Every Version of 'A Star Is Born' Ranked Worst to Best
More than 80 years after the original, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are bringing the timeless story of A Star Is Born back into popular consciousness. Incredibly, this is the third remake of the film – or fourth, depending on how you view a particular 1932 title (more on that below).
So far, Gaga and Cooper have impressed critics and enchanted audiences with their take on the tale of romance, success and excess. But how does it stack up against the other versions starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March (1937), Judy Garland and James Mason (1954) and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (1976)?
Here, we've ranked each version of ASIB from worst to best. [Note: Spoilers ahead – but considering we're talking about a story that's older than your grandparents, can you even say that they're spoilers?]
Honorable Mention – The Story Starts Here: What Price Hollywood? (1932)
Whether you consider it the first version of A Star Is Born or simply a film from which the 1937 version heavily borrows, you can't talk about ASIB without starting here. To begin with, What Price Hollywood? director George Cukor advised William Wellman on points for the 1937 A Star Is Born, and directed the 1954 remake himself. And the plot is much the same: An ambitious young girl meets a famous director struggling with alcoholism; he helps her career, and when she makes it, she tries to return the favor as his is on the wane. In the end, he dies by suicide. This take on the tale, however, is far more cynical, disposing of any rose-tinted views on relationships and 'born stars': There's no romance between the two, the young girl isn't inherently talented (it's only through relentless practice she learns her craft), and in the end, his death sidelines her career. In a lot of ways, every version that followed has Hollywood'd up What Price Hollywood?'s bleaker outlook.
4. A Star Is Born (1976)
Much like Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand – a woman born into humble circumstances whose raw talent launched her into the stratosphere -- seems tailor-made for the part of a rising star whose talent seemingly knows no bounds. And in the '70s iteration, Streisand crackles with vitality and charm. Kristofferson, for his part, plays the boozy rock star well, coming across as a caring but weak-willed husk of a man. So what goes wrong? Streisand and Kristofferson have absolute zero onscreen chemistry. Not for a moment do you actually believe these two are magnetically drawn to each other; when they marry, even Kristofferson looks surprised. The absence of a romantic spark robs the bloated film (though honestly, every ASIB remake is at least 10-20 minutes too long) of any forward motion. Still, Streisand earned a songwriting Oscar for "Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born)," and it was a massive box office smash.
3. A Star Is Born (1937)
The original version (which isn't quite the original – see the 'Honorable Mention' above) set the template for the films to follow: A talented girl with big dreams that have yet to materialize meets a famous-but-troubled artist who helps boost her career. They fall in love, and as her career ascends, his plummets thanks to addiction woes; she tries to help him, but he ends up dying (in all but one version, it's by his own hand). In the 1937 edition, Janet Gaynor – the first-ever winner of the best actress Oscar – is sweet with a tinge of sadness as Esther Blodgett; Fredric March plays Norman Maine as an intellectually sharp (perhaps too much so for his own good) actor who turns to booze to ease his perpetual dissatisfaction. The excellent production earned seven Oscar nods, winning one (director William Wellman took home a trophy for the defunct 'best story' category). It's a start-to-finish classic, but it would be bettered.
2. A Star Is Born (2018)
You can be forgiven for regarding Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga's ASIB suspiciously – this is, after all, the fourth version, and it arrives at a time when Hollywood is far too happy to greenlight unnecessary remakes and reboots. But every concern you may have about this film will be completely obliterated within the first half-hour. First-time director Cooper conveys a deep human empathy for his characters, and his camera moves with confident fluidity, only drawing attention to itself when it convincingly mimics his character's deteriorating state. And first-time leading lady Lady Gaga turns out one of the greatest singer-turned-actor performances of all time (seriously). The brassy pop chameleon we've watched for a decade utterly vanishes onscreen; within minutes, you forget you're watching an A-list singer act, and you simply see her as Ally, a bright ray of soul-stirring talent trying to crack through a dead-end job and, eventually, the alcoholic haze surrounding her husband. Plus, "Shallow" is going to be in your head for weeks after you see it. Show up to this remake with high expectations, and prepare for Cooper and Gaga to exceed them.
1. A Star Is Born (1954)
Directed by George Cukor – who directed the 1932 film the original ASIB was heavily based on – this Technicolor/CinemaScope epic might be too long (the original cut ran three hours), but it's the reason this story endures in the public consciousness. And of all the staggeringly talented leads who've tackled this story, Judy Garland turns out the most emotionally shattering performance. Resilience was the actress' M.O. in real life, and it oozes through the screen in her portrayal of singer-turned-Hollywood star Esther Blodgett – and in the scenes where she frets over her alcoholic husband's fate (btw, no one does 'tortured intellectual' quite like James Mason), Garland's nervous desperation is devastating. The finale, where she sees a lipstick heart he drew for her years earlier as she takes the stage to pay tribute to him, is the perfect negotiation between relatable believability and melodramatic gold. Before this version, A Star Is Born was one of many classics that came out of Hollywood's fruitful late '30s. But after Garland, Cukor and Mason left their mark on it, the story became an essential piece of American pop culture.