Top 25 Greatest Actresses of all time

by a-brotman | created - 06 Feb 2011 | updated - 06 Feb 2011 | Public

Who I think are the 25 greatest actresses in the history of motion pictures

1. Katharine Hepburn

Actress | The Lion in Winter

Born May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, she was the daughter of a doctor and a suffragette, both of whom always encouraged her to speak her mind, develop it fully, and exercise her body to its full potential. An athletic tomboy as a child, she was also very close to her brother, Tom, and was ...

2. Bette Davis

Actress | All About Eve

Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Ruth Augusta (Favor) and Harlow Morrell Davis, a patent attorney. Her parents divorced when she was 10. She and her sister were raised by their mother. Her early interest was dance. To Bette, dancers led a glamorous life, but...

3. Audrey Hepburn

Actress | Breakfast at Tiffany's

Audrey Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929 in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium. She was a blue-blood and a cosmopolitan from birth. Her mother, Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, was of a Dutch descent, and her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston, was born in Úzice, Bohemia, and of an English and Austrian ...

4. Angela Lansbury

Actress | The Manchurian Candidate

British character actress, long in the United States. The daughter of an actress and the granddaughter of a high-ranking politician, Lansbury studied acting from her youth, departing for the United States as the Second World War began. She was contracted by MGM while still a teenager and nominated ...

5. Joan Crawford

Actress | What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1905, in San Antonio, Texas, to Anna Belle (Johnson) and Thomas E. LeSueur, a laundry laborer. By the time she was born, her parents had separated, and by the time she was a teenager, she'd had three stepfathers. It wasn't an easy life; ...

6. Maureen O'Hara

Actress | The Quiet Man

In America, the early performing arts accomplishments of young Maureen FitzSimons (who we know as Maureen O'Hara) would definitely have put her in the child prodigy category. However, for a child of Irish heritage surrounded by gifted parents and family, these were very natural traits. Maureen made...

7. Olivia de Havilland

Actress | The Heiress

Olivia Mary de Havilland was born July 1, 1916, in Tokyo, Japan, to British parents Lilian Augusta (Ruse), a former actress, and Walter Augustus de Havilland, an English professor and patent attorney. Her sister, Joan, later to become famous as Joan Fontaine, was born the following year. Her ...

8. Vivien Leigh

Actress | A Streetcar Named Desire

If a film were made of the life of Vivien Leigh, it would open in India just before World War I, where a successful British businessman could live like a prince. In the mountains above Calcutta, a little princess is born. Because of the outbreak of World War I, she is six years old the first time ...

9. Peggy Ashcroft

Actress | A Passage to India

Academy Award-winning, legendary English actress - who maintained her status in the British acting elite for decades. Made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. Almost always on stage, she appeared rarely in film, her first being The Wandering Jew (1933). On stage she was cast...

10. Julie Christie

Actress | Doctor Zhivago

Julie Christie, the British movie legend whom Al Pacino called "the most poetic of all actresses", was born in Chukua, Assam, India, on April 14, 1941, the daughter of a tea planter, Frank St. John Christie, and his wife, Rosemary (Ramsden), who was a painter. Her family was of English, and some ...

11. Vanessa Redgrave

Actress | Atonement

On January 30, 1937, renowned theatre actor Michael Redgrave was performing in a production of Hamlet in London. During the curtain call, the show's lead, Laurence Olivier, announced to the audience: "tonight a great actress was born". This was in reference to his co-star's newborn daughter, ...

12. Barbara Stanwyck

Actress | Double Indemnity

Today Barbara Stanwyck is remembered primarily as the matriarch of the family known as the Barkleys on the TV western The Big Valley (1965), wherein she played Victoria, and from the hit drama The Colbys (1985). But she was known to millions of other fans for her movie career, which spanned the ...

13. Claudette Colbert

Actress | It Happened One Night

One of the brightest film stars to grace the screen was born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin on September 13, 1903, in Saint Mandé, France where her father owned a bakery at 57, rue de la République (now Avenue Général de Gaulle). The family moved to the United States when she was three. As Claudette ...

14. Joan Fontaine

Actress | Rebecca

Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland on October 22, 1917, in Tokyo, Japan, in what was known as the International Settlement. Her father was a British patent attorney with a lucrative practice in Japan, but due to Joan and older sister Olivia de Havilland's recurring ailments the family moved to ...

15. Grace Kelly

Actress | Rear Window

On November 12, 1929, Grace Patricia Kelly was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to wealthy parents. Her girlhood was uneventful for the most part, but one of the things she desired was to become an actress which she had decided on at an early age. After her high school graduation in 1947, Grace ...

16. Ingrid Bergman

Actress | Notorious

Ingrid Bergman was one of the greatest actresses from Hollywood's lamented Golden Era. Her natural and unpretentious beauty and her immense acting talent made her one of the most celebrated figures in the history of American cinema. Bergman is also one of the most Oscar-awarded actresses, tied with ...

17. Anita Ekberg

Actress | Blood Alley

Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg was born on September 29, 1931 in Malmo, Sweden. Growing up with seven brothers and sisters was not an adventure, but Anita's adventure began when she was elected Miss Sweden in 1950. She did not win the Miss Universe contest but she got a modeling contract in the ...

18. Shelley Winters

Actress | The Poseidon Adventure

Shelley Winters was born Shirley Schrift of very humble beginnings on August 18, 1920 (some sources list 1922) in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her mother, Rose (Winter), was born in Missouri, to Austrian Jewish parents, and her father, Jonas Schrift, was an Austrian Jewish immigrant. Her father moved ...

19. Gloria Swanson

Actress | Sunset Blvd.

Gloria Swanson went to public schools in Chicago; Key West, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her film debut was as an extra in The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket (1915). From the following year on, she had leading roles in pictures for Keystone, then a year with Triangle, and, in...

20. Greta Garbo

Actress | Ninotchka

Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden, to Anna Lovisa (Johansdotter), who worked at a jam factory, and Karl Alfred Gustafsson, a laborer. She was fourteen when her father died, which left the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and ...

21. Marlene Dietrich

Soundtrack | Witness for the Prosecution

Her father was a police lieutenant and imbued in her a military attitude to life. Marlene was known in school for her "bedroom eyes" and her first affairs were at this stage in her life - a professor at the school was terminated. She entered the cabaret scene in 1920s Germany, first as a spectator ...

22. Meryl Streep

Actress | Out of Africa

Considered by many critics to be the greatest living actress, Meryl Streep has been nominated for the Academy Award an astonishing 21 times, and has won it three times. Meryl was born Mary Louise Streep in 1949 in Summit, New Jersey, to Mary Wolf (Wilkinson), a commercial artist, and Harry William ...

23. Anne Bancroft

Actress | The Graduate

Anne Bancroft was born on September 17, 1931 in the Bronx, the daughter of Michael Italiano (1905-2001), a dress pattern maker, and Mildred DiNapoli (1908-2010), a telephone operator. She made her cinema debut in Don't Bother to Knock (1952) in 1952 and over the next five years appeared in a lot of...

24. Patricia Neal

Actress | Hud

Patricia Neal, the Oscar- and Tony Award-winning actress, was born Patricia Louise Neal in Packard, Kentucky. Her father managed a coal mine and her mother was the daughter of the town doctor. She grew up in Knoxville, where she attended high school.

She was first bit by the acting bug at the age of...

25. Jean Simmons

Actress | Guys and Dolls

Demure British beauty Jean Simmons was born January 31, 1929 in Crouch End, London. As a 14-year-old dance student, she was plucked from her school to play Margaret Lockwood's precocious sister in Give Us the Moon (1944), and she went on to make a name for herself in such major British productions ...