Cary Grant ranks as one of cinema’s most well-known, beloved, and accomplished actors. Far from one note, in Grant’s 77 acting credits, he plays comedic, serious, mysterious, dramatic, and romantic roles.
His filmography features suspenseful films, romantic and screwball comedies, thrilling mysteries, and poignant dramas. Ranking his movies may seem impossible, with so many incredible films. Narrowing it down to 20 leaves out some fantastic films, including To Catch a Thief, In Name Only, The Awful Truth, Monkey Business, That Touch of Mink, Only Angels Have Wings, and more. But the top 20 Cary Grant films are worthwhile, notable, and entertaining.
1. North by Northwest (1959)
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest and most iconic films also stands out as the finest in Cary Grant’s impressive and illustrious career. The film’s exciting and unnerving story involves mistaken identity, espionage, conspiracy, and romance.
Grant plays Roger Thornhill, an average advertising executive. Mistaken for another man thrusts Roger into a dangerous world where he must contend with abductions, attempted murder, and false allegations. Along the way, he meets the alluring Eve Kendall (Eva Maria Saint) and sparks fly between them.
An iconic film, North by Northwest’s most famous scenes include a crop-dusting plane and a dramatic escape atop Mount Rushmore. But the film has more than just these two seminal moments. Thrilling and taut, the film stands out with Hitchcock’s sense of style, humor, and tension.
Grant delivers a paramount performance and the most “Cary Grant-ian” of his career.
2. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Intelligent, witty, and sophisticated, The Philadelphia Story delivers masterful, funny, profound writing and superb acting. Moreover, the stylish direction lets the work speak for itself, guiding the performers and allowing them to shine.
The story follows the upcoming wedding of stubborn and spirited Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), the magazine reporters sent to cover it (James Stewart and Ruth Hussey), and Tracy’s ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), who still harbors strong feelings for her. Lavish parties, romantic entanglements, and striking wisdom about accepting a person’s frailty and vulnerabilities help make this film one of the greatest ever made.
At their very best, Grant, Hepburn, and Stewart’s characters bring out fire, passion, and sobering truths about themselves and life. Loving someone does not involve adoration but walking side by side as equals.
The delightful performances of the talented cast propel these profound themes. Like Dexter’s sailboat named after Tracy, The Philadelphia Story is yare- in other words, wonderfully quick and witty.
3. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
This poignant and heartwarming holiday drama showcases faith in more than the spiritual sense. The story revolves around a kind but harried Bishop (David Niven) who prays for guidance as he deals with an overbearing benefactor.
God answers his prayers with the angel Dudley (Grant). The dashing and disarming Dudley charms everyone he meets, including the Bishop’s lovely wife, Julia (Loretta Young), whom the Bishop often neglects. The Bishop’s Wife features a beautiful story and one of Grant’s finest performances.
Initially, the filmmakers cast Grant as the Bishop and Niven as Dudley. But after a few weeks of filming, director Henry Koster felt the actors should switch parts. And that instinct was correct. Niven gives an outstanding performance as the Bishop. Grant embodies the angel who could charm the stars from the sky while possessing an aura of wisdom.
As he enchants everyone and annoys the Bishop, the script tells a thoughtful and moving story about what truly matters in life. The Bishop’s Wife may be a lesser-known and underrated holiday film, but it remains touching, sweet-natured, mature, and thoughtful.
4. Father Goose (1964)
Cary Grant plays against his usual debonair type in Father Goose, portraying a grungy and grumpy man who reluctantly agrees to be a lookout for planes on a Pacific island during WWII. Much to Walter Eckland’s chagrin, his job as a lookout grows more complicated when he must rescue a French teacher and a group of young girls from a nearby island.
Polar opposites Walter and Miss Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) soon label each other “goody two-shoes” and “the filthy beast” as they attempt to cohabitate on the island and protect the girls in the process. But sparks of a different nature soon inevitably fly.
Father Goose was Grant’s second to last feature film. He portrays a character much different than his typical fare, but one Grant himself said resembles his personality the most. The film perfectly blends comedy and drama in affecting ways, creating an utterly delight watch.
With rich and believable characters, the hilarious and romantic chemistry between Grant and Caron sizzles. Moreover, adorable moments with the children and genuinely dramatic moments involving their precarious situation on the island round out one of the finest of Grant’s career.
5. Charade (1963)
Critics often call Charade the best Hitchcock film not directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In truth, this film from director Stanley Donen stars Grant, along with Audrey Hepburn, in a story that blends suspense, drama, romance, and even touches of comedy.
The story follows recently widowed Regina Lambert (Hepburn), who discovers her husband's involvement with some shady individuals and circumstances. Three men pursue her, believing she knows the location of a fortune they all stole during the war. Thankfully, she meets Peter Joshua (Grant), who helps her pursue the truth and escape from these vicious men who relentlessly seek her.
Charade more than lives up to its reputation. With an apropos title, the plot unfolds in unexpected ways where things are never what they seem. Grant and Hepburn’s rapport creates a sweet and amusing chemistry that feels natural despite their disparate ages.
Notably, Grant only agreed to take the role if Hepburn’s character did the romantic pursuit since he is much older. Charade gives us one of the greatest classic thrillers with a dramatic, tense, sweet, and often surprising script and performances.
6. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
This off-beat, dark comedy comes from director Frank Capra. The zany, borderline satire film combines hilarity with dark undertones. The story follows a nice, average man who visits his family on the eve of his wedding and realizes they are all off their rockers.
His two elderly aunts poison lonely men who visit them, believing they are showing them mercy. They hide their latest kill in the window seat. His cousin thinks he’s President Theodore Roosevelt, and his maniacal brother Jonathan recently escapes prison, enjoying a killing spree.
In one of Grant’s most madcap performances and films, he employs slapstick humor, quick dialogue, and exaggerated reactions that ground the film from its wild plot. Grant acts as the audience, observing all the escapades with fear, astonishment, and quick thinking. Undoubtedly, Arsenic and Old Lace is Grant’s darkest but funniest comedy.
7. His Girl Friday (1940)
Many moviegoers and critics consider His Girl Friday one of the finest screwball comedies ever. In truth, this intelligent comedy and drama also tackles serious issues in ways quintessential to this filmmaking era.
The story starts in a light and relatively innocuous way. A former reporter (Rosalind Russell) who plans to remarry visits her ex-husband and former boss, the head of one of the city’s best newspapers, to tell him the news. He still carries a torch for her and believes she has that fiery reporter spirit. So he partakes in somewhat harmless schemes to keep her from leaving town with her fiancé.
His feelings prove true when she becomes entangled with a story about a man who is due to be executed for killing a police officer but maintains his innocence.
His Girl Friday explores themes of corruption amongst those in authority as well as the media. Russell and Grant are chasing down a story, but more importantly, they are chasing the truth. The film promotes compassion for others and condemnation of those who sensationalize the news or lie entirely in the name of power or money.
Grant and Russell give incredible performances, individually and together. The script features some of the most fast-paced, intricate, and humorous dialogue in film history.
8. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
This understated comedy stars Grant as Jim Blandings, a simple man who, along with his wife Muriel and their two growing daughters, decides to move from their small city apartment to a large home in the suburbs. And while Blandings may be an uncomplicated family man, this move proves to be precisely the opposite. Problems arise at every turn, making for nearly absurd results.
The naturalistic humor in Mr. Blandings appeals to anyone who’s ever bought and renovated an older home. Grant proves to have fantastic romantic chemistry with Myrna Loy, as the two feel like a real married couple with a subtle shorthand and little quibbles that couples have. He also showcases superb comedic timing with their friend, played by Melvyn Douglas. Building a dream house was never funnier.
9. Suspicion (1941)
Another underrated and distinctive Hitchcock film, Suspicion’s first and second halves vary greatly tonally yet still feel cohesive. The film begins with a sweet, whirlwind romance between an unassuming heiress (Joan Fontaine) and the dashing and charming man (Grant) she meets by chance on a train. These light and romantic moments differ drastically from everything that follows.
The second half of the film becomes an atmospheric suspense film as newlywed bliss turns to money troubles and suspicions that her husband is plotting to murder her. The complicated truth keeps us guessing until the end, as Grant’s keeps the viewer unsure of his intentions. His nuanced performance combines serious and unnerving moments with tenderness.
10. Bringing up Baby (1938)
From director Howard Hawks, Bringing Up Baby is a quintessential screwball comedy. The zany, fast-paced, and delightful film follows mild-mannered paleontologist David (Grant), who meets sweet-natured but slightly ditzy heiress Susan (Katharine Hepburn). And she throws his life for a loop. Susan talks incessantly, has a pet leopard, and gets David into trouble at every turn. But through their misadventures, David soon learns he cannot resist her charms, eccentric as they are.
Bringing Up Baby results in one of Grant’s funniest performances as his character David is constantly exasperated and annoyed but remains utterly charming with naturally light chemistry with Hepburn. He is at the top of his slapstick humor game in moments that have become iconic. As hilarious as they come, Bringing Up Baby will put a smile on anyone’s face.
11. Notorious (1946)
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most underrated films brings together Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains for a suspenseful and romantic drama. It also proves to be one of Grant’s most incredible performances. The story follows the daughter of a convicted spy. The American government approaches her to prove her loyalty and distance herself from her father.
They ask Alicia Huberman (Bergman) to spy on a group of scientists in Brazil. That includes a man named Alexander Sebastian (Rains), a longtime acquaintance she knows harbors strong feelings for her. Grant plays her handler, and the two share deep feelings for each other. However, Grant always keeps his distance and decidedly plays a more standoffish and harsher character than his typical roles.
Like many Hitchcock films, Notorious masterfully builds dramatic and romantic tension with Hitchcock’s use of unusual angles and zooms and the nuanced performances from Grant, Bergman, and Rains. Notorious proves to be an intense and provocative film.
12. My Favorite Wife (1940)
One of the sweetest romantic comedies, My Favorite Wife exudes natural ease. While on his honeymoon, his wife (Irene Dunn), who he thought had died seven years previously, turns Nick’s life upside down when she turns up at the same hotel as the newlyweds. This miraculous occurrence astonishes and moves Nick for apparent reasons.
But of course, hilarious mishaps, misunderstandings, and entanglements occur as he must figure out what to do with the other woman he just married.
The story goes the way of most romantic comedies, providing viewers with comfort. Part screwball comedy and part heartfelt drama, My Favorite Wife Grant’s sharp and quick comedic timing, both physically and verbally, elevates the film. The equally charming Dunn matches his affable performance.
13. The Talk of The Town (1942)
Many of Grant’s films combine comedy with drama, adding depth to the film’s themes on society. That may be a coincidence or a case of the studio knowing Grant could convey these things beautifully. Co-starring Jean Arthur and Ronald Coleman, The Talk of the Town presents a thoughtful examination of compassion, critical and instinctual thinking, corruption, and the dangers of ignorant mob mentality.
In the film, Grant plays a man wrongfully accused and convicted of arson and murder who escapes prison and flees to the home of his childhood friend. He scares her at first but soon helps prove him innocent. With a renter staying at the house, the complicated situation results in hijinks, misunderstandings, and dire circumstances. Well-written and performed, this slow-paced film proves equally effective and entertaining.
14. Destination Tokyo (1943)
Thoughtful, authentic, and dramatic, this wartime film follows a group of sailors on a dangerous submarine mission to Tokyo during World War II. Grant plays the vessel’s captain, leading his fellow sailors with a compassionate but firm hand. Besides Grant, these men and their varied personalities clash and ultimately bond on this perilous journey in cramped quarters.
This film portrays a mission so authentic that commanders used it as a Naval training film in the remaining years of WWII and beyond. Moreover, real-life footage of planes taking off from an aircraft carrier added another level of commitment to its accuracy. Above all, Destination Tokyo gives us a glimpse into what the people of the era faced, who did so with integrity and courage.
15. Gunga Din (1939)
In the year considered cinema’s most remarkable in history, Gunga Din follows a young man in 19th-century India who dreams of joining the British Army. However, they prohibit him from doing so because he is Indian. Instead, he is a water-bearer for the soldiers and does the next best thing. He proves himself helpful by providing vital information about an imminent threat.
Even viewers who have never seen the film, many have probably heard the famous line, “You’re a better man than I, Gunga Din.” Though entertaining and exciting, one must note certain problematic elements by today’s standards. Still, the cast shines, and a sense of loyalty and adventure awes.
16. The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer (1947)
One of Grant’s sweetest romantic comedies tells the story of a very impressionable high school girl (Shirley Temple) who falls in love with Grant’s character after he gives a speech at her school. Wanting to let her down easy and not shatter her heart, a great deal of hilarity ensues, especially when he meets and finds himself attracted to Temple’s no-nonsense older sister, played by Myrna Loy.
This film feels like one of a different bygone era, but that’s part of the charm. Grant’s incredibly humorous portrayal makes every scene smile-inducing. The biggest takeaway shows us to trust our instincts and follow our hearts.
17. Room for One More (1952)
Room For One More presents the most affecting and heartwarming story of Cary Grant’s films involving children and families. Co-starring Grant’s real-life wife at the time, Betsy Drake, the movie follows a loving and good-natured couple who live a quiet and happy life with their three children and the many animals they take in who need a good home.
But they do not limit their generosity and goodwill to animals. They become foster parents for two children to whom life has not been kind: a young girl who almost ended it all and is very unhappy and a physically challenged boy who often gets into trouble.
The themes of family and compassion make this film one of the sweetest in Grant’s repertoire without being unbelievable or saccharine. Grant and his wife, Drake, also have lovely chemistry on screen. And most significantly, their poignant moments with the children make Room For One More relatable to many.
18. An Affair To Remember (1957)
The most romantic film of Grant’s career, this melodrama co-stars Deborah Kerr. The beautiful, slow-paced, but moving story showcases themes of love, fate, and second chances. When Nickie and Terry meet on their cruise home to New York, they fall in love despite being involved with other people.
But clearly, destiny aligns their hearts. To prove that their feelings are more than a passing fancy, they agree to meet in six months on the top of the Empire State Building to see if their feelings remain. But as in all romances, this journey proves wrought with obstacles.
An Affair to Remember works because of the earnest, authentic tone, brimming with unabashed romance. Grant exudes charm in a role tailor-made for his suave and debonair style. Together with Kerr, they create one of the most timeless romances ever.
19. Penny Serenade (1941)
One of his more somber films, this poignant drama also elicits fine performances from Grant and his co-star Irene Dunne. The story follows a couple who have endured many trials and tribulations throughout their marriage. They deeply love each other, but life is often cruel, and they suffer hardship among the joys. Their greatest dream is to have a child, and that journey provides their most profound struggle yet.
This emotional and moving film features many moments that will bring the viewers to tears. But fair warning, those who have dealt with the hardships involving infertility or adoption may find it triggering. However, this worthwhile film in Grant’s filmography features one of his most affecting and deeply touching performances.
20. Operation Petticoat (1959)
Cary Grant does what he does best in this comedy/drama set during WWII. Grant plays Navy Commander, who gets more than he bargains for with his latest mission. Commander Matt Sherman (Grant) agrees to command a newly damaged submarine, which seems simple enough. But soon, complications arise.
His executive officer (Tony Curtis), with a roving eye and penchant for schemes, needs a dose of reality and humility. They come across a group of stranded nurses and must bring them on board, creating havoc and many clashes in close quarters. Likewise, a shortage of paint results in a pink submarine, a color that makes concealment challenging.
Operation Petticoat delights filmgoers with humor, romance, and thoughtful moments. Above all, the film showcases WWII’s challenges in a lighthearted way.