Happy Birthday Gene Hackman! An Amazing Actor’s Ten Greatest Roles!

Happy 85th Birthday Gene Hackman!

Gene Hackman

Did you know that Director Alexander Payne wanted Gene Hackman to play the lead role in “Nebraska?” Just the latest bit of movie trivia from one of the screen’s greatest Actors!

Gene Hackman greatest roles

Time To Celebrate The Legendary Gene Hackman!

January 30th is his 85th birthday, and his career has 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.

great gene-hackman films

Here is a celebration of his ten greatest roles, 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.”

Dustin Hoffman Gene Hackman

FYI, the two Actors remained lifelong friend, and they finally acted together in the film “The Runaway Jury.”

Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman


How about this?!?!?! Gene Hackman nearly accepted the role of Mike Brady in the TV series, The Brady Bunch, but was advised by his agent to turn it down – but he was almost Marcia Brady’s Dad!


Author Hackman!

Did you know that Hackman has teamed with undersea archaeologist Daniel Lenihan, and 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.

greatest actors

Director Alexander Payne specifically wanted to make his movie “Nebraska” just so he could work with Hackman, but the Actor declined the offer to come out of retirement…so the role went to Bruce Dern, who got an Oscar-nomination for the role!


Could you imagine how great Hackman would have been in the movie? It was a tailor-made role for him – and he is, without a doubt, one of film’s all time greatest…

Here now, the top ten Gene Hackman performances:

Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein

10-Young Frankenstein!

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.

classic comedies

Hilarious. You never thought of Hackman as a comedy Actor, but he had perfect comic timing, no better shown than here…and there are more great examples to come!

Gene Hackman Hoosiers

9 – 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.


8 – 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.

best Gene Hackman performances

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway head up an outstanding cast directed by Arthur Penn, who also directed another classic Hackman film, “Night Moves” – more on that in a moment……


“Bonnie & Clyde” is one of the most important films of the 60’s – ushering in a new era of violence and frankness in movies…

Hackman could play a tough guy very well, but here is one of his most popular roles – playing a comic villian in a beloved Superhero movie!


7 – Superman!

In 1978, Hackman entertained a whole new generation with his portrayal of Lex Luthor, the nemesis to Superman!

Gene Hackman in Superman

It was an unexpected casting – considering that Hackman was an Oscar-winning Actor – serious, tough as nails, not known for a comedic tough…and yet in the film, he acts in such a fun, carefree way that it forever changed his reputation as a serious, tough as nails Actor!

classic Gene Hackman performances

As Lex Luthor says to his idiotic accomplice Otis, played beautifully by Ned Beatty:

“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.”

And Hackman’s comic timing was showcased once again in this film that skewers Hollywood!

Get Shorty

6-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.


5-Night Moves.

I’ve written about “Night Moves” before, but now that it has been released on DVD and Amazon streaming, it’s a great film to check out.

Here is the film’s trailer:


Like “The Limey”, it’s a 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. The stepdaughter is played by Melanie Griffith, in her first movie role.


This is Gene Hackman’s golden era in film, beginning with “Bonnie & Clyde” and going through “The French Connection” 1 & 2, and the brilliant “Scarecrow” with Al Pacino. He even found time to star in the box office smash “The Poseidon Adventure!”


As Private Detective Harry Moseby travels to Florida to find the missing girl, 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.


As with all great film noir, the story takes many twists and turns as the true motives of the cast become clear…and a great cast including the young Griffith and a young James Woods as well.


Prime cut

4-Prime Cut.

Lee Marvin was one of film’s all-time tough guys, but Gene Hackman stood toe-to-toe with him in this gritty thriller…here’s a teaser:

best 70's action films

Lee Marvin plays his toughest role ever, as an “Enforcer” for the Mob, who heads to Kansas City to get the money that Gene Hackman owes the Mob…

Oh yeah, Hackman’s not really interested in paying back what he owes…and from then on out, the fight is on!


Hackman plays a cattle rancher who not only grinds his enemies into sausage, but sells women as sex slaves. The movie was considered highly risqué for its time based on its level of violence, as well as its graphic depiction of female slavery, including a scene depicting the auctioning of young women in the manner of beef cattle.

cult 70's movies

Gene Hackman digs into his role as the bad guy, but it’s Marvin to kick ass and takes no prisoners. There is a scene where Marvin and Sissy Spacek are chased through a wheat field by a shredder…a great action sequence.

Marvin and Spacek have a great rapport in the film, as he takes on a “father figure” role to help her escape from the bad guys…

best cult movies

A couple of years before she catapulted to stardom in “Carrie”, Sissy Spacek co-stars, and does a great job in the role…

This was Sissy Spacek’s feature film debut – and involves a lot of nudity.

Marvin and Gene Hackman have a number of great scenes together, a couple of tough guys chewing up the scenery in a great B-movie.


“A crow isn’t afraid of a scarecrow. It laughs.”



Pacino re-teamed with “Needle Park” Director Jerry Schatzberg for the brilliant “Scarecrow”, also starring Gene Hackman.


Talk about an acting master class! Gene Hackman was just a year past his Oscar-Winning Best Actor role in “The French Connection” Here he plays Max, an ex-con who’s been saving money to open a car wash in Pittsburgh.

Max: For every car, there is dirt.

Max is hitch-hiking across country, and on the way he meets Al Pacino…


Pacino is Lionel, a sailor who’s returning home to the midwest to see the child born while he was at sea. Of course, they meet while hitch-hiking and decide to travel together.

Gene Hackman Scarecrow

They form an unlikely pair as the brawling Max learns a little how Lionel copes with the world: Lionel believes that the scarecrow doesn’t scare birds, but instead amuses them – birds find scarecrows funny. So Lionel believes that everything will be OK if you can just make people laugh…Hackman knows better…


Gene Hackman is brilliant as a tough, tough TOUGH ex-con who has a plan, and NOTHING is going to get in his way…he also has a few hilarious quirks, such as what he likes to eat:

Max: [at the lunch counter] “Gimme a chocolate doughnut and a bottle of beer.”

Scarecrow movie

This is a real “road” movie. Before shooting, Gene Hackman and Al Pacino both dressed as hobos and hitchhiked through California to get into their characters.

Gene Hackman Scarecrow

Gene Hackman has stated that his performance in Scarecrow is his personal favorite. For Pacino, this film followed “Needle Park” and “The Godfather”, and led right into “The Godfather Part 2″…what a run of masterful acting performances!

Al Pacino

Here is one of the most under-rated movies of the 70’s, even though it was nominated for a slew of Oscars…


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…

Now, don’t laugh…

The Poseidon Adventure

2-The Poseidon Adventure!

“Hell, Upside Down.” That was the tagline for the greatest disaster movie of all time. And you know why it’s just a timeless action thriller? Because of Hackman!

It is the gravitas of Hackman that holds the film together – a testament to his powerful screen presence…


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.

classic 70's action films

Look at the cast of classic Hollywood names populating this film: Stella Stevens, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, just to name a few of the ton of recognizable faces that populate this 1972 smash hit.

The French Connection!

It was the Academy Award-winning Best Picture of 1971, and it’s the true story of “Popeye” Doyle, a NY cop determined to bust a heroin smuggling ring…


He is, of course, a cop willing to break all the rules in order to get his man – and that includes one of the most amazing car chases ever filmed…beautifully filmed by legendary Director William Friedkin, who went on to make “The Exorcist”, “To Live And Die In LA”, “Sorcerer” AND “Killer Joe”!

best movie chase scenes

The Legendary Car Chase!

Thanks to the terrific website IMDB, here are some amazing anecdotes about the filming of the legendary car chase through the streets of New York in “The French Connection.”


The car crash during the chase sequence, at the intersection of Stillwell Ave. and 86th St., was unplanned and was included because of its realism. The man whose car was hit had just left his house a few blocks from the intersection to go to work and was unaware that a car chase was being filmed. The producers paid the bill for the repairs to his car!

According to IMDB, the car chase was filmed without obtaining the proper permits from the city! Members of the NYPD’s tactical force helped control traffic. But most of the control was achieved by the assistant directors with the help of off-duty NYPD officers, many of whom had been involved in the actual case.

best movie chases ever

A camera was mounted on the car’s bumper for the shots from the car’s point-of-view. Hackman did some of the driving but the extremely dangerous stunts were performed by Bill Hickman, with Friedkin filming from the backseat.


Friedkin operated the camera himself because the other camera operators were married with children and he was not. The mjaority of the chase was, however, very well choreographed, but it is that realism in the filming that makes the scene itself so heart-pounding!

best movie car chases

best picture 1971

Best Actor Gene Hackman

The film spawned a less successful sequel, but it is also a great movie, just a different one…

French Connection 2

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.

Gene Hackman greatest roles

There you have it – enough great Gene Hackman movies to keep you busy for the next year! Tell me what I missed – although I already have an idea – I mean, he was great in “The Firm”, The Royal Tanenbaums” and of course, “Unforgiven”…

Gene Hackman Unforgiven

Happy birthday, Gene!

Categories: 70's Cinema, Academy Awards, Action Films, Awards, Books / Media, Comedy Movies, Cult Movies, documentary films, Exploitation films, Film Noir, Golden Globes, Great Films, Grindhouse, Hollywood, Independent Cinema, Los Angeles, Memoirs, Movies, Movies About Movies, New York, Obscure Movies, Politics, Revenge Movies, Sports, Sports Movies, Talent/Celebrities, Uncategorized

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