The most beautiful woman in the world will always up for debate, so we brought together some of the best candidates for you to decide! No list would be complete without Marilyn Monroe, who is still one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world, even half a century after her death at the young age of 36. “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring,” she said, and she lived by those words.
Russian-American Natalie Wood was in the limelight from the time she was a little girl, playing Maureen O’Hara in Miracle on 34th Street. When starred in classics such as Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story. She died in uncertain circumstances while on a weekend yacht trip to Santa Catalina Island with Robert Wagner, her husband; Christopher Walken, who co-starred in her latest movie; and the yacht’s captain. She was only 43. The investigation was re-opened in recent years, and Wagner was named a person of interest in February 2018.
Born in England to American parents, Elizabeth Taylor moved with her family to California shortly before WWII broke out. Even as a young girl, her striking beauty was apparent enough that her mother was constantly told that Elizabeth should star in movies. A genetic mutation caused her to have two rows of eyebrows, which framed her eyes in a unique way. She became a child star, later blossoming into one of Hollywood’s most desired actresses. She starred in many movies in the Later in life, she became an advocate for Jewish causes and promoted AIDS awareness.
During the ’80s and ’90s, Michelle Pfeiffer was one of the most popular actresses on the silver screen, thanks to her skilled acting and drop-dead gorgeous looks. She managed to break the typecast of the pretty girl in her late-’70s movies, going on to have a supporting role in Scarface that led to obtaining more serious roles as she rose to stardom. According to one Daily Telegraph contributor, hers is “the kind of beauty you find yourself involuntarily taking a moment to marvel at mid-conversation.”
Amazingly, Julie Gibson is still alive and kicking at the age of 105. The star has outlived so many of the Golden Era stars, despite being the oldest of them all. She happens to be the last surviving star to have worked alongside The Three Stooges. Having first appeared on shows over 80 years ago, Gibson’s most successful period came in the ’40s and she has certainly etched her name in showbiz lore. What casual fans don’t know is that her birth name is actually Gladys Camille Sorey.
Charlize Theron grew up on a farm in South Africa. When she was 15, her mother killed her alcoholic father in self-defense after he threatened his wife and daughter’s lives. She was originally an aspiring ballet dancer, but the effects of the training on her body took their toll. Meanwhile, her beauty made her constantly attractive to modeling scouts. Later she branched off to acting and hasn’t looked back since. Not just a pretty face, the actress won an Academy Award for Best Actress for portraying serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster.
Although not her first role, Raquel Welch became something of a pop culture phenomenon after she played in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C., in which she wore the iconic fur bikini shown below. She later starred in movies such as 1967’s Bedazzled, 1968’s Bandolero! and 1969’s 100 Rifles. She has continued to star in movies throughout the years, notably Legally Blond alongside Reese Witherspoon. In 2001 she received the “Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award” for positively promoting her Latin heritage.
Rita Hayworth was a performer from youth, dancing in New York venues before her family moved to California when she was 10. She had many roles in ’30s-era dancing movies before branching out to more serious acting roles in the ’40s. The ’50s were a difficult decade for her, as she was increasingly dogged by personal problems. Meanwhile, younger women rose to prominence as she descended into alcoholism and monetary problems. For decades, she suffered with what was finally understood to be symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, which she died of in 1987.
Ursula Andress’ claim to fame is for being the original Bond girl, starring alongside Sean Connery in Dr. No in 1962. Although her voice was dubbed over to mask her Swiss-German accent, she quickly rose to stardom for this role, which is one of the most iconic introductions of a female lead in film history. After she appeared in Playboy magazine several years later, she was asked why she agreed to have her naked pictures published. She answered simply, “Because I’m beautiful.”
French actress Catherine Deneuve had her international breakthrough with Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, a unique French film in which all the dialogue is sung, like in an opera. After this, she played in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, which brought her more widespread fame. Since then, she has accumulated an impressive corpus of roles. France honored her in 1985 by making her the official face of Marianne, the French personification of liberty. Most recently she signed an open letter denouncing the #MeToo movement, claiming it has become a witch hunt.
Swedish-American Ann-Margret Olsson is not only one of the most beautiful celebrities of the ’60s and ’70s, but also a multi-talented performer. She had her breakout acting role in Bye Bye Birdie while she was already a successful recording artist. Other roles include the Who’s Tommy, in which she played Tommy’s mother. She played recurring characters in Law and Order: SVU and Ray Donovan. Five decades after entering the public eye, her talent and beauty are still making their mark on the entertainment industry.
Like many on this list, Vivien Leigh said that she had to overcome her physical beauty because it overshadowed her acting prowess. Indeed, one director described her as a “consummate actress, hampered by beauty.” Although she is most famous for roles in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, she was actually more prolific onstage during her career. She suffered from bouts of tuberculosis for the last several decades of her life, finally succumbing to the illness when it recurred in 1967.
Ava Gardner’s southern accent (she hailed from South Carolina) made her almost incomprehensible to MGM. That didn’t stop her from banking on her beauty and they quickly signed her. It took five years for her to achieve a breakthrough with the film noir The Killers, which launched her to stardom. She was a leading Hollywood actress for five decades until the mid-’80s when her life-long smoking habit caught up with her. She developed emphysema and two strokes in 1986 left her paralyzed. She died of pneumonia in 1990.
Hedy Lamarr is one of the most fascinating women on this list. She was the first woman to portray a female orgasm in film, but her claim to fame is much more profound than that. After WWII broke out, she turned her mind to inventing “frequency hopping” to solve a problem of enemy vessels jamming the radio signals submarine use to control torpedos. Although she filed a patent that sat unused for years, it became the basis for many subsequent military inventions, as well as future civilian applications.
Sadly, Sharon Tate’s life will always be overshadowed by her disturbing, tragic, and senseless murder at the hands of the Manson Family in 1969. Tate was praised for her beauty since she was young, eventually starting to act in movies. She was hailed as a promising newcomer, having enjoyed positive review for both comedic and dramatic acting roles. She married her director and co-star from The Fearless Vampire Killers, Roman Polanski, in 1968. She was eight months pregnant with their child when she was murdered in cold blood.
Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman solidified her place in history by starring alongside Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, but she was acting in Swedish and German movies since the mid-1930s. Her broad international appeal was such that one biographer described her as “arguably the most international star in the history of entertainment.” One of her directors, Anatole Litvak, noted that “through all her troubles she held to the conviction that she had been true to herself and it made her quite a person.” She died in 1982 of breast cancer.
French actress Sophie Marceau became known as a teenager after she starred in the film La Boum in 1980. For the next 15, she starred in many European films before becoming a star in Hollywood for her role in Braveheart. After this, she played in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough. While she often makes it to the top of “most beautiful” lists, Marceau says she doesn’t really understand why people find her attractive. According to her, “I’ve never really been beautiful. I’m photogenic…” And modest!
Isabella Rossellini is the daughter of another woman on this list, Ingrid Bergman, from her marriage to Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. In addition to her acting, she is known for her modeling work, although she began significantly older than usual in the industry. She eventually landed her a job as the spokesmodel of Lancôme, a job she held for 14 years. She has played in film and TV, including David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. She is also known for her activism, specifically in conservation work.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Aishwarya Rai has topped “most beautiful woman in the world” lists for years, so her spot here should come as no surprise. She began modeling when she was in college, winning Miss World in 1994. She moved on to act in Bollywood movies later that decade. Her performances are marked by a “delicately sensual presence and physical grace,” according to Derek Elley of Variety. Although she is constantly under the attention of the media, she has kept her private life.
Barbara Eden is best known for starring in the popular ’60s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, but many don’t know that originally the show’s creators wanted a brunette. This was because they wanted a departure from Bewitched, also a fantasy sitcom with a blonde lead. Barbara Eden was so funny, beautiful, and fit the role so perfectly that the show’s creators overlooked this minor detail. And it’s good that they did! Barbara has been a TV star ever since.
Elizabeth Hurley first became known in the public eye for dating Hugh Grant, who saw significant success with the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. At the film’s premiere, she wore an iconic black Versace dress that was held together by golden safety pins. This has been credited with helping Versace become a household name, as well as launching Hurley to stardom. The next year, 1995, and with no prior modeling experience, she became the spokesmodel for Estée Lauder. In acting, she is best known for roles in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Bedazzled.
This Swedish born actress appeared in many American and European films during her career but was primarily based in Italy where she had a major role in La Dolce Vita. Her beauty was there from an early age and as a teenager, she worked as a fashion model. In 1950 she entered the Miss Malmö competition which led her to the winning the Miss Sweden contest. However, her beauty was much more universal and in 1951 she competed for the Miss Universe title, despite knowing very little English at the time.
Known for her seductive looks and distinctive voice, this American actress became named the 20th greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema and later in life received an Academy Honorary Award “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.” Despite her outstanding acting career, she began off as a model and appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, and even magazines such as Vogue. Her beauty was recognized for her “cat-like grace, tawny blonde hair, and blue-green eyes”.
Basinger made a career for herself as a successful model in the 1970s and moved to Los Angeles where she took a turn at acting. She starred in several films made-for-television, but her debut came in the drama Hard Country. After her performance in Never Say Never Again as Bond girl, Basinger became a poster girl and continued to be into the 1990s. Since then she went on to appear in many more films and still is to this day.
Smith is a successful actress and businesswoman who is best known for starting her career off as the stunning Kelly Garrett in the television version of Charlie’s Angels. The show leaped her and the other Angels into stardom and she then returned for the same role in 2003 in the film Charlie’s Angels: Full throttle. Smith went on to appear in many other TV films and miniseries for the rest of her career. Her beauty did not go unknown as she was married four times.
At the age of 16, Canadian Parkins moved to Los Angeles to become famous. The young girl started as a backup singer and dancer behind major stars in nightclubs. By 1961 she made her debut in the low-budget crime 20,000 Eyes. However, one of her larger projects was appearing in the film adaptation of Valley of the Dolls. She stayed with the series for the entire run and was nominated in 1966 for an Emmy Award as Best Actress in a lead role.
Julie began working as a model from the age of 15. She came second in the Miss Norway competition at the age of 18 and later participated in Miss Universe before moving to England to work as an au pair in order to improve her English. By the late 1960s, she began acting in a few small roles but is best remembered for her part in the 1971 comedy film Up Pompeii. Although labeled as a glamour actress, she later revealed she did not mind as her life helped pay the bills.
Sophia Loren is known in for her acting work as is one of Italy’s most loved and adored stars. She started her career at 14-years-old and is still making films up to this day. She has appeared in dozens including The Pride and the Passion, A Countess From Hong Kong, and Grumpier Old Men. But there is something even more telling about this beauty, she was never shy about showing the world she doesn’t shave her armpits. We hate to admit it, but it still does not take away from her beauty.
Although the English actress had a successful career in British and French cinema, she attained her international fame from her decade-long relationship with Serge Gainsbourg. Even after their separation, Birkin continued to remain successful working as an actress and singer in various independent films such as Red Fox and A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries. Nevertheless, Birkin is most well known for having a Hermés bag named after her after revealing that she couldn’t find a leather weekend bag she liked.
The Swedish actress and singer appeared in many films throughout the 1960s and 1970s, becoming most known for her roles in The Night They Raided Minsky’s and Get Carter. She also appeared as a Bond girl in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Ekland received most of her attention overnight as a result of her 1964 romance to actor Peter Sellers, who proposed to her after seeing her photograph in the paper. Throughout the 1970s she was one of the most talked-about celebrities and photographed in the world.
Loretta Young had a long and interesting career starting as a child as young as two or three in 1917 all the way until 1953. She won an Oscar nomination for her role in Come to the Stable and in an Academy Award for Best Actress for her part in the 1947 film The Farmer’s Daughter. Young was married to actor Grant Withers from 1930 to 1931 but had a public affair with co-star Spencer Tracy. As young as eight the child actress began smoking, yet quit in the mid-1980s in order to gain 10 pounds.
English actress Jacqueline Bisset has starred in movies since the 1960s when she played in Hollywood blockbusters such as Bullitt. Gradually she gained recognition for being a serious actress and received more serious roles, like in François Truffaut’s Day for Night. Her 1977 role in The Deep, which featured her only covered on top with a white T-shirt as she submerges from the water, soaking wet, is so iconic that it is credited with popularizing wet T-shirt competitions. Jacqueline Bisset has since played mostly in made-for-TV movies and shows.
A dancer from a young age, Brigitte Bardot moved on to acting in the ’50s. She starred in the controversial Robert Vadim film, And God Created Women, which launched her to international fame in 1956. One American critic called her “undeniably a creation of superlative craftsmanship.” Brigitte Bardot’s entrance onto the world scene during the conservative decade was so palpable that Simone de Beauvoir wrote a feminist essay titled Brigitte Bardot and The Lolita Syndrome. Later in life, she became an animal rights activist and, most controversially, was fined five times for inciting racial hatred.
Grace Kelly only worked in Hollywood for some five years before she married Monaco’s Prince Ranier III, yet her elegance solidified her stardom as one of the greatest Hollywood personas of her age. Kelly would never act again after becoming a princess of Monaco, but this freed her up to concentrate on philanthropy and promoting the arts. Sadly, she died in a car accident caused by a stroke she suffered while driving with her daughter. Her daughter luckily survived the crash. She is remembered for her class and elegance, both on and off screen.
With her unique looks, Audrey Hepburn was launched to stardom after starring in Roman Holiday opposite Gregory Peck, a role which garnered her an Academy Award, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe best actress awards. Later in life, she concentrated on philanthropy, and she was honored for her humanitarian work both during and after her life. She died of a rare abdominal cancer in 1993. Proof of her lasting legacy is evident in the popular culture of the decades since her death.
Kim Novak was originally recruited by Columbia Pictures to be a replacement for the studio’s Rita Hayworth, one of the biggest stars of the 1940s whose popularity had declined in the ’50s, not to mention to compete with 20th Century-Fox’s Marylin Monroe. She solidified her place in film history when she starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Since the mid-’60s, Novak only sporadically acted until she completely retired in the early ’90s. She had a bought with breast cancer that was announced in 2010. Luckily her treatments were successful and she is still with us.
Italian-Tunisian Claudia Cardinale’s career began when she won the “Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia” contest, which won her a trip to Italy. Although she struggled with Italian (as the Sicilian she knew from her parents is quite different), her beauty brought her offers to model and act. Her voice was actually dubbed over in the early part of her career due to her raspy voice and French accent. She is an outspoken supporter of women’s rights, becoming a UNESCO goodwill ambassador for the defense of them in 2000.