“After the Thin Man” (1936)
The year 1936 was huge for Stewart. It’s when he got his first major role and also his first starring role. Neither was “After the Thin Man,” but that’s the best movie he made that year. This is the first sequel to the classic mystery comedy “The Thin Man,” featuring the quintessential duo of Nick and Nora Charles. This is definitely the best of the sequels. Frankly, it’s the only one you need to see.
“You Can’t Take It With You” (1938)
For the first time, Stewart worked with Frank Capra. It would become quite the successful pairing. The film was a huge success, as it won Best Picture and Best Director. Stewart was in one of the lead roles, already showing the acting chops that would lead him to greatness.
“Destry Rides Again” (1939)
When you think of classic Western actors, there are a lot of names that come to mind. Jimmy Stewart may not be one of the first; however, he actually starred in a TON of Westerns throughout his career. “Destry Rides Again” was one of his first, and he got to go toe-to-toe with Marlene Dietrich.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939)
For the first time, but not for the last time, Stewart earned an Oscar nomination for one of his performances. In this classic political drama, Stewart played Jefferson Smith, an idealistic senator who, get this, works for the people. It may feel like fantasy at this point, but the movie actually has more snark and cynicism that you might imagine.
“The Shop Around the Corner” (1940)
You probably remember “You’ve Got Mail,” the romcom starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. That was a digitally upgraded version of “The Shop Around the Corner.” The premise is the same. There just aren’t any emails involved, what with it being 1940 and all.
“The Philadelphia Story” (1940)
It’s hard to win an Oscar for a comedy. However, Stewart managed to pull it off, winning his only Best Actor award for the iconic romantic comedy “The Philadelphia Story.” What a murderer’s row of a cast this was. Stewart stars alongside Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Name a more legendary trio of actors.
“Ziegfeld Girl” (1941)
Here’s something crazy about Stewart’s career: He took five years off to serve in World War II. This was the final film he made before his hiatus. Many years later, he was made a brigadier general. Anyway, “Ziegfeld Girl” is a fun little musical that also stars Judy Garland and Hedy Lamarr.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
Maybe you’re bored of it. Maybe you think Mr. Potter didn’t have it all wrong. You can’t deny the force that is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sure, it’s largely based on the fact that it fell into public domain unusually early, thereby allowing networks to put it on TV all the time around Christmas. That turned it into a true holiday classic. We all know that when a bell rings an angel gets its wings. That’s just canon now.
All of these movies show one side of Stewart. He’s charming. He’s nice. He’s clever and witty. He’s the romantic lead. They are largely fun and frothy films, even at their “darkest.” “Rope” is an Alfred Hitchcock movie about two thrill killers who try and get away with a perfect murder while also teasing everybody with what they’ve done. Stewart plays the man trying to unravel the mystery.”Rope” is also famous for being filmed as though it is one continuous shot.
“The Stratton Story” (1949)
OK, that was a little dark, so let’s lighten it up a bit. Stewart stars as the real-life Monty Stratton, who become a major league pitcher in the ‘30s. He plays baseball. He falls in love with June Allyson. It’s a light little romp but fun for sports fans.
“Winchester ’73” (1950)
When you think of directors who worked a ton with Stewart, you probably think of Hitchcock or Capra. However, he also made a ton of films with Anthony Mann, more than he made with any other director, in fact. Many of them were Westerns, like “Winchester ’73.” Stewart is the lead in this one, which tells the tale of the titular gun, who moves from hand to ill-fated hand. Rock Hudson plays a Native American. Try and overlook that.
This is a movie about a man whose best friend is a giant invisible rabbit. How do you make that work? You cast Jimmy Stewart as that man, duh! He was so good in the role, Stewart was able to earn a Best Actor nomination.
“The Glenn Miller Story” (1954)
Stewart made a few biopics. The most famous of those is probably “Spirit of St. Louis,” which is about Charles Lindbergh. “The Glenn Miller Story” has more going for it though. It’s more fun, and it has Stewart and June Allyson reuniting once again.
“Rear Window” (1954)
Hitchcock made a bunch of movies. A few of them are in his pantheon. “Rear Window” is definitely one of those. It’s gripping, claustrophobic and also looks great. Stewart plays a photographer who is confined to a wheelchair due to an accident. While spying on his neighbors, he believes he has witnessed a murder. Sounds riveting, does it not? It does more than you are imagining.
“The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956)
Back-to-back Hitchcock films! Hey, he was the “Master of Suspense,” so naturally a few of Stewart’s best films are the ones he made with Hitch. This was a remake of a film that Hitchcock had made earlier, though he changed it quite a bit aside from the title. Hitchcock himself said his first “The Man Who Knew Too Much” was the work of a talented amateur, but this one was the work of a professional. Casting Stewart and Doris Day certainly helped.
“Bell, Book and Candle” (1958)
Stewart and Kim Novak starred in two movies together in 1958. We’ll get to the second one momentarily. This one is a romantic comedy where Novak plays a witch. It’s got some fun stuff in it, though it was destined to be overshadowed by the next film.
A lot of people think this is the best movie ever made. Truly. The famous “Sight and Sound” magazine called it the greatest movie ever, finally taking that title from “Citizen Kane” in its long-running voting. It’s legendary filmmaking. There’s nothing more that can be said about it, and we don’t want to risk spoiling anything anyway. We can’t promise you’ll love it. We can only say that if you consider yourself a film fan you have to see “Vertigo” at some point.
“Anatomy of a Murder” (1959)
Director Otto Preminger spent the ‘50s testing the limits of the production code. He pushed things further and further, and by the end of the ‘50s it was starting to fall apart. This film played a part in that. The courtroom drama is frank in its discussion of the crime at the center of the movie. It’s the sort of serious, sometimes grim filmmaking Hollywood shunted aside for decades. It was good to see it back.
“Two Rode Together” (1961)
John Ford, for all his issues, is the quintessential Western director. He and Stewart made a few films together, the first of which was “Two Rode Together.” Look, there’s some squirmy stuff in it. Ford made some Westerns with a questionable, at best, grasp of Native American society. At least this film is less grotesque in its depiction of Native Americans. It allows them some humanity, even if the film still leaves a bit to be desired to be sure. Old habits die hard, especially for people like Ford.
“How The West Was Won” (1962)
They don’t really make big epic movies anymore with huge casts, expansive landscapes, decades-spanning stories, and, of course, long running times. “How The West Was Won” was one of the last of the classic Hollywood epics. It was also a Western, making it a visage of a bygone era of filmmaking in more ways than one. Stewart is only a piece of the puzzle, but he’s one of the key pieces.
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962)
One year after “Two Rode Together,” which is decidedly not a revisionist Western, Ford made “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” which is a revisionist Western. It stars Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin in a great turn as the titular villainous outlaw. The movie is about how legends are born, for better or worse, giving it an extra dimension to the classic Western tropes.
“Take Her, She’s Mine” (1963)
Finally, another light, frothy Stewart film. It’s not all gunshots and serious themes. Stewart plays the father of Sandra Dee, a teenager who is heading off to college and also to study abroad in Paris. It was based on a play written by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who based Dee’s character on their own daughter, a then-young woman named Nora Ephron.
“Cheyenne Autumn” (1964)
Here is one last Western from Ford and Stewart. In fact, it’s the last Western that Ford ever directed. He said that he wanted to make it to pay tribute to Native Americans, who he admitted had been unfairly, inaccurately portrayed in some of his earlier films. While it’s still very much a Hollywood Western, at least it was made by people trying to fix the historical cinematic record. Oh, and Stewart plays Wyatt Earp.
“The Shootist” (1976)
Stewart’s film work really slowed down as he got older. In his early days, he was making five movies a year. By the end of his career, the films were coming few and far between. “The Shootist” is a significant film for a couple of reasons. It was the last Western made by Stewart and also John Wayne. In fact, it was the last film Wayne ever made.
“Airport ‘77” (1977)
For some reason, airplane disaster movies were huge in the 70s. (There’s a reason “Airplane!” was made in 1980.) Weirdly, they were also commercially, and somewhat critically, well received. “Airport ‘77” is the third of the films in the “Airport” series. It has a stacked class, with just some of the names involved being Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten and series staple George Kennedy.