Best William Powell Movies of All Time

Best known for films such as The Thin Man series, a list detailing the best William Powell movies quickly becomes long. But here, we’ve managed to limit it to the Top 10. Possibly best known for his roles opposite the lovely Myrna Loy — who also has some splendid films herself — Powell managed to successfully perform in both comedic and dramatic roles. There weren’t many leading men during the 1930s who did what he did, or who brought in the crowds at the movies as he did.

I’m a big fan of William Powell movies I adore him as an actor, and him as a performing partner to Miss Myrna Loy. A mix of my opinion and viewer ratings from IMDB and elsewhere, we’ve put together this Top 10 list of the best William Powell movies. Remember, this is all opinion. So, comment below what YOUR favorite William Powell film is. Plus, include what movies you would include in his Top 10 list!

The Best William Powell Movies

For the most part, we only included movies here with Powell as the lead. However, there are a few notable exceptions (which we explain below). Happy reading!

Notable Mention: How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

By the 1950s, William Powell was no longer the leading man sought after for film after film. However, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t shine in the 1950s movies he was in. How to Marry a Millionaire, a fun little film with Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable, cast Powell as the older man involved with Bacall’s character. Back when the film came out, Variety wrote that Powell’s character was a “real standout” in the film. That still stands. Though he played a supporting role here, it’s still worth mentioning his performance as a rich Texas rancher. Even twenty years after his heyday as one of the kings of Old Hollywood, Powell showed that he could still shine. Hence the notable mention.

Notable Mention: Evelyn Prentice (1934)

If you’ve read any of our articles about Myrna Loy and William Powell, you’re probably well aware that we LOVE this little 1930s movie. It’s definitely not the best Loy and Powell collaboration. However, there’s something about its quietly devastating acting that makes it one of our favorites. The movie follows a woman (Loy) who has an affair after feeling unloved by her attorney husband (Powell). When the man she cheats with winds up dead, she tries to keep herself out of a murder trial, keeping her affair a secret in the process. When her husband becomes the prosecuting attorney for the case, she winds up feeling guiltier than ever before.

Without giving too much away, the end of this movie is so brilliantly sad and emotional. The ending alone is why this movie is on our list. Loy’s character can no longer fight the guilt that is overwhelming her. And the look between Powell and Loy in the end? Stunning. We just had to put Evelyn Prentice on our list because of it.

10. Life With Father (1947)

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, White Christmas), Life With Father tells the story of a father who believes that he runs his home. In reality, it’s his wife who holds all the power. Quite an uptight Wall Street stockbroker, things get out of hand when everyone learns he’s not baptized.

Life With Father was the longest-running nonmusical Broadway play at this time. William Powell and Irene Dunne star as the father and mother of the house, with a young Elizabeth Taylor as their daughter. It’s a charming William Powell film and is one of his better ones toward the end of his career where he was taking fewer roles. Considering he filmed his last movie in 1955, Life With Father is one of the last films he made.

9. One Way Passage (1932)

Early 1930s films are the best, and One Way Passage is an interesting 1932 movie directed by Tay Garnett (China Seas). Starring William Powell as a murderer and Kay Francis as a terminally ill woman, the two meet on a boat. Ultimately, they fall in love with each other. Knowing that they both don’t have a future — Francis will die, Powell will head to prison — and they fall in love, unaware of each other’s secret.

Kay Francis and William Powell starred in six other films together, and you can see their chemistry here. They remade the movie in 1940 as ‘Til We Meet Again, which stars Merle Oberon and George Brent, though we prefer this 1932 version. One Way Passage won an Academy Award for Best Writing — Original Story, which it greatly deserved. Plus, the movie still holds up as a lovely little romantic movie almost 100 years later.

8. Another Thin Man (1939)

Alright, listen: the Thin Man movies are some of the best films ever created, hands down. Did you really think we wouldn’t include at least one here? Another Thin Man, while great, came at a really terrible time for William Powell. Before making the film, his fiancee Jean Harlow died at 26. Plus, he battled colon cancer during this time and needed surgery and radiation treatments. When he finally returned to set after both of these tragedies, the cast and crew gave him a standing ovation.

Even without knowing this background information, Another Thin Man is still one of the best William Powell movies. The eighth of fourteen collaborations between Powell and Myrna Loy (and the third Thin Man movie in the series), their chemistry shines just like it did in their seven previous movies. W.S. Van Dyke is once again back to direct (as he did with the initial few Thin Man movies), thank goodness. Nick and Nora’s story this time involves an explosives manufacturer who believes a man is going to kill him — and he needs Nick and Nora to help him out.

7. I Love You Again (1940)

A fun comedy between Myrna Loy and William Powell, I Love You Again is about an incredibly boring man who awakens from amnesia to discover he’s really a con man. Then, he finds out that he loves his wife (played by Loy), who wants to leave him because of his terrible personality. Without giving too much away, things begin to change when his old con-man personality comes out!

Loy and Powell are best when they’re given some fun comedy, which is exactly what happens during I Love You Again. Plus, they’re directed by their frequent collaborator W.S. Van Dyke, who directed the first few Thin Man movies. A success amongst both the audience and the critics when it was first released, I Love You Again still stands up in time in the modern era and is still incredibly enjoyable.

6. Love Crazy (1941)

Another absolutely bonkers comedy from William Powell and Myrna Loy, Love Crazy is about a woman set on divorcing her husband after she begins to think that he’s cheating on her, which isn’t the truth. Determined to win her back and clear things up, her husband tries to delay the divorce as much as possible. In the process, he does some pretty crazy things, all in the name of love. Hence, the title.

Powell is absolutely bonkers here, his comedic chops shining. Plus, we get to see him in drag, which is always hysterical! When this movie first came out, many considered it to be the best film between Loy and Powell. Considering this is their tenth film together, that’s saying a lot! To this day, it’s still a ridiculously charming and funny film!

5. Mister Roberts (1955)

The last film of his career, William Powell had issues memorizing his lines during the filming of Mister Roberts, something that he had never had issues with before. He was older, he didn’t have the best health (he had previous bouts with cancer), and shooting on location in Hawaii proved to be quite difficult for him. Because of all of these, he decided to retire after this film and never starred in a movie again, in any capacity.

Because of this, and because of how wonderful the movie is and how extraordinary Powell is (even when he was allegedly having problems), we had to include Mister Roberts on this list. Many people enjoy the film, even today, and it tells the story of a Navy ship crew station in the Pacific Ocean towards the end of World War II. There’s a lot of drama and comedy, including a tyrant as the captain of the ship — and one of those William Powell movies you always remember.

The film was directed by John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy. Other than Powell (in somewhat of a supporting role), it also stars Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and Jack Lemmon. Pretty good cast, huh?

4. After the Thin Man (1936)

The second movie in the series, After the Thin Man resumes the story of Nick and Nora Charles as they return home just in time for the New Year. However, they are quickly taken on a chaotic ride when Nora’s family gets in touch… and they all quickly get involved with a murder. After the Thin Man is, once again, so good simply because of the chemistry between Powell and Loy.

However, it’s enjoyable because the story is also interesting, giving us a mix of mystery and fun scenes with Nick and Nora. Plus, we get a young Jimmy Stewart here, which is ALWAYS a plus. With directing by W.S. Van Dyke, this is one of William Powell’s best movies for a reason. It’s also one to rewatch over and over again!

3. Libeled Lady (1936)

A star-powered film that gave us the fantastic foursome of Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, and William Powell, Libeled Lady is one of the best comedies to come out of the 1930s. While it’s another vehicle for Loy and Powell, it’s also fun to watch Harlow and then-fiancee Powell interact with each other (in a much better story than their other film, Reckless). Libeled Lady tells the story of a rich socialite who decides to sue a newspaper for libel after they publish a completely inaccurate story about her. To save the newspaper from ruin, the editor (Tracy) gets his former journalist (Powell) to basically seduce her — and make the story about her hooking up with a married man true.

Harlow plays Tracy’s impatient fiance who just wants to marry him, though he has to marry Powell’s character to “sell” the story. Of course, as you may have guessed, Powell and Loy’s characters end up falling in love — but that doesn’t mean the comedy stops there. Libeled Lady gave Powell some of his greatest comedic scenes ever (hello, fantastic fishing scene). Plus, it’s a fun film that still feels new even now. And again, we don’t think we’ll ever get over the fact that these four STARS made a movie together — and all got along behind the scenes! In Old Hollywood, who would’ve thought?

2. My Man Godfrey (1936)

William Powell and Carole Lombard married in 1931 and divorced in 1933. However, despite this failed marriage, when Powell was offered the lead role, he stated that no one else could act opposite him other than Lombard. Thankfully, the man got what he wanted — and we, the audience, got a rare treat in the process. No one else could be Godfrey, and no one else could be Irene Bullock… though they did try with a remake in 1957. My Man Godfrey tells the story of a socialite who hires a bum as her butler. Comedy and chaos ensue, of course.

Truly, no one could have been in these two roles other than Powell and Lombard. And, for the most part, it appears that the two remained friendly after their divorce and in the years to come. By the 1936 Oscars, Powell and his fiancee Jean Harlow attended the event with Lombard and her new flame (and eventual husband) Clark Gable.

My Man Godfrey is perhaps one of the best screwball comedies around. In 1937, it was nominated for six Academy Awards. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t win one. A lot of this praise goes to Carole Lombard (she’s magnificent), but Powell also proves that he’s one of the best comedic actors in this movie. It’s SUCH a delightful film and one of William Powell’s best. And if you haven’t seen it yet YOU NEED TO.

1. The Thin Man (1934)

Ah, The Thin Man. One of the best movies to come out of the 1930s — and, in our opinion, the absolute best William Powell movie. The Thin Man gave us Nick Charles, a retired detective who always has a drink in hand. It also gave us Nora Charles (Myrna Loy), his devoted yet equally as hysterical wife who follows him on these murder cases. There has never been another married couple on the screen like Nick and Nora Charles. And there never will be.

The first Thin Man movie was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and follows Nick and Nora as they are dragged into the disappearance — and later murder — of one of Nick’s old friends. Though Nick doesn’t want to take this case (he’s retired!), he soon has no choice. When a man literally shoots him while he’s in his bed, he has to find out what’s going on.

Time after time, watch after watch, The Thin Man never gets old. In fact, it almost gets better with each new watch, as you can notice new moments between Nick and Nora that you didn’t see before. It’s such a fun film. And it’s the BEST William Powell movie!

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *