Gregory Peck Movies: 20 of the Screen Legend’s Best

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As a young stage actor in New York during the 1940s, Gregory Peck made the leap into making movies not for fame, but for family. “I was in debt somewhat; I’d gotten myself married [to Greta Kukkonen]; we had three sons and we lived in a ratty little flat,” he once told a writer for Ladies’ Home Journal.

So when he was offered $1,000 a week to appear in 1944’s Days of Glory, “I accepted because that was real money!” That film — for which he was billed as a “distinguished star of the New York stage” — didn’t fare well, but Peck sure did. He was a hit, and within a year, he was one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood.

Despite that magical rise to fame and five decades of hit Gregory Peck movies that followed, the star managed to remain remarkably humble. “I don’t think I’ve ever been thrown off my center by Hollywood fame or publicity,” he insisted, and he even admitted to often singing in his car when he’d head to work on his films, happy and thankful for the life and career he’d built.

Man and woman smiling
Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn (1988) movies
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Audrey Hepburn, who became good friends with Peck after co-starring with him in 1953’s Roman Holiday, touched upon his admirable humility in 1989 at an event honoring the legendary actor. “The best he’s ever been willing to say about himself,” she noted, “is…‘I come of sane parents and a fair education, ate my spinach, and, as far as I know, I was never dropped on my head.’”

(MUST-READ: 10 Surprising Behind-the-Scenes Facts About ‘Roman Holiday’)

True to form, Peck quickly turned his own speech that night into a plea for the industry to stay focused on the art it produced, rather than being distracted by constant “glamorous financial news” reports about big-business mergers and studio conglomerates accumulating billions of dollars in assets.

“I would like to hear some glamorous talk about elevating the quality of films and television,” he pleaded. “Making millions is not the whole ballgame, fellas. Pride of workmanship is worth more. Artistry is worth more. The human imagination is a priceless resource. The public is ready for the best you can give them. It just may be that you can make a buck and at the same time encourage, foster, and commission work of quality and originality.”

Man and woman sitting together smiling
Gregory Peck and Veronique Passani (1960) movies
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When Peck died in 2003 at the age of 87, Hollywood mourned the loss of one of its most esteemed champions. He left behind his second wife, French interviewer Veronique Passani, whom he met while filming Roman Holiday. “I didn’t know who I was until I met her,” he once said. He also left behind two sons from his first marriage, and a son and daughter from his second. (Another son from his first marriage died by suicide in 1975.)

It’s fitting that just a few days before his passing, Peck’s To Kill a Mockingbird character was named to the top spot on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest heroes in the movies. Mockingbird co-star Brock Peters stated that “Atticus Finch gave [Peck] an opportunity to play himself,” and, at the icon’s funeral services, Harry Belafonte recalled how he’d often run into Peck at ACLU events, adding that he’d forever remember the actor’s “stirring humanity.”

man standing in a court room; gregory peck movies
Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)

Atticus Finch, though, was just one of the many great characters in Gregory Peck movies throughout the years. Read on to discover some other classic roles that won the Hollywood legend respect from both his peers and audiences.

20. The Boys From Brazil (1978)

“History has shown how one man with a dream can turn the world into a nightmare,” the trailer for this, of the best Gregory Peck movies, eerily states, adding, “Only you can decide if it’s a dream or a nightmare. But be warned: If history can repeat itself, so can man.” Peck plays the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele in this thriller that imagines him cloning Hitler to create a Fourth Reich. Laurence Olivier plays a Nazi hunter who is trying to stop him, and James Mason also co-stars.

19. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)

“The scenes between [Fredric March] and Peck lift the picture high above the ordinary,” Variety says of this film. Peck plays a veteran dealing with deep emotional scars from his time in World War II as he struggles with both family and career pressures back home in his civilian life.

18. On the Beach (1959)

Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins co-star in this film version of Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel about a post-apocalyptic world. Peck received positive reviews for his role as Cmdr. Dwight Lionel Towers, and one of the actor’s sons, Carey Peck, has a brief cameo playing a little boy in the film.

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17. Moby Dick (1956)

“Greg’s talent is [at] a scale that’s in proportion to that of the novel,” director John Huston said of casting Peck as Captain Ahab in his adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic tale. During filming, Peck revealed, he floated away on a whale prop that came loose from its tow-line and temporarily got lost in the fog.

16. Pork Chop Hill (1959)

On screen, the Korean War’s Battle of Pork Chop Hill “towers above every war story ever told,” Peck said when this grim film was released. In it, Peck plays Lt. Joseph Clemons, who won a Distinguished Service Cross for leading his platoon in a heroic charge, which is the subject of S.L.A. Marshall’s book on which the movie is based.

15. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

“The performances from Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire are superb,” Rotten Tomatoes says of this film, which is one of the first to deal with anti-Semitism. The actor earned an Oscar nomination for his role as Phil Green, a journalist who pretends to be Jewish to cover a story on bigotry. When released, the Boston Globe called it a “brave, courageous, fascinating film.”

14. The Omen (1976)

“What I like most about it is the escapism,” Peck said of this 70s horror film about Damien, a young child who turns out to be the Antichrist. “I’ve always enjoyed a good scary picture going back to my childhood, when I was scared out of my wits by the original Phantom of the Opera.” Lee Remick co-stars.

13. The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)

The actor earned his first-ever Oscar nomination for his role as Father Francis Chisholm, a kindhearted missionary in China. It’s based on the novel by A.J. Cronin and co-stars Vincent Price and Roddy McDowall. Decent Films, a review site that’s “informed by Christian faith,” calls it “Peck’s star-making turn,” adding that it “established his screen persona as a ruggedly decent, dignified underdog.”

12. The Bravados (1958)

Joan Collins (yes, Alexis Carrington Colby herself!) co-stars in this western in which Peck plays a rancher who’s hell-bent on capturing four escaped outlaws who he believes murdered his wife. “It’s not a pretty story. It’s powerful, and relentless,” the actor said, adding that it has a “climax [that] will surprise you and move you.”

11. Spellbound (1945)

This entry from director Alfred Hitchcock finds Peck playing a doctor who’s replacing the head of a mental hospital, though a young psychoanalyst (Ingrid Bergman) discovers that he’s an imposter — and a possible murderer suffering from amnesia. “[Peck’s] performance, restrained and refined, is precisely the proper counter to Miss Bergman’s exquisite role,” the New York Times raved of this thrilling thriller.

10. The Big Country (1958) Gregory Peck movies

Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly loved this William Wyler film so much that he screened it four nights in a row at the White House. The tale, about two families fighting over a piece of land, co-stars Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Burl Ives (in an Oscar-winning supporting role), but, as the U.K.’s Times notes, “The real star of the film, besides the gorgeous, soaring soundtrack, is Gregory Peck.”

9. The Yearling (1946) Gregory Peck movies

Peck earned another Oscar nomination for his role as Civil War vet Penny Baxter in this film based on the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings novel, which tells of the friendship between Penny’s son, Jody, and a sweet fawn. TV Guide calls the movie, which co-stars Jane Wyman as Penny’s wife, “a remarkable film that truly is for the entire family.”

8. Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) Gregory Peck movies

“Gregory Peck supplies the proper dash and authenticity as the remarkable nineteenth century skipper,” noted the Associated Press when reviewing this film, which it deemed “excellent adventure stuff.” Peck reportedly landed the swashbuckling sea captain role after the studio felt that Burt Lancaster wasn’t yet up for it. Virginia Mayo co-stars.

7. The Guns of Navarone (1961)

This WWII action-adventure film finds Peck co-starring alongside Anthony Quinn and David Niven in what the Washington Post called “a magnificently detailed cliff-hanger of spectacular settings and deeds of impossible derring-do,” praising its “crackerjack cast.”

6. Yellow Sky (1948) Gregory Peck movies

“Gregory Peck, of course, is the toughest” of a band of bandits who clash with a tomboy (Anne Baxter) and her grandfather, the New York Times notes. The review goes on to promise that “for seventy-odd minutes…the guns blaze, fists fly and passions tangle in the best realistic Western style.” Peck reportedly broke his ankle in three places when he fell off a horse during filming.

5. Twelve O’Clock High (1949) Gregory Peck movies

“The role of Savage in Twelve O’Clock High was the most satisfying I’ve ever played,” Peck said at the time of this World War II drama’s release. He earned another Oscar nomination for his acclaimed portrayal of Brig. General Frank Savage, a man who rallies the spirits of his struggling B-17 bomber unit.

4. Cape Fear (1962)

Peck’s own production company produced this taut psychological thriller, and “Peck’s sharpest move may well have been casting [Robert] Mitchum in the meatier of the two leading roles, the ex-con,” Ben Mankiewicz once noted on TCM, adding, “Peck was not going to play a violent sex offender the same year [To Kill a Mockingbird’s] Atticus Finch appeared on screen.” The shocking, boundary-pushing film, as Mankiewicz described it, was remade by Martin Scorsese in 1991 featuring Nick Nolte in Peck’s original role, with Peck returning to play the villain’s defense attorney.

3. The Gunfighter (1950) Gregory Peck movies

“Gregory Peck perfectly portrays the title role, a man doomed to live out his span killing to keep from being killed,” noted Variety, which added that that actor “gives [the role of gunslinger Jimmy Ringo] great sympathy and a type of rugged individualism that makes it real.” The part was specifically written with John Wayne in mind, but a series of industry twists and turns led to it landing with Peck, whom Collider says “showcases his range as an actor, demonstrating restraint and nuance in a genre known for more over-the-top characters.”

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2. Roman Holiday (1953)

It’s well-known that the humble, honorable actor turned down solo top-billing on this now-treasured classic because “once I saw that girl, I knew this was not going to be a Gregory Peck picture.” “That girl,” of course, was Audrey Hepburn, who — like the rest of us — recognized how much of a class move that was. “Dearest Greg, to your generosity, I owe my career. For your courage and integrity, you have my deepest respect,” she said in 1991 at Peck’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. And as The Hollywood Reporter raves, this international romance “is 118 minutes of sheer entertainment,” with “Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn turning in superb performances.”

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Gregory Peck movies

“My father was quite a bit like Atticus,” Peck noted of the character he played from Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Lee was so fond of Peck’s portrayal of her justice-seeking lawyer — which she’d based on her father — that she gifted him with her dad’s pocket watch, which Peck had on him when he accepted his Oscar for the role. “In that film the man and the part met,” Lee raved of Peck’s performance, adding that the movie “was a work of art.”

When she visited the set early on during filming, Peck noticed her getting emotional and assumed she was moved by his and his cast mates’ acting. The truth, however, was humbling, he revealed during a panel talk at the American Film Institute. “She said, ‘Oh, Gregory, you’ve got a little pot belly just like my daddy,’” he shared to the amusement of the audience, quipping, “So we got off to a good start.”