7 Classic Jane Fonda Movies

Paramount Pictures

Despite being the source of controversy throughout much of her career, actress Jane Fonda was nonetheless one of the biggest stars of her day. Nominated six times for Best Actress and once as Supporting Actress, Fonda delivered one great performance after another throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Regardless of what one may think of her politics, there's no denying that she was a major star. Here are seven great films starring Jane Fonda.

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Cat Ballou; 1965

Cat Ballou
Columbia Pictures

Already a rising star after such films as Period of Adjustment (1962) and Sunday in New York (1963), Fonda elevated herself even more in the acclaimed Western spoof, Cat Ballou. Fonda played the title character, a prim and proper schoolmarm who straps on a six-shooter to pursue the no-nosed gunslinger (Lee Marvin) after he kills her father (John Marley). Joining her is a pair of charming thieves (Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman), her father's Native American ranch hand (Tom Nardini), and a once legendary, but now hopelessly drunk gunfighter named Kid Shelleen (Marvin again). Though Fonda delivered a feisty performance as the determined Cat, Cat Ballou actually belonged to Marvin, who won Best Actor for his dual performance.

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Barbarella; 1968

Paramount Pictures

In sharp contrast to her career to this point, Fonda established herself as a sex symbol as opposed to a serious actress when she opted to star in the futuristic sex comedy Barbarella, a film she has tried to live down ever since. Fonda starred as in the title role, an interstellar government agent tasked with finding a scientist whose death ray could spell doom for the human race. Equipped with a psychedelic spaceship and an array of skimpy outfits, Barbarella traverses the galaxy in search of the scientist while learning the joys of interstellar sex from an odd assortment of intergalactic species. While not a great film, and certainly a flop on release, Barbarella has lived on as a camp classic thanks in large part to the opening sequence with Fonda undressing in zero gravity.

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They Shoot Horses, Don't They?; 1969

They Shoot Horses
MGM Home Entertainment

A highly acclaimed drama from director Sydney Pollack, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? was almost passed on by Fonda when she was first approached for the film. Fonda starred as Gloria, a disaffected young woman who partners with an itinerant drifter (Michael Sarrazin) in a Depression-era dance marathon. Led by a Master of Ceremonies (Gig Young), the dance competition features a middle-aged sailor (Red Buttons), an aspiring actress (Susannah York), and a pregnant farm girl (Bonnie ​​Bedalia) and her impoverished husband (Bruce Dern). Ultimately, Gloria confesses to her partner that she's suicidal, but doesn't have to courage to do the deed. As the weeks drag on and the pressure builds, the contestants reach the breaking point and Gloria's partner concedes to helping her, leading to an unexpected end. Fonda was nominated for her first of six career ​Oscar nominations for Best Actress.

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Klute; 1971

Warner Bros.

The first of Alan J. Pakula's "paranoia trilogy," Klute is an excellent thriller that earned Fonda her first of two Academy Awards for Best Actress. Fonda played Bree Daniels, a troubled Manhattan prostitute being stalked by one of her tricks who's discovered by John Klute (Donald Sutherland), a private investigator looking into the disappearance of his friend. Klute learns that his friend used to frequent Daniels and starts following her, tapping into her phone while observing every sordid facet of her life. After approaching Daniels, Klute can't help falling in love with her and he tries to save her from impending danger, while she's forced to reconcile the detachment she has for her unsavory life. Despite being outspoken in her politics, particularly in regard to the Vietnam War, Fonda capped off her excellent performance with the Oscar.

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Julia; 1977

20th Century Fox

A throwback drama directed by Fred Zinnemann, Julia was a highly fictionalized accounting of writer Lillian Hellman and her friendship with a young Oxford medical student (Vanessa Redgrave). Fonda played Hellman in her early days as a struggling playwright who engages in a mentor-lover relationship with author Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards). After achieving success, Lillian is enlisted by her childhood friend, Julia, to smuggle money through Nazi Germany in order to fund the anti-Nazi cause. Lillian later hears of her friend's mysterious murder and goes in search of Julia's daughter, only to learn that her family wants nothing to do with her. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, ​Julia brought Fonda her third career nod for Best Actress, though she lost out to ​Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.

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Coming Home; 1978

Coming Home
Kino Video

Directed by former editor Hal Ashby, Coming Home was one of the first films made about the Vietnam War and served as an exclamation point on the New Hollywood era, which was on the verge of coming to a close. Fonda starred as Sally Hyde, the wife of Bob (Bruce Dern), a gung-ho Marine who goes off to fight in the war. In order to keep the home fires warm, Sally volunteers at a local VA hospital, where she reunites with Luke (Jon Voight), a former high school classmate who returns home as a paraplegic. As she becomes increasingly distant from her husband, Sally finds herself falling in love with Luke, which becomes problematic when Bob comes back from the war with his own injury. A heart-wrenching film, Coming Home was one of the best movies of the decade and delivered Fonda her second Academy Award for Best Actress.

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The China Syndrome; 1979

China Syndrome
Imagine Entertainment

One of the last great paranoid thrillers made in the 1970s, The China Syndrome was a chilling harbinger of nuclear disaster that, unfortunately, gained considerable more attention for the real-life disaster of Three Mile Island that occurred a mere 12 days after its release. Fonda starred as Kimberly Wells, an enterprising TV reporter who happens to be on the scene when a nuclear power plant goes into emergency shutdown mode. Along with her devil-may-care cameraman (Michael Douglas), Kimberly knows she has the story of a lifetime on her hands and does all she can to chase it down, while inside the plant an engineer (Jack Lemmon) realizes corporate cost-cutting led to the initial shutdown and may contribute to a far worse disaster. A riveting film, The China Syndrome contained exemplary performances from its leads, particularly Fonda, who earned her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in the decade.