Best 10 Outstanding Actors Concluding Movie Careers on a High Note


Best 10 Outstanding Actors Concluding Movie Careers on a High Note

Going out on a career high note is like hitting the jackpot in showbiz. It’s a magical combination of luck and how you see things. Imagine someone knowing they have limited time left and creating an awe-inspiring masterpiece, it can almost make their farewell a little less heartbreaking. Take David Bowie, for instance, who left us with an unforgettable swan song.

But let’s face it, the acting world is a wild rollercoaster ride. Projects can drag on for ages, and the end result might be completely different from the original plan. Yet, when a star bids adieu on a high note, their final work becomes a magnifying glass for scrutiny. It holds sentimental value after a long, triumph-filled journey, or is tinged with a touch of melancholy if it came to an abrupt end.

Now, get ready for a star-studded list of famous personalities who delivered mind-blowing performances before taking their final bow. Get your popcorn ready!

1. Burt Lancaster, ‘Field of Dreams’

Burt Lancaster, 'Field of Dreams'
Burt Lancaster, a former circus performer, made his way into Hollywood after the war by starring in a series of intense 1940s film noirs. In the 1950s, he showcased his impressive physicality in swashbucklers alongside his old circus buddy Nick Cravat. He also gained recognition for his roles in iconic movies like From Here to Eternity, where he shared a legendary crashing wave love scene with Deborah Kerr, and Trapeze, which delved into the world of the circus that Lancaster knew so well. Working closely with his dear friend Kirk Douglas, Lancaster developed a distinctive cadence that has been imitated by many. His acting career thrived until the late 1980s.

Lancaster’s final film, Field of Dreams, provided him with an opportunity to reflect on the path to stardom. In the movie, he played the character of Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who, after a life-changing accident, returns to a magical baseball field in his older form to give his dream another shot. Realizing that he cannot go back, Graham gracefully bows out before vanishing into a cornfield. This heartfelt farewell scene allowed Lancaster to savor the moment and bid adieu to the silver screen.

2. Paul Newman, ‘Road to Perdition’

Paul Newman, 'Road to Perdition'
Ethan Hawke’s HBO Max documentary, The Last Movie Stars, delves into the lives and careers of married actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. It offers an intimate exploration of these Hollywood icons, showcasing their enduring impact. Newman, known as a heartthrob in the 1950s with films like Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Long, Hot Summer, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, maintained his cool demeanor throughout the years. He possessed a plain-spoken charm that resonated, regardless of the dialogue he was given. In 1961, he earned an Oscar nomination for his role as pool shark Eddie Felson in The Hustler, later winning an Oscar in 1986 for its sequel, The Color of Money.

Sam Mendes’s film, Road to Perdition, captivates viewers with its visually stunning presentation. Each frame resembles elements of film noir and draws inspiration from the Ashcan School’s selected paintings. Despite being based on a comic book, the dialogue in the film is intentionally sparse. Newman takes on the role of Irish mobster John Rooney, inspired by real-life figure John Patrick Looney. Michael Sullivan, portrayed by Tom Hanks, invests his loyalty and eventually his anger in Rooney.

In his final scene, Newman’s famous bright blue eyes, often hailed as a defining feature of his striking appearance, exude a sense of resignation as Rooney calmly accepts his fate. This epic moment serves as a magnificent conclusion to Newman’s illustrious career.

3. Christopher Plummer, ‘Knives Out’

Christopher Plummer, 'Knives Out'
Christopher Plummer’s career spanned an impressive seven decades, and it only grew more intriguing as he got older. While he was widely recognized for his role as Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music, which he found somewhat bothersome, he refused to be pigeonholed by the musical. Instead, he embraced the challenge of diverse characters and transformed himself from a leading actor in war films to a versatile character actor.

In the last dozen years of his life, Plummer was fortunate to be cast in some truly innovative roles. He portrayed the enigmatic leader of a traveling theater in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, tackled the complex character of a 75-year-old husband and father coming out as gay in Beginners, and even stepped in to replace Kevin Spacey as oil billionaire J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World.

Sadly, Christopher Plummer passed away in 2021 at the age of 91, but he did live long enough to witness the success of his final film, Knives Out. This lively and entertaining take on a classic whodunit captivated audiences, and Plummer’s character, Harlan Thrombey, played a central role. Thrombey, a renowned crime novelist, meets his demise, sparking a gripping mystery. Throughout the film, his interactions with his attentive nurse, Marta, portrayed by Ana de Armas, provide moments of introspection and humor. As Thrombey faces his own mortality, he reflects on the choices he’s made, including the impact of his parenting, alluding to the end of the road. It’s a poignant scene that captures the wisdom and remorse of a life well-lived.

4. Henry Fonda, ‘On Golden Pond’

Henry Fonda, 'On Golden Pond'
Henry Fonda had a successful career in Hollywood, known for his convincing and sincere performances. He really nailed it playing Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln and the empathetic Juror 8 in 12 Angry Men. But he surprised everyone by playing the menacing outlaw Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West. Director Sergio Leone specifically chose Fonda for this role because he seemed like the least likely casting choice.

Fonda’s relationship with his daughter Jane was complex, and she has talked and written about it many times. Their bond was put to the test in his final film, On Golden Pond. The movie tells the story of an aging couple, Norman and Ethel Thayer, played by Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, who receive a visit from their daughter Chelsea, played by Jane. Ethel encourages Norman and Chelsea to work on repairing their difficult relationship.

Jane, who was a producer on the film, bought the rights to the play so that her father could star in the movie adaptation. One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when Chelsea confronts her father about their relationship. In this scene, Jane touched Henry’s arm spontaneously after saying the line, “I want to be your friend.”

According to Jane’s memory, Henry, who was usually very composed, shed a tear and quickly shielded his face from the camera. This genuine moment made it into the final cut of the film, revealing a glimpse of the man behind the actor. A few months before his death from heart disease at the age of 77 in 1982, Jane accepted the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of her father.

5. James Dean, ‘Giant’

James Dean, 'Giant'
James Dean, known for his roles in three feature films, had a short but impactful life. Despite the common misconception, the phrase “Live Fast-Die Young: Remembering the Short Life of James Dean” is not inspired by his circumstances but rather the title of one of his biographies. Unfortunately, Dean’s love for fast cars led to his untimely death in a traffic accident in September 1955 when he was just 24 years old.

During the mid-1950s, Dean made the most of his time as an actor. He studied at the Actors Studio and admired Marlon Brando. His filmography includes East of Eden, based on the John Steinbeck novel, where he showcased his talent. In Rebel Without a Cause, Dean’s portrayal of an angsty teenager resonated with audiences and highlighted the generation gap in the emerging rock ‘n’ roll age. Giant, his final film, was released after his death.

Giant tells the story of Jett Rink, played by Dean, a ranch hand in the 1920s. Rink resists being swayed by monetary offers after acquiring land and becomes infatuated with Leslie Lynnton Benedict, portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor. Leslie is the idealistic wife of Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr., a Texas rancher played by Rock Hudson. The clash of cultures leads to greed and resentment, ultimately leading to deep-seated animosity. Dean’s presence on screen captivates viewers, even when he is not speaking. Considering the impact he had in his short career, one can only speculate on the great achievements he could have accomplished.

6. Marilyn Monroe, ‘The Misfits’

Marilyn Monroe, 'The Misfits'
The enduring fascination with Marilyn Monroe, the iconic “blond bombshell,” seems to be never-ending. Her untimely death and her romantic relationships with powerful individuals made her a source of admiration for both men and women. What set her apart was her ability to captivate the audience with her unique blend of comedic talent and vulnerability, a quality that was entirely her own.

The circumstances surrounding Monroe’s passing in 1962 at the age of 36 continue to be a subject of speculation and have given rise to numerous books and documentaries. Despite her struggles with memorizing lines, punctuality, and occasionally not showing up at all, the final edited takes of her on-screen performances possessed a magical quality.

One such film is “The Misfits,” directed by John Huston and written by Monroe’s then-husband, playwright Arthur Miller, during their tumultuous breakup. Consequently, the production faced various challenges related to Monroe. The character of Roslyn Tabor, a recently divorced woman lost in Reno, was tailor-made for Monroe by someone who knew her intimately.

Monroe, like her character, was going through a period of personal uncertainty. Despite embodying the qualities her fans had come to adore – compassion and sensuality – her portrayal in “The Misfits” is considered to be one of her most authentic performances. Monroe shared the distinction of having this film as her last completed project with co-stars Clark Gable and Rex Bell, while Montgomery Clift would only appear in three more films.

7. Steve McQueen, ‘The Hunter’

Steve McQueen, 'The Hunter'
Steve McQueen, known for his rebellious and adventurous masculinity, starred in iconic films such as The Magnificent Seven, The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, and Papillon (earning him a Golden Globe nomination). He was famous for performing his own stunts both on and off-screen.

McQueen’s public image exuded a sense of adventure, giving the impression that he had countless exciting experiences but preferred not to talk about them. Whether he was playing with a baseball in The Great Escape or engaging in high-speed bike and car races, he effortlessly embodied coolness and was frequently sought after by casting directors for this very reason.

In the 1980 film The Hunter, McQueen portrayed Ralph “Papa” Thorson, a real-life bounty hunter and bail bondsman who outsmarts a vengeful villain. True to his on-screen persona, McQueen took charge of the stunt choreography, executing fast-paced and frenetic action sequences with the energy of someone half his age. From using cars as stepping stones to surfing atop a train, he demonstrated remarkable physical prowess. It’s astonishing to think that he passed away the same year the film was released at the age of 50, succumbing to mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer.

8. Sidney Poitier, ‘The Jackal’

Sidney Poitier, 'The Jackal'
Sidney Poitier, besides being an incredibly talented screen actor, made a significant impact on society through his roles in films that tackled social and racial inequality. Some of these notable films include No Way Out, Blackboard Jungle, The Defiant Ones, To Sir, With Love, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Originally from the Bahamas, Poitier started his career in Black-oriented theater and civil rights activism in New York before becoming the first Black actor to win an Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field in 1963. He also directed nine feature films, one of which was the popular comedy Stir Crazy, starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.

Before his passing in 2022 at the age of 94, Poitier’s last film was The Jackal, released in 1997. This film, based on the 1973 movie The Day of the Jackal, which was adapted from a novel by Frederick Forsyth, showcased Poitier in the role of FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston. In the film, Preston seeks assistance from incarcerated IRA operative Declan Mulqueen, played by Richard Gere, to stop the assassin known as “The Jackal,” portrayed by Bruce Willis, from killing the FBI’s director. The Jackal was a commercial success, with its plot and fast-paced nature relying on Poitier’s composed presence in the midst of the chaos.

9. John Wayne, ‘The Shootist’

John Wayne, 'The Shootist'
John Wayne, known as The Duke, was a tough guy who only took action when necessary. He embodied the classic tough guy persona, playing uncomplicated heroes in meat-and-potatoes cinematic roles. With his drawl and distinctive gait, Wayne became a Western icon in his collaborations with director John Ford.

In the 1976 film The Shootist, Wayne portrayed J.B. Books, a former sheriff-turned-gunfighter. Books discovers he has terminal cancer during a visit with Dr. E.W. “Doc” Hostetler, played by James Stewart. As Books tries to settle old scores and come to terms with his fate, his reputation as a gunslinger attracts unwanted attention. Although Wayne faced health issues during filming, the cancer that ultimately claimed his life in 1979 waited a few more years.

Despite the challenges, the similarities between Wayne and his character Books are striking. Director Don Siegel, known for his work in the 1940s, adapted his directing style to the era of New Hollywood in The Shootist. The film brings together Western elements and a cast of Golden Age stars, including Wayne, Stewart, and Lauren Bacall, while also giving it a more modern feel. As a result, Wayne’s final performance feels authentic and contemplative.

10. Clark Gable, ‘The Misfits’

Clark Gable, 'The Misfits'
Clark Gable, also known as “The King of Hollywood,” was a highly successful leading man throughout his career. He was known for his talent in both dramatic films and screwball comedies, often partnering with Joan Crawford in the 1930s. However, it was his portrayal of the sardonic Southern rogue Rhett Butler in the critically acclaimed Civil War melodrama Gone with the Wind in 1939 that became a defining moment for him.

After this film, Gable became the epitome of debonair charm and effortless dominance in almost any genre. He had the ability to captivate audiences simply by being himself – Clark Gable.

In 1961, Gable delivered a memorable performance in The Misfits, where he played the cowboy Gaylord Langland. The story follows Langland as he embarks on a quest to capture wild horses. Along the way, he meets Roslyn Tabor, a divorced woman played by Marilyn Monroe, and the two characters develop a fleeting but meaningful connection based on their shared loneliness. This film showcased a departure from Gable’s usual cynical persona, demonstrating his versatility as an actor. It was also a career highlight for both Gable and Monroe, as neither of them would go on to make another feature film.

Sadly, Gable’s life was cut short. At the age of 59, he suffered a heart attack less than two weeks after completing The Misfits. His untimely death marked the end of an era in Hollywood, leaving behind a legacy of unforgettable performances and his iconic status as “The King of Hollywood.”

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