Elizabeth Taylor: What's your favorite role? 'National Velvet'? 'Cleopatra'? 'Virginia Woolf'?

Virginia-Woolf

Image Credit: Everett Collection

The late Elizabeth Taylor lived much of her fascinating life onscreen. She was 12 years old when National Velvet made her a movie star. Moviegoers watched her transition into adulthood. She was planning her wedding in Father of the Bride. She was experiencing some serious marital problems alongside Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She worked with then-husband Eddie Fisher in her Oscar-winning performance in Butterfield 8. She famously co-starred with her paramour/husband/ex-husband/soulmate/husband again Richard Burton in a series of films, some of them great (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), some of them glossy (Cleopatra), and some of them Boom!. But what’s your favorite Elizabeth Taylor performance? We’ve gathered together some essential video of the actress onscreen to jog your memory — tell us your favorite Liz memory after the jump…

Here’s Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, trying desperately to make drunk Paul Newman attracted to her. Considering that Taylor positively exudes sensuality, the only possible conclusion that we can draw is that Drunk Paul Newman has gone completely insane.

Cleopatra is justifiably regarded as a slow-motion Hollywood train wreck, but you can’t deny Taylor’s magnetism in the lead role. Suffice it to say, Rex Harrison’s Julius Caesar finds her more attractive than Drunk Paul Newman.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a relentless onslaught of a film, in which Taylor and then-husband Burton throw vitriol and great acting in each other’s faces. Check out Taylor laying into Burton:

Lastly, here’s a clip of Taylor accepting her Best Actress Oscar for Butterfield 8. It captures something ineffably charming about the star — can you remember ever seeing Taylor look nervous before? — and watching it today can’t help but bring a little tear to your eye:

PopWatchers, it’s a tough choice, but what’s your favorite Elizabeth Taylor role? Vote in the poll below, and let us know if we’ve missed any deep cuts. (Anyone want to make a case for the sequel to Father of the Bride, which was called Father’s Little Dividend and actually existed?)

Read more:
Elizabeth Taylor dies at 79
All About Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor: 11 Roles for the Ages
Elizabeth Taylor movie tribute marathon to air on TCM
Elizabeth Taylor: The unpublished photos from Life.com
Cover Story: 60 Years of Liz (1992)
Book Review: Donald Spoto’s A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor (1995)
Book Review: C. David Heymann’s Liz (1995)
Encore: When Elizabeth Taylor met Richard Burton on the Cleopatra set
Encore: Cleopatra becomesHollywood’s costliest flop
Photo Gallery: Rare, behind-the-scenes photos from Elizabeth Taylor’s 1956 classic Giant
Encore: Remembering Elizabeth Taylor’s First Divorce, from Nicky Hilton

Comments (75 total) Add your comment
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  • Ashley

    Without a doubt…A Place in the Sun. Beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, awkward but brooding Montgomery Clift and shy and bossy Shelley Winters.

    Elizabeth Taylor shined! Looking at her you could see why Montgomery Clift would drown Shelley. And the last moment when she kisses him goodbye! Almost shed a tear for the little killer. Who let’s face it…deserved it for killing Shelley off.

    • TorontoTom

      Absolutely without a doubt – A PLACE IN THE SUN! An FILM CLASSIC. Elizabeth and Monty were perfection in this movie.

  • FromChicago

    Suddenly Last Summer. Very haunting.

    • Nanam

      Absolutely agree – “Suddenly Last Summer” with her friend Montgomary Clift is one of the best.

      • Tiffany

        Agree FromChicago. That movie was just fantastic all around.

    • cfkane

      That’s a very, very good choice.

    • Javadude54

      Suddenly, Last Summer is my favorite, too.

    • Benita

      I think that’s the only one I didn’t like but it is because of the subject matter more than the performances – I’m also a huge Katharine Hepburn fan. I’d read the play (which goes into way more detail than the movie) before I saw the movie and it just upsets me too much.

  • G.R.

    Martha in ‘…Virginia Woolf?’ is my #1 favorite, but Maggie the Cat in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is a very close 2nd.

    • Lyn

      Agree! She fought for that role in “Virginia Woolf” — was considered too young and glam for it — and earned respect with an amazing performance matched by great work from the whole cast.

    • Foxer

      Absolutely agree. Virginia Woolf was spellbinding.

      • kenneth

        Totally agree. And why didn’t this film win Best Picture?

  • jo

    Giant was a perfect movie. With a perfect cast. Ugh…I just loved her and James Dean!!!!

    • MsDaisy

      My favorite as well.

    • wino

      agree! perfect cast…liz, dean, and rock? oh my.

    • Ed

      Definitely GIANT! She was perfect as the genteel, compassionate wife of the blustering bully played by Rock Hudson, and her scenes with Jett (James Dean) crackle with sexual tension. RIP Elizabeth.

    • True Blue

      I LOVE Giant, such a great film and so underrated.

  • LeahB

    Oh, so hard to choose, but I’m going to have to go with Velvet Brown, because it was the first role I ever saw her in, and one of the first movies I saw as a child. Oh, she was so sweet and wide-eyed in that movie! I’ll be watching all of her movies On Demand in the weeks to come, that’s for certain.

  • ichorwhip

    “Hey!!!”
    “Hark! Forest sounds. Animal noises.”

    It’s a double play. Liz as Martha and Richard as George. Without each other, neither would have been as great in these two roles.

  • JPX

    “Suddenly, Last Summer” is her best film.

  • kisha

    “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf”.In my opinion the best acted film ever .Not just the leads the supporting roles also.I also loved Taming of the Shrew .She and Burton were amazing to watch together.

    • tracy bluth

      Taylor and Burton were without a doubt one of Hollywood’s best couples. I read an article about their love story and it honestly made me cry.

  • the yapper

    I can’t name a favorite there are so many…3/4 of the ones you mentioned and I’m sure there are others that I’ve forgotten about. We have all these young people making decision about old movies that don’t know that A–from a hole in the ground. They see the movies from today’s context not ours. They’re so used to seeing crap that they ha ve no idea what excellence is so I don’t trust any of them. That’s why movie critics are disappearing. They simply don’t know their stuff very well and they’re all allowed to critique.

    • Young and Dumb?

      Wow, were you shaking your fist as you wrote that.

    • Bijoux

      I understand your frustration, but I was born in the ’80s (I think that still counts as being one of the young people)and I love classic cinema. I love Liz Taylor. George Stevens is one of my favorite directors. I watch Fred Astaire movies to unwind after seemingly arduous work weeks, so some of us “youngsters” do appreciate the classics.

  • jasmine

    For me, my favorite performance of hers was in ‘Giant.’ I still wish that Jett and Leslie ended up together in the end, but it was still such an “epic” movie. RIP Liz Taylor

  • Garry

    I loved Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but she did a movie called Elephant Walk that is my favorite of all time. Starred Peter Finch and Dana Andrews.

    • Prunella Von Schleidlhaagen

      I’ve always wanted to see Elephant Walk.

    • LAJackie

      I remember that movie. Was originally starring Vivien Leigh but she had a breakdown and Elizabeth replaced her. It’s a good movie.

      • DivaSoulSista

        It was originally written for Liz but Liz got pregnant and Vivien stepped in to replace her. After her breakdown, Liz stepped back in.

  • Annie

    Maggie the Cat!!!

    • Stacie

      Absolutely!

    • DivaSoulSista

      Loved Maggie the Cat! Also loved her in A Place in the Sun, Suddenly Last Summer, Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf!

    • elr

      I totally agree with Maggie the Cat. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of my all-time favorites.

  • hannah

    A place in the sun.

  • Prunella Von Schleidlhaagen

    It’s not her best movie by any means, but I really love her in Raintree County.

  • mike

    Virginia Woolf has been one of my 10 favorite movies since I was 14 or so. I think it’s her best performance, but APITS is much more iconic Liz, not to mention Cleo, Giant, NV, Cat, Suddenly….
    RIP Liz. You were one of the few movie stars to shine even brighter off the screen. May you join all your friends in Heaven.

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