Laurence Olivier: Essential 1940s Movies

Throughout his illustrious career, Laurence Olivier starred in numerous classic films. Of all these timeless titles, those from the 1940s are widely considered to be some of his best works. Below, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of Laurence Olivier’s critically acclaimed movies during this decade, ranked according to their overall excellence. Whether you’re a fan or a movie buff, these iconic titles are sure to delight and entertain viewers for years to come!

The 8 Best 1940s Laurence Olivier Movies, Ranked

8. The Demi-Paradise (1943)

  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • Starring: Laurence Olivier, Penelope Dudley Ward, Marjorie Fielding
  • Directed by: Anthony Asquith

Set in the backdrop of World War Two, The Demi-Paradise (1943) is a unique blend of romantic comedy and British propaganda. Penelope Dudley-Ward and Laurence Olivier star as an industrialist’s daughter and a Russian engineer respectively. Through this charming tale of romance and education, the film seeks to promote a better understanding between the Soviets and the British people.

The audience is taken through a rollercoaster of emotions as they see the characters navigate their way through both pre-and post-war Britain. Penelope Dillon-Ward’s spirited portrayal of the protagonist along with Laurence Olivier’s subtle yet powerful performance creates an intense chemistry between the two leads which engages the audience throughout. While providing an entertaining story, the movie also highlights important social issues that were relevant at the time and raises questions about class structure and political divisions. All in all, The Demi-Paradise succeeds in blending lighthearted comedy with meaningful social commentary effectively.

7. Wuthering Heights (1940)

  • Genre: Romantic Drama
  • Starring: Laurence Olivier (Heathcliff), Merle Oberon (Cathy), David Niven (Edgar Linton), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Isabella Linton)
  • Directed by: William Wyler

In “Wuthering Heights,” Laurence Olivier delivers a compelling performance as the tormented Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s haunting tale of passionate love, jealousy, and vengeance. Directed by William Wyler, this gripping drama explores the darker side of human emotions and the destructive power of obsession.

Olivier’s portrayal of Heathcliff captures the character’s brooding intensity and unpredictability, making him both captivating and unsettling to watch. The film

6. That Hamilton Woman (1941)

  • Genre: History / Romance / Drama
  • Starring: Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Alan Mowbray
  • Directed by: Alexander Korda

That Hamilton Woman is a stunning film that united real-life married couple Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. One of the greatest movies either ever made — it’s a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #487) — this romantic drama follows a Naval hero (Olivier) as he falls in love with a woman (Leigh) married to a British ambassador. It’s one of the best tragic love stories ever.

5. Henry V (1944)

  • Genre: History / Drama
  • Starring: Laurence Olivier, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks
  • Directed by: Laurence Olivier

Henry V isn’t just one of the best movies Laurence Olivier made in the 1940s. It’s also one of his very best movies of all time. A stunning film — and probably the best adaption of Shakespeare’s Henry V — Olivier directed and acted in this movie beautifully.

His wonderful performance earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. He was also awarded an Honorary Oscar for his marvelous creation of this film and his work as an actor, director, and producer.

In Henry V, Olivier plays the warrior king who learns about heroism during a tricky and daring invasion of France. This film is also a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #41)!

4. 49th Parallel (1941)

  • Genre: War / Thriller / Drama
  • Starring: Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Raymond Massey
  • Directed by: Michael Powell

In 49th Parallel, Olivier plays a French-Canadian fur trapper in this anti-isolationist, pro-British propaganda film released during World War II. The film follows a group of stranded U-boat German soldiers who try to evade capture in Canada during WWII. A riveting war thriller.

While 49th Parallel was initially released as war propaganda, it’s actually a marvelous film — and that’s mainly because it’s a Powell & Pressburger film. Olivier, Howard, Massey, and every actor involved is also stunning here. This war drama is also a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #376)!

3. Pride and Prejudice (1940)

  • Genre: Romance / Drama
  • Starring: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Mary Boland, Edna May Oliver
  • Directed by: Robert Z. Leonard

Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of the best 1940s Laurence Olivier movies. Greer Garson plays Elizabeth, Olivier a wonderful Mr. Darcy. This classic film follows the iconic Jane Austen story about the Bennett daughters and their quest to find love. A wonderful film!

2. Hamlet (1948)

  • Genre: Drama
  • Starring: Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, John Laurie
  • Directed by: Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, of which he acted in and directed, is the best screen adaption of Shakespeare’s iconic story. How could it not be? This movie is absolutely marvelous — and Olivier earned his first Oscar win for Best Actor in a Leading Role for her performance here.

Olivier plays the titular character in Hamlet, a prince who is convinced that his uncle murdered his father — and is now marrying Hamlet’s own mother. As he flirts with insanity, the prince struggles to shed light on these tragedies to others. A truly amazing film. Hamlet is also a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #82)!

1. Rebecca (1940)

  • Genre: Film Noir / Mystery / Drama
  • Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson
  • Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Rebecca is the best 1940s Laurence Olivier movie, and it also happens to be one of the best movies of all time. Olivier opposite a wonderful Joan Fontaine in a mysterious film noir, directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock. Absolutely fantastic.

In Rebecca, Olivier plays widower Maxim de Winter — a man haunted by his dead wife. However, when Maxim meets a young woman (Fontaine) and marries her, the young woman believes her life has changed for the better… until she arrives at her new home and feels that Rebecca, the dead wife, is still haunting the estate and everyone around her.

Olivier’s marvelous performance here earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Rebecca is also a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #135)!

Directed by Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier, the legendary actor of the Golden Age, not only graced the silver screen with his mesmerizing performances but also showcased his talent behind the camera as a director. Here are some remarkable films from the 1940s that were helmed by this multi-talented artist:

  1. Rebecca (1940)
    Directed by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, this thrilling and mysterious film features Olivier alongside Joan Fontaine. Olivier’s direction brings Daphne du Maurier’s haunting tale of love and suspense to life, immersing the audience in the shadows of a husband’s enigmatic past.
  2. Henry V (1944)
    In this directorial masterpiece, Olivier takes on the iconic Shakespearean play, bringing the triumphs and challenges of King Henry V during the Battle of Agincourt to the big screen. Olivier’s portrayal and direction capture the essence of the play, showcasing the power and complexity of the story.
  3. Hamlet (1948)
    Olivier’s outstanding portrayal of Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Hamlet, is simply awe-inspiring. Through his direction, Olivier delves into the depths of revenge, grief, and madness, creating a visually stunning production that remains a classic in the realm of Shakespearean adaptations.
  4. Rebecca (1940)
    In addition to acting alongside Vivien Leigh, Olivier also took the reins as the director in this drama-mystery-romance film. Olivier’s directorial skills shine as he skillfully brings the story to life, capturing the essence of the characters and the complexities of their relationships.

Laurence Olivier’s directorial ventures in the 1940s showcase his versatility and talent as both an actor and a director. These films not only demonstrate his prowess in front of and behind the camera but also highlight his dedication to bringing timeless stories to the screen with the utmost artistry.

What’s Your Favorite 1940s Laurence Olivier Movie?

Comment below your own favorite 1940s Laurence Olivier movie. Are any films not listed here that you feel should’ve been? Hit the comments below with all your thoughts and opinions — we’d love to hear them!

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