Henry Fonda would’ve celebrated his 115th birthday on May 16, 2020. The Oscar-winning thespian made a name for himself playing the affable, aw-shucks guy next door who at times becomes an unlikely hero, yet showed his range in a series of classic titles. In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at 25 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Born in 1905, Fonda first came to prominence as a Broadway star, moving to Hollywood in the mid-1930s. His first Oscar nomination as Best Actor came for John Ford‘s landmark “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), adapted from John Steinbeck‘s novel about poor farmers during the Dust Bowl. As Tom Joad, a reformed killer turned union organizer, Fonda cemented his screen persona as the ordinary man standing up for what’s right. (“Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there,” he says in his famous final speech.)
Surprisingly, he didn’t compete at the Oscars again for acting until 41 years later, when he earned his long overdue Best Actor prize for “On Golden Pond” (1981). (He did earn a Best Picture nomination as a producer on “12 Angry Men” in 1957, though his leading performance was overlooked.) His daughter, Oscar-winner Jane Fonda, optioned Ernest Thompson‘s play as a project for her and her father, and the central conflict about a retired professor sparring with his estranged child certainly played upon their real life relationship. As he was too sick to attend the ceremony, Jane accepted the award on his behalf. Fonda died shortly thereafter on August 12, 1982.
Fonda received an Honorary Oscar in 1981, just one year prior to clinching his sole competitive prize. He received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1978, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1979, a Special Tony in 1979 and the Cecil B. DeMille prize in 1980.
In addition to his Oscar success, Fonda won the Golden Globe and competed at BAFTA for “On Golden Pond.” Prior to that, he won the BAFTA and contended at the Globes as Best Actor for “12 Angry Men.” He earned a Tony as Best Actor in a Play for “Mister Roberts” in 1948, reprising the role in the 1955 film. He won a Grammy for “Great American Documents” (Best Spoken Word Album in 1977) and competed at the Emmys for his leading roles in “The Red Pony” (1973), “Clarence Darrow” (1975), and “Gideon’s Trumpet” (1980).
Fonda is the patriarch of a family of actors, including daughter Jane, son Peter Fonda, granddaughter Bridget Fonda, and grandson Troy Garity, proving that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Tour our photo gallery of Fonda’s 25 greatest films, including the titles mention above as well as “The Lady Eve” (1941), “My Darling Clementine” (1946), “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) and more.