Judy Garland wasn’t just an actress. She was a legend. Garland got her start in entertainment with her sisters as part of a family vaudeville act. Vaudeville taught her how to sing, dance, and ham up a comedy routine from a young age. Those skills served her well for a 30+ career in Hollywood.
Largely known for her musicals, Judy Garland truly sparkled when she sang. She, however, was a multifaceted actress who could do more than just belt out a tune. Her best movies reflect the many skills she amassed in the industry - and some of them don’t involve her singing or dancing at all. Take a look back at her best as Rene Zellweger brings her to the big screen in Judy.
10 Summer Stock
Summer Stock leads off the list as the last film Judy Garland appeared in as part of her long term contract with MGM. It also marked her last on screen pairing with Gene Kelly. Shooting the movie was plagued with problems, but fans would never know it when they watched it.
Garland spent the shoot under a lot of pressure to perform, relying on prescription drugs to get through the days. She even missed appearing in some of the large group numbers when she was feeling under the weather. Garland went to rehab and saw a hypnotist after filming, temporarily giving up drugs and losing twenty pounds before returning to shoot the now iconic “Get Happy” sequence for the end of the movie two months later. At the time, fans saw Garland and Kelly in another showstopper, not knowing how much work went into pulling it off.
9 The Clock
The Clock was one of the few films Garland headlined where she didn’t sing a note. Known for her singing ability as much as her acting, it was a departure for her. The Clock also happened to be a drama, even more of a departure since so many of her musicals leaned toward the more comedic side.
In the movie, Garland starred as a woman who experienced love at first sight with a military man she met on leave. The two spent the film trying to find a way to get married before he had to return to active duty. Some might have found the story unrealistic, but with most of Garland’s movies existing in the realm of fantasy, she already knew how to sell a fairy tale.
8 Girl Crazy
In Hollywood’s Golden Age, if an audience was looking for a couple of kids to get into some good, clean, musical fun, they needn’t look any further than Mickey and Judy putting on a show. Judy Garland costarred in 10 movies with Mickey Rooney. The majority of them saw the two team up to put on a show to raise money for something. Girl Crazy was one of the last they appeared in together, and one of the first for them to be proper love interests.
The movie featured much of the same comedic fare as their younger films, but there was a more adult tension to their chemistry. Rooney and Garland shined like the stars they always were meant to be.
7 The Harvey Girls
The titular Harvey Girls were the young women starting new lives as the United States expanded west by train - and the Harvey restaurants along with it. Restaurant managers trained the young women to be models of poise and respect, a way to civilize the wild west.
Of course as Judy Garland’s character made her way to an uncivilized western town, she and her fellow Harvey Girls came into conflict with the women on the wild side of the railroad tracks - the saloon girls. Garland faced off against saloon girl Angela Lansbury in the movie as each woman wrestled with their feelings for the saloon owner.
6 Easter Parade
Some Garland fans might rank Easter Parade a little higher. It’s got singing, dancing, romance - and all that with Fred Astaire. It is a fantastic musical, but it ranks just outside of Garland’s top five because, by this point in her career, everyone knew she could do a fantastic musical.
Easter Parade didn’t have the same drama of some of the other pictures on this list, and it certainly didn’t showcase Garland’s dramatic skills. What it did do was give her slightly more complicated dance numbers than an audience would usually see from her, which was a lovely bonus to a fun movie.
5 I Could Go On Singing
I Could Go On Singing marked Garland’s last film role. It was also her first musical role after a decade. In it, she starred as an aging headlining singer facing the realities of the loneliness of her career.
It’s likely that Garland excelled in the role because it hit so close to home for her. She played a woman whose child was being raised by his father so she could pursue her career. Though she brought her children to sets with her, their tumultuous family life is well documented by this point. Garland showed everyone a picture didn’t have to be a fantasy for her to shine in it.
4 Judgment At Nuremberg
Though Garland was often the star of her films, this drama made her a member of a huge ensemble cast. Inspired by real events, Judgment At Nuremberg was about as far from her romantic comedy musicals as she could get.
The movie saw Garland play a witness during a military tribunal set after World War II. Her character was terrified of getting officials into trouble. She proved she could handle a small part with as much sincerity and commitment as she could in the leading role.
3 Meet Me In St. Louis
It has to be admitted that Judy Garland’s career was truly built on musicals. As a result, despite the handful of non-singing films earlier in the list, her best three movies are full of songs that showcase her abilities as much as the scripts do her acting.
Meet Me In St. Louis is a classic from an era when musicals were what brought people to the theater instead of car chases and thrillers. It features fantastic songs like “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song,” both of which ended up being staples for the actress during live performances. She was able to showcase both her comedic chops and dramatic abilities as the middle sister in a family of seven. Garland also effectively passed the torch to Margaret O’Brien, who played her younger sister for the movie.
2 The Wizard Of Oz
Though the movie was relatively early in Garland’s career, The Wizard Of Oz is probably the defining movie of her silver screen days. Fans might be surprised to see it rank at number two.
The movie certainly showcased Garland’s beautiful singing voice, and her ability to play to a fantasy world. Still cast in teen roles at the time, Garland didn’t have the chance to show off her more mature acting ability yet. That would come much later in her career, which is why the next movie nabs the top spot.
1 A Star Is Born
Four actresses have now played the titular star in A Star Is Born. Most recently, Lady Gaga brought her to life in a modern update. Like Lady Gaga, Garland was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the role, but she didn’t take home the statue.
The movie follows the rise of one woman’s star while the man she loves sees his plummet to earth. While her talent is showcased, his is squandered on copious amounts of alcohol. The story is the same in every version, but the songs and the speeches are not. Garland’s final emotional speech in the film after losing the man she loves is often cited by critics as one of the best moments on film, and they aren’t wrong.