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Top 10 Katharine Hepburn Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Nolan Moore. You don’t win four Oscars for nothing. In this video, MsMojo counts down our picks for the top 10 Katharine Hepburn performances. One of the most legendary actors in Hollywood history, Katharine Hepburn was named the greatest female screen legend by the American Film Institute. And with more Oscars under her belt than any other actor, Hepburn is without a doubt one of the greatest entertainers on the silver screen. For this list, we’re looking at Katharine Hepburn’s greatest roles from an impressive career spanning over sixty years. Special thanks to our users jkellis, Emily JoAnn Warden, Jaime Enrique Gutierrez Pérez, msche80397 and Jamima Puddleduck for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at MsMojo.tv/suggest
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Transcript
Script written by Nolan Moore.

Top 10 Katharine Hepburn Performances


You don’t win four Oscars for nothing. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Katharine Hepburn performances.

One of the most legendary actors in Hollywood history, Katharine Hepburn was named the greatest female screen legend by the American Film Institute. And with more Oscars under her belt than any other actor, Hepburn is without a doubt one of the greatest entertainers on the silver screen. For this list, we’re looking at Katharine Hepburn’s greatest roles from an impressive career spanning over sixty years.

#10: Linda Seton
“Holiday” (1938)

This lighthearted comedy finds Cary Grant engaged to the girl of his dreams. But instead of settling down and getting a job, he wants to go on vacation for a few years. His rich fiancée is appalled, but her eccentric sister thinks it’s grand and falls in love with her would-be brother-in-law. Having understudied the part on Broadway, Hepburn plays this black sheep socialite with joyous whimsy, and even though Grant starts off with the spotlight, Hepburn steals the show with her high-spirited performance.

#9: Tess Harding
“Woman of the Year” (1942)

In this 1940s dramedy, Hepburn plays a world famous journalist who falls in love with a hardheaded sports reporter. Trouble arises when her devotion to the job conflicts with her not-so-happy home life. While the ending seems dated today, Hepburn’s strong performance was a Hollywood milestone for equal rights. “Woman of the Year” was also the first of nine films Hepburn made with Spencer Tracy. Not only did they become one of cinema’s iconic couples, they were also real-life lovers whose romance shows up onscreen.

#8: Amanda Bonner
“Adam’s Rib” (1949)

A hilarious battle of the sexes, this courtroom comedy stars Hepburn as Amanda “Pinky” Bonner, a lawyer defending a woman on trial for shooting her two-timing husband. Of course, Amanda has one problem…she’s married to the prosecutor. To prepare for her role as the ardent attorney, Hepburn watched real-life L.A. lawyers in action, which no doubt inspired her passionate closing argument. Considered one of the best of the Hepburn-Tracy flicks, this legal laugh-fest owes its big chuckles and progressive message to its feminist leading lady.

#7: Josephine 'Jo' March
“Little Women” (1933)

Louisa May Alcott’s beloved tale of 19th century sisters was just begging to be turned into a film, and the character of Jo March was tailor-made for Katharine Hepburn. Practically glowing with life, Hepburn steals every scene she’s in as the spirited writer struggling to keep her family together. In Hepburn’s capable hands, Jo effectively evolves from a lively, hot-tempered girl to a mature adult and successful author. In other words, it’s a performance that’ll have you shouting, “Christopher Columbus!”

#6: Eleanor of Aquitaine
“The Lion in Winter” (1968)

Sex, death threats, psychological manipulation…this is Katharine Hepburn like you’ve never seen her before. In this Oscar-winning period piece, Hepburn plays Eleanor of Aquitaine, an aging queen at odds with her estranged husband. When Henry II has to choose which of his three sons will inherit the crown, Hepburn turns into a medieval Machiavellian, scheming to put her son Richard on the throne no matter what it takes. Chillingly cool and wickedly shrewd, this electric performance won Hepburn her third Oscar for Best Actress.

#5: Ethel Thayer
“On Golden Pond” (1981)

By 1981, Hepburn was in her seventies and suffering from essential tremor, but that didn’t stop her from doing great work…or her own stunts, for that matter. In this touching drama, Hepburn plays an elderly but exuberant woman whose love for her cantankerous husband has only grown stronger over the years. With decades of experience, Hepburn knows exactly when to turn on her vivacious personality and when to tone it down to a mere whisper, and this performance snagged Hepburn her fourth and final Oscar.

#4: Christina Drayton
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967)

Champion of liberal causes onscreen and off, it’s no surprise Hepburn starred in Stanley Kramer’s interracial romance. When her love-struck daughter brings home an African-American fiancé, Hepburn and her husband are confronted with their own hidden prejudices, especially when the doctor explains he won’t marry their daughter if they don’t consent. Hepburn gives a touching performance as a mother who overcomes her shock to support her daughter’s decision, earning Hepburn an Oscar and marking her last film with Spencer Tracy before his death in 1967.

#3: Rose Sayer
“The African Queen” (1951)

Want to sink an enemy gunboat? Better call Katharine Hepburn. In this adventure classic, Hepburn plays a prim and proper missionary who delivers Old Testament vengeance after German soldiers attack her mission. Teaming up with a scraggly, drunken Humphrey Bogart, Hepburn transforms from a snobby prude into a female Rambo who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. The real-life Hepburn went through quite a wild experience too. Filming on location, she suffered from dysentery, threw up between takes, and was attacked by soldier ants.

#2: Susan Vance
“Bringing Up Baby” (1938)

In real life, Katharine Hepburn was the picture of New England class. But in “Bringing Up Baby,” she threw her poise and grace straight out the window. As nutty heiress Susan Vance, Hepburn’s character is a tour-de-force of screwball brilliance. After falling in love with a bumbling paleontologist, Hepburn drags the scientist on a madcap chase that involves a yappy dog, a brontosaurus bone, and a music-loving leopard. While the film tanked at the box office, Hepburn’s wild energy and comic timing were pure gold.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Lizzie Curry
“The Rainmaker” (1956)
- Jane Hudson
“Summertime” (1955)
- Eva Lovelace
“Morning Glory” (1933)
- Terry Randall
“Stage Door” (1937)

#1: Tracy Lord
“The Philadelphia Story” (1940)

Despite stellar performances in films like “Bringing Up Baby,” Hepburn’s career wasn’t all that hot in the 1930s. Dubbed “box office poison” by the media, her movies bombed big time…until “The Philadelphia Story.” Reprising her Broadway role as Tracy Lord, Hepburn wowed critics and audiences alike as the uptight heiress caught in a comical love rectangle. Snobby but sophisticated, Hepburn brilliantly changes from a self-righteous socialite into a tender human being, earning her an Oscar nomination and the number one spot on our list.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Katharine Hepburn performance? For more entertaining Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.
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