Marlon Brando Movies
Marlon Brando movies range from well-acted masterpieces to wildly out-of-control disasters. That’s because the celebrated actor was prone to moments of genius followed by equally bizarre bouts of eccentricity. From packing on the pounds in his later years to playing a piano duet with one of the world’s smallest men (parodied by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers series), you never knew what to expect from Marlon Brando movies. They were always an event, though, and the following article lists 10 of my favorites.
Before we get started, I want to throw out a few interesting factoids about Brando. I also want to remind you that all the films discussed below are available through Netflix. Become a Netflix member today and see what all the fuss is about.
- During the filming of Last Tango in Paris, Brando refused to learn his lines, instead writing them on cue cards and posting them around the room. He asked if he could write lines on his co-star’s rear end, but the director refused his request.
- Francis Ford Coppola had to revise the ending of Apocalypse Now because Brando showed up too overweight to play the scenes as written.
- For his first screen role as a paraplegic veteran in The Men, Brando prepared by spending a month in a bed at a veteran’s hospital.
- When reporting to the induction center during the draft for the Korean War, Brando listed his race as “human” and his color as “Seasonal oyster white to beige.” He was referred to a psychiatrist by the draft board.
- Brando and Rod Steiger, unhappy with the scripted product, improvised the “I coulda ‘ been a contender” scene in On the Waterfront.
- Of all his films, Brando listed Burn! as his personal favorite.
- When declining his Oscar for The Godfather, Brando sent an American Indian Rights activist to appear in his stead. Brando became the second performer to turn down their Oscar win (the first was George C. Scott for Patton).
- Before he would agree to appear as Jor-El in Superman: The Movie, Brando demanded that he would receive $3.7 million for two weeks of work, would not have to read the script beforehand, and would have his lines displayed somewhere off-camera. All these demands were met.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) – Based on the play by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire was the first film to win three out of the four Academy Award acting categories (with only Brando losing). Vivien Leigh stars as Blanche DuBois, a boozy Southern belle who shows up on her sister’s (Kim Hunter) New Orleans doorstep after being forced to leave her Mississippi due to a number on scandalous indiscretions. Brando, meanwhile, co-stars as the brutish Stanley Kowalksi, a walking cliché of male brutality and sexual appetites. A smoldering portrait of co-dependence and desire.
The Wild One (1953) – Brando boosted sales of leather jackets, jeans, and Triumph motorcycles with his portrayal of the icon Johnny Strabler, a postmodern biker who rolls into a small California town and clashes with the locals (well, except for the cop‘s daughter). Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, and Lee Marvin all co-star, and keep your eyes peeled for a young Richard Farnsworth in an uncredited role. If you’re a fan of biker movies, this one’s a must-see.
On the Waterfront (1954) – Nominated for 12 Oscars, this method-acting masterpiece won a Best Actor trophy for Marlon Brando, as well as seven others (including Best Picture and Best Director for Elia Kazan). In the role of Terry Malloy, a former boxer who’s pushed into a battle with the local corrupt union boss (Lee J. Cobb), Brando rages, broods, romances, and then literally fights for his life during the film’s climactic dock sequence. Many read this film as director Elia Kazan’s answer to those who criticized him for naming names during the Communist witch hunts of the early ‘50s. Co-starring Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, and Eva Marie Saint.
Guys and Dolls (1955) – Set in the 1940s and dealing with small-time crooks and con-artists, this well-known musical was adapted from the Frank Loesser Broadway production. Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra are the male leads, while the female gender is represented by Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine. The film received four Oscar nominations, and “Luck Be a Lady” is still knockin’ ‘em dead over 50 years later.
Sayonara (1957) – Based on the novel by James Michener and taking an unusually honest look at prejudice, Sayonara stars Brando as “Ace” Gruver, an Air Force pilot who falls for a Japanese entertainer despite the protests of the U.S. military. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won for Best Supporting Actor (Red Buttons), Best Supporting Actress (Miyoshi Umeki), Best Art Direction, and Best Sound.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) – Tempers explode during a British ship’s 1787 journey from England to Tahiti in this remake of the 1935 classic. Brando stars as 1st Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, second-in-command aboard the HMS Bounty and an officer who puts the welfare of his men above all else. His superior, Captain William Bligh (Trevor Howard), is more interested in his own career, routinely mistreating his men in order to climb a little higher on the career ladder. This behavior eventually leads to a mutiny, an event which mirrors the real-life occurrence that took place 1789. Richard Harris co-stars.
The Godfather (1972) – One of a handful of movies that usually top lists of the greatest films of all time, The Godfather was adapted from the novel by Mario Puzo and stars Brando as Don Vito Corleone, the head of an Italian-American mob family in the ‘40s. The corrupting nature of crime is carefully explored, as is the fragile dynamic that exists within any family. A true masterpiece of the American cinema, The Godfather received three Oscars, including Best Picture and a Best Actor win for Brando. He politely refused the award, citing Hollywood’s continually negative depiction of Native-Americans.
Last Tango in Paris (1972) – Following the suicide of his wife, a middle-aged American (Brando) begins a passionate affair with an engaged French woman (Maria Schneider). They agree to keep it anonymous at first, but the intense emotions unleashed eventually lead to unwelcome familiarity and tragedy. A controversial and sexually-charged film, it received an X-rating upon its original release and divided both critics and audience members. Movie critic Pauline Kael was a big supporter, expressing her praise in what would later be regarded as the most influential review to date.
Apocalypse Now (1979) – Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Brando), a Special Forces officer during the Vietnam War, has went rogue in the jungles of Cambodia and set himself up as a kind of living god to the local tribesmen. Fearing the worst, his superiors select troubled Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) to travel up the Nung River, find Kurtz, and put an end to his madness…permanently. What follows is a descent into the darkest reaches of a man’s mind, with the line between Kurtz and Willard becoming increasingly blurred. Robert Duvall has a memorable role as a crazed Air Cavalry commander, and keep an eye out for Harrison Ford and a very young Laurence Fishburne. Francis Ford Coppola directs, and fans of the film will also want to check out the companion documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker‘s Apocalypse. “The horror, the horror.”
A Dry White Season (1989) – Brando picked up a nomination for Best Supporting Actor with his performance as Ian McKenzie, a human rights attorney hired by a South African teacher (Donald Sutherland) to fight the abuses of Apartheid. Due to his belief in the project, Brando agreed to waive his usual fee and work for scale wages (about $4,000 at the time).
While I believe these to be the best Marlon Brando movies, there are plenty more to choose from. Netflix has them all, of course, as well as over 100,000 other films. To take advantage of this wide selection, just click here to become a Netflix member. We do receive a small commission when you sign up, but this adds nothing to your final price and helps keep us in business.