Given that the Sundance Kid has been acting since he was 21, racking up 78 credits in film and on TV along the way (according to IMDB), no one can say he hasn’t paid his dues and then some. That Redford received just one acting Oscar nomination for his con man in 1972’s “The Sting” seems, well, a little stingy. However, the Academy voters have a habit of shunning so-called “pretty boys” – just look at what Leonardo DiCaprio suffered through in “The Revenant” to deserve winning the gold on his fifth try.
However, what this Electric Cowboy did NOT say is that he is quitting directing. In fact, Redford has impressed Oscar most when he goes behind the camera and calls the shots – even if a few of his movies possess dubious reputations. Tour our birthday photo gallery above for a ranking of all nine of his film-making efforts, from worst to best.
9. LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007)
How can a war drama about the on-going conflict in Afghanistan with this much star power be so boring? When there is too much talk and not much action. Redford’s college professor, Andrew Garfield’s disillusioned student, Meryl Streep’s liberal TV journalist and Tom Cruise’s Republican senator and presidential hopeful share their world views but never fully draw the audience into their discussion.
8. THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (2012)
Redford, directing himself again, stars as an aging anti-war radical from the ‘60s — wanted for a bank robbery and murder — who has successfully kept a low profile ever since. That is, until the arrest of another militant (Susan Sarandon) puts Shia LeBeouf’s ambitious reporter on his trail. This thriller that sheds a contemporary light on protesters of the Vietnam War, earned respectable reviews but was underseen.
7. THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE (2000)
This mystical and mystifying golf allegory has not held up well over time with its premise that is predicated on Will Smith’s black caddie devoting himself to helping Matt Damon’s white war-veteran tournament player get his mojo back. But it is also a rather stodgy fantasy, given that the sport in question is less than action-packed. Even in its day, critics decried its “magical African-American” manipulations and the star power of the cast and lovely camerawork offers little compensation.
6. THE CONSPIRATOR (2011)
Redford focuses on events following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as Robin Wright’s boarding-house owner Mary Surratt becomes a scapegoat in the conspiracy after providing lodging for John Wilkes Booth and others involved. Primarily a courtroom drama, with James McAvoy‘s Union soldier acting as Surratt’s lawyer, it benefits from a historical event not universally known and a strong cast of players.
5. THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR (1988)
A valentine to the arid beauty of New Mexico and its Spanish-Indian-Chicano culture. A protest film that pits agricultural concerns against job-creating land development. A Capra-esque fable infused with magical realism complete with a guardian angel. Alas, Redford’s good intentions never quite mesh in this character-stuffed ensemble piece but the colorful and capable diverse cast offers compensations.
4. THE HORSE WHISPERER (1998)
A teen girl (Scarlett Johansson) and her horse are physically and mentally scarred after surviving a horrible accident. Her magazine editor mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), desperate to heal both, hires an unconventional so-called “horse whisperer” (Redford, directing himself for the first time) to bring them back to life. The fact that the title remains a go-to joke decades later attests to the movie’s staying power while Redford plays to his own strengths — troubled families, gorgeous scenery and plain old good story-telling.
3. A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992)
This coming-of-age period piece revels in outdoorsy Big Sky splendor (hence, its Oscar for cinematography) as Redford himself narrates a tale about a Presbyterian minister and his two sons — one a nice upstanding lad (Craig Sheffer), the other a rowdy rule breaker (Brad Pitt) — and their love of fly-fishing. Pitt looks and feels like Redford’s doppelganger as the sun bounces off his blonde hair. And if anyone can make this sport seem sexy, it is Brad in his boyish prime serving as box-office bait for the masses.
2. QUIZ SHOW (1994)
Redford picked up four Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for this ambitious true account of the TV quiz-show scandals in the ‘50s. The movie centers on the tension between John Turturro’s gruff know-it-all champ who is replaced by Ralph Fiennes, his suave successor. This son of a literary lion who is fed answers ahead of time is desperate to please his father (Paul Scofield). Redford once again did right with by his actors but, despite good reviews, “Quiz Show” wasn’t the right answer to big box office receipts.
1. ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980)
“Raging Bull” fans still fume over how Redford snagged best picture and director his first time out instead of their hero, Martin Scorsese. But rather than body blows, voters were in the mood for a WASP-y suburban family traumatized over the death of a son and his guilt-ridden brother. Timothy Hutton in his debut remains the youngest supporting actor winner ever. But the real standout is Mary Tyler Moore, her perky TV persona erased, as a brittle mother who resents her imperfect surviving child.