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Marilyn Monroe: 10 Defining Roles That Showcase Her Legacy Better Than ‘Blonde’ Ever Could

The Andrew Dominik film suggests that her Hollywood work was unworthy of her talents — but there is exceptionally good work that she did.

PALM SPRINGS, CA - 1954: Actress Marilyn Monroe poses for a portrait laying on the grass in 1954 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe

Baron

From being born Norma Jean on the east side of Los Angeles to dying as Marilyn Monroe alone in her bedroom at Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, the screen siren lived a lot of life. But she was also much more than the studio pin-up Hollywood pegged her to be. Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde” doesn’t exactly make the case for her radiance and wit so much as it suggests she was an actress who was relentlessly exploited by her peers, by her partners, and by her audience.

We at IndieWire all have wildly varied takes on “Blonde,” whether as a “miserable portrait that only further tarnishes the star” to a hijacking of Marilyn Monroe’s legacy to make an “anti-choice statement.” But one point we can all agree on: Monroe was both a star and a serious actress, and we want to make the case for 10 of her finest screen roles in which she subverted expectations and defied her image.

These are roles that gave Monroe something deeper to work with — and no, we’re not talking about “The Seven-Year Itch,” which reduces Monroe to the likes of a Barbie doll for director Billy Wilder and star Tom Ewell’s amusement. Her character is even simply called “The Girl,” nameless and brainless but beautiful, and Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde” exhausts every cinematic trick in the book showing the film’s infamous scene, in which Monroe’s skirt blows up over a subway grate, from all angles, gradients, lens filters, and frame rates.

From 1953 when Monroe broke big with three major motion pictures that remain defining and defiant of her legacy to her 1961 swan song directed by John Huston and written by her husband Arthur Miller, these are the Marilyn Monroe roles worth savoring and celebrating. —Ryan Lattanzio

Christian Blauvelt and Kristen Lopez contributed to this story.

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