How you think of Elizabeth Taylor, who died Wednesday of heart failure at 79, depends largely on your age. Younger fans might remember her as the tabloid creature whose fluctuating health was breathlessly chronicled throughout the last three decades of her life. Others may think of the gossip-rag queen who made headlines for stealing Eddie Fisher from America's sweetheart Debbie Reynolds, her eight marriages, and her tempestuous romance with (and double marriage to) Richard Burton.
If either of those descriptions fits you, though, that's a shame. Because for those who came of age in the '50s and '60s, Elizabeth Taylor was one of Hollywood's most luminous talents, one whose beauty dazzled moviegoers and who had the dramatic skills to match. Wanna talk about clout? Her diva-like behavior on the set of 1963's 'Cleopatra' postponed that epic production and nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.
But frankly, we wouldn't have cared about any of that had she not had the beauty and the talent to begin with. So, ultimately it's what she left on the screen that matters. Here are 10 of Elizabeth Taylor's best movies -- 10 reasons that clinch her place as a show business immortal.
Watch Elizabeth Taylor movies on Netflix Instant right now.
10. 'Father of the Bride' (1950)
At the tender age of 17, Taylor had already grown into a world-class beauty. Though it was nominally Spencer Tracy's movie, Liz's role of Kay Banks provided the catalyst as daddy's little girl, whose engagement sets the whole film in motion and breaks his heart in the process.
9. 'Little Women' (1949)
In this sentimental version of Louisa May Alcott's timeless tale (a remake of the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn and Joan Bennett), Taylor played the exuberant optimist Amy, one of four sisters approaching womanhood at different rates while their father is off fighting the Civil War. Another significant step on Liz's road to greatness.
8. 'Raintree County' (1957)
As Southern belle Susanna Drake, Taylor comes off better than anything else in this more or less standard Old South epic. Playing a loud lady with traces of hereditary madness did, however, earn her her first Oscar nod for Best Actress, even though she lost out to Joanne Woodward.
7. 'National Velvet' (1944)
This wholesome charmer provided Taylor with her first major breakthrough. Only 12 years old at the time, Taylor played Velvet Brown, a horse-crazy girl who trains a wild stallion to run in England's Grand National, and exhibited a precocious gift for drama and a visceral sense of emotion. This promised great things, and fans didn't have to wait long for that promise to be fulfilled.
6. 'The Taming of the Shrew' (1967)
This was one of 11 films she made with Richard Burton, and certainly the most artsy (that Shakespeare fellow turned out to be a pretty good screenwriter). Taylor was reportedly petrified to tackle the Bard on film, especially opposite her Shakespearean-trained spouse. She worried over nothing -- Taylor acquits herself admirably with her smoldering intensity as Katharina. Whether on or off screen, Liz and Dick never failed to create sparks together.
5. 'Suddenly, Last Summer' (1957)
You wouldn't expect anything light when Tennessee Williams is writing the story and Gore Vidal is doing the screen adaptation. And you'd be right. Taylor stars as Catherine Holly, a young girl who witnesses the death of her cousin Sebastian on vacation and goes to pieces. Enter Katharine Hepburn as her imperious aunt, who seeks to have Catherine lobotomized to cover up the truth about Sebastian being (shhhhh, it's 1959) gay. Another Oscar nod for Liz -- and for Kate, too. (Awkward!)
4. 'A Place in the Sun' (1951)
Boy, for a decade that's become synonymous with America's "happy days," the '50s sure turned out some dark movies, none more so than this tragic tale of moral bankruptcy and unfettered lust. Taylor's lifelong friend Montgomery Clift plays George Eastman, who falls for Taylor's glamorous society girl Angela Vickers. But being a louse at heart, he manages to impregnate a good girl (Shelley Winters), and later stand by idly as he watches her drown. As the irresistible Angela, Taylor is the elusive dream girl who makes him abandon all he knows to be good and true. A malignant story, but beautifully acted nevertheless.
3. 'Butterfield 8' (1960)
Taylor hated this melodramatic film (privately calling it "Butterball Four"), and only did it to escape her MGM contract so she could jump to 20th Century Fox for 'Cleopatra.' But her near-fatal bout with pneumonia and a well-publicized tracheotomy generated enough sympathy to earn her her first Best Actress Oscar. Taylor plays Gloria Wandrous, a disillusioned prostitute who's involved with a married man and trying to outrun the ghosts of an unhappy childhood. Taylor parlayed her success into a then eye-popping $1,000,000 for 'Cleopatra.' But climbing to the summit of Hollywood turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory -- it was on that film she met Burton, after which her personal life began to generate more ink than her dramatic gifts.
2. 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' (1958)
Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman: hard to imagine a better-looking screen pairing, isn't it? But that's just a distraction; this riveting film of Tennessee Williams' classic play shows Taylor in her full dramatic glory. As Maggie Pollitt, the frustrated wife of Newman's alcoholic ex-football star, she's alternately flirtatious, angry, and desperate, showing all at once why her acting skills were as beguiling as her looks.
1. 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' (1966)
The gloves come off in Mike Nichols' harrowing film version of Edward Albee's play about a drunken university professor and his equally drunken wife as they "entertain" another young couple for a deeply confrontational social engagement. Taylor and Burton play George and Martha, a boozy, frustrated couple trapped in a codependency that seems to devour both them and anyone else who's unfortunate enough to wander into their orbit. Need we say it? Worst date movie ever.