The 1950s was certainly a golden era for cinema, when so many idolized and iconic movie stars and film directors emerged and captured the hearts of Americans everywhere. Countless instant classics debuted in so many genres, including drama, comedy, musicals, thrillers, westerns, war stories, animated films, and more.
For better or for worse, it was also a time when leading men and women of the screen achieved a new level of celebrity. The public and the media alike developed a keener interest in the lifestyle and private lives of the actors and actresses they loved. Sometimes, the real-life friendships, love stories, feuds, scandals, and tragedies among the famous people in the film industry even rivaled those in the movies.
Below is a quick look at 30 of the most popular, most beloved, most enduring, and most influential movie masterpieces released in the 1950s. We’ve included three films from each year of the decade and tried to represent a variety of film genres.
Top ’50s Movies
- All About Eve – 1950; directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, and Celeste Holm. A young woman works her way into the social circle of an older theatrical actress.
- Cinderella – 1950; directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske; starring Ilene Woods, James MacDonald, Eleanor Audley, and Verna Felton. A Disney animated classic about a young woman who wins the love of a prince with help from her fairy godmother.
- Sunset Boulevard – 1950; directed by Billy Wilder; starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, and Nancy Olson. A struggling screenwriter writes a movie script for a forgotten, once-famous silent film star.
- A Streetcar Named Desire – 1951; directed by Elia Kazan; starring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden. A disturbed young woman takes up residence with her sister, where she suffers at the hands of her sister’s husband.
- A Place in the Sun – 1951; directed by George Stevens; starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, and Anne Revere. A poor young man ends up falling in love with two different women after going to work for his wealthy uncle.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1951; directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske; starring Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn, and Sterling Holloway. The iconic Disney animated version of Alice’s famously wacky adventures in Wonderland.
- High Noon – 1952; directed by Fred Zinnemann; starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, and Lloyd Bridges. A marshal gets no support from the people of his town when he has to face off against a dangerous enemy.
- Singin’ in the Rain – 1952; directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly; starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Jean Hagen. The comedic transition of a silent film company into movie production with sound.
- Skirts Ahoy – 1952; directed by Sidney Lanfield; starring Esther Williams, Joan Evans, Vivian Blaine, and Barry Sullivan. Follow the complications faced by three young women who enlist for training at a naval base.
- From Here to Eternity – 1953; directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, and Donna Reed. A solider faces cruel retribution after refusing to box for his unit’s team in Hawaii in 1941.
- Peter Pan – 1953; directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, and Jack Kinney; starring Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, and Bill Thompson. The animated Disney classic about the adventures of Peter Pan and his friends in Neverland.
- Roman Holiday – 1953; directed by William Wyler; starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, and Hartley Power. A princess flees her dull, sheltered existence and falls for an American newsman she encounters in Rome.
- On the Waterfront – 1954; directed by Elia Kazan; starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, and Rod Steiger. A longshoreman and former champion boxer works up to confronting corrupt union leadership.
- Rear Window – 1954; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, and Thelma Ritter. A disabled photographer comes to suspect a neighbor of murder in the course of spying out his window.
- Seven Samurai – 1954; directed by Akira Kurosawa; starring Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, and Yukiko Shimazaki. Seven samurai warriors protect an impoverished village being raided by bandits.
- Bad Day at Black Rock – 1955; directed by John Sturges; starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, and Dean Jagger. A small town will do whatever it takes to hide its past when a one-handed traveler comes into their midst.
- Rebel Without a Cause – 1955; directed by Nicholas Ray; starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and Jim Backus. The story of a rebellious youth with a troubled past who makes friends and enemies in his new town.
- To Catch a Thief – 1955; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; starring Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, and John Williams. A reformed jewel thief endeavors to find the guilty party when he’s accused of lapsing back into his old habits.
- Curucu, Beast of the Amazon – 1956; directed by Curt Siodmak; starring John Bromfield, Beverly Garland, Tom Payne, and Harvey Chalk. Plantation workers in the Amazon desperately flee their work, allegedly because of a legendary monster called Curucu.
- The Searchers – 1956; directed by John Ford; starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, and Ward Bond. A veteran of the Civil War sets off to rescue his niece from a tribe of Native Americans.
- The Ten Commandments – 1956; directed by Cecil B. DeMille; starring Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, and Edward G. Robinson. Based on the biblical tale of Moses leading the enslaved Hebrew people out of Egypt.
- 12 Angry Men – 1957; directed by Sidney Lumet; starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, and John Fiedler. A juror fights for justice by compelling the others on the panel to reconsider the evidence and change their verdict.
- Paths of Glory – 1957; directed by Stanley Kubrick; starring Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, and George Macready. A general is angered when a unit of soldiers refuses to attack an enemy position.
- The Bridge on the River Kwai – 1957; directed by David Lean; starring William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, and Sessue Hayakawa. A British colonel helps his unit’s Japanese captors build a railroad bridge.
- Dunkirk – 1958; directed by Leslie Norman; starring John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Lee, and Robert Urquhart. An account of the British Expeditionary Force’s 1940 ocean retreat in France from the Nazis.
- Lonelyhearts – 1958; directed by Vincent J. Donehue; starring Montgomery Clift, Myrna Loy, Robert Ryan, and Dolores Hart. An aspiring journalist takes a position at a newspaper as an advice columnist.
- Vertigo – 1958; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Tom Helmore. A detective with a serious fear of heights becomes obsessed with a friend’s wife while investigating her.
- Ben-Hur – 1959; directed by William Wyler; starring Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, and Stephen Boyd. An enslaved Jewish prince becomes free again and seeks revenge on the friend who betrayed him.
- Some Like It Hot – 1959; directed by Billy Wilder; starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and George Raft. Two musicians dress up as women and join an all-female band to flee the mob after witnessing a murder.
- Suddenly, Last Summer – 1959; directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift, and Albert Dekker. A girl goes crazy after witnessing her cousin’s horrific death and there’s an attempt to lobotomize her to hide what happened.