Ranked: The Best Ron Howard Movies
Since his big splash with, well, Splash, Ron Howard has directed 19 feature films. With his 20th, Rush, opening wide across the country this Friday, we wanted to look back at the career of one of America's best known filmmakers. We've assembled an all-star team of movie experts from around the internet to rank everything from 1984's Splash through 2011's The Dilemma. Our panelists submitted their ranked lists and the results have been tallied to arrive at these ultimate rankings, with their notes.
Your panelists: from Deadspin, Will Leitch; from Huffington Post, Christopher Rosen; from The Film Experience, Nathaniel Rogers; from CinemaBlend, Katey Rich; from Hitfix, Guy Lodge; from the New York Times Magazine, Adam Sternbergh; from the AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff; from the UK's Daily Telegraph, Tim Robey; and from right here at Tribeca, Karen Kemmerle, Lindsay Robertson, and yours truly.
#19: Angels and Demons (2009) : The sequel to Howard's The Da Vinci Code wasn't received as well as the original … which was not exactly a critical smash to begin with.
#18: How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) : Maybe not the best idea to remake a Dr. Seuss book-turned-TV-special that defines "beloved holiday classic," particularly not in a way that gives the impression of a giant cash grab.
#17: Gung Ho (1986): One of five collaborations with screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, this film starred Michael Keaton as a Detroit auto worker looking to deal with the Japanese takeover of his plant.
"I have a strong, enduring affection for this because of a) Michael Keaton; b) Gedde Watanabe; and c) the fact that it's a fascinating (and fun! And upbeat!) artifact from America's strange period of intense Nipponophobia (see also 'Rising Sun')." -- Adam Sternbergh
#16: The Dilemma (2011): Howard's most recent film, pre-Rush, saw him team with bro-comedy stalwarts Kevin James and Vince Vaughn, dealing with relationship issues with their significant others (Winona Ryder; Jennifer Connelly) and their significant others' significant others (Channing Tatum).
"I will argue to my last day that Kevin James is actually pretty good in this." -- Will Leitch
" Not nearly as bad as the trailers made it seem. Let's give credit to Howard for remembering Winona Ryder is a movie star and for being on the Channing Tatum bandwagon early." -- Christopher Rosen
"It did give us an immeasurable gift: the first cinematic proof of Channing Tatum's major comic chops. He's the only person in the movie who even seems aware that he's in a comedy, and brings this weird, almost scary energy to all of his scenes. It probably pales in comparison to all the good stuff that came later, but I'll always be grateful for The Dilemma for helping me get on the Tatum train like a solid year before everyone else did." -- Katey Rich
#15: The Da Vinci Code (2006): An adaptation of the bazillion-dollar novel that swept the nation, and the Vatican. It was also, after Splash and Apollo 13, Howard's third collaboration with Tom Hanks.
"This is almost worth it for the scene where Ian McKellen speaks exposition for 10 minutes and makes it interesting by sheer virtue of being Ian McKellen." -- Todd VanDerWerff
#14: The Missing (2003): Howard's only Western to date featured Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, and a very young Evan Rachel Wood.
"Weird and ethereal revisit of The Searchers. Howard rarely works in this mode, and it suits him... somewhat." -- Todd VanDerWerff
"Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett play one of the most cantankerous father/daughter duos in cinema as they set out across the New Mexican plains to find Cate’s abducted daughter, Evan Rachel Wood, who has been taken by an Apache brujo. Is it predictable? Yes. Is this movie overly long? Yes. Is Aaron Eckhart in the movie far too briefly as a frontiersman/gigolo? Yes. But did I absolutely devour the extended DVD edition anyways? You bet I did." -- Karen Kemmerle
#13: Far and Away (1992): Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman co-starred in the early days of their marriage as a pair of Irish immigrants looking to make a place for themselves in a land-rush-era United States.
"Tom Cruise ... Irish Brawler!" -- Will Leitch
"People tend to get down on this Cruise/Kidman vehicle, but I think it’s a lot of fun. Sure, their accents are terrible, but Kidman and Cruise really put everything they had into the movie. Plus, Howard’s masterful direction of the Oklahoma land rush sequence alone is worth the price of admission. It’s also important to note that Far and Away was shot in 70mm, a rarity even then." -- Karen Kemmerle
"As a pop-cultural document -- the film that tried to make Tom and Nicole the defining on-and-off-screen Hollywood couple of a generation, and failed in ways that seem more meaningful in retrospect -- it retains more fascination than most of Howard's earlier work. And look how pretty!" -- Guy Lodge
#12: EdTV (1999): The year after the release of The Truman Show was either the best time or the worst time to make this movie about a man (Matthew McConaughey) whose entire life is made into a smash hit TV show. You know, like happens all the time on basic cable today.
"I remember almost nothing about this movie. Maybe it would prove in retrospect that McConaughey was a genius this whole time? OK, fine, I doubt it." -- Katey Rich
#11: Cinderella Man (2005): The sports biopic of Depression-era boxer James Braddock (Russell Crowe), whose sporting accomplishments dovetailed nicely with the fighting Americans had to do in the Hoovervilles and other such 1930s iconography.
Sadly, Cinderella Man was released during the great Crowe backlash of ‘05. Geez, you throw one phone at a hotel clerk…. anyways, what I’m trying to say here is that Cinderella Man had no chance to do well at the box office, which is a shame because it’s a great movie. While Crowe didn’t receive a nomination for Best Actor (blasphemy!), at least Paul Giamatti was recognized with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work as Braddock’s loyal manager Joe Gould who, during the Depression, sells the furniture in his own home to raise money rather than allow Braddock and his family to starve. -- Karen Kemmerle
#10: Willow (1988) : In the Dark Crystal/Labyrinth/Ewok era, there was a large market for youth-targeted fantasy, and so Howard delivered with Warwick Davis as a little person in a faraway kingdom, tasked with protecting an infant girl from a wicked queen. All that, plus Val Kilmer!
"Because no genre fits Howard's uncomplicated, good-vs-evil worldview better than children's fantasy adventure – and where has anyone ever committed to it with such unpretentious sincerity?" -- Tim Robey
"This was one of the first movies I looked up on Excite or whatever when I got the Internet. I had to make sure it was real." - Lindsay Robertson
#9: Ransom (1996): Mel Gibson's son is kidnapped (by a rather illustrious group of bad guys, including Gary Sinise, Lili Taylor, and Liev Schrieber), and his attempts to badass his way into getting him back become quite the sensation.
"GIVE ME BACK MY SON. How did we ever really think Mel Gibson wasn't insane?" -- Christopher Rosen
"I remember this as a relatively proficiently thrilling thriller in which Mel Gibson snarls at people on the phone. I'm a big fan of that. See also Liam Neeson in 'Taken.' Plus there was one cool scene where he shows the kidnappers all the money he's NOT going to give them. SNAP." -- Adam Sternbergh
#8: Frost/Nixon (2008): Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Frank Langella), and Adapted Screenplay (Peter Morgan, from his Tony-winning play), along with Howard's second career nomination for Best Director. The story, of Richard Nixon's famous (or infamous) post-resignation interviews with Britain's David Frost, becomes a moral and historical face-off.
"Very much a filmed stage play, but okay on those grounds." -- Todd VanDerWerff
"Another casting marvel (Sam Rockwell is great here), this film is really good even with Frank Langella kind of overacting it up as Nixon. Love all the journalism stuff with Frost." -- Christopher Rosen
#7: Backdraft (1991): The firefighting thriller got a lot of attention in its day for the cutting-edge nature of the intense inferno scenes. It also featured an all-star cast, including Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Rebecca DeMornay.
"Backdraft is so fun. Sure, it’s a little cheesy and heavy-handed but it's so well intentioned. Howard balances bombastic fire sequences (why won’t you keep your face mask on, Kurt Russell?!) with quiet, sincere conversations between characters. Best scene? When Billy Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh are interrupted mid-coitis on top of a fire engine. Ah, firehouse hijinks." -- Karen Kemmerle
"The high point of Billy Baldwin's career and all that that implies." -- Adam Sternbergh
"Howard's best trait as a filmmaker is that he does genre really, really well. This is genre to the hilt, and it's just really watchable." -- Christopher Rosen
#6: The Paper (1994): A day in the life of a New York City newspaper, and all the pressures that implies, starring Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, and Marissa Tomei.
"This might be the perfect ticking-clock movie, and there are so many reasons why. Some reasons: eccentric officemates who feel real enough (guy with the chair!), Michael Keaton, Michael Keaton swearing, 'Gotcha,' 'There is butter coming out of my pen,' 1010 WINS jingles, Robert Duvall's bagel, 'It was your turn.' A great script that Howard gets on screen with minimal fuss." -- Christopher Rosen
"So underrated! And it's weirdly nostalgic now." -- Will Leitch
"This movie got middling reviews and is kind of an unwieldy contraption. But it's a solid journalism drama, and it's very well-acted. One of Howard's strengths as a director is getting good performances out of actors, and here's a great example of that." -- Todd VanDerWerff
"This movie came out while I was a high school intern at my local paper and I just remember the funny dudes in the newsroom coming back from seeing it and insisting on being referred to as "Newspapermen" from then on out. They were making fun of the movie's solemness about their industry, but I think they also dug it." - Lindsay Robertson
#5: Cocoon (1985): An all-star cast of older actors -- including Oscar winners Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, and Don Ameche (who won for this very movie) -- play a circle of friends whose discovery of alien pods in their senior-center swimming pool leads to preternatural youth … and some difficult choices. One of Howard's most humane and affecting dramadies.
"This is exactly the kind of movie I'd starting watching disinterestedly 20 minutes in on TNT, then end up totally blubbering by the end." -- Adam Sternbergh
#4: A Beautiful Mind (2001): Ron Howard's big career moment came with his Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director here, for the story of John Forbes Nash, brilliant mathematician and schizophrenic.
"I drove all the way to the next town to see this, by myself, when I was in high school because it was the big Best Picture nominee. I was totally surprised by the Paul Bettany reveal, and while, yeah, this is not exactly a great movie, Howard at least has the sense to get out of the way of the performances." -- Katey Rich
"Casting again: Jennifer Connelly is really good in this movie, and I remember crying my eyes out at the very end." -- Christopher Rosen
"It's about as uncool to name A Beautiful Mind one's favourite Ron Howard joint as it was to vote it the Best Picture of 2001 -- well, maybe not quite as uncool, if only because Mulholland Drive isn't on the menu -- but this unapologetically Pandering Prestige Picture still works for me, if only because it's the only Howard film to be built around one truly galvanising performance. (No, not you, Connelly.) For all the fussy actorliness of Russell Crowe's work here, there's a conviction and sincerity to it that moves me, and much the same goes for the film itself. " -- Guy Lodge
#3: Splash (1984): Howard's big breakthrough, and certainly the same could be said for Tom Hanks as well. This enduring comedy of magical realism tells the love story of a man (Hanks) and a mermaid (Daryl Hannah).
"Still a delight 30 years later." -- Nathaniel Rogers
"Who doesn't love a high-concept romcom? Okay, most people, but Tom Hanks!" -- Todd VanDerWerff
#2: Parenthood (1989): Steve Martin, Dianne Weist, Mary Steenburgen, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis -- how can you go wrong with a cast this big playing a loving, squabbling, disaster-prone family?
"Similar to The Paper, in that the screenplay is so good. Howard's eye for casting is obviously apparent in this one: every decision is on point. He basically invented Joaquin Phoenix." -- Christopher Rosen
"Also, Steve Martin wears a Cardinals hat." -- Will Leitch
"This is one of those movies I can't not watch if it's on. Also, I think about the end (with the roller coaster metaphor) like once a week. Also, it brought the diarrhea song into the national discourse. Come on!" - Lindsay Robertson
"Sweet, heartfelt, and funny, with a terrific ensemble of players. Not too serious, not too silly, he got the balance just right." -- Nathaniel Rogers
#1: Apollo 13 (1995): Give or take the fire scenes in Backdraft, this remains Howard's most ambitious film, a big Hollywood-y tale of American iconography and the men who nearly died making it happen. Tom Hanks was America's most important actor, and his return partnership with Howard felt like the stars lining up just right. A Best Picture nomination followed, but a surprise snub in Best Director gave the film an air of what-might-have-been.
"I can't think of many other 'grown-up' movies that captured my imagination so much as an adolescent. I still listen to that trumpet solo from the soundtrack sometimes. YOLO." -- Katey Rich
"Ron Howard’s best film by far. Howard assembles one of cinema’s great casts (Hanks, Paxton, Bacon, Sinise, Harris) in this re-telling of the Apollo 13 disaster/miracle. Well crafted and incredibly re-watchable, I especially appreciate the gratuitous shot of Kevin Bacon in his prime taking a shower." -- Karen Kemmerle