7 Classic Rock Hudson Movies

Portrait of Rock Hudson

Herbert Dorfman / Getty Images

One of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s and 1960s, Rock Hudson became well-known as a leading man in an array of romantic comedies, particularly opposite close friend Doris Day. But he also displayed considerable acting chops in a number of dramas and earned himself an Academy Award nomination for Best actor in 1956.

While he projected the image of an eligible ladies man, Hudson was in fact, leading a double life as a closeted gay man whose death from HIV-related illness in 1985 shocked the world. Regardless, he remained a giant star whose popularity continues unabated. Here are seven best movies starring Rock Hudson.

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"Magnificent Obsession" (1954)

Cinema poster for "Magnificent Obsession"
The Criterion Collection

After establishing himself as an actor of note in Westerns like "The Lawless Breed" (1952) and "Bend in the River" (1952), Hudson became a bona fide star as a reckless bad boy who finds redemption in Douglas Sirk’s great melodrama "Magnificent Obsession." Hudson played Bob Merrick, a spoiled playboy whose carelessness indirectly causes the death of a beloved doctor while his own life is saved. Meanwhile, the doctor’s wife, Helen (Jane Wyman), refuses to accept Bob’s repeated offers to make up for his mistake. But when she becomes accidentally blinded, he grants help anonymously while becoming a brilliant surgeon who ultimately restores her sight. A hugely successful film, "Magnificent Obsession" put Hudson on the path to becoming one of Hollywood’s top box office draws.

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"All That Heaven Allows" (1955)

Cinema poster for "All That Heaven Allows"
The Criterion Collection

Hot on the heels of "Magnificent Obsession," Hudson reteamed with Douglas Sirk to star in the even more successful May-December weepy, "All That Heaven Allows." Hudson starred opposite Jane Wyman once again, this time playing a handsome gardener to her older widow, and is deemed a gold digger by her suspicious family. But her abject loneliness leads her to pursue the romance anyway, scandal be damned. Widely seen today as a critique on 1950s conformity, particularly in regard to a woman’s place in society, "All That Heaven Allows" once again showed the depths of Hudson’s talents while cementing his place as a major star.

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"Written on the Wind" (1956)

Cinema poster for "Written on the Wind"
The Criterion Collection

One of the greatest melodramas of all time, "Written on the Wind" once again reunited Hudson with Douglas Sirk in this pre-"Dallas" look at the sordid lives of a wealthy oil family. An ensemble film starring Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, and Lauren Bacall, "Written on the Wind" featured Hudson as the childhood friend of the insecure alcoholic son (Stack) of an oil baron (Robert Keith) accused of having an affair with his wife (Bacall) after she becomes pregnant despite their own failure conceive. One thing leads to another, as the son is killed and Hudson goes on trial for murder. Hudson delivered a top-notch performance and was well on his way to becoming Hollywood’s top box office earner. But he would soon ditch soapy melodramas in favor of fluffier romantic comedies and become an even bigger star.

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"Giant" (1956)

Cinema poster for "Giant"
Warner Bros.

Made the same year as "Written on the Wind," "Giant" became Hudson’s greatest dramatic achievement thanks to a great performance that earned him his one and only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Hudson starred opposite James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor as a wealthy rancher and man of few words named Bick Benedict who marries spoiled socialite, Leslie Lynnton (Taylor). After they move to a massive ranch in Texas, Bick makes the contemptuous acquaintance of laconic ranch hand, Jett Rink (Dean), and ultimately finds himself competing for Leslie’s love when Jett returns decades later after he returns a wealthy man. While much of the attention went to Dean for this being his last-ever performance, Hudson was undoubtedly in top form for a performance widely considered to be one of his best.

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"Pillow Talk" (1959)

Cinema poster for "Pillow Talk"
Universal Studios

Having moved over to making lighter romantic comedies, Hudson made the first of three movies with the actress with whom he has been indelibly linked, Doris Day. Hudson played a charming composer who happens to meet a single interior decorator (Day) when they’re both forced to share a party line. Since their calls continually overlap, both grow to despise each other despite never having met. But through the coincidental connection with a mutual friend (Tony Randall), they eventually do meet and ultimately fall in love. A huge success, "Pillow Talk" became an instant classic that turned Hudson and Day into the king and queen of the box office whose reign extended well into to the next decade.

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"Lover Come Back" (1961)

Cinema poster for "Lover Come Back"
Universal Studios

The second of three their three great collaborations, "Lover Come Back" was another big commercial success that solidified Hudson and Day as Hollywood’s leading on-screen couple. This time, Hudson and Day played rival advertising executives on Madison Avenue, with Day portraying a hard-driving ad woman whose rise to the top is constantly thwarted by a carefree Hudson and his rather unseemly methods of currying favor with the bosses. She tries in vain to expose his unethical behavior, leading to a dummy ad campaign that has the strange effect of bringing them together. While not as big a hit as "Pillow Talk," "Lover Come Back" was a success that led to their final collaboration, "Send Me No Flowers" (1964).

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"Ice Station Zebra" (1968)

Cinema poster for "Ice Station Zebra"
Warner Bros.

With his career flagging in the latter half of the decade, Hudson again reinvented himself into an action star with this espionage classic from director John Sturges. Made during the height of the Cold War, the film starred Hudson as Colonel Ferraday, a submarine commander ferrying three passengers—a troublesome Englishman (Patrick McGoohan), a Soviet defector (Ernest Borgnine), and an American Marine officer (Jim Brown)—to track down a Russian satellite that crash-landed in an isolated research camp in the Arctic. The only problem is the Soviets are also rushing to the crash site in order to retrieve something top secret that’s inside. By this point in his career, Hudson had slipped as a top box office draw, but the huge success of "Ice Station Zebra" put the actor briefly back onto the map.