Lawrence Kasdan is a four-time Oscar nominee who has made a name for himself as both a writer of successful blockbusters and director of intimate character studies. But how many of those films are classics? Let’s take a look back at 12 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Born in 1949, Kasdan burst onto the scene as a red hot writer with the one-two punch of “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). These highly-profitable adventures paved the way for him to make his directorial debut with the steamy neo-noir “Body Heat” (1981), which starred Kathleen Turner as a sexy seductress who convinces a small-time lawyer (William Hurt) to murder her rich husband.
He reaped his first Oscar nomination just two years later: Best Original Screenplay for the baby boomer dramedy “The Big Chill” (1983). He would earn subsequent bids for the tender romantic comedy “The Accidental Tourist” (Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay in 1988) and the multi-character L.A. drama “Grand Canyon” (Best Original Screenplay in 1991).
Though he’s yet to win an Oscar, Kasdan did receive the WGA prize for “The Big Chill” and the USC Scripter award for “The Accidental Tourist.”
Kasdan has remained active throughout the century, penning scripts for the “Star Wars” reboots “The Force Awakens” (2015) and “Solo” (2018).
Take a tour through our photo gallery of Kasdan’s 12 greatest films both as a writer and director, including a few titles for which he should’ve gotten Oscar nominations.
12. SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)
Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan, based on characters created by George Lucas. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany.
This stand-alone “Star Wars” adventure was plagued with bad press after the firing of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Oscar-winner Ron Howard jumped in to correct the ship, but by then it was too late: public opinion had already been set about “Solo” before anyone had seen it. That’s too bad, because it’s a fairly decent — if somewhat forgettable — origin story of the cynical space swashbuckler (played as a young man by Alden Ehrenreich). Kasdan was hired to pen the script by George Lucas before leaving to complete “The Force Awakens,” passing duties on this one off to his son, Jonathan.
11. WYATT EARP (1994)
Directed by Lawrence Kadan. Written by Dan Gordon and Lawrence Kasdan. Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Catherine O’Hara, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, Tom Sizemore, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham.
“Wyatt Earp” is a noble attempt at turning the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral into a “Lawrence of Arabia”-style epic. Unfortunately, the central event is surrounded by a lot of padding (it runs over three hours), and this version lacks the focus and excitement of previous incarnations. Kevin Costner is the titular town marshal, Dennis Quaid his drunken, sickly sidekick, Doc Holliday. The film holds the rare distinction of competing both at the Oscars for Owen Roizman’s lush cinematography and at the Razzies for basically everything else, winning prizes for Worst Actor (Costner) and Worst Remake or Sequel.
10. THE BODYGUARD (1992)
Directed by Mick Jackson. Written by Lawrence Kasdan. Starring Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston, Gary Kemp, Bill Cobbs, Ralph Waite.
It’s easy to dismiss “The Bodyguard” as pulpy romantic trash, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Kevin Costner stars as a former secret service agent hired to protect a famous R&B singer (Whitney Houston in her acting debut) who’s receiving death threats. A pretty standard thriller is bolstered by Costner and Houston’s chemistry and Kasdan’s screenplay, which at times touches upon the intriguing dynamic at the core of their relationship. The film is probably best remembered for its star’s rendition of the Dolly Parton classic “I Will Always Love You.”
9. SILVERADO (1985)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Written by Lawrence Kasdan and Mark Kasdan. Starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Kevin Costner, Brian Dennehy, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt.
Made at a time when the western was taking a hard look at its complicated past, “Silverado” is a throwback to the entertaining cowboy flicks of yore. It centers on a ragtag group of friends (Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, and Scott Glenn) who come together to fight against the corrupt small town sheriff (Brian Dennehy). An exercise in pure entertainment that finds plenty of material for its four leads and a host of supporting characters, including a double-crossing gambler (Jeff Goldblum) and a pint-sized saloon owner (Linda Hunt). The film earned Oscar nominations for its sound and score.
8. STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)
Directed by J. J. Abrams. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt, based on characters created by George Lucas. Starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow.
Kasdan launched his career penning “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” so it’s not surprising he’d return to that galaxy far, far away to help kick off the long-awaited sequel trilogy. Directed by J.J. Abrams, “The Force Awakens” finds a defected stormtrooper (John Boyega) teaming up with a scavenger (Daisy Ridley) meant for better things. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford reprise their roles as Jedi Luke Skywalker, his resistance-leading sister Leia, and her raffish lover Han Solo, respectively. The film was a massive box office smash and critical favorite, scoring five below-the-line Oscar nominations.
7. GRAND CANYON (1991)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Written by Lawrence Kasdan and Meg Kasdan. Starring Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, Mary McDonnell, Mary-Louise Parker, Alfre Woodard.
Before there was “This Is Us,” there was “Grand Canyon,” Kasdan’s own attempt at showing the disparate events that connect us as a species. It all starts when a white yuppie (Kevin Kline) befriends an African American tow truck driver (Danny Glover) after his car breaks down in a rough L.A. neighborhood. He sets his new pal up with a friend (Alfre Woodard) of his secretary (Mary-Louise Parker), who holds a candle for her boss. Meanwhile, his wife (Mary McDonnell) finds an abandoned baby and a movie producer (Steve Martin) is wounded in a robbery. Kasdan earned an Oscar nomination for his script (co-written by his wife, Meg Kasdan), which highlights our essential goodness in spite of our difficulties.
6. STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
Directed by Richard Marquand. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, story by Lucas. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz.
After the groundbreaking success of “Star Wars” and its sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi” is a bit of a let-down, a film made up of brilliant parts that never quite coalesces as a whole. Still, most of those part remain exciting and iconic, providing this (at the time) concluding chapter with a rosy reputation. After rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Jabba the Hut, the rebels continue their fight against the forces of the dark side. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), meanwhile, must reconcile his feelings for his father, Darth Vader. The film earned four Oscar nominations, winning a special achievement prize for visual effects.
5. THE BIG CHILL (1983)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Written by Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek. Starring Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams.
“The Big Chill” is one of those generation-defining movies that comes along when a peer-group — in this case the baby boomers — hit their 30’s. A group of former college classmates gather to bury one of their own (an uncredited Kevin Costner) who has committed suicide. They spend the weekend together at a winter home in South Carolina, where they reflect upon their waning youth and ponder their future, all while grooving out to a stellar ’60’s soundtrack. Kasdan draws fantastic performances out of his all-star ensemble, including Glenn Close in an Oscar-nominated turn. The film competed for Best Picture and brought the filmmaker his first bid for screenwriting (shared with co-writer Barbara Benedek).
4. STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
Directed by Irvin Kershner. Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, story by George Lucas. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz.
Kasdan made a name for himself by taking over screenwriting duties from the late Leigh Brackett (“The Big Sleep”) on “The Empire Strikes Back.” Together, they penned the best “Star Wars” film: rich and complex, dark and provocative, as well as quick-witted and fun. This second entry in the series finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) training under the impish Jedi master Yoda (Frank Oz). Meanwhile, the rebels must fight against the evil Empire and Darth Vader, who’s got a surprise up his sleeve for young Skywalker. The film took home an Oscar for its sound, plus a special achievement prize for visual effects.
3. THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (1988)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Screenplay by Frank Galati and Lawrence Kasdan, based on the novel by Anne Tyler. Starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Geena Davis, Bill Pullman, Amy Wright, David Ogden Stires, Ed Begley Jr.
“The Accidental Tourist” begins in misery and ends with a big twinkle in its eye. William Hurt stars as a travel guide writer who specializes in telling businessmen how to best avoid human contact while on the road. His heart is broken by the sudden death of his son and the departure of his wife (Kathleen Turner), but a quirky dog trainer (Supporting Actress winner Geena Davis) and his oddball family just might melt his icy exterior. Kasdan handles this material with humor, kindness, and empathy, creating a delicate study of relationships bolstered by terrific performances. He earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, while the film also competed for John Williams’ melodic score.
2. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott.
Following the success of “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” cemented Kasdan’s reputation as a hot screenwriter, paving the way for his eventual success as a director. It was also a comeback for Steven Spielberg, who had something to prove after the failure of “1941.” Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones, an adventurous archeologist hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant. Packed to the brim with exciting set pieces – including the famous opening where Jones is chased by a giant boulder – “Raiders” is a loving homage to the serials that inspired Spielberg and producer George Lucas. The film was a sensation, spawning three sequels and winning Oscars for its art direction, film editing, sound, and visual effects (plus an honorary prize for sound editing).
1. BODY HEAT (1981)
Written and Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J. A. Preston, Mickey Rourke.
Kasdan made his directorial debut with this sexy, stylish neo-noir that both pays homage to the genre while reinventing it. Set in Florida during a scorching summer, “Body Heat” stars William Hurt as a small-time lawyer who falls under the spell of an alluring seductress (Kathleen Turner in her movie debut) who wants him to murder her rich husband. Kasdan packs the film with so much steam you just might need a shower after watching it, creating a palpable sexual tension between his two leads. He also provides his actors with some juicy roles, including supporting players Ted Danson as Hurt’s best friend, Richard Crenna as Turner’s doomed spouse, and Mickey Rourke as a helpful arsonist.