Top 10 Movies of the 1950s

Script written by Niki Neptune. The 1950s saw Hollywood compete with television by way of vast epics, outrageous sci-fi and stark realism. For our series of the Best Movies of All Time, we’ve chosen ten movies per decade based on their iconic status, critical acclaim, box-office success, and watchability. And just so you know, we’re not necessarily choosing the movies your film studies professor would pick. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today, in this installment of our series on the greatest movies of all time, we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 movies of the 1950s. Special thanks to our users Andrew A. Dennison, jwiking62 and Jerome Magajes for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Niki Neptune.

This decade saw Hollywood compete with television by way of vast epics, outrageous sci-fi and stark realism. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today, in this installment of our series on the greatest movies of all time, we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 movies of the 1950s.

For our series of the Best Movies of All Time, we’ve chosen ten movies per decade based on their iconic status, critical acclaim, box-office success, and watchability. And just so you know, we’re not necessarily choosing the movies your film studies professor would pick.

So sit back and relax as we hop on our motorcycle, whistle a tune and sing in the rain.

#10: “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

The movie, based on the play by Tennessee Williams, follows the relationship between a shamed southern belle, her sister and her sister’s abusive husband. Although the film was edited for themes not yet acceptable on the widescreen, it was still highly critically acclaimed, winning four Oscars. It also gave Marlon Brando a vehicle to flex his acting chops, landing him an Oscar nod for his role as the brutish Stanley Kowalski.

#9: “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955)

No one knows hardship like suburban teens. In this case, these suburban teens have seen some wild days. James Dean plays a rebellious youth whose family just doesn’t understand him. The movie is ostensibly about the dangers of wayward youth and the growing generation gap, but it really just managed to propel Dean into stardom, turning him into a heartthrob overnight – even though the star died a month before its release.

#8: “Seven Samurai” (1954)

The story, told by employing a unique storytelling technique at the time whereby the characters are enlisted gradually into the team, sees a small village hire seven samurai to help ward off impending marauders. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, “Seven Samurai” marked the first major Japanese crossover hit for American audiences. Painstakingly crafted in its story and cinematography, “Seven Samurai”’s influence has never faltered, with many Spaghetti westerns and subsequent films mimicking Kurosawa’s plots, themes, and directorial style.

#7: “Ben-Hur” (1959)

This film is epic in scale and ambitious in scope – it was also a smash hit. We watch as the titular star goes from friend to slave to expert chariot racer, meets Jesus, and learns the message of peace and forgiveness. Much like “Battleship Potemkin” did previously with its Odessa steps sequence, “Ben-Hur” changed cinema with its famed chariot race. Thanks to a captivating and unwaveringly human story, the film swept the Oscars, winning 11 out of 12 categories.

#6: “North by Northwest” (1959)

Being mistaken for a spy can be life-threatening. Just ask Cary Grant’s character in this Alfred Hitchcock classic. As he struggles to evade certain death, he must also save the life of his secret agent love interest. It has all the makings of an entertaining thriller, and not only were both audiences and critics were delighted by its charms; the stylish film also captured the paranoid vibe of the time perfectly.

#5: “12 Angry Men” (1957)

Shadowing a 12-man jury as they deliberate over the life or death of an accused teen, this Sidney Lumet movie was unique for its time. Utilizing one set for all but a few minutes of its runtime, the movie was heavily driven by character and plot. While audiences had to eventually warm up to the story, “12 Angry Men” found a captive audience with film critics who praised its themes and the deliberation process.

#4: “Rear Window” (1954)

A wheelchair-bound photographer thinks he may have witnessed a neighbor’s murder, and it’s up to him to prove it. Another Hitchcock thriller, the film sees its protagonist, portrayed by Hitchcock regular Jimmy Stewart; enlist the help of his girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly, in an attempt to solve the case. Not only did this suspenseful film snag Hitchcock four Oscar nominations; it also solidified his legacy as a cinematic heavy-hitter.

#3: “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952)

Gene Kelly plays a famous silent movie star with an insufferable leading lady, who falls in love with an ambitious, struggling actress. As they adapt to the modern era of talking movies, their true talent – or lack thereof – is thrust to the forefront. The film is a delightful musical affair that wasn’t an instant hit at the box-office; but it grew in influence over the years, eventually earning universal acclaim.

#2: “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)

British soldiers stuck in a Japanese prison during World War II are tasked with constructing a bridge to aid the Japanese war effort. Initially sabotaging the process, the POWs are eventually prompted by a British Lieutenant, played by Alec Guinness, to build a perfect construction. Caught in the middle, with loyalties and friendships tested and external forces plotting to destroy the bridge, the soldiers’ struggle was both a critical and commercial success, which nabbed seven Oscars.

Honorable Mentions

- “High Noon” (1952)
- “An American in Paris” (1951)
- “Vertigo” (1958)
- “The Searchers” (1956)
- “All About Eve” (1950)
- “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

#1: “On the Waterfront” (1954)

Murderous union bosses and corruption are the name of the game in this 1950s standard. Made as a response to critics of director Elia Kazan’s decision to identify Communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee, the film follows an ex-boxer-turned-dockworker as he fights to do what’s right in a world fraught with deception. Marlon Brando’s performance earned him the Oscar for Best Actor, and the gritty, multi-Oscar winner itself became one of the most influential movies ever made.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite movie of the ‘50s? For more thrilling top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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