Total Recall

Definitive Ron Howard Movies

We look back at the films that have helped mold the career of the In the Heart of the Sea director.

by | December 9, 2015 | Comments

A Hollywood pro from the age of five, Ron Howard set the template for every actor who’s ever hoped to make a successful jump behind the cameras after scoring a plum role on a hit TV series (or two). A beloved small-screen star on The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, he’s spent the last 35 years focusing on directing — and his latest effort, the aquatic drama In the Heart of the Sea, arrives in theaters this weekend, so we decided to dedicate this week’s list to a rundown of some of the brighter critical highlights from a career full of crowd-pleasers. Goodbye gray sky, hello blue — it’s time for Total Recall!


Night Shift (1982) 92%

Night Shift

Howard could have been accused of tempting fate when he elected to direct his Happy Days buddy Henry Winkler in 1982’s Night Shift — a particularly risky move considering that in the movie, Winkler shed his Fonzie cool to play the nebbishy Chuck Lumley, a newly hired morgue attendant who finds himself going against his better judgment to participate in the cockamamie schemes hatched by his fast-talking co-worker Bill Blazejowski (Michael Keaton) and ends up becoming the de facto co-manager of a thoroughly unusual brothel hosted by a free-spirited hooker (Shelley Long). Ralph Malph was nowhere in sight, in other words, but there was plenty of sitting on it going on — and loads of critical praise, including a positive review from Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader, who wrote, “This isn’t as snappily directed or as caustically conceived as the subsequent Risky Business, which has a similar theme, but it’s arguably just as sexy and almost as funny.”

Watch Trailer


Splash (1984) 91%

Splash

Starring in a frothy romantic comedy as a man who falls in love with a mermaid may not seem like the surest path to starting a film career, but then, 1984’s Splash was no ordinary movie — in fact, it started a lot of things, among them an entire studio (Touchstone Pictures, created to allow Disney the ability to release more “adult” fare without sullying its name brand), a surge in the number of girls named Madison, and, supposedly, a name change for the Disneyland ride that eventually became Splash Mountain. Not bad for a movie featuring a pair of largely untested stars (Hanks was fresh from Bosom Buddies, and Hannah was known mainly for her role in Blade Runner) and a director most people still thought of as Opie Taylor (or Richie Cunningham). Nearly $70 million in domestic receipts (and one Academy Award nomination) later, and all three were on their way to bigger and brighter things, thanks in part to positive critical buzz that has proven surprisingly durable; recently, Empire’s Ian Freer held it up as “the movie that really showed Tom Hanks’ promise as a deliverer of great comedy and heart-warming pathos.”


Cocoon (1985) 79%

Cocoon

Round up a group of wily old acting pros like Don Ameche, Maureen Stapleton, Wilford Brimley, Jessica Tandy, and Hume Cronyn, and you can have them do pretty much any old thing and make it well worth watching — even if the script in question is a gauzily sentimental sci-fi dramedy about senior citizens accidentally stumbling across a batch of age-reversing alien pods while Steve Guttenberg does his uniquely 1980s Guttenberg thing. The threat of heartstring-tugging sap was high with Cocoon, but screenwriter Tom Benedek (working from David Saperstein’s novel) treated his characters with dignity, and Howard’s direction left plenty of room for the cast to carry the movie with remarkably deft performances that managed to be funny, thought-provoking, and heartbreakingly poignant — sometimes within the same scene. “Mr. Howard brings a real sweetness to his subject, as does the film’s fine cast of veteran stars; he has also given Cocoon the bright, expansive look of a hot-weather hit,” wrote Janet Maslin for the New York Times. “And even when the film begins to falter, as it does in its latter sections, Mr. Howard’s touch remains reasonably steady.”


Parenthood (1989) 91%

Parenthood

Ten years after redefining doofus comedy with 1979’s The Jerk, Steve Martin had (mostly) traded in props and pratfalls — and he cemented his more reflective, mature on-screen persona with his appearance as sensitive dad Gil Buckman in Ron Howard’s Parenthood. Blending comedy and drama with crowded casts was trendy for a time in the late ’80s (thirtysomething, anyone?), and there are few better examples of the “dramedy” subgenre than this tender, witty look at the tangled bonds between parents and their kids; Parenthood was greeted with a wave of glowing reviews upon its release, many of them reserving their highest praise for the uncommon dexterity with which the story (written by Howard, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel) jumps between its numerous threads. As Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers pointed out, “It’s a shock, and a welcome one, to see Steve Martin cast against type as a doting dad. Martin’s nippy wit continually lifts this movie above the swamp of sentiment.”


The Paper (1994) 88%

The Paper

Howard reunited with his Night Shift star, Michael Keaton, for a very different kind of project in 1994: The Paper, an ensemble dramedy about the frantic goings-on behind the scenes during 24 hours in the life of a New York City newspaper. While things have changed drastically for the publishing industry in the years since The Paper’s release, rendering the movie’s backdrop rather quaint, the sharp writing (from brothers David and Stephen Koepp) and rock-solid acting — rounded out by a showy cast that also included Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Jason Robards, and Marisa Tomei — are timeless. “Howard, after stumbling with Far and Away, is back in form, and perhaps at the top of his game,” enthused Chris Hicks for the Deseret News. “There are times when the sheer size of the film seems enough to throw it off the track, but Howard manages, for the most part, to keep things rolling along in his usual slick, if sometimes obvious fashion.”


Apollo 13 (1995) 96%

Apollo 13

Splash buddies Tom Hanks and Ron Howard reunited for 1995’s Apollo 13, a dramatization of NASA’s aborted 1970 lunar mission that combined one of Hanks’ biggest personal passions — space travel — with Hollywood’s favorite thing: a blockbuster prestige picture. With a cast that featured a number of similarly prolific actors (among them Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and Hanks’ Forrest Gump costar Gary Sinise), Apollo probably would have made decent money even if it had played fast and loose with the real-life details of the launch, but Howard and his crew strove for verisimilitude, going so far as to shoot portions of the film in actual zero gravity. The result was a summertime smash that restored some of space travel’s luster for a jaded generation — and made for an exceedingly good filmgoing experience according to most critics, including Roger Ebert, who called it “a powerful story, one of the year’s best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and acted without pumped-up histrionics.”


A Beautiful Mind (2001) 74%

A Beautiful Mind

Only a year after scoring his Best Actor Academy Award for Gladiator, Russell Crowe resurfaced on Oscar ballots for his work in Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, which dramatized the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a Nobel-winning economist whose struggles with schizophrenia have darkened a remarkable life. Though its historical accuracy was questioned, and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman was accused of cherry-picking details from Nash’s life to make him a more sympathetic character, the result was still a film that grossed more than $300 million and earned four Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as another Best Actor nomination for Crowe). As Bob Bloom of Lafayette Journal and Courier wrote, “A brilliant performance by Russell Crowe, who takes his audience on a terrifying journey inside a man tormented by self-created mental demons, propels A Beautiful Mind.”


Cinderella Man (2005) 80%

Cinderella Man

One good biopic deserves another, A Beautiful Mind teammates Ron Howard and Russell Crowe reunited four years later for another life story — the tale of Depression-era heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, who was dubbed “The Cinderella Man” even before he overcame 10-to-1 odds and defeated Max Baer to claim his title. Surrounded by a top-shelf cast that included Renee Zellweger, Paddy Considine, and Paul Giamatti (who received one of the film’s three Oscar nominations), Crowe embodied both the raw physicality and the inner struggle of a fighter who risked his health, and his marriage, to stay in the ring. Though Cinderella Man wasn’t a Beautiful Mind-sized hit, it did break the $100 million mark — and it earned the admiration of most critics, including Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, who wrote, “How exceptional a film actor is Russell Crowe? So exceptional that in Cinderella Man, he makes a good boxing movie feel at times like a great, big picture.”


Frost/Nixon (2008) 93%

Frost Nixon

Howard earned some of the better reviews of his career for 2009’s Frost/Nixon, which adapts the Peter Morgan play that dramatized British broadcaster David Frost’s (played by Michael Sheen) efforts to secure and sell a series of TV interviews with the politically exiled former president (portrayed by Frank Langella). Although plenty of pundits took umbrage at the way Morgan’s screenplay took liberties with the actual events that inspired the film, for the vast majority of critics, Frost/Nixon‘s flaws seemed pretty minor when weighed against the script, direction, editing, completed picture, and Langella’s performance — all of which received Oscar nominations. For the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rea, it all added up to “A must-see for political junkies, history buffs, and folks still fascinated by the paranoia-fueled follies of the twitchy, sweaty, decidedly uncharismatic 37th president.”


Rush (2013) 89%

Rush

As he’s shown repeatedly throughout his career, Howard is adept when it comes to finding the cinematic drama in a nonfiction story — and there was plenty of it to distill for the fact-based fuel that powers Rush, his 2013 biopic about the real-life rivalry between Formula 1 racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Where many filmmakers might use a racing biopic as an excuse to focus on glossy, Days of Thunder-style revving and zooming, Howard honed in on the human element at play between his dual protagonists, crafting an engrossing tale of two temperamental opposites conjoined by a career that could kill either one of them every time they step on the track. “Howard keeps his cameras small and all over the cars, to show us dazzling machinery in motion, the ground whizzing by in a blur underneath,” observed Stephen Whitty for the Newark Star-Ledger. “Playing to his own strengths, though, he keeps this a movie about character.”

  • Moby85

    I needed Backdraft to be there. Seriously, have you seen that movie recently? It’s still great and all the effects hold up gloriously. Has aged very well.

  • dbooners

    If I remember correctly, it was Michael Keaton’s character in Night Shift who was “newly hired.” I’m thinking Henry Winkler’s character had been there for years, and had even been passed over for an expected promotion.

  • Daniel Wright

    What? where is Backdraft? that movie was awesome. Kurt Russell’s
    finest moments

Tag Cloud

foreign LGBT parents Extras TCA 2017 ABC Signature historical drama technology Pride Month Tubi unscripted stand-up comedy ratings cancelled japan Heroines Amazon screenings die hard cartoon natural history Mudbound Polls and Games kids Musicals DC Universe NBA The Purge classics Warner Bros. rotten movies we love SundanceTV NBC Black Mirror worst Walt Disney Pictures Shudder Superheroe San Diego Comic-Con Television Critics Association Awards Tour police drama Sony Pictures witnail Amazon Prime The Walt Disney Company Logo dceu ITV comedies MCU children's TV doctor who Pacific Islander DC Comics monster movies what to watch WGN RT History critics movies comic films quibi BET Comics on TV Disney Channel reviews Fox Searchlight HBO Go singing competition Food Network franchise ghosts Oscars rt archives romance Comedy Super Bowl marvel cinematic universe Mary Tyler Moore golden globe awards crime thriller A24 telelvision Esquire PBS 2018 Apple TV Plus emmy awards boxing crime kaiju FX obituary Hallmark Christmas movies 2015 sports remakes Drama dramedy TV One YouTube Red Apple TV+ movie Mary poppins Family latino Martial Arts Country binge PaleyFest Video Games Countdown Character Guide 2019 archives nature TLC teaser discovery animated true crime superman harry potter Tokyo Olympics batman OneApp jamie lee curtis sequels screen actors guild Starz composers CNN GIFs basketball Trailer Biopics Paramount BAFTA rom-coms talk show Teen First Reviews Rom-Com Comedy Central SXSW anthology Tarantino Spectrum Originals E! television E3 south america indiana jones MSNBC Discovery Channel ID Peacock Nickelodeon breaking bad boxoffice Sneak Peek Superheroes Pop TV video on demand award winner IFC Films Academy Awards spain Amazon Prime Video TV movies Lifetime Christmas movies TNT Baby Yoda CW Seed revenge nbcuniversal Bravo Avengers Kids & Family game of thrones 2021 cops sequel Thanksgiving Summer french BBC One best video psycho dark Adult Swim Disney+ Disney Plus President asian-american 4/20 ViacomCBS 2017 Rocketman series VH1 CMT prank Song of Ice and Fire directors cars Apple Showtime women Ellie Kemper Syfy diversity Britbox RT21 independent mockumentary Tumblr PlayStation HBO Max Photos festival YA YouTube Premium disaster a nightmare on elm street Epix satire DirecTV Exclusive Video National Geographic transformers CBS All Access Fall TV Acorn TV Disney comic books scorecard Best and Worst venice Podcast 20th Century Fox razzies comics renewed TV shows all-time dragons festivals Dark Horse Comics Fox News justice league A&E olympics The CW toronto book adaptation BET Awards Mindy Kaling Awards spider-man Chernobyl facebook cancelled television Animation sitcom WarnerMedia nfl Film Festival canceled kong documentary 21st Century Fox Star Trek Quiz X-Men casting Musical streaming movies sag awards See It Skip It Mystery Paramount Network Mary Poppins Returns 71st Emmy Awards adenture free movies Film Arrowverse Freeform Sundance TV 99% stoner Wes Anderson Brie Larson FXX trailers Horror heist movie biography werewolf book Alien black Marvel jurassic park reboot Cannes golden globes 72 Emmy Awards Nominations live action space tv talk crime drama Turner Classic Movies vampires football Pirates 45 VOD blockbuster Masterpiece Image Comics Marathons Watching Series aliens Winners 2020 dc Opinion Disney streaming service TV renewals Schedule Sundance period drama TCA Awards japanese SDCC 93rd Oscars Star Wars Pet Sematary spinoff Paramount Plus legend First Look zombie anime Black History Month Red Carpet Music Anna Paquin fast and furious Ghostbusters Action cats Infographic australia Reality Competition HBO History El Rey canceled TV shows 1990s 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Sci-Fi Lionsgate supernatural thriller scary movies comiccon Christmas concert Lifetime Marvel Television worst movies Netflix Columbia Pictures Crackle Rock dogs Western deadpool psychological thriller versus suspense Legendary twilight new zealand Travel Channel Fantasy Stephen King joker Comic-Con@Home 2021 Captain marvel Set visit political drama TV FOX serial killer Endgame BBC America Holiday Classic Film mission: impossible christmas movies Cosplay Hear Us Out BBC elevated horror pirates of the caribbean Crunchyroll scene in color Trophy Talk indie DC streaming service name the review TCA Winter 2020 Trivia Emmys zombies 24 frames Premiere Dates laika streaming AMC strong female leads Box Office green book Election Disney Plus hist aapi high school Spike new star wars movies ABC cinemax YouTube medical drama james bond docudrama Women's History Month crossover Broadway new york italian NYCC 2016 TCM rotten Vudu Interview halloween MTV halloween tv robots LGBTQ game show ESPN Funimation Elton John docuseries hidden camera Cartoon Network ABC Family saw based on movie richard e. Grant spanish language Reality 90s CBS Nat Geo Pop Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt The Arrangement Certified Fresh Writers Guild of America blockbusters Sundance Now target Hallmark chucky American Society of Cinematographers spanish Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Rocky stop motion Ovation mutant Comic Book Lucasfilm TV Land TBS blaxploitation Spring TV Marvel Studios USA slashers criterion social media popular IFC The Walking Dead USA Network toy story miniseries The Academy king kong DGA TIFF adaptation Shondaland FX on Hulu news know your critic international hollywood Valentine's Day travel GLAAD finale Year in Review Binge Guide Hulu Television Academy APB universal monsters GoT lord of the rings Calendar Winter TV politics Pixar Holidays Tomatazos TruTV cancelled TV series adventure zero dark thirty OWN science fiction Universal cooking documentaries child's play Toys Creative Arts Emmys spy thriller hispanic Turner cancelled TV shows fresh The Witch war Emmy Nominations godzilla superhero romantic comedy 007 Amazon Studios TCA cults theme song VICE Netflix Christmas movies Grammys New York Comic Con