Just one member of a famous filmmaking family that includes Rance Howard (his father), Clint Howard (his brother, afforded cameos in almost every one of his films), and Bryce Dallas Howard (his daughter), Ron Howard has forged a career for himself as a talented, dedicated filmmaker whose releases have notably been filled to the brim with a softness and heart unlike many a release in the decades he’s been active. The director, whose career has crossed paths with fantastic on-screen talent the likes of Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, Michael Keaton and Jim Carrey – each arguably in their prime – has assembled ensemble cast after ensemble cast on his way to establishing himself as a big-time Hollywood player and the man at the helm Lucasfilm’s Star Wars spin-off, Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018. Howard’s career, which has seen him as an on-screen talent in the likes of ‘Arrested Development’, has spanned over 5 decades as a feature film director and has seen him release 25 feature films. In this article, we’ve whittled the selection down to just 10 for this, the Top 10 Ron Howard Movies…
10. Willow (1988)
This 80s fairytale is a staple of many a millennial’s childhood, owing much of its success to the director’s signature whimsy. Starring Warwick Davis in a career defining performance alongside Val Kilmer, himself on the cusp of superstardom, Willow told the tale of a dwarf tasked with protecting a baby from an evil queen, and there aren’t many more fantastical plot lines than that. There are elements of this film that have certainly fell victim to the passage of time, and it’s perhaps best remembered for much of its silliness, but it remains an important fantasy film for many people of a certain age and hits our number 10 spot by the merits of this and a pretty great use of certain fantasy tropes.
9. Splash (1984)
Remember when Tom Hanks fell in love with a mermaid? That was Ron Howard’s film!
Splash is a film not too unlike Willow in how it’s a fantasy film best remembered by those of a certain age, but it did have the sort of heart and conviction (despite its quite ridiculous premise) that would come to define Howard’s career as a feature director, and it helped to make a star out of Hanks who thrived in such conditions. Daryl Hannah (Blade Runner – 1982) starred as the mermaid who’d saved Hanks as a child and had since met him in the human world of New York City, in a story as filled with typical Hanksisms as you could possibly imagine. Truthfully, there was little to separate this film and Willow but we’ve listed this a position above the other because it came first and that’s the only logic we could find to separate them…
8. The Paper (1994)
Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Catherine O’Hara, Jason Alexander, Marisa Tomei; the cast reads like a 1990s nostalgia act yet works without the semi-embarrassing revisiting of past glories because, lucky for us, they’re all in their prime!
It’s tough to say a word about The Paper without mentioning its ensemble because it is through the casting and their performances that the movie brings about most of its intrigue, though this is not to discredit the film itself which is an admirable representation of newspaper journalism of the time and presents moral dilemmas that are not to be sniffed at. Think The Post but a little more extravagant and 90s… with more Michael Keaton. Keaton is good.
7. Parenthood (1989)
How Parenthood hasn’t gone down as an all-time rewatchable family classic is simply dumbfounding. The film is stacked to the brim with all of your typical family-night-in movie tropes, and it features Steve Martin and Rick Moranis at the peak of their powers! Throw in young Keanu Reeves, even younger Joaquin Phoenix, Mary Steenburgen and even a cameo from the director’s daughter Bryce Dallas Howard (aged 8 upon the film’s release), and there seems to be even more worth revisiting. It’s funny and it’s a lot more original than most films of its type. It’s smart and it’s engaging. Parenthood has a lot going for it, and revisiting Rick Moranis performances is always good, right?
6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Simply put, The Grinch is a Christmas classic.
Howard went full dark fantasy and whimsical fairytale all at once for How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 2000, and in partnering with Jim Carrey he couldn’t have found a better partner in crime to deliver the absurd content of the original source with quite so much love (and comedic sensibility). Carrey was arguably the world’s finest comedic actor at the time, and partnering him with a director so fond of up-beat and off-kilter storytelling was a match made in heaven. More so than even Willow and Splash, How the Grinch Stole Christmas came to be a classic film for an entire generation, a defining moment in both Carrey’s and Howard’s career, a must-watch Christmas movie each and time Holiday season roles around.
5. Cinderella Man (2005)
Ron Howard’s partnership with Russell Crowe was a fruitful one in the 2000s. The director, whose career had previously been remembered for largely comedic fare, had turned directly into drama at the turn of the century with A Beautiful Mind (also starring Crowe) and he looked to build on his dramatic chops through a reunion with arguably the most critically acclaimed leading star of the decade on Cinderella Man, a film best remembered for its incredible lead performance but also put together with an astute precision that helped to solidify Howard as an artist. This is perhaps the first true drama, at least in the typical Oscars sense, of this list; an often overlooked boxing movie nominated for 3 Oscars and a BAFTA.
Careful, as from here on out things get serious…
4. Rush (2013)
It’s hard to argue against Rush being the greatest Formula 1 based drama in cinema history. It may even be at the top of many a list regarding greatest ever motorsport movies. Howard simply captured the tension and animosity between two of Formula One’s greatest rivals Niki Lauda (left) and James Hunt (right) with a level of sophistication that didn’t undermine the sport or commercialise the real-life rivalry, but instead focused on the drama of a man (Hunt – played by Hemsworth) struggling to come to terms with himself in much the same way as his polar opposite – his great rival – Niki Lauda was in a completely different way. Rush was tense, engrossing and the epitome of what filmmakers should aim to put to screen when handling such sensitive material; one of the director’s best ever works.
3. Frost/Nixon (2008)
In 2008/2009, nobody could shut up about Frost/Nixon. Howard’s film had come at a time before the small trend of talk show dramas had begun, possibly even kicking the trend off, and the cleverness through which the script had tackled its subject matter – and the incredibly famous people at the centre of it – was fresh and enticing. Howard was on a role, hitting Frost/Nixon off the back of A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man and the hugely successful Da Vinci Code, and it seems that was appreciated at the very highest level of film criticism, with many a review raving about its intricate presentation of tension and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences offering it 5 Oscar nominations, including Howard’s 2nd directing nomination following his win for another film yet to come on this list…
2. Apollo 13 (1995)
Aided by a true-to-life story as remarkable as you could imagine – a team of astronauts who reached the furthest outreaches of space ever recorded by humanity, only to suffer extreme damage and a major threat to their lives – Ron Howard devised possibly the most universally beloved film of his career; setting aside much of his whimsy to bring a drama to the screen that was as much about America as a united nation as it was about the mission. It was a film written by documentarian and former astronaut Al Reinart so it featured the same depth and attention to detail as one may expect, though it was vitally never weighed down by its facts, pursuing greater truths as regards the human condition instead.
1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A Beautiful Mind remains the only film for which Ron Howard has won an Academy Award for Best Director, and with good reason. The 2001 film, which featured phenomenal performances from leading duo Russell Crowe and Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly, was as artistic of a dramatic venture as the director has been on, and the manner through which the whole team projected the real-life character of Professor John Nash as a man with goodness in his heart despite the manner through which he struggled with reality and ultimately acted in poor taste on many an occasion, was simply phenomenal. Howard was a man working at the very height of his powers for this early 21st century release; the very best of his career.
Let us know your favourite Ron Howard movies in the comments below!