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10 Best Movies of Greta Garbo: Legacy of the Swedish Sphinx

Best movies of Greta Garbo

Welcome to the Memorial Film Collection of Greta Garbo

Watching the best movies of Greta Garbo is more than just having a really good time. It’s also about paying tribute to one of the greatest female stars of classic Hollywood cinema.

She may have passed away, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, she will never be really gone. Whenever you feel like traveling back in time to witness Greta Garbo‘s unique acting style and to marvel at her enigmatic personality, all you have to do, is sit back, relax, and enjoy one (or more) of her greatest films.

But which Greta Garbo movies should you watch?
Well, if that’s your question for the day, you came to the right place. We’re just about to present the Top 10 Films of Greta Garbo.

The Best Movies of Greta Garbo is an episode of FrameTrek’s Hall of Legends: A mega-journey dedicated to identify the greatest artists of World Cinema, and their most significant works.


Meet Greta Garbo, the Swedish Sphinx

Greta Garbo young, Most famous films of Greta Garbo

Swedish-American actress Greta Garbo is best known for her melancholic, somber persona due to her many film portrayals of tragic characters and for her subtle and understated performances. She was a legendary actress who combined remarkable beauty with a modern spirit and irresistible allure.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Before making it big, Greta Garbo worked in Sweden as a soap-latherer in a barber’s shop. Her first film appearance was in a short advertising film that ran in local theaters in Stockholm.

This sparked Garbo’s interest in acting and she started to attend drama school, where she was discovered a few years later and given the lead role in the 1924 Swedish film The Saga of Gösta Berling.

Her performance caught the attention of MGM, and soon she was seduced to Hollywood. Garbo was only 18 and already on a roll. Her sensual, mysterious look and subtle acting style made her a hit and an international star during the late Silent Era and the Golden Age of Hollywood.

By 1932 Garbo became MGM’s highest paid actress and its premier prestige star. Her success allowed her to dictate the terms of her contracts and she became increasingly selective about her roles. At the peak of her popularity, she became a living screen icon and a virtual cult figure. Still she granted no interviews, signed no autographs, attended no premieres and answered no fan mail.

The story of my life is about back entrances, side doors, secret elevators and other ways of getting in and out of places so that people won’t bother me.

Greta Garbo

So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about, when it comes to Greta Garbo, but we are here to concentrate on her Top 10 Films, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

After all, an actress is as good as her greatest performances. Thus, the finest way to familiarize yourself with Greta Garbo, is through watching her best films.

Ready? Buckle up then, cause you’re about to travel back in time all the way to the Silent Era and the Golden Age of Hollywood!



Presenting the 10 Best Films of Greta Garbo

Chronologically


The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924)

The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924), Mauritz Stiller, Lars Hanson, Gerda Lundequist, Best films of Greta Garbo
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent Swedish romantic drama film directed by Mauritz Stiller, co-starring Lars Hanson and Gerda Lundequist.

Story: A drunkard priest who has been cast out by his community struggles to atone and regain his honour and dignity. (IMDB)

Why is The Saga of Gosta Berling among the best Greta Garbo movies?
✓ It was Greta Garbo’s domestic film breakthrough.


Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Flesh and the Devil (1926), Clarence Brown, John Gilbert, Lars Hanson, Top movies of Greta Garbo
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent romantic drama film directed by Clarence Brown, co-starring John Gilbert and Lars Hanson.

Story: Childhood friends are torn apart when one of them marries the woman the other fiercely loves. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The film was such a commercial success for MGM Studios and such a breakout film for Greta Garbo, that she was considered 12% of the entire studio’s value by 1927.
✪ The first scene between John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, in the train station, was also the first time Gilbert ever saw Garbo. The romantic chemistry between them was a director’s dream because it was not faked. It marked the beginning of one of the most famous romances of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Why is Flesh and the Devil among the most popular movies of Greta Garbo?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


A Woman of Affairs (1928)

A Woman of Affairs (1928), Clarence Brown, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Greatest Greta Garbo movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent drama film directed by Clarence Brown, co-starring John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Story: When two childhood sweethearts are kept from marrying, misery ensues. (IMDB)

Why is A Woman of Affairs among the most popular Greta Garbo films?
✓ It was a box office hit upon release and today it is considered an important classic.



Anna Christie (1930)

Anna Christie (1930), Clarence Brown, Charles Bickford, George F. Marion, Most famous Greta Garbo movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic drama film directed by Clarence Brown, co-starring Charles Bickford and George F. Marion.

Story: A young woman reunites with her estranged father and falls in love with a sailor, but struggles to tell them about her dark past. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ It was marketed using the slogan “Garbo Talks!”, as it was her first sound film.
✪ MGM kept her out of talking films for a long time fearing that one of their biggest stars, like so many others, would not succeed in them. It turned out that she was even more interesting through being heard than she was in her mute portrayals.

Why is Anna Christie among the most famous movies of Greta Garbo?
✓ One of the highest-grossing films of 1930s and a critical success with a long lasting influence on popular culture.


Mata Hari (1931)

Mata Hari (1931), George Fitzmaurice, Ramon Novarro, Lewis Stone, Lionel Barrymore, Top Greta Garbo movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code drama film directed by George Fitzmaurice, co-starring Ramon Novarro, Lewis Stone and Lionel Barrymore.

Story: A semi-fictionalized account of the life of Mata Hari, an exotic dancer who was accused of spying for Germany during World War I. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Ramon Novarro wears internal lifts in his boots so that the difference in height between himself and Greta Garbo was increased on screen.

Why is Mata Hari among the best movies of Greta Garbo?
✓ It was Garbo’s most commercially successful vehicle, and today it is considered a true classic.


Grand Hotel (1932)

Grand Hotel (1932), Edmund Goulding, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Greatest films of Greta Garbo
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code drama film directed by Edmund Goulding, co-starring John Barrymore and Joan Crawford.

Story: A group of very different individuals staying at a luxurious hotel in Berlin deal with each of their respective dramas. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Both Greta Garbo and John Barrymore were very wary about working with each other. In actuality, they got on quite well, to the extent that she allowed rare backstage photos of them be taken.

Perhaps less a true film than a series of star-studded vignettes, Grand Hotel still remains an entertaining look back at a bygone Hollywood era.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Grand Hotel among the best films of Greta Garbo?
✓ It was a massive commercial success upon its release and it won Oscar’s Best Picture of the Year Academy Award.
✓ The film has proven influential in the years since its original release and it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.



Queen Christina (1933)

Queen Christina (1933), Rouben Mamoulian, John Gilbert, Most popular films of Greta Garbo
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code biographical romantic drama film directed by Rouben Mamoulian and co-starring John Gilbert.

Story: Queen Christina of Sweden is a popular monarch who is loyal to her country. However, when she falls in love with a Spanish envoy, she must choose between the throne and the man she loves. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Garbo herself insisted on having Gilbert as her co-star, doing him a big favor as he was falling out of favor with the majors as a leading man. This was their fourth and last film together.

Why is Queen Christina among the best Greta Garbo films?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ The film was a major commercial and critical success in the United States and worldwide and it was one of the most popular movies of its time.


Anna Karenina (1935)

Anna Karenina (1935), Clarence Brown, Fredric March, Freddie Bartholomew, Most famous Greta Garbo films
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic drama film directed by Clarence Brown, co-starring Fredric March and Freddie Bartholomew.

Story: The married Anna Karenina falls in love with Count Vronsky despite her husband’s refusal to grant a divorce, and both must contend with the social repercussions. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Aware that her co-star Fredric March was notorious for seducing his leading ladies, Garbo reportedly wore garlic under her clothes and purposely had bad breath in order to stave off his advances.
✪ Because Greta Garbo refused to work at night, MGM was forced to build a stage over the St. Petersburg railroad station set on the back lot to simulate darkness.

Why is Anna Karenina among the best Greta Garbo movies?
✓ Won the Mussolini Cup for best foreign film at the Venice Film Festival.
✓ Featured on the American Film Institute’s list of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions.


Camille (1936)

Camille (1936), George Cukor, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, Best Greta Garbo films
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic drama film directed by George Cukor, co-starring Robert Taylor and Lionel Barrymore.

Story: A Parisian courtesan must choose between the young man who loves her and the callous baron who wants her, even as her own health begins to fail. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Greta Garbo wore bedroom slippers under all her fancy dresses so she could be comfortable, as well as more naturalistic in her acting.

Why is Camille among the top movies of Greta Garbo?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Movies and AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions list.
✓ Well received by critics, became a box office hit and had a long lasting influence on popular culture.
✓ Generally regarded as Greta Garbo’s finest screen performance and it is her personal favorite of all her films.


Ninotchka (1939)

Ninotchka (1939), Ernst Lubitsch, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Top Greta Garbo films
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, co-starring Melvyn Douglas and Ina Claire.

Story: A stern Soviet woman sent to Paris to supervise the sale of jewels seized from Russian nobles finds herself attracted to a man who represents everything she is supposed to detest. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Both Garbo and co-star Ina Claire had been romantically involved with John Gilbert which gives undercurrent to their scenes together of competitive characters.
✪ Garbo had her misgivings about appearing in a comedy and was particularly nervous about the drunk scene, which she considered to be highly vulgar.

With Greta Garbo proving her comedy chops in the twilight of her career, Ninotchka is a can’t-miss classic.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Ninotchka among the greatest movies of Greta Garbo?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and featured on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs and 100 Years…100 Passions lists.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.



The end of Greta Garbo’s story

Greta Garbo old, Greatest Greta Garbo films

Her last movie, Two-Faced Woman (1941) drew controversy and was condemned by the Catholic Church and other groups and was a box office failure, which left Garbo shaken.

After World War II Greta, by her own admission, felt that the world had changed perhaps forever and she retired at the age of 35, never again to face the camera. She would work for the rest of her life to perpetuate the Garbo mystique. Her films, she felt, had their proper place in history and would gain in value.

After retiring, Garbo declined all opportunities to return to the screen and, shunning publicity, led a private life. She became an art collector and she would jet-set with some of the world’s best-known personalities and spent time gardening and raising flowers and vegetables.

In 1954, Garbo was awarded an Academy Honorary Award “for her luminous and unforgettable screen performances”.

Towards the end of her life, she battled serious illnesses while living in absolute seclusion and penning her autobiography.

In 1990, at the age of 84, Greta died of natural causes and with her went the Garbo Mystique. She was cremated in Manhattan, and her ashes were interred in 1999 at the Skogskyrkogården Cemetery just south of her native Stockholm.

If you’d like to dig deeper into the story of Greta Garbo, you may want to read her biography: Garbo.


…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 10 Greatest Films of Greta Garbo

If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:

Best Movies of Greta Garbo
Legacy of the Swedish Sphinx
The Saga of Gosta Berling 1924
The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924)
Flesh and the Devil 1926
Flesh and the Devil (1926)
A Woman of Affairs 1928
A Woman of Affairs (1928)
Anna Christie 1930
Anna Christie (1930)
Mata Hari 1931
Mata Hari (1931)
Grand Hotel 1932
Grand Hotel (1932)
Queen Christina 1933
Queen Christina (1933)
Anna Karenina 1935
Anna Karenina (1935)
Camille 1936
Camille (1936)
Ninotchka 1939
Ninotchka (1939)
*Click any title for more info or for Streaming / Disc Buying options

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