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Jimmy Stewart Movies: 10 of the Legendary Actor’s Most Impressive Star Turns

This real-life American hero helped protect the country — and entertained it as well!

Iconic actors as lovable and widely adored as Jimmy Stewart are hard to come by. The all-American leading man made 21 feature films throughout the 1930s, and these Jimmy Stewart movies covered all genres: westerns, comedy, drama, musicals and more. By 1941, he’d already worked with the likes of Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Spencer Tracy and Ginger Rogers, and he’d earned two Oscar nominations for Best Actor, winning the second one in 1940.

At the peak of his career, though, he truly proved his character — and shocked his movie studio! — by enlisting in the Army, serving in World War II and flying in 20 combat missions over Germany. His service earned him two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Croix de Guerre to add to his Oscar back home.

Jimmy Stewart in his Air Force uniform, 1942: Hulton Archive / Stringer

In 1985, Ronald Reagan awarded Stewart — who served in the Air Force Reserves even after the war and rose to the rank of Brigadier General — the Presidential Medal of Freedom, alongside such other notable names as Mother Teresa, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and Chuck Yeager.

James Stewart holding an Academy Award
James Stewart at the 1985 Academy Awards ROB BOREN / Staff / Getty

Proving again how much of a class act he was, Stewart was refreshingly humble when he received a 1985 honorary lifetime achievement award at the Academy Awards for, as presenter Cary Grant noted, “his 50 years of memorable performances, and for his high ideals, both on and off the screen.”

In his acceptance speech, Stewart not only thanked his fellow actors, but also the directors, producers, writers, props people, grips, makeup and wardrobe artists, lighting directors and cinematographers he worked with through the years. “All of ’em. Everybody who was there with me and helped me to get along so well between ‘action’ and ‘cut’,” he generously noted. “A part of this Oscar belongs to them — a good part!”

He didn’t forget all of us who loved — and still love — his great catalog of work. “And finally, the audience,” Stewart said in gratitude. “All you wonderful folks out there. Thank you for being so kind to me over the years. You’ve given me a wonderful life.” Well played, Mr. Bailey, er, Stewart. Well played.

10 best Jimmy Stewart movies

Be sure to check out these Jimmy Stewart movies, which capture the iconic actor at some of the highest points of his screen career.

10. Harvey (1950)

Jimmy Stewart Movies: James Stewart looking over Charles Drake in “Harvey”
James Stewart (right) and Charles Drake in “Harvey” (1950) International Pictures (UI)

“Mr. Stewart is utterly beguiling,” the New York Times raved of the actor in this adaptation of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about Elwood P. Dowd, a quirky, liquor-loving guy whose best friend is an invisible white rabbit named Harvey.

Stewart’s performance was so beguiling, in fact, that it earned him best actor nominations at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes. “Harvey’s ultimate message of acceptance is an unexpectedly progressive view of mental health for a film written in the 1940s,” Collider notes, and Stewart’s nuanced, sensitive portrayal is considered one of the most impressive of his career.

9. Vertigo (1958)

Jimmy Stewart Movies: Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak in a promo shot for “Vertigo”
James Stewart and Kim Novak in “Vertigo” (1958) J. Hitchcock Productions

This Alfred Hitchcock classic “gives new meaning to the word ‘suspense,’” according to its original trailer. Stewart’s private investigator John “Scottie” Ferguson suffers from the titular condition, which sure does complicate his growing obsession with the mysterious, seemingly disturbed woman (Kim Novak) he’s following for a high-stakes assignment.

This San Francisco-set thriller wasn’t considered one of Hitchcock’s best out of the (golden) gates, but its popularity has exploded through the years: Since 2022, it sits at No. 2 on the highly respected British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time list, having pushed Citizen Kane to No. 3.

8. Winchester ’73 (1950)

Jimmy Stewart Movies: Jimmy Stewart posing with a rifle in “Winchester ’73”
James Stewart in “Winchester ’73” (1950) International Pictures (UI)

Billed as part of its “matchless cast” that included Shelley Winters and Dan Duryea, Stewart stars as Lin McAdam, who wins the prized titular gun in a shooting contest, only to have it stolen — and he’ll do anything to get it back.

The film — the first of eight that Stewart did with famed director Anthony Mann — “changed the way cinema audiences saw the Western, because it featured a more complex idea of the noble hero of the West — a man plagued by personal problems and violent impulses,” the Daily Telegraph noted of Stewart’s tougher-than-usual role. “His knuckles were raw with practicing” the rifle, Mann noted. “It was those sorts of things that helped make the film look so authentic, gave it its sense of reality.”

7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Jimmy Stewart Movies: Vera Miles and Jimmy Stewart holding each other in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
Vera Miles and Jimmy Stewart in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962) Ford Productions

Stewart was paired up with none other than Western legend John Wayne in this John Ford classic that’s considered one of the best in its genre. It’s told in flashbacks, revealing the truth about who truly gunned down the outlaw bully (Lee Marvin), Wayne’s gritty rancher or Stewart’s East Coast senator.

Related: John Wayne Movies: 17 of The Duke’s Greatest Films, Ranked

Famed critic Roger Ebert called it the “the most pensive and thoughtful” of Ford and Wayne’s many collaborations, and he cited what he felt was one of the best lines of any Ford movie ever, spoken to Stewart’s character by the town’s newspaper editor: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed looking through back car window in “It’s a Wonderful Life”
James Stewart and Donna Reed in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) Films (II)

This film hardly needs an introduction, as it’s become one of the most beloved titles — holiday-themed or otherwise — of all time. When director Frank Capra pitched the unlikely story to Stewart, he could sense it wasn’t sounding so great. But Stewart was thrilled with the proposal nonetheless. As he recalled in an interview decades later, “I said, ‘Frank, if you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence and [the guy] can’t swim…when do we start?’”

The film’s message — “no man is born to be a failure…no man is poor who has friends” — is what sold the actor. “It shows values that are really very close to an awful lot of us, and are really very basic American values,” said Stewart, who won another Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role as George Bailey.

5. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Man and woman holding hands over a table in “The Shop Around the Corner”
James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940)

Adapted from the same Hungarian play that served as the basis for Nora Ephron’s 1998 hit You’ve Got Mail (starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan), this earlier film version finds Stewart falling in love with an unseen pen pal who just happens to be his gift shop co-worker (Margaret Sullavan).

“Stewart in Shop is bitter and hopeful, a jerk and a mensch, scared and serene — all the things a smart, struggling young guy on the cusp of love would be,” Entertainment Weekly’s Ty Burr wrote of the actor’s pitch-perfect performance, calling the earlier film “one of the most perceptive movies ever made about the workplace.”

4. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Lee Remick and Jimmy Stewart talking in “Anatomy of a Murder”
James Stewart and Lee Remick in “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) Jimmy Stewart Preminger Films

Courtroom drama fans will revel in this masterpiece from director Otto Preminger, in which Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a lawyer defending an army lieutenant who killed an innkeeper after his wife (Lee Remick) says he raped her. As the case unfolds, so do several shocking secrets.

Stewart received another Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in this film, which boasted a powerhouse cast that also included George C. Scott and Ben Gazzara. It’s ranked as the No. 7 best courtroom drama on the AFI’s 10 Top 10 list, which spotlights the 10 best films in 10 different genres. In the bio Jimmy Stewart: A Life in Film, the actor said this was his most challenging role since It’s a Wonderful Life. “It was worth all the extra effort,” he added. “The picture demanded an awful lot of time and thought.… I read my script each night until I fell asleep.”

3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Man holding a book in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) Jimmy Stewart Pictures

Can we recruit honest, idealistic Jefferson Smith to return to politics today? Stewart, in his one of his earliest breakout performances, earned a Best Actor nomination for his memorably earnest turn in this Frank Capra classic that co-stars Claude Raines as Smith’s shady mentor. “I knew he would make a hell of a Mr. Smith,” Capra said of casting Stewart over Gary Cooper in the lead role. “He looked like the country kid, the idealist. It was very close to him.” Both the director and actor revealed that Stewart’s throat was occasionally swabbed with mercuric chloride to get Stewart’s voice convincingly raspy for his filibuster scenes.

2. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn looking at each other in “The Philadelphia Story”
James Stewart and Katharine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story” (1940)

This George Cukor winner boasts a winning trifecta of stars: Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant. Stewart won his only Best Actor Oscar trophy for this film, which also won for Best Screenplay and earned four other nominations, including Best Actress, Best Director and Best Picture.

The romantic comedy is a pure charmer, casting an especially handsome Stewart as a tabloid magazine reporter who’s one of three men for whom Hepburn’s Philadelphia socialite has feelings. The actress reportedly angled for Stewart to get his part, impressed with his Oscar nominated performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington the year before. The film, perfect for a date night, claims the No. 1 spot on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the 200 Best Romantic Comedies of All Time.

1. Rear Window (1954)

Man holding a camera in “Rear Window”
James Stewart in “Rear Window” (1954) Jimmy Stewart J. Hitchcock Productions

Grab some popcorn — and hold onto it! — throughout all the twists, turns and suspense in this Alfred Hitchcock hit, which lands at No. 3 on AFI’s 10 Top 10 list for the mystery genre. Stewart plays L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, a photographer temporarily confined to a wheelchair, who spins out of control spying on his New York neighbors and becomes convinced one has committed murder.

Bonus: Grace Kelly is fantastic as Jeff’s girlfriend. At a 1983 New York Film Festival screening of this masterpiece, it “was met with an enthusiastic reception. The greatest ovation was reserved for Mr. Stewart,” the New York Times reported. “The wonderful thing about it is that so much of it is visual,” Stewart said of Rear Window during an interview the following morning. “You really have to keep your eye open in the film, because it’s a complicated thing.” So don’t forget: You’ve been warned

For more on classic films, click through the links below!

Classic Movies on Amazon Prime, Ranked — Perfect For Night of Nostalgic Bliss

Tippi Hedren Movies: A Look at ‘The Birds’ Star Through the Years

The Best Movies of 1963: Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of the Top Films Turning 60!

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