Top Ten Audrey Hepburn Films
Audrey Hepburn: the pinnacle of elegance, charm, and radiant beauty. Audrey was the exact opposite of her contemporaries, Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe; she wasn't what one would traditionally call sultry or sexy. Instead, she was sophisticated and warm, adorable and charming, with a style and manner uniquely her own. An Academy Award-winning actress, she has become equally remembered as a major style icon. Her waif-like figure and simplistic style instantly made her the muse of French fashion designer Givenchy (and her impact reverberates throughout the world of fashion to this day).
Though her film legacy is unmatched, Audrey, eventually, chose to lessen her acting roles in order to concentrate on raising her children. Then, in her later years, she devoted herself almost exclusively to working as an ambassador for UNICEF, a cause that was very close to her heart. Indeed, Audrey's beauty seemed to shine from within her genuinely compassionate soul, making her equally beloved by her co-stars and her fans. It really seems the only word appropriate for describing her is... enchanting. But, if you have yet to experience the incandescent beauty of Audrey Hepburn on film, it's time we fixed that.
FYI: I chose the order of my Audrey Hepburn top ten by considering each film's importance in Audrey’s overall career, the size/importance of her role in them, and their overall popularity today as evidenced by their ratings on sites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. Naturally, feel free to watch them in any order you like (this is merely a recommended top ten). You might watch them in the order listed here, chronologically (like I did), or in a way that corresponds with your own movie tastes. If you discover your favorite Audrey Hepburn film is missing, feel free to post a comment explaining why you would recommend it.
Top 10 Audrey Hepburn Films
- Breakfast At Tiffany's
- Roman Holiday
- My Fair Lady
- Wait Until Dark
- The Nun's Story
- Funny Face
- Love In The Afternoon
- Two For The Road
1. "Breakfast At Tiffany's" (1961)
Based on the novella by Truman Capote, directed by Blake Edwards, and written by George Axelrod (best known for his Broadway play, The Seven Year Itch), this stylish romantic-comedy stars Audrey in what is easily her most iconic role: that of the vivacious playgirl Holly Golightly. A high-class call girl living in an apartment in New York City, Holly is attempting to work her way towards a life of glamour and wealth. Meanwhile, her new neighbor, Paul Varjak (George Peppard), is a struggling writer with a wealthy (and married) sugar mama. When Holly meets Paul, he instantly reminds her of her beloved brother Fred. Partly because of this, she gleefully welcomes him into her quirky life and neither of their lives will ever be the same again. It’s a bit ironic that Audrey’s most famous role would end up being the one that is, unquestionably, the furthest removed from her real personality. The introverted Audrey, actually, felt that she had been miscast and later described the outgoing and eccentric Holly as one of her most challenging roles. In fact, Truman Capote’s preferred choice for the role of Holly was blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe. In the end, the unorthodox decision to cast Audrey as Holly led to one of the most memorable screen performances in film history. Even Audrey’s little black dress in the film (designed by Givenchy) has become known as one of the most famous movie costumes of all time and one of the most influential dresses in fashion history. But, of course, the film’s most famous scene is the one in which Audrey sings the Oscar-winning song “Moon River” (written by the film’s composer Henry Mancini, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer). Mancini wrote the song specifically for Audrey’s range and it quickly became her trademark (it is now often considered to be one of the most beautiful songs ever composed).
2. "Roman Holiday" (1953)
Featuring Audrey in her very first starring role, Roman Holiday is, also, the movie that won Hepburn her Oscar for Best Actress. This bittersweet romantic-comedy stars Audrey in the role of Princess Ann, the crown princess of an unnamed country who is visiting Rome as part of her goodwill tour of Western Europe. Overwhelmed by her hectic work schedule, Ann decides to sneak away one night to explore the city. However, when the sedative her doctor had given her earlier (to combat a mild hysterical breakdown) starts to take effect, she ends up asleep on a public bench instead of making her way back home. She is soon found by journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who works at the Italian office of a prominent American newspaper. Assuming she’s drunk, Joe attempts to send her home in a cab. But when he can’t decipher where she lives, he reluctantly takes her back to his apartment so she can sleep it off on his couch. The next morning, a more lucid Ann gives her name as Anya Smith and claims she ran away from school. But, Joe already recognizes her as (the now missing) Princess Ann and knows that if he plays this right, this could be the story of his career. Filmed entirely on location in Rome, Roman Holiday is a beautiful cinematic love letter to the city; actually, marking the first time a US film was made entirely in Italy. Director William Wyler wanted the role of Princess Ann to be played by an actress who would be the anti-thesis of the luscious Italian actresses that were growing popular at the time. Needless to say, the graceful and adorable Audrey was the perfect fit and this massively popular film, immediately, rocketed her to stardom. In fact, the movie was so successful that Audrey and Peck were approached to do a sequel but, unfortunately, the project never manifested.
3. "Charade" (1963)
Filmed on location in Paris, this clever and stylish thriller stars Audrey as Regina “Reggie” Lampert, a French to English translator living in Paris with her Swiss husband, Charles. After taking a vacation in the Alps with her friend, Sylvie, Regina heads home with the intention of divorcing her chronically secretive husband. But, when she arrives back in Paris, she’s informed by the police that Charles has been murdered and was hiding even more secrets than she anticipated. Not only was her husband actually an American, he was, also, hiding a great deal of money he had previously stolen from the American government during World War II. But, Charles didn’t steal this money by himself and if Reggie can’t find where he hid it, she might end up just like her husband. Helping in Reggie’s search for the money is the charming and mysterious Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), whom she met while she was on vacation. But, is Peter really as trustworthy as he seems? Directed by Stanley Donen, Charade is notable for being the movie that, finally, succeeded in pairing Audrey opposite Cary Grant after multiple attempts to cast the debonair actor as her leading man in other projects had failed. The pairing does not disappoint. The two share incredible chemistry and their witty repartee provides much of the film’s charm. Part of what had kept Grant from accepting many of the previous offers to star opposite Audrey had been his concern over their age difference (he was 59 at the time, while she was 33). He only agreed to appear in Charade after the filmmakers promised to make Audrey’s character the romantic pursuer, rather than him. In the end, Grant adored working with Audrey and desperately wished to work with her again but, alas, it never happened.
4. "My Fair Lady" (1964)
Based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical (which is, itself, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion), My Fair Lady features Audrey in, arguably, one of the most transformative performances of her career. She plays the role of Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl living in London in the early 1900s. When she hears phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) boast that he could teach her to speak well enough to work in a flower shop, Eliza earnestly asks for lessons so, he can follow through on his claims. However, rather than simply letting Eliza pay for her lessons (with the small amount of money she has to offer), Professor Higgins is so intrigued by the challenge that he makes a bet with fellow linguist Colonel Pickering that within 6 months he will teach Eliza to speak well enough to pass as a duchess at the Embassy Ball. But, is Eliza really up to the task? Beloved by many, this witty and breathtaking musical was the winner of 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Rex Harrison, and Best Director for George Cukor. Although the movie enjoyed great popularity (and still does), there was a bit of controversy over the casting of Audrey as Eliza. Julie Andrews had famously originated the role on Broadway opposite Rex Harrison but, was not considered for the film version since she was still relatively unknown (As a result, Andrews ended up being cast in her breakout film Mary Poppins that very same year, winning the Oscar for Best Actress). Audrey, for her part, gives one of her greatest acting performances in the film but, her singing voice ended up being provided by Marni Nixon. The decision to dub Audrey was, actually, made relatively late in the film’s production. In fact, she went through extensive vocal training before filming began and her own vocal recordings were used on set during filming. Audrey was absolutely devastated when it was decided she would be dubbed in the final film but, her real voice was retained for large sections of the song “Just You Wait” with Nixon’s voice only being used during the song’s bridge.
5. "Wait Until Dark" (1967)
Based on the play by Frederick Knott and produced by Audrey’s then-husband, Mel Ferrer, Wait Until Dark stars Hepburn as Susy, a blind woman left alone in her NYC apartment for the night while her husband, Sam, is out on a photography job. Susy was blinded relatively recently so, she’s still attending classes at the local school for the blind to help her adjust to her new normal. Unbeknownst to Susy, now that her husband is gone, their apartment is being closely watched by three criminals. They have become convinced that a doll stuffed with heroin is hidden somewhere in her apartment and they are determined to find it by any means necessary. The dangerous and mysterious mastermind of the trio, Harry Roat (Alan Arkin), in particular, has no qualms about using Susy’s lack of sight to his advantage. Partly filmed on location in Greenwich Village, this tense and terrifying psychological thriller is guaranteed to keep you at the edge of your seat. Even famed horror writer Stephen King has called it the scariest film of all time. When Wait Until Dark was first released, part of the film’s marketing campaign required movie theaters to dim their lights as much as possible when the movie starts and then, during the film’s climatic final scene, turn them off one by one, until the audience is completely plunged into darkness. The film’s score by Henry Mancini only helps heighten the suspense. When constructing it, Mancini, actually, used two pianos tuned just a quarter tone apart to create a subconscious lingering sense of unease. Wait Until Dark would, actually, end up being Audrey’s last film role for 9 years as she began to devote more of her time to raising her children (she would finally return to film for the movie Robin and Marian in 1976).
6. "The Nun's Story" (1959)
Often cited as Audrey’s personal favorite out of her films, The Nun’s Story tells the story of Gabrielle Van Der Mal (later known as Sister Luke), a young Belgian woman who enters a convent in the hopes of becoming a missionary nursing sister in the Belgian Congo. Set in the 1920s, the film offers a fascinating look at convent life and the sacrifices it often requires. Based on the novel by Kathryn Hulme, The Nun’s Story was inspired by the real life of Marie Louise Habets, a Belgian nurse and former nun. Although the name of Sister Luke’s order is deliberately never named in the film, the actual order Marie Louise Habets joined (and the order the film took most of its inspiration from) was the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary in Belgium. While preparing for her role in the film, Audrey ended up becoming very good friends with Habets. But, interestingly, Audrey was not the first choice for the role of Sister Luke. Originally, Ingrid Bergman was considered but, since Bergman felt that she was getting too old to play Sister Luke, she suggested Audrey, instead. The production of The Nun’s Story featured a great deal of location shooting in Rome, Italy and Bruges, Belgium. However, all of the scenes set in the Belgian Congo were shot at Yakusu on the Congo River, a mission well known for its combination of missionary and medical activity. Very successful when it was first released, The Nun’s Story was, actually, the most financially successful film Audrey had made up to that time, earning her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
7. "Sabrina" (1954)
Written and directed by the brilliant Billy Wilder, this charming romantic-comedy is based on the play, Sabrina Fair by Samuel A. Taylor (who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Wilder and Ernest Lehman). Audrey plays the title role of Sabrina Fairchild, a chauffeur’s daughter who has lived most of her life in the servant’s quarters of the wealthy Larrabee family’s estate. Throughout the majority of that time, she has loved from afar the Larrabees’ youngest son, David (William Holden), a shameless playboy. Much too shy to let David know how she feels, Sabrina has spent most of her life sorrowfully watching him woo other women at the Larrabees’ sophisticated parties. But, when Sabrina is sent to study at a prestigious culinary school in Paris for two years, she returns a much more sophisticated and confident woman. This “new” Sabrina, immediately, knocks David for a loop and (even though he’s engaged to someone else) he, finally, begins to pursue the girl who has loved him all her life. But, the question remains: is David really the one Sabrina is meant to be with? Meanwhile, the oldest Larrabee son, Linus (Humphrey Bogart), is growing more and more concerned about how David’s interest in Sabrina might affect his plans for the family business. Audrey has simply never been more charming than in this lovely film, which is bolstered by the gorgeous black and white cinematography by Charles Lang. Behind the scenes, Audrey and William Holden did begin a very real love affair. Unfortunately, their relationship did not last long but, their chemistry is obvious onscreen (some even believe that Holden held a torch for Audrey the rest of his life). Like Breakfast at Tiffany's, this is another movie known for its costumes. Although famed costumer Edith Head accepted the film’s Oscar for Best Costumes, it has been said that it was, actually, Givenchy who was responsible for most of Audrey’s stunning wardrobe.
8. "Funny Face" (1957)
With a Gershwin score inspired by the 1927 Broadway musical of the same name, the actual plot of Funny Face is based on the little-known musical, Wedding Bells by Leonard Gershe (who, subsequently, wrote the screenplay for this film). This chic musical stars Audrey as Jo Stockton, an intellectual bookstore clerk whose world is turned upside-down when an impromptu photo shoot for the high-fashion Quality Magazine, suddenly, takes over her small Greenwich Village bookshop for a day. Although Jo is completely uninterested in the world of fashion or modeling, the magazine’s photographer, Dick Avery (Fred Astaire), sees something in Jo’s features and manner that is exactly what he’s been searching for. Jo is completely aghast at the idea of becoming a model, believing that it goes against all of her bohemian sensibilities. But, when Dick explains that the photo shoot includes a trip to Paris, she starts to rethink her stance. Jo has long dreamt of going to Paris to attend the lectures of respected philosopher Professor Emile Flostre and this modeling job may, finally, offer her the chance to make that dream come true. And having that chance just might be worth a bit of modeling on the side. Directed by Stanley Donen and filmed on location in Paris, Funny Face is the film that, finally, allowed Audrey (a former ballerina) to dance with the legendary Fred Astaire onscreen. She, actually, turned down the lead in the movie musical version of Gigi (a role she originated on Broadway) specifically for the chance to work with Astaire on this film. Funny Face, also, features the talented Kay Thompson in a lead role, which is a rare treat. Rather than appearing onscreen, Thompson more often worked behind the scenes on movie musicals as a vocal coach and musical director. But, she would, eventually, gain lasting fame as the creator of the beloved children’s book series, Eloise.
9. "Love In The Afternoon" (1957)
Reuniting Audrey with Sabrina writer/director Billy Wilder, Love in the Afternoon stars Audrey opposite Gary Cooper in his very last romantic-comedy role. Based on the 1920 novel, Ariane, jeune fille russe by Claude Anet, the film tells the story of Ariane Chavasse, the daughter of respected private investigator, Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chevalier). Although Ariane is fascinated by the stories of forbidden love affairs and scandals in her father’s files, she doesn’t have much experience with love herself. Indeed, she spends most of her time practicing the cello and attending classes at the nearby music conservatory. But, when she overhears one of her father’s clients say he’s going to shoot the man who’s been having an affair with his wife, Ariane knows she must intervene. The man in question is Frank Flannagan (Gary Cooper), a notorious womanizer. Luckily, Ariane manages to get to Mr. Flannagan in time to warn him about the vengeful husband but, in doing so, she also sparks the playboy’s interest. Not wanting to reveal her own inexperience in matters of the heart, Ariane instead plays the part of the mysterious femme fatale, suggesting that she often juggles multiple lovers at any given time. This is a surprising turnaround for Flannagan and it just might be the ticket to beating this rich playboy at his own game. Love in the Afternoon wasn’t very popular in the States when it was first released, a fact that majorly disappointed Gary Cooper, who had been quite pleased with his performance in the film. However, it proved to be a major successs in Europe, where it was released under the original novel’s title, “Ariane”. Many film critics at the time compared Love in the Afternoon to the work of writer/director Ernst Lubitsch (The Shop Around The Corner, Ninotchka, etc.) and, indeed, this film has a very deliberate Lubitsch-style which is, actually, very appropriate for the story and setting of this charming romantic-comedy.
10. "Two For The Road" (1967)
Reuniting Audrey with Stanley Donen (director of Charade and Funny Face), this British dramedy tells the story of married couple Joanna and Mark Wallace (played by Audrey and Albert Finney), chronicling the many ups and downs their relationship has endured over the years. Specifically, the film focuses on the many road trips through Southern France the couple has taken since they first met. In the end, Joanna and Mark must decide if their relationship is really worth continuing or whether it might be better to finally end it. But, be forewarned, Two For The Road is not a traditionally linear movie. The film bounces constantly from the beginning of the couple’s relationship, to the middle and, finally, to where they are now. Audrey was Donen’s first and only choice to play Joanna but, his top choices for Mark were, actually, Paul Newman and Michael Caine. Undoubtably, both actors would have done a marvelous job but, the chemistry between Audrey and Finney is undeniable in the finished film. Initially, Audrey was hesitant to appear in such an experimental movie but, she ended up falling so in love with the script, she had to agree. Like a number of the films on this list, Two For The Road features a score composed by the prolific Henry Mancini (composer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, and Wait Until Dark). Interestingly, out of all of the compositions Mancini would become known for, it is said that it was this film’s title song, “Two for the Road” that became his absolute favorite.
Honorable Mention: "How To Steal A Million" (1966)
For my honorable mention this time around, I decided to go with the adorably charming caper film that reunited Audrey with her Roman Holiday director, William Wyler. Filmed on location in Paris, How To Steal A Million stars Audrey as Nicole Bonnet, the daughter of pathological art forger, Charles Bonnet. To the public, her father is known as a renowned art collector (with no one knowing that all of his paintings are, actually, fakes). So, when he is asked to lend his forged “Cellini Venus” statuette to an exhibition at the Kleber-Lafayette Museum in Paris, he agrees without a second thought. But, the more level-headed Nicole is horrified. The Cellini Venus was forged by her grandfather many years ago and she knows that a forged statuette is much more easily revealed under modern testing than a painting. Nicole’s worst fears are soon realized when she and her father discover that the Cellini Venus will be put through a technical examination before the exhibition as part of the museum’s normal procedure. So, Nicole has no choice: she must steal the Venus back from the museum before it can be put through testing. Luckily, she just recently caught an unusually charming art thief named Simon Dermott (Peter O’Toole) trying to steal her father’s forged Van Gogh, so she knows just who to ask for help in her caper. Audrey and Peter O’Toole have fabulous chemistry in this film and the two became very good friends during the shoot, as well. In fact, the famously heavy drinking O’Toole accidentally got Audrey a little tipsy during a night shoot. It being a cold night, he intended to just give her some brandy to warm-up but, (being a bit of a lightweight) Audrey ended up becoming so tipsy, she knocked over some of the production’s lights while attempting to drive her character’s car. It is, also, notable to mention that this film’s score happened to be composed by a very young John Williams (billed here as Johnny Williams). Williams would later rise to great prominence for his legendary scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Harry Potter, and the list goes on.
And if you would like to learn more about the beautiful Audrey Hepburn, I highly recommend Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit, lovingly written by Audrey’s eldest son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer.
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