Total Recall

Kevin Bacon's Best-Reviewed Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we look back at the most acclaimed films of the star of The Darkness.

by | May 11, 2016 | Comments

From starring roles in flicks like Footloose to memorable cameos in films such as JFK, Kevin Bacon has been pretty much all over Hollywood during his 35-year professional acting career, working so prolifically that he eventually inspired his own game. With that in mind, when we noticed Bacon’s name in the cast list for this weekend’s The Darkness, we knew exactly what we had to do. Everything is better with Bacon, so let’s start the countdown!

A Few Good Men (1992) 83%

Inspired by a real-life incident related to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin by his sister, a onetime member of the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, A Few Good Men united an attention-getting cast, a tightly written script, and some of Rob Reiner’s sharpest direction to produce one of the biggest critical and commercial successes of 1992 (TIME’s Richard Schickel called it “An extraordinarily well-made movie, which wastes no words or images in telling a conventional but compelling story”). Although Men is mostly remembered today for its climactic courtroom scene, featuring Jack Nicholson as an enraged colonel who snaps under questioning and accuses the young lawyer questioning him (Tom Cruise) of not being able to handle the truth, it’s actually a pretty solid dramatic thriller all the way around — and it added links to a few more stars in Bacon’s growing resume, thanks to his supporting role as opposing counsel Captain Jack Ross.

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Tremors (1990) 87%

A cheerfully amiable B-movie creature feature with modern-day trappings, 1990’s Tremors dropped Bacon in the middle of a wonderfully eclectic cast (including Reba McEntire and Big Trouble in Little China legend Victor “Egg Shen” Wong) to tell the story of a small town whose sleepy existence is disrupted by a rumbling passel of giant subterranean monsters. Although it wasn’t a major hit during its theatrical release, it went on to enjoy cult status, spawning a (lamentably Bacon-free) succession of sequels and a TV series. The secret of its enduring appeal, according to Rob Vaux of the Flipside Movie Emporium, lies in “The blueprint for how to do projects like this right: care about your material, but don’t lose your sense of humor.”

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Mystic River (2003) 88%

With Clint Eastwood behind the camera, Brian Helgeland writing the script from a Dennis Lehane book, and a cast packed with reliable names like Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, and Laurence Fishburne, you’re pretty much guaranteed a terrific movie — and that’s exactly what filmgoers got with 2003’s Mystic River, which not only earned over $150 million at the box office, but won a pair of Academy Awards and a stack of honors from other organizations. Fishburne played Whitey Powers, Massachusetts state police sergeant and partner of Sean Devine (played by Bacon); over the course of the film, the duo investigates the murder of a girl whose father, Jimmy Markum (Penn), is not only a local gangster, but one of Devine’s closest childhood friends. Complicating matters even further is the nagging suspicion that the crime may have been committed by Dave Boyle (Robbins), Jimmy’s brother-in-law — and another of Sean’s old friends. It sounds like the stuff of bullet-riddled melodrama, but few mainstream authors spin literary gold out of pulp as reliably as Lehane, and with Eastwood’s flinty direction providing a solid foundation for his stellar cast, River deserved the praise of critics such as Cole Smithey, who pronounced, “American drama doesn’t get any more meaty and muscular than this.”

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X-Men: First Class (2011) 86%

While Bacon is certainly no stranger to effects-driven films — heck, he spent a substantial portion of 2000’s Hollow Man as an invisible man — he managed to avoid doing time in a comic book movie until 2011’s X-Men: First Class, which rebooted the moribund franchise by taking the characters back to their beginnings as a freshly assembled team of mutant superheroes. The reason for their coming together? The threat posed by Sebastian Shaw (Bacon), an energy-absorbing sociopath (and former Nazi to boot) who plans on taking over the world. A major box-office hit as well as a perfect opportunity for Bacon to chew some scenery, it also resonated with critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, who wrote, “Preaching mutant pride with endearing fervor, X-Men: First Class proves to be a mutant in its own right — a zestfully radical departure from the latter spawn of a sputtering franchise.”

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The Woodsman (2004) 88%

Actors often sign up to play unappealing characters in order to highlight their diversity — and they don’t come much more unappealing than “ex-con child molester,” all of which is to say that it took a certain amount of guts for Bacon to step into the role of a tormented pedophile struggling to put his life back together in 2004’s The Woodsman. Picking up after his release from prison and focusing on his awkward efforts to build new relationships and move on from the dark secrets of his past, it can be undeniably difficult to watch; as far as most critics were concerned, however, that discomfort paid rich dividends. “To watch this picture is to feel,” pointed out the Globe and Mail’s Rick Groen, “and what you’re feeling is an intense swirl of conflicting emotions — disturbed, creeped-out, sorry, and, yes, even moved.”

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The Big Picture (1989) 88%

Before he developed into a full-fledged cult favorite with movies like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, Christopher Guest made his directorial debut with The Big Picture, a cameo-laden showbiz satire about a young, talented director (Bacon) who learns the hard way that studio politics often wreak havoc on everything from a film’s storyline to a filmmaker’s career. Fittingly, Picture saw its own release derailed when the studio president who greenlit it was fired, but even during its limited theatrical run, it found an enthusiastic audience with critics like Chris Hicks of the Deseret News, who wrote, “All in all this is a terrific comedy that punctures Hollywood’s pretentiousness but is never mean-spirited about it.”

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Diner (1982) 93%

It may seem a little hard to believe in today’s superhero-driven cinematic landscape, but once upon a time, major studios actually did release movies that were about nothing more than ordinary people doing relatively ordinary things. Case in point: Diner, the low-key 1982 character study that acted as the first installment of writer/director Barry Levinson’s series of Baltimore films. Focused on the lives and loves of a group of friends, the narrative begins in 1959, using a series of vignettes to illustrate the way their relationships change; it’s pretty straightforward stuff, but it’s expertly grounded by Levinson’s marvelous script and sensitive direction, not to mention stellar work from a terrific cast of up-and-comers that included Bacon, Ellen Barkin, Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, and Paul Reiser. Observed a prescient Janet Maslin for the New York Times, “Movies like Diner — fresh, well-acted and energetic American movies by new directors with the courage of their convictions — are an endangered species.”

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National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) 90%

Nine times out of 10, scoring a role in a T&A-fueled college sex comedy isn’t a terribly auspicious beginning for a young actor, but in Kevin Bacon’s case, his appearance as the smug Chip Diller in 1978’s Animal House made for a memorable debut — as well as a hugely successful opportunity for a young actor to cut his cinematic teeth with a cast and crew that included such stellar talents as John Belushi, Donald Sutherland, Harold Ramis, and John Landis. Although it didn’t immediately lead to bigger film parts for Bacon, who’d end up in Friday the 13th and daytime serials over the next few years, it marked a solid opening chapter in what would turn into a distinguished career — and provided plenty of laughs for Roger Ebert, who wrote, “The movie is vulgar, raunchy, ribald, and occasionally scatological. It is also the funniest comedy since Mel Brooks made The Producers.”

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Frost/Nixon (2008) 93%

Ron Howard’s best-reviewed film in ages, 2009’s Frost/Nixon 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) — in spite of a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, not the least of which were the loud doubts expressed by Nixon’s chief of staff Jack Brennan (Bacon). 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.”

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Apollo 13 (1995) 96%

This dramatization of NASA’s aborted 1970 lunar mission combined one of star Tom 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 Bacon, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton, and Gary Sinise), Apollo 13 probably would have made decent money even if it had played fast and loose with the real-life details of the launch, but director Ron 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.”

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