The 1950s was truly a great decade for film. If you’re looking to understand where some modern movies have garnered their influences, the 50s is an excellent place to start. It’s not so abrasive as the early 30s and 40s if you’re new to older films, making it a great way to dive into the history of filmmaking. From great directors like Alfred Hitchcock to groundbreaking films such as Some Like It Hot, take a look at these eight best movies from the 1950s.
Rear Window (1954)
Rear Window, directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, is a timeless classic in the suspense-thriller genre. The film revolves around L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, played by James Stewart, a photographer confined to his apartment due to a broken leg. With nothing but his camera and a view of his neighbors’ rear windows, Jeff becomes an inadvertent voyeur, witnessing various intriguing and often suspicious events. His girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), and nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) join in the investigation.
The film masterfully builds tension as Jeff becomes convinced he’s stumbled upon a murder. It’s a thrilling exploration of voyeurism and the nature of human curiosity, with Hitchcock’s signature craftsmanship in suspenseful storytelling. Rear Window remains a cinematic gem known for its superb performances, meticulous set design, and Hitchcock’s ability to turn an ordinary apartment complex into a stage for suspense and intrigue.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Sunset Boulevard, from the great mind of Billy Wilder, is a dark and iconic film noir that delves into the dark underbelly of the Hollywood dream. Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a struggling screenwriter who stumbles into the reclusive world of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a former silent film star who is living in a decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard. Norma, lost in a bygone era, hires Joe to help her write a script that she believes will be her comeback.
This film offers a scathing commentary on the ruthless and superficial nature of Hollywood, as well as the price of fame. It’s interesting to see that not much has changed in over 70 years, as many of the conflicts the characters face are still seen today in celebrity reveals and leaks. Sunset Boulevard remains a classic and must-see for all film enthusiasts.
On the Waterfront (1954)
On the Waterfront is easily one of the best films from the 50s, as it is a powerful and socially relevant masterpiece even to this day. Marlon Brando, nearly two decades before his critically acclaimed role in The Godfather, delivers a tour de force performance as Terry Malloy, a longshoreman who becomes embroiled in the corrupt and dangerous world of the waterfront docks. The film explores the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the working class in a gritty and unforgiving urban landscape.
As soon as you turn it on, you’ll soon find a raw and emotionally charged cinematic gem, celebrated for its social commentary, exceptional performances, and its unflinching portrayal of moral and ethical choices in a world of corruption and oppression. It is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with audiences to this day.
12 Angry Men (1957)
Sidney Lumet’s classic film explores the intense deliberations of 12 jurors as they decide the fate of a young defendant accused of murder. What makes this movie remarkable is its focus on human dynamics, prejudices, and the quest for justice within a confined space.
Henry Fonda, as Juror #8, leads the cast with his unwavering belief in the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” As the jurors debate, the film masterfully reveals their biases, backgrounds, and the emotional undercurrents that shape their decisions. It remains a cinematic benchmark for its stellar ensemble cast, its engrossing storytelling, and its profound exploration of human nature and the pursuit of justice.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
This iconic comedy, directed by Billy Wilder, stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. The story follows two musicians, Joe and Jerry, played by Curtis and Lemmon, who witness a mob murder and need to go into hiding. They disguise themselves as women and join an all-female band, where they meet Sugar Kane, played by Marilyn Monroe, who becomes a romantic interest for both.
The film’s gender-bending comedy is as relevant and hilarious today as it was when it was released. Some Like It Hot is celebrated for its clever screenplay, memorable one-liners, and the impeccable comic timing of its cast. It’s a blend of humor, romance, and farcical situations, making it a delightful and timeless classic that continues to be adored by audiences of all ages.
North by Northwest (1959)
Another Hitchcock masterpiece, this film follows Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), an advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent and finds himself entangled in a web of international intrigue.
Hitchcock’s direction, Ernest Lehman’s screenplay, and Bernard Herrmann’s score all come together to create a suspenseful, stylish, and witty masterpiece. North by Northwest is celebrated for its remarkable pacing, sharp humor, and memorable performances. It remains a benchmark in the thriller genre, showcasing the enduring appeal of Hitchcock’s storytelling and the charisma of Cary Grant.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Elia Kazan directed this adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play, featuring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in unforgettable roles. A Streetcar Named Desire revolves around Blanche DuBois, played by Vivien Leigh, a fading Southern belle with a troubled past who moves in with her sister, Stella Kowalski, and her brutish husband, Stanley, portrayed by Marlon Brando.
This 50s film explores themes of desire, delusion, class conflict, and the American Dream, set against the backdrop of a steamy New Orleans tenement. A Streetcar Named Desire is celebrated for its groundbreaking acting, vivid characters, and its unflinching examination of social and psychological issues. It remains a classic in both theater and film, illustrating the enduring impact of Tennessee Williams’ storytelling and the power of exceptional performances.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Based on Pierre Boulle’s novel and starring Sir Alec Guinness, William Holden, and Sessue Hayakawa, The Bridge on the River Kwai explores themes of honor, duty, and the moral complexities of war. Set during World War II, a group of British prisoners of war are forced to build a railway bridge for their Japanese captors in the jungles of Thailand.
Colonel Nicholson, played by Guinness, takes pride in his role in supervising the construction, believing it will demonstrate British ingenuity and engineering prowess. However, American prisoner Shears, played by Holden, escapes but is soon persuaded to return with a commando team to destroy the bridge.
The Bridge on the River Kwai won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, making it an obvious entry on our list of the best movies from the 50s. The tension between the prisoners’ loyalty to their captors and their own survival, as well as the moral dilemma faced by Colonel Nicholson, creates a gripping narrative you won’t soon forget.