Marlon Brando is all but unanimously regarded as the greatest screen actor to ever live. Not only did Brando essentially invent what would later be coined “method acting,” but he also directly influenced the next generation of actors to come. Without Brando, there would likely be no De Niro, Nicholson, Pacino, DiCaprio, and every other big name talent working in Hollywood since the 1950s. Brando was that monumental.
As a result, Brando won two Academy Awards from eight nominations spanning from 1952 to 1990. He also chose roles wisely, appearing in some of the most well-received movies of all time. For a clearer picture, here are Marlon Brando’s 10 best movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
The Freshman (1990) 93%
Although Brando ended his official Godfather run after the first film in Coppola’s legendary gangster trilogy, you can tell how much fun he had in reprising his role of Don Vito Corleone’s lookalike in The Freshman!
The ingenious mob-comedy follows Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick), a budding film student who gets mugged by a small-time hood when he arrives in New York. Clark traces the thief back to an importer named Carmine “Jimmy the Toucan” Sabatini (Brando), who bears a striking resemblance to Vito Corleone in The Godfather.
Superman (1978) 94%
Prior to the MCU cornering the market on epic A-list ensembles, director Richard Donner brilliantly cast Brando and Gene Hackman alongside the then-unknown Christopher Reeve in the original Superman film. In retrospect, that’s some casting coup!
Also featuring Ned Beatty, Margot Kidder, Glenn Ford, Terrence Stamp, and more, the film tracks Jor-El’s (Brando) decision to send his infant son, Kal-El (Reeve), to his native planet Krypton. There, Superman discovers his legacy and uses his newfound powers to protect Metropolis from evil. The film even won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
Sing Your Song (2011) 95%
Despite passing away in 2004, archival footage of Brando was used in the 2011 documentary Sing Your Song, which honors the heroic activism of singer/film star Harry Belafonte. Even in death, Brando still contributes.
Born in 1927 New York, Belafonte became a significant pioneer in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The documentary underscores the profound impact Belafonte had not only domestically, but abroad as well, as he fought to bring racial and economic justice across the globe. Brando was one of Belafonte’s close personal friends and thusly archived footage of the two together was used.
Julius Caesar (1953) 95%
Brando earned the third consecutive Academy Award nomination of his young career as Marc Antony in the Shakespearean adaptation of Julius Caesar. The film also went on to win an Oscar for Best Art Direction.
In the classic tragedy of overambition, betrayal, and lethal backstabbing, Brando shared the screen with big-name actors like James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius, and Louis Calhern as Julius Caesar. Believe it or not, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz shot in the film in just 35 days.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) 98%
Brando’s searing, sweaty, and transcendent turn as Stanley Kowalski in the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire earned the actor his very first Oscar nomination. Spoiler: he’d win his first Oscar three years later after working with the same director.
Directed by Elia Kazan, Streetcar follows the nervous breakdown of English teacher Blanche DuBois, who moves in with her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley in hot and humid New Orleans. Blanche has an explosively combative relationship with Stanley (Brando), a hot-tempered brute with his own toxic ideas of how to treat women.
On The Waterfront (1954) 99%
“I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody!” Brando exudes heartache like no other in one of the most famous monologues in the history of cinema. As a result, Brando earned his fourth consecutive Academy Award nomination and first win of his illustrious film career.
Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront follows Terry Malloy, a wayward stevedore and former prizefighter living in his older brother’s successful shadow. With soulful existential angst like no other, Terry tries to do right after witnessing a murder perpetrated by his boss. Brando’s performance in this film changed the way film acting was perceived.
The Godfather (1972) 98%
Eighteen years after scoring his first Oscar win, Brando doubled the feat for Best Leading Actor in The Godfather, easily hailed as one of the all-time best movies ever assembled. The film was also named Best Picture of 1972.
Also boasting a 100/100 Metascore, The Godfather currently ranks as the #2 film on IMDb’S Top 250. Francis Ford Coppola’s operatic epic about an Italian family of organized criminals going through a period of transitional power is simply beyond reproach. Based on Mario Puzzo’s novel, Coppola also won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Sayonara (1957) 100%
In one of Brando’s lesser-known titles, Sayonara, the actor plays an American Airforce pilot whose racial prejudices become shattered upon falling for a beautiful Japanese woman while stationed in Kobe.
Major Lloyd Gruver (Brando) is a stubborn airman who adamantly opposes marriages between American and Japanese men and women. When the bullish pilot is reassigned to a post in Japan, he helplessly falls in love with local entertainer Hana-ogi (Miiko Taka).
Heart Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) 100%
The arduous and infamous production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now proved to be just as difficult as the war-torn subject matter of the film itself. The documentary Heart of Darkness chronicles, in great detail, the spate of obstacles Ford had to overcome to make the iconic Vietnam War film.
Using footage Francis’s wife Eleanor filmed in secret, the film recounts the nightmarish logistical problems the filmmaking crew faced. This includes stifling weather, unforgiving jungles, foreign governments, needy actors, and a well of self-doubt. Brando is on hand, in character as Colonel Kurtz, to help recount the massive undertaking.
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (2019) 100%
The most recent iteration of Apocalypse Now, deemed the Final Cut, boasts the highest-rating of the film’s three alternative cuts. Despite the original earning a 98%, and the 2001 Redux scoring a 93% RT score, the 2019 version trumps them all.
The film, loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, follows a band of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam who are tasked with finding the rogue Colonel Kurtz (Brando), a decorated U.S. soldier thought to have gone insane while hiding out in a remote cave. The action is seen through the eyes of Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), whose own journey of self-discovery parallels Kurtz’s. The film won Oscars for Best Sound and Cinematography.