Best Bette Davis Movies

Picking the absolute best Bette Davis movies of all time isn’t an easy task. However, we did attempt to do it. A leading actress (mainly throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s), Bette Davis is the epitome of an Old Hollywood star. She led an interesting life, she knew what she wanted, and she wasn’t afraid to make enemies in the process. She was one of the first huge stars Hollywood produced, and she has over 124 acting credits to her name!

 

About Bette Davis

Born in 1908 in Massachusetts, Bette Davis arrived in Hollywood in 1930 at the age of 22. While first signed by Universal, Davis didn’t achieve success (or land any notable leading roles) until she was signed by Warner Bros. She would stay with Warner Bros. for 18 years. Davis is now known as a leading actress who would take on any role in any genre, and you can see her filmography shine while she was working under her Warner contract.

Throughout her very long career, Davis was nominated for a total of eleven Academy Awards for Best Actress. However, she would only win two: for her performances in Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938).

The Top 10 Best Bette Davis Movies of All Time

While Bette Davis has quite an interesting and complex life story, we will only focus on her top 10 best roles of all time in this article. You will get no salacious content here. Sorry! It was definitely difficult to narrow Davis’ 124 acting credits down to her top 10. Please remember that this list is solely based on opinion. If you differ from our own, we’d love to hear what you would include in your own Bette Davis Top 10 list below in the comments!

The movies here are only films that feature Bette Davis in a leading role. She made some interesting work later on in life and acted in television programs, but that content won’t be featured here. Enjoy!

Honorable Mention: Of Human Bondage (1934)

  • Genre: Drama / Romance
  • Starring: Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Frances Dee, Kay Johnson
  • Directed by: John Cromwell

Of Human Bondage, based on the book of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham, follows a medical student (Howard) who falls prey to a cold waitress (Davis), who may end up destroying them both. Many film critics mark this film as the one movie that truly made Bette Davis a star. While the movie was a critical success (both Howard and Davis were praised for their stellar performances), it did end up recording a loss at the box office.

Of Human Bondage also happened to be the first of eleven Oscar nominations for Bette Davis. While she wasn’t initially nominated for her work this year, critical acclaim for her performance resulted in the Academy allowing her to be a write-in vote. However, she still ended up losing to Claudette Colbert for her role in It Happened One Night. Regardless, Davis still shines in this movie when you watch it today. While it’s not one of her ultimate best movies, it’s still a great film, and therefore deserves an honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Dangerous (1935)

  • Genre: Drama / Romance
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Franchot Tone
  • Directed by: Alfred E. Green

The first movie to give Bette Davis an Oscar win for Best Actress, Dangerous follows a young fan who tries to help rehabilitate an alcoholic actress (Davis). However, everyone finds out she might just be more dangerous when sober. While Dangerous has fallen off a bit in pop culture when it comes to popular Old Hollywood movies, it is a wonderful movie that gave Davis her first Oscar win. Therefore, it had to be considered in her best movies list as an honorable mention, even if it isn’t one of her top 10.

10. Jezebel (1938)

  • Genre: Historical Drama / Romance
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, George Brent, Margaret Lindsay
  • Directed by: William Wyler (who would also directed Davis in The Letter)

Warner Bros. response to Davis losing out to play Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, Jezebel is a Southern drama set in Louisiana in the 1850s. The movie follows a stubborn young lady (Davis) who loses her fiancé and works to win him back once and for all. The film was critically received very well, especially for Davis who stunned almost all film critics. Jezebel was also Bette Davis’s second and final Oscar win for Best Actress, though she would continue to be nominated throughout her very long career.

Jezebel is a wonderful film that has stood the test of time to a certain extent. At the very least, it’s still highly enjoyable. However, when comparing the rest of Davis’ performances, while Jezebel may be fun, it ranks last on our list. She’s a great actress, though, and it’s not like she doesn’t shine here! Jezebel is still one of the best Bette Davis movies ever made!

9. Dark Victory (1939)

  • Genre: Drama / Romance
  • Starring: Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan
  • Directed by: Edmund Goulding

Based on the play of the same name that was written by George Brewer and Bertram Bloch (which starred Tallulah Bankhead in Davis’ part), Dark Victory follows a flighty socialite whose life changes after she discovers she has a brain tumor. Davis is a real powerhouse here, which isn’t a surprise. At the time the movie was released, her performance was received positively by most critics — and that consensus hasn’t changed in the decades since. Audiences also loved her performance, and Dark Victory grossed $1.3 million at the box office when it was released. It’s still a highly enjoyable film, which also makes it one of the best Bette Davis movies ever made.

8. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

  • Genre: Comedy / Romance
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Monty Woolley, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke, Richard Travis
  • Directed by: William Keighley

The Man Who Came to Dinner is one of the best Bette Davis movies for many reasons. For one, it’s a comedy where she shines. Davis is probably most remembered for her very dramatic roles in tearjerkers, as well as horror movies. The Man Who Came to Dinner is a nice change of pace. The movie tells the story of a critic who is forced to move in with a midwestern family after a hip injury. Davis, the whole cast, and the movie as a whole were received well critically when the film was released. Audiences also loved the comedy, and the film grossed $2.6 million worldwide at the box office.

7. The Letter (1940)

  • Genre: Crime / Drama
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall
  • Directed by: William Wyler (who also directed Davis in Jezebel, previously)

Possibly one of the best openings to any film ever, The Letter follows a woman who kills a man and claims it was self-defense. However, things become rather difficult for her when a blackmailer turns up with a letter that could incriminate her. Davis was nominated for an Academy Award again for Best Actress after the release of this movie. Critically, Davis and the whole cast were praised for their performances — and the movie is still such a great watch now. If you’ve seen The Letter, you KNOW that it’s one of the best Bette Davis movies of all time!

6. Mr. Skeffington (1944)

  • Genre: Drama / Romance
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Claude Rains
  • Directed by: Vincent Sherman

A wonderful movie that is still so enjoyable to watch, Mr. Skeffington is definitely one of the best Bette Davis movies. The film follows a flighty and beautiful woman who marries a banker she doesn’t love, solely to save her brother from potentially going to prison. Of course, the marriage isn’t necessarily a lovely, beautiful thing… but it sure is entertaining to watch. Mr. Skeffington did very well at the box office, as audiences also loved it. It grossed about $3 million.

5. Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

  • Genre: Crime / Mystery / Drama
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Mary Astor, Bruce Dern
  • Directed by: Robert Aldrich

While Bette Davis wasn’t necessarily a huge leading lady in the 1960s, she was still creating wonderful films that many adored. Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a great example of this. The movie follows an aging Southern belle who fights to keep her dark family secrets. However, this might be harder than she anticipates, and she descends into madness. Critically, Davis’ performance was well-received for the most part. Audiences also loved the movie, and it ended up grossing $4 million at the box office. As a whole, the movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, though Davis didn’t end up getting an Oscar nom for this performance.

4. Now, Voyager (1942)

  • Genre: Drama / Romance
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Gladys Cooper
  • Directed by: Irving Rapper

A repressed, frumpy spinster turns into a beautiful, elegant, and independent woman, thanks to psychiatry and her love for a married man in Now, Voyager. The movie is so wonderful and is definitely one of the best Bette Davis movies. It’s hard not to love Now, Voyager. It really is! It was beloved by critics and audiences alike when it was released and ended up grossing $4 million at the box office. Considering it only cost $800,000 to make the movie, this was a huge profit for the studio!

3. The Little Foxes (1941)

  • Genre: Drama / Romance
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Teresa Wright
  • Directed by: William Wyler (a constant Davis collaborator)

The Little Foxes is so brilliant it has to be considered in this top 10 list of the best Bette Davis movies of all time! The movie tells the story of an ambitious woman on a drive for more wealth. She’s not scared of anything and will even take on her brothers and husband, if she must. It’s riveting. The Little Foxes grossed about $2.1 million at the box office and was very popular after its release; however, RKO did end up recording a loss, thanks to distribution rights. Davis and the whole cast was received positively by critics and audiences alike! The Little Foxes is still such a great film and is the perfect movie to watch for anyone interested in Davis’ career, or Old Hollywood films.

2. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

  • Genre: Drama / Horror / Thriller
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford
  • Directed by: Robert Aldrich (also the director of Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte)

It’s hard not to include this movie. Regardless of how you feel about it now that it has become somewhat popular again, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is one of the best Bette Davis movies of all time. The film follows an insane star who torments her sister as they both live in a decaying Hollywood mansion. Seeing two icons (Davis and Joan Crawford) go head to head is always fun. But that doesn’t mean that the acting isn’t phenomenal, because it is! Davis again was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, though she didn’t win. But she’s wonderful here, proving that she can still reel in audiences even at an older age.

RELATED: The Most Popular Joan Crawford Movies — Read Here!

1. All About Eve (1950)

  • Genre: Drama
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Marilyn Monroe
  • Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

The best Bette Davis movie is hands down, All About Eve. While she’s created some phenomenal films, there is no doubt that her best performance is her role as Margo. She’s, quite simply, iconic here. All About Eve follows a young actress (Anne Baxter) who attempts to overtake a star’s (Davis) career and love life. All About Eve is still beloved and iconic for a reason. It’s hard to look away and stop watching this wonderful film. Davis truly shines here and is at her absolute best. She was nominated for another Oscar for Best Actress again for this performance, though she ended up losing out to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday.

The Best Bette Davis Movies + More Nostalgic Content

Comment below what you think about the best Bette Davis movies listed above. What’s your absolute favorite of hers? Any films not on this list that you feel should be? What does your own Top 10 look like? Hit the comments below with your thoughts!

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