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

From 'Top Hat' to 'Funny Girl', take a look back at his most legendary performances!

It was the Great Depression and movie goers flocked to theaters just to get a few hours of escapism, which is exactly what they got on December 29, 1933 with what turned out to be the very beginning of Fred Astaire movies.

Moviegoers coast to coast were enthralled with Flying Down To Rio, a film filled with great dance numbers and lots of upbeat music. It starred Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond with 5th billing going to unknown Hollywood actor Fred Astaire and 4th billing going to his oft-times dance partner, Ginger Rogers

Fred and Ginger often made box office magic during the Depression Era. “I must say, Ginger was certainly my favorite dancing partner,” Astaire said in 1976. “You know, the most effective partner I had. I want to pay a tribute to Ginger because we did so many pictures together and ,believe me, it was a value to have that girl …. she had it.” 

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in Flying Down to Rio, 1933
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in Flying Down to Rio, 1933Bettmann/Getty

And as Fred Astaire movies would prove, so did he. Extremely charming and likable on the screen, Astaire is now often recognized as the “greatest popular-music dancer of all time.” Apart from his charm, and a certain lyrical way with song, Astaire basically changed the way dance was performed on film, with audiences able to follow the choreography in their entirety with a closely tracking dolly camera.

His career included Broadway, West End musicals, television, 31 Fred Astaire movies and eight non-musicals featuring 10 performances with Ginger Rogers, two with Rita Hayworth, two with Cyd Charisse and many more other talented hoofers. Fred’s career spanned 76 years, during which he was the recipient of numerous accolades.

Related: Rita Hayworth’s $5 Kitchen Oil Trick Made Her Hair Extra-Lustrous — How to Make It Work For You!

Fred Astaire performing, 1957
Fred Astaire performing, 1957 MPI/Stringer/Getty

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, he entered show biz at the age of five, proving himself successful in vaudeville and on Broadway with partner and sister, Adele Astaire. Their first act was called Juvenile Artists Presenting an Electric Musical where Astaire wore top hat and tails in the first half.

Astaire’s daughter, Ava, said that he was often given a top hat to make him look taller than his 5’7”. By age 14, Fred had assumed the musical responsibility for their act and it was around this time that he first met George Gershwin, who was just starting out in his own career. During the 20s, Fred and Adele appeared on Broadway and the London stage, where Fred studied piano.  It was after Adele’s first marriage in 1932, that the familial duo broke up and Fred headed to Hollywood.   

The 12 best Fred Astaire movies, ranked

Here is a look at just some of the Fred Astaire movies that audiences have enjoyed for over nine decades.

12. Flying Down to Rio (1933)

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Flying Down to Rio, 1933
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Flying Down to Rio, 1933RKO Radio Pictures/Moviepix/Getty

Romance, music, and dance featuring the Oscar-nominated song, “The Carioca,” where Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dance forehead-to-forehead when they get up and demonstrate their moves. Fred is in a band where Rogers is the orchestra’s singer. Their sole dance number to “The Carioca” is a long one, where they sing and dance on seven white pianos. Not surprising: it does some time to hoof and tap-hoof it across seven pianos. 

11. Top Hat (1935)

Fred Astaire, Top Hat, 1935
Fred Astaire, Top Hat, 1935RKO Radio Pictures/Moviepix/Getty

Paired with his favorite dance partner, Ginger Rogers, the duo perform one of Astaire’s famous dances to Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek.” Fred and Berlin would become lifelong best friends after meeting on the movie set. In his iconic top hat, white tie and tails, Astaire astounded audiences with a chorus of look-a-likes supporting the great dancer himself. The movie was selected for preservation in the United State National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

10. Royal Wedding (1951)

Fred Astaire, Royal Wedding, 1951
Fred Astaire, Royal Wedding, 1951FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty

Who can forget the incredible scene of Fred Astaire dancing on the walls, dancing on the ceiling and back down the opposite wall? No blue or green screen or CGI involved, but some fancy camera work and set design were employed. You didn’t think Fred was that great a dancer, did you? Truth be told, anyone who studied Physics 101 knows what he does in this scene is impossible, but, hey, that’s the joy and magic of Fred Astaire movies. 

9. Swing Time (1936)

Fred Astaire movies: Swing Time, 1936
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Swing Time, 1936Michael Ochs Archive/Getty

Fred named this movie his favorite of the films he made with Ginger Rogers, and it has been considered the best dance musical by the duo. The musical comedy is the 6th of ten starring the duo. Set mainly in New York, the film follows gambler and dancer “Lucky” Garnett (Fred), who is determined to enter a dance competition, win the prize and prove to his girlfriend’s father that he’s worthy of his daughter, but then he meets dance instructor Penny Carroll (Ginger) and never wants to dance with anyone else again. 

8. Finian’s Rainbow (1968)

Finian's Rainbow, 1968
Fred Astaire, Finian’s Rainbow, 1968Silver Screen Collection/Getty

Memorable for being the last major musical film of Fred Astaire movies. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Fred went sans white tie and tails to play an Irish rascal who believes that if he buries a crock of gold in the shadows of Fort Knox, the gold will multiply. In comes British singer Sharon McLonergan (Petula Clark) to dance with Fred, who admits he was a bit nervous having to sing alongside Clark. At the same time, he didn’t hesitate to overrule Coppola who wanted the camera to dance around him. “Either the camera will dance – or I will.” 

7. On the Beach (1959)

Fred Astaire Movies: Scene from On the Beach, 1959
Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire, On the Beach, 1959Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty

Audiences were surprised to find Fred Astaire co-starring with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Anthony Perkins in this dramatic post-apocalyptic sci-fi film. Based on Nevil Shute’s novel, the film depicted the aftermath of a World War III nuclear war. As drunken revelers sing “Waltzing Matilda” in a hotel bar, viewers undoubtedly anticipate the horrific future of a radioactive toxic Earth sans any humans. 

6. The Towering Inferno (1974)

Jennifer Jones and Fres Astaire, The Towering Inferno, 1974
Jennifer Jones and Fres Astaire, The Towering Inferno, 1974Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty

In another one of Fred’s non-musical movies, he did manage to perform a dance with Jennifer Jones and received his only Oscar nomination, in the category of Best Supporting Actor, in 1974’s The Towering Inferno. The disaster film features a stellar ensemble cast led by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Other notables were William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Wagner and Jennifer Jones in her final role. “It was a fun picture to make with all the fire and water.”

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5. Blue Skies (1946)

Fred Astaire, Blue Skies, 1946
Fred Astaire, Blue Skies, 1946Hulton Archive/Stringer/Moviepix/Getty

You can’t help but smile when thinking of the song “Puttin’ On The Ritz” featured in Blue Skies, but also memorable for a sequence featuring Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in 1974’s Young Frankenstein. Besides Frankenstein, the song is associated with Fred Astaire’s memorable song and dance steps. During production, he surprised his audiences by announcing his retirement. He nominated “Puttin’ On The Ritz” as his farewell dance. 

4. Broadway Melody (1940)

Broadway Melody promotional portrait, 1940
Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell, Broadway Melody, 1940Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty

This was the first of the Fred Astaire movies post Ginger, featuring Eleanor Powell as his dance partner. The duo performed a great long dance routine to Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.” “She put em down like a man, no rick-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself.”

3. Easter Parade (1948)

Scene from Easter Parade, 1948
Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, Easter Parade, 1948Bettmann/Getty

Fred’s retirement didn’t last very long when he returned to the big screen in this movie. Originally the role went to fellow dancer Gene Kelly, but Fred replaced the injured dancer.  Opposite Judy Garland and dancer/actress Ann Miller, the musical contains some of Fred and Judy’s best known songs, including “Easter Parade,” “Steppin Out With My Baby” and “We’re a Couple of Swells” — all by Irving Berlin. 

Related: Who Are Judy Garland’s Children And What Are They Doing Now?

2. Funny Face (1957)

Promotional portrait for Funny Face, 1957: Fred Astaire movies
Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, Funny Face, 1957Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty

Teamed with Audrey Hepburn, the film received good reviews but audiences shied away from it. “I thought the movie had a lot of very good things in it,” Fred recalled in 1968. “I could pick 4 or 5 holes that I think would have helped the picture. But I loved it, of course. I love Audrey Hepburn. I enjoyed working with her.”  

1. Ziegreld Follies (1945)

Scene from Ziegfeld Follies, 1945
Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Ziegfeld Follies, 1945Silver Screen Collection/Getty

In this musical revue film — the top of our list of Fred Astaire movies — Fred is paired with another dance great of that era, Gene Kelly. They danced to the Gershwin song “The Babbit and the Bromide,” a song Astaire had introduced with his sister Adele back in 1927. Follies was a box office hit. 

Fun Facts

Fred Astaire disguised his very large hands by curling his middle two fingers while dancing.

His legs were insured for one million dollars.

He always wore a toupee unless he was wearing a hat

Made a cameo appearance in John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s film Imagine escorting Yoko through a doorway.

He took up skateboarding in his 70s and was awarded a life membership in the National Skateboard Society.

Appears on the cover of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album

George Gershwin’s dying words were “Fred Astaire”

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