Hollywood’s Greatest Year: My ten favorite movies of 1939

2019 is almost over and what better way to finish it off than with a top ten list of my favorite Hollywood films of… 1939? Seems about right! It’s been 80 years since Hollywood’s Greatest Year, so I wanted to do something about it this year. Like always, personal list, subjective choices, will leave some out, blah blah blah. Here we go!


10. The Women (dir. George Cukor) – A groundbreaking hit featuring an all-female cast (including the animals!), The Women’s iconic status is deserved, though here on The Garden, I’ve discussed my love-hate relationship with it.


9. Midnight (dir. Mitchell Leisen) – A typical screwball comedy, funny and witty, with the added bonus of having one of John Barrymore’s greatest performances. The cherry on top is Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s script saga, which is always a great piece of trivia to read about ā€“ look it up!

maxresdefault.jpg8. Gone with the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming) – One of the most iconic films in cinema history and easily the right choice for Best Picture at the 12th Academy Awards. There really isn’t a whole lot left to say about it.


7. Destry Rides Again (dir. George Marshall) – The second best western of 1939, Destry Rides Again is the fun one. Marlene Dietrich has arguably never been more enjoyable, Jimmy Stewart gives a solid performance as the titular Destry and the two of them make a thouroughly magnetic pair.


Only Angels Have Wings 4.jpg6. Golden Boy (dir. Rouben Mamoulian) – The big weepie of 1939 along with Love Affair, this was William Holden’s breakthrough role and it started a lifelong friendship between him and Barbara Stanwyck, who, like always, is fantastic. Lee J. Cobb, however, stands out as Holden’s loving father.

5. Only Angels Have Wings (dir. Howard Hawks) – An utterly enjoyable multi-genre soap-opera type, Only Angels Have Wings is one of Hawks’ overlooked gems and it really shouldn’t be. 1939’s most all-round complete film.


4. The Wizard of Oz (dir. Victor Fleming) – Fleming was certainly busy in 1939 (Cukor’s uncredited direction in GWTW aside) and to have THE two most iconic and beloved films of that year under your belt is quite a feat. One suspects this would be number 1 on most people’s lists of 1939 and with good reason. There is not a single frame of it that isn’t wonderful and it is surely one of the best arguments for why cinema is the greatest thing there has ever been.

image-w856.jpg3. Stagecoach (dir. John Ford) – John Ford and John Wayne’s first big collaboration, Stagecoach still stands as one of Hollywood’s greatest westerns and has maybe the best assortment of peculiar characters in any film of 1939 ā€“ needless to say, its character study does not go unnoticed.

mr-smith-goes-to-washington-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-1084x610.jpg2. Mr Smith Goes to Washington (dir. Frank Capra) – A timeless classic that only gets more poignant as the years go by, perhaps depressingly so. Jimmy Stewart’s performance is magnificent and, like Ford/Wayne, the Capra/Stewart team was a force of nature.




1. Ninotchka (dir. Ernst Lubitsch) – Ah, Ninotchka. Garbo’s greatest performance and probably the funniest movie of 1939. Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett’s screenplay as well as Ernst Lubitsch’s direction are a wonderful thing to behold and as I mentioned in a previous COMEDY GOLD, 1939 may have been Gone With the Wind’s year, but Ninotchka takes top spot here at The Old Hollywood Garden.

Happy New Year, everyone!

18 thoughts on “Hollywood’s Greatest Year: My ten favorite movies of 1939

  1. John A. Rizzo

    There were so many excellent movies from 1939, it makes your head spin. I’m so glad you included “Destry Rides Again”, which I think is just terrific. It would be pointless for me to tell you the films I would include, as I’m sure you’ve heard them all before, except I should note that even my all-time favorite guilty pleasure, “The Under-pup”, is from 1939.Ā 

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gavin Davey

    Thankyou for that what a year me personally love the Wizard and Mr Smith

    Epics will always stand and the making of Gone With The Wind would make quite a movie on its own

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robin Franson Pruter

    I’ve seen all but one (Only Angels Have Wings). A couple of thoughts:
    1) I like your description of Stagecoach as a character study. I never put it into words, but that description encapsulates for me why I like it.
    2) I’m struck by how much we differ on Cobb’s performance. I consider it one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in a major theatrical film. Hammy and painful to watch.
    3) Fleming was busy that year. For a director without much of a lasting reputation, he came out with two cinematic masterpieces in the same year. There’s an essay to be written about that. I don’t know if I have the interest in writing it, but I’m generating some ideas.
    4) I’m not a huge fan of Midnight, but I was glad to see a Mitchell Leisen film on the list. He tops my list of unsung directors of the classic movie period. Tragically overlooked.
    5) We agree on five of the choices: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Ninotchka, The Women, and Stagecoach. Midnight would probably be in my second-tier of top films from that year, and, as mentioned, I haven’t seen Only Angels Have Wings. The other three on your list are undoubtedly classics, but I’m “meh” on them. My other five would be The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Old Maid, Wuthering Heights, Bachelor Mother, and The Four Feathers. I don’t keep a bubbling under list, but after a quick look at the movies I’ve seen I would choose First Love, Love Affair, Midnight, and Gunga Din as my 11-14.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so agree with you on Mitchell Leisen. I adore him and I think that because there were so many directors that excelled at the kind of films he did (screwballs, etc), he kind of goes under the radar a little bit, whereas Sturges and Lubitsch, for instance, a lot more well-known. I guess there really is no real reason for it, but he is indeed underrated.
      I ALMOST chose Love Affair, but it’s only ten, so I had to make some choices. Never doing a top ten list again lol
      Thank you! šŸ˜€


  4. Happy New Year.

    You know you’re a classic film nerd when your response to 2019 ending is to use it as an excuse to celebrate 1939!

    Good choices anyway. I’ve been meaning to catch up with Ninotchka again, it is a lot of fun.

    “Like always, personal list, subjective choices, will leave some out, blah blah blah.”

    I think I’ll have to borrow this.

    Liked by 1 person

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