James Cagney Movies

James Cagney in 1931's The Public Enemy

James Cagney in 1931’s The Public Enemy

Want to know the best James Cagney movies?  How about the worst James Cagney movies?  Curious about James Cagney box office grosses or which James Cagney movie picked up the most Oscar® nominations? Need to know which James Cagney movie got the best reviews from critics and audiences? Well you have come to the right place….because we have all of that information.

RobWrite suggested James Cagney (1899-1986) would be a good subject for one of my movie pages. Here are the few things I knew about Cagney before starting the research for this page…(1) he won the Academy Award® for Best Actor in 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy (2) he was in a ton of gangster movies (3) his last movie was 1981’s Ragtime and (4) he was great as Captain Morton in 1955’s Mister Roberts.

After two months of research on James Cagney, not only I am finally ready to write this page, but I have new found respect for his career.  His IMDb page shows 69 acting credits from 1930-1981. This page will rank 61 James Cagney movies from Best to Worst in four different sortable columns of information. Cameos, television appearances, shorts and 4 movies made before he was a star are not included in the rankings.

James Cagney and Henry Fonda in 1955's Mister Roberts

James Cagney and Henry Fonda in 1955’s Mister Roberts

James Cagney Movies Can Be Ranked 6 Ways In This Table

  • Sort James Cagney movies by co-stars of his movies
  • Sort James Cagney movies by adjusted domestic box office grosses using current movie ticket cost (in millions)
  • Sort James Cagney movies by adjusted worldwide box office grosses using current movie ticket cost (in millions) *** If domestic and worldwide totals are the same..then worldwide gross is unknown
  • Sort James Cagney movies how they were received by critics and audiences.  60% rating or higher should indicate a good movie
  • Sort by how many Oscar® nominations and how many Oscar® wins each James Cagney movie received.
  • Sort James Cagney movies by Ultimate Movie Rankings (UMR) Score.  UMR Score puts box office, reviews and awards into a mathematical equation and gives each movie a score.

Stats and Possibly Interesting Things From The Above James Cagney Table

1. 25 of James Cagney’s movies crossed the magical $100 million mark.  That is a percentage of 40.98% of his movies listed. Mister Roberts (1955) was his biggest box office hit.

2.  An average James Cagney movie grosses $104.10 million in adjusted box office gross.

3.  Using RottenTomatoes.com’s 60% fresh meter.  41 James Cagney movies are rated as good movies…or 67.21% of his movies.  White Heat (1939) was his highest rated movie while He Was Her Man (1934) was his lowest rated movie.

4.  19 of James Cagney’s movies received at least one Oscar® nomination in any category…..or 31.14% of his movies.

5.  5 of James Cagney’s movies won at least one Oscar® in any category…..or 8.19% of his movies.

6.  An average Ultimate Movie Rankings (UMR) Score is 40.00.  42 James Cagney movies scored higher that average….or 68.85% of his movies.  Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) got the the highest UMR Score while Boy Meets Girl (1938) got the lowest UMR Score

James Cagney in 1949's White Heat

James Cagney in 1949’s White Heat

Ten Possibily Interesting Facts About James Cagney

1. His role in 1931’s The Public Enemy(only his 4th film), turned him into a star. The most famous scene in the movie is where Cagney’s character smashes a grapefruit into the face of his co-star Mae Davis.

2. Cagney was one of the first stars to refuse to appear in movie scenes where live ammunition was used, experts would stand off camera and fire the guns near the actors…..sounds pretty safe to me.

3. Cagney was Warner Brothers most profitable actor in the 1930s….his movies returned an average of 42% return on investment. Of the 38 movies he made for Warner Brothers only two did not make money. 1935’s A Midnight Summer’s Dream and 1938’s Boy Meets Girl. On the positive side….1934’s The St. Louis Kid was produced for $80,000 and returned 1.8 million dollars at the box office. Not a bad return on investment.

4. Despite being Warner Brothers most profitable actor….he was one of their least paid stars….this resulted in Cagney walking out on Warner Brothers twice. ….In 1936/37 he successfully sued Warner Brothers…..and starting earning equal money to the other Warner Brother stars.

5. In 1933 Cagney helped establish the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). He served as the President of SAG for two years.

6. Cagney married dancer Frances Willard “Billie” Vernon in 1922, they were married 63 years before Cagney passed away in 1986….pretty impressive for any marriage much less a Hollywood marriage.

7. Cagney was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award® three times……his first nomination was 1938’s Angels With Dirty Faces, his second and only win was 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy and his final nomination was 1955’s Love Me or Leave Me.

8. Cagney’s line “Made it, Ma! Top of the world! from 1949’s White Heat is number 18 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest movie quotes. …speaking of famous quotes Cagney never said the line….”You dirty rat”….it is one of the greatest misquotes in movie history….the closest he came to saying that was “Mmm, that dirty, double-crossin’ rat,” in 1931’s Blonde Crazy.

9. Cagney appeared in 63 movies in his career….another Warner Brothers star, Pat O Brien co-starred in 9 Cagney movies…..Cagney retired in 1961 after making One, Two, Three….he would make only one more movie….twenty years later ….in 1981’s Ragtime.

10. Here are some of the more famous movie roles Cagney passed on…..Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part 2, The Adventures of Robin Hood (Flynn did pretty good in role), Harry and Tonto Art Carney won Oscar® for this role), Logan’s Run, and My Fair Lady (as Audrey Hepburn’s father).

Check out James Cagney ‘s career compared to current and classic actors.  Most 100 Million Dollar Movies of All-Time.

Academy Award® and Oscar® are the registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences. Golden Globes® are the registered trademark and service mark of the Hollywood Foreign Press.

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42 thoughts on “James Cagney Movies

  1. James Cagney made 9 color movies through 1959. His first color movie was Captain of the Clouds in 1942.
    After 1960, he did a narration for a color A C Lyles geezer western, and later appeared in Ragtime and a Made for TV (MfTV) movie.

    1. Hey John. Very interesting stats on Mr. Cagney. The Cagney movie I have seen the most times is Mr. Roberts….so when I think of him….I think of him in color…..so seeing that he only has 9 color movies out of 60 seems strange (excluded Ragtime)…..51 black and white movies or 85% of all of his movies were black and white….good stuff thanks for sharing.

  2. BRUCE:
    On a couple of occasions I have mentioned A C Lyles a producer who was a close friend of Cagney and who persuaded Jimmy to direct Short Cut to Hell (1957) which was the only movie Cag ever directed and which was a remake of Laddie’s This Gun for Hire.*** Between 1964 and 1968 Lyles made a series of cheapie westerns which were jam-packed with supporting actors and former stars who were past their sell-by date and who could be hired for cut price salaries. Below is a sample of Lyles’ product with three of the main ‘has beens’ listed in each case.
    ***Over here Short Cut to Hell was the supporting feature to Elvis’ Loving You.

    1964-Young Fury- Rory Calhoun/Virginia Mayo/William Bendix
    1964-Law of the Lawless-Dale Robertson/Yvonne DeCarlo/William Bendix
    1965-Town Tamer-Dana Andrews/Pat O’Brien/Terry Moore
    1965-Apache Uprising-Rory Calhoun/Corrine Calvet/Johnny Mack Brown
    1966-Johnny Reno-Dana Andrews/Jane Russell/John Agar -Mr Shirley Temple !
    1966-Waco-Howard- Keel/Jane Russell/Brian Donlevy
    1967-Red Tomahawk-Howard Keel/Broderick Crawford/Scott Brady
    1967-Hostile Guns-George Montgomery/Yvonne DeCarlo/Tab Hunter
    1968-Buckskin-Barry Sullivan/Wendell Corey/Barbra Hale

    Most of the performers listed had regularly appeared in the kinds of films and types of roles concerned with the difference being that their previous movies were of higher grade and had in the lead roles stars in their prime, with Bendix for example supporting Laddie in film noir classics, Johnny Mack Brown being Joan Crawford’s leading man and later having his own series of B westerns, and Brabara Hale playing the lead in Lorna Doone (1951) and for years being Perry Mason’s TV Della Street

    1. Hey Bob….thanks for the information on A.C. Lyles. Just when I think my knowledge is pretty impressive….along comes information like this…that make me think I know very little. This is pretty much all new information to me. When you mention Lyles on my Darnell page…I had no idea who he was. As for Shortcut to Hell…..wow….I should have included that one on his page. Great now I have to go back and do that…thanks for the extra work…..lol. A quick look at my Variety rental lists show that Shortcut to Hell did not reach 1 million in rentals. So deeper research will be required. Thanks for sharing your wealth of movie knowledge…it is greatly appreciated.

  3. 1 The table of worldwide grosses for Cagney films is most welcome though the relatively poor overseas earnings for Mr Roberts was quite a surprise as it was slightly under 10% of total box office for the film and I can’t remember seeing a Cogerson foreign earnings ratio that low for such a major film*** However the overall average ratio for those Cag films for which we now have WW grosses was much healthier at 29.9% to 70.1% domestic.

    2 In the late 1930s Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien and a number of other Irish Americans who were actor-friends would convene at a fave pub to compare notes about movies and careers and to have fun together and columnists nicknamed them the Irish Mafia though they preferred to be called the Boys’ Club. Ralph Bellamy was the last of their group to die in 1991.

    2 It is good to see that Tracy got on well with SOMEBODY but Jimmy had a six decade friendship with Pat O’Brien whom he in fact described as “my dearest friend” and they made 9 movies together the final one being Ragtime in 1981 which was the last film that either made.

    3 Apparently they had to make an overnight sailing to the venue for the filming and they shared a cabin together. I’ll bet that there were some fond nostalgic memories discussed that night between those two old pros! Now if there had been a tape of their conversation and Flora had it in her massive memorabilia collection I would definitely have tried to get her to sell it to me instead of that Agatha Christie letter that she claimed I was trying to con her out of.

    4 I see from your Possibly Interesting Facts that Jimmy passed up Godpop 2 and it struck me that it was just as well as he would probably have burnt down the set if he had got near it in view of the obvious historical associations of the movie !

    ***According to IMDB and Wikipedia the split for How the West Was Won was 93% Domestic 7% foreign.

    Thanks again for the comprehensive WWs BOB

    1. Hey Bob….I agree the Mister Roberts number seemed strange….though not thinking American war stories are too huge overseas. Sounds like the Boys Club would have been a fun place to sit and quietly listen. I will have to add Pat/James to my Screen Duos page. Good points about Flora and Godfather 2. Thanks for checking out my Cagney update.

  4. 1 Continuing our visit to the great stars of the Hollywood gangster cycle ! I’ve mentioned before how Cagney had apparently very strong likes and dislikes for other performers in that he seemed dismissive of Bogie and he detested Brando so much that he told an interviewer that he had never seen any of his movies and then added “What’s more don’t intend to.” However he did take the young Travolta under his wing and mentor him

    2 Comments on your Video. (1) the weaker movies such as Captain of the Clouds and The Bride Came COD are rightly consigned to the bottom of the chart. Pity about the latter one as it had the rare teaming of Jimmy and Bette Davis. (2) disappointed that Each Dawn I Die was not higher as it was another rarity in that it teamed Cagney with Raft – Cogerson’s ‘forgotten man’ of the great gangster stars (3) I would have had Roaring Twenties in the Top 5 instead of Public Enemy and for once in his audience/critic Bruce agrees with me though he is in sync with you
    about 3 of the Top 5. White Heat HAD to be No 1 and historians regard it as the last truly great classic of the early Hollywood gangster cycle. (4) Cag like Edward G was bound to provide you with many eye-catching poster reproductions so it was hard to make choices as to the best but on balance I’ll plump for Tribute to a Bad Man, G Men and Run for Cover one of my favourites for years but which I never before knew was aka Colorado (5) super historical still of Cagney and Pat O’Brien in Ceiling Zero. Please look our for my Cagney post to Bruce tomorrow in which their relationship is discussed. Again a ‘double meaning’ guns up applies to this video !

    1. Thanks Bob.

      Each Dawn I Die is a favorite of mine too, the highest score I could get for it was 7.4 from IMDB voters. Another favorite The Roaring Twenties never topped a score of 8 on my ratings board. It did better on Bruce’s chart.

      I’m a big Cagney fan but ironically my favorite film of his isn’t one of his tough guys roles, It’s Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cagney’s Oscar winner. Bogart too would win an Oscar for an atypical role for The African Queen. FWIW my favorite Bogart film is Casablanca.


      1. I actually just picked up Each Dawn I Die at my local library today….so in a couple of days I will really understand your comments….lol.

  5. James Cagney never appeared on the Oracle of Bacon Top 1000 Center of the Hollywood Universe list. Currently he’s connected to 12 actors on the 2016 list, 8 in the same movie, his last.

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) – 245 Mickey Rooney
    City for Conquest (1940) – 681 Anthony Quinn
    Come Fill the Cup (1951) – 966 Kathleen Freeman
    Ragtime (1981) -4 Samuel L. Jackson, 80 Brad Dourif, 401 Jeff Daniels, 421 Mary Steenburgen, 438 John Ratzenberger, 465 Frankie Faison, 491 Jack Nicholson, 523 Harry Fielder
    Run for Cover (1955) – 142 Ernest Borgnine
    What Price Glory (1952) – 271 Robert Wagner

    These are the actors who appeared on the 2000 list but have fallen off over the past years who appeared with him in a film.

    13 Rue Madeleine (1947) – 139 E.G. Marshall, 359 Karl Malden, 503 Richard Conte, 522 Red Buttons, 848 Frank Latimore
    A Lion is in the Streets (1953) – 994 Ellen Corby
    A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) – 280 Billy Barty, 962 Olivia De Havilland
    Arizona Bushwhackers (1968) – 90 John Ireland, 192 Yvonne DeCarlo ( Jimmy was narrator)
    Blonde Crazy (1931) – 187 Ray Milland, 571 Charles Lane
    Blood on the Sun (1945) – 767 Philip Ahn
    Boy Meets Girl (1938) – 507 Ralph Bellamy
    Captains of the Clouds (1942) – 629 Walter Brooke, 824 Frank Wilcox
    City for Conquest (1940) – 248 Arthur Kennedy, 571 Charles Lane, 824 Frank Wilcox
    Come Fill the Cup (1951) – 783 James Flavin
    Each Dawn I Die (1939) – 410 George Raft, 783 James Flavin
    Footlight Parade (1933) – 280 Billy Barty, 740 George Chandler
    G Men (1935) – 27 Marc Lawrence, 783 James Flavin, 786 Lloyd Nolan
    Hard to Handle (1933) – 222 Bess Flowers, 832 Don Brodie
    He Was Her Man (1934) – 740 George Chandler
    Jimmy the Gent (1934) – 918 Bette Davis
    Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) – 296 Kenneth Tobey, 824 Frank Wilcox
    Lady Killer (1933) – 740 George Chandler
    Love Me or Leave Me (1955) – 75 Cameron Mitchell
    Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) – 532 Jim Backus, 704 Troy Donahue, 894 Philip Van Zandt, 961 Nicky Blair
    Mister Roberts (1955) – 58 Jack Lemmon, 56 Henry Fonda, 93 Harry Carey Jr., 783 James Flavin, 891 Gregory Walcott
    Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – 100 Ian Wolfe, 102 David Niven (He’s supposedly in this as a cameo)
    Never Steal Anything Small (1959) – 155 Royal Dano, 399 Nehemiah Persoff, 917 Robert J. Wilke, 961 Nicky Blair
    One, Two, Three (1961) – 389 Leon Askin, 514 Horst Buchholz, 522 Red Buttons
    Picture Snatcher (1933) – 507 Ralph Bellamy, 740 George Chandler, 832 Don Brodie
    Ragtime (1981) – 378 Billy J. Mitchell, 464 John Alderson, 466 Kenneth McMillan, 515 Bessie Love, 627 Jan Triska, 667 Michael Jeter, 947 Christopher Malcolm
    Run for Cover (1955) – 65 Viveca Lindfors, 682 Ray Teal, 878 Denver Pyle
    Shake Hands with the Devil (1959) – 100 Richard Harris, 354 Cyril Cusack, 438 Glynis Johns, 613 John Le Mesurier, 889 Robert Brown, 985 Niall MacGinnis
    Smart Money (1931) – 463 Edward G. Robinson, 571 Charles Lane
    Something to Sing About (1937) – 767 Philip Ahn
    Starlift (1951) – 379 Ann Doran
    Taxi! (1932) – 410 George Raft
    The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941) – 783 James Flavin, 918 Bette Davis
    The Fighting 69th (1940) – 783 James Flavin, 824 Frank Wilcox
    The Gallant Hours (1960) – 396 Richard Jaeckel, 520 William Schallert, 816 Carleton Young, 848 Frank Latimore
    The Irish in Us (1935) – 222 Bess Flowers, 962 Olivia De Havilland
    The Roaring Twenties (1939) – 222 Bess Flowers, 562 Paul Bryar, 783 James Flavin, 824 Frank Wilcox
    The Seven Little Foys (1955) – 459 Dabbs Greer, 534 Bob Hope
    The St. Louis Kid (1934) – 222 Bess Flowers
    The Strawberry Blonde (1941) – 783 James Flavin, 962 Olivia De Havilland
    The Time of Your Life (1948) – 241 Broderick Crawford
    The West Point Story (1950) – 863 Alan Hale Jr., 963 Frank Ferguson
    These Wilder Years (1956) – 222 Bess Flowers, 395 Walter Pidgeon, 746 Herb Vigran, 874 Dean Jones
    Tribute to a Bad Man (1956) – 155 Royal Dano, 180 Lee Van Cleef, 576 Irene Papas
    What Price Glory (1952) – 542 Paul Fix, 562 Paul Bryar, 648 Harry Morgan
    White Heat (1949) – 406 Edmond O’Brien, 723 Mickey Knox
    Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – 379 Ann Doran, 629 Walter Brooke, 783 James Flavin

    I could come up with 26 Oscar winners he worked with. Too many pics with Pat O’Brien and Joan Blondell.

    Karl Malden, Red Buttons, Olivia De Havilland, Ray Milland, Gig Young (Captains of the Clouds, Come Fill the Cup), Bette Davis, Dorothy Malone (Man of a Thousand Faces), Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda, David Niven, Charles Laughton (Mutiny on the Bounty), Clark Gable (Mutiny on the Bounty), Shirley Jones (Never Steal Anything Small), Mary Astor (Other Men’s Women), Mary Steenburgen, Jack Nicholson, Ernest Borgnine, Gary Cooper (Starlift), Jane Wyman (Starlift), Loretta Young (Taxi!), George Arliss (The Millionaire), Humphrey Bogart (The Oklahoma Kid, The Roaring Twenties), Broderick Crawford, Edmond O’Brien, Walter Huston (Yankee Doodle Dandy), Hattie McDaniel (Johnny Come Lately),

    3 1939 pictures with him, Each Dawn I Die, The Roaring Twenties and the Oklahoma Kid I saw at the old Regency Revival theater in New York circa 1979/1980.

    1. Hey Dan.
      1. List 1: Samuel L. Jackson at #4 should keep Cagney connected to the Bacon list for many years to come. I feel the rest will be falling off the list pretty quickly..though Brad Doriff is always a nice surprise when he pops up in a movie.
      2. List 2: A nice combo of all-time greats, greats, supporting actors and Bacon Oracle Hall of Famers like Bess Flowers and James Flavin
      3. List 3: 26 is on the low side….though I guess his movie screen persona did not go well, when it came time to share the screen…plus being with the Warner Brothers casts for so many years…could not help out to much either.
      4. Now that sounds like an awesome triple feature….at old time memory making theater…..thanks for another great comment.

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