With a career spanning more than six decades and a lasting impact on cinema, Marlon Brando is regarded as one of, if not the greatest actor of all time. Over over 50 films, Brando was nominated for eight Oscars and won two, first in 1955 for “On the Waterfront” and then again in 1973 for “The Godfather,” his most famous portrayal.
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Stella Adler, the legendary acting teacher, was Brando’s first mentor. Brando became a pioneer of method acting on the stage and cinema thanks to his mentor’s guidance, creating a naturalistic style of acting that established the standard for all actors to follow. While his acting prowess was undeniable, Marlon Brando was also an outspoken advocate for the civil rights movement and the American Indian Movement, most notably by sending Sacheen Littlefeather to accept his Oscar for “The Godfather” on his behalf.
Brando was, without a doubt, a really great actor and an intriguing human being. We’ve classified his 15 best cinema roles, from worst to best, based on the breadth of his career.
“Sayonara” takes place in Kobe, Japan, in 1951, when the U.S. government had forbidden Japanese residents from emigrating to the United States. “Sayonara” is a film about military spouses, and this policy extends to them as well. Major Lloyd Guvner (Brando), a U.S. Air Force Major, is first averse to the idea of American citizens marrying Japanese women.
However, when one of Lloyd’s close friends finds love and marries a local woman in Kobe, he begins to reconsider his viewpoint, especially after he meets a Kabuki performer named Hana-Ogi. (Miiko Taka). Even if the film’s politics and race relations are highly problematic, Brando nevertheless manages to discover depth in an otherwise superficial figure. Even if this isn’t his most heartfelt romantic performance, Brando is nominated for his fifth Academy Award for his portrayal of a guy who slowly changes his viewpoint without being preachy.
14. Viva Zapata!
A dramatized portrayal of the life of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata is Brando’s second film with Elia Kazan (Brando). When Zapata complains to the president about the government’s infringement on his land in 1909 Mexico, the film takes place. During this time, he becomes a key figure in the movement to depose Porfirio Daz and establish an entirely new government in Mexico.
Marlon Brando plays a Mexican character in the film, which has serious concerns of representation in casting, including the fact that he was cast in the role at all. To make matters worse, Brando has a stiff, oddly accented voice that detracts from what should have been a serious and measured performance. As an example of Brando’s amazing talent, even when he is at his lowest point, he still manages to create a performance that won him his second Academy Award nomination.
13. The Score
Perhaps due to the difficulty of working with Brando, the actor had an erratic career, with high highs and terrible lows. When Brando appeared in “The Score” three years before his death, it was amazing to see how he developed as an actor. When a young, cocky criminal (Edward Norton) convinces Nick (Robert DeNiro), a skilled safecracker who is preparing to retire, to undertake one last robbery, the film follows Nick.
Brando portrays Nick’s fence, Max, who aids Nick in the transportation of stolen items and the identification of new prey. It’s no surprise that Brando makes the best of what he’s given in the role of Max. Brando’s worsening health doesn’t stop him from delivering a hilarious and honest performance, and he gets along especially well with Robert DeNiro, the other actor to win an Oscar for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in the film. As a whole, “The Score” is one of the best films ever made, and a fitting farewell to one of cinema’s greatest actors.
12. A Dry White Season
It was in part due of his Marxist views that Brando produced numerous political movies during his career. One of the more cerebral political films done by Marlon Brando depicts a privileged white man’s journey to become involved in South Africa’s apartheid, “A Dry White Season.” He’s a teacher who’s aware of apartheid but mainly oblivious to its day-to-day effects until his Black gardener’s son is arrested for playing with his own youngster.
A lawyer, McKenzie (Marlon Brando), who has fought and lost similar cases in the courts, joins Ben in his investigation when he begins an investigation into the matter. For most of the film, Brando’s McKenzie is secondary to Ben’s story, but the courtroom sequence in which he appears is evocative of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. As a result of Brando’s performance, he received an eighth and final Academy Award nomination.
11. The Chase
In “The Chase,” a vast crime drama, the impact of an escaped convict on a small southern community is the focus. Bubba Reeves (Robert Redford) has escaped from jail, but Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) is unconcerned. He believes the criminal won’t be irresponsible enough to return home. Calder is forced into action as a result of this unfortunate turn of events. Reeves’ death has sparked a mutinous manhunt with fatal results, despite everyone’s efforts to keep justice and bring him in alive.
In Calder, Brando plays an authoritative figure who is more restrained and impartial than the others he has played. When Calder’s values are put to the test in the film’s climax, his detached demeanor acts as a stark contrast to the rest of the town’s. Brando’s performance as Calder, the silent and strong leader, is convincing, even if it isn’t his most dynamic.
10. Guys and Dolls
It is true that Brando did not appear in as many films as other leading men of his ilk, but this does not diminish the breadth and depth of his filmography or the breadth of the characters he played. In “Guys and Dolls,” Brando reunites with director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and plays the romantic lead in a musical, a character he has never played before. Nathan Detroit, played by Frank Sinatra, is the host of a weekly craps game in New York City that every gambler wants to attend.
Rather than pay for a venue, Nathan wagers $1,000 with Sky Masterson (Brando) that he will not be able to persuade an unnamed Salvation Army girl to accompany him to Havana over the next 24 hours. Sky agrees, and he soon discovers that he has feelings for his chosen. Brando’s musical performances aren’t terrible, and he’s certainly not the worst actor ever to sing in a movie. Furthermore, in “Guys and Dolls,” Brando plays a character who is ethically ambiguous in order to elicit empathy and sadness for the audience. Understated charisma and swagger characterize Brando’s portrayal in this part.
9. Last Tango in Paris
Two people have a secret love affair, which has disastrous results, in Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterwork. In the wake of his wife’s suicide, Paul (Brando) struggles to come to terms with his imminent marriage to Jeanne (Maria Schneider), who is dealing with her own anxieties over the fact that her fiancé is filming a documentary on her. They begin an affair after meeting during an apartment viewing, but none of them reveal their true identities or even their names. While Paul and Jeanne’s relationship is winding down, she is forced to take desperate measures because he will not let go.
In light of Schneider’s later statements about her treatment on set, the picture was controversial at the time of its premiere for its graphic representations of sexual activity. Despite the film’s flaws, Brando’s performance as a befuddled, hurt, and abusive man is touching. For the seventh time, he was nominated for an Oscar for this role, which is as complex as any of his others.
In this landmark superhero film directed by Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve’s Superman and his alter persona, Clark Kent, were introduced to a new generation of moviegoers. Krypton, an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, is facing a world-ending tragedy, and Clark’s origin narrative begins with his time as a baby on Krypton. Jor-El (Brando), Krypton’s leading scientist, sends his son Kal-El, the planet’s sole survivor, to live among humans and be raised as one.
Due to the focus of the film on Kal-travels El’s as Superman, Jor-Brando El’s has a small role. In spite of this, Brando manages to leave a lasting impression with a performance that is almost unrecognizably different from the mumbled speech that first made him famous. Jor-El, played by Brando, is a character that could have been ridiculous, but he lends seriousness and emotional weight to the story of a father and son who have been separated for so long.
7. The Wild One
The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, led by Johnny Strabler (Brando), comes in a sleepy rural town, much to the chagrin of the residents and the authorities. Even though Johnny despises the police, he abides by the rules despite his gang’s antics. Despite the town’s protests, the sheriff does little to stop Johnny and the Black Rebels, despite his disapproval.
As a result, things take a turn when Johnny falls in love with Sheriff’s daughter and is forced to deal with the arrival of an entirely new criminal organization. As a performer, Brando was able to play ethically ambiguous characters with full hearts that were empathic and warm throughout his career. A reluctant leader like Johnny is an excellent example of this, having to reexamine his ideas and understand what it means to stand up for what he truly believes in. Furthermore, Brando’s likability never feels like overkill, and he’s a joy to watch.
6. The Fugitive Kind
As a Tennessee Williams melodrama, “The Fugitive Kind” casts Marlon Brando once again in the role of the fugitive. A vagabond known as “Snakeskin” Valentine “Valentine” “Valentine” Xavier (Brando) stars in this film. While in a tiny southern town hoping to get his life back together, Val attracts the interest of various women, including Lady Torrance (Anna Magnani), who offers him employment in her shop.
Jabe, Lady’s jealous and sick husband, complicates the relationship between the two of them as they form a bond (Victor Jory). His past keeps haunting him and the sheriff wants him out just as Jabe’s jealousy reaches a dangerously high level of ferocity. It’s easy to see why the women in this film are drawn to Brando’s portrayal of Val, but there’s also a desperation in his eyes, a desire to set things right for himself and those around him, hidden behind his eyes.
5. Julius Caesar
Rome is the setting for “Julius Caesar,” an epic rendition of the original Shakespeare play. Conspirators fear that Caesar will use his popularity to establish a dictatorship, so they encourage Caesar’s close friend Brutus (James Mason) to assassinate him for the sake of the nation. Marc Antony (Brando) is another one of Caesar’s counselors who learns of Brutus’ treason and challenges Brutus to a fight, leaving the fate of Rome in the hands of the victor.
It’s the first time Brando has worked with director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and the actor does an excellent job with Shakespeare’s challenging vocabulary in an emotionally charged performance. When it comes to Shakespeare, an actor’s performance may build or break the audience’s connection to the plot and characters. Brando’s portrayal as Antony in the play earned him a third Oscar nomination for his performance in one of the play’s most famous monologues.
4. Apocalypse Now
After earning an Oscar for his role in “The Godfather,” Brando returns to Francis Ford Coppola for “Apocalypse Now,” a massive existential Vietnam war epic. An inside operation to kill a Green Beret commander, Colonel Kurtz (Brando), is the focus of the film. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is the special intelligence agent deployed on the inside job. We follow the path Willard takes to find Kurtz and his growing fascination with the man who is supposed to be killed by him.
It’s hard to believe that he’s only on screen for 15 minutes, but Brando manages to provide an unforgettable performance. It’s hard to believe that Kurtz is both eerie and appealing at the same time. For the few sequences in which Brando is on screen, the suspense is amplified as Willard wrestles with whether or not to kill Kurtz.
3. A Streetcar Named Desire
With Elia Kazan’s film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ stage drama, the director and actor Marlon Brando began a long and fruitful collaboration. Vivien Leigh portrays Blanche, Stella’s charming but disturbed sister, who comes to visit with Stella and Stanley under unexplained circumstances. Blanche’s unusual lifestyle causes a rise in physical and mental friction between Stella and Stanley and finally between Stanley and Blanche as the film continues.
Even though Brando’s character, Kowalski, is not particularly likable, his magnetism and raw appeal are undeniable in this film. Despite the fact that Stanley is a depraved character, Brando brings him to life with an incredible amount of empathy and searing charm, making for an unforgettable performance.
2. On the Waterfront
Terry Malloy is one of Marlon Brando’s most well-known roles, up there with Vito Corleone and Stanley Kowalski. Longshoreman union corruption is the focus of “On the Waterfront,” which brings Brando and Elia Kazan together for a third time. Charley’s older brother Terry is a former prizefighter who spends most of his time ignoring the evil that surrounds him. The murder of the victim’s sister (Eva Marie Saint) has inspired him to testify against the criminals who have ensnared him in their web of lies.
Seeing Brando recite “I coulda been contender” in “On the Waterfront” is still a shockingly poignant and changing experience for the audience, despite the film’s most famous statement. Brando’s portrayal of Terry, a man who gave up a bright career to please his brother only to regret his sacrifices, is convincing and compassionate. Brando’s Oscar-winning performance is neither showy or melodramatic, but rather consistently compassionate.
1. The Godfather
In his most renowned role, Don Vito Corleone, Brando is at his most impressive. As the head of the Corleone crime family, Brando must fight to hold on to his position of authority in a rapidly changing society in Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic. He portrays Vito as an intelligent, warm, and generous man who treats those who appreciate him with love and charity, but who is also cold and callous to those who don’t.
To enter the drug trade, rival crime lord Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) requires Vito’s blessing (which he gets). A deadly gang conflict breaks out, endangering Vito’s life and enlisting his indifferent son Michael (Al Pacino) in the family business, which the Don resists. As Vito’s influence diminishes, Michael rises through the ranks of the Corleone family to become the new don.
When it comes to mafia bosses, no one has ever come close to matching the charisma and charismatic performance of Marlon Brando. Because of the legendary role he played and the second and final Oscar he received as a result of it, Brando has become one of cinema’s most revered actors.