Who Was the First International Movie Star?

When we think of movie stars, we often think of Hollywood and the glitz and glamour associated with it. However, the first international movie star predates Hollywood by several decades.

Her name was Sarah Bernhardt. Born in Paris in 1844, she began her career as a stage actress before transitioning to film in the early 1900s.

Bernhardt quickly became a sensation, not just in France but around the world. She was known for her dramatic performances and striking appearance, which included a prosthetic leg after a childhood accident.

The Early Years

Bernhardt’s parents were both involved in theater, and she began acting at a young age. She made her stage debut at the age of 18 and quickly gained recognition for her talent. In 1872, she joined the prestigious Comédie-Française theater company and became one of its most popular actresses.

Transition to Film

In 1900, Bernhardt made her film debut in “Le Duel d’Hamlet,” directed by French filmmaker Georges Méliès. The film was a success and led to more film roles for Bernhardt. She continued to act on stage as well, but her film career brought her international fame.

International Success

Bernhardt’s films were shown around the world, making her the first truly international movie star. She toured extensively to promote her films and was greeted by adoring fans everywhere she went. Her popularity even extended beyond entertainment; she was once asked to donate money to help fund a new bridge in New York City.


Sarah Bernhardt’s impact on cinema cannot be overstated. She paved the way for other stage actors to make successful transitions to film and helped establish cinema as an art form. Her influence can still be seen today in the work of actresses like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren.

In conclusion, Sarah Bernhardt was the first international movie star, known for her dramatic performances on stage and screen. Her legacy continues to inspire and influence actors and filmmakers around the world.