Sometimes it feels like Ron Howard has been around forever. Although the actor/director is in his 60’s, he’s been a star in TV and movies for over 55 years. From his early days playing Andy Griffith‘s son Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show” to his directing of the latest “Star Wars” story, “Solo,” the unassuming Howard still finds himself the center of attention.
Now primarily known as a director, Howard has won two Academy Awards — for producing and directing 2001’s Best Picture winner “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe — and has two more nominations to his credit for producing and directing 2008 nominee “Frost/Nixon” starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella.
With “Solo” in theaters, let’s take a photo gallery tour of his 15 greatest feature films, ranked from worst to best. Keep in mind that our gallery strictly focuses on his directing career and leaves out his terrific work as an actor in movies. Our gallery does include such wonderful movies as “Apollo 13,” “Splash,” “Cocoon,” “Parenthood” and more.
15. WILLOW (1988)
Howard’s big budget fantasy film, based on a story by George Lucas, received mixed reviews from critics but has since become a cult favorite among fantasy film buffs. Val Kilmer portrays a swordsman, but the film is completely stolen by Warwick Davis as the title character, a resourceful dwarf who plays a key role in protecting the infant from the dastardly queen.
14. FAR AND AWAY (1992)
Although “Far and Away” was clearly sold as “A Ron Howard Film,” it soon became known far and wide as “The Tom and Nicole Movie.” The epic story of Irish immigrants who come to America to seek a better life in the 1890s is almost forgotten today, replaced instead in the public’s mind as the film in which Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman became America’s new power couple onscreen.
13. THE DA VINCI CODE (2006)
Though not exactly Howard’s best reviewed film ever, “The Da Vinci Code” is by far his biggest-grossing film, earning over $217 million in the U.S. alone and over $758 million worldwide. The story focused on a professor/detective (Tom Hanks) who is searching for a code embedded in Da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper.”
12. GRAND THEFT AUTO (1977)
Thanks to producer Roger Corman, Howard got his first-time shot at directing with this genre picture that was designed for the drive-in crowd (back in the day when there were drive-in theaters everywhere). The plot is fairly simple: Sam Freeman (Howard) and his girlfriend Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan) decide to elope, but their flight is an affront to their friends who decide to take to the road themselves to try and stop them.
11. BACKDRAFT (1991)
This story is about firefighters in Chicago who seek the identity of a serial arsonist who fires are taking the lives of their colleagues. Despite an all-star cast, the real stars of the film are the sound and visual effects craftsmen (in fact, “Backdraft’s” three Academy Award nominations were in those very categories).
10. THE PAPER (1994)
In an era in which current newspaper dramas are based on historical events (“Spotlight,” “The Post”), it’s refreshing to look back at a film in which print journalism is the setting for what is essentially a workplace comedy/drama. Here Howard is reunited with his “Night Shift” breakout star Michael Keaton as a harried editor of a fictional big-city paper determined to solve the murder of two businessmen.
9. NIGHT SHIFT (1982)
“Grand Theft Auto” proved to be enough of a calling card for Howard to get his second film, the morgue-set comedy “Night Shift,” distributed by a major studio (Warner Bros.). It may have been designed as a feature-film vehicle for his “Happy Days” co-star Henry Winkler, but once the public got a glimpse at Keaton‘s renegade Bill “Blaze” Blazejowski, that was the ball game.
8. CINDERELLA MAN (2005)
Based on the life of famed boxer James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), Howard’s film biography evokes a detailed sense of period for the early 20th century. The boxing scenes are superbly edited, and Crowe’s confident performance makes you feel that he really is a boxer. Add to that his chemistry with Renee Zellweger as his worried wife and an Oscar nominated performance by Paul Giamatti as his manager, and you’ve got one of Howard’s stronger films.
7. RUSH (2013)
Howard received some of his best reviews in recent years with this look into the world of Formula 1 motor-racing and the real-life rivalry between top drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Critics particularly praised Howard’s decision to downplay the film’s racing scenes (although they are there and are particularly well done) and emphasize the complicated relationship between the two men.
6. PARENTHOOD (1989)
Howard is used to working with large casts, but his film “Parenthood” boasts 17 major characters in its look at what it takes to keep a large family together and thriving. Based on parental experiences from production dads Howard, writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel and producer Brian Grazer, “Parenthood” was a significant critical and box-office hit.
5. A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001)
Simply in terms of awards, “A Beautiful Mind” remains the apex of Howard’s directorial career. The biographical drama about the efforts of Nobel Prize-winning economist John Nash (Russell Crowe) to deal with his paranoid schizophrenia received strong critical support across the board and swept most of the major awards for which it was nominated that year.
4. FROST/NIXON (2008)
Howard’s biggest challenge in directing the film adaptation of Peter Morgan‘s Tony Award-nominated play was to make cinematic a story that was basically two guys sitting in a chair. The electricity was generated by his two main characters — British journalist David Frost (Michael Sheen) interviewing former U.S. President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella).
3. COCOON (1985)
Howard hit a home run with young and senior audiences alike with this science-fiction heartwarmer with a geriatric twist. The script focuses on a number of residents in a Florida retirement home who occasionally trespass to use the pool in the home next door, thinking that the house is empty. It’s definitely not. Aliens from the planet Antarea have set up shop there, hoping to resuscitate fellow aliens being housed in cocoons off the coast. Don Ameche won an Oscar for his performance.
2. SPLASH (1984)
“Splash” was the first of Howard’s films to get onto the awards radar, earning an Oscar nomination for its original screenplay. The film also marked the first leading role for Tom Hanks, with whom Howard has now made five films in total. The romance between a human (Hanks) and a mermaid (Daryl Hannah) struck a chord with audiences and lifted Howard’s work to the next level where critics began to take his direction seriously.
1. APOLLO 13 (1995)
One of Howard’s most critically-acclaimed films, “Apollo 13” focuses on America’s third mission to put a man on the moon, a mission that was fraught with potential disaster when, en route to the moon, an explosion on board imperiled the mission and threatened to take the lives of the astronauts in the capsule. Rather then making it a strictly action movie, Howard instead took the approach of making it a character study, not only of the men whose lives were threatened but also of the people on the ground trying to get them home safely.