Burt Reynolds might seem like a yesteryear superstar with all the stereotypes about fading away therein, but he’s been much more than that. Born in 1936, Reynolds wasn’t the typical movie actor at all. He had come up from the rich and resonant world of television, and throughout his career, he never forgot his roots.
Reynolds forged a reputation, first as a series regular on ‘Gunsmoke’, a television Western drama, then making the jump to the big screen seamlessly. He was undeniably one of the most popular actors of the 1970s and early 1980s, with his serious movies complementing his playboy image and fun-loving personality. He regularly made appearances on television, most prominently in ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’. Carson was one of his closest associates.
Reynolds’ filmography highlights the actor’s versatility in playing both sombre and comic roles. Although the wider critical consensus is that he could have had a more fruitful career had he not squandered his talents, the fact remains that Burt Reynolds is one of the most significant performers over the last five decades. Here is the list of top 12 Burt Reynolds movie performances.
12. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
Colin Higgins creates a frolicking musical comedy in his final directorial venture. ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ is an adept adaptation of the eponymous 1978 Broadway musical.
Reynolds didn’t have a stellar experience of working on musicals prior to this, however in this particular film, he is very much assured. His performance as Sheriff Ed Dodd of Gilbert in Texas blends impressively with that of Dolly Parton’s star turn as Mona Stangley, owner of the ‘Chicken Ranch’, a brothel on the outskirts of town.
Reynolds is a perfect picture as the upstanding sheriff who’s in a relationship with the bordello madam. The film does an admirable job of painting a multilayered picture of the world’s oldest profession. It tries to remove the typical censure that prostitution typically receives, through its well-drawn characters.
11. The Longest Yard (1974)
In 1974, Reynolds played the role of Paul Crewe, a star quarterback brought into disrepute by his utterly irresponsible actions. He’s arrested, and is humiliated by his fellow inmates who don’t respect him for his alleged match-fixing controversy.
The prison’s sadistic warden coerces Crewe to make a team of prisoners to play against his team of guards to boost his reputation and win a championship. What follows is a tale of commendable rebellion and teamwork. Reynolds’ performance is zesty as the leader of his ragtag group who takes a stand against the domineering prison system. Incidentally, he received his first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for this role.
10. The Man Who Loved Women (1983)
One wouldn’t normally expect a thoroughly American star as Reynolds to star in a remake of a French dramedy by François Truffaut, but here he is.
Reynolds is hilarious as the sex-crazed artist who loses his touch with his talents through meaningless flings. He is ably supported by Julie Andrews as the psychiatrist who helps him through his hopeless addiction. Director Blake Andrews paints a great picture of sex and love, and how balance and discipline is necessary to sustain one’s skills.
9. Sharky’s Machine (1981)
‘Sharky’s Machine’ was Reynolds’ third venture as director, and still remains a highly praised film. This crime drama was based on William Diehl’s literary debut, and was praised for the fidelity it maintained towards its grim and impactful themes.
The film has Reynolds in the role of a narcotics sergeant looking out to redeem himself after his disgraceful demotion. Supported by Dominoe (Rachel Ward), Papa (Brian Keith), Arch (Bernie Casey), and Nosh (RIchard Libertini), Sharky meticulously plans to take down a dangerous mob boss Victor (Vittorio Gassman) and his politician stooge Hotchkins (Earl Holliman). ‘Sharky’s Machine’ is an exciting action drama in the mould of noir cinema.
8. Citizen Ruth (1996)
Most of Reynolds’ prominent films were released throughout the 1970s and 80s. However, Reynolds was on the wane in the 90s. This makes ‘Citizen Ruth’ slightly more significant in his oeuvre.
This charming film takes on the complex issue of the abortion debate head-on, without any vacillation whatsoever. While Laura Dern is the exciting lead as an irresponsible mother who unwittingly finds herself in the mess, Reynolds stars as the leader of the pro-life faction in the film. Alexander Payne’s directorial debut is impressive in how accurately it exposes the underlying hypocrisy, and underhanded tactics of this perpetual debate.
7. Semi-Tough (1977)
Billy Puckett (Reynolds) forms one part of an understated love triangle with Marvin Tiller (Kris Kristofferson) and Barbara Bookman (Jill Clayburgh) in this Michael Ritchie comedy. The light-hearted film takes place in the world of American football, and is an uproarious parody of the game in all respects.
However, this parody is different from ‘The Longest Yard’ in the sense that it is more of a biting satire against the rising self-help movements and alternative medicine propaganda. Reynolds shines as one of the leads, bringing in a terrific honesty and awareness to his role.
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