Rob Reiner is the multi-hyphenate who has excelled both in front of and behind the camera for over 50 years, starting as an actor before moving into directing. Let’s take a look back at 12 of his greatest films as a director, ranked worst to best.
Reiner was born into the business as the son of performer Estelle Reiner and comedian Carl Reiner, creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He shot to fame on television with his role as Mike “Meathead” Stivic, the liberal son-in-law to buffoonish bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) on “All in the Family.” The series brought him two Emmys as Best Comedy Supporting Actor (1974 and 1978). His victory, in fact, made the show the first to ever win acting prizes for all four of its leads, with O’Connor and Jean Stapleton prevailing in lead and Sally Struthers in supporting.
He transitioned into filmmaking with the rock mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984), which starred Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer as a clueless British punk band touring the U.S. From there, he would dip his toes into a variety of genres, including the coming-of-age story “Stand by Me” (1986), the fantasy adventure “The Princess Bride” (1987), the romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), the psychological thriller “Misery” (1990), the courtroom drama “A Few Good Men” (1992), and the political love story “The American President” (1995).
Reiner received only one Oscar nomination in his career for producing the Best Picture nominee “A Few Good Men.” That film, along with “Stand by Me” and “When Harry Met Sally” brought him directing nominations at the DGA and Golden Globes. He earned an additional Globe bid for helming “The American President.”
Not one to shun the spotlight, Reiner has remained active in front of the camera, appearing in such films as “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), “Bullets Over Broadway” (1994), “Primary Colors” (1998) and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013).
Tour our photo gallery of Reiner’s 12 greatest films as a director, including a few for which he should’ve received Oscar nominations.
12. LBJ (2017)
Written by Joey Hartstone. Starring Woody Harrelson, Michael Stahl-David, Richard Jenkins, Bill Pullman, Jeffrey Donovan, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
“LBJ” had the misfortune of hitting theaters shortly after HBO’s made-for-TV adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play “All the Way” (2016), with Bryan Cranston reprising his stage role as the 36th US president. Joey Hartstone’s script covers pretty much the same ground as Robert Schenkkan’s play, starting with Johnson (here played by Woody Harrelson) ascending to the White House after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and ending with him passing the Civil Rights Act in 1964. So needless to say, the reception to this one was a bit of “been there, done that.” Yet its Harrelson’s towering performance as the bombastic, colorful Commander in Chief that makes this film worth seeing.
11. GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI (1996)
Written by Lewis Colick. Starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods, Craig T. Nelson, Lucas Black, Virginia Madsen, Susanna Thompson, Diane Ladd, Bill Cobbs, William H. Macy.
You can’t fault the good intentions of “Ghosts of Mississippi,” but you can fault the filmmaking. It tells the true story of how assistant District Attorney Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin) agreed to help Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers (Whoopi Goldberg), bring her husband’s killer to justice. By focusing its attentions on Baldwin’s character while largely sidelining Goldberg’s, it rightfully earns the dubious title of “white savior film” and misses an opportunity for real emotional resonance. Supporting Actor-nominee James Woods provides the only real drama with his turn as Byron De La Beckwith, the virulent racist who gunned Evers down in 1963 and escaped justice for 30 years, much to his snarling delight.
10. FLIPPED (2010)
Screenplay by Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman, based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen. Starring Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Penelope Ann Miller, Aidan Quinn.
Reiner is nothing if not nostalgic, and “Flipped” finds him once again exploring what it meant to grow up in a much simpler time. It starts in 1957, when second-graders Bryce Loski and Juli Baker first meet. As they grow into adolescents (played by Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll), they find themselves falling in love despite being total opposites. Those hoping for another “Stand by Me” may be disappointed. But those in the mood for a sweet-natured look at the perils of young love will be pleasantly surprised. John Mahoney is a standout (in his last movie role) as Bryce’s all-knowing grandfather.
9. THE SURE THING (1985)
Written by Steven L. Bloom and Jonathan Roberts. Starring John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Viveca Lindfors, Nicollette Sheridan, Anthony Edwards, Tim Robbins.
“The Sure Thing” arrived at a time when multiplexes were filled with a seemingly endless amount of “Porky’s” knock-offs, centering on lecherous teenagers chasing empty sexual conquests while giggling about it. So it’s almost revolutionary to see an adolescent comedy based in genuine romance. John Cusack stars as a college student embarking on a cross-country journey in order to get laid with someone his friend describes as “a sure thing” (Nicollette Sheridan). But he ends up on sharing a ride with a coed (Daphne Zuniga) he can’t stand, and romance blossoms. Though you can easily predict the outcome, it’s still satisfying because by the end, you’re rooting for these opposites to attract.
8. THE BUCKET LIST (2007)
Written by Justin Zackham. Starring Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, Rob Morrow.
Critics scorned this feel-good buddy comedy about two terminally ill geriatrics (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who escape from a cancer ward to complete their respective to-do lists before kicking the bucket. Yet audiences turned out in droves to see this pair travel the globe and living what’s left of their lives to the fullest. The script by Justin Zackham is beyond schmaltzy, and more than a bit implausible, but Nicholson’s extravagant overacting and Freeman’s steady humility make for a great combo.
7. THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995)
Written by Aaron Sorkin. Starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, David Paymer, Samantha Mathis, Michael J. Fox, Anna Deavere Smith, Richard Dreyfuss.
“The American President” serves almost as comfort food for these fractured times. Michael Douglas stars as a widowed Commander in Chief who falls in love with an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening). The script by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) smartly balances the political drama — Douglas faces an election challenge from a savvy Republican (Richard Dreyfuss) — with a surprisingly poignant romance, mining a lot of comedy out of how the President could actually go out on a date. Filled with wonderful supporting turns by Martin Sheen, David Paymer, Michael J. Fox, Anna Deavere Smith, and more, this is first-class, old-fashioned entertainment. The film earned five Golden Globe nominations (Film, Reiner, Douglas, Bening, and Sorkin) yet only competed at the Oscars for its score.
6. MISERY (1990)
Screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by Stephen King. Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Frances Sternhagen, Richard Farnsworth, Lauren Bacall.
This thoroughly entertaining Stephen King adaptation stars James Caan as Paul Sheldon, a famous novelist (based, of course, on King) best known for a successful romance series featuring a character named Misery Chastain. When he wrecks his car during a snowstorm, he’s rescued by his “Number One Fan,” Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates in an Oscar-winning turn), who’s happy to nurse him back to health until she finds out he’s planning to kill Misery off in his next book. Meanwhile, Paul’s agent (Lauren Bacall) enlists a local sheriff (Richard Farnsworth) to track her client down. Bates’ performance sets the tone for the whole film, which careens gracefully between bone-chilling scares and uproarious laughs.
5. A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on his play. Starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, Wolfgang Bodison, James Marshall, J.T. Walsh, Kiefer Sutherland.
“A Few Good Men” is one of those tried-and-true courtroom dramas that’s bolstered by scenery-chewing performances and rapid-fire dialogue by Aaron Sorkin. Tom Cruise stars as a whip-smart Navy lawyer who must defend two Marines charged with murdering a fellow cadet. Jack Nicholson steals the show (and earned a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination) as the Base Colonel Commander who wants the whole thing covered up. It all culminates in the famous interrogation scene where Cruise tells Nicholson he wants the truth, to which Jack barks, “You can’t handle the truth!” The film brought Reiner directing nominations at the Golden Globes and DGA, yet he was snubbed at the Oscars. (He did compete in Best Picture.)
4. STAND BY ME (1986)
Screenplay by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, based on the novella ‘The Body’ by Stephen King. Starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland.
It’s the summer of 1959 in the sleepy town of Castlerock, OR, and four young boys (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell) are about to embark on a journey to find a dead body. In adapting Stephen King’s short story, Reiner creates an atmospheric, funny, suspenseful, and poignant coming-of-age story that resonates in any decade. Keifer Sutherland is a standout as the teenage bully who torments the pals on their quest. Reiner was overlooked at the Oscars despite earning Golden Globe, DGA, and Independent Spirit nominations for Best Director. In fact, the film’s lone nomination came for its adapted screenplay.
3. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… (1989)
Written by Nora Ephron. Starring Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby.
“When Harry Met Sally…” set the gold standard for romantic comedies about two people who resist falling in love until the bitter end. The titular pair, played by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, first meet as college grads traveling to New York to start their separate lives. They meet again and again over the next 12 years, forming a friendship that they fear sex will ruin. Their solution is to marry other people, despite being perfect for each other. Nora Ephron’s Oscar-nominated script avoids cliches and contrivances in favor of witty observational humor (although the biggest laugh comes from the broadly comic scene where Ryan fakes an orgasm in a diner, leading Reiner’s own mother, Estelle Reiner, to tell the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”). Reiner earned directing bids at the DGA and Golden Globes, but was snubbed at the Academy.
2. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)
Written by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner. Starring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, June Chadwick, Tony Hendra, Bruno Kirby.
Reiner’s directorial debut didn’t exactly invent the mockumentary, but it certainly turned it into a viable comedic format. “This Is Spinal Tap” stars the filmmaker as Marty DiBergi, a documentarian following a British punk group on their first U.S. tour in six years. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer are the title band, a trio of English nitwits who make one hilariously boneheaded decision after another. (Guest would go on to revolutionize the genre with films like “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show.”) Though the comedy is always savage, it’s never cruel, and many of the laughs come from little details that Reiner places in the background of his shots. Make sure you watch this one with the volume turned all the way up to 11.
1. THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)
Screenplay by William Goldman, based on his novel. Starring Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane.
This endlessly quotable classic is able to both send-up the fantasy genre while simultaneously paying homage to it, resulting in a film that captives children and amuses their parents. Cary Elwes stars as Westley, a stable boy who falls in love with a beautiful princess (Robin Wright) set to marry an evil prince (Chris Sarandon). Reiner is at the top of his game here, expertly balancing the comedy, romance, and suspense in William Goldman’s crackerjack script (adapted from his own novel). A cast of memorable supporting players — including Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, and Carol Kane, plus Peter Falk as the narrator reading the story to his sick grandchild (Fred Savage) — make this a truly magical experience. Its sole Oscar nomination came for the original song “Storybook Love” by Willy DeVille.