Burt Reynolds: 10 of his best movies from an up-and-down career

From ‘Deliverance’ to ‘The Longest Yard’, these are Reynolds’ most memorable moments

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday. September 6th, aged 82

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday. September 6th, aged 82

 

What an odd career Burt Reynolds had. For a few years in the mid-1970s, he was unquestionably the biggest male star on the planet. He was more than that. He was the platonic ideal of a 1970s movie star: hair, moustache, wide trousers, loud marriages.

Yet, despite his making it to the age of 82 before succumbing to heart disease, it proves hard to put together a list of 10 stone-cold classics. That breakout turn in Deliverance offered one career path: the hard-boiled maniacs that kept Charles Bronson in cereal and firelighters. But Burt seemed happier to favour his softer, more ironic side. That worked well for him in Smokey and the Bandit, but that film has not aged so well. Heck, nobody even bothered to remake it with Adam Sandler.

Burt initially made Clint Eastwood seem old fashioned, but, when the 1970s gave way to the less forgiving 1980s, Burt turned cheesy and Clint became timeless. As recently as 2014, Eastwood directed a massive hit with American Sniper.

Apparently a cussed individual who ignored good advice, Reynolds failed to build on the platform of his third (at least) coming in Boogie Nights. Variety reports that he turned down the James Bond, Han Solo and the male leads in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Pretty Woman. But he remains one of the great entertainers. Here are 10 reasons why . . .

(Burt Reynolds on the set of John Boorman’s ‘Deliverance’
(Burt Reynolds on the set of John Boorman’s ‘Deliverance’

Deliverance (1972)

Burt’s role in John Boorman’s peerless drama of woodlands wretchedness now seems a little like an uncharacteristic dark interlude. This was, in fact, his breakthrough role. A critique of masculinity before Hollywood did such things.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

Odd to note that Reynolds was being stunt-cast in self-parodic roles almost before he was famous. He operates the switchboard in the subject’s brain during the “What Happens During Ejaculation?” sequence.

The Longest Yard (1974)

Subsequently remade with Vinnie Jones and then Adam Sandler, the original Robert Aldrich flick featured many former NFL players in the story of a team of prisoners playing their guards. Tough and funny in a very 1974 sort of way.

Hustle (1975)

Aldrich again. Reynolds forms an interesting, surprising partnership with Catherine Deneueve in a cop story that works all the best tropes to the point of exhaustion. “Deneuve and I were a case of one plus one makes three so that brought about some interest,” Reynolds said. Cast in depth. Very rigorously plotted

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

A true phenomenon, the tale of a bootlegger evading a fat police officer was the second highest-grossing film of the year. Only Star Wars, then the biggest grosser film of all time, took more cash in 1977. The archetypal Reynolds persona is in place: smug, suave, self-deprecating. Spawned two sequels and dozens of rip-offs.

American actors Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ronny Cox pull their canoes through the shallows of a river in a still from director John Boorman’s film ‘Deliverance’. Photograph: Warner Bros./Getty Images
American actors Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ronny Cox pull their canoes through the shallows of a river in a still from director John Boorman’s film ‘Deliverance’. Photograph: Warner Bros./Getty Images

Semi Tough (1977)

An excellent football player in his youth, Burt returned to the sport for Michael Ritchie’s comedy about sex, decline and the era’s self-help crazes. Kris Kristofferson (another fine gridiron player) and the now sadly overlooked Jill Clayburgh join Reynolds in the love triangle.

Sharky’s Machine (1981)

Like so many of his contemporaries, Reynolds took to directing and he had a notable critical success with this cop thriller centred around a narcotics officer in the Atlanta police department. Based on a novel by William Diehl, the picture has real momentum and style.

Breaking In (1989)

One of the era’s great lost films, Bill Forsyth’s second American picture - working from a John Sayles script - casts Reynolds as a safecracker working with a smart-ass young protégé.It re-invented Burt a full eight years before Paul Thomas Anderson set to the task.

Burt Reynolds as Bo 'Bandit' Darville, in 'Smokey And The Bandit', 1977. Photograph: Silver Screen Collection/Getty
Burt Reynolds as Bo 'Bandit' Darville, in 'Smokey And The Bandit', 1977. Photograph: Silver Screen Collection/Getty

Boogie Nights (1997)

If you’re going to attempt a summary of the mid-1970s in Los Angeles then you surely have to build your film around Burt Reynolds. Right? The great man secured an Oscar nomination as the porn director who discovers the naïve, soon to be misused, Dirk Diggler. Reynolds then blew his own potential renaissance.

Pups (1999)

Directed by Ash Baron-Cohen, (cousin of Sasha), this well-reviewed indie stars Reynolds as an FBI agent attempting to bring an armed siege to an end. The picture played a few mid-ranking festivals. Roger Ebert and the New York Times showered it with praise. Then it vanished from consciousness.

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