Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy Must-See Movies

Classic Movies from a Legendary Hollywood Couple

A legendary couple on- and off-screen, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy appeared in nine movies, most notably in battle-of-the-sexes plots with plenty of scope for their natural chemistry. These were showcases for their verbal sparring and clear delight in being together. Most of the films are memorable must-sees.

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‘Adam’s Rib’ - 1949

Adam's Rib movie poster

Considered their finest pairing, Adam's Rib stars Hepburn and Tracy as the married prosecutor and defense lawyer in a sensational murder trial, with Hepburn defending a woman (Judy Holliday's first role) who shoots her unfaithful husband. Based on a true story, the couple battles in the courtroom and at home over equality, women’s rights, and the law, and the resulting tension leads each to consider the attractions of someone new. It's intelligent, funny, and beautifully written by another husband-wife team: Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin.

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‘Pat and Mike’ - 1952

Pat and Mike movie poster

An unabashedly feminist film that allowed Hepburn to show off her real-life, world-class skills as a golfer and tennis player, Pat and Mike is a light comedy that allows the audience to relax and enjoy the stars’ chemistry. Hepburn is a bored college athletics teacher who meets up with a sketchy sports promoter (Tracy) and goes pro, although every time her fiancee shows up at an event, she flops. The writing team of Gordon and Kanin delivered another entertaining vehicle for the classic couple.

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‘Desk Set’ - 1957

Desk Set movie poster
20th Century Fox

Patient elders will one day have to explain just about every aspect of Desk Set to the young ‘uns, from the lack of technology to the bizarre treatment of women in the workforce. Hepburn plays almost-spinster librarian Bunny Watson, the head of research for a New York network news department. She uses reference books. Tracy plays a computer inventor who brings his new-fangled machine (all blinking lights and rolling magnetic tape) into her office, and Bunny is afraid she and her crack team will be automated right out of their jobs. Not hard to see how this will all turn out, but the two stars are delightful in this sweet romantic comedy.

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‘State of the Union’ - 1948

State of the Union movie poster

Often forgotten in the Hepburn-Tracy pantheon, State of the Union is a pretty good movie about politics, with Tracy as a successful industrialist being urged to run for the presidency and Hepburn as the wife who has her doubts about the moral compromises running for office requires. Directed by Frank Capra, with a blazing performance by a young Angela Lansbury as an ambitious schemer almost stealing the movie from its stars. While not their best, it's worth a look on many levels.

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‘Woman of the Year’ - 1942

Woman of the Year movie poster

Woman of the Year is the first Hepburn-Tracy film - though not the best. The couple plays a pair of reporters for the same newspaper, but Tracy begins to resent the demands of his wife’s busy career as a feminist writer (who is named Woman of the Year) and longs for a more traditional union. While their chemistry in this first outing is genuine and warm, the pasted-on “happy” ending with Hepburn messing up the kitchen and promising to be a good wifey just doesn’t feel right.

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‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ - 1967

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner movie poster

Tracy’s last film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, was significant at the time for its exploration of interracial marriage, but it also may be the best work of both classic stars. Dated now, with a few ridiculous scenes, it’s still a showcase for the great affection and easy screen presence of these two great stars. Knowing that Tracy would die soon after the film was made adds resonance to Hepburn and Tracy’s portrayal of a couple at the end of a long and very happy marriage.