Few movie stars have contributed as many iconic images to cinema as Marilyn Monroe. Over the course of her 29-film career, which began with a name change and a reported $125-per-week contract with 20th Century Fox, she turned the “dumb blonde” trope on its head and forever shifted the way we see things like diamonds and subway grates.
Despite its nearly-three hour runtime, Netflix’s blonde doesn’t delve deeply into Monroe’s body of work, offering only glimpses of her career in favor of off-screen drama. If her latest cinematic reexamination leaves you wanting more Monroe, here are nine essential films, from irrefutable classics to underrated gems.
Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)
After bit parts in rowdy comedies (Ladies of the Chorus, love happy) and an Oscar-winning drama (All About Eve) Monroe’s first star-making turn would arrive with this 1952 psychological noir, scenes of which are prominently replicated in blonde. The film offered her the chance to deliciously unravel as a mentally-disturbed babysitter, and she also gained real-world survival skills she’d put to use nearly a decade later. Following a painful divorce from third husband Arthur Miller in 1961, Monroe was admitted to Payne Whitney’s psychiatric ward, where she would be held in a locked and padded room for three days. In order to escape, she would act increasingly erratic, telling staff, “If you’re going to treat me like a nut I’ll act like a nut,” Monroe wrote to Dr. Ralph Greenson, her psychiatrist. “I got the idea from a movie I made once called Don’t Bother to Knock.”
Monroe’s first headlining role would come in this 1953 noir, playing femme fatale Rose Loomis—a woman who will stop at nothing to rid herself of her husband, George (Joseph Cotten). Monroe delivers a sullen and seductive performance as a woman plotting to kill her betrothed dela, allowing Monroe to be far edgier and more complex than the string of musical comedies that would follow. The film itself, frames from which are recreated in blondeis gripping, keeping viewers guessing until the bitter end.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)