Defining what Marlon Brando meant for films in America is like unwinding neurons in our head. It’s an impossible task. Arguably one of the greatest actors of all time, Brando started what actors follow today; method acting.
Apprenticing under the great Stella Kowalski, Brando’s rise to fame started with a leading role in the theatrical production of A Streetcar Named Desire, playing the hot-headed Stanely Kowalski, which he later reprised in the film adaptation to critical acclaim. Despite his temperamental antics on set, Brando’s status as one of the very best is uncontested. Here is an ode to the great actor: the list of top Marlon Brando movies. Happy reading!
12. A Dry White Season (1989)
‘A Dry White Season’ presents some of Brando’s final and most vulnerable works on celluloid. Brando wraps himself in the skin of Ian McKenzie, an experienced Human rights lawyer who is persuaded to pursue a legal case with no bearing on his personal life conflicts.
The narrative rests squarely on the depth of the screenplay and emerges triumphant with a colossal chant. The vigor and intensity of the movie are inflicting despite remaining obscure and foreshadowed throughout.
11. The Young Lions (1958)
Made at a time when the Americans that liberated the concentration camps were in their prime and there weren’t any idiots running around claiming it was a lie, we see how ordinary citizens respond to the unthinkable. Brando’s character stands in for the citizens of the Reich who claimed they were clueless about the genocide while the ashes from the smokestacks fell like snow on their towns.
We become firsthand witnesses to the horror and denial that gripped America in the late ’80s. It briefly explores a major taboo–interracial/interfaith marriages. It looks at racism in the context of anti-Semitism (unfortunately still alive and well in America) and one man’s courage in opposing it. Ironic this brand of racism, as the founder of the prevalent religion in America was a Jewish rabbi. The heart of the movie is at the right place and makes sure to utilize and reward the viewer after the end of three hours.
10. Superman (1978)
Brando apparently pocketed a staggering $10 million for his 13-day work in the first big Superman movie. He assumed the role of Jor-El, the selfless and genius father of Superman who sends his Kryptonite son to earth. The film was a huge commercial and critical hit, pocketing almost $300 million in its worldwide gross. Brando’s brief stat at the set was hugely documented in media, including rumors (which were later confirmed) that he used earpieces to be fed in his lines because he didn’t bother to read the script. Now that’s thug life.
9. Last Tango In Paris (1972)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s highly controversial and erotic piece about anonymous love finds itself ranking unexpectedly low on the list. ‘Last Tango in Paris’ charts the aftermath of Paul’s wife’s suicide and the blossoming of a young Jeanne into a mature, independent woman. The two decide to remain disassociated, going to the extent of not even revealing names, but find themselves overwhelmed with an epiphanic moment of self-realization. The movie’s use of graphic imagery to transmit the two’s intimacy raised eyebrows and is still a debated topic almost half a century after its release. The four-hour long marathon, though, provides a rewarding experience by its end, hoping to provide a more complete meaning of anonymity and human tryst with identity.
8. Sayonara (1957)
It is not until we confront a situation and get caught up in a conflict that we can see beyond our boxed version of the world. ‘Sayonara’ takes this particular contradiction and throws in the protagonist, Major Gruver, into this warp. It is not until he falls in love with a Japanese woman that he can understand that love is indifferent to bodily and social mores. The languid narrative style might bore some, but the overall assembly of the characters and the script is more than satisfactory.
7. The Ugly American (1963)
‘The Ugly American’ is one of Brando’s unknown roles. But the quality is still there. Inhabiting the role of American ambassador Harrison MacWhite, whose shrewd and incisive political analysis of the war-torn Southeast Asian might save the country, Brando gives a resounding performance that draws a perfect match between flamboyant and conservative. Even though the movie’s writing is a bit weak for its kind of film and the plot feels a bit rushed, its significance in a time at the Second Red scare is unparalleled and certainly holds up during the political turmoil in the country.
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6. Viva Zapata (1952)
Marlon Brando once famously remarked: “Actors should have the capability to surprise the audience. Make them go ‘wow’ and hit them with something unexpected”. Turns out Brando was someone who practiced what he preached. His turn as the emancipating revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in Elia Kazan’s historical-drama took everyone by surprise and landed him universal acclaim. The movie itself turned out to be a hit among the audiences and is known for its dramatic zoom-ins and celebratory music. Another solid performance from Brando whose method-acting surely made this one memorable.
5. Julius Caesar (1953)
We all are rudimentarily acquainted with what went down in Shakespeare’s great tragedy. The human lust for power and fame, the love for a country and its people, and the deafening silence of a man who has become a symbol of betrayal and ridicule today. ‘Julius Caesar’ brings forth the ingrained dilemmas and shortcomings of the characters and lets them explore their individualities. Its heartbreak and despair find a way through into your heart and deliver you to a place where the viewer gets to enrich his reading experience.
4. Apocalypse Now (1971)
1970’s was the era which made Francis Ford Coppola the greatest director in American history. His fall from grace since is tragic, but his cinema in the ’70s is almost unmatchable. The four-movie rule that commentators and fans usually apply started with this masterpiece about the horrors of the Vietnam war. Quotes like “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “Good morning Vietnam” became iconic dialogues and propelled its obscure actors into stardom. Brando’s unconventional portrayal of Colonel Kurtz; unflinching eyes, the dominating object in the frame, and the uncomfortable, haunting calmness in his voice make his character stuff of the legend. Despite the film’s polarizing reception, its status as one of the greatest films ever made speaks volumes of its quality and its uniqueness with its well documented subject matter.
3. On the Waterfront (1954)
Brando’s maiden Oscar came virtue of this powerhouse performance in this Elia Kazan’s brilliant crime-drama. A failed boxer, Terry Malloy is reduced to a meager dockworker and repents his life. He blames his brother Charlie for his state in life after he fixed an important fight so he can win money. ‘On the Waterfront’ presents important moral dilemmas for its characters and dares to question the choices they made in life. The brilliant use of music and soulful, humane writing make the experience of the film last for days after a viewing. Sensational Brando at his very best.
2. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
When Blanche comes to live with her sister Stella in her working-class apartment, the latter’s Polish husband Stanley Kowalski is suspicious. Gradually, Blanche’s dark past unfolds leaving Stella bewildered and Stanely in a mood to avenge. ‘A Street Car Named Desire’ is probably one of the greatest plays in modern American literature and finds its adaptation on celluloid up to the mark. An unknown Marlon Brando delivers an electrifying performance as the sexually charged and raw Stanely, but the star of the show is Vivian Leigh and her impeccable portrayal of Blanche. The mood of the story is reflected through the characters. The dramatic music and use of light were surprising and surely make this a must watch.
1. The Godfather (1972)
If someone were to name the most iconic film and character of all time, ‘The Godfather’ and Vito Corleone might be the answer registered the most. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece is arguably the greatest movie ever made and revolutionized the mobster genre when it released. Paramount Pictures was apprehensive about the way it was being shot; dark, low lighting, and the length of the narrative. The films’ storyline is based on Mario Puzo’s best-selling novella of the same name. It charts the life of Don Vito Corleone, the distinctively revered head of the Corleone family, one of the five families that vie for supremacy in organized crime, and his relationship with his family.
The film uniquely presents a study of the family dynamics and acquaints us with the secret family recipes and marriage problems. Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone, for me, remains the greatest character portrayal of all time. His characterization and physical form of the eponymous character embodies his very soul; a sad sense of melancholy around him, his weary demeanor, steady voice, and the love for his family. ‘The Godfather’ deservedly tops the list and probably would many other ever made.
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