a category for her talent.

    • Mick Dee

      right on!

  • Mick Dee

    underrated , she was incredibly insecure yet held a depth of character only seen by fans who cared, she was typecast as a dumb blonde although she was well versed in the classics, she held her own and persevered despite negative opposition and porwerful greedy film fatcats.

    • LindaM

      I agree. In fact, I don’t know who I despise more, those fatcats or the Kennedy’s.

  • DeanD

    Neither underrated nor overrated. She couldn’t play just any role (a la Meryl Streep), but the roles she COULD play, she played better than anyone could before or since (including Ms. Streep).

    • LindaM

      I definitely agree with your last statement – nothing personal Meryl, but Marilyn was a true looker!

  • LindaM

    I think that I’ve said enough (below) except to say that I believe that Marilyn was under-rated as an actress, and too delicate and vulnerable as a celebrity; she should have surrounded herself with people who really cared about her.

  • Antone

    She has become vastly overrated since her death. American movie fans seem to have added respect for artists who die prematurely of self-destructive causes. Her one excellent film was Some Like It Hot, which required her to play a gaudy, talentless airhead. What a stretch! James Dean is remembered as a great actor after making only three films–in which he played essentially the same whining and sniveling character. Belushi was, at best, an average member of his SNL cast.

    On the other hand, Carole Lombard did not get a “death bump” from dying in a plane crash during a war bond drive. Her ditz in My Man Godfrey was superior to any of MM’s similar roles. She could also play weightier roles in movies like To Be Or Not To Be. She was also prettier and easier to work with than Monroe

    • SML

      AMEN…ditto Jean Harlow. She was sexy because of her “wise-acre” mouth. She took no crap from anyone–including any man. She dished out crap–so refreshing from the persona MM projected.

      • Antone

        I’m sorry I didn’t think to mention Harlow. I didn’t like her quite as much as Lombard, but she was very funny in Libeled Lady and Dinner at Eight. She was also more attractive and cooperative than MM.

  • SML

    Totally overrated. Horrible role model for young girls at the time…when we surrounded by very few strong, capable screen women. Pathetic, yes, the way she was treated by actors & politicians alike. However, the truth is, the woman could not act. The thing with her upper lip, as if she has a huge chunk of food stuck there & is trying to dislodge it makes me crazy. JMHO–sorry if I offended anyone.

    • John Craig

      If we’re talking under-rated that applies to Doris Day more than any other, …she was multi talented and I would like to remember her most as a great band singer, who could also act

  • Bill Heyer

    Yesterday (August 5th, 2013) was the 51st anniversary of Marilyn’s tragic passing. She, along with Audrey Hepburn, are MY favorite Hollywood actresses. I don’t see Marilyn as either overrated, or underrated. Even in 2013, Marilyn holds her own!

  • 68pete

    Underrated.

  • ursula

    MM was a beautiful woman with problems that the doctors did not know how to deal with…I’ve read she was sensitive a very nice person—-just misunderstood and people took advantage of her…she tried and tried!!!! She was murdered to shut her up!!! so sad…. at times she was a little girl in a womans body….may she rest in peace!!!! ursula

  • mrthatcher

    SO underrated. Of course it took a while for her to hone her craft, which she never stopped working at. But just watch her work with Olivier, as an example. He’s hammy and overacting. She’s natural and believable as a real person. She probably could have never been a stage actress (not so good with remembering lines), but she knew how to act for the camera.

    • john craig jack.jojo@yahoo.co.

      Dreadful film…was probably good on stage with Vivian Leigh…but Marilyn was in another film to everyone else…so mis-cast.

  • gingi

    she was great a very underrated woman. there will never be anybody like her. her best was bus stop

  • Ozark Granny

    In my personal opinion, from someone who grew up in her era, she was extremely OVER RATED. She played the part of a ditzy blonde slut and her personal life wasn’t much better. I was raised with very strict morals and values that Marilyn Monroe’s behavior on & off films severely contradicted.

  • victor0630

    I would say she was underated and misunderstood also. Behind that beauty she seemed to be very sensitive. She was taken from us way to young. You notice I said taken.

    • Carolyn Ferrante

      …and you said right!

  • Lilreuche ♥

    Her acting was totally underrated. She was actually very talented. As far as looks go, I do think she was beautiful, but I find other stars like Jayne Mansfied, Princess Grace, and Dorothy Dandridge to be much prettier. Kids today have made her overrated for the wrong reasons. They worship her for her beauty, but not for her personality or her mind.

  • VINCENT SANTANGELO

    MARILYN MONROE WAS ONE OF THE MOST UNDERRATED ACTRESSES HOLLYWOOD EVER PRODUCED. FROM THE BEGINNING OF HER CAREER, SHE SHOWED HER ABILITY AT COMEDY AND DRAMA AND IF HOLLYWOOD HAD NOT TRIED TO MAKE A JOKE OF HER SHE WOULD HAVE SURVIVED BEYOND THE YEARS SHE DID. I BELIEVE PEOPLE WERE JEALOUS OF HER ABILITY AND SYSTEMATICALLY ATTEMPTED TO HOLD HER DOWN BY GIVING HER SOME LIGHTWEIGHT ROLES. SHE WAS ACCLAIMED IN JAPAN AND ITALY , BUT NOT IN HER OWN COUNTRY. UNFORTUNATELY, SHE DID NOT HAVE THE STAMINA TO KEEP FIGHTING BOTH THE NEGATIVE PUBLIC AND THE IGNORANT STUDIO HEADS. INSTEAD OF ENCOURAGEMENT, THEY GAVE HER RIDICULE. AS A RESULT THE WORLD A GIFTED ACTRESS MANY MANY YEARS TOO SOON.

    • VINCENT SANTANGELO

      CORRECTION TO ABOVE THE WORLD LOST A GIFTED ACTRESS MANY MANY YEARS TOO SOON

    • Antone

      Why in the world would the studios deliberately sabotage her career? That would also sabotage their own profits. Not bloody likely.

  • David

    I always thought of her as a good enough actress until I watched “Bus Stop.” When she put on his jacket at the end of the movie, I realized what a very good actress she really was. She summed up the yearnings and fulfillment of her character in that one scene. Definitely underrated.

  • kab

    I thought MM did a great performance in River Of No Return. Over or Underrated? What did those who worked with her think? Actors, crew members, directors, etc. I don’t know. I always enjoyed her…think about Bus Stop as another example.

  • jbourne5181

    she is certainly not one of the greatest actresses of all time, not even close

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  • Roger Womack

    Underrated

  • Mindy Newell

    INCREDIBLY UNDERRATED!!!!!!

  • Carolyn Ferrante

    We still love her. There’s your answer!

  • Cristopher Toti

    In her short career, I have to say underrated . Maybe if she had lived longer things might have turned out different and we would call her overrated . But underrated is what I am going with

  • MickeyV1

    Definitely underrated. Given the craziness of today’s Hollywood star behavior, she would have been relatively “normal”, but maybe if she had lived longer, her acting, and therefore her career, would have matured and we would have more to appreciate!

  • Mr. Hoover

    All-Underrated All of the Time !