Marilyn Monroe‘s star burned brightly and briefly before her untimely death in 1962 at age 36. Yet she managed to enter the pop culture lexicon with just a handful of films, becoming Hollywood’s most memorable sex symbol. In honor of her birthday, let’s take a look back at 15 of her greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Born in 1926, Monroe started off as a model before moving into acting with a series of bit parts, most notably in “All About Eve” and “The Asphalt Jungle,” both released in 1950. She became a leading lady with a trio of 1953 titles: the noir “Niagara,” the musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and the romantic comedy “How to Marry a Millionaire.”
She became iconic thanks to Billy Wilder‘s “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), in which she played a young woman tantalizing her married neighbor (Tom Ewell). Her image was forever burned into our memories thanks to the scene where she stands over a subway grate and a passing train blows her billowing white dress upwards.
Tired of being cast as the blonde bombshell, Monroe decided to take classes from Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio. She stretched herself in the cinematic adaptation of William Inge‘s play “Bus Stop” (1956), which earned her a Golden Globe nomination as Best Comedy/Musical Actress. Three years later, she won that category for Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” (1959), which cast her as a sultry singer who runs into two crossdressing musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) evading the mob. Despite her box office prowess and Globes success, Monroe never earned an Oscar nomination, and sadly, the Academy never got a chance to recognize her.
Monroe’s bubbly onscreen persona masked a troubled offscreen life marked by depression, drug addition, and rocky marriages, including to baseball player Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller. After appearing in John Huston‘s moody 1961 drama “The Misfits” (written by Miller), she died from a drug overdose that was ruled a probable suicide.
Tour our photo gallery of Monroe’s 15 greatest films, including the titles listed above, as well as “Clash by Night,” “River of No Return,” “The Prince and the Showgirl” and more.