Take a look at Marlon Brando’s complete filmography
Brando’s top 10 films are starred [*]
THE MEN (1950)
Brando landed his first screen role on the basis of his Broadway success in ”A Streetcar Named Desire” as the swaggering, sex-drunk Stanley Kowalski, but director Fred Zinnemann perversely cast him as a paraplegic in this socially conscious tale of a wounded veteran’s attempt to pick up the pieces of his prewar life (including fiancee Teresa Wright). Brando makes the most of his immobility, letting his character’s bitterness and anger grow until he finally explodes at the well-meaning Wright.
[*]A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) Director Elia Kazan brought the Broadway hit to Hollywood with most of its cast intact, but replaced Broadway’s Blanche, Jessica Tandy, with Vivien Leigh — whose brittle performance provides the perfect foil for the great rush of animal id that Brando brings to his Oscar-nominated performance. Together, Brando and Kazan created a new kind of leading man, miles away from the pomaded perfection of the classical Hollywood type. Brando scratched, mumbled, slumped, and bellowed, drawing on the whole range of Method techniques that emphasized emotion over elocution.
VIVA ZAPATA! (1953)
Reteamed with Kazan, Brando adopts a Mexican accent and a lumbering manner as the peasant leader of the Mexican Revolution, via a very sentimental John Steinbeck script. The dubious highlight finds Zapata’s bride (Jean Peters) teaching him how to read on their wedding night. It got Brando his second Oscar nomination, but it was Anthony Quinn who took home the statuette, winning Best Supporting Actor as Zapata’s volatile brother.
JULIUS CAESAR (1953)
Wary of being typecast as an inarticulate slob, Brando took on the role of Mark Antony in this Shakespeare adaptation directed by that most literate of Hollywood filmmakers, Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The results (including a third consecutive Best Actor nomination) proved that Brando could handle poetic dialogue with the best of them — almost literally, faced off as he was with James Mason (Brutus), John Gielgud (Cassius), and Deborah Kerr (Portia).
[*]THE WILD ONE (1953)
Laslo Benedek’s film was the occasion for a defining Brando moment, when, as the leather-jacketed leader of a motorcycle gang invading a small town, he answers a girl’s question — ”What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” — with ”Whaddaya got?” It’s a line that helped launch several generations of adolescent, anarchic revolt. Mild-seeming now, the picture was considered an invitation to violence in establishment quarters — already upset by the emergence of rock & roll — and was banned in Britain until 1968.
[*]ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
”I coulda been a contender,” sighed Brando, and indeed he was, winning his first Oscar for his portrayal of a failed prizefighter turned enforcer for a corrupt longshoremen’s union. Brando’s Terry Malloy (left) is the iconic role of his early career, a tough guy with a feminine vulnerability, barely articulate but infinitely eloquent in his bearing and expression. Terry’s decision to inform on the evil union leader (Lee J. Cobb) was taken at the time as an attempt by director Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg to justify their own name-naming appearances before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
And so the strangeness begins. When Brando balked at being cast in the biblical epic ”The Egyptian,” Fox insisted that he take the role of Napoleon Bonaparte (opposite Jean Simmons, as Napoleon’s unattainable love interest) despite his painfully obvious physical dissimilarity to the character. Brando barely bothers to disguise his boredom as he drifts through Henry Koster’s dull adaptation of a contemporary best-seller.
GUYS AND DOLLS (1955)
The whole world asked why when Brando, a notorious non-singer, was cast as gambler Sky Masterson in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s flat adaptation of the hugely successful Broadway musical. Indeed, he sing-talks his way through his handful of songs, while Frank Sinatra — as Sky’s rival gambler, Nathan Detroit — looks on in burning resentment (Sinatra wanted to play Sky himself). But Brando’s Sky has a streak of old-fashioned, almost Cary Grant-ish charm — a note that would not reappear in his work until ”A Countess From Hong Kong.”
THE TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON (1956)
Brando’s most cringe-inducing performance finds him in full Asian drag as Sakini, an interpreter for the bumbling American captain (Glenn Ford) assigned to rebuild local morale in occupied Okinawa. Sporting a black wig and taped-back eyes, Brando looks oddly like Steven Seagal as he freely dispenses fortune-cookie wisdom to all comers.
The theme of intermarriage between Asians and Americans was a popular one in the 1950s, probably because it provided a comfortably distanced way of treating the racial tension then growing between blacks and whites. Brando won a fifth Oscar nomination for his well-intended but now nearly unwatchable contribution to the cycle, a stilted Joshua Logan drama in which he’s a Korean War major who falls for a Japanese dancer (Miiko Taka) and has to face the prejudices of two cultures.
THE YOUNG LIONS (1958)
A best-seller by Irwin Shaw provided the framework for Edward Dmytryk’s sprawling, episodic epic featuring Brando as one of three characters whose fates unfold in parallel stories. Relishing his first on-screen German accent, Brando plays a strapping blond Aryan who becomes disillusioned with Hitler, while Dean Martin, back in the States, tries to dodge the draft in favor of his singing career and Montgomery Clift (Brando’s Method ally) is a Jew fighting anti-Semitism in and out of the Army. Fairly schlocky except for Brando’s seamless characterization as the first of many fascist types he would play.
THE FUGITIVE KIND (1959)
Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ ”Orpheus Descending” allows Brando to return to his early form as a dangerous drifter (with trademark snakeskin jacket) who seduces a young alcoholic (Joanne Woodward) and an unhappily married woman (Anna Magnani). The combination of Brando and Magnani, the fiery Italian actress who made her name in ”Open City,” is what publicists used to describe as ”volcanic.” These days we call it camp.
[*]ONE EYED JACKS (1961)
Brando signed his only film as a director when he replaced Stanley Kubrick at the helm of a troubled Western in which he stars as an outlaw seeking revenge on an ex-partner (Karl Malden) who has become a corrupt sheriff. It’s long and slow-moving, though not without flashes of searing violence, most of them initiated by the toweringly cruel Malden character. Brando proves to be one of his own best directors, letting his scenes build with a gradual accumulation of detail rather than going for spectacular single moments.
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962)
Brando’s eccentricities finally caught up with him when his poor work habits and expanding waistline were blamed for the huge cost overruns on Lewis Milestone’s remake of the 1935 Charles Laughton-Clark Gable classic. Brando takes over the Gable role, as the courageous officer Fletcher Christian, but where Gable seemed to sweat testosterone, Brando is foppish and off-putting. A massive flop (it cost the then-staggering sum of $25 million), it effectively ended Brando’s career as an A-list leading man. But it did give the actor his first taste of Tahiti, and a few years after filming was over he bought the private atoll that remained his spiritual home until his death.
THE UGLY AMERICAN (1963)
Not much of a movie, but a bold attempt by Brando to put his money where his politics were: How many Hollywood movies even raised the subject of American imperialism in 1963? Brando is a naive American journalist who returns, as the U.S. ambassador, to the fictional Asian country where he fought in the anti-Japanese underground in World War II. His former best friend (Eiji Okada) is now a national hero, whom Brando suspects of being a Communist. Brando builds his thoughtful performance around different props for each stage of his character’s life — a pipe for the thumb-sucking journalist, a cigar for the swaggering ambassador, and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses for the sadder, wiser man he is at the end.
BEDTIME STORY (1964)
This rare foray into comedy remains one of Brando’s most painful films to watch, not only because of its repulsive premise (Brando is a Riviera con man who, working with David Niven, poses as mentally and physically handicapped to bilk heiress Shirley Jones) but because of the huge waste of talent involved. Remade — better — as ”Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
Another megaflop: The studio changed its Latinate title (meaning ”we who are doomed to die”) to ”The Saboteur, Code Name Morituri” in an attempt to communicate the plot of Bernhard Wicki’s World War II thriller about a German defector (Brando) blackmailed by the Allies into sabotaging a Nazi ship carrying a precious load of rubber. Apart from Brando’s serious, nuanced performance, the picture seems talky, pretentious, and badly staged; look for Brando’s erstwhile roommate Wally Cox as the ship’s morphine-addicted doctor.
MEET MARLON BRANDO (1966)
This 28-minute documentary, directed by the Maysles brothers in the first heat of the cinema verite movement, captures a playful Brando deflecting idiot questions at a press conference. Very funny, and a crucial insight into the actor’s offscreen personality.
[*]THE CHASE (1966)
Though Brando receives top billing in Arthur Penn’s portrait of class and race conflict in a small town in Texas, he is only one member of a sprawling ensemble cast that includes a young Robert Redford. The film’s most powerful sequence features Brando again taking a hideous beating and continuing to march forward to do what’s right — an echo of ”Waterfront”’s Terry Malloy, or evidence of a growing martyr complex?
THE APPALOOSA (1966)
Brando had his own distinctive take on the Western, seeing the genre as an occasion for apocalyptic pronouncements and sadomasochistic violence. Here he’s a humble frontier rancher who launches a quest for revenge when his favorite horse is stolen by a Mexican bandit (John Saxon) with a brazenly false mustache. Every few minutes, it seems, Brando is beaten to a pulp, in his own anticipation of ”The Passion of the Christ.”
[*]A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG (1967)
Charlie Chaplin’s last film — he wrote, directed, and plays a bit as a ship’s steward — casts Brando as a suave American diplomat who falls in love with a Russian stowaway (Sophia Loren). This beautiful, underrated film is a throwback to the sophisticated romantic comedies of the ’20s and early ’30s, with Brando in the role that once would have been played by Adolphe Menjou. His genuine gifts as a light comedian are on glorious display.
REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967)
John Huston’s hothouse melodrama — with Brando as a repressed homosexual Army officer married to Elizabeth Taylor but with a big crush on private Robert Forster — seemed daring in 1967; today it plays like leaden camp, though Brando, to his credit, brings his best game to a role that few other actors of the time would have touched.
Based on Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s pornographic parody of ”Candide,” Christian Marquand’s film is a grim relic of the late ’60s, featuring a collection of jet-set hipsters (Richard Burton, Ringo Starr, James Coburn, John Huston) serially abusing an all-American high school girl (Ewa Aulin, whose Swedish accent doesn’t enhance the film’s already faint credibility). Brando appears late, as a horny guru whose accent amusingly shifts from East Indian to East Flatbush as his excitement grows.
THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY (1968)
Brando is the brains behind a kidnapping plot in this strange, bleak thriller skillfully directed by Hubert Cornfield, a film that arguably marks the final appearance of the young, handsome, matinee-idol Brando (quite stylish here in his all-black ensembles).
Brando’s growing political consciousness is reflected in this anti-imperialist film, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (”The Battle of Algiers”). Unlike most politically minded actors, who cast themselves as heroes in the fight for right, Brando often used his talent to try to understand the enemy: Here, he’s a British agent fomenting revolution in a Portuguese colony, only to unleash resentments that rage beyond his control.
THE NIGHTCOMERS (1972)
Brando starts letting it all hang out, physically and emotionally, in this trashy ”prequel” to Henry James’ ”The Turn of the Screw.” In a role that could have been played by Oliver Reed, he’s Quint, the sexy beast of an Irish gardener, who seduces prim nanny Stephanie Beacham as her tiny charges look on. Directed with unfailing vulgarity by Michael Winner, the picture contains a bondage sequence that seems a rough draft for ”Last Tango.”
[*]THE GODFATHER (1972)
The big comeback, part 1. With his cheeks stuffed and his voice reduced to a sandpaper whisper, Brando created a timeless image of patriarchal authority in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the Mario Puzo novel. The Corleones are both modern businessmen and feudal aristocrats, dispensing justice and pillaging the countryside from their suburban redoubt. Facing, for the first time, a younger generation of leading men, many of whom (Pacino in particular) he had profoundly influenced, Brando turns from Method to myth, with an Oscar-winning performance so calculatedly eccentric and full of inspired surprises that his character stands apart from all the others, as if he belonged to a different plane of existence.
[*]LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1973)
The big comeback, part 2. Brando brilliantly draws on his own biography as Paul, a washed-up fighter and Parisian kept husband who dives into an anonymous, purely sexual affair with a young student (Maria Schneider). Though the film is less sexually explicit than Candy, Brando communicates a great sense of erotic abandon, which proves to be a mask for his character’s essential loneliness. Bernardo Bertolucci’s film may no longer look like the landmark in movie history Pauline Kael claimed it to be, but Brando’s is still a risky performance. ”Tango” won Brando a seventh Oscar nomination and sealed his reputation as the most daring performer of his generation.
THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976)
As if exhausted by the double turn of ”Tango” and ”Godfather,” Brando took several years off before returning with a bizarre Western in which he appears to be doing his best to undermine director Arthur Penn — even to the point of insisting that his character, a hired gun on the trail of rustler Jack Nicholson, appear wearing a dress. From this point on, Brando often seems to be performing against the film he’s in, subverting the action with increasingly peculiar asides.
Show up 10 minutes late and you’ll miss the role for which Brando was reportedly paid $3 million: He’s Jor-El, Superman’s father back on the planet Krypton, who coos over his baby boy and sends him off into space before vanishing from the film. Either a complete waste of talent, or a marvelous example of Brando sticking it to the man — in this case, producer Alexander Salkind.
APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
Another expensive cameo, though Brando makes the most of his few minutes on screen as the shadowy, crazed Colonel Kurtz. Swathed in darkness, the actor hardly needed anything but his voice and his eyes to make a lasting impression.
The ’80s and later
THE FORMULA (1980)
The critic Dan Sallitt points out one of Brando’s most offhandedly brilliant acts of subversion in this otherwise incomprehensible paranoid thriller by John G. Avildsen: As sinister industrialist Adam Steiffel, Brando suddenly leans over to investigator George C. Scott and offers him a Milk Dud, then helps himself to one of the chocolaty treats.
A DRY WHITE SEASON (1989)
The political thrust of Euzhan Palcy’s anti-apartheid drama must have appealed to Brando, who puts considerable effort (even going so far as to get up and walk around) into playing a lawyer who prosecutes a state policeman for the murder of a black man. His restraint in the climactic courtroom speech, a golden opportunity for hamminess, won him an eighth and final Oscar nomination.
[*]THE FRESHMAN (1990)
Andrew Bergman’s classically structured screwball comedy let Brando offer a gentle parody of his ”Godfather” role — he’s a crime boss who drafts a hapless film student (Matthew Broderick) into becoming his newest employee. Effectively, this is the final full Brando performance, and it ushers him out on a wonderfully sweet, lyrical note — an ice-skating scene in which we see that, in spite of his bulk, he had never lost his athlete’s grace.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS: THE DISCOVERY (1992)
As the inquisitor Torquemada, Brando spends a few minutes grilling Columbus (Georges Corraface) before sending him on his historic way. The distant sound you hear is Brando, still laughing his way to the cosmic bank.
DON JUAN DEMARCO (1995)
Notable mainly for the friendship it engendered between the aging star and one of the young actors he most influenced, Johnny Depp. As a kindly psychiatrist treating a suicidal romantic who believes he’s the legendary lover, Brando has little to do but react to Depp’s ambitious turn, and he graciously cedes the stage to his protege.
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1996)
Brando achieved the pinnacle of his late-career wackiness in this notorious bungle as the mad master of a private island, where he performs operations turning animals into people (no miracle, that: Director John Frankenheimer turned the film into a dog). Wearing pancake makeup and a flowing muumuu, playing piano duets with his tiny sidekick, Brando seems to be having the time of his life. Everyone else seems ready to kill him.
THE BRAVE (1997)
When Depp decided to direct a film of his own, he called on his friend Brando to contribute one of his patented creepy cameos — though this one, as an eccentric gazillionaire who offers Depp’s impoverished Native American $50,000 for his family if he’ll allow himself to be killed in a snuff film, is a standout even among Brando’s gallery of weirdos. Hooted at Cannes, the picture was so odd that it was never theatrically released in America.
FREE MONEY (1999)
A Canadian production that went directly to video. Charlie Sheen and Thomas Haden Church are a pair of dim-witted thieves planning to rob a train. Married to twin sisters, they share a father-in-law: Brando, a corrupt prison warden under investigation by FBI agent Mira Sorvino. Comic highlight: Brando’s character torturing the boys with a cattle prod.
THE SCORE (2001)
Even Brando, with his indifference to posterity, hardly could have wanted to go out on this note. In his final film, an underwritten caper directed by Frank Oz, he plays an effeminate fence who forces veteran thief Robert De Niro into attempting one last score (and we all know how those turn out). What should be a mythical meeting between Don Corleones I and II turns out to be just another genre picture, though one punctured by Brando’s scene-stealing wit.