The Greatest (Classic) Performances By an Actress

Bette Davis: One of the all time greatest actressesLast week, guest blogger Richard Finch presented his choices for The Greatest (Classic) Performances By an Actor. Here’s his follow-up piece examining his picks for the greatest leading ladies ever to hit the silver screen.

This week I’m posting the follow-up to last week’s list of the greatest classic performances by an actor. This week it’s the turn of the great actresses. As before, I limited myself to sound films made between 1930 and 1980 because that’s what I know best. I also limited myself to one performance for each actress, and again it was often difficult to choose one performance for those who might reasonably have been cited for any of a number of films, actresses like Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Liv Ullmann. On another day I might pick a different performance for some of these, but for now I’m willing to go with the ones I’ve chosen. The final list underscores the conclusion I drew last week about great film performances: in most cases, they’re the result of the perfect conjunction of the actor, the role, and the setting.

Bette Davis, All About Eve
Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story
Marlene Dietrich, The Blue Angel
Greta Garbo, Camille
Irene Dunne, The Awful Truth
Carole Lombard, Nothing Sacred
Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind
Joan Fontaine, Rebecca
Margaret Sullavan, The Shop Around the Corner
Mary Astor, The Maltese Falcon
Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday
Claudette Colbert, The Palm Beach Story
Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity
Joan Bennett, Scarlet Street
Ingrid Bergman, Notorious
Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard
Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday
Judy Garland, A Star Is Born
Joanne Woodward, The Three Faces of Eve
Susan Hayward, I Want to Live!
Julie Harris, The Haunting
Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker
Jane Fonda, Klute
Liza Minnelli, Cabaret
Faye Dunaway, Chinatown
Sissy Spacek, Carrie
Diane Keaton, Annie Hall
Celia Johnson, Brief Encounter
Wendy Hiller, I Know Where I’m Going
Deborah Kerr, The Innocents
Rita Tushingham, A Taste of Honey
Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion
Julie Christie, Darling
Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora
Glenda Jackson, Women in Love
Josette Day, La Belle et la Bête
Simone Signoret, Les Diaboliques
Maria Schell, Gervaise
Anouk Aimée, Lola
Jeanne Moreau, Jules and Jim
Sylvie, The Shameless Old Lady
Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adèle H.
Setsuko Hara, Late Spring
Hideko Takamine, Twenty-Four Eyes
Anna Magnani, Open City
Giulietta Masina, The Nights of Cabiria
Sophia Loren, Two Women
Monica Vitti, L’Eclisse
Hanna Schygulla, The Marriage of Maria Braun
Harriet Andersson, Cries and Whispers
Bibi Andersson, Persona
Liv Ullmann, Persona
Madhabi Mukherjee, Charulata
Margarita Terekhova, The Mirror

If anyone would like to suggest any additions or alternative performances or even submit your own list of the great performances, please leave a comment.

A nearly lifelong cinephile, R. D. Finch lives in rural Northern California. His favorite movies are the classics (roughly 1930-1980), both American and foreign. For more on Finch and his writing, visit The Movie Projector.

  • Larry

    Okay, now how about youth: Margaret O’Brien, Shirley Temple, Tatum O’Neal, Halley Mills, and their boy counterparts, etc.

  • Noel Bjorndahl

    I had just been asking about this follow-up and here it is. First, these I share in common with Richard Finch:

    Greta Garbo-Camille
    Judy Garland-A Star is Born
    Celia Johnson-Brief Encounter
    Anna Magnani-Rome-Open City (and The Golden Coach)
    Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson-Persona
    Jeanne Moreau-Jules et Jim

    Here are some other favourite women’s performances off the top of my head:

    Maj-Britt Nilsson-Summer Interlude
    Romy Schneider-Cesar et Rosalie
    Gail Russell-Moonrise
    Madeleine Carroll-The Prisoner of Zenda
    Louise Brooks-Pandora’s Box
    Joan Crawford-Daisy Kenyon
    Jean Simmons-Angel Face
    Gene Tierney-Leave Her to Heaven
    Maureen O’Hara-Rio Grande and The Quiet Man
    Judy Holliday-The Marrying Kind
    Katharine Hepburn-Adam’s Rib
    Jennifer Jones-Duel in the Sun and Ruby Gentry
    Anna Karina-Vivre Sa Vie
    Elizabeth Taylor-A Place in the Sun
    Joan Bennett-The Secret Beyond the Door
    Natalie Wood-Splendour in the Grass
    Lee Remick-Wild River
    Simone Signoret-Casque D’Or
    Margaret Sullavan-Little Man What Now? Three Comrades and Only Yesterday
    Kay Francis-Stranded, Confession, Trouble in Paradise and One Way Passage
    Barbara Stanwyck-All I Desire, There’s Always Tomorrow, Forty Guns and Double indemnity
    Constance Towers-The Naked Kiss
    Gloria Grahame-In a Lonely Place
    Ida Lupino-The Hard Way
    Hideko Takamine-When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
    Setsuko Hara-Late Spring
    Kinuyo Tanaka-My Love Has Been Burning
    Ingrid Bergman-Stromboli
    Claudia Cardinale-Vaghe Stelle dell’ Orsa (Sandra)
    Kathleen Byron-Black Narcissus
    Joan Greenwood-Kind Hearts and Coronets
    Joan Fontaine-Letter from an Unknown Woman
    Jeanette MacDonald-Love Me Tonight
    Marlene Dietrich-Scarlet Empress
    Deborah Kerr-An Affair to Remember
    Ann Sheridan-Kung’s Row
    Deanna Durbin-Christmas Holiday
    Irene Dunne-Back Street
    Jane Greer-Out of the Past
    Teresa Wright-Shadow of a Doubt
    Arletty-Les Enfants du Paradis
    Janet Gaynor-Street Angel and Sunrise
    Mary Duncan-City Girl and The River
    Jean Arthur-Only Angels Have Wings
    Angie Dickinson-Rio Bravo
    Kim Novak-Vertigo
    Rosalind Russell-His Girl Friday
    Claudette Colbert-The Smiling Lieutenant
    Olivia De Havilland-To Each His Own
    Mary Astor-Desert Fury
    Dorothy Malone-The Tarnished Angels
    Doris Day-Calamity Jane
    Monica Vitti-L’Eclisse
    Tuesday Weld-Pretty Poison
    Michele Morgan-Quai des Brumes
    Danielle Darrieux-Five Fingers
    Patricia Neal-The Fountainhead
    Claire Bloom-The Chapman Report
    Harriet Andersson-Summer with Monika
    Ingrid Thulin-La Guerre est Finie
    Anouk Aimee-Lola
    Karin Booth-The Unfinished Dance
    Janis Carter-Framed
    Bette Davis-Beyond the Forest
    Jean Peters-Pickup on South Street
    Lola Albright-A Cold Wind in August
    Mireille Balin-Pepe le Moko
    Julie Christie-Petulia
    Peggy Cummins-Gun Crazy
    Beverly Garland-Pretty Poison
    Marsha Hunt-Raw Deal
    Myrna Loy-The Thin Man series
    Vera Miles-The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
    Marie Windsor-The Narrow Margin
    Marilyn Monroe-Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
    Audrey Hepburn-Sabrina
    Julie Andrews-Victor/Victoria



    None better for my money.

  • Terry

    Of course we all have our favorites, and just quickly here is a list of some of the performances that have stayed with me since I saw most of these on the ‘Late, Late Show’ or the ‘Million Dollar Movie’ as a kid. But now some 40 years later, I am lucky to own many of these film titles, but I also have the memory of these movies and the wonderful actresses that have delighted me for so many years.
    So here goes with my choices…

    Ann Harding Double Harness
    Ann Sheridan Good Sam
    Barbara Stanwyck My Reputation
    Bette Davis Mr. Skeffington
    Claudette Colbert Remember the Day
    Deanna Durbin Hers to Hold
    Deborah Kerr Vacation from Marriage
    Doris Day I’ll See You in My Dreams
    Dorothy McGuire Claudia (Claudia & David Elizabeth Taylor A Date with Judy
    Gail Russell Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
    Gene Tierney The Mating Season
    Geraldine Fitzgerald Nobody Lives Forever
    Greer Garson Her Twelve Men
    Irene Dunne Ann Vickers
    Jane Wyatt Our Very Own
    Jennifer Jones Good Morning, Miss Dove
    Joan Bennett Father’s Little Dividend
    Joan Crawford Above Suspicion
    Joan Fontaine September Affair
    Judy Holliday Full of Life
    Karen Morely Wednesday’s Child
    Kay Franics My Bill
    Loretta Young Story of Alexander Graham Bell
    Marsha Hunt A Letter for Evie
    Mary Astor Dodsworth
    Maureen O’Hara Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation
    Myrna Loy I Love You Again
    Natalie Wood Love with the Proper Stranger
    Olivia deHavilland Light in the Piazza
    Peggy Ann Garner Junior Miss
    Rosalind Russell Craig’s Wife
    Ruth Chatterton Frisco Jenny
    Susan Hayward Smash-Up: Story of a Woman
    Teresa Wright Casanova Brown
    Vivian Leigh Waterloo Bridge

  • Hank Zangara

    GINGER ROGERS!!! in Kitty Foyle, Stage Door, or Roxie Hart

  • Bob Riley

    Here a couple of miy favorites:

    Deborah Kerr: From Here to Eternity
    Jean Simmons: Elmer Gantry
    Joan Crawford: Mildred Pierce
    Myrna Loy: The Best Years of Our Lives
    Kim Novak: Vertigo
    Ann Blyth: Mildred Pierce
    Gloria Grahame: The Bad and the Beautiful

  • FilmFan

    You all forgot Hattie McDaniel as “Mammie” in “Gone With the Wind.” for which she won the Academy Award.

  • Rick Hirsch

    Meryl Streep is one of the most nominated and greatest actresses in Hollywood history. Choose anyone of her performances and it shoud make the list.

  • Gil

    Hattie McDaniel, “Gone With the Wind” – timeless perfection.

  • onstage2

    Marion Cotillard was nothing less than brilliant as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose.

  • Ellen Badders

    These are some of my favorite performances:

    Dorothy McGuire-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
    Julie Andrews-The Americanization of Emily
    Norma Shearer-The Barrets of Wimpole Street
    Greer Garson-Autumn Harvest
    Lana Turner-Madame X
    Jane Wyman-Johnny Belinda
    Thelma Ritter-Everything

  • Rick Buffington

    Ginger Rogers – Kitty Foyle She won Best Actress Oscar for her performance over some stiff competition Katherine Hepburn – Philadelphis Story, Bettie Davis – The Letter, and Joan Fontaine – Rebecca, and Martha Scott (Can’t remember the movie)

  • weofme

    Betty Field-Of Mice And Men
    Betty Field-Victory
    Betty field-Shepherd of the Hills
    Betty Field-Blues in the Night
    Betty Field-Kings Row
    Betty Field-The Great Gatsby

  • Mark Dryer

    This is NO CONTEST. The BEST performance by an actress was Luise Rainer in The Good Earth.

  • Ann Peterson

    Beulah Bondi
    in Make Way for Tomorrow

    Betty Field
    in Shepard of the Hills

    Barbara Stanwyck
    in Stella Dallas

  • Mick


  • Mick

    Jessica Lange in FRANCIS


    Obviously we all have our “favorite” pics… about these::
    Greer Garson, Random Harvest
    Loretta Young, Bishop’s Wife
    Katharine Hepburn, Rooster Cogburn
    Kathrine Ross, Conager
    Julie Andrews, Sound of Music
    Ginger Rogers, Swing Time
    Bette Davis, Now, Voyager
    Irene Dunn, I remember Mama
    Joan Hickson, Agatha Cristie’s Miss Marple series
    (to hard to pick just ONE- all exceptional!!)
    and the listing goes on and on – nice to pause and remember!!

  • Craig Stockton

    Ginger Rogers in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR
    and Diana Lynn in both films


    Please forgive me, don’t forget to include
    Cladette Colbert, Three Came Home

  • Wilfred Middleton

    What about Gloria Grahame in “The Big Heat”?

  • James

    Veronica Lake – So Proudly We Hail

  • eddie moscone

    i hate best list nobody ever gets them right

  • Bill

    Jennifer Jones was heavenly in The Song of Bernadette, and won best actress (Oscar & GGlobe)for her portrayal

  • agb

    Hope Emerson in CAGED

  • jim

    Maryln Monroe in Bus Stop.

  • ww

    By only looking at films between 1930 and 1980, you’ve really created a flawed list. You’re really going to ignore the last 31 years of filmmaking? How is it possible in 2011 to make a credible list of great performances by an actress and omit Meryl Streep? “Sophie’s Choice” should be in the top two or three.

  • Joseph Imhoff

    I find no bad choices of actresses, only in that some cited were roles in movies I personally did not care for. My one addition: Eiji Okado in ‘Woman of the Dunes’ which I have not seen since its original release!

  • fred buschbaum

    So many have a “best” role, like luise rainer in good earth. a mind blowing performance so subtle yet so believable.
    but for me, my
    best” are those with the greatest range of roles.
    Sofis Loren in just about anything
    Kathren Hepburn, Philadelphia story/ Rooster Cogburn/ African Queen
    Barbara Stanwyck in just about anything
    and in and on.

  • http://none Bellah

    Ida Lupino! I love her in “They Drive By Night” when she goes off the deep end. That’s a real goodie.

  • Trippy Trellis

    The best performance by an actress is a tie: Olivia de Havilland in “The Heiress” and Vivien Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

  • Bruce Lagasse

    I’ll add my vote for Judy Garland/A Star is Born, Gloria Swanson/Sunset Blvd., Deborah Kerr/An Affair to Remember, and for a recent performance, how about Cate Blanchett/The Aviator?

  • Pat

    You could always count on Bette Davis to give a good performance not matter what movie she was in. Anyone ever see “The Whales of August”? Bette Davis and Lillian Gish – wow! How about Roslind Russell? She could do anything from drama to musicals. Ida Lupino – the best. How about Jennifer Jones – Ruby, Duel In The Sun – she’s great, too. Of course, Vivien Leigh, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen and many of today’s actresses, (although they seldom have really good written material to work with these days).

  • Mike Oldfield

    Jennifer Jones for “Duel In The Sun” and “The Song Of Bernadette” and, of course, Helen Mirren for “The Queen”. Never have I seen an actress immerse herself in a role so completely. She became Elizabeth II !

  • Diane

    Some great choices that I agree with and some that I think “what?” Nice to see someone else has chosen Claudette Colbert in “Three Came Home” and Greer Garson in “Random Harvest”.

    I have some others to submit:
    Marsha Mason – The Goodbye Girl
    Diane Keaton – Looking for Mr. Goodbar
    Shirley MacLaine – The Children’s Hour
    Donna Reed – It’s A Wonderful Life
    Jeanne Crain – Pinky
    Barbra Streisand – Funny Girl
    Cher – Moonstruck
    Deborah Winger – Terms of Endearment
    Jodie Foster – The Silence of the Lambs
    Jessica Lange – Sweet Dreams
    Sissy Spacek – Coal Miner’s Daughter
    Sally Field – Norma Rae
    Audrey Hepburn – The Nun’s Story
    Mildred Natwick – Barefoot In The Park
    Thelma Ritter – The Mating Season
    Mary Wickes – White Christmas
    And many others we never think of first off, such as Eve Arden (in every movie she ever made), along with Gladys Cooper, Spring Byington, Margaret Rutherford, Elizabeth Allen, Dorothy Malone, Lauren Bacall, Angela Landsbury, Millie Perkins, Debbie Reynolds (she could act, sing, dance), Mercedes McCambridge, Clair Bloom, Samantha Eggar, Celeste Holme, Sandy Dennis, I could go on all day because there are so many wonderful women who have brought such great talent to the screen – good for us that they did and some still do….

  • Gord Jackson

    So many great performances, most listed but a few neglected. But first, those with which I am in total agreement:

    Barbara Stanwyck – “Double Indemnity”
    Judy Garland – “A Star is Born”
    Bette Davis – “All About Eve”
    Gloria Swanson – “Sunset Boulevard”
    Joan Crawford – “Mildred Pierce”
    Ann Blyth – “Mildred Pierce”
    Vanessa Redgrave – “Isadora”


    Roz Russell – “Auntie Mame”
    Jean Simmons – “Home Before Dark” or “Angel Face”
    Dame Maggie Smith – “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”
    Jane Fonda – “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”
    Anna Magnani – “The Rose Tatoo”
    Susan Hayward – “I’ll Cry Tomorrow”
    Deborah Kerr – “Separate Tables”
    Isabelle Huppert – “The School of Flesh”
    Fernanda Montenegro – “Central Station”
    Lana Turner – “Peyton Place”
    Diane Varsi – “Peyton Place”
    Barbra Streisand – “Funny Girl”
    Doris Day – “Love Me or Leave Me”
    Diane Keaton – “Looking For Mr. Goodbar”
    Greer Garson – “Sunrise at Campobello”
    Elizabeth Taylor – “Suddenly Last Summer”
    Katharine Hepburn – “Suddenly Last Summer”
    Dorothy Dandridge – “Carmen Jones”
    Grace Kelly – “The Country Girl”
    Diana Ross – “Lady Sings the Blues”
    Jane Wyman – “Johnny Belinda”

    There are probably others, but unless an aggregious ‘left out’ surfaces, that will suffice for now.

  • Bill C.

    I’m always amazed at the accolades heaped on Diane Keaton for “Annie Hall.” Woody Allen based the character on Diane Keaton. So her tough acting challenge was to play herself.

    I like her and I like the film, but it really wasn’t much of a stretch.

    Maybe not among the greatest and I know she was very difficult during filming, but Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot” is a tremendous comedic performance.

  • Laura

    Sorry, Got to go with Bette Davis in Now Voyager and Greer Garson in Randonm Harvest and Goodbye Mr. Chips.


    John Garfield in Body and Soul
    Stephen McNally in Split Second
    Elvis Presley in King Creole(Elvis only Film Noir)

  • Brenda

    I agree with many of the selections, but Kay Francis in “In Name Only” was great—I think she was even nominated for it. Hope you get a chance to see it—it isn’t shown much and not on DVD unfortunately.

  • oscarjaffee

    Let’s not forget:
    Louise Fletcher in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
    Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment”
    Bette Midler in “The Rose”
    Gena Rowlands in “A Woman Under the Influence”
    Madeline Kahn in “Young Frankenstein”

  • Tom S

    Gail Russell,and the other cast members, in THE UNINVITED, my favorite movie.

  • SteveinSedona

    How could all of you leave out Patricia Neal in “Hud?”

  • Ray R.

    One of the greatest ever: Lillian Gish in “Broken Blossoms”

  • Daniel

    Ingrid Bergman in Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde, The Human Voice and Autumn Sonata.
    Mery Streep in Sophie’s choice

  • cindy

    How could we leave out Jean Arthur? She was great in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Talk of the Town. Or Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday. She was terrific! Also K. Hepburn was great in African Queen and The Rainmaker. So many great movies to choose from.

  • Marie Redecha

    Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver
    Irene Dunne, I Remember Mama
    Cher, Moonstruck

  • christina

    Olivia De Havilland: The Heiress, Gloria Swanson: Sunset Boulevard

  • LM

    Gene Tierney in Laura
    Shirley Booth in Hot Spell and Come Back Little Sheba
    Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity
    Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane
    Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother and I’ll Be Seeing You
    Anne Baxter in All About Eve
    Rosalind Russell in No Time for Comedy
    Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis and A Child is Waiting
    Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle
    Doris Day in Pillow Talk
    Jane Wyman in The Lost Weekend

  • Daniel E. Coates

    My Top 10 are:
    Myrna Loy – Manhattan Melodrama,
    Claudette Colbert – Sign Of The Cross and Cleopatra,
    Ann Savage- Detour,
    Jean Arthur – You Can’t Take It With You,
    Lauren Bacall – To Have and Have not,
    kathryn Grayson – Desert Song,
    Constance Bennett – Topper,
    Joan Bennett – Scarlet Street,
    Rosalind Russell – Craig’s Wife and
    Ida Lupino – They Drive By Night

  • Barbara Atkinson

    Lots of great performances listed here. Can’t believe though that one would mention Hepburn in “Philadelphia Story” when, that Oscar year, Ginger Rogers took the statuette for “Kitty Foyle.” That was Ginger’s highest point and deservedly so. Also, she was terrific in “Primrose Path,” for which she should have received an Oscar nomination, but likely didn’t since the film was banned in many locations. Come July 16, Happy 100th Birthday, Ginger! Wish you were still here to enjoy it.

  • Warren

    Katharine Hepburn in Long Days Journey Into Night
    Elizabeth Taylor & Carol Buurnett in Between Friends
    Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus
    Ann Margret in Carnal Knowledge
    Whoopi Goldburg in The Color Purple
    Cher in Come Back To The 5 & Dime JD
    Meryl Streep in Doubt
    Julie Andrews in Star
    Jessica Tandy in Fried Green Tomatoe’s
    Ann Blyth in The Great Caruso
    Betty Hutton in The Greatest Show On Earth
    Ann Bancroft in Prisoner Of Second Avenue
    Patty Duke in Valley Of The Dolls
    Judy Garland in I Could Go On Singing
    Lana Turner in Madam X
    Susan Hayward in I’ll Cry Tomorrow
    Ingrid Bergman in Joan Of Arc
    Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda
    Bette Davis in The Little Foxes
    Sophia Loren in Two Women
    Debbie Rynolds in The Singing Nun
    Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven
    Doris Day in Love Me Or Leave Me
    Shirley MacLaine in My Geisha
    Cher in Mask
    Barbra Streisand in Nuts
    Jessica Lange in The Music Box
    Lucy Ball in Stone Pillow
    Audrey Hepburn in The Nuns Story
    Ava Gardner in Night Of The Iguana
    Dorothy Dandridge in Porgy And Bess
    Katherin Hepburn in The Rainmaker
    Rosemary Clooney in Red Garters
    Ellen Burstyn in Same Time Next Year
    Elizabeth Taylor in The Sandpiper
    Jane Seymore in Somewhere In Time
    Ginger Rogers in Stage Door
    Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
    and on and on and on

  • Andrew

    My choices:
    Susan Hayward-I Want to Live!
    Marylin Monroe-Bus Stop and The Misfits
    Kim Novak-Vertigo and Picnic
    Marisa Tomei-My Cousin Vinny
    Tatum O’Neal-Paper Moon
    Madeline Kahn-(In anything)
    Lee Remick-Days of Wine and Roses
    Ingrid Bergman-The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
    Hattie McDaniel-Family Honeymoon
    Jane Darwell-The Grapes of Wrath
    Lauren Bacall-To Have and Have Not
    Betty Field-Bus Stop and Picnic
    Shirley Booth-Come Back Little Sheba
    Blythe Danner-The Great Santini
    Joan Hackett-Will Penny
    Jane Fonda-On Golden Pond
    Sigourney Weaver-Alien and Aliens
    Barbra Streisand – The Owl and the Pussycat

  • Erin

    Here are my nominees
    Bette Davis-Marked Woman
    Myrna Loy- The Thin Man
    Maureen O’Hara- The Quiet Man and McClintock
    Katherine Hepburn-The Lion in Winter
    Judi Dench-Mrs Henderson Presents

  • Scott Wannberg

    jan sterling-ace in the hole
    gloria grahame-in a lonely place
    gena rowlands-woman under the influence

  • Scott Wannberg

    patricia neal-a face in the crowd
    eva marie saint-all fall down
    jean hagen-the asphalt jungle

  • mislaigne

    Olivia de Havilland as The Heiress. Amazing range.

  • Judy

    Rita Hayworth – Gilda
    Loretta Young – The Farmer’s Daughter, Come to the Stable, The Bishop’s Wife, The Stranger
    Oliva de Havilland – The Snake Pit, Gone with the Wind, To Each His Own, They Died with Their Boots On
    Martha Scott – Three Cheers for Miss Bishop
    Irene Dunne – Life with Father
    Judy Garland – The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Clock, The Harvey Girls, just about any other movie
    Ingrid Bergman – Gaslight, Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde, Anastasia, just about any other movie
    Vera Miles – Psycho and The Wrong Man
    Ava Gardner – Night of the Iguana, Mogambo
    Audrey Hepburn – Sabrina, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Children’s Hour
    Katharine Hepburn – Pat & Mike, Woman of the Year, Desk Set
    Deborah Kerr – The Innocents, The Chalk Garden, Night of the Iguana, and just about anything else
    Gail Russell & Ruth Hussey – The Uninvited
    Shirley MacLaine – The Apartment, The Children’s Hour, Two for the Seesaw, Irma La Douce
    Maureen O’Hara – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
    Jane Wyman – Stage Fright, The Lost Weekend, Johnny Belinda
    Debbie Reynolds – Mary, Mary, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Singin’ in the Rain
    Marlene Dietrich – Stage Fright, Witness for the Prosecution, A Foreign Affair, Judgment at Nuremburg
    Dorothy McGuire – The Spiral Staircase & A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
    Jean Arthur – A Foreign Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
    Greta Garbo – Ninotchka
    Judy Holliday – Born Yesterday, Bells are Ringing
    Natalie Wood – West Side Story, Gypsy, Splendor in the Grass, Love with the Proper Stranger
    Bette Davis – Mr. Skeffington, The Corn is Green,
    The Catered Affair, and just about anything else she ever did
    Gene Tierney – Leave Her to Heaven, Laura, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Dragonwyck, The Razor’s Edge
    Elizabeth Taylor – Giant, A Place in the Sun
    Marilyn Monroe – How to Marry a Millionaire, Some Like It Hot, The Seven-Year Itch, Niagara (always thought this sort of film noir was the closest to a Hitchcock film, with Marilyn the imperiled blonde, and including a natural wonder/national park, almost monument)
    Doris Day – The Man Who Knew Too Much
    Joan Crawford – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
    Rosalind Russell – Auntie Mame and A Majority of One
    Ann Sheridan – Angels with Dirty Faces, Nora Prentiss, The Man Who Came to Dinner, King’s Row
    Barbara Stanwyck – Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve
    Claudette Colbert – Since You Went Away, Drums Along the Mohawk
    Hedy Lamarr – Samson & Delilah
    Anne Bancroft & Patty Duke – The Miracle Worker
    Peggy Ann Garner – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

  • David Alan

    Olivia deHavilland in “Snake Pit”
    Norma Shearer in “Marie Antoinette”
    Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
    Joan Crawford in “Mildred Pierce”
    Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter”
    Greer Garson in “Random Harvest”
    Barbara Stanwyck in “East Side, West Side”
    Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark”
    Janet Leigh in “Psycho”



  • b.shinn

    Here are some of my favorites- Betty Davis dark victory,June Allyson,little women Cyd Charisse- Brigadoon Rosalind Russell, Auntie Mame Jane Powell-Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Petula Clark-Finian’s Rainbow Judy Garland- Me and My Gal Audery Hepburn- My Fair Lady Barbra Streisand- Hello Dolly Maureen O’Hara- the quiet man Greer Garson- pride and prejudiceAva Gardner-Show Boat Elizabeth Taylor- Suddenly Last Summer.

  • Christopher Schwinger

    Barbara Stanwyck in Meet John Doe.

  • Bill M.

    Ava Gardner in “One Touch of Venus”, Jennifer Jones in “Portrait of Jenny”, Kim Novak in “Bell, Book and Candle”, Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, Gene Tierney in “Laura”

  • Cindy Urban

    I agree with Bill M.,and Judys’ choices.All great films,and great performances by all mentioned.I only have to add another favorite of mine NOW VOYAGER,with Bette Davis.

  • Tito Pannaggi

    What is this? I can mention 10 films with Anna Magnani before I’ll will any think about any other actresses; … and the Wild Wild Women(59),Angelina: Member of Parliament (47), Belissima (51), The Fugitive Kind (60), The Golden Coach (54), Peddler and the Lady (49), Rome – open City (45), The Rose Tattoo (55), Volcano (50) + Wild Is the Wind (57). In addition there actresses like Irene Papas and Melina Mercouri. Often when you talk about films you talk only about American film. Your ignorace is your loss.

  • Jim

    Marilyn Monroe-Niagara
    Faye Wray-King Kong
    Patricia Neal-Any Movie
    Kim Novak-Man with The Golden Arm

  • Nusrat Rizvi

    How can anyone talk about acting and not mention the giant of the industry Laurence Olivier.

  • MindyP51

    Meryl Streep: SOPHIE’S CHOICE

    Every single actor in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Dana Andrews, Virginia Mayo, and special kudos to Harold Russell. (And a quick nod to Hoagie Carmichael.)

  • Diane

    Some of you have mentioned male actors as your choices, so here’s my list of men who are fantastic.

    Gene Hackman – The French Connection
    Steve McQueen – Bullit
    Gregory Peck – To Kill A Mockingbird
    Glenn Ford – The Gazebo and many others
    Jack Lemmon – in anything and everything he did
    Ronald Coleman – Random Harvest
    Walter Pigeon – Mrs. Miniver
    Gary Grant – North by Northwest and everything else he did
    James Stewart – It’s A Wonderful Life and many others
    Montgomery Clift – A Place in the Sun
    William Powell – all the Thin Man movies
    Henry Fonda – Mr. Roberts and On Golden Pond
    Spencer Tracey – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
    Frank Sinatra – From Here to Eternity
    Robert Mitchum – Out of the Past
    Charles Laughton – everything he did too
    Ray Miland – The Big Clock and The Univited
    Robert Walker Sr. – Strangers on a Train
    George Brent – The Spiral Staircase
    Clark Gable – Gone With The Wind
    John Wayne – The Searchers and everything else he did
    Oskar Werner – Ship of Fools
    Albert Finney – Two for the Road
    John Mills – Great Expectations
    Burt Lancaster – The Swimmer
    Keir Dullea – Bunny Lake is Missing

    So many choices – great to think about them….

  • Fredcdobbs

    Bette Davis in “The Letter”. The best of all.

  • Ron

    Gena Rolands in Gloria

  • Clark

    hi where are you actresses= Greer Garson & Norma Shearer & Marilyn Monroe? what is your best performances with thoes actresses?

  • christina

    Barbara Stanwyck: Sorry Wrong Number

  • Abby

    Kitty Winn in The Panic in Needle Park.
    Debra Winger in Black Widow
    Jennifer Jason Leigh in Rush & Fast Times at R.H.
    Bette Davis in every movie she was ever in–she’s great even in the stinkers!

  • George

    So many wonderful performances, but I must add one that stands out in a class of its own for me:
    Deborah Kerr in “Edward My Son”

  • George Miller

    Wonderful memories all, but I must add one that stands out for me: Deborah Kerr in “Edward My Son”

  • golden1

    I totally agree Bette Davis in All About Eve is the greatest single performance ever. Followed closely by Olivia deHavilland in The Heiress. I would add to the list: Eleanor Parker in Caged, Claudia McNeil in Raisin in the Sun, Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind, Anna Magnani in The Fugitive Kind


    Dont Forget,Beyond The Forest(1949)with Bette Davis

  • Hilary

    My list would be.

    Vivien Leigh- Gone With The Wind
    Lana Turner- The Postman Always Rings Twice
    Joan Fontaine- Rebecca
    Paulette Goddard- So Proudly We Hail
    Gene Tierney- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

  • Deborah Green

    Here are some of my choices:

    Elizabeth Taylor – Cat on a hot tin roof
    Marilyn Monroe – Bus Stop
    Bett Davis – Mr. Skeffington
    Joan Fontain – Suspicion
    ShirleyMaclaine – The Apartment
    Lana Turner – Madam X
    Deborah Kerr – Sperate Tables
    Greer Garson – Pride and Prejdice

  • EGB

    Kim Stanley – Seance on a Wet Afternoon

  • Shirley Busch

    you all forgot the Best of the Best
    Greer Garson in Mrs.Minaver & How Green Was MY Valley…..

  • Thomas A. Petillo

    Beatrice Straight, in “Network”.

  • Shirley Busch

    you all forgot the Best of the Best
    Greer Garson in “Mrs.Minaver & How Green Was My Valley.”

  • Thomas A. Petillo

    Beatrice Straight, in, “Network”.

  • roger lynn

    Barbara Stanwyck-Sorry Wrong Number—-Deborah Kerr The Chalk Garden—-Ellen Burstyn-Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore—Sigourney Weaver-Copycat—agree with most of the others—Barbara Stanwyck was my all time favorite actress–she was always GREAT IN EVERYTHING…

  • Vickice

    Norma Shearer or Paulette Goddard from “The Women”. Paulette was a great Naughty Girl. You rooted for Norma all the way. Joan Crawford was the wicked man stealer to a “T”. The original shouldn’t be missed. Rosalind Russel from “His Girl Friday” was origially written for a man. Judy Holiday in “Born Yesterday” is a scream. Margaret Southern as Miss Marple solves crimes and denies suitors gently. Lilian Gish in almost any of her slients. What an expressive face. Mirium Hopkins in “Becky Sharp”. Margaret Hamilton, “The Wicked Witch of the West”. Julie Harris, “The Haunting”. The “French Leftenents Woman” Faye Dunaway. “Carmen” Dorothy Dandridge. Claudette Colbert “The Thin Man”. The “Blond Bombshell” Jean Harlow. Eva Gardener in “Showboat”. Rita Hayworth in “Gilda”. Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca”. Lauran Becall in “To Have Or Have Not”. Looking a little harder you can always find gems the younger generation need to be shown. If you get them past the black & white and get to the stories new classic movie fans can be made.

  • Jim Hill

    OK, you all missed it, for purely great acting, the more recent benchmark is:

    Geraldine Page in 1985′s “The Trip to Bountiful”. A simple, deep, pointed film. Geraldine, near the end of her life, nails it again. There is no Geraldine Page, only Carrie Watts. No actress on
    the face of the earth has been better. The best at their best are as good, but different.
    Check out her small role in “The Pope of Greenwich Village” – perfection. There is never Geraldine Page, only the living, breathing embodiment of the person the writer explains. The best work of many great actresses I respect and enjoy don’t equal the best work of Geraldine.
    She is in the smallest, highest circle.

  • runfar

    Meryl Streep in her early years. Hands down Sally Field is amazing.
    Bette Davis is classic.

  • Schar Saxe

    Meryl Streep has got to be the greatest screen actress there ever was. She has moved me to tears, sometimes unexpectedly, especially in “Out of Africa”. For sheer entertainment, the great Judy Holiday in “Born Yesterday”, and the matchless Irene Dunne in “The Awful Truth.” I agree with whoever said, Thelma Ritter…every time she was ever on the screen! Doris Day in “The Man who Knew Too Much.” And a lovely gracious lady named Joan Hackett, who died way too early, always lit up the screen, especially in “Support Your Local Sheriff”

  • Joe

    Too bad the Silent performances were neglected! Afterall, what was the FIRST Great Performance? JANET GAYNOR for “Sunrise” and “Seventh Heaven” (that year looked for the whole year of work rather than a single flick). Her emotions released during the struggle of that film’s are astounding! As a matter of fact, everytime I show “Sunrise” to students, they all (even boys) start to cry!

  • Dave Sheehan

    ETHEL WATERS—The Member of the Wedding
    JULIE HARRIS—The Member of the Wedding

  • Dave Sheehan

    ARLETTY— Les Enfants du Paradis.

  • Geoff

    No one has yet mentioned the Hollywood actress I am currently attempting an amateur project on, Anne Shirley. Her scenes in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944) are, at least for me, very moving. She beautifully enhances a great script. Not to forget her in “Music in Manhattan” (1944) and “Government Girl” (1943) either. I’ve yet to watch a number of her films that I have, so this list should grow in number.

  • Dave Sheehan

    Tatiana Samoilova- The Cranes Are Flying.

  • gr

    Elizabeth Montgomery The Awakening Land

  • sean

    Renee Falconetti, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc.

  • @ZetMec

    Easy Peasy!

    1. Lauren Bacall – elegance [and she's still with us]
    2. Stanwyck – wit
    3. Kate Hepburn – chops
    along with,
    4. Jean Arthur – Mr. Smith Goes to WA & Shane
    5. Norma Shearer – The Divorcee, The Women
    6. Carole Lombard – My Man G., Nothing Sacred
    7. Myrna Loy/Mary Astor – The Thin Man/The Maltese Falcon [#7 & #7 1/2]
    8. Anouk Aimée – Un homme et une femme
    9. Ingrid Bergman – Notorious & Casablanca
    10. Jane Fonda – Klute

    Tomorrow will be the same Top 3, plus a few new ones in the last 7 slots, in similar yet different roles.

  • Dave Sheehan

    Maria Casares–Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne.

  • Jeff C

    Alice Brady in “My Man Godfrey”, Ann Sothern in “Bother Orchid”, Billie Burke in anything.

  • Dar

    Some of my favorites, but definitely not all:
    Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata & most any movie she was in; she was terrific in Golda
    Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth, I Remember Mama
    Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown
    Norma Shearer in The Women
    Myrna Loy in The Best Years of Our Lives, Wife vs. Secretary
    Greer Garson in Random Harvest
    Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame
    Sophia Loren in Two Women
    Mary Astor in Dodsworth

  • Robert Boyd

    Any film staring Greer Garson is on top of my list. She was a superb actress who had beauty,charm,wit,and a lively Irish vigor.

  • Gary

    Did anybody mention Maggie Smith in The Prime of Jean Brodie?

  • Brian

    Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence
    Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?
    Faye Dunaway in Network
    Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
    Bette Davis in All About Eve
    Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
    Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman

  • Jon DeCles

    Ok, Lillian Gish, whose career spanned the beginning of films to well, was she still working past 1980? Right up to the end, I think.

    And Jessica Tandy, who by the time she died (still acting) had become our single best actress.

    And then, there’s Kim Stanley, whose performances were almost always perfect, but never showy.

  • Robert Stewart

    The entire cast of The Women, VivienLeigh & Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind, Leigh in A Street

  • Robert Stewart

    The entire cast of The Women, Vivien Leigh & Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind, Vivien Leigh In Streetcar Named Desire, Garbo in Camille, Garland in A Star Is Born,Paulette Goddard in So Proudly We Hail, Ann Blyth & Joan Crawfird in Mildred Pierce, Sylvana Mangano in Bitter Rice & Anna, Marie Windsor in Narrow Margin & Irene Dunne in I Remember Mama.

  • Connie

    Hattie McDaniel, “Gone With the Wind” – timeless warm, loving & funny

    Susan Hayward in ‘I want to live’

    Bette Davis ‘Jezabell’ & ‘All About Eve’

    Greer Garson in ‘Mrs Miniver’

  • Tom Johnson

    I should like to submit these outstanding performances which might have been overlooked:
    Edith Evans, “The Importance of Being Earnest”,
    Betty Field, “Blues in the Night”,
    Stockard Channing, “Six Degrees of Separation”,
    Lauren Bacall, “To Have and Have Not”,
    Rita Hayworth, “You Were Never Lovelier”,
    Thelma Ritter “All About Eve”, “A Pickup on South Street”, and (unbilled) “A Letter to Three Wives”,
    Ann Southern, “A Letter to Three Wives”,
    Linda Darnell, “A Letter to Three Wives”,
    Florence Bates, “Saratoga Trunk”,
    Jean Hagen, “Singing in the Rain”,
    Vivien Leigh, “A Streetcar Named Desire”,
    Ida Lupino, “Road House”,
    Frances de la Tour, “The History Boys”
    Katharine Hepburn” Long Days Journey into Night”
    The Entire Female Cast of “The Hours” AND
    Maria Montez, “Cobra Woman”

  • helen egbert

    Bette Davis – The Letter. Remarkable performance.
    Bette at her coneiving (and deadly) best. Bravo!!

  • Jean Noah

    How about Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight? Agree with Judy Garland in A Star Is Born. Also agree with Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice – or maybe Ironweed (the scene where she sings in the bar still gets to me) Sally Field in Places of The Heart. Lillian Gish in The Wind. Stanwyck’s Stella Dallas is heartbreaking. Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. Irene Dunne in I Remember Mama. Emma Thompson in Howard’s End. Meg Ryan in When A Man Loves A Woman. So many more…way too hard to come up with just a few!

  • dardavis01

    Janet Gaynor in Sunrise; Catharine Deneuve in anything; Greer Garson in Random Harvest, Mrs. Miniver, and Sunrise at Campobello; Irene Dunne in I Remember Mama and The Awful Truth; Jean Arthur in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday; Ingrid Bergman in anything; Greta Garbo in Camille and Queen Christina; Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit and The Heiress; Deborah Kerr in Tea and Sympathy, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; Myrna Loy in The Thin Man and The Best Days of our Lives; Norma Shearer in The Women and The Divorcee; and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man.

  • Jim Smith

    There are so many talented people who can act and sing. And many of them, sadly, never reach stardom because of the competition. Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr, Susan Hayward made movies that are incomparable to the movies of today. In their day, they didn’t have all kinds of special effects to enchance the movie. The audience was centered on their characters and not on all the special effects that bombards movies today.

  • Cara

    I would have preferred you list Julie Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis. Garland in ASIB is just too fragile for the role she’s cast in. I would have had Faye Dunaway’s performance in Network listed instead of Chinatown. Chinatown is a great film noir, but Jack NIckelson dominates it. Fay’s performance in Network wasn’t overshadowed by Finch or Holden’s performances and was as good as it gets. Didn’t she win an Oscar for it? I also think Sissy Spacek’s performance in Coal Miner’s Daughter should be considered her best of many great performances. Carrie might be a memorable horror film, but CMD is more than a genre biopic, and the chemistry between Spacek and Tommy Lee was spot on.