In today’s Toast series, we celebrate the birthday of Oscar winner Audrey Hepburn, whose lovable, fashionable performances in the 1950s and 1960s redefined the term “movie star,” and made her a treasured icon still adored today. From Roman Holiday to Wait Until Dark, here are 10 of the best Audrey Hepburn movies.
It is said that no two snowflakes are the same. Precious and serene, each snowflake falls from the cold gray sky quietly and full of magic – reminding us that there is always beauty, pure and white as a diamond, and just as gorgeously unique. When exquisite movie star Audrey Hepburn passed away that cold gray winter day in Switzerland on January 20, 1993, Hollywood and the world lost a singular snowflake diamond.
Audrey Hepburn was the epitome of beauty and sophistication. Ever since her breakthrough role in Roman Holiday in 1954, she became a beloved household name. Her uniquely gamine looks set Hollywood on fire. Every woman wanted to be like her. Every man wanted to be with her. Fashion photographer Cecil Beaton once declared Hepburn the “public embodiment of our new feminine ideal” in Vogue magazine. Her fashion style set the trend for every American woman in the 1950s, and it’s still revered today.
And as for her acting talent? In her illustrious four-decade career, Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar, 3 BAFTAs, a Primetime Emmy, 2 Golden Globes, 1 Screen Actors Guild Award, a Tony, and even a Grammy. On what would have been her 93rd birth anniversary, here’s a look at 10 best Audrey Hepburn films:
1. Roman Holiday (1953)
A crown princess while visiting Rome gets tired of all her numerous boring responsibilities and tight schedules, so she decides to go AWOL and spend a day in the exciting, bustling Italian capital. Gregory Peck, playing an “always-hungry-for-the-scoop” reporter, finds her sleeping on a bench. He fails to recognize her at first, but later finds out who she really is. Can we say “tiara royalty,” everyone? What follows is a heartwarming and funny film where these two pals and potential lovebirds spend time frolicking around this beautiful metropolis together – on two feet, two scooter-wheels, and whatever other fun mode of transport they can find.
Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar for her portrayal, and bonus, this was her big Hollywood starring debut! It elevated her to the top of that coveted Hollywood food chain (cue the hors d’oeuvres and champagne), where she stayed for a good part of 15 years.
2. Sabrina (1954)
Here’s one of those rare ‘romance movie’ gifts. Fresh off her Oscar-winning Roman Holiday success, Audrey stars in another charming romance. But why is the film Sabrina a gift? Quite simply, it has not one, but two leading men. And these leading men are none other than Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, two of the most respected and admired actors of their day. Tender and witty, Sabrina tells the tale of the title character Sabrina (played by Audrey), who transforms from a young, sheltered “daughter-of-a-chauffeur” Long Island girl to a stylish, classy, stunning young woman after studying abroad in Paris, France.
Can she now win the love of her longtime crush David Larrabee (William Holden)? Or will David’s brother Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart) win her love instead? Sabrina is feel-good fun, and Audrey’s innate beauty, style, and poise shine particularly bright here.
3. Funny Face (1957)
Cue the “legend” alert! The opening sequence for Funny Face is positively iconic, and serves as an inspiration for fashion shoots to this very day. Directed by the superb Stanley Donen of Singin’ in the Rain (1952) fame, Funny Face is your classic Hollywood musical, chock full of catchy tunes and fabulous attire. When Audrey Hepburn turns the style on, the whole world seems to stop and watch. Audrey’s adolescent, off-screen talents in ballet and modeling are gorgeously brought out in this movie. You mean, there was a real-life Audrey Hepburn before the beloved superstar? There was indeed. The character of Jo Stockton was made for Audrey, and she duly did the role justice.
Bonus, her leading man was none other than Hollywood musical and dance icon Fred Astaire. The result? This movie is a slice of heaven. Watch and be transported. It’s delightful.
4. The Nun’s Story (1959)
The Nun didn’t require glamor. It didn’t require designer dresses nor a charming tomboyish character. Audrey Hepburn considers this her finest performance, and who’s going to argue with her? Audrey’s character, who struggles with the strict lifestyle of nunhood, and who goes from the cold temps of Belgium, Europe, to the foreign tropical heat of the Belgian Congo in Africa, is rich with substance. It’s a meaty character for any actress, and Audrey’s electrifyingly understated, literally “quiet” performance earned her an Oscar nomination.
She’s sheer gold, as she takes us on a mystifying journey of both the body and the spirit – allowing us to ponder deep questions on celestial faith and practical humanity. Its setting, roughly around World War II, also adds a layer of complexity. This film was proof of Audrey Hepburn’s dynamic acting versatility. Variety magazine too declared this as her finest performance.
5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Here it is – the definitive Audrey Hepburn role. Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly Golightly as the naïve, eccentric café society girl is her most memorable and identifiable role. A film based on Truman Capote’s novel of the same name, the eccentric, charming Holly had to be played by someone of that ilk. Who better than the style queen of the 1950s? Yes, that revered definition of sophistication? Despite Audrey describing herself as being “generally introverted,” she steps into this role without skipping a beat.
A film that deserves to be called a “classic,” this movie offers plenty of memorable moments. There’s the cat called “Cat,” then Audrey sitting on the windowsill singing Moon River, and then that now-iconic black dress she wears while window shopping at the jewelry store. Before TV’s Rachel from FRIENDS and her iconic hairstyle, it was Holly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and her little black dress. Sophistication!
6. The Children’s Hour (1961)
An early, pioneering example of the now-modern, mainstream film genre of queer cinema, The Children’s Hour is a masterfully thoughtful, intriguing film. It’s also a heartbreaking character study. What happens when two boarding school teachers are accused of having an “unnatural” relationship (aka a lesbian love affair)? Starring Audrey Hepburn as Karen Wright, the supposed love interest of Shirley MacLaine’s character Martha Dobie, this film is a kind of “film noir of the heart.”
It’s beautifully shot in black and white, and Audrey and Shirley keep us interested and caring throughout this murky, tense drama. What’s more, cinematic legend has it that Audrey and Shirley never discussed their roles while filming. The topic of homosexuality was still that taboo in the early 1960s. Regardless of the lack of character discussion with her co-star, Audrey is stellar in The Children’s Hour. It’s a definite must-see in her illustrious filmography.
7. Charade (1963)
Flashback to director Stanley Donen who appears thrice on our list, and you’ll reacquaint yourself with a downright superb movie-maker who truly allowed movie stars Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant to shine in the excellent mystery thriller called Charade. This movie is so good, in fact, that many moviegoers are known to mistake Charade as an Alfred Hitchcock film. The undisputed “Master of Suspense.”
Audrey plays a glamorous Parisian widow who unfortunately becomes involved in a money scandal involving her deceased husband. Cary Grant’s “man of a thousand names’ ‘(watch the film to understand the joke) also enters the drama to bring further exciting, white-knuckled suspense, and soft romance. But will Audrey’s character survive? The famous “City of Lights” is a perfect backdrop for Audrey to display her “high octane” acting skills. She’s required to be romantic, dramatic, and even physically dramatic as she’s literally “on the run.”
What more could one want from a movie experience than two elegant superstars like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant sleuthing around and falling in love in a Parisian adventure? Divine. Sit back and be entertained.
8. My Fair Lady (1964)
As if giving one iconic performance wasn’t enough, Hepburn brought her A-game, charm, and musical prowess as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Snobbish Professor Henry Higgins, played excellently by Rex Harrison, tries to transform Ms. Doolittle, a young woman with a Cockney accent, into a lady of class and distinction in early 1900s London. Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s was Audrey Hepburn’s most popular role, but Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady was possibly her most loved.
Audrey’s Eliza is loveable despite her irreverence and outright belligerence – and that’s where her secret x-factor lies. After all, who doesn’t love a street urchin with a heart of gold and who “cleans up” well? What’s more, although Audrey’s singing is dubbed in, we still love her musical whimsy in My Fair Lady. She delivers a triumphant, well-rounded performance that sings – even if she herself doesn’t exactly.
9. Two for the Road (1967)
Often referred to as one of Audrey’s best, most critically acclaimed, though often overlooked performances, Audrey’s portrayal of an unhappily married woman Joanna Wallace is exquisitely touching and thoroughly believable. Cinema in the late 1960s was changing to embrace more contemporary, realistic plots and characters, and Two for the Road is a beautiful example of this powerful shift.
Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney are a 1960s married couple literally “on the road” through Europe – reflecting on their struggling marriage and possible divorce. These two are “glossed down” where we’re able to see their imperfections, ponder their problems, and make our own judgments. Cleverly shot, both in visuals and narrative structure, by director Stanley Donen who makes a third appearance on this list, Two for the Road is an obscure gem if ever there was one. Audrey embodies “bittersweet,” and we are taken delicately, tenderly into this couple’s private, complex world.
10. Wait Until Dark (1967)
For any diehard Audrey fans, beware. This is not your typical Audrey Hepburn film. Gone are the delightful tiaras, fancy gowns, and sublime, high-stylings present in wondrous period pieces like My Fair Lady. Wait Until Dark is unflinchingly modern, and as scary as its name implies. Audrey’s character is a blind woman living in a cool 1960s New York City apartment who becomes an unfortunate, unwitting pawn in a nefarious drug deal. Like any good mystery thriller, the breadcrumbs are laid out impeccably for the audience here, where we feel our fright slowly building, building, before it reaches its climactic terror. Wait Until Dark is a must-see.
Audrey is phenomenal, and so is the supporting cast of “bad guys.” There’s a wonderful chemistry between all the actors, and Audrey’s portrayal of a blind woman is spot-on. It was Audrey’s final film before going into semi-retirement, and this tough, gritty role required much of her, which she delivered on with finesse and grace – even as she was smashing lightbulbs and crouching in the corner in terror.
Audrey Hepburn is ranked by the AFI (American Film Institute) as the #3 Greatest Screen Legend in American Cinema. Her awards were plentiful, and her magical movies have impressively stood the test of time.
But ask any Audrey Hepburn fan what they adore most about the star? It almost always comes down to “beauty.” This Belgian-born actress, who became a respected UNICEF humanitarian in her later years, had a beauty that truly seemed to glow off the screen and shine in real-life. Thank you, Audrey Hepburn, for sharing your brightness with Hollywood and the world.
Additional writing by Aditya Sarma
I was once an exec for The Economist magazine. Nowadays, I'm a published poet, travel writer, and "vintage" pop culture blogger from the New York City area. I love movies, and especially those dusty old classics. I "heart" the rich history of film.