Katharine Hepburn: Essential 1940s Movies

The movies Katharine Hepburn starred in throughout the 1940s happen to include some of her very best. Hepburn is one of the best film actors of all time. While her career spanned decades, there’s something incredibly special about the films she starred in throughout the 1940s.

Below, I’ve ranked the very best 1940s Katharine Hepburn movies to watch, in our opinion. These eight films are the essential movies to watch if you’re looking to watch just the best of the best Hepburn movies. If you’d like to start with Hepburn’s filmography, use this list as a handy guide!

The 8 Best 1940s Katharine Hepburn Movies, Ranked

8. Song of Love (1947)

  • Genre: Romance / Drama / Music
  • Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Paul Henreid, Robert Walker
  • Directed by: Clarence Brown

While not her absolute best, Song of Love is still an enjoyable romantic drama Katharine Hepburn starred in during the 1940s. In this biopic, Hepburn plays the wife of composer Robert Schumann (Henreid). A concert pianist herself, she tries to help her husband with his composing and health — all while also dealing with the romantic flirtations from Johannes Brahms (Walker).

Song of Love is definitely an underrated Hepburn movie. However, it’s an enjoyable 40s biopic about musical legends — and Hepburn truly is magnificent in every film, isn’t she?

7. Undercurrent (1947)

  • Genre: Film Noir / Thriller / Drama
  • Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum
  • Directed by: Vincente Minnelli

Undercurrent combined the talents of Hepburn, Robert Taylor, and Robert Mitchum — all in a film noir directed by the great Vincente Minnelli. Does it get better than this? Undercurrent is definitely another underrated Hepburn gem, but boy is it watchable!

In this film noir, Hepburn plays the daughter of a chemist who quickly marries an industrialist (Taylor) after a whirlwind romance. However, the drama begins to tear the couple apart when she starts to question his brother (Mitchum), shedding light on some dark family secrets in the process!

6. Without Love (1945)

  • Genre: Romance / Comedy
  • Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball
  • Directed by: Harold S. Bucquet

Without Love is definitely one of the best 1940s Katharine Hepburn movies. When Hepburn stars opposite frequent collaborator Tracy, a wonderful movie is often formed. Here, this is evident.

Without Love follows a widow (Hepburn) who proposes a platonic marriage of convenience to an inventor (Tracy) during the housing shortage during the war. The two agree to keep things friendly and platonic… but of course, this doesn’t end up happening.

Without Love may be the least known (and least liked, for some) Hepburn and Tracy pairing, but that doesn’t mean the film is bad. It isn’t! It’s quite good! If you’re looking to watch Hepburn’s best films from the 1940s, Without Love should definitely be on your list.

Related — Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy Movie Collaborations, Ranked

5. Keeper of the Flame (1942)

  • Genre: Drama / Mystery
  • Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn
  • Directed by: George Cukor

Another great Hepburn and Tracy film! Keeper of the Flame follows a reporter who is tasked with writing a story on the death of a World War I hero. However, upon his reporting, he begins to realize the man’s death is shrouded in mystery — and that’s where the story really takes off. Hepburn plays the deceased man’s mysterious wife!

Keeper of the Flame is another Hepburn-Tracy film that can be considered underrated, when compared to their other, more beloved movies. However, this mystery is definitely watchable and one of the best 1940s Katharine Hepburn movies!

4. State of the Union (1948)

  • Genre: Comedy / Drama
  • Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Van Johnson, Angela Lansbury
  • Directed by: Frank Capra

State of the Union isn’t just one of the best 1940s Katharine Hepburn movies. It’s also one of the Tracy and Hepburn pairings! Plus, this excellent film was directed by the iconic Frank Capra — so you know it’s going to be good.

In State of the Union, Tracy plays an aircraft tycoon who is persuaded to run for president by his girlfriend (Lansbury). During his campaign, he reunites with his estranged wife (Hepburn) for appearances… and then, things get rather dramatic when the girlfriend and the estranged wife begin to butt heads. An excellent film!

3. Woman of the Year (1942)

  • Genre: Romance / Comedy / Drama
  • Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn
  • Directed by: George Stevens

Woman of the Year is an excellent romantic dramedy that paired Hepburn and Tracy together for the first time. It’s definitely one of their best. Many fans of the pairing often do consider this film to be their finest collaboration (though, as you can see, we disagree slightly).

Woman of the Year follows a political columnist (Hepburn) and a sportswriter (Tracy) who work for the same paper, have absolutely nothing in common, but also subsequently fall in love. However, when their traditional gender roles are switched, things become rather tense in the household and their marriage suffers as a result.

Woman of the Year is one of the finest 1940s Katharine Hepburn movies, ever. It’s a brilliant film! It’s also a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #867)!

Hepburn’s excellent performance here earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. However, she lost out to Greer Garson (Mrs. Miniver)!

2. Adam’s Rib (1949)

Genre: Romance / Comedy

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday

Directed by: George Cukor

Adam’s Rib isn’t just one of the best 1940s Katharine Hepburn movies. It’s also one of the very best Hepburn movies of all time! In our opinion, this romantic comedy is THE best Hepburn-Tracy pairing. Plus, Judy Holliday is absolutely brilliant in her role here!

In Adam’s Rib, Hepburn and Tracy play a married couple who face off in the courtroom during a women’s rights case. Tracy plays the prosecutor in the case of a woman (Holliday) who shot her cheating husband. Hepburn, meanwhile, plays the woman’s defense attorney.

The entire film is marvelous to watch and behold. It’s definitely one of the very best movies to come out of the 1940s!

1. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Genre: Comedy / Romance

Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey

Directed by: George Cukor

The Philadelphia Story is the best 1940s Katharine Hepburn movie. Without a doubt. Who could hate an excellent movie such as this?

First of all, the cast is STACKED. Hepburn stars alongside Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, and other talents. While Hepburn is understandably loved when she’s opposite Tracy in her films, don’t sleep on her collaboration with Grant. The two are dynamite together — which they are here!

The Philadelphia Story follows a society girl’s (Hepburn) upcoming marriage. Chaos comes to the wedding celebrations in the form of her ex-husband (Grant) and two reporters (Stewart and Hussey). And it’s marvelous to watch!

If you want a biting comedy with insults hurled back and forth, this is the movie for you.

Hepburn’s amazing performance in this romantic comedy earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. However, she lost out to Ginger Rogers (Kitty Foyle) this year!

Related — Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn Movie Collaborations, Ranked

What’s Your Favorite 1940s Katharine Hepburn Movie?

Comment below your own personal favorite 1940s Katharine Hepburn movie! Do you agree with this list? Or would you change things around? Hit the comments below with all your thoughts — I’d love to hear what you think!

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