Top Five Screen Performances: Katharine Hepburn

This is the first post in a new blog series that I’m starting. I’ll be picking film actors and actresses and selecting what I consider to be their top five performances on film. The top five films will be picked solely for the quality of the individuals acting performances in those particular films. 

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) Image Source IMDb.

To kick things off let’s start with Katharine Hepburn. This lady is one of the most talented actresses of the entire classic film era. As of this date she still holds the record of being the only leading lady to win four Academy Awards. She had a long and varied film career. She’s best remembered for the films she made with Spencer Tracy. Let’s take a look at her top five performances. Beginning with number 5. 

Summertime (1955)

Katharine plays a very vulnerable and shy woman in this touching romantic drama from director David Lean. Set in Venice(and filmed on location)the story focuses on American tourist, Jane Hudson(Hepburn)as she visits Italy for the first time. She falls in love with the beauty and history of Venice, and also finds romance with Renato(Rossano Brazzi),the charming owner of a local glass store. 


Katharine and Rossano. Image source IMDb.

Katharine was famous for playing sassy, confident and strong characters, but here she plays the exact opposite. Jane is awkward, shy, inexperienced in love, and very vulnerable. Katharine tells us so much about this woman through the smallest gestures, her posture, or by the look in her eyes. Through Katharine’s performance, we can feel both Jane’s loneliness, and also her joy and excitement at her romantic awakening. This film is pretty underrated and it’s a shame that Katharine’s superb performance in this doesn’t get discussed more often. 

Woman Of The Year (1942)

Katharine shines as the confident and capable journalist and feminist Tess Harding. Right away we see through Katharine’s performance that Tess is strong, independent and very feisty. 

Woman Of The Year

Katharine and Spencer. Image source IMDb.

Not only does this film feature Katharine Hepburn at her very best, but it is also an important film as it marked the first collaboration between her and Spencer Tracy. The sparks fly between her and Spencer, especially during their first meeting in the office, which is one of the hottest scenes on film. Talk about instant attraction!🔥 Katharine is clearly having fun with this role and it shows in her performance. She’s so at ease as Tess and inhabits the character beautifully. 

The Lion In Winter (1968)

Katharine and Peter O’Toole tear strips off each other, both verbally and emotionally, in this gripping royal domestic drama. Katharine steals every scene she is in as the strong and fearless Queen Eleanor.

Lion In Winter

Katharine and Peter O’Toole. Image source IMDb.

What I like most about her performance in this one is that not only is she very funny and moving in many scenes, but she also allows us a peek beneath the mask to see the hidden woman behind the Queen’s iron facade. One of the best performances she ever gave. Her efforts on this film were rewarded with an Oscar. 


The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The film that saved and resurrected Katharine Hepburn’s film career. Katharine’s performance here is pitch perfect. Her screen image completely changed with this film. As Tracy Lord she is sassy, glamorous, sexy, confident and easily hurt too. She gets quite a few speeches in the film and she handles those beautifully. When she’s not on screen you miss her because she dominates every second of film she appears in. 

The Philadelphia Story

Katharine and James Stewart. Image source IMDb.

Katharine is excellent as the wealthy society heiress who longs to be valued for her personality, rather than for her beauty and status in society. Tracy is a flawed and somewhat difficult person, but she means well and longs for some happiness, and you can’t help but admire her. Katharine really makes us feel for Tracy and admire her strength. Katharine is supported wonderfully by James Stewart(who took home an Oscar for his performance) and Cary Grant. Katharine was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle


Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)

Katharine’s performance as the drug addicted Mary Tyrone absolutely blew me away when I first saw it. She’s otherworldly and girl like one minute, then out of control and tragic the next. 

Long Days Journey Into Night

Katharine with Jason Robards. Image source IMDb.

Her performance here is all in the eyes, in the tone and level of her voice, and in her body language. You feel the emotional pain and get a good sense of how troubled and damaged this woman is. Katharine gives a remarkable performance here. Her work was Oscar nominated, but she lost to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker

10 thoughts on “Top Five Screen Performances: Katharine Hepburn

  1. Paul S

    Katharine Hepburn is a fine choice to kick of this new series. I think The Philadelphia Story is my favourite of her performances. When I think of Kate’s acting, I think of Tracy Lords. The role was written specifically for her, so she has that on her side. As much as I love Bringing Up Baby, in The Philadelphia Story she’s comedic without making a comedy of herself. It’s a nice, juicy role and her performance lives up to it, and that silent opening scene is flawlessly performed by her [and Cary Grant]. It’s as good as they come.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mistermuse

    Fine choices….especially SUMMERTIME, which I agree is very underrated. My only quibble is that it seems to me that AFRICAN QUEEN (opposite Humphrey Bogart) should be included among her top 5, but I’m not sure which of your top 5 I’d replace it with….so I’ll just expand it to my top 6.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paddy Lee

    Katharine Hepburn. Difficult to pin down as to five film performances only. You set yourself quite a task.

    My five (and we agree here on some): Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bringing Up Baby, Summertime, The Lion in Winter (Merry Christmas!), and The African Queen. Bonus (it has my affection): Quality Street

    Liked by 1 person

    1. maddylovesherclassicfilms Post author

      It was difficult but fun. I’m looking forward to doing this with more actors. She is hilarious in Bringing Up Baby, I also really like her in Holiday. After Spence, her best screen partner was Cary Grant, and I wish they had worked together more often.


  4. rcocean

    Its hard to pick just five. I’d say my top ten were as follows:

    01) Morning Glory
    02) Bringing up Baby
    03) Stage Door
    04) Philadelphia Story
    05) Woman of the Year
    06) Adams Rib
    07)African Queen
    08) Summertime
    09) Long Days Journey Into Night
    10) Love Among the Ruins

    Liked by 1 person

  5. AMW

    Masterful in nearly every single performance of her career. I’ve an odd choice for favorite performance, if not perhaps best…she nailed it in “Alice Adams,” despite the character being of little consequence.



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