The greatest dancer of all time? Fred Astaire’s 20 Best Films – Ranked!

20. The Notorious Landlady (1962)

A semi-straight turn from Fred Astaire in this witty comedy drama. He is an American diplomat in London whose employee (Jack Lemmon) rents a flat from a mysterious, organ-playing landlady (Kim Novak) who is widely suspected of having insulted her husband. Astaire brings a touch of old-world sophistication, while he and Lemmon make for an appealing double act, exchanging jokes instead of toe taps.

19. Dancing Lady (1933)

Studio RKO may have had doubts about its new acquisition Astaire – “Can’t act. A bit bare. Also dances” – but it is a testament to his stardom before he got into the movies that he made his cinema debut on loan to MGM as himself in this pre-Code backstage musical. An early warning for future co-stars: Joan Crawford injured her ankle while trying to keep up with their duet.

18. On the Beach (1959)

Astaire excels in his first non-musical film role, as one of the last survivors of global nuclear annihilation in this adaptation of Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel. Deviating from his familiar twinkly-eyed persona, Astaire plays a depressed scientist who is plagued by guilt over his role in building the bombs. No fancy footwork here, but he does steer a Ferrari to victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

17. Ziegfeld Follies (1945)

A Technicolor revue from MGM celebrating famed Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and the era in which Astaire made it big. Peel back his appearance in Yellowface and enjoy his first on-screen dance with Gene Kelly in the banter of The Babbit and the Bromide, which Astaire originally performed with his sister Adele in the 1927 stage version of Funny Face.

16. Royal Wedding (1951)

Astaire had the idea to dance on the ceiling routinely in the 1920s – and it took him almost thirty years to make the dream come true in Stanley Donen’s musical comedy You’re All the World to Me. No shade to co-star Jane Powell, but the film’s second most memorable dance – a moment of sublime tap virtuosity – has Astaire partnered with a hat track.

15. The Towering Hell (1974)

Few actors have the charisma to compete with a burning 138-story skyscraper, but Astaire won the only Oscar nomination for supporting role in this classic disaster film. He donned his tuxedo jacket and took to the dance floor again to play the con man Harlee, wooing a wealthy woman played by Jennifer Jones in a strikingly poignant, even heroic, characterization of the seven-year-old star.

14. Finian’s Rainbow (1968)

Francis Ford Coppola’s anti-racist fantasy musical about a leprechaun (Tommy Steele) and a pot of gold polarized critics, but there’s no denying the joy of seeing Astaire turn on the charm and choreography once again. He plays Finian, a shady but friendly Irishman, who dances his way through “Rainbow Valley,” through a gymnastic tap-and-stick number in a barn and a few jigs with Petula Clark.

13. Holiday Inn (1942)

The blockbuster musical Holiday Inn, best remembered for Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, has a song for every season, all written by Irving Berlin. In the film’s most explosive number, Astaire takes the stage solo for a tribute to the Fourth of July, complete with a bag full of fireworks and a lit cigarette. Not always easy to watch, this is one of the few Astaire films to feature blackface.

12. Funny Face (1957)

A film really has to be so beautiful and so funny that audiences can bridge the 30-year age difference between Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. Kudos to Givenchy for Hepburn’s chic wardrobe, George and Ira Gershwin for the music, Kay Thompson for the smile and sheer panache of Astaire as he sings S’wonderful with Hepburn in soft focus.

11. The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)

No sooner had he returned from retirement number one than fate threw Astaire back with Ginger Rogers in this bittersweet romance about a showbiz marriage on the rocks. When they take the stage for They Can’t Take That Away from Me, the old magic returns in full force. A few months later, the Academy awarded him an honorary Oscar.

10. Three Little Words (1950)

The musical numbers come thick and fast in this lively biopic of Tin Pan Alley songwriters Bert Kalmar (Astaire) and Harry Ruby (Red Skelton). Astaire loved this film, which tapped into his nostalgia for vaudeville. Highlights include his songs with Vera-Ellen, who plays Kalmar’s wife; Her agility allowed Astaire to use numerous energetic high kicks, including choreographer Hermes Pan’s innovative “hurdling lift.”

9. You Were Never More Beautiful (1942)

Rita Hayworth was one of Astaire’s best dancing partners, although they only made two films together. This is the best of them, with more time to ignite his old-fashioned chivalry with her naturalistic sex appeal and Latin skills. Astaire said he designed the steps with Hayworth himself; Highlights include the fast swing routine of the Shorty George and the romantic swirls of I’m Old-Fashioned.

8. Follow the Fleet (1936)

Art deco splendor abounds in the justly celebrated Let’s Face the Music and Dance routine, in which Fred’n’Ginger spins in perfect symmetry around one of the largest of Van Nest Polglase’s so-called great white sets. The routine is performed in one flawless shot from head to toe. But in I’d Rather Lead a Band, Astaire really shows off his tap skills, dancing on and off the beat.

7. Broadway Tune of 1940 (1940)

There’s plenty to enjoy in this black-and-white backstage musical with songs by Cole Porter, but hold on tight for Begin the Beguine. Astaire and his co-star, Eleanor Powell, had such quick feet that they reportedly intimidated each other. When they dance together, the effect is hypnotic: on a mirrored floor, with a million twinkling lights. When the band stops playing, their feet become their own orchestra.

6. Shall We Dance (1937)

Perhaps the Fred’n’Ginger film with the funniest songs, including the immortal Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, and the widest variety of dance styles and spoofs, although it does have a typically ridiculous plot. There are serious moments: Slap That Bass sees Astaire and the Gershwins paying tribute to jazz rhythms with a black chorus, while the finale is a beautifully surreal showstopper.

5. Easter Parade (1948)

Astaire came out of retirement when Gene Kelly broke his ankle and co-starred with Judy Garland in this MGM musical packed with Berlin show tunes. One moment Astaire commands the stage as he swings through Steppin’ Out with My Baby, twirling his cane at full speed and in sparkling slow-mo; the next, he and Garland clown around in rags as Just a Couple of Swells.

4. Silk Stockings (1957)

With Cyd Charisse as his partner in Porter numbers like All of You, gilded by “glorious Technicolor, breathtaking CinemaScope and stereophonic sound,” the Cold War musical Silk Stockings (a remake of Ninotchka) represented a glorious high point for Astaire. At the end of the film, he parodies modern moves in The Ritz Roll and Rock and ultimately flattens his top hat. He hasn’t made a musical for eleven years.

3. Swing Time (1936)

Don’t you ever go dancing? Do not believe it. This was Astaire’s favorite collaboration with Rogers. The finale is spectacular, a spectacle on a gigantic shiny black staircase, but this film is packed with funny and romantic highlights. From A Fine Romance and The Way You Look Tonight to Pick Yourself Up and Astaire’s epic tribute to Bojangles of Harlem, they required very difficult levels of precision to achieve.

2. The Bandwagon (1953)

This hyperactive MGM musical spawned the paean to the collective joys of showbiz That’s Entertainment, yet Astaire commands attention as the solo lead, humming By Myself and going on an arcade rampage with Shine on Your Shoes. Pure bliss comes when he teams up with Charisse for classic romance (the impeccable Dancing in the Dark) or freeform noir pastiche (The Girl Hunt Ballet).

1. Top Hat (1935)

Elegance is at the heart of Astaire’s enduring appeal. No film better showcases his old-school poise and sparkling charisma than this timeless classic, the best of his collaborations with Rogers. The plot is no more substantial than the feathers on Rogers’ Cheek to Cheek dress, but the footwork is fluid and the chemistry between the miscommunicating lovers is divine.

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