Joanne Woodward and her husband Paul Newman were one of Hollywood’s golden couples. Both together and separately the actors contributed to some of the most iconic films ever made. Although she has retreated from public life in recent years due to health concerns, her relevance remains strong. Allison Janney made a special point of thanking her when she won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “I, Tonya.”
Woodward started her career on the New York stage and studied at two of New York’s leading acting schools of the day — the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio. Success then came to her quite quickly when she won an Oscar for “The Three Faces of Eve,” which was only her third film. She would go on to earn three more Oscar nominations as Best Actress in the subsequent years of her 40-year film career.
Her film career slowed down a bit when she reached a certain age, but Woodward bounced back quite amazingly turning to television where she starred in a series of highly acclaimed television movies and miniseries. She won two Emmys in 1978 as a newly divorced woman who finds strength by running the Boston Marathon in “See How She Runs” and then again in 1985 as an Alzheimer’s patient in “Do Your Remember Love?” She received a number of other Emmy nominations in various categories over the years, including one for her performance in the highly acclaimed and ratings juggernaut “Sybil,” although she lost that award to her co-star Sally Field.
Tour our photo gallery featuring her top 20 film performances, ranked from worst to best. Our gallery includes her Oscar-winning role, plus “Rachel, Rachel,” “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” “Philadelphia” and more.
20. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993)
Director: Martin Scorsese. Writers: Jay Cock, Martin Scorsese. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder.
Woodward didn’t not appear in this film in person. She just provided the narration for the story but her sensitive and delicately delivered voiceover work is a big part of the success of this film. Martin Scorsese moved far away from his usual type of films when he adapted this 1800’s set Edith Wharton novel about a man who marries a woman but secretly is in love with her cousin.
19. HARRY AND SON (1984)
Director: Paul Newman. Writer: Ronald Buck, Paul Newman. Starring Paul Newman, Robby Benson, Ellen Barkin.
Woodward worked frequently throughout her career with her husband Paul Newman. They worked in various combinations sometimes co-starring in films and sometimes with him behind the camera as director. In this film Newman wrote, directed and starred while Woodward took a supporting role. The film tells the story of a widowed construction worker who has trouble dealing with his sensitive son who wants to be a writer. Woodward plays a friend of Newman’s late wife who has always secretly been in love with Newman.
18. THE DROWNING POOL (1985)
Director: Stuart Rosenberg. Writers: Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Walter Hill. Starring Paul Newman, Anthony Franciosa, Gail Strickland.
“The Drowning Pool” was a sequel to Newman’s very successful 1966 film “Harper.” Newman plays a private detective whose ex-girlfriend (played by Woodward) asks him to help out when she begins being blackmailed by someone who knows she has been unfaithful to her husband. The film is best remembered for its climatic scene from which the title is derived where Newman and another woman are trapped in a room slowly filling with water.
17. NO DOWN PAYMENT (1957)
Director: Martin Ritt. Writer: Philip Yordan. Starring Sheree North, Tony Randall, Barbara Rush.
Woodward received a BAFTA nomination and a National Board of Review Award for her role as a flirtatious suburbanite with a cruel husband. The story tells of the interlocking lives a group of people all living in the same housing community. The film would mark Woodward’s first time working for director Martin Ritt. The two would become frequent collaborators in the future.
16. PARIS BLUES (1961)
Director: Martin Ritt. Writers: Jack Sher, Irene Kamp, Walter Bernstein. Starring Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Diahann Carroll.
Woodward teamed again with both director Martin Ritt and husband Paul Newman for this romantic film set in Paris. The film features Newman and Sidney Poitier as Jazz musicians who have left the US to live in France. Woodward and Diahann Carroll play tourists who meet and fall in love with Newman and Poitier. The film touches on the subject of race relations as Carroll’s character wants Poitier’s to return to the US and fight in the civil rights movement but Poitier feels more comfortable in the jazz world of Paris.
15.RALLY ‘ROUND THE FLAG BOYS! (1958)
Director: Leo McCarey. Writers: Claude Binyon, Leo McCarey. Starring Paul Newman, Joan Collins, Jack Carson.
Woodward and Newman’s second film together is this comic satire set in small town America. Woodward plays a woman highly involved in local politics who drags Newman as her reluctant husband to all community events. The town goes slightly crazy when they learn that a new missile base is set to be built by the military in their small obscure town.
14. THE END (1978)
Director: Burt Reynolds. Writer: Jerry Belson. Starring Dom DeLuise, Sally Field, Kristy McNichol.
This macabre comedy that Burt Reynolds wrote and starred in received decidedly mixed reviews with some enjoying the antic comedy of it while others felt the story was insensitive and offensive. Reynolds plays a sleazy real estate professional who is mistakenly diagnosed with a fatal disease. He decides to kill himself instead of facing the decline the disease will bring. Dom Deluise plays a mental patient Reynolds asks to kill him which results in a series of failed comic murder attempts. Throughout the course of the film Reynolds meets with people from his past to make amends. Woodward plays his ex-wife to whom he was not the best husband.
13. WINNING (1969)
Director: James Goldstone. Writer: Harry Rodman. Starring Paul Newman, Robert Wagner, Richard Thomas.
Newman and Woodward played husband and wife in this film set in the world of race car driving. The film is probably most notable for sparking an interest in the sport for Newman. He would continue to participate in the sport for many years after this film. The plot is a pretty basic one in which Newman aspires to win the biggest race of them all, the Indianapolis 500. Woodward plays his wife who struggles to deal with her husband’s ambition and her growing attraction to Newman’s chief rival played by Robert Wagner.
12. THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971)
Director: Anthony Harvey. Writer: James Goldman. Starring George C. Scott, Jack Gilford, Rue McClanahan.
While the title of this film is probably best known for the rock band that adopted it in recent years, the phrase is actually taken from “Don Quixote.” This film stars George C. Scott as a widower who has trouble coping with his wife’s death. He retreats into a fantasy life in which he believes he is Sherlock Holmes. While committed to a mental institution he meets Woodward who plays a psychiatrist named Dr. Watson. Scott begins to think Woodward is the fictional Dr. Watson who is Sherlock Holmes’ partner in crime solving. Scott and Woodward grow close as she tries to help him come back to reality.
11. A NEW KIND OF LOVE (1963)
Director and writer: Melville Shavelson. Starring Paul Newman, Eva Gabor, Thelma Ritter.
Working again with Newman Woodward earned a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Woodward plays a bitter fashion designer who is rejected by Newman’s womanizing reporter. He then mistakenly starts to believe Woodward is actually a high-priced call girl and thinks her life would make a great story for his writing. Woodward goes along with the mistaken identity to embarrass Newman but eventually falls in love with him.
10. THE GLASS MENAGERIE (1987)
Director: Paul Newman. Writer: Tennessee Williams. Starring John Malkovich, Karen Allen, James Naughton.
Paul Newman had a long history with the work of Tennessee Williams having starred in the film version of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and in both the Broadway and film versions of “Sweet Bird of Youth.” Newman directed and cast Woodward in the lead role in William’s classic memory play about his youth growing up with a desperate mother and mentally handicapped sister. Woodward brought her own take to the role of the mother which had previously been done on the big screen by Gertrude Lawrence and on television by Katharine Hepburn. Newman won the Palme d’Or as Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival and Woodward and Karen Allen were both nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for the film.
9. THE LONG HOT SUMMER (1958)
Director: Martin Ritt. Writers: Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr. Starring Paul Newman, Anthony Franciosa, Orson Welles.
Woodward and Newman first worked together when she was an understudy and he was the star of the Broadway play “Picnic.” They would be cast opposite each other in this film based on the stories of William Falkner and shortly after filming they would marry. The film tells the story of a man with a somewhat mysterious past who takes refuge on a plantation in the south. The owner of the planation is dissatisfied with the man his daughter (Woodward) is set to marry and tries to set it up so that his daughter will eventually fall in love with the Newman character.
8. THE STRIPPER (1963)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner. Writer: Meade Roberts. Starring Richard Beymer, Claire Trevor, Carol Lynley.
Woodward made her Broadway debut as an understudy in the William Inge play “Picnic.” This film is based on another Inge play called “A Loss of Roses” which was a flop on Broadway only running three weeks and is best remembered for launching the career of a supporting actor in the cast named Warren Beatty. Rewritten for the screen the film features Woodward as an aging showgirl with little prospects who is forced to work as a stripper while she is taken in by former neighbors of hers.
7. PHILADELPHIA (1993)
Director: Jonathan Demme. Writer: Ron Nyswaner. Starring Tom Hank, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas.
Woodward’s supporting role as Tom Hank’s compassionate mother would mark the final screen performance of the actress. “Philadelphia” was the first time that a major Hollywood film dealt with the AIDS crisis on film. Hanks won an Oscar and made a highly memorable and emotional acceptance speech as a young lawyer dying of AIDS who sues his former firm for discrimination and wrongful termination because of their firing him due to his illness. Woodward has a powerful moment as she talks to Hanks on the phone from her kitchen as she tries to remain upbeat and hide her deep sorrow at her son’s impending early demise.
6. THE FUGITIVE KIND (1960)
Director: Sidney Lumet. Writers: Tennessee Williams, Meade Roberts. Starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Maureen Stapleton.
“The Fugitive Kind” is another reworking of a flop Broadway play and once again associated Woodward with the work of Tennessee Williams. The play was called “Orpheus Descending” and only ran for about 6 weeks on Broadway. Interestingly the play starred Maureen Stapleton who also appears in this film version but not in the lead role she played on stage. That role went to Anna Magnani. Marlon Brando stars as a drifter who wanders into a small town only to have three women fall in love with him and fight for his affection. The women are Magnani, Stapleton and Woodward as a destructive alcoholic nymphomaniac. Despite the starry cast Woodward manages to steal the film with her highly volatile and unique performance.
5. MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE (1990)
Director: James Ivory. Writer: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Starring Paul Newman, Robert Sean Leonard, Blythe Danner.
Woodward received her fourth and final Oscar nomination as Best Actress for this film which also marked her final big screen pairing with her husband Paul Newman. Woodward gives a quiet and delicate performance (which earned her the Best Actress prize from the New York Film Critics Circle) as an affluent housewife dealing with her adult children and emotionally distant husband. The film came from the team of Merchant/Ivory and was written by their usual screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The screenplay was based on two separate novels by Evan S. Connell one entitled “Mr. Bridge” and the other “Mrs. Bridge.”
4. SUMMER WISHES, WINTER DREAMS (1973)
Director: Gilbert Cates. Writer: Stewart Stern. Starring Martin Balsam, Sylvia Sydney, Tresa Hughes.
Woodward won the BAFTA, New York Film Critics Circle Award, and received her third Oscar nomination all as Best Actress for this complex psychological portrait of a depressed woman who is thrown into further grief after the sudden death of her mother. Woodward’s is an extremely interesting lead performance since she plays a woman who is at times hard to like. The character clings to a fantasy of saving her family’s farm even though that would cause her daughter and sister financial distress. A trip to Europe with her doting husband who she nevertheless doesn’t appreciate changes her attitude and helps her see her husband for the kind man he is. Woodward is particularly riveting in a scene where she has an anxiety attack on the escalator of a London subway and becomes stuck midway through on the escalator taking refuge on a bench. The scene is an interesting metaphor for the paralysis the character feels in her own life.
3. THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE MOON MARIGOLDS (1972)
Director: Paul Newman. Writer: Alvin Sargent. Starring Nell Potts, Roberta Wallach, David Spielberg.
Woodward once again found success in an adaptation of a play. This time it was the Pulitzer Prize winning story by Paul Zindel and Newman once again directed her in the film. Woodward plays a loud angry woman known as the town eccentric. She struggles to raise her two daughters one of whom is an introverted but highly gifted science student. (That character is played by Newman and Woodward’s real-life daughter using the pseudonym Nell Potts. Nell Newman is her birth name and she is probably familiar to people as the woman posing with Newman on his brand of salad dressings and other food which they created as a charitable foundation.) Woodward won the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award and a Golden Globe nomination and Newman was a nominee for Best Director at Cannes but both were surprisingly absent from the Oscar nominations list that year. The film may have been too hard to watch for some as Woodward bellows and bullies her young daughters but the film’s final scenes in which young Nell Potts’ character seems to be able to rise above her mother’s cynicism and hopelessness by stating she still loves the world and its scientific wonders is extremely moving writing and filmmaking.
2. RACHEL, RACHEL (1968)
Director: Paul Newman. Writer: Stewart Stern. Starring Estelle Parsons, James Olson, Kate Harrington.
Woodward and Newman’s most awarded film is this 1968 drama of a lonely small-town spinster school teacher living with her mother and slowly losing hope for a better life. The film received four Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Actress (Woodward,) Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons,) and Screenplay but Newman was not nominated for Best Director. This was considered a big snub since Newman and Woodward had each won the Golden Globe and New York Film Critics awards as Best Director and Actress. Woodward was a bit outspoken in her unhappiness at Newman’s exclusion. Her harsh words towards the Academy may explain why she wasn’t nominated a few years later for “The Effect of Gamma Rays…” and why Newman had to wait nearly another twenty years to finally win his first Oscar.
1. THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957)
Director and writer: Nunnally Johnson. Starring David Wayne, Lee J. Cobb, Nancy Kulp.
Woodward won the Oscar as Best Actress for this her third film. The movie brought the psychiatric condition of Multiple Personality Disorder to national attention and provided a showy role for Woodward. As the title suggests she plays three distinct personalities of the same woman. One is a timid troubled woman, the second a loud fun-loving character and the third a relatively stable “normal” woman. Through hypnosis a doctor is able to uncover the childhood trauma that caused Woodward’s character to fracture into these three personalities. Interestingly Woodward would again revisit the subject of Multiple Personality Disorder when she would star opposite Sally Field in the landmark highly acclaimed television mini-series “Sybil.” This time though Woodward would play the doctor and Field would play her patient.