The 10 Greatest Femme Fatales of Old Hollywood

If we’re going by the book, a femme fatale is “an attractive and seductive woman, especially one who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her.” Then again, femme fatales never go by the book. The femme fatales of this century- Marlena Dietrich, Sofia Loren, Rita Hayworth– they didn’t just find their ways into the secret fantasies of men. You could argue that women are just as entranced decades after these glamorous leading ladies first appeared on the silver screen and set the standard for what sexy is and means today. In lieu of Christian Grey day (ahem, February 14), we’re bringing up ten of our favorite Old Hollywood femme fatales, from Pola Negri to Brigitte Bardot. Let us know what you think in the comments, and check out our ultimate 50 Shades of Vintage guide to get in the femme spirit.

Pola Negri

Pola NegriWe may never know if Pola Negri’s voice was deep, raspy or irresistible, but we do know that when it came to silver screen sex appeal, this silent film star had it. She was the first European actress to be adopted by the American silent film world, and was cast in the very first femme fatale roles, thus setting the pace for those to follow. We can thank her for popularizing red painted toenails, fur boots, and turbans which, combined with her female finesse, were able to win the hearts of Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino in her day.

Mae West


Mae West is arguably the most quotable woman in history, coining quotes “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad I’m better,” but the list goes on. The actress first made a name for herself in vaudeville, moving on to act, sing and write scripts for Hollywood. In fact, in 1911, when she was 18, the New York Times wrote that a “girl named Mae West, hitherto unknown, pleased by her grotesquerie and snappy way of singing and dancing.” She was often censored in her day. Her response? “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”

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Marlene Dietrich


We all thought Madonna made history when she popped that kiss to Britney Spears at the VMAS, but perhaps we should be crediting Marlene Dietrich with the first girl on girl on-screen peck. Even when she wore masculine attire (which sparked off a fashion revolution) was Marlene a knockout, but she also wasn’t one to knock out either. At the peak of her career in her 30s, she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood, starring in such classics as Shanghai Express, The Scarlet Princess, and Desire.

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Lana Turner


Lana Turner was such a knockout, her fame came accidentally from a chance meeting at a drugstore. The publisher of The Hollywood Reporter spotted her skipping school at 16 and referred her to her first agent. She was hired shortly after by MGM to replace Jean Harlow, who had died 6 months prior.  She was nicknamed “The Sweater Girl” because of her form-fitting attire in a scene in They Won’t Forget, which she hated, as the bombshell was hungry for more meaningful roles, thus making her a beauty with a whole lot of brains.

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Rita Hayworth


Rita Hayworth once once lamented, “Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me.” We’d like to think the red-headed actress and dancer was always as irresistible as she was in her most famous movie role, teasing men, breaking hearts, and swaying her hips in the most seductive of ways in Gilda. The woman was so irresistible, in fact, the word “Gilda” was sprawled across one of the first atomic bombs tested, although it’s rumored that her image was painted on as well.

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Veronica Lake


Veronica Lake’s career was short-lived, however her sex appeal supersedes her. Just watch this scene from Sullivan’s Travels, where she sasses up an undercover director in a diner after buying him breakfast. BADASS. She had that disinterested femme fatale gaze, but only from one eye, as her other was naturally covered by her platinum locks in a style she popularized in the 40s.



Sofia Loren

No one does a striptease like Sofia Loren. NO ONE. The Italian bombshell is as sexy now as she was when she starred in such films as El Cid, eliciting quite the excitement in Italy when she promised to striptease if her football team won. She was 72 at the time. Loren is the Italian stallionette of all Italian stallionettes,  and you’d be hardpressed to find any man or woman who isn’t captivated by her deep Italian voice, not to mention those God-given curves. We mean, the woman didn’t even shave her armpits and still managed to stay sexy. If that isn’t femme fatale status, then we don’t know what is.

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Elizabeth Taylor


Even up until her death in 2011, Elizabeth Taylor defined glamour, wooing gentlemen and billionaires from across the globe. Throughout her life she was married eight times and all but one ended in divorce. Her love life spanned a globe, and she had the reputation for being quite the home wrecker, most notably to Richard Burton, whose marriage to Taylor the Vatican condemned. But whether she had the Pope’s approval or not, Taylor remains one of the most glamorour women, with a proven track record in perfecting the art of seduction.

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Brigitte Bardot


Brigitte Bardot = BOMB. SHELL. When you think of full, luscious locks, the French actress comes to mind, pinning it up in a beehive as she’s something badass, like beating the guys in a game of poker or just showing up everyone at the beach. She was the “It” girl of the fifties and sixties and ushered in the next wave of femme fatales who were more equipped for Woodstock and beach bungalow parties than Hollywood Hills soirees. We can thank her for popularizing the bikini and inspiring off-the-shoulder necklines. Andy Warhol took a cue from her irresistible aura, and we can’t help but
be enthralled either.

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