FIFTEEN Great Gene Hackman Movies!

81-year old Oscar-winner Gene Hackman was briefly hospitalized with bumps and bruises Friday after a pickup truck hit him from behind while he was riding a bicycle in the Florida Keys.

That news made me think that we are long overdue to acknowledge his amazing career as a leading man, as well as a character actor in memorable supporting roles.

His career spanned five decades – and resulted in a ton of awards, including two Oscars. He won the Best Actor award in 1971 for his portrayal of “Popeye” Doyle in “The French Connection” in 1971 and the Best Supporting Actor award for “Unforgiven” in 1992.

As you can see, he was such an amazing Actor that his top ten list is actually 15, and you will still find fault for what I had to leave off!

First, a few bio tidbits: In 1956, Hackman began pursuing an acting career; he joined the Pasadena Playhouse in California, where he made friends with another aspiring actor, Dustin Hoffman. Already seen as outsiders by their classmates, Hackman and Hoffman were later voted “The Least Likely To Succeed.” Determined to prove them wrong, Hackman hopped on a bus bound for New York City. A 2004 article in Vanity Fair described how Hackman, Hoffman and Robert Duvall were all struggling actors and close friends while living in New York City in the 1960s.

How about this?!?!?! He nearly accepted the role of Mike Brady in the TV series, The Brady Bunch, but was advised by his agent to decline in exchange for a more promising role, which he did.

Together with undersea archaeologist Daniel Lenihan, Hackman has written four novels: Wake of the Perdido Star (1999), Justice for None (2004), Escape from Andersonville (2008) and Payback at Morning Peak (2011). In 2008, while promoting his third novel, Hackman confirmed that he had retired from acting. His final film appearance was 2004’s “Welcome To Mooseport.”

Here now are fifteen examples of what makes Gene Hackman one of the greatest Actors ever…

15-The French Connection 1 & 2. Let’s start with his Oscar-winning performance as Detective Popeye Doyle – a tough as nails cop who was determined to bust a french heroin ring. A great great performance, including memorable dialogue such as this: “All right! You put a shiv in my partner. You know what that means? Goddammit! All winter long I got to listen to him gripe about his bowling scores. Now I’m gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I’m gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie!”

Equally as impressive was his return in the sequel two years later, where he is drugged up while tracking down the bad guys in Marseilles. His drug-addicted monologue in captivity is an amazing piece of acting. A terrific double bill and a great way to celebrate his ability to command the lead in a movie.

14-Young Frankenstein. Now for the flip side…Yes, it was only a cameo, but Hackman proved he could do comedy with the best of them – popping up halfway through this classic Mel Brooks comedy, as a lonely Monk looking to share a meal and a cigar with the Frankenstein monster. Hilarious. You never thought of Hackman as a comedy, but he had perfect comic timing, no better shown than here…

13-The Firm. Hackman could also play a smaller role and glide though a movie with ease, as he did here opposite Tom Cruise. Hackman plays a law partner who breaks the law as easily as he flirts with Cruise’s wife…and also shows a world weariness that is much deeper than the character had to be for this popcorn movie.

12-Hoosiers. In 1986, Hackman played a coach with a checkered past who teams up with a local drunk played by Dennis Hopper to train a small town high school basketball team to become a top contender for the championship. His performance is understated, and he gives Hopper plenty of room to shine in the smaller role – a great example of his generosity as an Actor.

11-Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood’s revisionist western won the Best Picture Oscar in 1992, and it was the supporting acting of Morgan Freeman and Hackman that provided Clint with so much texture and depth to go along with his own lead acting performance. Hackman plays Sheriff Little Bill Daggett, a bad bad guy who runs his town the way he fits, until Eastwood shows up…Alex doesn’t like westerns, but she loved this movie.

10-The Hunting Party. Hackman was a working actor, so he took a lot of roles that weren’t exactly oscar-winning…here’s a great example. In 1971, everyone was jumping on the extreme violence bandwagon after the success of “The Wild Bunch.” In this case, Hackman stars as a vicious cattle baron who organizes a hunting party to track down the gang that kidnapped his wife, Candace Bergen. Hackman could play bad really good, and this is a great example…a gritty, mean-spirited little western, and he controls every frame with a vicious swagger.

9-Extreme Measures. A really neglected 1996 thriller starring Hugh Grant, who also produced it. Hugh Grant plays a British doctor working at a hospital in New York who starts making unwanted inquiries when the body of a man who died in his emergency room disappears. The trail leads him to the door of the eminent surgeon Dr Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman), but Grant soon finds himself in danger from people who want the hospital’s secret to remain undiscovered. This is a really good movie, with Hackman doing an excellent job portraying a Doctor who is willing to do what it takes for a greater good. Look for this one!

8-Superman 1 & 2. In 1978, Hackman entertained a whole new generation with his portrayal of Lex Luthor, the nemesis to Superman – and he did it in such a fun, carefree way that it forever changed his reputation as a serious, tough as nails Actor. These two movies are classics, with Christoper Reeve as the Man of Steel.

As Lex Luthor says to his idiotic accomplice Otis: “Do you know why the number two hundred is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It’s your weight and my I.Q.”

7-Get Shorty. John Travolta starred as mobster Chili Palmer, who travels to Hollywood to collect a debt and discovers that the movie business is much the same as his current job. Hackman has a terrific role as Harry Zimm, a low-rent, low-budget movie Producer who gets caught up in Travolta’s Hollywood adventures, and pays a painfully funny price.

As Zimm says of Chili Palmer: “The guy’s been in town two days, and already he thinks he’s David O. Fucking Selznick.”

Lots of great acting in this hilarious movie from 1995.

6-Night Moves. I’ve written about this before. The tagline is: “maybe he would find the girl. Maybe he would find himself.” Terrifically moody film noir – Hackman plays private detective Harry Moseby, who gets hired for a standard missing person case, as an aging Hollywood actress wants him to find her stepdaughter. Harry travels to Florida to find her, but he begins to see a connection with the runaway girl, the world of Hollywood stuntmen, and a suspicious mechanic when an unsolved murder comes to light. The stepdaughter is Melanie Griffith in her big screen debut…a great character-driven drama.

5-Prime Cut. Hackman shares the screen with tough guy Lee Marvin, who shows up in Kanasas City looking for the money that Hackman owes the Chicago mob. Since Hackman sent the previous bag man home in the form of hamburger patties, you can imagine he doesn’t care much for Marvin’s arrival. This is a great little B-movie, with action, sleaze, and lots of Sissy Spacek naked. There you have it, 1972 called and wants to entertain you!

4-Scarecrow. A brilliant movie with brilliant acting from Hackman and Al Pacino, two guys who form an unlikely friendship as they travel the back roads and buses of America on their way to open up a car wash. I have told people that Hackman, in this movie, is exactly like my father…that’s not necessarily a good thing. This is a beautifully acted drama from 1973, very dark and depressing as well. An undiscovered masterpiece.

3-The Conversation. “I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder.” In 1974, Francis Ford Coppola made this outstanding drama about Harry Caul, an expert in the art of listening in on others…but his specialty comes back to haunt him when he hears a murder…or does he? This film was nominated for Best Picture, losing to Coppola’s other masterpiece that year, The Godfather Part 2. Harrison Ford has a bit role here as well…

2-Bonnie & Clyde. Hackman exploded on movie screens as Buck Barrow, part of the most legendary gang in history. As Clyde says, “this here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.” Hackman was oscar-nominated for his performace in this groundbreaking action thriller from 1967. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway head up an outstanding cast directed by Arthur Penn, who also directed “Night Movies” above…

1-The Poseidon Adventure. “Hell, Upside Down.” That was the tagline for the greatest disaster movie of all time. Gene Hackman plays Reverand Scott, who must help a small group climb up to the bottom of the overturned luxury cruise ship. This is the gold standard for disaster films, and it took a great actor like Hackman to give the premise weight – to make their adventure seem real. A ton of recognizable faces populate this 1972 smash hit.

There you have it – enough great Gene Hackman movies to keep you busy for the next year!

Categories: 70's Cinema, Movies

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4 replies

  1. Fantastic goods from you, man. I’ve bear in mind your stuff prior to and you are simply extremely great. I actually like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You are making it enjoyable and you still care for to stay it wise. I can’t wait to read far more from you. This is actually a tremendous website.


  2. Really? They’re certainly quirky – but I’m not getting smug from the films themselves. I adore Rushmore and The Darjeeling Ltd the most.


  3. Love me some Hackman! I cry foul over the omission of The Royal Tenenbaums from the list, however. Wes Anderson just curls my hair. Love his movies. Wes + Hack = true cinematic ecstasy.


    • You know what, both “Enemy Of The State” and “Tenenbaums” could have been on the list. Should have been a top 20…but have to tell you, Wes Anderson leaves me a bit cold. There’s a smugness to his movies that I can’t get past…no doubt my problem, not his…


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