The premise of this list seems accessible enough, and even dedicated film fans may be tempted to confidently rattle off some names that are sure to fit its description. But the number of actors who have made five great films in a row is surprisingly short.
Check your expectations at the door, because your favorite thespian may not have made the cut. In fact, upon closer inspection, some of the biggest names in film history failed to string together a handful of great movies in succession. For every three or four in a row, a flop usually rears its ugly head to break the streak.
Did these ten actors succeed as the result of talent, luck, or both? A skilled performer can lift a film to greatness on the merits of his or her ability, but even an average actor can stumble into a perfect storm of uninterrupted triumphs.
Nevertheless, the versatility required to play five different roles in a row without ruining any of them deserves our respect, whatever else may factor into the equation. This diverse and unpredictable list celebrates ten actors whose careers enjoyed the longest sustained applause for making five great films in a row.
1. John Cazale
John Cazale holds a unique and deservedly first place position on this exclusive list. During his tragically short acting career, Cazale appeared in only five films, and each one of them is a certified classic.
All five of the movies which were release during his lifetime were nominated for Best Picture, and three of them won the honor. Even a sixth film, released after his death, which featured archival footage of him was highly esteemed. The shrewd physical eyes of this actor were clearly matched by his shrewd eye for selecting worthy film projects, and his skill shines brightly in each one.
The fact that all five of these films are great is no accident, for Cazale contributed much to making them so. Projecting insecurity and confidence with the same reckless passion, Cazale made each of his roles unforgettable. While unavoidably mourning what might have been for this legendary actor, let us still fondly remember these five great films which he graced with his presence:
1) The Godfather – 1972
2) The Conversation – 1974
3) The Godfather Part II – 1974
4) Dog Day Afternoon – 1975
5) The Deer Hunter – 1978
2. Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando burst onto the cinematic scene with a succession of great movies whose legacies would have cemented his legendary status on their own. While his future career careened in and out of popular favor, the 1950s found Brando in indisputably top form. His passionate style of method acting, aided by his trademark and groundbreaking delivery, won him instant cultural fame as a sort of antihero.
Though he spent much of the rest of his career trying to shed some of that image, it nevertheless defined his persona for future generations of actors and fans. Brando made plenty of other great movies after these, but never quite so many classics in a row.
One senses that this was more than a little due to his own wishes, given his various disagreements with the Hollywood establishment over the years. But the career of one of the greatest actors of all time got off to a roaring start with these memorable movies:
1) A Streetcar Named Desire – 1951
2) Viva Zapata! – 1952
3) Julius Caesar – 1953
4) The Wild One – 1953
5) On The Waterfront – 1954
3. Ingrid Bergman
It’s difficult to think of anyone who more perfectly captures the spirit of the golden age of Hollywood than Ingrid Bergman. Possessed of an ethereal charm which could project both vulnerability and strength with ease, the graceful Swedish actress won the hearts of movie audiences all over the world.
Forever immortalized for the masses in the fan favorite Casablanca, Bergman’s career is studded with plenty of other great films which showcase her versatility and charisma. Casablanca is at the heart of a string of great films which launched her into stardom, and opened a window of time in which she seemingly could do no wrong.
Though she later fell out of favor with some American audiences due to personal troubles, Bergman never stopped throwing her whole heart into each acting project she undertook. Here are five great early examples:
1) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – 1941
2) Casablanca – 1942
3) For Whom the Bell Tolls – 1943
4) Gaslight – 1944
5) Spellbound – 1945
4. Al Pacino
A true legend whose body of work spans generations, Al Pacino began his career with a string of hits which guaranteed his status of one of acting’s elite. As storied as his future career would be, there’s something special about seeing a young Pacino act his heart out in these early timeless classics.
In this handful of great films, we witness Pacino exploring his full range of talents – from his unsteady vulnerability in Dog Day Afternoon to the firm resolve he finds in The Godfather films, an array of emotions is on display. Not only are these five movies some of the finest of Pacino’s career, they remain among the finest in film history. He helped to make them great, and they helped to establish his great career in return:
1) The Godfather – 1972
2) Scarecrow – 1973
3) Serpico – 1973
4) The Godfather Part II – 1974
5) Dog Day Afternoon – 1975
5. Anatoly Solonitsyn
A wonderful actor whose career was cut tragically short, Anatoly Solonitsyn left behind a body of work which has granted him cinematic immortality. He is most famous for his collaborations with director Andrei Tarkovsky, and three of these five films are partnerships between the two.
Solonitsyn’s thoughtful face and noble brow wore the imprint of Tarkovsky’s lofty concepts in a way that channeled those ideas perfectly; the great Russian director’s films needed actors who could effectively deliver profound lines of dialogue, and also navigate long stretches of silence and stillness.
But Solonitsyn’s work was not limited to these collaborations; At Home Among Strangers and The Ascent are classics in their own right, and both gave him additional room to showcase and expand his talents and range as an actor. As a testament to his life and his skill, these five great films capture his memory perfectly:
1) Solaris – 1972
2) At Home Among Strangers – 1974
3) Mirror – 1975
4) The Ascent – 1977
5) Stalker – 1979