10 Most Iconic Movie Stars of the 50s, Ranked

10 Most Iconic Movie Stars of the 50s, Ranked

As part of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the 1950s produced some of Hollywood’s most famous films—and film stars. Some of the industry’s biggest names did their best work in the 1950s, from veterans who found sustained success to breakout stars who made an impression from their first frames on screen.

Decades later, some of the biggest stars of the ’50s remain household names, thanks to their classic film roles and enduring star power. Whether they had long careers or made an impact in a short time, audiences continue to be captivated by their films, from award-winning dramas to lighthearted comedies.

10 Gene Kelly


Dancer and choreographer Gene Kelly is best known for his work in 1951 An American in Pariswhich won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Singing in the rain, known for his dance sequences. Kelly’s films later in the decade failed to live up to his earlier successes, effectively ending his reign as a sought-after dancer and choreographer. His final film was Xanadu in 1980, which was not well received, but is now something of a cult classic.

Kelly is known more for his dancing skills than his acting much so that he has been called the most influential dancer in the film world, after Fred Astaireand it’s hard to imagine the best musicals of the Golden Age without Kelly’s touch. Both An American in Paris And Singing in the rain are still widely acclaimed: the former is called Kelly’s masterpiece, while the latter is considered by some to be the greatest dance film ever made.

9 Grace Kelly


Grace Kelly began her career on Broadway before moving to film in 1951, appearing in 11 films. She won an Oscar for her role in The Country Girl, and her work also included three films with Alfred Hitchcock: Rear window, Dial M for murder And Catching a thief. After marrying Prince Rainier III, Kelly became Princess of Monaco in 1956. She died in 1982 from complications of a stroke while driving.

It doesn’t get more iconic than a princess. Her time in Hollywood may have been short: she made her last film in 1956, just five years after her debut.but she made an impressionworking with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and earning multiple Oscar nominations, her work in a variety of genres proved her versatility, from her roles as socialites to her work in Hitchcock’s thrillers, often considered her best.

8 Charlton Heston


Charlton Heston began his career on Broadway and his Hollywood career spanned everything from Biblical epics to sci-fi classics. His work in the 1950s included some of the decade’s most famous films, including The ten Commandments And Ben Hurthe latter of which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. Heston later starred in The Planet of the ApesHe was also known for his political activism, especially later in life.

Heston was one of Hollywood’s most beloved leading actorswith a commanding screen presence that helped cement his reputation for playing biblical and historical figures—and made his roles that much more memorable. That presence that made him perfect for such larger-than-life characters also made him a great choice for sci-fi films, where he often played a hero in a post-apocalyptic world. In addition to acting awards, he also received a number of honorary awards recognizing his contributions to film.

7 James Dean


Before his death, James Dean appeared in only three films, all within a year: John Steinbeck amendment east of eden,Rebel without a goal And HugeThe latter two were released posthumously and also earned him two Academy Award nominations, making him the first actor to be nominated after his death. He had a reputation for being difficult on set. He died in a car crash when he was only 24.

It’s rare that an actor with only three leading roles can still be an icon decades later, and it’s easy to imagine what he could have achieved with more timeAlthough Dean’s career was short, he left an undeniable mark on pop culture. He became a symbol of the youth of the 1950s with roles such as Rebel without a goalHis portrayal was honest and raw, making it easy to identify with him. His characters were generally angry and misunderstood.

6 Jimmy Stewart


Between 1935 and 1991, Jimmy Stewart appeared in 80 films, more than 20 of which were made in his first five years in Hollywood alone. He was known for his instantly recognizable voice. His work in the 1950s included three Alfred Hitchcock movies: Rear window, Fear of heights And The Man Who Knew Too MuchAlthough he was nominated for five Academy Awards, he won only one, for Best Actor in a Romantic Comedy The Philadelphia StoryHe died in 1997.

Stewart is still considered one of the best and most beloved actors in Hollywoodand many of his films are still considered classics today, It’s a beautiful life in particular, despite the fact that the film was not an immediate success. He was known as a leading man who played ordinary characters who embodied the American ideal, but he made his mark when he played against type in his roles in Hitchcock thrillers.

5 Audrey Hepburn


After studying ballet, British actress Audrey Hepburn began her acting career. Her career began with the romantic comedy Roman holidayfor which she won her first Oscar. Her star power continued into the 1960s, when she starred in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Puppet theatre And My fair ladyShe was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards and was one of the few to also be nominated for Emmy, Tony and Grammy Awards.

Hepburn’s films in the 1950s made her a star and led to continued success in the 1960s with some of her most famous films, many of which remain beloved classics today. Her work spanned several genresfrom romantic comedies to thrillers, and she excelled in all of them, with multiple award nominations to prove it. In addition to her acting, Hepburn was also known as a fashion icon.

4 Elizabeth Taylor


British-American actress Elizabeth Taylor began her career as a child star and rose to become one of the biggest stars of the 1950s, starting with Father of the BrideHer success continued into the 1960s with some of her most famous roles including Butterfield 8 And Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?which earned her both Academy Awards. She often attracted tabloid attention for her personal life, particularly her multiple marriages and affairs.

Taylor’s early success and fame helped build the body of work she is known for to this dayand her legacy lives on, as she continues to be the subject of countless books, documentaries, podcasts, and more. She was an exciting, larger-than-life presence on screen, but her career went beyond film work: she was one of the first celebrities to launch her own perfume, and she was also known for her humanitarian work.

3 John Wayne


John Wayne, nicknamed “the Duke”, began his career in the Silent Era of the 1920s and became one of the most famous actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age thanks to his work in Westerns and a long, prolific career, with a total of more than 140 film credits to his name. He often collaborated with director John Fordincluded in stagecoachWayne’s breakthrough role, and The seekersoften considered the greatest western ever made.

The name Wayne is practically synonymous with Western—he is still so strongly associated with the genre that even people who have never seen a western know who he was. He was also known for his roles in war films. Some of his most famous films were made in the 1950s, and he dominated the box office that decade, thanks in part to the fact that he appeared in multiple films in one year.

2 Marlon Brando


Marlon Brando began his career on stage before moving to film. His best-known films from the 1950s include A tram named Desire And On the water sidewhich won him his first Oscar. His career struggled in the 1960s, but he made a comeback in the 1970s as Don Corleone in The godfatherfor which he won his second Oscar. Brando was also known for his activism and he died in 2004.

Known for its intensityBrando is still regarded as not only one of the greatest actors of his generation, but of all time. Although one of his most iconic roles, Don Corleone, came in the 1970s, his work in the 1950s demonstrated his skill and paved the way for his later success. His work in On the water side is still regarded as one of the greatest performances of all time.

1 Marilyn Monroe


With her trademark husky voice and blonde hair, Marilyn Monroe often played bombshell characters, making her a sex symbol and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars from the early 1950s onwards. She began her career as a pin-up model and although her Hollywood career was relatively short-lived, she appeared in a number of films throughout the decade, including Some love it when it’s hot, The seven year itch And Men prefer blondesShe died in 1962.

Although her work was sometimes overshadowed by her private life, Monroe was a dedicated actress whose films were hugely successfulgood for over $200 million, and she’s still a star decades later. She’s still an instantly recognizable pop culture icon, and she’s left a lasting impression. Her life and legacy continue to be the subject of new films to this day, and she’s still frequently referenced in music, television, and more.

NEXT: 13 Movies From the ’50s Everyone Should See At Least Once