Over the course of his 60 year career in movies, Charlton Heston starred in many iconic and important movies. Here are 10 of his best films, ranked.
- Charlton Heston’s legacy lives on through his unforgettable roles in epic films that are still iconic to this day. Hollywood star and political activist.
- From historical epics to high-grossing sci-fi franchises, Heston continuously appeared on-screen for over six decades and earned accolades along the way.
- Heston’s most successful film, “Ben-Hur,” solidified his stardom and helped shape the landscape of religious and historical epics in Hollywood.
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Hollywood star and political activist Charlton Heston appeared in nearly 100 movies over the course of his six decades in the film industry, and of these movies, there are many that are absolutely unforgettable. Heston starred in films that can only be described as epics, including stories of war, history, and wondrous places. Despite their age, many of these films are still iconic to this day. Overall, Charlton Heston’s legacy lives on through the memorable roles he played in his most incredible films.
Charlton Heston began his career in 1950 when he earned the leading role in the film noir Dark City, and only two years later, he received the role that would make him a breakout star. From the 1950s until the early 2000s, Heston continuously appeared on-screen in a wide variety of films from historical epics to high-grossing sci-fi franchises. He earned countless nominations and won accolades such as Best Actor and various Lifetime Achievement awards. Though Heston passed away in 2008, his impact on Hollywood is still felt in the present day with his most iconic acting parts.
10 The Greatest Show On Earth
Heston’s first breakout role in Hollywood is also one of his most iconic. In the 1952 film, The Greatest Show on Earth, Heston plays Brad Braden, the no-nonsense manager of the world’s largest railroad circus. The film follows this circus and its many interesting characters including two trapeze artists competing for the center ring and a suspicious clown who won’t remove his make-up. After appearing in this film, Heston broke into the film industry headfirst, quickly earning the roles that would make him iconic. Of the Cecil B. de Mille film, critics believed it was a sprawling masterpiece that would be enjoyed for years to come.
9 El Cid
Charlton Heston’s career is filled with historical epic movies, and El Cid is one great example of his time in this genre. Released in 1961, the film traces the life of 11th-century Castilian warlord Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, also referred to as “El Cid.” Heston inhabited this starring role of El Cid alongside Sophia Loren as his wife Doña Jimena. Overall, the film succeeded at the box office and raked in countless positive reviews, claiming the film was a visual success that told a dynamic story that was romantic, brooding, and bold. It became a well-liked piece in a long line of historical dramas of that time period.
8 Will Penny
According to Charlton Heston, his leading role in Will Penny was one of his favorites, and its no secret why. The 1968 film is an American Western about an aging loner who grows attached to a lost woman and her son after being faced with ghosts of his past. The film was based on a 1960 episode of the television series, The Westerner. While influential Western movies are often rife with violence and action, Will Penny is a testament to the real people who lived in the American West, and consequently, their emotions. In this way, Will Penny is thoughtful character study that doesn’t need tropes to make it a strong story.
Another historical epic that Charlton Heston took the lead on was 1966’s Khartoum. In the film, Heston plays British General Charles Gordon as he defends the Sudanese city Khartoum from Laurence Olivier’s role, Muhammad Ahmed’s Mahdi forces. The film has its roots in real history surrounding the 1884 Siege of Khartoum. Although this film certainly has issues in terms of historical accuracy and depiction of real people, at the time of its release, it received positive reviews. The film has been praised for depicting a mystical, fairytale-esque story.
6 The Big Country
Though The Big Country doesn’t include a leading role for Charlton Heston, it still remains one of his most iconic films. The American Western, released in 1958, follows Gregory Peck’s James McKay as he joins his fiancée on her father’s impressive ranch. McKay finds plenty of trouble there, including Heston’s ranch hand character, Steve Leech, who seems to dislike McKay. Despite The Big Country’s mixed reviews from critics, the film had great success with audiences and has earned a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a particularly interesting role for Heston because of its supporting nature and more villainous intentions.
5 Soylent Green
A film that came later in Charlton Heston’s career that earned him acclaim was Soylent Green. The ecological thriller, which was released in 1973, takes place in 2022 in an overpopulated and starving New York City. Heston’s NYPD detective Robert Thorn is called in to investigate the murder of an influential member of the Soylent Corporation, but when the plug is pulled on the case, Thorn and his partner must solve the mystery on their own. Though Soylent Green received both positive and negative reactions, the film has been remembered as an important, though sometimes melodramatic, metaphor for capitalism. It also includes actor Edward G. Robinson’s last film appearance.
4 Touch Of Evil
Aside from being critically acclaimed, Touch of Evil stands out for its leading duo of Charlton Heston and movie icon Orson Welles. The 1958 films tells the story of a Mexican drug enforcement agent played by Heston competing with a shady American police captain played by Welles to solve the mystery of a car bomb. The film is loosely based on the Whit Masterson novel, “Badge of Evil.” Upon release, Touch of Evil was criticized for its lack of story, and more specifically, its use of tone and aesthetic over content. However, in recent years, the film has been reevaluated by critics, and has since earned a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
3 The Ten Commandments
Another Cecil B. de Mille film that Charlton Heston took part in was also one of his most famous films yet. 1956’s The Ten Commandments is a historical epic film based on the Book of Exodus. In particular, the story follows Moses, an Egyptian prince that frees the enslaved Hebrew people and leads them to Mount Sinai where he receives God’s Ten Commandments. In de Mille’s film, Moses is played by none other than Charlton Heston. Overall, The Ten Commandments was the highest grossing film of 1956 and the second most successful movie of the decade. Plus, Heston was nominated for four awards for his performance.
2 Planet Of The Apes
In 1968, Charlton Heston became the face of a new sci-fi franchise that would persist into the 2020s. Planet of the Apes is the first film in a long-running franchise about a futuristic planet wherein apes rule and humans are slaves. In 1968, Heston played George Taylor, one of three scientists that become marooned on the planet of the apes. While Heston continued on with the franchise until 2001, his performance in the 1968 film is iconic. 1968’s Planet of the Apes is considered a classic of cinema that is successfully entertaining and thought-provoking. Plus, it is clearly a major part of Heston’s career that he carried with him until his retirement.
Charlton Heston’s most successful film of all time is Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur is a religious epic film that placed Heston as the lead character. In 1959, when the film was made, Ben-Hur had the biggest budget and biggest production of any film of the time. Plus, the movie was immensely successful both in terms of the box office and critics’ reception. All in all, this epic film was a star of its time, spurring on even more religious and historical epics. Plus, it boosted Charlton Heston into stardom. Without Ben-Hur, he may not have received the roles he did. It was certainly a significant film for both Charlton Heston and Hollywood.