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DISCLAIMER: All film criticism is extremely subjective and there is no such thing as the definitive list of the Greatest (English-language) Films. Great Films can't be measured scientifically because greatness is extremely subjective. Just because we like a film doesn't mean that you will like it as well. Please feel free to leave us a comment with the films that you think are the greatest which we have not included on our list.

Not only was 1956 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for actors making their film debuts and the deaths of some truly great talent. Here is a snap shot of the American film industry.

Making Their Film Debuts:

  • Jean-Paul Belmondo – Molière
  • Michael Caine – Panic in the Parlor
  • James Garner – Toward the Unknown
  • Robert LoggiaSomebody Up There Likes Me
  • Robert Morse – The Proud and Profane
  • Leslie NielsenForbidden Planet
  • Elvis Presley – Love Me Tender
  • John Schlesinger – Sunday in the Park
  • Maggie Smith – Child in the House
  • Harry Dean StantonThe Wrong Man
  • Rip TornBaby Doll


Top-grossing Films

Rank Title Studio Gross
1. The Ten Commandments Paramount $18,500,000
2. Around the World in 80 Days United Artists $16,200,000
3. Giant Warner Bros. $12,000,000
4. The King and I 20th Century Fox $8,500,000
5. Trapeze United Artists $7,500,000
6. High Society MGM $6,500,000
  I’ll Cry Tomorrow MGM $6,500,000
7. Picnic Columbia Pictures $6,300,000
8. The Girl Can’t Help It 20th Century Fox $6,250,000
9. War and Peace Paramount $6,250,000
10. Written on the Wind Universal $5,712,000
11. The Eddy Duchin Story Columbia Pictures $5,300,000
12. Moby Dick Warner Bros. $5,200,000
13. The Searchers Warner Bros. $4,800,000
14. The Conqueror RKO $4,500,000
  Julie MGM $4,500,000
  Rebel Without a Cause Warner Bros. $4,500,000
15. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit 20th Century Fox $4,350,000
  The Man with the Golden Arm United Artists $4,350,000
16. Baby Doll Warner Bros. $4,285,000
17. Zarak Columbia $4,252,000
18. Bus Stop 20th Century Fox $4,250,000
19. The Man Who Knew Too Much Paramount $4,153,000
20. The Best Things in Life Are Free 20th Century Fox $4,129,000
21. Star in the Dust Universal $4,122,000
22. Friendly Persuasion Allied Artists $4,000,000
23. The Proud and Profane Paramount $3,900,000
24. Artists and Models Paramount $3,800,000
25. Carousel 20th Century Fox $3,750,000
  Love Me Tender 20th Century Fox $3,750,000


Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: Around the World in 80 Days – Todd, United Artists

Best Director: George Stevens – Giant

Best Actor: Yul BrynnerThe King and I

Best Actress: Ingrid BergmanAnastasia

Best Supporting Actor: Anthony QuinnLust for Life

Best Supporting Actress: Dorothy Malone – Written on the Wind


Top Ten Money Making Stars

Rank Actor/Actress
1. William Holden
2. John Wayne
3. James Stewart
4. Burt Lancaster
5. Glenn Ford
6. (tie) Dean Martin
Jerry Lewis
7. Marilyn Monroe
8. Gary Cooper
9. Kim Novak
10. Frank Sinatra


Among Those Who Died In 1956:

  • January 9 – Marion Leonard, 74, American early silent actress, The Prussian Spy, The Gibson Goddess
  • January 12 – Norman Kerry, 61, American actor, The Phantom of the Opera, The Unknown
  • January 19 – Charles Dingle, 68, American actor, Call Me Madam, State of the Union
  • January 23 – Alexander Korda, 62, Hungarian film director, the founder of London Films, That Hamilton Woman, The Private Life of Henry VIII
  • February 2
  • February 26 – Elsie Janis, 66, American actress and screenwriter, A Regular Girl, Women in War
  • March 17 – Fred Allen, 61, American actor, It’s in the Bag!, O. Henry’s Full House
  • March 25 – Robert Newton, 50, English actor, Oliver Twist, Odd Man Out
  • April 15 – Kathleen Howard, 71, Canadian-American opera singer and actress, It’s a Gift, Ball of Fire
  • April 21 – Charles MacArthur, 60, American screenwriter and playwright, Wuthering Heights, His Girl Friday
  • April 26 – Edward Arnold, 66, American actor, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Diamond Jim
  • May 12 – Louis Calhern, 61, American actor, Duck Soup, Notorious, The Asphalt Jungle, High Society
  • June 6 – Margaret Wycherly, 74, English-American actress, White Heat, Sergeant York
  • August 16 – Bela Lugosi, 73, Hungarian-born American actor, Dracula, White Zombie, The Black Cat
  • August 23 – Kenji Mizoguchi, 58, Japanese director, The Life of Oharu, A Geisha
  • October 2 – George Bancroft, 74, American actor, Stagecoach, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  • October 9 – Marie Doro, 74, American actress, Oliver Twist, Sally Bishop
  • October 17 – Anne Crawford, 35, British actress, Knights of the Round Table, Night Beat
  • November 26 – Tommy Dorsey, 56, American musician, The Fabulous Dorseys, DuBarry Was a Lady, Ship Ahoy
  • December 26 – Holmes Herbert, 74, British actor, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man


The Greatest Films of 1956




Poster for the movie "Anastasia"

© 1956 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.


D: Anatole Litvak

Russian exiles in Paris plot to collect ten million pounds from the Bank of England by grooming a destitute, suicidal girl to pose as heir to the Russian throne. While Bounin is coaching her he comes to believe she is really Anastasia. In the end the Empress must decide her claim.

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Poster for the movie "Around the World in Eighty Days"

© 1956 Michael Todd Company − All right reserved.

Around the World in 80 Days

D: Michael Anderson

Based on the famous book by Jules Verne the movie follows Phileas Fogg on his journey around the world. Which has to be completed within 80 days, a very short period for those days.

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Poster for the movie "Baby Doll"

© 1956 Newtown Productions − All right reserved.

Baby Doll

D: Elia Kazan

This Kazan film has been called notorious, salacious, revolting, dirty, steamy, lewd, suggestive, morally repellent and provocative. The stark, controversial, black and white film was so viciously denounced by the Legion of Decency upon its release that many theaters were forced to cancel their showings, but it still did moderately well at the box office despite the uproar. Baby Doll’s impact was heightened by its themes: moral decay, lust, sexual repression, seduction, infantile eroticism and the corruption of the human soul. Its advertisements and posters featured a sultry young “Baby Doll” curled up in a crib in a suggestive pose, sucking her thumb. The young actress portraying ‘Baby Doll’ Meighan, Carroll Baker (25 years old and in her second film) received a well-deserved Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her role. Karl Malden played the role of Baby Doll’s sexually-frustrated husband Archie Lee, and Eli Wallach starred as unscrupulous businessman Silva Vaccaro whose main aim was to deflower the child bride. To make the film appear more genuine and authentic, most of it was filmed on location in Benoit, Mississippi. The landmark, tragi-comedy film, one of the most erotic cinematic works ever produced, was based on Tennessee Williams’ first original film screenplay, interweaving and adapting two of his earlier one-act plays: “Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton” and “The Long Stay Cut Short” (aka “The Unsatisfactory Supper”). The highly-acclaimed Williams had many of his plays adapted for the screen in the 1950s: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly Last Summer (1959)). As before, Williams’ work on this film was directed by Elia Kazan, a favorite director of several of his plays on Broadway as well.

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Bigger Than Life

© – All right reserved.

Bigger Than Life

D: Nicholas Ray

Starring James Mason, who also co-wrote and produced the film, about a school teacher and family man whose life spins out of control upon becoming addicted to cortisone. The film co-stars Barbara Rush as his wife and Walter Matthau as his closest friend, a fellow teacher. Though it was a box-office flop upon its initial release, many modern critics hail it as a masterpiece and brilliant indictment of contemporary attitudes towards mental illness and addiction. In 1963, Jean-Luc Godard named it one of the ten best American sound films ever made.

Bigger Than Life was based on a 1955 article by medical writer Berton Roueché in The New Yorker, titled “Ten Feet Tall”.


Poster for the movie "Bus Stop"

© 1956 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

Bus Stop

D: Joshua Logan

Aka The Wrong Kind of Girl, this comedy/drama, adapted by George Axelrod (who also co-wrote The Seven Year Itch (1955) also starring Monroe) and based on the hit Broadway play by William Inge, was Marilyn Monroe‘s first “serious” lead role. She plays Cherie, a fifth-rate, hillbilly saloon-bar singer in Phoenix, originally from the Ozarks, whose dream is to go to Hollywood. Her path crosses that of a naive, callow and rude cowboy from Montana in town for a rodeo, Beauregard ‘Bo’ Decker (Don Murray in his film debut), who immediately is smitten by his sweet ‘angel.’ The most memorable moment of Bus Stop is Monroe’s famous torch-song performance of “That Old Black Magic” for an unappreciative audience, mixing sensuousness with a wistfully sad, soulful quality. The country bumpkin persistently tries to woo Cherie (whom he crudely calls Cherry) – and forcefully kidnaps her to take her home with him. They become stranded during a blizzard at a roadside bus stop – the Blue Dragon Inn in Idaho, where she eventually falls for her abductor. Widely considered the best role of Monroe’s career, it mixed comedy with dark pathos. The film proved Monroe was a more-than-capable actress reflecting her skillful acting talent and some of her own personal insecurities.

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Poster for the movie "Carousel"

© 1956 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.


D: Henry King

Billy Bigelow has been dead for 15 years. Now outside the pearly gates, he long ago waived his right to go back to Earth for a day. He has heard that there is a problem with his family: namely with his wife Julie Bigelow, née Jordan, and his child he hasn’t met. He would now like to head back to Earth to assist in rectifying the problem; but before he may go, he has to get permission from the gatekeeper by telling him his story. Adapted from the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit Broadway musical.

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Poster for the movie "Forbidden Planet"

© − All right reserved.

Forbidden Planet

D: Fred McLeod Wilcox

Captain Adams and the crew of the Starship C57D fly towards planet Altair 4 in search for the Bellerphon spaceship that has been missing for twenty years. To their surprise they are already being expected. A classic science fiction film from 1957 starring Leslie Nielsen.

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Poster for the movie "Friendly Persuasion"

© 1956 Allied Artists − All right reserved.

Friendly Persuasion

D: William Wyler

The story of a family of Quakers in Indiana in 1862. Their religious sect is strongly opposed to violence and war. It’s not easy for them to meet the rules of their religion in everyday life but when Southern troops pass the area they are in real trouble. Should they fight, despite their peaceful attitude?

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Poster for the movie "Giant"

© 1956 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.


D: George Stevens

Director George Stevens sweeping saga of family conflict and social consciousness based on Edna Ferbers best seller. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, with a win for Stevens, and starring Rock Hudson as rancher Bick Benedict, Elizabeth Taylor as his wife Leslie and James Dean (in his final film role) as nouveau oil baron Jett Rink, this tale of three generations of Texans remains both grand and intimate.

 Watch preview and see where you can stream online here.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers

D: Don Siegel

An allegorical, intensely paranoid, chilling science-fiction parable of alien possession, based on Collier’s Magazine’s serialized story The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney – one of the greatest low-budget 50’s films that can be interpreted as philosophical commentary upon the spread of McCarthyism or Communism. Set in the idyllic small town of Santa Mira, California and told in flashback. Physician Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) begins to become paranoid and suspicious when his patients report that their loved ones, friends, and relatives are not themselves but emotionless shells, replicas, or imposters. Actually, the town is being surreptitiously invaded by strange, alien plant forms called ‘pods,’ that take over or replicate the likenesses, personalities and identities of human beings while they sleep. Miles and old girlfriend (now recently divorced) Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) fight to stay awake and battle the changes that may overtake them. When they flee to escape a similar fate and are chased into an abandoned mine shaft, Becky momentarily falls asleep – and her unresponsive kiss is revelatory. As the last ‘human’ being, he hysterically screams warnings while running down the middle of a highway, reaching the refuge of a hospital in San Francisco.


Poster for the movie "The Killing"

© 1956 United Artists − All right reserved.

The Killing

D: Stanley Kubrick

A stylish film noir crime drama, and the definitive heist-caper movie – Kubrick’s third film and first successful one, although highly under-rated when released. The tale is about a desperate gang of anti-hero misfits and lowlifes (in an ensemble cast) led by a grim, determined, and recently-released-from-jail con Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden). The group devises and executes a complex, carefully-timed racetrack heist of $2 million – that goes terribly wrong, similar to Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) (also with Sterling Hayden). The plan is to cause simultaneous, diversionary confusion by shooting one of the racehorses in mid-race and instigating a bar fight, thereby allowing Johnny to rob the main track offices and seize the day’s takings. The gang includes racetrack teller George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a pathetic wimp and loser who is easily tricked by his devious, scheming femme fatale wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) into revealing the details of the heist to pass to her adulterous lover Val Cannon (Vince Edwards, the future doctor Ben Casey on a TV series), who plans to take the loot at the rendezvous point once the robbery has been accomplished. The entire movie is presented non-chronologically in a winding fashion (with flash forwards and flashbacks), and played out in a series of tense, black-comedy scenes with swift transitions. The doom-laden, voice-over dialogue was derived from Lionel White’s novel Clean Break. The film has influenced many heist films, including the original Ocean’s Eleven (1960) (also remade in 2001). With excellent cinematography by Lucien Ballard, but ignored completely by the Academy, although this work would influence filmmakers for decades after – most notably Guy Ritchie and crime drama auteur Quentin Tarantino and his film Reservoir Dogs.

Watch preview and see where you can stream online here.


Poster for the movie "The King and I"

© 1956 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

The King and I

D: Walter Lang

Mrs. Anna Leonowens and her son Louis arrive in Bangkok, where she has contracted to teach English to the children of the royal household. She threatens to leave when the house she had been promised is not available, but falls in love with the children.

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Poster for the movie "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit"

© − All right reserved.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

D: Nunnally Johnson

Based on the 1955 novel by Sloan Wilson, Gregory Peck portrayed Everyman Tom Rath, who was still haunted by memories of WWII. He faced issues with conforming and reintegrating back into society – in both his career and married life. With homemaker wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) in the suburbs in the mid-1950s, he struggled to fit into the post-war period as a corporate member of society. However, he told himself: “I never wanted to get into this rat race, but now that I’m in it, I think I’d be an idiot not to play it the way everybody else plays it.” In flashbacks to the war years ten years earlier that continually plagued him, Tom recalled how he accidentally killed his good friend Hank with a hand-grenade, and impregnated young Italian Maria Montagne (Marisa Pavan) – a secret he still kept (and was now forced to acknowledge). He never believed he would return home alive from the war. Discontented and suffering from a number of problems, he commuted to NYC from Connecticut to a Manhattan PR job (writing for a mental health campaign) for the New York-based United Broadcasting Corporation. He came to realize that the success of his boss, network president Ralph Hopkins (Fredric March), came at the cost of personal happiness – something that was also happening to him. Tom had a dissatisfied, pushy and overwrought wife, inheritance issues with his suburban house when his grandmother’s will was contested, and bratty TV-addicted children. In the conclusion, Tom decided to forgo career advancement in favor of spending more time with his family as a ‘9 to 5’ man.

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Poster for the movie "The Man Who Knew Too Much"

© 1956 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

D: Alfred Hitchcock

A widescreen, Technicolor remake by Hitchcock of his 1934 film of the same title. A couple (James Stewart, Doris Day) vacationing in Morocco with their young son accidentally stumble upon an assassination plot. When the child is kidnapped to ensure their silence, they have to take matters into their own hands to save him.

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Poster for the movie "Patterns"

© 1956 Jed Harris − All right reserved.


D: Fielder Cook

Originally produced and written as a teleplay about corporate big business by Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling (and first airing on The Kraft Television Theatre in 1955), this boardroom-office melodrama featured the sensational tagline: “Ruthless Men And Ambitious Women…Clawing For Control Of A Billion Dollar Empire!!!” The B/W drama about ‘gray flannel suits’, filmed in a Brooklyn studio and on-location in NYC, was a compelling portrait of industrial giant Ramsey & Co. The corporation was headed by ruthless, menacing, profit-driven business executive Walter Ramsey (Everett Sloane). Other characters were aging, long-time second-in-command aide and exec. VP William “Bill” Briggs (Ed Begley), and young and ambitious industrial engineer Fred Staples (Van Heflin) who was brought in by the demanding Ramsey to replace Briggs as plant manager. Ramsey’s devious plan was to bring an exasperated Briggs to the brink of resignation or retirement rather than firing him – in fact, Briggs soon died of a heart-attack from stress, degradation and humiliation. In a showdown with Ramsey, Fred was then challenged to assume the secondary position and also compete for the top job – replacing Ramsey. Fred was enticed with a double salary, stock options, and an unlimited expense account. Fred accepted the VP position, then threatened that he would never give Ramsey any peace as his second-in-command. Supporting characters included Fred’s wife Nancy (Beatrice Straight), Fred’s reassigned secretary Marge Fleming (Elizabeth Wilson) (who previously worked for Briggs), and Ramsey’s cool and efficient secretary Miss Margaret Lanier (Joanna Roos).

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Poster for the movie "The Searchers"

© 1956 C.V. Whitney Pictures − All right reserved.

The Searchers

D: John Ford

A complex, epic, ‘psychological’ Western story about a man’s obsessive five year quest for revenge, set in post-Civil War America. Based on the novel by Alan Le May. This film is unquestionably Ford’s finest, beautifully filmed in his most popular locale, Monument Valley. Raiding Comanche Indians, in retaliation, massacre a frontier family and Chief Scar (Henry Brandon) kidnaps the teenaged daughter Debbie (Natalie Wood). The embittered, racist, anti-hero brother Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), a mysterious Civil War Confederate veteran, engages on a journey to pursue his niece – to kill the Chief who abducted her AND to kill his corrupted, tainted, disgraced niece to ‘save’ her from her savage captors. During their extensive, perilous, grim search, conveyed by a series of flashbacks, he is accompanied by half-breed adopted nephew Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), who is equally determined to save the girl. This exceptional film was not nominated for Academy Awards.

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Poster for the movie "The Ten Commandments"

© 1956 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

The Ten Commandments

D: Cecil B. DeMille

An unequaled epic regularly shown on TV during the Easter season. With great fire and brimstone scenes (with remarkable special effects) regarding Moses (Charlton Heston) who leads a cast of dozens of characters, as he brought the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt, and brought them stone tablets.

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Written on the Wind

© – All right reserved.

Written on the Wind

D: Douglas Sirk

A lush, psychosexual, trashy melodrama about wealth, greed and lust, acclaimed director Douglas Sirk’s best film, about the decline and self-destructiveness of a rich Texas oil family. Adapted from Robert Wilder’s novel. Told in flashback after an opening murder scene, weak Texas millionaire/oil man Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), the ne’er-do-well son of Texas dynasty magnate Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith), marries beautiful executive secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall) after an insistent romance. But he becomes suspicious of his best friend Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a handsome, successful geologist, who has similar affections – but only platonic – for Lucy. Kyle’s trampy, nymphomaniacal sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone), who wants the unattainable Mitch, fuels Kyle’s anxious jealousy, suspicions of his own sterility, and an habitual bout with a bottle by suggesting that Lucy is pregnant with Mitch’s child. An unfortunate confrontation ensues, causing Lucy to have a miscarriage. Roaring drunk, gun-wielding Kyle threatens Mitch and ends up dead. An inquest is held to determine Mitch’s guilt or innocence, with Marylee’s testimony holding his life in the balance.


Poster for the movie "The Wrong Man"

© 1956 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

The Wrong Man

D: Alfred Hitchcock

In this stark, film-noirish, documentary-styled crime drama, Stork Club string bass player and devoted family man Christopher Emanuel “Manny” Balestrero (Henry Fonda), living in the Jackson Heights (Queens) neighborhood of New York City, was mistakenly identified as a suspect for robberies (at gunpoint) at the Associated Life Insurance Company office – and police arrested him. He had visited the office to obtain a loan from wife Rose’s (Vera Miles) policy, to pay for her expensive dental work. Detained and held for intense questioning for armed robbery without a lawyer (Manny called the grilling a “meatgrinder”), unusual coincidences caused police to believe that he was responsible for a string of robberies. The innocent ‘everyman’ Manny protested the charges, claiming he was “the wrong man.” After being bailed out for $7,500 after a night in jail, inexperienced criminal attorney Frank D. O’Connor (Anthony Quayle) was hired to defend Manny. His alibi was that he was at a resort hotel with Rose during one of the robberies, but it couldn’t be substantiated. Due to the stress of the case, Rose fell into depression, became totally apathetic, and was institutionalized in a mental hospital. During the trial, Manny was convincingly prosecuted, although it was judged a mistrial due to a juror’s remarks. Meanwhile, the real robber was caught – his face closely resembled Manny’s. The case was dismissed. In the film’s epilogue, Rose was eventually cured two years later, and the couple moved to Florida.

Watch preview and see where you can stream online here.


Did  your favorite film make our list of the greatest films of 1956?

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