Burt Reynolds was the Oscar-nominated actor who remained active up until his death in 2018, starring in dozens of movies and TV shows. But how many of his titles remain classics? Let’s take a look back at 12 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
In the 1970s, Reynolds was arguably the biggest movie star in the world. He had made his name through television, appearing as a regular for 50 episodes on the hit series “Gunsmoke,” then headlining his own series, “Hawk” and “Dan August.” But then Reynolds got his big break in feature films, co-starring in the John Boorman classic “Deliverance” (1972).
Though Reynolds was soon starring in such box-office hits as “The Longest Yard” and “Smokey and the Bandit,” he never abandoned television, utilizing such talk shows as “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” (where he was one of the funniest guests ever) to hone his image, strutting on as a sex symbol and then acting like an utter goofball once he sat the guest’s chair. The contrast between the Cosmopolitan centerfold and the delightful talk show guest endeared Reynolds to moviegoers.
In between his more serious films, such as 1979’s “Starting Over,” Reynolds liked to star in fun romps featuring his friends such as Dom DeLuise and Charles Nelson Reilly, both of whom joined Reynolds for the “Cannonball Run” series of films, probably the best of Reynolds’ “fun film” period as it followed a coast-to-coast car race filled with guest stars (Frank Sinatra! Dean Martin! Sammy Davis, Jr.! Jackie Chan!) and lots of character bits.
When roles began to dry up in the early 1990s, Reynolds again returned to television, winning a Best Actor Emmy for his role in the CBS sitcom “Evening Shade.” Reynolds was back on the show-biz radar, which led to Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Boogie Nights,” which finally earned him his first Golden Globe for film and his first Academy Award nomination.
Let’s take a look back and rank the 12 best films of Burt Reynolds’ career in our photo gallery.
12. THE LONGEST YARD (2005)
Director: Peter Segal. Writer: Sheldon Turner. Starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, James Cromwell, Burt Reynolds.
There have been a number of occasions when a film or TV show has been rebooted, and the actors who originated the roles in the first version are given a small part in the new film. Not so with the 2005 remake of “The Longest Yard.” Here director Peter Segal pays much respect to Reynolds, star of the 1974 original, by giving him the meaty role of the team’s coach (originally played by the late Michael Conrad), and Reynolds tears into it, showing that he’s still got it.
11. SHARKY’S MACHINE (1981)
Director: Burt Reynolds. Writer: Gerald Di Pego. Starring Burt Reynolds, Vittorio Gassman, Brian Keith, Charles Durning, Rachel Ward.
Reynolds’ third go-round as director, “Sharky’s Machine,” based on the novel by William Diehl, remains one of the actor’s best-reviewed films, with critics particularly praising his surprising restraint in this tale of a disgraced cop who has been demoted to the vice squad and aims to regain his reputation by using a high-class call girl’s apartment as a base, hoping to bring down a mob boss and the politician he has in his pocket.
10. THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN (1983)
Director: Blake Edwards. Writers: Blake Edwards, Milton Wexler, Geoffrey Edwards. Starring Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Kim Basinger.
In this unlikely remake of the 1977 François Truffaut film, Reynolds plays David Fowler, a sculptor whose desire for women has caused him to lose his artistic ability as well as his sexual prowess. In an effort to help rectify the situation, he sees an attractive psychologist (Julie Andrews), with whom he embarks on a sexual affair. While the film was a financial failure, watching Reynolds hone his comedic skills with Blake Edwards was almost worth the price of admission.
9. CITIZEN RUTH (1996)
Director: Alexander Payne. Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor. Starring Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith, Mary Kay Place, Burt Reynolds, Tippi Hedren.
Until “Boogie Nights” came along, Reynolds’ career in the 1990s was a bit on the sleepy side, so the chance to work with young filmmaker Alexander Payne, even in a small role, might have been seen as enticing to the movie star. In this tale of a poor, pregnant young woman (Laura Dern) being used as a pawn in a struggle over abortion rights, Reynolds plays the king of the pro-life movement in one of his rare political roles.
8. THE END (1978)
Director: Burt Reynolds. Writer: Jerry Belson. Starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Sally Field, Strother Martin, Joanne Woodward, Myrna Loy.
After his first time in the director’s chair with “Gator,” Reynolds’ second film took a huge risk with regard to subject matter — suicide as comedy. Here Reynolds plays a shady real estate promoter with a fatal blood disease, and rather than endure a slow painful death, he tries and fails to commit suicide. That failure sends him to a sanitarium, where he asks a fellow patient, murderer Marlon Borunki (Dom DeLuise), to do the deed. It’s a tricky tone that Reynolds pulls off well.
7. THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982)
Director: Colin Higgins. Writers: Colin Higgins, Larry L. King, Peter Masterson, based on the musical by King and Masterson. Starring Burt Reynolds, Dolly Parton, Dom LeLuise, Charles Durning, Jim Nabors.
Who would’ve pegged the uber-macho Reynolds for a song-and-dance man? He stars in this splashy adaptation of the Broadway hit as a small town Texas sheriff assisting a local madame (Dolly Parton, steaing the show with her lavish costumes) in keeping her brothel from closing when a nosy TV reporter (Dom DeLuise) tries to shut it down. Charles Durning earned a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination as the show-stopping governor, while Parton competed at the Golden Globes for Best Comedy/Musical Actress. But where was the recognition for Reynolds, who holds his own with this colorful cast of characters?
6. SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977)
Director: Hal Needham. Writers: James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, Alan Mandel. Starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed.
While no one can mistake Hal Needham’s “Smokey and the Bandit” as an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, it is unquestionably an iconic film of the 1970s, with Reynolds as Bandit in his red shirt, grey cowboy hat and Pontiac Trans Am. While the plot is negligible — hauling 400 cases of Coors beer — the most memorable scenes involve Bandit and his nemesis, the appropriately named Sheriff Buford T. Justice, played to the hilt by comedy legend Jackie Gleason.
5. THE LONGEST YARD (1974)
Director: Robert Aldrich. Writer: Tracy Keenan Wynn. Starring Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad.
In Robert Aldrich’s football comedy, Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Reynolds) is a former pro football player who is sent to prison for stealing his girlfriend’s car. Once there, he organizes a team of prisoners who play an football exhibition game against a team of guards who cockily head onto the field, sure that they will beat Crewe’s ragtag losers. For his performance as Crewe, Reynolds received his first Golden Globe nomination as Best Actor.
4. SEMI-TOUGH (1977)
Director: Michael Ritchie. Writers: Walter Bernstein, Michael Ritchie. Starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh, Robert Preston, Lotte Lenya.
While it might seem that this pro football comedy directed by Michael Ritchie is covering the same territory as “The Longest Yard,” Ritchie and Walter Bernstein’s script, based on the best-seller by Dan Jenkins, is much more of a satire of the self-help movement of the 1970s. Although the topical target of the satire, Werner Ehrhard’s program “est” has faded into oblivion, it serves the useful purpose as a springboard to a classic romantic comedy, a premise that is timeless.
3. STARTING OVER (1979)
Director: Alan J. Pakula. Writers: James L. Brooks, Alan Wakefield. Starring Burt Reynolds, Jill Clayburgh, Candice Bergen, Charles Durning, Frances Sternhagen.
In this Alan J. Pakula romantic comedy, Reynolds played a rare role for him as Phil, a New York professional who leaves his unfaithful wife (Candice Bergen) and moves back to his family in Boston where he is romantically set up with with a nursery-school teacher (Jill Clayburgh), and together they begin what is often a rocky romance. For his performance as Phil, Reynolds earned his second Golden Globe nomination as Best Actor.
2. BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)
Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham.
For many, “Boogie Nights” is the pinnacle of Reynolds’ career so far. In the Paul Thomas Anderson film, he plays Jack Horner, a porn filmmaker who discovers Eddie Adams, a handsome and endowed young man who will henceforth be known as Dirk Diggler. And the rest is porn history. For his performance as Jack, Reynolds won his first Golden Globe Award for film, as well as earning his first Academy Award nomination and his second Screen Actors Guild Award nod.
1. DELIVERANCE (1972)
Director: John Boorman. Writer: James Dickey, based on his novel. Starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox.
Still, for me, there was nothing like the shock of the moment when I saw Reynolds in John Borrman’s “Deliverance.” At first I thought, “What’s that guy from ‘Gunsmoke’ doing in a John Boorman film?” Then it turned to “You know, he’s not bad,” finally ending with “Damn, he’s good.” His performance as super-macho Lewis Medlock and his bow-and-arrow made Reynolds a film star with a performance that he rarely, if ever, equaled.