The first time the A Star Is Born storyline hit the silver screen was way back in the year 1937. The technicolor film was directed by William A. Wellman and starred celebrated actress Janet Gaynor opposite Fredric March.
The script had four writers, including Dorothy Parker and her husband and writing partner Alan Campbell. Unique for its time in that it showed a gritty Hollywood story rather than digging for source material elsewhere, the film got excellent reviews for its novel plot and stellar performances.
Then, in 1954 the script was brought back for another iteration, this time starring Judy Garland in a career comeback, opposite English actor James Mason. Garland and the film received rave reviews once more, paving the way for the script to be dredged back up once again in 1976, this time for the Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson duo to take the reins.
The 1970s version was edgier in its already-edgy subject matter, and critics felt that it was a vehicle for the singer to perform, rather than a successful standalone plot. Streisand’s voice carried the film, rather than her acting performance, or the performances of the rest of the cast. While it was a massive box office hit, critics rated it dismally low, unlike the first two films, and the film that came after it.
In 2018 Bradley Cooper directed and starred in the most recent version of the film alongside worldwide pop sensation Lady Gaga. Taking the most creative liberties, the 2018 film strayed from the previous three versions in its music and plot, while making nods to the films that came before it.
While each film has its strengths and weaknesses, the fact that it’s been reproduced so many times is a testament to the power of the central story. Viewers across generations can connect with the themes of fame and addiction, and love to watch the central star’s arc of being plucked from obscurity to become a music sensation.
With some of the biggest stars of their time – even the biggest stars in film history – taking over the role of Esther (Ally in the 2018 remake), it’s no wonder that each movie continues to loom large in the scope of cinematic history. Nevertheless, if one were trying to decide which version to pick as the definitive best portrayal of the drama, purely based on the performances of the cast as a whole, a clear winner emerges. The production value and camera work count for a large part of the moviegoing experience, but nothing makes or breaks a film quite like the strength of the actors who bring it to life.
So after the better part of a century and four attempts, it has come time to rank which A Star Is Born cast was most successful. Here are all of the versions of the genre-blending classic tale, ranked in order from worst to best.
4A Star Is Born (1976)
In the 1976 version of the film, Kris Kristofferson is anything but likable. An alcoholic washed-up rock star with seemingly zero redeeming qualities, his behavior towards Streisand’s character is bordering on misogynistic. His character lacks all softness save for a tender bathtub scene that later became iconic, in which he lets Streisand paint his face with her makeup.
While it was one of the highest-grossing films of the year, perhaps hitching on Streisand’s star and the legacy of the films preceding it, the tragic musical drama left much to be desired. The supporting cast includes Gary Busey, Paul Mazursky, and Joanne Linville, though none had impactful performances. Streisand no doubt has the pipes to pull anything off, but the songs themselves weren’t memorable either, notwithstanding the test of time.
3A Star Is Born (1937)
Revolutionary in its day for being the first story made by Hollywood about Hollywood, the first A Star Is Born might feel extremely dated to modern audiences but is still hard to top in terms of the sheer power in the performances. Janet Gaynor and Fredric March truly nail the heartrending story of a rising starlet’s troubled relationship with an alcoholic has-been who ultimately resorts to taking his life, leaving her to pick up the pieces. It’s all the more impressive considering they had no prior film as source material to base their performances on, as they did it first, not having any idea what a phenomenon the film would become.
2A Star Is Born (1954)
Judy Garland absolutely dazzles as the wannabe Hollywood starlet discovered by the older fading star, played by James Mason. The beats of the story, which unfold over three hours of runtime, manage to exhibit great range, seamlessly fluctuating from sweet moments to tragic ones and back again and again.
While Garland was ironically going through many of the same problems as the lead male character during the time of filming, many say that it was one of the Hollywood legend’s best performances of all time. One can only imagine that she drew on personal experience to bring her complex character to life.
1A Star Is Born (2018)
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga adapted the timeless classic into a film for the modern era. Changing the characters’ names and many of the major plot points to make sense as a contemporary story, they also gave the music a much-needed update.
With earworms like “Shallow”, as well as Lady Gaga’s beautiful rendition of “La Vie en Rose”, the pair truly did the musical genre justice, unlike the previous 1976 reboot. Elevating it to be by far and away the best in the collection is the unexpected chemistry between the pair, beautifully depicted in myriad tender moments with intimate close-up shots that contrast the sweeping views of the stars’ on-stage musical performances. Furthermore, the supporting cast was star-studded and flawless, with everyone from Andrew Dice Clay, who played Lady Gaga’s father, to Dave Chappelle, who played Cooper’s friend, to Sam Elliot, who played Cooper’s older brother, on board.