Today, April 3, would have been Marlon Brando’s 94th birthday. An often controversial Hollywood figure due to his particular way to see things, Brando was nothing short of a legend. Brando was certainly among the greatest stars of the 1950s, and some argue he’s the best actor in film. I’m one of the people who argues that, by the way!
One of the first Hollywood superstars to deeply engage in the Method, Brando’s print is undeniable in modern film acting. Really, you should watch every Brando movie you can get your hands on: he was a truly outstanding performer. But, if you need to cover your bases with the top of the top, here are Brando’s 6 essential films:
The film that catapulted Brando to stardom and perhaps his best performance, A Streetcar Named Desire is a must-watch. After originating the role of Stanley Kowalski on stage, Brando went on to recreate it on-screen to electrifying results. His raw intensity and bruteness in the role has spawned decades of admiration and imitation. Can I get a “hey, Stella!” up in here?
A Streetcar Named Desire was the first of Brando’s four consecutive Academy Award nominations. The fourth one was On the Waterfront, which earned him his first Oscar. In another Elia Kazan-directed film, Brando plays a dockworker who coulda been a contender. You know the scene.
A personal favorite among Brando films, musicals, and honestly, among movies in general. Brando’s most complete transformation, because of how unlikely it is: he’s playing a suave, singing mobster. It’s the kind of character you’d expect from George Clooney in a Coens brothers movie. While his singing isn’t on par with the rest of the cast (including Frank Sinatra himself), his performance is enchanting. Plus, he looked crazy handsome as Sky Masterson.
Brando’s best-known film, and the one that earned him his second Oscar, which he famously didn’t accept. Brando’s performance as Vito Corleone is the quintessential mobster performance, the one to end all others. The fact that The Godfather and its sequel are among the best films ever made certainly helps. Watching this at least once a year is an offer you can’t refuse.
This Bernardo Bertolucci-directed classic came out on the same year as The Godfather. Talk about a comeback. Last Tango in Paris has been plagued with controversy for over 40 years, but it’s also outstanding. The film hasn’t aged as well as others, and recent discoveries have made it questionable. Still, it’s one of Brando’s best-ever performances, and showcasing some of his rawest acting.
Another Francis Ford Coppola classic, this was Brando’s last great performance before his semi-retirement. A loose adaptation to Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness, Brando played deranged Colonel Kurtz. He refused to lose weight for a role that required it and famously had trouble remembering his lines. Still, Brando shines in his little screen time, in an enrapturing and terrifying performance. It’s impossible to watch the scene above without getting chills.