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

Featuring gritty dramas, charming rom-coms, game-changing thrillers and more!


Kim Novak is one of midcentury Hollywood’s most compelling stars, and at 90, she remains one of the precious few Golden Age icons who’s still with us. Born Marilyn Pauline Novak in 1933, she made her debut in the 1954 film noir Pushover and had her breakout the next year, in the romantic drama Picnic. Novak’s stardom grew as the ’50s continued, and her unforgettable, multilayered performance in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Vertigo would become her signature achievement.

Novak’s career had a downturn by the late ’60s, and while she made some appearances in the ’70s and ’80s (including a recurring role in the primetime soap Falcon Crest) she’ll always be best remembered for her ’50s filmography. Novak officially retired in 1991, making her final appearance in the thriller Liebestraum, and today she lives a quiet life, painting and riding horses at her Oregon estate. (You can find some of her art here!)

In a 2023 interview with People, Novak admitted that she often felt misunderstood during her Hollywood heyday and believes that audiences have come to better appreciate her over time. As she put it, “I’m so grateful because I’ve become more respected as an actress. I think my style of acting is understood now… in so many of my performances, I think they were expecting to see the sex symbol, and instead I gave them just the raw me.” Here’s a look back at the Kim Novak movies that best capture the living legend’s singular charisma.

1. Pushover (1954)

Publicity still of American actress Kim Novak in the film 'Pushover,' 1954
Kim Novak in Pushover (1954)John Kisch Archive/Getty

In her debut role, Kim Novak plays the sultry girlfriend of a criminal. Because this noir film was low-budget, they cast the then-unknown actress rather than an established star, and as The New Yorker wrote in a 2020 review of the movie, “Novak’s gestures, glances and inflections expand passing moments to symphonic proportions.”

2. Picnic (1955)

American actress Kim Novak as she appears in 'Picnic', directed by Joshua Logan, 1955
Kim Novak in Picnic (1955)Silver Screen Collection/Getty

Picnic takes place during Labor Day in Kansas, where Novak’s character catches the attention of a handsome drifter (William Holden). The film, which is well known for its romantic dance scene between the two stars, helped establish Novak as a leading lady, and she perfectly embodies the role of a young small-town beauty hoping to be appreciated for more than just her looks.

3. The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)

American actor and singer Frank Sinatra (1915 - 1998) stars with Kim Novak in 'The Man with the Golden Arm', 1955
Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty

The Man With the Golden Arm was ahead of its time for its gritty portrayal of drug addiction. Frank Sinatra plays an addict who’s been recently released from prison. He returns to his wife (Eleanor Parker), but things become complicated when he encounters Novak, his former flame, and falls back into the seedy world of gambling and illegal substances.

4. Pal Joey (1957)

Kim Novak holding pet dog in a publicity portrait for the 1957 movie 'Pal Joey'.
Kim Novak in Pal Joey (1957)Screen Archives/Getty

In Pal Joey, a glossy musical, Novak plays a chorus girl caught up in a love triangle with a womanizing singer (Frank Sinatra, once again) and a glam former stripper-turned-society lady (Rita Hayworth). The Technicolor film offers pure ’50s escapism, with a dreamy cast and Novak as the ultimate ingenue.

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

5. Vertigo (1958)

Actress Kim Novak on the set of the 1958 film "Vertigo"
Kim Novak in Vertigo (1958)Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty

Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Vertigo received mixed reviews when it came out, but is now regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. The twisty plot concerns a San Francisco detective, Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), tasked with following Madeleine Elster, the wife of an old acquaintance. Soon enough, he falls for her, only to then see her die. Things then start getting really weird, as he meets Judy Barton, a woman who bears a suspicious resemblance to Madeleine, and ultimately realizes he’s a pawn in a diabolically complex murder scheme.

Novak gives a powerhouse performance in the dual role of Madeleine/Judy and seamlessly embodies an enigmatic femme fatale archetype. The film has been lauded as her finest work, and her icy, deceptive persona has inspired countless movie characters in the decades since it was released. In a 2018 interview, Novak described her deep connection to the multidimensional woman she played, saying, “I identify so very completely with the role because it was exactly… what Hollywood was trying to do to me, which was to make me over into something I was not.”

6. Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Kim Novak in 'Bell, Book and Candle,' 1958
Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle (1958)FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty

Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart teamed up again in Bell, Book and Candle, a quirky rom-com that’s decidedly lighter than Vertigo. Novak plays Gillian, a modern-day witch living a bohemian life in New York City. She becomes interested in her new neighbor (Stewart) and casts a love spell on him, and charmingly quirky antics ensue.

Novak and Stewart’s chemistry came was rooted in real friendship, and Novak marveled at how “He lived in the midst of all that vanity and was never tainted by it.” While Vertigo puts them in a tricky psychosexual vortex, Bell, Book and Candle shows their charming, easygoing rapport.

7. Strangers When We Meet (1960)

Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak embrace in a scene from the film 'Strangers When We Meet', 1960
Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak in Strangers When We Meet (1960)Columbia Pictures/Getty

In this melodrama, Novak plays a married woman who has a passionate affair with her neighbor (Kirk Douglas). While many contemporary critics found the plot of Strangers When We Meet to be cliche, The New York Times praised Novak’s performance as “a dreamy and ruminative type.”

8. Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)

Kim Novak in 'Kiss Me Stupid,' 1964
Kim Novak in Kiss Me Stupid (1964)United Artists/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

In the sex comedy Kiss Me, Stupid, starring Dean Martin, Novak plays a prostitute who goes by the name Polly the Pistol. While the farce wasn’t well-received when it first came out, over time it’s come to be more appreciated as a ’60s time capsule that benefits greatly from Novak’s distinct mix of humor, heart and seductiveness.

9. The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)

Kim Novak portrait from 'Legend of Lylah Clare,' 1968
Kim Novak in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)Screen Archives/Getty

In this meta satire, Novak plays a struggling actress navigating the dark underbelly of Hollywood. The Legend of Lylah Clare gave Novak her final starring role in an American film, and the director, Robert Aldrich, called the actress “the most underrated lady around.”

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