1930s And '40s: Judy Garland
Whether she was co-starring with Mickey Rooney in their many films or taking a trip on a tornado in The Wizard of Oz, the pint-sized, multitalented actress dominated both decades and continued to shine throughout her long career.
1950: Bette Davis
This was the year Bette starred in perhaps her best-remembered film, All About Eve, before making an impressive comeback alongside Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962.
1951: Vivien Leigh
Despite being made to look much older for her role as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Vivien’s incredible talent gave the tortured character an extra spark.
1952: Debbie Reynolds
Debbie infamously dealt with intense pressures while filming Singin’ in the Rain, but you’d never know it from the bright and sunny character she brought to life onscreen.
1953: Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn had been turning heads for quite some time, but as the resident blonde in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the actress cemented her status as a Hollywood icon.
1954: Grace Kelly
It takes an impressive woman to make an impact opposite James Stewart in a film like Rear Window. Grace did just that — two years before she became an actual princess by marrying Prince Rainer III of Monaco on April 19, 1956.
1955: Natalie Wood
Natalie perfectly played the naïve yet emotionally charged counterpart to James Dean’s reckless abandon in Rebel Without a Cause.
1956: Deborah Kerr
After steaming up the screen with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity in 1953, Deborah returned with class as the American tutor in The King and I.
1957: Doris Day
The Pajama Game epitomized the quirky fun that defined Doris’ incredible talent throughout her career.
1958: Joanne Woodward
After winning an Oscar for her role in The Three Faces of Eve, Joanne proved herself once again alongside her future husband, Paul Newman, in The Long, Hot Summer.
1959: Dorothy Dandridge
This groundbreaking, multitalented actress followed up her Oscar-nominated performance in Carmen Jones (1954) with a starring role alongside Sidney Poitier in Porgy and Bess.
1960: Janet Leigh
Her grim fate in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho couldn’t overshadow her stirring performance in the thriller.
1961: Rita Moreno
With her portrayal of Anita, Rita gave West Side Story a grounding in Puerto Rican identity. The film also starred Natalie Wood.
1962: Ursula Andress
As the quintessential and first-ever “Bond Girl” in Dr. No, she set a stunning standard while wearing the infamous white bikini she later claimed “made me into a success.”
1963: Elizabeth Taylor
A successful child actress, she’d starred in films alongside Mickey Rooney before breaking into more serious roles, as with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958. Five years later, Elizabeth cemented her leading-lady status playing the title role in Cleopatra.
1964: Audrey Hepburn
Audrey obviously had a string of successful films beforehand. But her iconic role in My Fair Lady proved audiences were still more than willing to spend nearly three hours sitting in a theater to watch her perform.
1965: Julie Andrews
After her Oscar-winning performance in Mary Poppins the year before, Julie earned yet another nomination for her unforgettable role in The Sound of Music.
1966: Raquel Welch
The bombshell became a household name after sizzling performances in Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C. — both of which were released in ’66. The following year, Raquel was aptly cast as Lilian Lust in Bedazzled.
1967: Sharon Tate
Before her tragic and untimely death, the beautiful model turned heads acting in films with Roman Polanski, whom she later married. Sharon was best-known for her role in 1967’s Valley of the Dolls.
1968: Barbra Streisand
Babs was so impressive in her film debut as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl that she nabbed the Best Actress Academy Award. Of course, she would continue to draw audiences with her incredible performances for years to come.
1969: Katharine Ross
Following her breakout role in The Graduate (1967), Katharine held her own against big-screen legends Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the only female lead in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
1970: Ali MacGraw
She and Ryan O’Neal made the whole world fall in love with both of them in Love Story. And Ali continued to delight viewers throughout the decade.
1971: Cybill Shepherd
After turning heads as a model, Cybill made her film debut in The Last Picture Show and continued a successful career throughout the ’70s. Later on, she won over TV audiences with Moonlighting and Cybill in the ’80s and ’90s, respectively.
1972: Liza Minnelli
Being the daughter of Judy Garland gave Liza big shoes to fill, but she more than proved her own talents with an iconic performance in Cabaret.
1973: Pam Grier
Pam was the queen of female-driven action films throughout the decade, beginning this year with Coffy. In 1974, she returned as Foxy Brown, memorably described onscreen as “a whole lot of woman.”
1974: Mia Farrow
After her goose-bump-inducing role in Rosemary’s Baby, Mia continued to find success throughout the ’70s including her unforgettable performance as Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, opposite Robert Redford.
1975: Susan Sarandon
The Oscar-winning actress made her breakthrough this year in the campy cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
1976: Sissy Spacek
Despite the terrifying plot, there was no denying Sissy’s serious talent as the telekinetic protagonist in Carrie.
1977: Carrie Fisher
Carrie didn’t follow in the footsteps of either of her musically talented parents. She became an intergalactic icon instead, thanks to the Star Wars franchise.
1978: Diana Ross
After decades of success as a songstress, both with the Supremes and as a solo artist, Diana took to the big screen as Dorothy, in The Wiz.
1979: Sigourney Weaver
Sigourney blasted through her action-packed, breakthrough role in Alien — and continued to kick butt in the franchise’s sequels.
1980: Goldie Hawn
Previously known as the bubbly, cute go-go dancer from Laugh-In, Goldie showed her acting chops in Private Benjamin, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
1981: Jessica Lange
Director Bob Rafelson chose Jessica over Meryl Streep for what ended up being her breakout role in the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice — opposite Jack Nicholson.
1982: Meryl Streep
Meryl obviously bounced back from being passed over the year before with her stirring performance in Sophie’s Choice, which ended up earning her a second Oscar.
1983: Jennifer Beals
Admit it, just reading that name made you picture her iconic, splashy dance scene from Flashdance.
1984: Kathleen Turner
In order to avoid being typecast after her breakthrough role as a femme fatale in Body Heat, Kathleen kept audiences delighted opposite Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone.
1985: Molly Ringwald
Molly ruled the ’80s as the undeniable teen-queen of the “Brat Pack,” starring in several John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.
1986: Isabella Rossellini
She spent a few years as a model before following in mom Ingrid Bergman’s footsteps, making her first notable appearance in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
1987: Jennifer Grey
After playing second fiddle to Matthew Broderick, as the older sister from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Jennifer showed she couldn’t be put in the corner for long while starring opposite Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.
1988: Melanie Griffith
Melanie Griffith held her own against Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford in her breakout role as a secretary getting the credit she deserves in Working Girl.
1989: Meg Ryan
The actress began her string of successful rom-coms opposite Billy Crystal — and forever changed the way we think about dining at a deli — in When Harry Met Sally… just before the start of the ’90s.
1990: Julia Roberts
Julia sealed her status as one of the most bankable leading ladies after a run of successful films between 1988 and 1990: Mystic Pizza (shown above), Steel Magnolias, and, perhaps her most iconic role, Pretty Woman.
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