James Stewart in Vertigo (1958)

This may not exactly be the fairest addition to this list for a single reason: The film was a commercial failure when first released in theaters. Critics panned it and audiences weren’t receptive to the film’s premise. Hitchcock, himself, disowned the film and blamed the film’s failure on James Stewart, citing his age as the reason. Ironically, most critics and fan historians today claim that Vertigo was Hitchcock’s greatest film for its compelling storyline, dense attention to visual detail, and the tremendous performances from its two lead actors: James Stewart and Kim Novak.

For James Stewart, his performance as ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a former detective who suffers from debilitating vertigo, is perhaps the most impactful performance of his career. His character is introduced to the audience as vulnerable, which was a difficult feat for actors during the Golden Age of Hollywood, who were expected to exhibit masculinity in all roles. Stewart doesn’t. Instead, he portrays a male who is fragile and becomes unhinged when his fascination with a woman turns to obsession. Stewart’s performance, especially in the film’s second half, is stunning. If Vertigo were made today, Stewart would have not only been praised for his performance, but he likely would have been nominated and won an Oscar for his performance.

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