Already have an account?
Get back to the

Gene Kelly Movies: The Musicals That Made the Talented Charmer Hollywood Royalty

Acting, singing, dancing, choreographing, directing... was there anything he couldn't do?


Gene Kelly was undoubtedly one of the most charming stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He could do it all — acting, singing and dancing like no other, always with a sparkle in his eye and a winning smile. On top of all that, he even co-directed and choreographed some of his most famous films, including On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain.

There’s never been another leading man quite like Kelly (seriously, who else could inspire a fan blog devoted their fabulously sculpted backside long after their death?) and his classic midcentury musicals are the ultimate cinematic escapism. Here’s a look back at some of our favorite Gene Kelly movies.

Dancing his way to fame

Born in 1912, Gene Kelly began dancing as a child, and his natural talents led him to strike it big in Broadway musicals in the late ’30s and early ’40s. In 1942, he landed his first onscreen role in For Me and My Gal, a musical starring Judy Garland.

Judy Garland dances with Gene Kelly in a scene from the film 'For Me And My Gal', 1942
Gene Kelly with Judy Garland in his first movie, For Me And My Gal (1942)Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty

Soon enough, Kelly began showing off his creativity, choreographing his own dance routines in movies like Thousands Cheer (in which he danced with a mop), Cover Girl (in which he danced with his reflection) and Anchors Away (in which he danced with Jerry from the Tom and Jerry cartoons, in a cutting-edge sequence that still wows today).

Gene Kelly and Jerry the mouse in 'Anchors Away' 1945
Gene Kelly and Jerry the Mouse in Anchors Away (1945)FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty

In the late ’40s, Kelly’s profile rose as he worked steadily and appeared in movies like The Pirate, The Three Musketeers, Words and Music and Take Me Out to the Ball Game. In these films, Kelly showed his range, from suave swashbuckler to all-American everyman.

American actor and dancer Gene Kelly (1912 - 1996) Gene Kelly as D'Artagnan in a publicity still for the film 'The Three Musketeers', 1948
Gene Kelly in The Three Musketeers (1948)Silver Screen Collection/Getty

In 1949, Kelly starred in, choreographed and co-directed one of his most iconic movies, On the Town. Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin played a jaunty trio of Navy sailors enjoying a whirlwind shore leave in New York City.

MUST-READ: Vera-Ellen: A Look at the Dancing Starlet From Your Favorite Midcentury Musicals

While Kelly’s dance moves were undeniably impressive, there wasn’t anything pretentious about his approach to the art form. Rather, he became known for the vibrancy, approachability and athleticism he brought to dance — all qualities on full display as he sashayed through the streets (and rocked his sailor uniform) in On the Town.

Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in 'On the Town' 1949
Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in On the Town (1949)FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty

Gene Kelly movies: ’50s classics

Kelly went into the ’50s at the top of his game. In 1951, he starred in An American in Paris, playing an artist who falls for an ingenue in the City of Lights. The film is known for its George Gershwin music and stunning ballet sequence inspired by classic paintings, and it won a number of Oscars, including Best Picture, setting the stage for the many Technicolor musicals that won over audiences during that decade.

Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in 'An American in Paris' 1951
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris (1951)John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty

A year later, Kelly and Stanley Donen, his co-director on On the Town, collaborated again and created one of the beloved movie musicals of all time, Singin’ in the Rain. With its nostalgic look at ’20s Hollywood and the transition from silent to sound film, delightful cast and winning mix of humor and heart, the film has been a favorite of viewers of all ages for over 70 years. It doesn’t get more classic than Kelly singing the title song as he triumphantly dances on a lamppost, and his joy is downright infectious.

MUST-READ: Fred Astaire Movies, Ranked: The Silver Screen Icon’s 12 Most Memorable Roles

Gene Kelly in 'Singin' in the Rain' 1952
Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952)Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

After Singin’ in the Rain, Kelly starred in musicals like Brigadoon, It’s Always Fair Weather and Les Girls. It’s Always Fair Weather, released in 1955, was the final film co-directed by Kelly and Donen, and while it wasn’t as popular as Singin’ in the Rain, it’s won praise over time for its satirical tone and status as one of the last big musicals of the era.

Left to right: Michael Kidd, Gene Kelly and Dan Dailey in 'It's Always Fair Weather', 1955
Left to right: Michael Kidd, Gene Kelly and Dan Dailey in It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty

Later Gene Kelly movies

The colorful movie musicals that gave Kelly his defining roles fell out of fashion by the late ’50s, but he remained a popular presence and branched into directing more films and taking on TV roles in later decades.

In 1960, Kelly appeared in the drama Inherit the Wind, playing a cynical newspaper reporter. He then acted in the over-the-top ensemble comedy What a Way to Go!, and in 1967, he made a triumphant return to his musical roots in The Young Girls of Rochefort, a French film that was heavily influenced by Kelly’s ’50s style.

Gene Kelly in 'The Young Girls of Rochefort' 1967
Gene Kelly in The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

In the ’70s, Kelly acted in the movies 40 Carats and Viva Knievel! He made his last film appearance in the 1980 musical fantasy Xanadu, playing a former ’40s bandleader who dances with Olivia Newton-John and gets an ’80s makeover. While the film was a legendary box office flop, it offered a final showcase for Kelly’s one of a kind charisma and became a cult favorite over the years thanks to its campy aesthetic.

MUST-READ: Olivia Newton-John Movies and TV Shows: A Guide to the ‘Grease’ Star’s Legendary Work

Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John in 'Xanadu' 1980
Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu (1980)Hulton Archive/Getty

Kelly also reached a new generation of fans with his appearances in the That’s Entertainment! compilation films of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, which gathered some of the most memorable moments from classic movie musicals.

Kelly passed away in 1996 at age 83, leaving behind a legacy of brilliant acting, singing, dancing and filmmaking. He’s the kind of multitalented, joyful performer they just don’t make anymore, and long after they first came out, Gene Kelly movies transport us to a simpler time and make us want to put on our dancing shoes.

Read on for more ’50s stars!

Kim Novak Movies: A Look at 9 of the Blonde Bombshell’s Most Glamorous Roles

Best Elvis Movies, Ranked: 12 of His Most Rockin ’n’ Rollin’ Roles

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.