James Stewart, more affectionately known as “Jimmy” to his fans, would’ve celebrated his 112th birthday on May 20, 2020. The Oscar-winning performer became famous for his polite, gentle screen persona, often playing the aww-shucks boy next door. Yet he also showed his range with a series of performances that found him playing against type. In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at 25 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Born in 1908, Stewart earned his first Oscar nomination as Best Actor for playing an idealistic young senator in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939), which firmly established him as the patron saint of the common man. He clinched his one and only victory the very next year for “The Philadelphia Story” (1940), playing a tabloid reporter who stumbles into the marital strife of a high society couple (Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant).
After serving in WWII, Stewart returned home to play George Bailey, a businessman contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve, in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). Though not a runaway success when it first opened, the film found a second life with repeat showings on television during the holidays. The role brought him a third Oscar bid as Best Actor.
Stewart would contend twice more at the Oscars in the lead acting category (“Harvey” in 1950 and “Anatomy of a Murder” in 1959). He won a Golden Globe as Best TV Actor for “Hawkins” in 1974, competing again for “Harvey” and “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (1962). His roles in “The Glenn Miller Story” (1954) and “Anatomy of a Murder” earned him BAFTA bids. He was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille prize in 1965, the SAG Life Achievement award in 1969, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983 and an Honorary Oscar in 1985. He died in 1997 at the age of 89.
As he grew older, Stewart sought to shed his nice guy image with a series of challenging roles, most notably in thrillers directed by Alfred Hitchcock (“Rear Window,” “Vertigo”) and westerns from Anthony Mann (“Winchester ’73,” “The Naked Spur”).
Tour our photo gallery of Stewart’s 25 greatest films, including the titles listed above, as well as “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962) and more.