The 10 Best Katharine Hepburn Movies

The 10 Best Katharine Hepburn Movies

Katharine Hepburn was a beloved star of stage and screen. Her unique voice and style have given her the legacy of an iconic actor of the classical era of Hollywood. She was captivating on screen and fodder for the presses. Her unconventional progressive lifestyle was the talk of the town, as was her long affair with Spencer Tracy, which lasted from 1941 to his death in 1967. She was driven by her passion for acting and continued to work into her late eighties. She concluded her 62-year career on the silver screen in 1994 with Love Affair. There is scant a person in the United States who does not know the name Katharine Hepburn, and for good reason. Here are the ten best of her career.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Hepburn had a dynamic range, but her comedic chops were something special to admire. In The Philadelphia Story, Tracy Lord (Hepburn)’s poor treatment of her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) comes back to bite her on the eve of her second wedding. He and journalist Mike Connor (James Stewart) arrive the day before the wedding in the hopes of ruining the affair. It is a timeless, witty comedy.

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Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn were quite an on-screen pairing. They did some of their best work together, including Bringing Up Baby. In the classic screwball style, Grant’s uptight David Huxley crosses paths with Hepburn’s free-spirited Susan Vance. If that were not enough, somehow a leopard named Baby gets thrown into the mix. The dialogue is hilarious and the performances are even more so. Bringing Up Baby is a quintessential screwball comedy.

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Holiday (1938)

Holiday is yet another Hepburn/Grant joint venture well worth watching. Grant plays Johnny Case. He is about to marry a woman named Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) but is stunned to learn her family is quite well off. He is taken aback by her insistence that he take a job in her father’s bank. Her sister Linda (Hepburn), however, shares Johnny’s fear of such a humdrum — albeit comfortable — life. Hepburn, Grant, and director George Cukor are a trio hard to beat.

The African Queen (1951)

Longtime collaborators Humphrey Bogart and John Huston teamed up again to make The African Queen, with Hepburn as a brilliant co-star. Set in early days of World War I, a Methodist missionary named Rose Sayer (Hepburn) in German East Africa implores a gruff boat captain named Charlie Allnut to help the cause. Their hope is to take down a German warship with their small boat, in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. The adventure film is an impressive undertaking for its time and received much acclaim. Bogart won his only Academy Award for his performance in the film.

Adam’s Rib (1949)

While trying to keep their decades-long affair secret to the public, Hepburn and Spencer Tracy made nine films together, often playing on-screen couples. In Adam’s Rib, Tracy and Hepburn play married couple Adam and Amanda Bonner. Each of them are driven and intelligent attorneys at law who find themselves on opposite sides of the courtroom when a woman is accused of attempted murder against her husband. It is hard enough not to take work home with you when you don’t share a bed with your opponent! With their undeniable chemistry, Adam’s Rib becomes a bonafide classic comedy.

Stage Door (1937)

With Stage Door, all the stars are here. Hepburn and her co-stars Ginger Rogers and Lucille Ball play women living in a Manhattan boarding house for actresses. As expected, competition arises between the women whose backgrounds differ wildly. Hepburn’s Terry Randall and Roger’s Jean Maitland clash in particular, but budding mutual respect grows. It is an all-around well-acted dramedy and an important entry in Hepburn’s filmography.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Like many films before and after it, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner attempted to wrestle with the issues of the day. Christina and Matt Drayton (Hepburn and Spencer Tracy) are forced to reckon with their self-proclaimed liberal views when their daughter (Katharine Houghton) brings home her fiance, an African-American man (Sidney Poitier). The writing, acting, and story are brutally honest and the film has received acclaim for that reason. It is also remembered for being Tracy’s final film as he died several weeks after its release.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

How can one go wrong with an adaptation of a play by Tennessee Williams, written for the screen by Williams and Gore Vidal? The previous summer, Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor) witnessed the death of her cousin Sebastian Venable. Since the incident, she has been institutionalized for emotional disturbance. When her aunt Violet (Hepburn) tries to bribe a young surgeon (Montgomery Clift) into lobotomizing Catherine, he becomes suspicious of what really happened that fateful day. Hepburn gives one of her most chilling performances. It is a gripping film full of stars both in front of and behind the camera.

On Golden Pond (1981)

In On Golden Pond, Hepburn shares the screen with father and daughter Henry and Jane Fonda in the former’s final film performance. Norman and Ethel Thayer (Henry Fonda and Hepburn) settle in their residence on Golden Pond as they do each summer. Norman has gotten morose in his old age, fretting about his imminent demise. When their daughter (Jane Fonda) and her fiance arrive with his teenage son, the Thayer family must try to mend some of the tension between them. The film is an effective treatise on growing old and generational differences.

The Lion in Winter (1968)

Hepburn performed in a number of period pieces throughout her career, but The Lion in Winter is likely the best in her oeuvre. Set in 1183, King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is nearly ready to cede the throne to an heir. Which heir is a different question. He, his estranged wife Eleanor (Hepburn) and their three sons have clashing ambitions. O’Toole and Hepburn give strong performances in their respective roles, as does Timothy Dalton in his feature film debut.

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