8. Funny Girl (1968)
Barbra Streisand’s film debut as the “beautifully ugly” Fanny Brice turned her into a star. She defied all classical forms of beauty by displaying a true funny girl. In the film she plays a famous, early twentieth century Jewish comedian, singer of vaudeville theater and radio. Her performance in body, gesture, voice and character was utterly magnificent. Although Fanny Brice’s early days were in the slums of the Lower East Side, her triumphant blast to stardom at the Ziegfeld Follies made her a diva.
This romantic musical was directed by William Wyler. It was based on the life of Broadway, film star and comedienne Fanny Brice and her relationship with entrepreneur and gambler Nicky Arnstein. This role gave Streisand a shared academy award alongside Katherine Hepburn for the Lion in the Winter. It was also ranked #16 on AFI’s greatest musicals and #41 on AFI’s 100 years, 100 passions.
7. Some Like it Hot (1959)
An American comedy, named #1 by AFI’s comedy list, it was directed by Billy Wilder and starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. This Chicago gangster film spoof begins with two musicians witnessing a murder, the reason for which they decide to flee disguised as women with an all-female band heading towards Florida.
It’s one the most famous film starring the iconic actress Marilyn Monroe. Famous for her immortality of Sugar Kane as well as her backstage problems with the cast & crew and saying her own lines. This particularly makes this performance special, the fact that even she reportedly did 47 takes for a simple line, she still managed to outshine everyone in the film. Why is that so? Because Marilyn, somehow, has one of the best on-screen auras. She innocently demonstrates a lot of female appeal during her scenes, presenting a chemistry with the camera unlike any other. Her famous smile, signature blond locks and tight dresses radiates the diva within.
6. And God Created Woman (1956)
Brigitte Bardot stars as Juliette, a promiscuous girl who stirs the small, sunny town of Saint-Tropez. Adopted by an older couple, she is threatened to be sent back to the orphanage because the entire town has been gossiping about her escapades.
This Roger Vadim feature demonstrates a new perspective of amoral female sexuality, and no other woman would be better for this role than Brigitte, who had already landed 12 Elle cover magazines by the time. Her character represents a very controversial diva, as she seems to have no parental control whatsoever. She expresses whatever she wants clearly, distancing herself from the conservative town that surrounds her. She also ignores typical codes of conducts as even during her wedding breakfast, she has the audacity of grabbing breakfast only wearing a bathrobe in front of her husband’s family and then heading back upstairs to her husband’s bedroom. As quoted by Carradine: “she has the courage to do what she wants, when she wants.”
5. Pandora’s Box (1929)
Directed by G. W. Pabst, Louise Brooks starred in this very controversial film. However, even if the film was a scandal at the time, the role made Brooks a Hollywood legend, as her electrifying performance shook viewers all over.
The film was a German silent melodrama about a seductive, naive young woman whose sexual liberty and nature bring her to ruins as well as those who love her. She rose from an unknown to a star in the film, but also was a victim of her amoral views of life, whose lust for men depraved her. Although she is compared to Pandora, a woman who breaks havoc towards men, she is still a relatable character as she falls prey to societies hierarchy, leading her to her own doom.
4. Gilda (1946)
A Film Noir made famous by Rita Hayworth who plays Gilda, the femme fatale of the movie. The story takes place in Buenos Aires, Argentina where Johnny Farrell, an American gambler, meets Ballin Mundson, a casino owner who decides to hire him. The two men form a bond which is suddenly broken, when Mundson’s wife Gilda is introduced in the picture. It turns out that Farrell and Gilda had a history together, and thus the plot has a sinister turn from there.
Gilda displays many traditional qualities of a femme fatale such as beauty, scandalous and unclear motives which seem to be malicious. However, by placing Johnny’s masculinity into question, she proves to be a stronger character than him and much more than an obstacle he needs to overcome. Even if Johnny manages to tame Gilda by marrying her, she breaks free from him by humiliating him with a sensual public dance display, which exemplifies her power upon him.
Gilda is displayed as a victim of society’s patriarchy in which by the end, even if her motives seemed dubious, the audience can feel sympathy for her. Even if the film seems to make Johnny the protagonist, her ability to expose his insecurities and flaws, questions who is really the leading person of the film. After the film her character became recognized as a “Rita Hayworth role”. Her complexion began the signature Rita casino look with masses of red hair and peaches and cream complexion.
Gilda, an American woman, was a “roaring sexy woman” as said by Michael Wood. What brings her part different from her other movies is that it is voracious yet decent and domestic. Also, what gives her the title of diva is her way of expressing feelings of frustration, anger, jealousy, fear and even joy. What emphasizes these feelings are her musical numbers such as the famous “Put the blame on mame” number.
3. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
A George Cukor film starring the trio of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart in this film about a Philadelphia socialite whose wedding plans are complicated by the sudden appearances of her ex and a handsome journalist. Considered one of the best comedies of remarriage, it gave James Stewart an Oscar and saved Katherine Hepburn’s dying career. It even received a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Before this movie Katharine Hepburn had several flops, which led her to be on the “box office poison” list. Thus, she chose to turn into a movie a play that had been dedicated to her, and bought the rights. A very clever move, she decided to act a role essentially made for her and do what the studios considered unthinkable: to create a box office hit.
As it turns out, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards and won two: Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. It proved to be an intelligent, sophisticated, classic romantic comedy of love, marriage, human growth and class distinctions. Katherine Hepburn proves to be very witty and attractive in this film, as she manages to have three men at the palm of her hands. An arrogant heiress, she is a diva as she enforces her will upon the household, doing whatever she wants whenever she wants. Nevertheless, her character is humbled throughout the film, as she learns to calm her snobbish attitude. In fact, James Stewart’s character cleverly expresses it in his sarcastic quote “The prettiest sight in this fine, pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges”.
2. All About Eve (1950)
Margo Channing played by Bette Davis is a celebrated Broadway star who is disrupted by her understudy Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). All About Eve was written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and is claimed to be his finest film. It was critically praised and a commercial success. Since then, it has become a classic of American Cinema. Nominated for fourteen Academy Awards, it won six including Best Picture, and it had four female acting nominations, which to this day holds the record of most female nominations.
All About Eve explores the society of theatre, hypocrisy, male-female relationships, and how ambition is a means of corruption. It also, like our number one film, demonstrates the inner conflicts actresses face as they age. Bette Davis portrayed this struggle brilliantly, perhaps because she was already an aging actress. She perfectly displays her inner diva, as her temperaments wreak havoc amongst her friends and coworkers, yet somehow these tantrums are full of cleverness. Particularly during the scene in which she storms on stage as she catches her understudy taking over a reading Margo Channing had already planned to do. Instead of pure screams and crazed agitations, her snappy dialogue displays on her face a “superior intellect look”, as if she knows what she is doing and understands her status at the moment.
Bette Davis truly defied the power of beauty and brought forth wit and personality, to which not even Anne Baxter as Eve could compete. Even if she frequently ended at fights, her determination of being on top yet signs of weakness such as her sadness during her 40th birthday make her performance significant, a true diva that displays character with style.
1. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Without a doubt it was essential for Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard to be on the list, at least among the top films. It was Hollywood’s funeral for silent films. Joe Gillis (William Holden), the not-so-lucky screenwriter, recognizes movie history in the face of the glamorous Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and replies “You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big”. However, Desmond does not hesitate to say “ I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” The true diva remark, which even during her lowest moments, still gives credit for her diva status. She is a survivor of an era where she used to be a film queen amongst the film aristocrats, until the revolution of sound dethroned her. Now, all that remains are the memories of the past that invoke her present persona.
It is difficult to descend from goddess to nobody, thus Norma Desmond rightfully fell into a trance, in which her past lives on while she stays in her enormous palace. She beautifies herself as if any day her big break would come back, and feeds of her own movies. Therefore, when Joe Gillis intrudes into her bubble, she has the chance to expand her desire, to relive those golden days. By staying with a younger man, her ageless beauty and talent would be ensured, guaranteeing her immortality as a star by helping her write the screenplay she wants produced. Her character represents such diva attitude, that not even the ending could remove her mental status, as she still prepares herself for her long awaited close up.
The film currently has a 98% on rotten tomatoes and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning only three. It is widely considered as an American classic, and is named “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress.
Author Bio: Maria Cristina is an aspiring filmmaker studying her bachelor of fine arts at UNC School of the Arts. She grew up in Puerto Rico with a passion for classic directors such as Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. Ever since, she’s been developing a screenplay called “Days in the Streets” hoping to start preproduction soon and wrote a novel currently in the editing process called “A Leaf in the Wind”.