Marlon Brando Jr. (April 3, 1924 – July 1, 2004) was an American actor and film director with a career spanning 60 years, during which he won the Oscar for Best Actor twice. He is well-regarded for his cultural influence on 20th-century film. Brando was also an activist for many causes, notably the civil rights movement and various Native American movements. Having studied with Stella Adler in the 1940s, he is credited with being one of the first actors to bring the Stanislavski system of acting and method acting, derived from the Stanislavski system, to mainstream audiences.
He initially gained acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for the role of Stanley Kowalski in Elia Kazan‘s film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a role that he originated successfully on Broadway. It co-starred Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden (all of whom won Academy Awards for their performances).
Brando received further praise, and an Academy Award, for his performance as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954), and his portrayal of the rebellious motorcycle gang leader Johnny Strabler in Laslo Benedek’s The Wild One (1953), with Mary Murphy, Robert Kieth, and Lee Marvin, proved to be a lasting image in popular culture. He received further Academy Award nominations for playing Emiliano Zapata in Kazan’s Viva Zapata! (1952), with Jean Peters and Anthony Quinn; Mark Antony in Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1953), with James Mason, John Gielgud, and Deborah Kerr; Sky Masterson in the musical Guys and Dolls (1954), with Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, and Vivian Blaine; and Air Force Major Lloyd Gruver in Joshua Logan’s Sayonara (1957), Red Buttons, Miyoshi Umeki, Patricia Owens, James Garner, Martha Scott, Ricardo Montalbán, and Miiko Taka.
The 1960s saw Brando’s career take a commercial and critical downturn. He directed and starred in the cult western One-Eyed Jacks (1961), with Malden, Katy Jurado, and Slim Pickens, critical and commercial flop (Stanley Kubrick was the original director but left the project early on), after which he delivered a series of notable box-office failures, beginning with Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), with Trevor Howard, Richard Harris, and Hugh Griffith.
Other notable roles during this period included Bedtime Story (1964), with David Niven and Shirley Jones; Morituri (1965), with Yul Brynner; Arthur Penn’s The Chase (1966), with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford; John Huston‘s Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), with Elizabeth Taylor; Charlie Chaplin‘s final film A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), with Sophia Loren; Candy (1968), with Richard Burton, James Coburn, Huston, Walter Matthau, and Ringo Starr; and Night of the Following Day (1968), with Richard Boone, Rita Moreno and Pamela Franklin.
After ten years of underachieving, he agreed to do a screen test as Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather (1972). He co-starred with Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Diane Keaton, and Talia Shire) and subsequently won his second Academy Award in a performance critics consider among his greatest. He refused the award due to mistreatment and misportrayal of Native Americans by Hollywood (sending Native American actress and activist, Sacheen Littfeather to read his letter of protest). The Godfather was one of the most commercially successful films of all time, and alongside his Oscar-nominated performance in Last Tango in Paris, Brando reestablished himself in the ranks of top box-office stars.
After a hiatus in the early 1970s, Brando was generally content with being a highly paid character actor in cameo roles, such as in Richard Donner‘s Superman (1978), with Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, and Margot Kidder; as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979), with Martin Sheen, Duvall, Harrison Ford, and Dennis Hopper; and in John G. Avildsen’s The Formula (1980), with George C. Scott, before taking a nine-year break from film. He received his final Academy Award Nomination (this time for Best Supporting Actor) for Euzhan Palcy’s anti-Apartheid film, A Dry White Season (1989), with Donald Sutherland, Jürgen Prochnow, and Susan Sarandon.
Later film roles included Andrew Bergman’s 1990 comedy The Freshman (parodying his famed Godfather role), with Matthew Broderick, Bruno Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller, and Jon Polito; John Glen’s Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992), with Tom Selleck, Robert Davi, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Benecio Del Toro; Jeremy Leven’s Don Juan DeMarco (1995), with Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway; John Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), with David, Thewlis, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, and Ron Perlman; Yves Simoneau’s Free Money (1998), with Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Thomas Hayden Church, and Mira Sorvino; and Frank Oz‘s The Score (2001), with Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Angela Bassett.
Brando was ranked by the American Film Institute as the fourth-greatest movie star among male movie stars whose screen debuts occurred in or before 1950. He was one of only six actors named in 1999 by Time magazine in its list of the 100 Most Important People of the Century. In this list, Time also designated Brando as the “Actor of the Century.”
Each review will be linked to the title below.
(*seen originally in theaters)
(**seen rereleased in theaters)
- The Men (1950) – directed by Fred Zinnemann
- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) – Elia Kazan
- Viva Zapata! (1952) – directed by Elia Kazan
- Julius Caesar (1953) – directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
- The Wild One (1953) – directed by László Benedek
- On the Waterfront (1954) – directed by Elia Kazan
- Désirée (1954) – directed by Henry Koster
- Guys and Dolls (1955) – directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
- The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) – directed by Daniel Mann
- Sayonara (1957) – directed by Joshua Logan
- The Young Lions (1958) – directed by Edward Dmytryk
- The Fugitive Kind (1960) – directed byS idney Lumet
- One-Eyed Jacks (1961) – also director
- Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) – directed by Lewis Milestone
- The Ugly American (1963) – directed by George Englund
- Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
- Bedtime Story (1964) – directed by Ralph Levy
- Morituri (1965) – directed by Bernhard Wicki
- The Chase (1966) – directed by Arthur Penn
- The Appaloosa (1966) – directed by Sidney J. Furie
- A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) – directed by Charlie Chaplin
- Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) – directed by John Huston
- Candy (1968) – directed by Christian Marquand
- The Night of the Following Day (1968) – directed by Hubert Cornfield
- Burn! (1969) – directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
- The Nightcomers (1971) – directed by Michael Winner
- The Godfather (1972) – directed by Francis Ford Coppola
- Last Tango in Paris (1972) – directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) – directed by Arthur Penn
- Superman (1978) – directed by Richard Donner
- Raoni (1978) – directed by Jean-Pierre Dutilleux & Luiz Carlos Saldanha – narrator – documentary
- Apocalypse Now (1979) – directed by Francis Ford Coppola
- The Formula (1980) – directed by John G. Avildsen
- A Dry White Season (1989) – directed by Euzhan Palcy
- The Freshman (1990) – directed by Andrew Bergman
- Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992) – directed by John Glen
- Don Juan DeMarco (1995) – directed by Jeremy Leven
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) – John Frankenheimer
- The Brave (1997) – directed by Johnny Depp
- Free Money (1998) – directed by Yves Simoneau
- The Score (2001) – directed by Frank Oz