The 1950s were a pivotal decade in the history of cinema, marked by a surge in technological advancements and the emergence of new cinematic styles and genres.

From classic film noirs to epic historical dramas, the 1950s produced some of the most iconic and influential films in the history of cinema.

In this era, Hollywood was at its peak and the studio system was still intact, producing films that were designed to entertain and appeal to a wide audience.

At the same time, a new generation of independent filmmakers were starting to emerge, challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of what was possible in film.

In this context, some of the greatest and most innovative films in history were made during the 1950s, and they continue to inspire and influence filmmakers today.

Best 1950s Movies

In this article, we will explore some of the most notable and memorable films from this iconic era.

1. Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window is a 1954 American mystery thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. The film follows a photographer, played by Stewart, who is confined to his apartment due to a broken leg and spends his days observing his neighbors through his rear window.

As he watches them, he becomes convinced that one of them has committed murder. With the help of his girlfriend, played by Kelly, he investigates the crime and puts himself in danger.

Rear Window is considered one of Hitchcock’s greatest works and a masterpiece of suspense cinema. It is known for its innovative use of the confined setting and the subjective camera angles that put the viewer in the same position as the protagonist.

The film has been praised for its suspenseful plot, witty dialogue, and strong performances by the cast. Rear Window has been preserved in the National Film Registry for its cultural significance and has inspired numerous homages and imitations in film and television.

Rear Window
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey (Actors)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (Director) - John Michael Hayes (Writer) - Alfred Hitchcock (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. 12 Angry Men (1957)

“12 Angry Men” is a classic American drama film released in 1957, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, and Martin Balsam. The movie is based on a teleplay by Reginald Rose, which was originally broadcast in 1954.

The film takes place entirely in a single jury room, where twelve jurors are deliberating the fate of a young man accused of murder.

As the deliberations progress, tensions rise and prejudices are exposed, with some jurors convinced of the man’s guilt and others uncertain or convinced of his innocence.

Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) emerges as a voice of reason and logic, persuading the other jurors to reconsider their initial verdict and to examine the evidence more closely.

“12 Angry Men” is renowned for its tight and suspenseful storytelling, powerful performances, and insightful exploration of issues such as justice, prejudice, and the importance of critical thinking.

The film was a critical and commercial success, and it has since become a classic of American cinema, frequently cited as one of the greatest films ever made. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

12 Angry Men (1957)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Reginald Rose (Writer) - Henry Fonda (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3. North by Northwest (1959)

“North by Northwest” is a 1959 thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason.

The film follows Roger Thornhill (Grant), a Manhattan advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent and pursued by a group of foreign spies.

As Thornhill tries to clear his name, he becomes embroiled in a web of espionage and danger, leading him on a cross-country chase that includes iconic scenes such as the crop-dusting attack and the climactic finale on Mount Rushmore.

“North by Northwest” is known for its gripping plot, clever dialogue, and inventive set pieces. It is considered one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces and has been praised for its visual style and innovative use of suspense. The film also features a memorable score by Bernard Herrmann.

“North by Northwest” has become a cultural touchstone and has influenced countless thrillers and action films. It remains a classic of the genre and is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

North by Northwest
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Cary Grant, Eva Saint, James Mason (Actors)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (Director) - Ernest Lehman (Writer) - Alfred Hitchcock (Producer)
  • English (Playback Languages)
  • English (Subtitle)

4. Paths of Glory (1957)

“Paths of Glory” is a war film released in 1957, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, which is loosely based on the true story of a group of French soldiers who were tried and executed for cowardice during World War I.

In the film, Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax, a principled officer who leads a group of soldiers on a mission to capture a strategic German position known as the “Ant Hill.”

The mission is a disaster, and when the French high command looks for a scapegoat, they decide to court-martial and execute three soldiers for cowardice. Colonel Dax, who believes the men are being unfairly punished, decides to defend them in court.

“Paths of Glory” is known for its powerful anti-war message, as well as its unflinching depiction of the horrors of trench warfare.

The film was initially controversial and was banned in some countries, but has since been recognized as a classic of the war genre and one of Kubrick’s early masterpieces.

The film is also notable for its technical achievements, including Kubrick’s use of long tracking shots and deep focus cinematography.

“Paths of Glory” has been praised for its performances, particularly Kirk Douglas’ portrayal of Colonel Dax, and its ability to provoke thoughtful discussion about the ethics of war and military justice.

Paths of Glory
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou (Actors)
  • Stanley Kubrick (Director) - Calder Willingham (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

5. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

“Anatomy of a Murder” is a legal drama film released in 1959, directed by Otto Preminger and starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, and Ben Gazzara.

The film is based on a novel by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker and follows the story of a small-town lawyer named Paul Biegler (Stewart), who defends an army lieutenant named Frederic Manion (Gazzara) accused of murder.

The film is known for its intricate plot, realistic portrayal of the legal system, and provocative exploration of themes such as sexuality and morality.

It was groundbreaking for its frank depiction of sex and violence and was one of the first films to feature a jazz score by Duke Ellington.

“Anatomy of a Murder” was a critical and commercial success and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (James Stewart), and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It is considered a classic of the legal drama genre and is known for its realistic portrayal of the legal system and the moral dilemmas faced by lawyers and defendants.

Anatomy Of A Murder
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick (Actors)
  • Otto Preminger (Director) - Wendell Mayes (Writer) - Otto Preminger (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

6. Strangers on a Train (1951)

Strangers on a Train is a classic thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1951. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith and tells the story of two strangers who meet on a train and agree to exchange murders.

One of the men, a tennis player named Guy Haines, brushes off the proposition as a joke, but the other, a wealthy sociopath named Bruno Anthony, takes it seriously and goes on to carry out his part of the deal.

The film is known for its tense plot, dark humor, and Hitchcock’s signature directorial style. The movie explores themes such as guilt, identity, and the destructive power of obsession.

Strangers on a Train features standout performances by Farley Granger as Guy Haines, Robert Walker as Bruno Anthony, and Ruth Roman as Anne Morton, Guy’s fiancée.

The film is regarded as one of Hitchcock’s best and is considered a classic in the thriller genre.

The movie’s innovative camera work, suspenseful pacing, and memorable characters have influenced countless films and filmmakers over the years. Strangers on a Train is a must-see for fans of Alfred Hitchcock, classic cinema, and suspenseful storytelling.

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Strangers on a Train
  • Leo G. Carroll, Farley Granger, Hitchcock, Patricia (Actors)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (Director)
  • English, Spanish, French (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

7. Our Man in Havana (1959)

“Our Man in Havana” is a 1959 British comedy film directed by Carol Reed and starring Alec Guinness, Burl Ives, and Maureen O’Hara. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Graham Greene and tells the story of James Wormold (Guinness), a vacuum cleaner salesman who is recruited by British Intelligence to become a spy in Havana, Cuba.

The film is notable for its darkly comedic tone and satirical take on the spy genre. The film’s plot revolves around Wormold’s attempts to fabricate intelligence reports, leading to a series of misunderstandings and complications.

Guinness delivers a strong performance as the bumbling Wormold, and the supporting cast, including Ives and O’Hara, provide excellent support. The film’s witty script and sharp humor have made it a cult classic and a favorite among fans of both the spy genre and British comedy.

“Our Man in Havana” was also notable for its use of on-location filming in Cuba, providing a rare glimpse into the country before the revolution. Overall, “Our Man in Havana” is a hilarious and entertaining satire that stands as one of the most memorable films of the 1950s.

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Our Man in Havana
  • Greene, Graham (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 07/31/2007 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

8. Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Kansas City Confidential is a 1952 film noir directed by Phil Karlson and starring John Payne, Coleen Gray, Preston Foster, and Lee Van Cleef. The film follows an ex-convict who is wrongly accused of a bank robbery and seeks to clear his name by tracking down the real criminals.

The film is known for its twist ending and its dark, gritty atmosphere, which are hallmarks of the film noir genre. It was also notable for its use of on-location filming in Mexico and its portrayal of the criminal underworld.

Kansas City Confidential was a critical and commercial success and has since become a cult classic of the film noir genre.

It has been praised for its suspenseful plot, strong performances, and tense action sequences, as well as its innovative use of flashbacks and non-linear storytelling.

The film’s impact on the genre and its enduring popularity have been recognized by its inclusion in the National Film Registry.

Kansas City Confidential (MGM Film Noir)
  • John Payne, Coleen Gray, Preston Foster (Actors)
  • Phil Karlson (Director)
  • English, Spanish (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

9. The Killing (1956)

“The Killing” is a classic American film noir released in 1956, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, and Elisha Cook Jr. The movie is based on the novel “Clean Break” by Lionel White.

The film tells the story of a group of criminals who plan and execute a daring racetrack heist in order to make off with a large sum of money.

However, the meticulously planned heist begins to unravel as each member of the group succumbs to their own greed and paranoia, leading to a violent and deadly conclusion.

“The Killing” is renowned for its innovative narrative structure, with the story told from multiple perspectives and in non-linear fashion.

It is also notable for its stark black-and-white cinematography, atmospheric jazz score, and memorable performances, particularly from Sterling Hayden as the lead criminal and Elisha Cook Jr. as his weak-willed accomplice.

The film was not a commercial success upon its initial release, but it has since become a cult classic and is widely regarded as one of the greatest heist films ever made.

The Killing
  • Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards (Actors)
  • Stanley Kubrick (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

10. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” is a 1951 science fiction film directed by Robert Wise and starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, and Hugh Marlowe.

The film follows an alien named Klaatu (Rennie) who arrives on Earth with his robot companion Gort, on a mission to deliver a message of peace to humanity.

However, Klaatu is met with fear and hostility from humans, and he is forced to go into hiding with the help of a sympathetic woman named Helen Benson (Neal).

As Klaatu tries to make contact with world leaders, he must also contend with the aggressive and militaristic response of the United States government.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” is known for its thoughtful exploration of themes such as war, technology, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

The film’s message of peaceful cooperation and understanding remains relevant today. It also features groundbreaking visual effects, including the iconic design of the robot Gort.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” has been praised for its intelligent script, strong performances, and imaginative vision of a first contact scenario. It has influenced numerous other science fiction films and remains a classic of the genre.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe (Actors)
  • Robert Wise (Director)
  • English, Spanish (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)

11. The Wrong Man (1956)

“The Wrong Man” is a film noir released in 1956, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Henry Fonda and Vera Miles.

The film is based on the true story of a man named Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, who was wrongly accused of a series of robberies in New York City in the 1950s.

In the film, Henry Fonda plays Balestrero, a struggling musician who is mistakenly identified as the culprit in a string of robberies. As he is arrested, charged, and put on trial, Balestrero’s life and the lives of his family members are turned upside down.

Vera Miles plays his wife, who becomes increasingly desperate as their financial situation worsens and their community turns against them.

“The Wrong Man” is notable for its departure from Hitchcock’s usual suspenseful and darkly comic style.

The film is a somber and realistic portrayal of a man caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare, as well as a commentary on the flaws in the American justice system.

Hitchcock’s use of actual locations, documentary-style camera work, and a subdued score all contribute to the film’s sense of authenticity.

While “The Wrong Man” was not a commercial success, it has since gained critical acclaim and is considered a significant entry in Hitchcock’s filmography.

The film has been praised for its performances, particularly Fonda’s portrayal of a man struggling to maintain his dignity in the face of injustice.

The Wrong Man (1956)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle (Actors)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (Director) - Maxwell Anderson (Writer) - Alfred Hitchcock (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

12. The Man in the White Suit (1951)

“The Man in the White Suit” is a British satirical comedy film released in 1951, directed by Alexander Mackendrick and starring Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, and Cecil Parker.

The film tells the story of a brilliant but eccentric scientist named Sidney Stratton (Guinness), who invents a revolutionary new fabric that never gets dirty and never wears out.

However, Sidney’s invention threatens the profits of the textile industry and causes chaos among the workers who fear for their jobs. The film is a sharp commentary on the dangers of technological progress and the power dynamics of the industrial world.

“The Man in the White Suit” was a critical and commercial success and is considered a classic of British comedy. It won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

The film is known for its witty script, imaginative visual gags, and outstanding performances, particularly by Alec Guinness, who brings a charming quirkiness to his portrayal of Sidney Stratton.

The Man in the White Suit (1951)
  • Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker (Actors)
  • Alexander Mackendrick (Director)

13. Touch of Evil (1958)

Touch of Evil is a classic film noir released in 1958, directed by Orson Welles. The movie is based on the novel “Badge of Evil” by Whit Masterson and tells the story of a murder investigation in a fictional Mexican border town.

The film follows the complex web of relationships between the corrupt police captain Hank Quinlan (played by Orson Welles), the Mexican narcotics investigator Miguel “Mike” Vargas (played by Charlton Heston), and Susie Vargas (played by Janet Leigh), Mike’s wife.

The film is renowned for its innovative camerawork, which includes a famous opening shot that lasts over three minutes and a thrilling finale set in a crumbling building. Touch of Evil is also known for its themes of corruption, betrayal, and power dynamics.

The movie features a talented ensemble cast, including Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Marlene Dietrich.

Touch of Evil was not a commercial success upon its initial release, but it has since gained a cult following and is considered a classic of film noir. The movie’s striking visuals, intense performances, and intricate plot make it a must-see for fans of crime thrillers and classic cinema.

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Touch of Evil (Widescreen Edition)
  • Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh (Actors)
  • Orson Welles (Director) - Orson Welles (Writer) - Albert Zugsmith (Producer)
  • Spanish, French (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

14. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

“Witness for the Prosecution” is a 1957 courtroom drama film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton.

The film is based on a play by Agatha Christie and tells the story of a man accused of murder and the lawyer who takes on his case.

The film is notable for its clever plot twists and surprising revelations, and for the standout performances of its cast. Laughton delivers a masterful performance as the lawyer, while Dietrich is captivating as the accused’s enigmatic wife.

The film’s tightly woven plot and intricate character relationships have made it a classic of the courtroom drama genre. The film’s themes of justice, morality, and deception continue to resonate with audiences today.

“Witness for the Prosecution” was also notable for its use of the widescreen format, which allowed for more expansive and cinematic shots. The film’s cinematography and set design are top-notch, creating a rich and immersive world that adds to the film’s tension and drama.

Overall, “Witness for the Prosecution” is a gripping and intelligent film that showcases the talents of its director and cast. It remains a classic of the genre and a must-see for fans of classic cinema.

Witness For the Prosecution
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton (Actors)
  • Billy Wilder (Director) - Billy Wilder (Writer) - Arthur Hornblow Jr. (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

15. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

The Asphalt Jungle is a 1950 film noir directed by John Huston and starring Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, and Jean Hagen. The film follows a group of professional criminals who come together to pull off a jewel heist in the city of Cincinnati.

The film is known for its realistic portrayal of the criminal underworld and its emphasis on character development and moral ambiguity. It has been praised for its gritty realism, taut direction, and strong performances by the cast.

The Asphalt Jungle was a critical and commercial success and has since become a classic of the film noir genre.

It has been recognized for its influence on crime films and its impact on American cinema, and it has been preserved in the National Film Registry for its cultural significance.

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The Asphalt Jungle
  • The Asphalt Jungle - DVD Brand New
  • Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen (Actors)
  • John Huston (Director) - John Huston (Writer)
  • English, Spanish, French (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)

16. Forbidden Planet (1956)

“Forbidden Planet” is a classic American science fiction film released in 1956, directed by Fred M. Wilcox and starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Leslie Nielsen. The movie is loosely based on William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”

The film takes place in the 23rd century and follows a spaceship crew led by Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) as they travel to a distant planet to investigate the fate of a previous mission.

Upon arrival, they discover only two survivors: the brilliant scientist Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis).

The planet is also home to a powerful and mysterious technology left behind by an advanced alien civilization, which soon becomes the focus of the crew’s investigation.

“Forbidden Planet” is renowned for its groundbreaking special effects and imaginative design, which helped to define the look of science fiction films in the decades that followed.

It is also notable for its use of an all-electronic musical score, composed by Louis and Bebe Barron, which was a first in film history.

The film was a critical and commercial success, and it has since become a cult classic, celebrated for its innovative storytelling, memorable characters, and visionary approach to science fiction.

Forbidden Planet
  • Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen (Actors)
  • Fred M. Wilcox (Director) - Allen Adler (Writer)
  • English, French (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: G (General Audience)

3 Characteristics of 1950s Movies

Social conservatism: The 1950s were a time of great social and political conservatism in the United States, and this was reflected in many films of the era.

Movies often presented a traditional view of gender roles, family values, and social norms, with an emphasis on conformism and respect for authority.

Technicolor and widescreen: In the 1950s, the movie industry was in the midst of a technological revolution, with the introduction of color film and widescreen formats such as CinemaScope and VistaVision.

These innovations allowed filmmakers to create visually stunning movies with vibrant colors and sweeping panoramas, which became a hallmark of many films from the era.

Cold War paranoia: The 1950s were also a time of heightened Cold War tensions, and this was reflected in many films of the era, particularly in science fiction and horror movies.

Themes of nuclear annihilation, invasion, and alienation were common, as filmmakers explored the anxieties of the era through fantastical and often terrifying narratives.

3 Reasons To Watch 1950s Movies

Classic storytelling: The 1950s was a golden era for Hollywood, with the industry producing some of its most iconic films and memorable stories. From sweeping epics to intimate dramas, the films of the 1950s offer classic storytelling that has stood the test of time.

Historical significance: The 1950s was a pivotal decade in world history, with events such as the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement shaping the era.

Watching films from this period can offer insights into the social and cultural climate of the time, and can provide a window into how people thought and felt during this transformative decade.

Cinematic innovation: The 1950s was a time of great innovation in the film industry, with filmmakers experimenting with new techniques and technologies.

From widescreen formats to groundbreaking special effects, the films of the 1950s pushed the boundaries of what was possible on the big screen, and can be appreciated for their technical and artistic achievements.

Best 1950s Movies – Wrap Up

he 1950s was a significant decade in the history of cinema, producing some of the most iconic films of all time. From the epic spectacle of “Ben-Hur” to the gritty realism of “On the Waterfront,” the 1950s saw the emergence of a wide range of cinematic styles and genres.

Some of the best films of the 1950s included:

“Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) – a classic musical comedy starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds.

“Roman Holiday” (1953) – a romantic comedy that launched Audrey Hepburn’s career and won her an Oscar for Best Actress.

“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) – a groundbreaking film about teenage rebellion, starring James Dean in a career-defining role.

“The Searchers” (1956) – a Western directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, known for its stunning cinematography and complex themes.

“Vertigo” (1958) – a psychological thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, now considered one of the greatest films ever made.

“Some Like It Hot” (1959) – a classic comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon.

Other notable films from the 1950s include “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Ten Commandments,” “An American in Paris,” “From Here to Eternity,” “12 Angry Men,” “The African Queen,” and “High Noon.”

Overall, the 1950s produced a diverse range of films that continue to inspire and captivate audiences today, cementing its place as one of the most important decades in the history of cinema.