In the 1950s, Chandler became a star in western and action movies. His first important role was in Sword In the Desert (1948), as an Israeli freedom fighter. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950). The first of three screen appearances as the legendary Apache chief, he repeated the role in The Battle at Apache Pass (1952) and in a cameo in Taza, Son of Cochise (1954). He was the first actor nominated for an Academy Award for portraying a Native American.
During the latter part of the decade and into the early 1960s, Chandler became a top leading man. His sex appeal, prematurely gray hair, and ruggedly handsome tanned features put him into drama and costume movies. Among the movies of this period are Female on the Beach (1955), Foxfire (1955), Away All Boats (1956), Toy Tiger (1956), Drango (1957), The Tattered Dress (1957), Man in the Shadow (1957), A Stranger in My Arms (1959), The Jayhawkers! (1959), Thunder in the Sun (1959), and Return to Peyton Place (1961). 
His leading ladies included June Allyson, Joan Crawford, Rhonda Fleming, Maureen O'Hara, Kim Novak, Jane Russell, Esther Williams, and his Brooklyn friend Susan Hayward.
Chandler had a concurrent career as a singer and recording artist, releasing several albums and playing nightclubs. In 1955 he became only the second star to play at the Riviera, after Liberace was the featured headliner. In her book “Hold the Roses”, Rose Marie wrote that “Jeff Chandler was a great guy, but he was no singer. He put together an act and we opened at the Riviera. He came with a conductor, piano player, light man, press agent, and manager. None of it helped”. And “Everybody raved about Jeff’s singing, but let’s face it: He really didn’t sing very well. He definitely had guts to open in Vegas”. He left to work on a movie after three and a half weeks.