Long gone are the glamour-filled and studio-controlled days of Hollywood’s Golden Age, when fans worshiped mega-stars like Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne, and aspiring performers longed to achieve a similar level of fame and adulation. In today’s fast-paced, despairing, and gloomy world, which is plagued with uncertainty, natural disasters, pandemics, political conflicts, and mass-inflation, there aren’t many celebrities left who can be labeled legendary movie actors. It is only natural, then, to turn to the past for the dozens of cinema icons who not only left a plethora of impressive films, shows, and music albums to remember them by, but also made it difficult for newcomers to follow in their footsteps and become worthy successors of the title.
Whether on stage, television, or film, there is a certain number of actors and actresses who excelled in so many versatile roles that they left a lasting impression years after retiring and passing away, thus rendering their career and portfolio all the more remarkable. In spite of the scandals surrounding their personal life, or maybe a little because of them, they will still be remembered and referenced for many years to come
From Gene Tierney, to Robin Williams, to Cary Grant, these are the last big-screen credits of 21 Hollywood performers who achieved legendary status.
Gene Tierney – The Pleasure Seekers (1964)
Hailed as one of Hollywood’s most attractive faces, Gene Tierney led a life full of tragedy and pain, from tumultuous relationships, to shock therapy, to contracting the measles from a selfish fan, and subsequently giving birth to a daughter with many disabilities. From 1938 to 1980, she appeared in various plays and TV shows, as well as over 35 movies, such as Laura, Leave Her to Heaven, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and The Egyptian. Her very last cinematic role was as Jane Barton in the musical romantic comedy The Pleasure Seekers, opposite Ann-Margret. Directed by Jean Negulesco, the movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Scoring of Music, and the plot focused on the various relationships of three American girls living together in Madrid. Tierney’s character, Jane, is the jealous wife of the man having an affair with one of those roommates, and one of her most memorable lines include, “How dare you feel sorry for me, you little tramp?”
Clark Gable – The Misfits (1961)
“It shouts and sings with life…explodes with love!”
John Huston’s contemporary psychological Western, The Misfits, was both Clarke Gable and Marilyn Monroe’s last completed movie. Also starring Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, and Eli Wallach, it follows new divorcée Roslyn Tabor (Monroe) who meets an aging, strong-willed, old-school roper cowboy named Gaylord Langland (Gable). Though the movie didn’t fare well at the box office, all the actors were praised for their performances. Gable only saw the rough cut, though, as he had a heart attack two days after filming wrapped and died on November 16, 1960.
Marilyn Monroe – The Misfits (1961)
On her part, Hollywood bombshell and Some Like It Hot star Marilyn Monroe had been having marital problems with her then-husband Arthur Miller when she was shooting her last completed film, The Misfits; she often arrived on set drunk or under the influence of prescription drugs. Sadly, she was found dead of an apparent barbiturate overdose at the age of 36, a year and half after the movie premiered, on August 4, 1962.
According to Hollywood Insider, “Monroe’s performance in The Misfits could be her very best; she exudes a tragic femininity trying to transcend itself in spite of all the men in her life disappointing her. The Misfits occupies an interesting space as a Western that doesn’t fit into the classic Western mode (no gunfights, no saloon brawls, no villain in a black suit) while also not quite anticipating the transformation the Western would experience in the coming years.”
Lana Turner – Witches’ Brew (1980)
Lana Turner had quite an active career between 1937 and 1985, leaving behind immortal classics such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Ziegfeld Girl. Her last film role was as Vivian Cross in Herbert L. Strock and Richard Shorr’s comedy horror Witches’ Brew, also known as Which Witch Is Which?. Vivian is an aging coven leader who keeps other female practitioners in check via a sculpture of an egg, as they cast spells to help their husbands boost their careers. Chaos ensues when, nearing the end of her life, she decides to send her own soul into young Margaret’s (Teri Garr) body.
Heath Ledger – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Heath Ledger‘s last two films, The Dark Knight and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, were both released posthumously, though the latter premiered a year after the former. Because they are considered his finest performances and because he passed away so young from an accidental overdose on 22 January 2008, he earned a place amongst Hollywood’s most legendary actors.
Co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam, the Oscar-nominated The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fantasy film. It centers on a traveling theater troupe, whose key attraction is a portal to a magical world that adapts to its user’s desires and tests one’s submission to blissful ignorance. Ledger plays Tony Shepard, a disgraced philanthropist who falls for Valentina, Parnassus’ daughter.
Following the actor’s death, Tony transformed into other characters within the Imaginarium which were portrayed by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. All three of them bestowed their earnings from the movie upon Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.
“Nothing is permanent, not even death.” – Tony
Bruce Lee – Game of Death (1972)
Marlon Brando, whose most acclaimed roles include Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, had a prolific career between 1944 and 2004. The last film he worked on was the still unreleased animated film Big Bug Man, in which he voiced a female character, Mrs. Sour. However, his final appearance in a completed feature was as the fence Max in Frank Oz’s heist film The Score, opposite Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Angela Bassett.
Grace Kelly – High Society (1956)
Grace Kelly, the adored Princess of Monaco, died on September 14, 1982, in a car accident. The American-born actress had semi-retired in 1956, after appearing in two films that year, The Swan and High Society. She did narrate documentaries after that, namely The Children of Theatre Street in 1977, but her busy schedule and prestigious standing didn’t allow her to pursue acting, much to Alfred Hitchcock’s chagrin. In Charles Walters’ musical romantic comedy High Society, she portrays Tracy Lord, a divorced and wealthy socialite who is engaged to the pretentious and well-connected George Kittredge (John Lund).
Robin Williams – Absolutely Anything (2015)
Beloved American comedian and actor Robin Williams excelled in both comedies, like Mrs. Doubtfire and The Big Wedding, and dramas, such as Good Will Hunting and One Hour Photo. After enjoying a prolific career that started in 1976, he eventually succumbed to severe depression and took his own life in 2014. Though his voice as Aladdin’s Genie was used in the 2023 short animation Once Upon a Studio, his last acting role was voicing Dennis the Dog in the British science fiction and fantasy comedy Absolutely Anything, under the direction of Terry Jones.
Dennis The Dog: Biscuits! Bread biscuits, black biscuits!
Neil: Is that all you think about?
Dennis: Nothing else matters! Biscuits, please!
Neil: Dennis, become a rational thinking creature!
Dennis: Look, I just can’t concentrate on anything till I’ve had one of those biscuits! I know it’s crazy, but that’s how it is. I guess I’m kinda hooked on them. So please, give me just one biscuit, and I’ll be able to think about something else!
Ingrid Bergman – Autumn Sonata (1978)
The Academy Award-winning Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman will mostly be remembered for her Hollywood successes, such as Casablanca, Anastasia, and Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Notorious. She did, however, work in her home country with the director Gustaf Molander, as well as with the master of minimalism and introspection, Ingmar Bergman (no relation). Her final film appearance was with the latter, in the mother-daughter psychological drama Autumn Sonata. She plays Charlotte Andergast, a famous pianist and Eva’s (Liv Ullmann) stern, self-absorbed, and demanding mother.
Paul Newman – Cars 3 (2017)
With his famous piercing blue eyes, Paul Newman was an award-winning actor, race-car driver, director, and businessman whose career lasted from 1949 to his death, in 2008. Though his final live-action appearance was in the 2002 crime drama Road to Perdition, his last movie credits involve animation and documentary narration. Since he had already voiced Doc Hudson in the sports comedy-adventure animation Cars and its special feature, Mater and the Ghostlight, his archive recordings were used posthumously in Cars 3’s flashback sequences, which effectively makes it his last film. Doc Hudson is an anthropomorphic 1951 Hudson Hornet that, by design, also has blue eyes.
Gene Kelly – Xanadu (1980)
The perpetually energetic Gene Kelly was a dancer, singer, actor, director, and choreographer. He was active between 1931 and 1994 and mostly known for the musical romantic comedies Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris. His last movie appearance was in Robert Greenwald’s musical fantasy cult film Xanadu, opposite Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck, in which he played Danny McGuire, a construction magnate who used to be a big-shot orchestra leader.
Ginger Rogers – Harlow (1965)
Speaking of dynamic dancers and singers who became Hollywood mega-stars, Ginger Rogers made several acclaimed appearances on stage, television, and the big screen between 1930 and 1987. She was known for her longtime collaboration with Fred Astaire, and her last film role was in Alex Segal’s biographical drama Harlow, which depicted actress Jean Harlow’s rise to stardom. Rogers portrayed the latter’s mother and mentor, Mama Jean Bello.
Rita Hayworth – The Wrath of God (1972)
Rita Hayworth passed away from the effects of Alzheimer’s in 1987, but she will always be remembered as one of Hollywood’s most glamorous and sizzling stars. She was last seen on the big screen as Señora De La Plata in Ralph Nelson’s Western The Wrath of God, alongside Robert Mitchum and Frank Langella. Set in 1922, in a fictional Latin American country, the movie features an Irish vagabond, a drinking priest, and a smuggler, who team up to take down the tyrannical miliary leader Tomas de la Plata. Hayworth plays the latter’s religious mother who abhors violence. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the actress’ finest performance or look, but that was because she hadn’t been diagnosed at the time. According to ManningTree Archive, “When Hayworth strived to remember her lines, the crew believed her to be in a state of intoxication. At this point, with Hayworth frequently caught in the drift, nervous and phobic, even refusing to do normal things, eventually, certain scenes had to be either shot from behind her head or with doubles.”
Vincent Price – The Thief and the Cobbler (1995)
Hailed as one of the masters of horror, having portrayed several magnetic and articulate characters in classics like House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and Witchfinder General (1968), Vincent Price was a thespian and art historian whose final live-action feature appearance was in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, in 1990. His very last film credit, though, is the fantasy animation The Thief and the Cobbler, later known as The Princess and the Cobbler and Arabian Knight. He voices ZigZag, King Nog’s Grand Vizier, who often speaks in rhymes and later becomes the henchman of Mighty One-Eye, the power-hungry antagonist.
“All this is nothing, for now in my hand is the very key to the Golden land. For no man can take it, no matter how great, unless he possesses these three balls of fate!”
Elizabeth Taylor – The Flintstones (1994)
The British-American actress with violet-blue eyes Elizabeth Taylor achieved stardom as a teenager, and slowly transitioned to acclaimed adult roles in hits like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cleopatra, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Known for her friendship with pop icon Michael Jackson, her on-and-off relationship with Richard Burton, and her HIV/AIDS activism, Taylor last played Pearl Slaghoople in the family comedy movie The Flintstones, set in prehistoric suburban Bedrock and directed by Brian Levant.
Pearl is Fred Flintstone’s demanding mother-in-law, who objects to everything and criticizes practically everyone. As she declares to her daughter Wilma, “Oh, you poor, poor dear. You could have married Elliot Firestone, the man who invented the wheel. Instead, you picked Fred Flintstone, the man who invented the excuse!”
James Stewart – An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991)
James “Jimmy” Stewart was known for portraying the sensitive and well-meaning everyday man who somehow finds himself in unusual predicaments. He has over 90 film credits, namely It’s a Wonderful Life, The Philadelphia Story, Rope, and Vertigo. His last movie role was the voice of Wylie Burp in the animated Western comedy An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Directed by Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells, it follows the misfortunes of the Mousekewitz, a family of Jewish mice who emigrated from Russia to the Wild West in the prequel. Wylie Burp is a Great Dane whom Fievel looks up to, and his character is based on the hero Wyatt Earp.
“Just remember, Fievel – one man’s sunset is another man’s dawn. I don’t know what’s out there beyond those hills. But if you ride yonder… head up, eyes steady, heart open… I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been looking for.”
– Wylie Burp
Cary Grant – Walk, Don’t Run (1966)
Few movie legends carried themselves like Cary Grant; he charmed colleagues, fans, and journalists with his suave demeanor, chiseled features, chin dimple, and Mid-Atlantic accent. His most memorable films include To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest, An Affair to Remember, and Charade, and his last big-screen role was as Sir William Rutland in Charles Walters’ romantic comedy Walk, Don’t Run. The character is a British businessman who travels to Tokyo and rents a space at the house of Christine Easton (Samantha Eggar). After his sublets his quarters to a young American Olympic competitor, he attempts to set him up with Christine.
John Wayne – The Shootist (1976)
John Wayne, nicknamed The Duke, was one of the Western genre’s most renowned actors, though he also starred in successful romance and war movies. He died of stomach cancer in 1979, and three years prior, he made one last cinematic appearance, in Don Siegel’s Western The Shootist. Ironically, Wayne plays John Bernard Books, a former sheriff and gunfighter who has terminal cancer and only a few weeks to live.
Audrey Hepburn – Always (1989)
With her doe eyes, pronounced cheekbones, and effortlessly elegant outfits, Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sabrina, My Fair Lady) was considered the epitome of class and grace. After a career that spanned 41 years, she last appeared in Steven Spielberg’s fantasy romance, Always, opposite Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter. The plot revolves around Pete Sandich, an aerial firefighter who dies but returns to provide aspiring pilots with guidance. He also has to let his ex-girlfriend go. Such is his Earthly mission before he’s able to ascend to the afterlife, and he is closely mentored by the angel Hap (Hepburn).
Humphrey Bogart – The Harder They Fall (1956)
Would this list be complete without the ultra-cool Bogey? Humphrey Bogart‘s 36-year career encompassed blockbusters like The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Sahara, and The Big Sleep. His very last movie role was in Mark Robson’s boxing film noir, The Harder They Fall, with Rod Steiger and Jan Sterling. He played Eddie Willis, a sportswriter turned PR executive who uncovers the corruption within rigged boxing matches.