Liza Minnelli is the multi-talented performer who has made only a handful of movies during her long career, but how many of them are classics? Let’s take a look back at 10 of her greatest films, ranked worst to best.
The daughter of actress Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, it seems almost inevitable that Minnelli would chase the spotlight. Much like her famous mother, she started performing at an early age, singing and dancing her way to a Tony win for John Kander and Fred Ebbs‘s “Flora the Red Menace” in 1965 when she was just 19 years old. She quickly recorded a series of highly-successful albums, including “Liza! Liza!” (1964), “It Amazes Me” (1965) and “There Is Time” (1966).
She earned her first Oscar nomination as Best Actress for Alan J. Pakula‘s “The Sterile Cuckoo” (1969), playing an eccentric college student romancing an uptight coed (Wendell Burton). She won that prize just three years later for “Cabaret” (1972), a big screen adaptation of Kander and Ebbs’s landmark Broadway show about a nightclub singer in 1930s Berlin. Directed by Bob Fosse, the film was a dark, decadent, and kinky musical that stood in stark contrast to the bright, cheerful songfests that made her parents famous. The role also brought her Golden Globe and BAFTA victories.
That same year, Minnelli took home an Emmy for the TV special “Liza with a Z” (directed by her “Cabaret” helmer Fosse, who also won). So she’s just a Grammy away from joining the elite ranks of EGOT winners.
Though her film credits are sparse, Minnelli has remained active onscreen, most famously playing loopy socialite Lucille Austero in the Emmy-winning series “Arrested Development.”
Tour our photo gallery of Minnelli’s 10 greatest films, including a few in which she didn’t sing and dance.
10. RENT-A-COP (1988)
Directed by Jerry London. Written by Michael Blodgett and Dennis Shryack. Starring Burt Reynolds, James Remar, Richard Masur, Bernie Casey, John Stanton, John P. Ryan, Dionne Warwick, Robby Benson.
“Rent-a-Cop” might’ve just as easily been titled “Rent-a-Plot,” since all of its story elements seem lifted out of other, better movies. Burt Reynolds stars as a disgraced police officer taken off the force after a drug bust goes bad. Minnelli costars as the eyewitness who can help him clear his name. The stars make the most of their woefully underwritten roles, which seem only functionary in a cliche-ridden comedic thriller. For a better Minnelli-Reynolds pairing, check out Stanley Donen’s “Lucky Lady.”
9. A MATTER OF TIME (1976)
Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Screenplay by John Gay, based on the novel ‘The Film of Memory’ by Maurice Druon. Starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Isabella Rossellini.
Minnelli teamed up with her father, Oscar-winning director Vincente Minnelli, for a film that doesn’t reflect the greater talents of either. (The elder Minnelli later disowned it when control was wrestled away by American International Pictures, and he never directed again.) Liza stars as a famous actress who reminisces about her time as a chambermaid working at an upscale Italian hotel. She meets an aging Countess (Ingrid Bergman), who introduces her to the world of finer living. Perhaps the studio-mandated recut can account for the jumbled and confused plot, which never successfully conveys the odd dynamic between its leading ladies.
8. STEPPING OUT (1991)
Directed by Lewis Gilbert. Screenplay by Richard Harris, based on his play. Starring Shelley Winters, Bill Irwin, Ellen Greene, Julie Walters, Robyn Stevan, Jane Krakowski, Sheila McCarthy, Andrea Martin, Carol Woods.
“Stepping Out” was designed as a cinematic comeback for Minnelli after a series of box office flops. Unfortunately, this adaptation of Richard Harris’s play about a washed-up Broadway performer (Minnelli) teaching tap to a group of aspiring dancers lacks the style and energy of the best movie musicals. Much like “A Chorus Line,” everybody has their own personal problems they have to overcome before the big show, although everyone is pretty much sidelined in favor of the instructor, much to the film’s detriment.
7. CHARLIE BUBBLES (1968)
Directed by Albert Finney. Written by Shelagh Delaney. Starring Albert Finney, Billie Whitelaw, Colin Blakely.
Though she officially made her screen debut as a baby in 1949’s “In the Good Old Summertime” (starring her mother, Judy Garland), Minnelli had her first credited role in this offbeat comedic drama. Albert Finney directs and stars as the title character, a highly successful novelist who’s nevertheless bored by his life. He spices things up by having an affair with his secretary (Minnelli), much to the consternation of his wife (Billie Whitelaw).
6. LUCKY LADY (1975)
Directed by Stanley Donen. Written by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. Starring Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, Geoffrey Lewis, John Hillerman, Robby Benson.
Stanley Donen’s “Lucky Lady” is a splendor for the eyes, a sumptuously designed period comedy about a trio of Prohibition-era bootleggers (Minnelli, Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds). Unfortunately, all of the attention seems to have gone into the design of the film instead of its screenplay. The menage-a-trois between its three leads is never fully explored (its PG rating is odd for a film about sexually-active rum-runners), and the ending, which was reshot shortly before its release, doesn’t add up to much. Still, it’s a glory to look at. Minnelli earned a Golden Globe bid for the film, missing out at the Academy.
5. TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON (1970)
Directed by Otto Preminger. Screenplay by Marjorie Kellogg, based on her novel. Starring Ken Howard, Robert Moore, James Coco, Kay Thompson, Fred Williamson, Ben Piazza.
Minnelli famously sparred with Otto Preminger during the making of “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon,” swearing to never work with the “tyrannical” director ever again. Whatever the on-set tension, the results speak for themselves. The actress gives one of her best performances as a woman who’s severely disfigured when her boyfriend throws battery acid in her face. While in an institution, she forms a friendship with an epileptic (Ken Howard) and a gay paraplegic (Robert Moore). A critical and commercial failure in its time, the film still proves that Minnelli could excel in non-musical roles.
4. NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977)
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Screenplay by Mardik Martin and Earl Mac Rauch, story by Rauch. Starring Robert De Niro, Lionel Stander, Barry Primus, Mary Kay Place, Georgie Auld, Jack Haley.
Martin Scorsese’s “New York, New York” represents an uneasy collision between the colorful extravagance of Old Hollywood musicals and John Cassavetes-style improvisational realism. The results are scattershot but never boring. Set in New York City during WWII, the film stars Robert De Niro as a jazz saxophonist and who embarks on a doomed romance with an aspiring singer (Minnelli). Scorsese contrasts the artificiality of the sets and the musical numbers with the raw volatility of the central relationship. A notorious bomb in its day, it nonetheless provided Minnelli with a signature number, the title song “New York, New York” (later covered by Frank Sinatra).
3. THE STERILE CUCKOO (1969)
Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the novel by John Nichols. Starring Wendell Burton, Tim McIntire.
Minnelli earned her first Oscar nomination for Alan J. Pakula’s tender, eccentric romantic comedy. She plays Pookie, an offbeat, emotionally-needy college student who falls in love with an uptight coed (a terribly bland Wendell Burton) at a neighboring school. The vast majority of the film is centered on their relationship (the only other credited speaking role belongs to McIntire as Burton’s roommate), making for an intimate and ultimately heartbreaking examination of first love. Minnelli lost her Best Actress bid to Maggie Smith (“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”).
2. ARTHUR (1981)
Written and directed by Steve Gordon. Starring Dudley Moore, John Gielgud, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jill Eikenberry.
There are few movie drunks as lovable as Arthur Bach (Best Actor-nominee Dudley Moore), a New York millionaire who’s learned that money can’t buy you happiness. Though he’s engaged to an heiress (Jill Eikenberry) in order to retain his inheritance, he finds himself falling for a working-class shoplifter (Minnelli) who steals his heart. John Gielgud is a hoot in an Oscar-winning supporting turn as Arthur’s tart-tongued, no-nonsense butler. Burt Bacharach also won for his song “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” while Steve Gordon competed for his script. Minnelli earned a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress, but was snubbed by the Academy. The less said about the 1988 sequel, “Arthur 2: On the Rocks,” the better.
1. CABARET (1972)
Directed by Bob Fosse. Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen, based on the musical by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff, the play ‘I Am a Camera’ by John Van Druten, and the book ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ by Christopher Isherwood. Starring Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson.
As the daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, it seems almost inevitable that Liza would get the chance to sing and dance in a movie of her own. Suffice it to say, this is not her parent’s musical. Adapted from the groundbreaking Kander and Ebb Broadway show, “Cabaret” centers on a performer (Minnelli) at a sleazy nightclub in 1930s Berlin. She begins a love affair with a British bisexual (Michael York) and a German playboy (Helmut Griem), as Nazism begins to take over the country. Rather than creating an upbeat, cheerful songfest, director/choreographer Bob Fosse indulges in a darkness and kinkiness that invigorates the genre. The film won eight Oscars, including Best Actress for Minnelli, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey as the impish, antisemitic Master of Ceremonies. (It holds the record for most awards won without Best Picture, losing that prize to “The Godfather.”)