Academy Award winner Michael Douglas has had a career of almost 50 years in feature films, beginning with his first credited performance in 1969’s “Hail, Hero!” and returning to the screen this month in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” It is remarkable that after such a lengthy career, Douglas has found a new generation of fans, now that he has become part of the Marvel universe.
In his distinguished career, Douglas has been nominated for two Oscars and won both of them — as producer of the 1975 Best Picture winner “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and as Best Actor for 1987’s “Wall Street.” For his film work, he has also been nominated for nine Golden Globe Awards, winning three — two for producing “Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Romancing the Stone” and one for his performance in “Wall Street.” And as a member of the cast of 2000’s “Traffic,” Douglas won a Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the Ensemble. One of his biggest box office successes was also “Fatal Attraction” opposite Glenn Close.
Now that the proud son of screen legend Kirk Douglas has returned as Hank Pym along side Ant-Man, let’s take a tour of his 14 greatest movies, ranked from worst to best.films in the career.
14. A CHORUS LINE (1985)
When the Broadway production of “A Chorus Line” premiered in 1975, it won most of the critical awards that year at the expense of his main musical rival, Bob Fosse‘s “Chicago.” However, when the musicals were turned into films, the Rob Marshall-directed “Chicago” (2002) was the one that was critically acclaimed, while Richard Attenborough‘s adaptation of “A Chorus Line” was the critical also-ran.
13. HAIL, HERO! (1969)
Douglas’ first credited screen role was as college student Carl Dixon, who, during the Vietnam War, decides to leave school and volunteer for the military in hopes of fostering peace and love from within the ranks of the Army. Although the film’s storyline now feels very much of its time, Douglas’ screen debut brought him considerable attention.
12. FALLING DOWN (1993)
In Joel Schumacher‘s thriller, Douglas takes on an everyman role as William Foster, a laid-off defense worker, who abandons his overheated car in traffic and begins to walk across Los Angeles in an effort to get to his young daughter’s birthday party. On the way, however, he is beset by every kind of urban horror imaginable, from street gangs to white supremacists, in his Odyssey-like quest to make it to his daughter’s home.
11. THE GAME (1997)
David Fincher‘s complex puzzle-like film features Douglas as rich investment banker Nicholas van Orton, who is given a birthday gift by his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) of participation in a game that Conrad swears will alter his brother’s life. Once Nicholas finds himself in the midst of The Game, however, he finds that it promises not to change his life but instead looks to threaten it.
10. ANT-MAN (2015)
Douglas received a late-career boost in Peyton Reed’s Marvel film as physicist Hank Pym, who was once that original Ant-Man and is now searching for just the right person to shrink. Douglas brings a kind of a world-weariness to the role that is absolutely appropriate and has given his career a big boost thanks to the film’s sequel “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
9. ROMANCING THE STONE (1984)
Douglas began a sub-career as a dashing romantic adventurer in Robert Zemeckis‘ box-office hit, in which he plays Jack, an exotic bird handler who teams up with romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), who has come to South America desperate to find her kidnapped sister. The comedy/adventure proved to be so popular that it led to a Douglas/Turner sequel, 1985’s “The Jewel of the Nile.”
8. THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989)
The undeniable chemistry between Douglas and Turner was given a third outing in Danny DeVito‘s very black comedy about attorney Oliver Rose (Douglas) who finds himself in an increasingly bitter divorce case with his angry wife Barbara (Turner), who will stop at nothing to get Oliver out of the house and end her misery.
7. WONDER BOYS (2000)
Douglas earned his fifth Golden Globe nomination for his film acting in Curtis Hanson‘s “Wonder Boys” as Professor Grady Tripp, who teaches creative writing at a Pittsburgh-area university. He has written one novel and is having problems finishing his second, so he distracts himself by having an affair with Sara (Frances McDormand), who just happens to be the husband of his English department boss (Richard Thomas).
6. TRAFFIC (2000)
Although he is first-billed, Douglas is very much an ensemble player under Steven Soderbergh‘s Oscar-winning direction in this multi-layer story about the war on drugs. Douglas plays conservative judge Robert Wakefield, who works his way up to be appointed the nation’s drug czar, only to quickly learn that the war against drugs is simply not winnable.
5. BASIC INSTINCT (1992)
Paul Verhoeven‘s “Basic Instinct” is one of the most iconic films of the 1990s, but, as good as he is in the film (and he is good), the reason for that is definitely not Douglas. Although it is difficult to compete with Sharon Stone in that chair when she uncrosses her legs, Douglas’ police detective Nick Curran grounds the procedural in reality while Stone sends it spinning into sexual fantasy.
4. THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995)
Beloved in many political quarters, Rob Reiner‘s film provided Douglas with one of the juiciest roles of his career as President Andrew Shepherd, a widower who is preparing to run for another term but who runs into romance when he encounters environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). Whether or not you like Aaron Sorkin‘s scripts, he does know politics and he does know character, and he gives Douglas plenty of character to chew on.
3. THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979)
It’s rare that a film makes front-page headlines when real life intercedes with a movie plot, but it happened in 1979 with the release of “The China Syndrome,” a film about a fictional meltdown of a nuclear reactor, a premise that some skeptics felt was far-fetched at the time. Twelve days later, the exact same thing happened at Three Mile Island, PA. With Oscar winners Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda and Douglas on board, a movie thriller never seemed so relevant.
2. FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)
One of the more significant films to influence the culture since its release, Adrian Lyne‘s erotic thriller stars Douglas as lawyer Don Gallagher, who has what he thinks is a weekend fling with editor Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) while his family is away. But when Alex refuses to let go and becomes threatening when Don doesn’t return her clinging affection, the audience’s sympathy unexpectedly turns toward Douglas’ character, even as Alex warns him, “I won’t be ignored.”
1. WALL STREET (1988)
Arguably, Douglas’ most famous role, corporate raider Gordon Gekko epitomized to many the selfishness of those who had been making a killing on Wall Street, with Gekko’s famous line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” For his performance as Gekko, Douglas earned his second Academy Award (and his first for acting) and his third Golden Globe Award (his second for acting). The film’s success also generated a sequel, 2010’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” which earned Douglas his sixth Golden Globe nomination for acting.