Jean Harlow and Clark Gable were the two biggest box office stars of the 1930s and they made six films together, all were blockbusters. They were true icons of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Jean Harlow

Clark Gable

Jean Harlow and Clark Gable first shared scenes in Red Dust (1932 #4), and MGM followed up their successful teaming with Red Headed Woman (1932 #9), Hold Your Man (1933 #8), China Seas (1935 #6), Wife vs Secretary (1936-10), and Saratoga (1937 #2) completed by a stand-in.

In fact, Jean Harlow was the biggest female box office star of the 30’s, appearing in a total of 11 blockbusters until her untimely death in 1937. In addition to the six with Clark Gable, Jean had a supporting part in Howard Hughes’ aviation blockbuster Hell’s Angels (1930 #3). Then she was seen with James Cagney in the gangster classic Public Enemy (1931 #9). Her career soon took off after signing a contract with MGM, and being consistently paired with Gable. Her other hits at MGM were Dinner at Eight (1933 #7), The Girl from Missouri (1934 #9), and Libeled Lady (1936 #5).

Clark Gable, the biggest male star of the decade, appeared in a total of 10 blockbusters in the 30s. In addition to the six with Harlow, Gable also starred in It Happened One Night (1934-4), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935-1), Test Pilot (1938-2) and Gone With the Wind (1939-1). No other male star appeared in more than four blockbusters in the 30’s.

Errol Flynn was the biggest male star at Warner Brothers with the blockbusters Charge of the Light Brigade (1936-9), The Prince and the Pauper (1937-8), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938-4) and Dodge City (1939-6). At 20th Century Fox, Tyrone Power was their matinee idol, appearing in many of their big budget blockbusters In Old Chicago (1937-7), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938-1), The Rains Came (1939-4), Jesse James (1939-2) and on loan to MGM, with Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette (1938-7). Cary Grant was also in four blockbusters, the first two in support of Mae West, and also Topper (1937-4) and Gunga Din (1939-10).

The 1930s not only produced some amazing money makers, it also created some of the most rememberable films ever made. These three films exemplify the magic of this era that so aptly is called The Golden Age of Hollywood.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Gone With The Wind (1939)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Most of the blockbusters of the 30s featured women.  After Jean Harlow, Miriam Hopkins starred in 8 big hits:  The Smiling Lieutenant (1931 #10), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1932 #8), Trouble in Paradise (1932 #6), Design for Living (1933 #9), The Richest Girl in the World (1934 #6), Becky Sharp (1935 #2), Barbary Coast (1936 #7), These Three (1936 #4). Jeanette MacDonald appeared in 5 blockbusters; The Vagabond King (1930 #10), The Smiling Lieutenant (1931 #10), Love Me Tonight (1932 #7), San Francisco (1936 #1) and Sweethearts (1938 #6).  Greta Garbo also starred in 5 blockbusters in the 30’s, Mata Hari (1931 #3), Grand Hotel (1932 #2), Queen Christina (1933 #1),  Anna Karenina (1935 #8) and Camille (1936 #8).

Singing girls and young women were also big box office in the 30s.  Shirley Temple had four blockbusters, Curly Top (1935 #10), The Littlest Rebel (1935 #4), Poor Little Rich Girl (1936 #7), and Wee Willie Winkie (1937 #5).  At Universal, teenage Deanna Durbin was their biggest star with her blockbusters Three Smart Girls (1936 #6) and One Hundred Men and A Girl (1937 #3).  And of course Judy Garland closed out the 30s with her first blockbuster hit The Wizard of Oz (1939 #8).

Other notable female stars include Mae West who wrote and starred in two pre-code blockbusters with Cary Grant, I’m No Angel (1933 #2) and She Done Him Wrong (1933 #5).  Claudette Colbert was in three blockbuster hits of 1934, Cleopatra (#2), It Happened One Night (#4) and Imitation of Life (1934 #8).  Marlene Dietrich starred in the number one box office hit of 1932, Shanghai Express, but the Wikipedia data show no other popular Dietrich films.  My guess is that the Paramount box office receipts are unreliable.

The use of color was the major technical development of the 30s.  The first film using the three strip Technicolor process was a huge hit with audiences, Becky Sharp (1935 #2).  The second color blockbuster wasn’t for another two years, but it was even more notable as the first full length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937 #1),  the number one box office hit of 1937, and the number one hit of all time, until Gone With the Wind (1939 #1).  Other color blockbusters were The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938 #4), MGM’s first color film; Sweethearts (1938 #6), Jesse James (1939 #2), Dodge City (1939 #6) and The Wizard of Oz (1939 #8), for a total of 8 color blockbusters in the 30s.