Added note from 4 years after article was originally written: Upon seeing that this was one of the most trafficked articles on my blog, I thought I'd go back and add this forward in which I express that a) I was inexperienced to make such a list four years ago and this list should not be taken seriously and b) Seriously, if you asked me on any day, I'd give you different answers. Also, that an article on 25 most successful actresses of the decade I wrote was researched a bit more meticulously if you want to check that out instead.
In my last post, i said actors and actresses but i forgot to include the actress list. Again, this is not in any way exact since it's hard to compare them. I am continually reediting this post and adding comments and reasoning on the actresses as time allows
1 Katherine Hepbrun-If you go down a list of great films in movie history, it's astounding how many of them Katherine Hepburn found her way into. Maybe she chose her projects well but for that and also having so many Oscars, it's hard to deny her as anything other than #1
Notable roles: African Queen, Bringing Up Baby, Summertime, Lion in the Winter, On Golden Pond, Philadelphia Story, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
2 Vivian Leigh-Had two of the greatest and most often quoted roles in film history with Streetcar Named Desire and Gone with the Wind. Interesting fact: Imdb.com lists her birthplace as West Bengal, India
Notable Roles: Gone with the Wind, Streetcar Named Desire, Anna Karenia Ship of Fools
3 Audrey Hepburn-Her sense of unmatched grace and elegance is still talked about today and is still a model for many young actresses. I think Audrey Hepburn has become the standard for grace and beauty that all young starletts are measured by today, precisely because Audrey Hepburn is exactly what we're missing today. It's a refined sensuality that isn't about cleavage or a lifestyle that screams to be covered by the paperazzi.
Notable roles: Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, Wait Until Dark, Charade, My Fair Lady, Breakfast at Tiffany's
4 Ingrid Bergman-You know, I honestly don't know why I had her as #2, i just felt like I needed to put at least a couple people between Audrey Hepburn and Katherine Hepburn because it just seemed too easy to put two Hepburns next to each other, and she had a lot of oscars plus perhaps the most memorable female lead ever in Casablanca. Notable Roles: Casablanca, Gaslight, Intermizzo, Spellbound
5 Meryl Streep-Her resume just keeps growing as she adds oscar-caliber roles onto it every year and her ascension in the place of movie history's legends keeps rising. It's kind of odd how she's not the one with the spotlight, but she is widely acknowledged as a very precious talent. Notable roles: Deer Hunter, Kramer vs Kramer, Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa, Ironweed, Music of the Heart, Adaptation, The Hours, Devil Wears Prada, Manchurian Candidate, Prairie Home Companion
6 Grace Kelly-Maybe the equivalent of James Dean in having a short career that captivated the viewing public so thoroughly. It's hard to compare her to an actress like Katherine Hepburn or Bette Davis who had a lifetime worth of film roles. To some extent you have to extrapolate how many great film turns she might have had, had her career been allowed to run its course, but like most legends like Elvis, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe (although she didn't die of a drug overdose, you usually give them the benefit of the doubt Notable Roles: Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, Country Girl, High Noon, Rear Window
Notable roles: Wait Until Dark, Charade, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Sabrina, Roman Holiday
7 Judy Garland-No, I'm not gay, but I do think that Garland is hard to deny as a very talented singer and star. Her Midwestern voice is very distinct and maybe what's so great about Garland was that very Midwesternness that made her singing granduer seem folksy and down-to-earth. It's also very interesting when you watch her on the screen to think about how messed up she was off the screen. Her kids (particularly the one with the surname Luft) adore her and say great things about her in interviews but it seemed like she wasn't a very good mother, and she just was addicted to pills of all sorts, but it was really the studio's fault for getting her hooked in the first place.
Notable Roles: Babes in Arms, Wizard of Oz, Meet me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, Summer Song, A Star is Born, Judgement at Nuremberg
8 Marlene Dietritch
She definitely had a presence on the screen that you couldn't take your eyes off of. She was also a very precious commodity since she came straight from Ufa and the German industry where the most innovative directors of the time came from.
Notable Roles: The Blue Angel, Touch of Evil, Morrocco, Destry Rides Again, Shanghai Express, Judgement at Nuremberg
9 Barbara Stanwyck
She had a sensuality that she used to make femme fatales that much more fatal and she also used that quality to make some very memorable screwball heroines. Her performances are really timeless.
Notable Roles: Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire, Double Indemnity, The Lady Eve
10 Bette Davis
Considered the first lady of film, she certainly had a prolific career with 106 films over 6 decades. Some have her higher. She personally doesn't resonate as much with me.
Notable Roles: Jezbezel, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, All About Eve, Now Voyager
11 Joan Crawford
Determined to be a star, Crawford took on a versatile range of roles and refused to be outshined on stage. she gave one of film's great performances in Mommie Dearest.
Notable roles: Dancing Lady, Humoresque, Mildred Pier
12 Greta Garbo-Pretty much the biggest star star of the 30s and the publicity department at her studio helped foster her appeal by painting her as a mysterious recluse
Notable Roles: The Divine Woman, Anna Christie, Grand Hotel, Queen Christina, Ninotchka
13 Elizabeth Taylor-Her reputation as a husband stealer and looks should have taken away from her on-screen persona and marketability as a star, but she was too good of an actress for that to happen.
Notable roles: National Velvet, Life with Father, A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff
14 Claudette Colbert
As the romatic foil to Clark Gable in the definitive screwball comedy "It Happened One Night", Colbert exuded a mixture of sensuality and youthful exuberance that even the Breen Code couldn't surpress.
Notable Roles: It Happened One Night, Palm Beach Story, Since You Went Away, Cleopatra
15 Mary Pickford
America's first lady of silent film was on such a level of her own, that she cofounded her own movie studio (United Artists) because no one could pay her salary. Frequently collaborated with one of UA's other co-founders Director DW Griffith
Notable Roles: In Old Kentucky, Tess of the Storm Country, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Pollyana, Coquette
16 Ginger Rogers
It wasn't just Fred Astaire that made the most famous romantic pairing in film history work. Rogers was a relatable everywoman, the Rogers screen persona came off as slightly flirtatious yet slightly vulnerable. More than anything else, she was talented, however, and could match Astaire stride for stride.
Notable Roles: Flying down to Rio, Swing Time, Top Hat, Barkleys of Broadway, Kitty Foyle
17 Shirley MacLaine
When you're making a list of 50 actresses and trying to make it well-written, you have to keep coming up with new adjectives for these ladies to make each entry sound original, and already at #17, i'm starting to either recycle ones or find a lack of words to characterize the performer. In the former, I'm thinking that MacLaine kind of reminds me of Audrey Hepburn: debonair, very cute, a winning personality. But in the latter case, I can't exactly put my finger on what MacLaine has that MacLaine has that seperates her from Hepburn or anyone else for that matter, but she does have a certain uniqueness to her.
Notable Roles: Terms of Endearment, In Her Shoes, Sayonara, The Apartment, The Turning Point, Irma la Douce, Sweet Charity
18 Marilyn Monroe-The embodiment of male sex fantasy, Monroe was smarter than she looked but not all the time. At times, Billy Wilder had to write her lines on index cards all over the set and she still couldn't get them right, while at times, she was a consummate professional. One might place her higher because she had such greater star quality than her contemporaries or one could place her lower because she might have just been a pretty place, but she knew what she was doing.
Notable Roles: Gentlemen Perfer Blondes, Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, Misfits
19 Dianne Keaton
Notable Roles: Godfather, Manhattan, Interiors, Reds, Annie Hall
20 Faye Dunaway She had so many definitive roles in the '60s and '70s. In Bonnie and Clyde she and Warren Beatty epitomized the countercultural values in two iconic drifters. In Network, she's brilliant as a TV executive who's nearly gone mad in her obsessiveness for ratings (she talks about the network share during sex), and in Chinatown, her character of Evelyn Mullray is a twisted cross between a femme fatale and a doomed victim. Notable Roles: Bonnie and Clyde, Network, Mommie Dearest, Thomas Crown Affair, Chinatown
21 Susan Sorandon
Notable Roles: Atlantic City, Thelma and Louise, Lorenzo's Oil, Client, Dead Man Walking, Stepmom
22 Rita Hayworth
Notable Roles: You'll Never Get Rich, Strawberry Blonde, Only Angels Have Wings, Lady from Shanghai, Gilda
23 Shelly Winters
Notable Roles: A Double Life, Red River, Great Gatsby, Winchester '73, A Place in the Sun, Diary of Anne Frank, Lolita, A Patch of Blue, Poseidon Adventure, Cleopatra Jones
24 Natalie Wood-Was in three of the AFI top 100 films in Searchers, Rebel without a Cause, and West Side Story, but her more notable roles have been in films like Splendor in the Grass or Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. Like James Dean she showed a lot of promise and died way too soon (although less soon than Dean).
Notable roles: Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, Love with the Proper Stranger, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice
25 Debbie Reynolds-Although in her old age, she's parodying herself a little too much, she really has been an underrated actress through the ages. She might have stumbled into the role of a lifetime through sheer luck in Singing in the Rain, but she had the perfect blend of wide-eyed innocence and spunk to go toe-to-toe with Gene Kelly, especially in Good Morning. She's shown a penchant for accents and comic characters in silly and innocent comedies, and dazzled in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Notable roles: Singing in the Rain, The Siniging Nun, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, How the West Was Won
Bumped out of 25:
26 Mae West
27 Lauren Bacall
28 Jessica Lange
29 Nicole Kidman
30 Lillian Gish
31 Anne Baxter
32 Janet Leigh
33 Jane Fonda
34 Ava Gardener
35 Frances McDormand
36 Maggie Smith
37 Anne Baxter
38 Olivia de Haviland
39 Doris Day
40 Carol Lombard
41 Ethel Barrymore
42 Eva Marie Saint
43 Sally Field
44 Julie Christie
45 Helen Mirren
46 Maureen O'Hara
47 Julia Roberts
48 Claire Trevor
49 Angela Lansbury
50 Donna Reed