Out of all the famous starlets of Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe has transcended beyond 15 minutes of fame to over seven decades of it – thanks to her iconic roles and undeniable star power. So much so that for many of the actresses who’ve attempted to embody the movie icon onscreen in the years after her death, praise has been hard to come by.
The likes of Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino and Michelle Williams have all done their best to portray the film star in biopics over the years, but many have found their attempts panned by critics and viewers alike.
Though most actresses found themselves being slammed for their attempts to recreate Monroe’s distinctive voice and sensual charm, some stars managed to land award nominations in rare moments of praise.
The most recent attempt to bring Monroe’s story to life is the 2022 feature Blonde starring Ana de Armas based on the book of the same name. Even though the film doesn’t release on Netflix until September 28, it has already drummed up controversy after it received an NC-17 rating and fan criticism over de Armas’ accent.
Meanwhile, the Motion Pictures Association gave Blonde an NC-17 rating due to ‘some sexual content,’ making it the first-ever Netflix film to receive it and causing further scandal.
The rating was not only groundbreaking for the streaming platform but shocked both de Armas and the film’s director, Andrew Dominik.
Scandal: Ana de Armas stars in the 2022 biopic Blonde, which was plagued with controversy before it even premiered
Backlash: Twitter users have already slammed Blonde after it received an NC-17 rating
Blindsided: The 34-year-old actress’ casting has been a hot topic as some fans claim she ‘looks nothing like Marilyn Monroe’
‘I didn’t understand why that happened,’ the 34-year-old actress said in her L’Officiel cover story. ‘I can tell you a number of shows or movies that are way more explicit with a lot more sexual content than Blonde.
Dominik had an abrasive response to the ratings, telling Screen Daily that it was ‘a bunch of horses***’ and complained it was a ‘political’ decision.
‘It’s a demanding movie,’ he added. ‘If the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the f***ing audience’s problem. It’s not running for public office.’
Well, the audience did take issue with the rating, taking to Twitter to voice their outrage. One user wrote: ‘Blonde is NC-17 and a fictional tale of Marilyn Monroe. It’s basically trauma porn but literal on the porn part.’
Another wondered, ‘Was the NC-17 rating to meant to allow the director to sexualize this poor woman even more?’
A further slew of backlash came when the the first trailer for the film dropped.
While users were split on whether the Deep Waters actress looked like Monroe, most of the complaints were focused on her accent. One user quipped: ‘Correct me if I’m wrong, did Marilyn Monroe have a thick Spanish accent?’
‘I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get past the accent,’ another admitted. ‘I really love Ana as an actress. But playing Marilyn Monroe is a risk.’
Spot the difference: The Cuban actress (pictured right) did ‘nine months of dialect coaching’ in order to prepare for playing Monroe (pictured left in 1958)
Not impressed: When the streaming giant dropped the trailer on July 28, Twitter users blasted The Gray Man action star’s accent as ‘awful’
Time will tell: Despite fan criticism, Marc Rosen, the owner of the Marilyn Monroe Estate and president of Authentic Brands Group, expressed his support of de Armas’ performance in the trailer
The Knives Out actress has admitted herself that she struggled with her accent and trained with a coach on Monroe voice.
‘It took me nine months of dialect coaching, and practicing and some ADR sessions [to get the accent right],’ she told the London Times, admitting, ‘It was a big torture, so exhausting. My brain was fried.’
However, in spite of said controversy, it has so far proven to be breaking the critic curse of previous biopics, receiving a whopping 14-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.
So far, the film has received mixed reviews, landing positive 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes as critic reviews begin to filter in.
Richard Lawson at Vanity Fair claims de Armas ‘can’t do much to conceal her Cuban accent as she approximates Monroe’s breathy melodiousness, but maybe that’s part of the point of casting her.’
He continued: ‘De Armas is fiercely, almost scarily committed to the role, maintaining high and focused energy through every torrent of tears and screams and traumas.’
Meanwhile, Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri writes that the actresses’ performance is ‘not quite what one might expect. She’s certainly committed fully to a part that requires intense physicality, tons of nudity, and tears. And she expertly mimics Monroe’s half-breathless style of speaking.’
David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter adds: ‘There’s a lot of great stuff here, particularly a raw performance from Ana de Armas that strips the most examined woman in pop-culture history bare, literally and metaphorically.’
The positive reviews will come as no surprise for Marc Rosen, the owner of the Marilyn Monroe Estate and president of Authentic Brands Group, who has openly expressed his support of de Armas’ performance.
‘Any actor that steps into that role knows they have big shoes to fill,’ he told Variety.
‘Based on the trailer alone, it looks like Ana was a great casting choice as she captures Monroe’s glamour, humanity and vulnerability. We can’t wait to see the film in its entirety!’
When sharing the trailer on her social media, de Armas expressed her gratitude and the pride she felt playing Monroe as a Cuban actress.
‘Playing Marilyn was groundbreaking. A Cuban playing Marilyn Monroe. I wanted it so badly,’ she wrote.
Here, Daily Mail takes a look at all the stars who’ve played the Hollywood icon – and how they faired with the critics.
Misty Rowe starred in the first Marilyn Monroe biopic in 1976 which was titled Goodbye, Norma Jean – panned by critics and viewers
The first Marilyn: Rowe was just 23 years old when she played Monroe in 1976 (pictured left) and the actress went on to become a sex symbol of the 80s as pictured right in 1986
Flop: Critics panned the film Goodbye, Norma Jean, calling it ‘[a] cheap ugly film’ and a ‘sorry piece of nothing’
Misty Rowe took on the titular role of Marilyn Monroe in the film Goodbye, Norma Jean at just 23 years old.
The 1976 biopic claimed that it portrayed Monroe’s story as ‘not legend, not even the way she told it, this is how it was.’ This retelling was rated R and did not hold back on sexual content.
The film starts before her days of fame when she was just a movie buff named Norma Jean Baker who is subjected to sexual abuse from a foster parent, movie goer and even a traffic cop – depicted in a way that critics and viewers have described as pornographic.
The flick also follows her journey fame during which she finds herself on a number casting couches but perseveres thanks to the encouragement of photographer Ralph Johnson and producer Hal James.
Goodbye, Norma Jean was panned by critics and fans universally, with some even calling it ‘one of the worst films ever.’
Clancy Sigel at The Spectator called Goodbye, Norma Jean ‘[A] cheap, ugly film,’ while David A. Nardozzi wrote, ‘Goodbye Norma Jean is a sorry piece of nothing released solely to cash in on the legend of Marilyn Monroe.’
TV Guide called the film ‘sensationalistic and slimy with no real insight into Monroe’s character.’
Shock factor: The 1976 biopic claimed that it portrayed Monroe’s story as ‘not legend, not even the way she told it, this is how it was’
Tough crowd: Rowe’s performance was met with mixed reviews and one critic compared her to ‘an asthmatic Betty Boop’
Rowe’s depiction of the role was met with mixed reviews. Critics slammed her performance. Time Out claimed that she ‘fails spectacularly as a reincarnation of Monroe.’
The Biopic Story wrote: ‘To convey her annoyance at such misfortune Misty Rowe, in the lead role, shrieks, flares her nostrils and holds her head in her hands while shaking it from side to side. At all other times she recites her lines in a low breathy voice that sounds more like an asthmatic Betty Boop than Marilyn Monroe.’
However, the actress sites positive reviews on her website from outlets like Variety which reportedly called her performance ‘fine and sensitive’ and London Evening News which called her portrayal ‘a very convincing portrait.’
Playing Monroe lead to Rowe becoming a sex symbol of the 70s. After Goodbye, Norma Jean, she continued appearing on the hit TV series Hee Haw and made appearances on Fantasy Island and The Love Boat in the 1980s.
Not to mention, she reappeared in a 1989 sequel of Goodbye, Norma Jean titled Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn. It featured clips of her from the original film to represent the ‘Norma Jean’ version of the starlet while Paula Lane stepped into the ‘Marilyn Monroe’ version.
Much like its predecessor, the sequel received a slew of negative reviews.
Catherine Hicks played Monroe in the 1980 biopic Marilyn: The Untold Story – wowed fans and received an Emmy nomination
Hicks (pictured right in 2011) received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Monroe in the 1980 biopic Marilyn: The Untold Story (pictured left)
The life of Marilyn: Hicks played the adult version of the star, portraying her rise to fame, successes as an actress and her three marriages- and she received plenty of critical praise for her performance
Catherine Hicks starred in the 1980 TV biopic Marilyn: The Untold Story. In the project, she played the adult version of Monroe, portraying her rise to fame, successes as an actress and her three marriages to James Dougherty, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller.
This retelling was one of the few release that received plenty of of critical acclaim and even earned Hicks an Emmy nomination.
Judith Crist of TV Guide doted: ‘Thanks to Dalene Young’s intelligent screenplay, Lawrence Schiller’s lavish and nonexploitative production and… Catherine Hicks’ breathtaking (and breathless) portrait of the actress, it provides a clear view of her dichotomous personality and charisma.’
‘None of this would matter – or work on the screen – without the performance of Catherine Hicks as Monroe,’ Peter Ackroyd of The Spectator wrote on Hicks’ portrayal. ‘She is almost as good as the real thing.’
Fans have also called her performance ‘the most accurate portrayals of Marilyn Monroe thus far.’
Rave reviews: ‘None of this would matter – or work on the screen – without the performance of Catherine Hicks as Monroe,’ Peter Ackroyd of The Spectator wrote on Hicks’ portrayal
Perfectionist: Hicks researched Monroe and deeply understood how her past shaped her as she later claimed, ‘She was frozen in time at age seven. That’s why she always had that little girl’s voice’
Hicks committed to playing a multi-dimensional version of Monroe through hard work and tons of research.
Ultimately, she gained a strong grasp of who the starlet was and even felt some agency over her image.
‘When I think about her, I’m never thinking that its an adoration of a great movie star, but that she’s my dead older sister,’ she told TV Store Online.
She added: ‘I felt then, and still do, that I have to act as a sort of Defense Attorney on her behalf so that her story can be told, and that the facts aren’t twisted.’
Hicks also felt that Monroe’s naivety was crucial in tapping into 50’s star’s vulnerability.
‘She was abandoned and she was alone. Her mother was taken off to an insane asylum. She was frozen in time at age seven,’ she told the outlet. ‘That’s why she always had that little girls voice.’
After Marilyn: The Untold Story, Hicks went on to land her most notable roles including Annie in 7th Heaven, Karen in Child’s Play and Gillian in Star Trek IV.
Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino played two versions of Monroe in the 1996 film Norma Jean & Marilyn – received mixed reviews but both landed award nominations
A tale of two Marilyn’s: The 1996 film Norma Jean & Marilyn took an interesting approach to depicting the 50’s sex symbol. Her two personalities were played by two different actresses, Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino
The 1996 film Norma Jean & Marilyn took an interesting approach to depicting the 50’s sex symbol. Her two personalities were played by two different actresses; Ashley Judd took on the pre-famed Norma Jean while Mira Sorvino portrayed the highs and lows of stardom as Marilyn Monroe.
Some praised the bold choice while others felt it made the story harder to follow and inaccurate to the novel the film is based on.
Variety doted that the ‘offbeat concept of having two actresses portray the woman who became world famous as Marilyn Monroe pays off handsomely.’
Meanwhile, the Riverfront Times called the script ‘garbage’ and wished the role had been solely given to Judd.
‘Had the filmmakers left both roles in Judd’s capable hands — the necessary technology was certainly available at the time — the melodrama would have gone down smoother,’ they wrote.
They went on to slam Sorvino’s performance as ‘dreadful’ and accused her of ‘flubbing Monroe’s breathy, ditzy sexuality.’
Meanwhile, Variety praised both actresses, stating, ‘Judd and Sorvino are terrific; Judd has the more interesting role, but Sorvino is the star.’
Wise move: Judd took on the pre-famed Norma Jean in the 1996 biopic (pictured left) and received critical acclaim which boosted her career as an actress (pictured right in 2018)
The American dream: Speaking of Monroe’s legacy, Judd claimed, ‘She was mesmerizing, dazzlingly beautiful, an American archetype in terms of coming from nothing and getting everything’
Tough role: Mira Sorvino portrayed the highs and lows of stardom as Monroe in the 1996 biopic (pictured left) and she received mixed reviews for her attempt. However, she still went on to have a successful career (pictured right in 2022)
Giving her all: At first, Sorvino initially didn’t think she was ‘worthy’ of playing the legend at first but wanted to pay ‘tribute’ to her
During the an interview with The New York Times, both actresses reflected on the difficult process of playing the different elements of the blonde bombshell.
‘In the beginning I just didn’t think I was worthy of playing her,’ Sorvino told the outlet.
‘But the role fascinated me and I connected with her on some weird level,’ she added. ‘I thought the way to do it was not so much to try to impersonate her as to make it a tribute to her. I just wanted to express what I feel I understood about her heart.’
Judd felt her role was less of an undertaking, stating, ‘I hide behind the enigma of Norma Jean and, with very few exceptions, she’s an unknown figure.’
Regardless, it’s clear both actresses had respect for the Monroe and all her facets.
‘She had a certain unbearable innocence, a delusional look at life that propelled her and destroyed her,’ said Sorvino.
‘She was mesmerizing, dazzlingly beautiful, an American archetype in terms of coming from nothing and getting everything,’ added Judd. ‘She’s also an archetype for spiritual bankruptcy. She can never quite fill herself on the inside.’
Poppy Montgomery starred in the first adaption of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Blonde in 2001 – received mixed reviews
Unique take: Poppy Montgomery (pictured left in 2001) starred in CBS’ TV miniseries, Blonde which was the first adaption of Joyce Carol Oates’s novel of the same name (pictured in 2019)
Taking a closer look: Blonde broke the fourth wall by having Monroe and the other prominent characters talking directly to the audience – sharing their side of the story
CBS’ TV miniseries, Blonde is the first adaption of Joyce Carol Oates’s novel of the same name – the very same book that de Armas’ 2022 biopic revolves around.
Poppy Montgomery plays the blonde bombshell in this rendition, and her effort was met with mixed reviews.
The miniseries kicks off with the warning: ‘Although the following film depicts some actual persons and events, it is a work of fiction.’
Like the novel, the film made unique choices like referring to characters by titles rather than their name: her husband Joe DiMaggio was called ‘The Baseball Player’ while a Hollywood producer was simply called ‘Mr. R.’
It also broke the fourth wall by having Monroe and the other prominent characters talking directly to the audience – sharing their side of the story.
These moments were paired with graphic depictions of the alleged sexual and physical abuse she endured from men which turned off many fans and critics.
Washington Post described the film as ‘so wrongheaded and mean-spirited, so grim and foul and phony,’ while adding, ‘It’s the kind of movie to recommend to your worst enemy, someone you want to be dispirited and depressed.’
Montgomery received mixed for her more somber depiction of Monroe with Washington Post calling her performance ‘an essentially acceptable job.’
Not quite right: Montgomery received mixed reviews for her portrayal of the blonde bombshell
Unsure: At times, the actress felt insecure about her body being so exposed and the way she looked after her transformation into Monroe
The actress herself seemed to have mixed feelings about playing the role. As she told EW, she had posters up in her room of the star ever since she was a child and her mom had told her ‘you’ve been rehearsing for [the role] your whole life.’
However, the actress admitted she struggled with certain aspects of the role. When it came time to blocking the renowned Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend number, she doubted her dancing abilities.
‘I can’t dance to save my life,’ she told TV Guide at the time. “I won’t even dance at a disco. I don’t dance, and I don’t sing, so I had like five dance rehearsals, five two-hour sessions… Then I was on this set with all these fabulous male dancers, and I can’t even walk in the shoes.”
At times, Montgomery felt insecure about her body being so exposed and the way she looked after her transformation into Monroe. The first time she looked at herself in the mirror with in full makeup she thought to herself, ‘Oh, my God, this is awful.’
A month after the miniseries’ release, she admitted she still hadn’t watched it.
‘I have, by my own choice, not yet seen the film because I’m not ready to,’ she told the outlet.
‘I think it’s going to be somewhat startling to see myself. The amount of body makeup that went into the white skin and covering all my freckles, it was like you put it on a corpse.’
Michelle Williams starred in the 2011 film My Week With Marilyn – faced criticism but but ultimately scored an Oscar nomination
Michelle Williams (pictured right on the red carpet) obtained an Oscar nomination for her performance as Monroe in the 2011 film My Week With Marilyn (pictured left)
‘The success of My Week With Marilyn centers on the success of Michelle Williams in embodying the role,’ renowned reviewer Roger Ebert wrote of her performance
Michelle Williams took on the daunting task of playing the icon in the 2011 film My Week With Marilyn. The film took place over just one week of Monroe’s life and received mixed receives which ultimately tended to skew towards positive.
While most felt fairly neutral about the film, they took moments to praise Williams’ ability to capture the vulnerability of the star.
‘The success of My Week With Marilyn centers on the success of Michelle Williams in embodying the role,’ renowned reviewer Roger Ebert wrote.
Top critic from MovieFreak.com, Sarah Michelle Fetters, raved: ‘Michelle Williams is sublime as the titular central figure, deftly crafting a performance that easily ranks as one of the best of the entire year.’
While her acting earned her an Oscar nomination for the role, some criticism that she didn’t look enough like Monroe – especially with how thin she was.
Williams herself had that same fear, telling Newsweek, ‘I would study my face in the mirror over and over again. I’ve never looked at my face so much. My lips are pointier than hers. We’d try to take down the points.’
Williams faced criticism about her appearance and had to use hip and butt pads to attain Monroe’s figure
Getting vulnerable: ‘Someone asked me how I got her sadness. I don’t think I ever cried so much for somebody I didn’t know,’ Williams said of playing Monroe
She ended up having to use hip and butt pads as well as a chin prosthetic, telling THR: ‘There were certain unbridgeable gaps. I couldn’t re-arrange my face and body to look like hers.’
She even likened taking off her makeup in the mirror to feeling like Frankenstein. Then there was the pressure of playing such a monumental role.
‘I was waking up in cold sweats for six months in anticipation of it,’ she confessed. Regardless, she managed to wow audiences with her performance but that didn’t come without hard work.
Williams dug deep into the emotional side of the role, expressing, ‘Someone asked me how I got her sadness. I don’t think I ever cried so much for somebody I didn’t know.’
She also had an interesting take on Monroe, who has been described as having two separate personalities and even depicted using two different people in some films.
‘I thought, it’s three people, maybe I should separate them,’ she explained. ‘Then I realized it’s all coming from one person.’
Kelli Garner starred in the 2015 biopic The Secret Life of Marilyn – received mixed reviews
Nice try: Kelli Garner (pictured right on the red carpet) received positive feedback for her performance in 2015 Lifetime film The Secret Life of Marilyn (pictured left)
Kelli Garner, aside from de Armas, is the most recent actress to take on the titular role of Monroe. She transformed into the blonde bombshell for Lifetime’s 2015 TV movie The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, based on a book of the same name.
This film features Monroe on her last legs during her drug-fueled days spilling her life story to a psychiatrist, with a strong focus on her relationship with her estranged mother.
While many critics expressed their exasperation at yet another Monroe movie, the film brought out all sorts of reactions when it premiered.
‘It’s an awful idea to make another movie about the life of the most celebrated starlet of all time, but somehow Lifetime manages to pull it off,’ Brian Moylan of The Guardian wrote.
Others weren’t so impressed with Ben Mark Holzberg of THR stating, ‘The greatest of (non-natural) blondes deserves much better than this.’
Digging deeper: The Secret Life of Marilyn features the icon on her last legs during her drug-fueled days spilling her life story to a psychiatrist, with a strong focus on her relationship with her estranged mother
New fan: Unlike many of the actresses to take on the role before her, Garner admitted she wasn’t a ‘Marilyn Monroe buff’
For some, it was Garner’s performance that made the movie worthwhile.
‘What sets this latest rehash of the star’s existence apart, marginally, is a knockout performance by Kelli Garner,’ Brian Lowry of Variety wrote.
The series has a score of 55 out of 100 based on 12 critics on Metacritic, while on Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval of 55% based on 11 reviews with an average rating of 6/10.
Unlike many of the actresses to take on the role before her, she wasn’t a ‘Marilyn Monroe buff.’ Additionally, she was hesitant about taking on the role but ultimately, fell in love with the script and acting challenges it offered.
I had to [walk] that fine line between not doing too much and not doing enough [for the role]. Trying to make the scene as real as possible with real emotions, and then trying to stack little things that you felt were very true to her. I don’t think I’ve ever worked that hard as an actress. I gave my best.