Katharine Hepburn was a confident woman who was repeatedly assertive and who lived in a non-traditional way at the time, often not caring what society was expecting from her, which wasn’t always met well. On top of that, her career wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows as she faced several career flops and was even labeled a “Box Office Poison” by the Independent Theater Owners Association in 1938.
Despite that, she remained true to herself and went on to become the most Oscar-winning actress of all time. Here are her best films according to IMDb.
12 The Lion in Winter
The Lion Winter is based on James Goldman’s play of the same name. Set in 1883, King Henry II has his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine imprisoned. In the meantime, all his three sons want to inherit the throne, but the king has his son Prince John in mind. When he allows his wife out of the prison for a Christmas visit, she creates a strategy to try to force him into another decision.
Tension arises when visitors gather during the holiday each making an influence on the king, making his decision even more complex. The drama is, in turn, captivating as it explores themes such as greed, jealousy, and treachery. The film earned three Oscars, one of which Katharine Hepburn won Best Actress for her role in the movie.
11 The Philadelphia Story
The Philadelphia Story follows the story of an aristocratic lady, Tracy Lord, whose world turns upside down when her ex-husband and a reporter for a tabloid spy magazine show up at her mansion three days before she remarries a nouveau-riche man who thinks she is perfect. However, when Tracy connects with the three men on different levels, her feelings start to confuse her as she becomes unclear as to who she truly loves and wants to be with.
The film touches upon topics such as divorce, love, adultery, and frustration with one’s identity. The film won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for Donald Stewart and Best Actor for James Stewart.
10 Bringing Up Baby
Bringing Up Baby follows the story of a paleontologist who is very eager to secure a $1 million donation for his museum. He spent four years collecting the skeleton of a Brontosaurus and is only missing one bone. In parallel, he is about to get married.
However, all his plans start to get distorted when he bumps into a scatterbrained woman who is an heiress with a pet leopard named Baby. Her presence only presents obstacles for him and makes it hard for him to obtain his goal and this only gets worse when she falls in love with him and tries to stop his marriage from happening. Bringing Up Baby is a comedy that is full of heart.
9 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
This two-time Oscar-winning film dives into the life of a woman who brings home to her parents her African American fiancé alongside his parents. However, both families are uncomfortable with the pairing. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner highlights racism, interracial marriages, and a brave movie to be made at the time that touched upon a very important topic that is still very present today. Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar for her role in the movie as the free-thinking Joanna Drayton.
Holiday follows the story of a young man who is engaged to a woman who comes from a wealthy family. He also wants to live the early years of his life on holiday, which is met with skepticism by everyone in his fiancé’s family except for two people: her sister and her boyfriend. It showcases different characters’ approaches to life through an entertaining and thoughtful plot.
Holiday also points out how hard it is to go against the status quo in a society that worships making money above all. Meanwhile, it also offers a beautiful build-up of romance that unfolds delicately throughout the film. With several ideas in the film, it is a stimulating watch.
7 The African Queen
The Oscar-winning motion picture is adapted from the novel written by C.S. Forester of the same name. Rose Sayer and Samuel Sayer were missionaries in East Africa in 1914 under German control. They get their supplies through a small steamboat named the African Queen that is run by Canadian sailor, Charlie Allnut.
When war breaks out between Germany and Britain, Allnut warns them, but they choose to remain in the village of Kungdu. When she and her brother witness the oppression and violence of the colonial troops, her brother objects, he is met by violence by an officer, gets sick, and shortly dies afterward. Enraged by what happened, Rose attempts to convince the sailor to use the African Queen to sing the Konigin Luise, a gunboat that has made it hard for the British to attack the Germans. The African Queen has romance, adventure, and a fresh depiction of Africa at the time.
6 Stage Door
The four-time nominated Oscar film Stage Door follows the lives of several aspiring actresses who live under the same roof when they all join a theatrical boarding house. Each with their own story, they all share in the disappointments of their career and personal lives. Yet, their different personalities make their lives together interesting and make room for intimate connection and self-development. Stage Door has a fine cast that will make you relate to its characters and root for them in this heartwarming and absorbing ensemble.
5 On Golden Pond
A cranky and old retired professor, Norman has a dry relationship with his daughter, Chelsea. Despite their flawed relationship, Chelsea decided that she will visit her father for his birthday alongside her fiancé and his son. Norman on the other hand spends his summer at a cottage near a pond called the Golden Pond. After spending her birthday with her dad, she leaves her partner’s son with her parents who surprisingly agree to it and take good care of him which starts to untie the knots in her relationship with her father as she sees a more fluid and compassionate side of him.
On Golden Pond is a human drama about facing one’s mortality and trying to make things right with the remaining time left. The film won three Oscars, one of which was Katharine Hepburn winning for Best Actress.
4 Suddenly, Last Summer
Suddenly, Last Summer was based on the one-act play written by Tennessee Williams. Catherine, a young woman, is devastated by the death of her cousin that she witnessed during a holiday in Europe. Her aunt, Violet idolizes her son and wants to bribe a surgeon to lobotomize her niece so that she doesn’t further unravel the mystery behind her son’s death. The film investigates difficult subject matters such as pedophilia, cannibalism, and sexual identity. Katharine Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the movie.
3 Adam’s Rib
Inspired by the real story of William Dwight and Dorothy Whitney, Adam’s Rib is an Oscar-nominated comedy about married lawyers taking the same case working for opposing parties, which causes tension in the relationship. When a woman, Judy tries to kill her husband, Tom, Adam Bonner gets the case and sides with the husband. His wife, Amanda, sides with Judy in a heated competition that only causes chaos.
Adam’s Rib is a battle of sexes, feminism, and stubbornness. The film is overflowing with great acting and on-screen chemistry that will make you feel the tension the movie portrays.
2 Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Long Day’s Journey Into Night was based on Eugene O’Neill’s play. The film revolves around the tragic reality of a family. At the end of a long summer day, members of the family of a retired actor gather for what turns out to be one of the most painful and longest nights of their lives. From morphine addiction, illness, and alcoholism, the family realizes how gloomy their situation is. The motion picture displays a realistic portrayal of flawed characters and dysfunctional families who struggle in their lives. Katharine Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress.
1 Little Women
Little Women is based on the novel written by May Alcott. It zooms in on the lives of four sisters Jo (Katharine Hepburn), Meg (Francis Dee), Amy (Joan Bennett), and Beth (Jean Parker), whose father is serving as a minister to the troops during the Civil War. The young women struggle with their father’s absence and must make ends meet and find a place for themselves in the world.
It is a story about growing up, making choices, and family. It explores concepts such as poverty, fear, love, hidden potential, and strength. The movie won an Oscar for Best Adaptation. Katharine Hepburn was praised for her powerful presence in it, which was a big part of the movie’s success.
It is safe to say that Katharine Hepburn is one of the greatest actresses of all time with movies that never cease to impress and change the narrative. She was outspoken and encouraged women to take on more brave roles in society through her movies. Her career spanned over six decades, through which she left a timeless legacy.