Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, making any list of the most beautiful people in history up for serious debate. Many of these women became successful thanks to their looks, so if we’ve piqued your curiosity, check out which women we have selected!
Italian-Tunisian Claudia Cardinale’s career began when she won the “Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia” contest, which earned her a trip to Italy. Although she struggled with Italian (as the Sicilian she knew from her parents is quite different), her beauty brought her offers to model and act. Her voice was actually dubbed over in the early part of her career due to her raspy tone and a French accent. She is an outspoken supporter of women’s rights, becoming a UNESCO goodwill ambassador for the defense of women in 2000.
Although not her first role, Raquel Welch became something of a pop culture phenomenon after she played in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C., in which she wore an iconic fur bikini. She later starred in movies such as 1967’s Bedazzled, 1968’s Bandolero! and 1969’s 100 Rifles. She has continued to star in movies throughout the years, notably Legally Blond alongside Reese Witherspoon. In 2001 she received the “Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award” for positively promoting her Latin heritage.
Sadly, Sharon Tate’s life will always be overshadowed by her disturbing, tragic, and senseless death. Long before Quentin Tarantino reimagined how history could have been different in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, the beautiful Tate started to act in movies. She was hailed as a promising newcomer, having enjoyed positive reviews for both comedic and dramatic acting roles. She married her director and co-star from The Fearless Vampire Killers, Roman Polanski, in 1968. She was eight months pregnant with their child when she was taken from this world.
Smith is a successful actress and businesswoman who is best known for starting her career off as the stunning Kelly Garrett in the television version of Charlie’s Angels. The show leaped her and the other Angels into stardom and she then returned for the same role in 2003 in the film Charlie’s Angels: Full throttle. Smith went on to appear in many other TV films and mini-series’s for the rest of her career. Her beauty did not go unknown as she was married four times.
Born in England to American parents, Elizabeth Taylor moved with her family to California shortly before World War II broke out. Even as a young girl, her striking beauty was apparent enough that her mother was constantly told that Elizabeth should star in movies. A genetic mutation caused her to have two rows of eyebrows, which framed her eyes in a unique way. She became a child star, later blossoming into one of Hollywood’s most desired actresses. She went on to star in many movies and later in life became an advocate for Jewish causes and promoted AIDS awareness.
During the ’80s and ’90s, Michelle Pfeiffer was one of the most popular actresses on the silver screen, thanks to her skilled acting and drop-dead gorgeous looks. She managed to break the typecast of the pretty girl in her late ’70s movies, going on to have a supporting role in Scarface that led to obtaining more serious roles as she rose to stardom. According to one Daily Telegraph contributor, hers is “the kind of beauty you find yourself involuntarily taking a moment to marvel at mid-conversation.”
Charlize Theron grew up on a farm in South Africa before she ended up making her way to the silver screen. She was originally an aspiring ballet dancer, but the effects of the training on her body took their toll. Meanwhile, her beauty made her constantly alluring to modeling scouts. Later she branched off to acting and hasn’t looked back since. Not just a pretty face, the actress won an Academy Award for Best Actress for portraying serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster.
Amazingly, Julie Gibson is still alive and kicking at the age of 105. The star has outlived so many of the Golden Era stars, despite being the oldest of them all. She happens to be the last surviving star to have worked alongside the Three Stooges. Having first appeared on shows over 80 years ago, Gibson’s most successful period came in the ’40s and she has certainly etched her name in showbiz lore. What casual fans don’t know is that her birth name is actually Gladys Camille Sorey.
No list would be complete without Marilyn Monroe, one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring,” she said, and she lived by those words.
Kim Novak was originally recruited by Columbia Pictures to be a replacement for the studio’s Rita Hayworth, one of the biggest stars of the 1940s whose popularity had declined in the ’50s, not to mention to compete with 20th Century Fox’s Marylin Monroe. She solidified her place in film history when she starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Since the mid-’60s, Novak only sporadically acted until she completely retired in the early ’90s. She had a bought with breast cancer that was announced in 2010. Luckily her treatments were successful and she is still with us.
Hedy Lamarr is one of the most fascinating women on this list. She holds a Guinness world record for being the first woman to be filmed doing particular activities, but her claim to fame is much more profound than that. After WWII broke out, she turned her mind to inventing “frequency hopping” to solve a problem of enemy vessels jamming the radio signals submarine use to control torpedos. Although she filed a patent that sat unused for years, it became the basis for many subsequent military inventions, as well as future civilian applications.
Rita Hayworth was a performer from youth, dancing in New York venues before her family moved to California when she was 10. She had many roles in ’30s-era dancing movies before branching out to more serious acting roles in the ’40s. The ’50s were a difficult decade for her, as she was increasingly dogged by personal problems. Meanwhile, younger women rose to prominence as she descended into alcoholism and monetary problems. For decades, she suffered from what was finally understood to be symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, passing away in 1987.
French actress Catherine Deneuve had her international breakthrough with Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, a unique French film in which all the dialogue is sung, like in an opera. After this, she played in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, which brought her more widespread fame. Since then, she has accumulated an impressive corpus of roles. France honored her in 1985 by making her the official face of Marianne, the French personification of liberty. Most recently she signed an open letter denouncing the #MeToo movement, claiming it has become a witch hunt.
Like many on this list, Vivien Leigh said that she had to overcome her physical beauty because it overshadowed her acting prowess. Indeed, one director described her as a “consummate actress, hampered by beauty.” Although she is most famous for roles in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, she was actually more prolific onstage during her career. She suffered from bouts of tuberculosis for the last several decades of her life, finally succumbing to the illness when it recurred in 1967.
Ava Gardner’s southern accent (she hailed from South Carolina) made her almost incomprehensible to MGM. That didn’t stop her from banking on her beauty and they quickly signed her. It took five years for her to achieve a breakthrough with the film noir The Killers, which launched her to stardom. She was a leading Hollywood actress for five decades until the mid-’80s when her life-long smoking habit caught up with her. She developed emphysema and two strokes in 1986 left her paralyzed. She passed away from pneumonia in 1990.
Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman solidified her place in history by starring alongside Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, but she was acting in Swedish and German movies since the mid-1930s. Her broad international appeal was such that one biographer described her as “arguably the most international star in the history of entertainment.” One of her directors, Anatole Litvak, noted that “through all her troubles she held to the conviction that she had been true to herself and it made her quite a person.” She departed from this world in 1982 after a bout of breast cancer.
French actress Sophie Marceau became known as a teenager after she starred in the film La Boum in 1980. For the next 15 years, she starred in many European films before becoming a star in Hollywood for her role in Braveheart. After that, she played in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough. While she often makes it to the top of “most beautiful” lists, Marceau says she doesn’t really understand why people find her attractive. According to her, “I’ve never really been beautiful. I’m photogenic…” And modest!
Isabella Rossellini is the daughter of another woman on this list, Ingrid Bergman, from her marriage to Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. In addition to her acting, she is known for her modeling work, although she began significantly older than usual in the industry. She eventually landed her a job as the spokesmodel of Lancôme, a job she held for 14 years. She has played in film and TV, including David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. She is also known for her activism, specifically in conservation work.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Aishwarya Rai has topped the “most beautiful woman in the world” lists for years, so her spot here should come as no surprise. She began modeling when she was in college, winning the title of Miss World in 1994. She moved on to act in Bollywood movies later that decade. Her performances are marked by a “delicately sensual presence and physical grace,” according to Derek Elley of Variety. Although she is constantly under the attention of the media, she has kept her personal life mostly private.
Barbara Eden is best known for starring in the popular ’60s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, but many don’t know that originally the show’s creators wanted a brunette. This was because they wanted a departure from Bewitched, also a fantasy sitcom with a blonde lead. Barbara Eden was so funny, beautiful, and fit the role so perfectly that the show’s creators overlooked this minor detail. And it’s good that they did! Barbara has been a TV star ever since.
Elizabeth Hurley first became known in the public eye for dating Hugh Grant, who saw significant success with the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. At the film’s premiere, she wore an iconic black Versace dress that was held together by golden safety pins. This has been credited with helping Versace become a household name, as well as launching Hurley to stardom. The next year, 1995, and with no prior modeling experience, she became the spokesmodel for Estée Lauder. In acting, she is best known for roles in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Bedazzled.
Swedish-American Ann-Margret Olsson is not only one of the most beautiful celebrities of the ’60s and ’70s, but also a multi-talented performer. She had her breakout acting role in Bye Bye Birdie while she was already a successful recording artist. Other roles include the Who’s Tommy, in which she played Tommy’s mother. She played recurring characters in Law and Order: SVU and Ray Donovan. Five decades after entering the public eye, her talent and beauty are still making their mark on the entertainment industry.
This Swedish born actress appeared in many American and European films during her career but was primarily based in Italy where she had a major role in La Dolce Vita. Her beauty was there from an early age and as a teenager, she worked as a fashion model. In 1950 she entered the Miss Malmö competition which led her to the winning the Miss Sweden contest. However, her beauty was much more universal and in 1951 she competed for the Miss Universe title, despite knowing very little English at the time.
Known for her seductive looks and distinctive voice, this American actress was named the 20th greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema and later in life received an honorary Academy Award “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.” Despite her outstanding acting career, she began as a model and appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, and even magazines such as Vogue. Her beauty was recognized for her “cat-like grace, tawny blonde hair, and blue-green eyes”.
Basinger made a career for herself as a successful model in the 1970s and moved to Los Angeles where she took a turn at acting. She starred in several films made-for-television, but her debut came in the drama Hard Country. After her performance in Never Say Never Again as a Bond girl, Basinger became a poster girl and continued into the 1990s. Since then she went on to appear in many more films and still is acting to this day.
At the age of 16, Canadian-born Parkins moved to Los Angeles to become famous. The young girl started as a backup singer and dancer behind major stars in nightclubs. By 1961 she made her debut in the low-budget crime flick 20,000 Eyes. However, one of her larger projects was appearing in the film adaptation of Valley of the Dolls. She stayed with the series for the entire run and was nominated in 1966 for an Emmy Award as Best Actress in a Lead Role.
Julie began working as a model from the age of 15. She came second in the Miss Norway competition at the age of 18 and later competed for the title of Miss Universe before moving to England to work as an au pair in order to improve her English. By the late 1960s, she began acting in a few small roles but is best remembered for her part in the 1971 comedy film Up Pompeii. Although labeled as a glamour actress, she later revealed she did not mind as her looks helped pay the bills.
Sophia Loren is known for her acting work and is one of Italy’s most beloved and adored stars. She started her career as a 14-year-old and is still making films to this day. She has appeared in dozens of movies including The Pride and the Passion, A Countess From Hong Kong, and Grumpier Old Men. But there is something even more telling about this beauty, she was never shy about showing the world she doesn’t shave her armpits. We hate to admit it, but it still does not take away from her beauty.
Although the English actress had a successful career in British and French cinema, she attained her international fame from her decade-long relationship with Serge Gainsbourg. Even after their separation, Birkin continued to remain successful working as an actress and singer in various independent films such as Red Fox and A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries. Nevertheless, Birkin is most well known for having a Hermés bag named after her after revealing that she couldn’t find a leather weekend bag she liked.
The Swedish actress and singer appeared in many films throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and is most known for her roles in The Night They Raided Minsky’s and Get Carter. She also appeared as a Bond girl in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). Ekland received most of her attention overnight as a result of her 1964 romance with actor Peter Sellers, who proposed to her after seeing her photograph in the paper. Throughout the 1970s she was one of the most talked-about and photographed celebrities in the world.
Loretta Young had a long and interesting career starting as a child as young as two or three in 1917 all the way until 1953. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Come to the Stable and an Academy Award for Best Actress for her part in the 1947 film The Farmer’s Daughter. Young was married to actor Grant Withers from 1930 to 1931 but had a public affair with co-star Spencer Tracy. As young as eight the child actress began smoking, yet quit in the mid-1980s in order to gain 10 pounds.
Grace Kelly only worked in Hollywood for some five years before she married Monaco’s Prince Ranier III, yet her elegance solidified her stardom as one of the greatest Hollywood personas of her age. Kelly would never act again after becoming a princess of Monaco, but this freed her up to concentrate on philanthropy and promoting the arts. Sadly, she passed away in a car accident that was caused by a stroke she suffered while driving her daughter. Her daughter luckily survived the crash. She is remembered for her class and elegance, both on and off the screen.
Ursula Andress’ claim to fame is for being the original Bond girl, starring alongside Sean Connery in Dr. No in 1962. Although her voice was dubbed over to mask her Swiss-German accent, she quickly rose to stardom for this role, which is one of the most iconic introductions of a female lead in film history. After she appeared in Playboy magazine several years later, she was asked why she agreed to have her naked pictures published. She answered simply, “Because I’m beautiful.”
She might not be the most obvious choice on this list, but there is no denying that Julie Andrews has aged so gracefully and is still extremely active in the public eye, well into her 80s. Not many Hollywood stars have had roles in two iconic movies the way that she has. As Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews did an incredible job making that role her own and of course, her work in The Sound of Music can not be ignored.
A true powerhouse whenever Oscar season came around, Jane Fonda is still making movies even while in her 80s. The daughter of the legendary Henry Fonda is part of one of the most prolific families in all of Hollywood. Nevertheless, she has still managed to stand out from her relatives for her huge charisma, beautiful looks, and her long filmography. With success in film, TV and even on Broadway, it seems like there’s nothing that Jane Fonda can not do.
Starring in arguably the most iconic movie of all time in The Wizard of Oz, it seems like Judy Garland was a victim of the glitz and glamor that comes with being a Hollywood star. Nominated for Academy Awards for her roles in A Star Is Born and Judgment at Nuremberg, Garland had the world at her feet before meeting her tragic end. With her daughter Liza Minnelli carrying on the torch and Renee Zellweger starring as her in the 2019 biopic, Judy Garland’s legacy has definitely lived on.
Despite refusing to succumb to the pressures of Hollywood publicity, it seemed like fans and co-stars alike couldn’t keep their eyes off Katharine Hepburn. With that said, she did have a well-publicized marriage to fellow actor Spencer Tracy, in which she also starred alongside him in nine movies. And that’s just scratching the surface of her relationships. With a record four Academy Award nominations for Lead Acting Performance, it is clear that she was one of the greatest actresses of all time.
It seems like Jessica Lange has had two lives in the world of acting. Having made a name for herself with Academy Award nominations in six different movies during the 80s/early 90s, Lange seemed to slow things down a little and become a lot more selective with her work. However, in the last decade, the actress has seen something of a resurgence, especially since starring in five seasons of American Horror Story. She also starred as Joan Crawford in the miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan.
Many fans of Hollywood’s golden era forget that Greta Garbo wasn’t even from the US. The Swedish actress made a smooth transition to American cinema and in no time at all, she became a huge commercial and critical hit. She ended up being nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Actress. In 1954, she received an Honorary Academy Award for her unforgettable performances on the big screen. At just 35 years of age, Garbo retired from film acting, after starring in 28 movies.
With big movie titles such as Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyne, and The Thomas Crown Affair, it’s amazing to think how much Faye Dunaway has achieved in her star-studded career. The actress, who still isn’t officially retired at 78 years of age, has also had a pretty successful career in theater, having starred in numerous productions. Outside of her professional life, Dunaway has had a string of relationships with the likes of Jerry Schatzberg, Peter Wolf, and Terry O’Neill, to name a few.
It’s surreal to think that Veronica Lake passed away nearly half a century ago. Best known for her femme fatale roles in a variety of movies, Lake enjoyed her biggest run of success during the 1940s. However, after drinking problems and a string of failed relationships, her career started to go on the decline. And ultimately, it was this vice of hers that seemed to be what led to her death in 1973. Her last screen role was in the 1970 low budget horror film Flesh Feast.
Having one high profile celebrity partner is one thing. However, Mia Farrow ended up being in relationships with two of the most famous entertainers of all time! These were, of course, Frank Sinatra and later on, Woody Allen. Make no mistake about it though: Mia Farrow has been a huge star in her own right, and arguably one of the most beautiful actresses of her generation. Her most iconic role is, without a doubt, the title character of 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby.
She might not be the most household name on this list, but there is no denying Gene Tierney’s influences on Hollywood history. Best known for her role in the movie Laura, Tierney went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in 1945’s Leave Her to Heaven. Tierney’s last film role came in 1964’s The Pleasure Seekers. In the following decades, she would appear on a handful of TV shows before passing away in 1971.
An inspiration to millions of women across the galaxy, Carrie Fisher did something that had pretty much never been done before in modern cinema. In her role as Princess Leia from 1977’s Star Wars, she helped to subvert the classic “damsel in distress” trope. Instead, she portrayed a young, independent woman, who ended up helping her supposed rescuers, escaping the dreaded Death Star. Most of her career was dominated by her role as Leia, later on in the Disney sequels. She will appear posthumously in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in December 2019.
While many praise the late Burt Reynolds for the success of Smokey and the Bandit, it’s important not to sleep on Sally Field’s performance too. The actress, who was at one point romantically linked to her co-star, went on to star in a number of great movies. These included the likes of Steel Magnolias, Mrs. Doubtfire and Forrest Gump, to name a few. She recently played Aunt May in The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2 and was also nominated for Best Actress for her role in Lincoln.
It’s fair to say that Goldie Hawn’s most successful years were back in the 70s. After winning an Academy Award for her role in Cactus Flower, she starred in numerous hits such as Shampoo and Private Benjamin. Hawn’s kids Kate and Oliver Hudson are successful actors in their own right and she has a long-lasting relationship with Kurt Russell. Make no mistake about it though: Goldie Hawn is still going strong until this very day. In 2017, she starred alongside Amy Schumer in the comedy film Snatched.
Often regarded as the queen of Blaxploitation movies, Pam Grier enjoyed tons of success during the 70s, starring in a variety of movies of the aforementioned genre. These included Coffy, Foxy Brown and The Big Bird Cage, to name a few. And it seems like Quentin Tarantino took her profile to a whole other audience when he cast Grier in the title role of his 1997 homage to Blaxploitation, Jackie Brown. Grier has also worked in TV, having starred in the Showtime series The L Word.
What else can be said about Julia Roberts? One of the greatest actresses of the last 30 years, the now 52-year-old has been a leading lady in Hollywood since her breakthrough role alongside Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. Since then, Roberts has starred in a number of commercial and critical successes such as Erin Brockovich, Runaway Bride, Notting Hill, My Best Freind’s Wedding, and Ocean’s Eleven, to name a few! One of Roberts’ most recent roles was the 2017 hit Wonder.
A dancer from a young age, Brigitte Bardot moved on to acting in the ’50s. She starred in the controversial Robert Vadim film, And God Created Women, which launched her to international fame in 1956. One American critic called her, “undeniably a creation of superlative craftsmanship.” Brigitte Bardot’s entrance onto the world scene during the conservative decade was so palpable that Simone de Beauvoir wrote a feminist essay titled Brigitte Bardot and The Lolita Syndrome. Later in life, she became an animal rights activist and, most controversially, was fined five times for inciting racial hatred.
Russian-American Natalie Wood was in the limelight from the time she was a little girl, playing Maureen O’Hara in Miracle on 34th Street. Wood went on to star in classics such as Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story. She died in dubious circumstances while on a weekend yacht trip to Santa Catalina Island with Robert Wagner, her husband; Christopher Walken, who co-starred in her latest movie; and the yacht’s captain. She was only 43. The investigation was re-opened in recent years, and Wagner was named a person of interest in February 2018.
English actress Jacqueline Bisset has starred in movies since the 1960s when she played in Hollywood blockbusters such as Bullitt. Gradually she gained recognition for being a serious actress and received more serious roles, like in François Truffaut’s Day for Night. Her 1977 role in The Deep, which featured her only covered on top with a white T-shirt as she submerges from the water, soaking wet, is so iconic that it is credited with popularizing wet T-shirt competitions. Jacqueline Bisset has since played mostly in made-for-TV movies and shows.
With her unique looks, Audrey Hepburn was launched to stardom after starring in Roman Holiday opposite Gregory Peck, a role which garnered her an Academy Award, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Later in life, she concentrated on philanthropy, and she was honored for her humanitarian work both during and after her life. She succumbed to a rare form of abdominal cancer in 1993. Proof of her lasting legacy is evident in her appearances in popular culture throughout the decades since her death.