The Parallax View – 2.75 stars

The Parallax View (1974) - IMDb

A regional reporter (Warren Beatty) stumbles on not so much a plot as an institutionalized corporate conspiracy of assassination.  The closer Beatty gets to the source, the more he realizes that what he initially deemed ludicrous is in fact a chilling reality.  

Alan Pakula’s paranoid thriller was probably more relevant upon its release.  With the shooting of JFK in ’63, Malcolm X in ’65, RFK and MLK in ’68, George Wallace in ’72 (a mere 2 years before the picture’s release), political assassination was preeminent in the mind of your average filmgoer.  And no one does paranoia quite a well as Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men, Presumed Innocent). 

The picture is creepy and certainly makes the viewer feel anxious,. In particular, the movie potential assassins are required to watch in order to gauge their suitability/brainwash them is in and of itself overpowering.

But the film suffers from two significant handicaps.  First, the Beatty character is a cypher.  He is dogged and cynical, but he is invested with no backstory, motive or any other compelling feature.  Given how things turn out, this may be part of the message, but it makes for some stifled yawns as we travel his route to dawning.  Second, the plot is a mess.  Sure, I fully understand an assassination corporation maybe knocking off a true existential political threat once a decade. The Parallax Corporation, however, kills two United States senators and attempts to kill a third, in the space of three years, and even when they have done the good work of pinning it on a brainwashed loner stooge (the corporation’s m.o.), they threaten their entire operation by wiping out potential witnesses after the deed.  I’m not talking one or two witnesses.  After the film’s opening a scene (a gripping assassination on top of Seattle’s Space Needle), nine “witnesses” (it’s not clear they actually see anything) are taken out, a number extraordinary enough that Beatty is drawn in to dig deeper. In the final assassination, a sniper takes down a senator in front of an entire marching band.  That is going to be one helluva cleanup.

This is no way to run a railroad.           

  1. Pincher Martin said:

    You nailed it. The Parallax View is a movie that has a few well-done moments and some creepy scenes, but still left me thinking about how much better it could’ve been with a different lead and a more realistic plot.

    If Warren Beatty isn’t one of the most overrated actors of that period, he’s near the top. He was a big star, of course, and he was the lead in a lot of good films, but I never felt his presence in any film made it a good movie. Certainly, The Parallax View would’ve been improved by, say, a Gene Hackman or Al Pacino or Donald Sutherland in the lead.

    That is going to be one helluva cleanup.

    The movie was channeling Penn Jones’ work on the JFK assassination, which was popular at the time. In the late sixties, Jones started detailing how dozens and dozens of people related to the JFK assassination were being killed or disappeared in mysterious circumstances. It seemed like every other week Jones would come up with a new murder of someone tangentially related to the assassination. I forget what Jones’ final number grew to, but it was well over a hundred.

    On inspection, these claims didn’t hold up. Why kill off so many people with such a slim connection to JFK’s murder (and why wait so long in many of the cases to do it)? But the claims were quite popular back then and many JFK assassination buffs repeat them to this day.

    I find it interesting, though, that you and I share a belief in the unrealistic assumptions behind such a plot line in a fictionalized movie while many people think this kind of “cleanup” takes place in the real world.

  2. Beatty is good looking and the right cast for out of his depth and a little off (Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Heaven Can Wait). He’s light and when used properly, he can convey a certain decency, the decency of a man completely adrift. When I say light, I mean balsa wood light. I was flipping channels the other day and happened to watch a fair amount of Bugsy. My Lord, is he terrible. He’s required to be forceful and dangerous and driven. He can’t project any of that (his best feature in the film is salivary).

    As for corporate, competent wrongdoing, if only! Life would be so much more interesting. But the murderous efficiency given to corporations in film is a particular conceit that simply has no basis, and while Pakula thinks he is creating a plausible embodiment of that efficiency, unknowingly, he makes them dumb as dirt. Even beyond the stupid modus operandi, they have that dummy who fights Beatty in the bar engaged as an operative!

  3. Pincher Martin said:

    Beatty is good looking….

    He’s great looking guy, but his looks never translated well on screen except in movies where he plays to his natural type: the Rams’ backup quarterback in Heaven Can Wait, whose big worry upon dying is the game he’s missing, and the airheaded philandering hair stylist in Shampoo, a movie I never liked but which many people seem to think significant.

    McCabe and Mrs Miller is an outlier to me, perhaps because Altman buries Beatty under a heavy beard and bowler hat for most of the film and perhaps also because pimping is one profession for which Beatty seems well fitted for the role.

    The closest parallel to Beatty in his day was Robert Redford, another good-looking guy whose acting range was highly limited. Redford even did a similar movie to Beatty’s The Parallax View around the same time. But Three Days of the Condor is a superior film and Redford’s performance in it better than Beatty’s performance in TPV.

  4. JMK said:

    I think Robert Redford is vastly superior to Beatty, although I agree he had his limits. But Beatty’s practically a cypher. And yes, his best movie is Heaven Can Wait.

    Three Days of the Condor is a fantastic film, much better at the paranoid stuff than the Parallax View.

  5. Pincher Martin said:

    As far as impactful or excellent films, Robert Redford disappeared after the nineteen-seventies. Yes, he appeared in the overrated Out of Africa, but dozens of actors could’ve filled Redford’s role in the movie better than he filled it. That film won many awards, including several for acting, but Redford didn’t come within a mile of any of them – and rightly so. He added nothing to the movie.

    I like several of Redford’s later films. The Natural, Sneakers, The Horse Whisperer and Spy Game are all good movies. Good, not great. But it’s interesting that I like none of those films because of Redford. He, like Beatty, is a cypher in those films. His role could easily be filled by someone else and the movie would either be enhanced or, at the very worst, have the same impact.

    So, like Beatty, I think that Redford is a cinematic creature of the late sixties and seventies, a leading man actor with limited range who got by mainly on his good looks and when those looks faded so did his career as a leading man.

  6. Pincher Martin said:

    It’s interesting comparing Beatty and Redford to other major actors born during either the Great Depression or WW2, and who all made a name for themselves in the sixties and seventies, to see how their careers ended up.

    Gene Hackman (1930)

    Clint Eastwood (1930)

    Robert Duvall (1931)

    Roy Scheider (1932-2008)

    Michael Caine (1933)

    Gene Wilder (1933-2016)

    Woody Allen (1935)

    Donald Sutherland (1935)

    Robert Redford (1936)

    Burt Reynolds (1936-2018)

    Warren Beatty (1937)

    Jack Nicholson (1937)

    Dustin Hoffman (1937)

    Elliot Gould (1938)

    Al Pacino (1940)

    James Caan (1940)

    Harrison Ford (1942)

    Robert De Niro (1943)


    Looking over this list, Redford and Beatty’s acting careers, post-1980, don’t stand up very well to their peers from that period. I would say their work lags behind every actor on this list other than Burt Reynolds, Elliot Gould, Roy Scheider and Gene Wilder. Even James Caan and Donald Sutherland, neither of whom was ever a huge star like Beatty and Redford, seem to have done more interesting work of late than those two.

  7. The weak actors in the list are Allen (a caricature of one, so, not really fair to assess him), Redford, Beatty and Reynolds, and yet, neither Redford or Beatty have ever given as intense a performance as Reynolds in Deliverance or as canny as Reynolds in Boogie Nights. Pincher, your point on Warren Beatty in McCabe and Mrs. Miller is dead on. Altman used his essential weakness, and the character was perpetually in hiding. It was the perfect cast for projection of Beatty’s seemingly natural persona to the character. 

    Redford is better, but that doesn’t mean that he’s ever particularly good. He’s just one of those actors who is consistently medium, genial, and at best competent, but never ever ever compelling.  He is best as a light comedian, in Butch Cassidy and Barefoot in the Park (though he was a pretty good lech in the movie where he pays to bed Demi Moore). 

    Three Days of the Condor works because it is taut and believable; the wrong people see the wrong thing and they have to be killed by the paranoid deep state. One man gets away. Of course, Redford as a bookish introvert not well versed with the ladies. Come on.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      I probably shouldn’t have included Allen (or Wilder) on the list, but I was trying to be inclusive of all the major actors of that era, whether they were traditional leading men (like Redford and Beatty), character actors who sometimes played leading roles (like Hackman and Duvall), or comic leading men (like Allen and Wilder).

      I also agree Redford is a better actor than Beatty and has had a better second act to his career, but I think it’s one of degree and not kind. They both strike me (as does Burt Reynolds) as mostly period pieces from a Hollywood which spanned the late sixties through the seventies. After 1980, they both continued to work and occasionally did interesting movies, but they mostly faded from commercial and critical relevance.

      In the twenty years after Reds, Beatty has had two successes – Bugsy and Bulworth, both of which were overrated and both of which would’ve been better films with someone other than Beatty in the lead. Redford has kept busier than Beatty since 1980 and he occasionally has a film which gets some critical acclaim (but usually no awards and certainly no box office). And the critical acclaim Redford does receive now strikes me as being more for the movies he has picked than for anything he added to those films as an actor.

      One of the surprises to me among this class of actors is Clint Eastwood. If you had asked me in 1989, I would’ve put him with Redford, Reynolds, and Beatty as another period piece from the sixties and seventies. Almost everything he did in the nineteen-eighties was a reprisal of the leading man roles he had already perfected in the sixties and seventies. I know you have a fondness for Tightrope, and that role does get into some new areas for Clint as an actor, but he’s still just a detective with relationship problems trying to solve a series of murders. Not a big stretch for the man.

      But Clint had a remarkable renaissance in the nineteen-nineties that was completely unexpected to me. While his resurgence has been mostly as a director and producer of films, he was still acting in commercially successful and critically acclaimed films throughout that decade and beyond. And he was now playing an old man in a lead role rather than a traditional leading man. Some of those roles were in comfortable genres for Clint – Unforgiven, A Perfect World, In the Line of Fire, etc. But The Bridges of Madison County? That movie grossed nearly as much as Braveheart that year. Streep was the acting chops in the film, but Streep didn’t put the butts in the cinema seats.

  8. And yes, Redford’s work tails off. Though I heard good things about The Old Man and the Gun and All is Lost.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      I forgot about The Old Man and the Gun. Good flick. I enjoyed it. But it’s one of those good flicks you forget about the week after you see it.

      I did not catch All is Lost. When I looked on Wikipedia, it was certainly critically-acclaimed.

      But then I saw this and laughed:

      Redford is the only cast member, and the film has 51 spoken English words.

      The perfect film for Redford. He doesn’t have to interact with anyone or even speak. And in his old age, he certainly looks weather-beaten enough to play a man who has been at sea for far too long.

  9. JMK said:

    I agree with all this, although I approve of Out of Africa more than most. However, Redford stopped acting in the 80s, so he should be judged more on his direction and also his influence on the independent film market. Ordinary People and Quiz Show are two movies that are still well-regarded today (OP is often blamed for beating out Raging Bull, but that’s not Redford’s fault, and its reputation is improving with time.)

    But my argument was focusing on the 60s and 70s, where Redford’s work is just vastly more enjoyable than Beatty’s. I agree that neither is a particularly great actor.

    Redford made 16 movies from 1969 to 79:
    Butch Cassidy
    Downhill Racer
    Tell Them Willie Boy is Here
    Little Fauss and Big Halsy
    The Hot Rock
    Jeremiah Johnson
    The Candidate
    The Way We Were
    The Sting
    The Great Gatsby
    The Great Waldo Pepper
    Three Days of the Condor
    All the President’s Men
    A Bridge too Far
    Electric Horsemen

    I can’t say I like all of them but that is by any measure an outstanding run of films, bland acting or not. A year later, in 1980 he directed Ordinary People and a year after that he kicked off the Sundance Institute. He only made 5 movies in the 80s, one because Pollack begged him. He clearly had moved on and really didn’t take movies seriously again until mid 2000s.

    Beatty from 1967 to 1978:
    Bonnie & Clyde
    The Only Game in Town
    McCabe & Mrs. Miller
    Parallax View
    The Fortune
    Heaven Can Wait

    Then in the 80s he did:

    And a better 90s with:
    Dick Tracy
    Love Affair and Bulworth

    Now I grant you that he was more involved in those movies than Redford was. But 16 films in a decade, two of which are 21 and 40 on top moneymakers adjusted for inflation, But I’d take a Redford festival over a Beatty one any day, and it’s hard not to give Redford some credit for that.

    Agree about Eastwood. I’ve always wondered if he had bills to pay in the 80s.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      However, Redford stopped acting in the 80s, so he should be judged more on his direction and also his influence on the independent film market. Ordinary People and Quiz Show are two movies that are still well-regarded today (OP is often blamed for beating out Raging Bull, but that’s not Redford’s fault, and its reputation is improving with time.)

      I agree with this, but I was thinking of just the work these actors have done in front of the camera since 1980.

      Redford has been a busier actor than Beatty during that time – indeed, busier than I remembered – but I’m not sure he’s been all that much better. He’s acted in more than twenty movies in that four-decade span. He’ll often disappear for three to four years and then pop up again to make several films in consecutive years.

      But few of those movies in which Redford acts mattered, especially after 1985’s Out of Africa. They mattered neither commercially nor critically. At best they were well-received by critics, but ignored by everyone else, including Redford’s peers in the industry come the awards’ season.

      Take the nineteen-nineties. Redford made five feature films in that decade – Havana, Sneakers, Indecent Proposal, Up Close and Personal, and The Horse Whisperer.

      Here are those movies’ ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and their box office rank for the year they came out:

      Havana – 28% and #122 at the box office for 1990

      Sneakers – 79% and #32 at the box office for 1992

      Indecent Proposal – 35% and #6 at the box office for 1993

      Up Close and Personal – 31% and #29 at the box office for 1996.

      The Horse Whisperer – 74% and #23 at the box office for 1998.

      Three of these movies were critical dogs; the other two got decent marks from the critics, but were not critically acclaimed. All five were ignored by the awards’ shows. Only one – the salacious Indecent Proposal – was a box office smash. Three of them did okay with the public, and one – Havana – was a complete flop.

      Ten years is a long time for a movie star to go without an unequivocal hit. It’s even longer when you consider that Redford appeared in no movies after his 1986 film with Debra Winger, Legal Eagles.

      James Caan, by comparison, made more than a dozen feature films in that same decade. They include Misery, which was both a critically-acclaimed film and did well at the box office (and is probably a better movie than anything Redford did that decade, or since); Honeymoon in Vegas, which did okay for that kind of comedy at both the box office and among critics; Eraser, which did well at the box office, but not among critics; and Bottle Rocket, which did well among critics, but not at the box office.

      Caan had a lot of dogs in that decade, too. For the Boys with Bette Midler, for example, and Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. But I would say Caan’s high points in the 1990s were higher than Redford’s.

      Beatty made four films in the nineteen-nineties – Dick Tracy, Bugsy, Love Affair, and Bulworth. I like none of these films, but my personal judgments aside, they strike me as being a more formidable set of movies than what Redford gave us that same decade (even if I would prefer watching Sneakers again to having to rewatch Bugsy).

      But where Beatty fades fast and hard is after the nineteen-nineties. He has appeared in only two movies since starring in Bulworth in 1998, and neither one was worth a damn. Redford has appeared in at least ten films in that same time.

      Beatty’s disappearance from the screen has been remarkable. His wife has certainly kept busy during that time.

  10. JMK said:

    “Even James Caan and Donald Sutherland, neither of whom was ever a huge star like Beatty and Redford, seem to have done more interesting work of late than those two.”

    Disagree about Caan. His career has been a disappointment. Donald Sutherland has a career much more akin to Clint Eastwood since 1980 than either Beatty or Redford. Gould’s career was undone by that one movie and he never really recovered.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      After reading biographies of both Eastwood and Beatty, I wonder if the difference in their trajectories is just that Clint is so much easier to work with than Beatty.

      Warren was always much more politically connected than Clint in Hollywood, and that mattered for the Hollywood press. I was living in Westwood in the mid-eighties and I remember reading frequently about Warren in Variety and the LA Times’ entertainment section. The notices were almost always kind, too, because Beatty knew how to schmooze those people up. “Oh, did you hear Warren is getting back together with Elaine May. Great things are in store when those two are working on a film.” “Beatty is making headlines again with talk of his Howard Hughes biopic.” Etc. Etc.

      For a guy who made only two movies in the 1980s (Reds and Ishtar), Beatty was sure in the news a lot back then. Eastwood never got the kind of positive press from the locals.

      But as good a politician as Warren was when NOT making a movie, he invariably pissed off people when he finally got around to producing something. He was exhausting to work with. Even his friends hated him when they had to work with him.

      Clint, on the other hand, didn’t schmooze. He was not good with the Hollywood press. He moved up north away from Hollywood, founded his own production company, and did movies he wanted to do.

      But when it came time to film a movie, Eastwood was the opposite of Beatty. He didn’t waste the actors’ time. He was strictly point the camera and shoot. He trusted the actors to do what he was paying them to do.

      Should it be a surprise then that whenever I hear actors talking about their time working with Clint, they are always respectful of him and even a little protective, despite the fact that many of them have politics which are quite different from Clint’s?

      Working with Clint was easy; working with Beatty was not. And as Beatty got older, perhaps the idea of having to slog through the production of another movie, browbeating his actors with take after take after take, began to exhaust even him. Maybe he no longer felt up to it.

      • JMK said:

        I think is absolutely true sbout Clint and Beatty. Both of them were womanizers, both of them appear to have settled down in the 90s, but Clint continued to build relationships with actors.

        It may also be that Clint’s world view melded more with the 90s than Beatty’s did.

  11. The stuff on Beatty and Eastwood is interesting. Which bios did you read?

    • Pincher Martin said:

      Peter Biskind’s Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America and I believe Marc Rich’s American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood.

  12. I am less interested in the merits or box office of the films. I just think when you look at performance, Beatty and Redford are melba toast. I’ve marveled at their looks, they can be a bit wry, but I’ve never lauded any particular performance. They are basically the same guy all the time, and I suppose Beatty can be credited for stretching (Bugsy) the same way you credit a guy who hasn’t been skiing for trying out a black diamond run. Hell, Redford’s most affecting performance may have been in A Bridge Too Far, a star cameo among star cameos where he was standard cynical/weary but shows some life when he gets into the water with his one line repeated over and over again. He’s a light comedian and a decent one at that.

    Caan has had his share of disappointments, and being generous, his career has been okay, but neither Redford or Beatty have anything close to a performance like Sonny in The Godfather, or like Caan’s in The Gambler, Cinderella Liberty, Brian’s Song, Thief or Gardens of Stone. Hell, watch Caan in the underrated The Way of the Gun. Or even his bit versus Redford’s in A Bridge Too Far. Redford’s role is defined by the harrowing crossing of the river and even when he chews out the Brits for not following up, he’s . . . okay. Juxtapose that with Caan and his scenes before the harrowing jeep chase (guaranteeing his lieutenant will live) and after (dealing with the doctor). That’s some damn fine acting and there is no way Beatty could even come near those roles (to be fair to Redford, he did his role fine and could make a game effort at least).

    I used to think it was because they were pretty. But Matt Damon is kind of pretty and he can act his balls off.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      I agree with nearly every word of this post except the last line. You think Matt Damon is pretty?

      • Ha ha. He isn’t? Okay. The dude who played Neil Armstrong in the movie you hated. He’s pretty and he can act.

  13. Pincher Martin said:

    Ha ha. He isn’t? Okay. The dude who played Neil Armstrong in the movie you hated. He’s pretty and he can act.

    An inspired choice. Gosling is pretty, and while he can act he seems limited in a way that reminds me of a Beatty or Redford. I liked him in Murder by Numbers, which ironically is one of his very first films, and The Nice Guys, a so-so movie but one in which he showed some excellent comic acting. But to watch him in Drive or Blade Runner 2049 is to be reminded that some actors need to shy away from strong and silent characters with deep thoughts when all they can do is suggest autism. He ain’t Steve McQueen.

    But Gosling was never the star that Redford or even Beatty were in the nineteen-seventies. He doesn’t put people’s butts in the cinema seats. Nor did he have a defining hit movie early in his career like Beatty did with Bonnie and Clyde and Redford did with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. La La Land? Maybe. But I don’t think it fits. Gosling had already been in Hollywood for fifteen years when that movie came out.

    One actor I would’ve said was in the mold of Redford and Beatty early in his career was Brad Pitt. Pretty actor? Definitely. Big star? Yep. In the nineteen-nineties, Pitt was as big a star as anyone in Hollywood. In some ways he owned that decade in the same way Cruise owned the eighties. Can’t act? Yeah, Pitt’s range was very limited early in his career.

    But at the end of that decade, Pitt suddenly developed a range I had never seen in him before. In 1999, with Fight Club, and even more so in 2000, with his turn as the gypsy boxer in Snatch, I started seeing things out of Pitt I never imagined I would see. The man could act.

    Try to imagine Warren Beatty or Robert Redford doing the gypsy boxer in Snatch or the Chad character in Burn After Reading. I just can’t do it.

    Who else fits that Redford or Beatty model of great-looking leading man megastar with limited range? Keanu Reeves maybe?

  14. JMK said:

    See, I just don’t see Caan as all that great an actor. Or put another way: if it were easy to do what Redford does, everyone would do it. Don’t sell good looks, charisma, and the ability to pick great properties short. As for Bridge Too Far, which I think is arguably the best acting Redford has ever done, I find it much more enjoyable than Caan’s dead-eyed determination (but then, I also find that part of the movie enjoyable for the resolution (“one two three for five six seven eight nine ten”), but a drag otherwise on an already long movie).

    Agree with Pincher about Brad Pitt. What Pitt took a decade or so to figure out is that he’s a horrible romantic figure. He’s gorgeous, so it seems obvious to pair him in love stories. But Pitt’s best movies are with mostly male casts or comedies with little romance: Fight Club, Ocean’s 11 (in which he was easily the best thing in it), Inglorious Basterds, World War Z, Moneyball, The Big Short, Burn After Reading (also the best thing in it), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Even early in his career, 12 Monkeys, was with mostly men. And it was his figuring that out–or getting powerful enough to thwart studio execs–that led to his rebirth.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      Aren’t you missing the bigger problem here? Filmvetter thinks Matt Damon is pretty.

      (You’re absolutely right about Pitt’s need to have other male actors around him to shine. Romances aren’t for him.)

      • JMK said:

        I mean. Ben Affleck’s pretty.

        However, I will say that both Damon and Affleck in different ways have lived up to their early promise. Affleck’s never been a great actor, but he is an excellent filmmaker.

        Damon isn’t pretty, but he is an absurdly underrated actor. Criminal that he’s never won an acting Oscar.

        As Filmvetter says: “He was the heart of The Talented Mr. Ripley, but everyone was dazzled by Jude Law; he made The Departed tick, but the buzz went to Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and even Mark Wahlberg, who played a stock tough Boston cop and received an Oscar nod for it. In the Coen Brothers re-make of True Grit, Damon near stole the picture, and his smaller part in Contagion was the most affecting.”

        All that plus a major action franchise and a popular HBO reality show.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      Damon isn’t pretty, but he is an absurdly underrated actor. Criminal that he’s never won an acting Oscar.

      He’s a great, great actor. One of the best working today (and there’s a case to be made that he’s the best). He has both a wide range of comic and dramatic characters he can play and he can fill a traditional leading man role in a box office hit.

      He just ain’t pretty.

      BTW, that generation, which began to debut on screen in the nineteen-nineties, turned out a number of superb male actors who I would say have all ended up being better at their craft than Beatty or Redford.

      Matt Damon (1970)

      Leonardo DiCaprio (1974)

      Christian Bale (1974)

      Brad Pitt (1963, but blossomed late as an actor)

      Ethan Hawke (1970, but perhaps on a lower scale of skill than the actors above)


      You mention Ben Affleck (1972). He might be the best modern example yet of a Redford/Beatty type of actor who because of his good looks and competent acting skills is capable of being a traditional star, but does not have the kind of acting skills demonstrated by his peers above. Also, like Beatty and Redford, Affleck seems keen to branch out from acting and do other things like direct and produce.

      • JMK said:

        Yes, Affleck’s turn to directing is for similar reason. Affleck knows the industry well and is a very bright guy. Makes sense he would opt in for something that requires less thespian talent, but a good understanding of what makes movies tick.

        Agree with your list.

  15. JMK said:

    For amusement and to answer Pincher’s question,I went through all the top moneymaking films of the 80s and found the stars (it’s in wikipedia) and in a few cases supporting.

    It is *amazing* to consider that almost every name mentioned began his career in the 80s, and has had a career that carries on to this day, or close to it. The 80s is a famously bad decade for movies, but it introduced a hell of a lot of movie stars who are still around.

    Notable for absence: all the folks we’ve been discussing thus far. I think that changes in the 90s.

    Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (harrison ford)
    Batman (Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson)
    E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
    Rain Man (dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise)
    Back to the Future Part II (Michael J. Fox)
    Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Bob Hoskins)
    Look Who’s Talking (John Travolta, Bruce Willis)
    Coming to America (Eddie Murphy)
    Return of the Jedi (Harrison Ford)
    Crocodile Dundee II (Paul wuzzisname)
    Dead Poets Society (Robin Williams)
    Beverly Hills Cop (Eddie Murphy)
    Ghostbusters (Bill Murray)
    Lethal Weapon 2 (Mel Gibson)
    Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
    Twins (Arnold, Danny DeVito)
    Ghostbusters II (Bill Murray)
    Raiders of the Lost Ark (Harrison Ford)
    Back to the Future (Michael J. Fox)
    The Empire Strikes Back (Harrison Ford)
    Rambo III (Stallone)
    The Little Mermaid
    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Harrison Ford)
    A Fish Called Wanda (Kevin Kline)
    Tootsie (Dustin Hoffman)
    Top Gun (Tom Cruise)
    Crocodile Dundee (Paul wuzzisname)
    Cocktail (Tom Cruise)
    Three Men and a Baby (Ted Danson, Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg)
    Fatal Attraction (Michael Douglas)
    Beverly Hills Cop II (Eddie Murphy)
    Born on the Fourth of July (Tom Cruise)
    Big (Tom Hanks)
    Rambo: First Blood Part II (Stallone)
    Die Hard (Willis)
    The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (Leslie Nielsen)
    Platoon (Dafoe, Berenson)
    An Officer and a Gentleman (Richard Gere)
    Rocky IV (Stallone)
    Rocky III (Stallone)
    Good Morning, Vietnam (Robin Williams)
    On Golden Pond (Henry Fonda, Dabney Coleman)
    The Karate Kid Part II (Ralph wuzzisname)
    Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Shatner, Nimoy)
    Terms of Endearment (Jeff Daniels, Nicholson, De Vito)
    Superman II (Christopher Reeve)
    9 to 5 (Dabney Coleman)
    Stir Crazy (Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor)

    Harrison Ford: 5
    Sylvester Stallone: 4
    Tom Cruise: 4
    Dustin Hoffman: 2
    Bruce Willis: 2
    Robin Williams: 2
    Dabney Coleman: notable only because he appeared twice!): 2

    Did I miss anyone?

  16. JMK said:

    The 90s. This was the era when the biggest money makers were with tier 2 stars. Again, though, pretty amazing how many people are still around, in blockbusters or not. (Is Paxton the only one dead?)

    Titanic (Leonardo diCaprio, Bill Paxtonn))
    Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor)
    Jurassic Park (Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum)
    Independence Day (Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum)
    The Lion King
    Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks)
    The Sixth Sense (Bruce Willis)
    The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Jeff Goldblum)
    Men in Black (Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones)
    Armageddon (Bruce Willis)
    Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Arnold)
    Ghost: (Patrick Swayze)
    Aladdin (Robin Williams)
    Twister (Bill Paxton)
    Toy Story 2 (Tom Hanks, Tim Allen)
    Saving Private Ryan (Tom Hanks)
    Home Alone
    The Matrix (Keanu Reeves)
    Pretty Woman (Richard Gere)
    Mission: Impossible (Tom Cruise)
    Mrs. Doubtfire (Robin Williams)
    Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner)
    The Mummy (Brenden Fraser)
    The Bodyguard (Kevin Costner)
    Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Kevin Costner)
    Godzilla (Broderick)
    True Lies (Arnold, Bill Paxton)
    Toy Story (Tom Hanks)
    There’s Something About Mary (Ben Stiller)
    The Fugitive (Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones)
    Die Hard with a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)
    Notting Hill (Hugh Grant)
    A Bug’s Life
    The World Is Not Enough (James Bond)
    Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
    American Beauty (Kevin Spacey)
    Apollo 13 (Tom Hanks)
    Basic Instinct (Michael Douglas)
    GoldenEye (James Bond)
    The Mask (Jim Carrey)
    Speed (Keanu Reeves)
    Deep Impact
    Beauty and the Beast
    The Flintstones
    Batman Forever (Jim Carrey)
    The Rock (Sean Connery, Nick Cage)
    Tomorrow Never Dies (James Bond)
    Seven (Brad Pitt)

    Tom Hanks: 5
    Bruce Willis: 3
    Kevin Costner: 3
    Jeff Goldblum: 3
    James Bond: 3
    Jim Carrey: 2
    Keanu Reeves: 2
    Robin Williams: 2
    Tommy Lee Jones: 2
    Arnold: 2 (really? Total Recall isn’t on the list?)
    Michael Douglas: 1
    Harrison Ford: 1
    Tom Cruise: 1–interesting, given that he made Eyes Wide Shut, Jerry Maguire, Interview with the Vampire, The Firm, A Few Good Men, and Far and Away, all critically acclaimed movies except the last.

    Notable that the James Bond franchise really revived in the 90s, huh? Also clear that The Little Mermaid really sparked a revival of excellent animated films.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      I’m shocked to see Brad Pitt’s name not get a single tally for this decade.

      1991 – Thelma and Louise (A memorable role, but so brief that I certainly understand leaving this one off)

      1992 – A River Runs Through It (A Robert Redford production)

      1993 – Kalifornia
      – True Romance (another brief, but memorable role in a Tony Scott film written by Tarantino)

      1994 – Interview with the Vampire (works with Tom Cruise)
      – Legends of the Fall (works with Anthony Hopkins in an Edward Zwick film)

      1995 – Seven (works with Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey in a David Fincher film)
      – 12 Monkeys (works with Bruce Willis in a Terry Gilliam film)

      1996 – Sleepers (works with Robert DeNiro in a Barry Levinson film)

      1997 – The Devil’s Own (works with Harrison Ford in an Alan Pakula film)
      – Seven Years in Tibet

      1998 – Meet Joe Black (works again with Anthony Hopkins)

      1999 – Fight Club (works with Edward Norton in his second David Fincher film)


      That’s as good a start to the movie business as an actor can get in ten years. Even the box office dogs were star vehicles with excellent directors and good to excellent surrounding casts. Other than Tom Cruise or maybe Matt Damon, it’s hard to think of any other modern actor in the last four decades who got off to that kind of start in his career.

      I’m surprised that at least a couple of those films didn’t make box office gold and get Pitt’s name on your list.

      What’s even more surprising is that Pitt’s best acting work is not on this list, other than Fight Club.

      • JMK said:

        Brad Pitt was in 7. I just didn’t tally it. Sorry. Was mainly looking for repeats or previous winners.

        These aren’t my movies. They are straight out of wikipedia as top money makers.

        But as I say later on, I am also shocked at the number of major actors who are never in the top 50.

        As for Pitt, I consider his performances in all of those movies *except* Fight Club and his breakout in Thelma and Louise to be examples of miscasting. He is very disappointing, with none of the charisma he shows later,and shows in the two aforementioned movies.

        He’s just not an actor for romances. Does his best work with male costars.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      Was the eighties really that bad for movies? Or was it just unfortunate enough to have been bookended by two terrific decades in movies, the seventies and nineties, that make it seem worse than it really was?

  17. JMK said:

    This is probably boring you guys, but boy, is it fun to talk movies with you again!4

    The 2000s. Here it really kind of comes off the rails compared to the other years. You run into a lot of actors you never really hear from again. A lot of them I just couldn’t be bothered as they’ve already disappeared or found a lower level of stardom)

    Avatar (Sam someone)
    The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (ensemble)
    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Johnny Depp)
    The Dark Knight (Christian Bale)
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
    Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Johnny Depp)
    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers New Line Cinema
    Shrek 2 (Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers)
    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
    Spider-Man 3 (Tobey Maguire)
    Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
    The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
    Finding Nemo (Albert Brooks)
    Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (Ewan McGregor)
    Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Shia guy)
    Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire)
    Shrek the Third (Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers)
    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (harrison Ford)
    Spider-Man 2 (Tobey Maguire)
    The Da Vinci Code (Tom Hanks)
    The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
    The Matrix Reloaded (Keanu Reeves)
    2012 (John Cusack)
    Transformers (Shia wuzzisname_)
    Up (Ed Asner)
    The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Pattinson)
    Ice Age: The Meltdown
    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Johnny Depp)
    Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (Ewan McGregor)
    Kung Fu Panda (Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman)
    The Incredibles (Craig Nelson)
    Hancock (Will Smith)
    The Passion of the Christ (Jim someone)
    Mamma Mia! (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan,
    Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
    Casino Royale (James Bond)
    War of the Worlds (Tom Cruise)
    Quantum of Solace (James Bond)
    I Am Legend (Will Smith)
    Iron Man (RDJ)
    Night at the Museum
    King Kong
    Mission: Impossible 2 (Tom Cruise)
    The Day After Tomorrow

    As I said, this decade is boring. All the multiple names are in tentpole franchise films. Nowhere near the depth.

    Will Smith: 2
    Tom Cruise: 2
    Tom Hanks: 1
    Johnny Depp hit it huge with the pirate flicks after an earlier decade of excellence with no money makers.
    Tobey Maguire and his movies have disappeared without a trace.
    Ewan McGregor had a good decade, but none of his best films made enough money.

    Am I getting old? The 80s might be a bad decade for movies, but there’s very little on here I want to see again.

  18. JMK said:

    The 2010s were worse, from an analysis standpoint. No major stars appearing in non-sequel movies.

    Tom Hanks made the list because of his Toy Story films. Will Smith made it in on Aladdin.

    Anyway, that was revealing. There was a big switch in the 2000s and beyond. We’re going to see fewer longterm stars.

    Also interesting how many amazing, well known, highly regarded actors with long careers there are that never made this list or made it once or twice in a big money franchise film (Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Goldblum, etc, as very different from Daniel Radcliffe, Shia, etc.). Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams had more of a presence than I expected.

    Kevin Costner kind of disappeared and has now re-esstablished himself. Nice to see.

    I remain amazed at Bruce Willis’s longevity and quality., Only recently has there been a falloff with those action films.

    So, to answer Pincher’s question: I think Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves both have the presence that Redford had, and also don’t really have any particular chops. Cruise’s career has been amazing. He’s younger than almost everyone on the list but his career dates back earlier than everyone except Clint and Harrison.

    • Pincher Martin said:

      So, to answer Pincher’s question: I think Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves both have the presence that Redford had, and also don’t really have any particular chops. Cruise’s career has been amazing. He’s younger than almost everyone on the list but his career dates back earlier than everyone except Clint and Harrison.

      I wonder if Cruise limits himself as an actor. When I saw him as Lev Grossman in Tropic Thunder, I thought this man can act. Here he was in an ensemble cast in a great film filled with talented actors and he still shone out as perhaps the best thing in the movie. I can’t imagine either Redford or Beatty pulling off Lev Grossman.

      But that was an outlier. Cruise seems determined to stay in the kind of traditional leading man roles that make for commercially successful films, even if his ability to carry off that role seems slightly diminished from the eighties and nineties.

      Thus we get the latest reiteration of Mission Impossible. Or the Jack Reacher films. Or the sci-fi films from Oblivion to War of the Worlds to the criminally-underappreciated Edge of Tomorrow.

      Occasionally Cruise will do something like American Made or Magnolia, which presents a little risk, but almost all the movies he acts in suggest he takes pride in getting a decent box office out of every film he does, as if he knows he’s the kind of guy who can routinely break $100 million in box office for a film and doesn’t want to lose that reputation.

      Brad Pitt seemed happy at the end of the nineteen-nineties to occasionally move out of the constricted set of roles he was put in, but Cruise does not. Instead, Tom seems intent on showing the audience how young and active he still is. See Tom run! See Tom do his own stunts!

      The dude is 58 years-old. I would think he would be tired of doing running scenes for Mission Impossible.

  19. Pincher Martin said:

    Since I have hijacked Filmvetter’s review with my off-topic comments, I thought I would bring it back to Warren Beatty and The Parallax View before signing off.

    Here is something from that biography of Beatty I mentioned earlier which talks about the production of TPV. It shows how obsessive Beatty was when making a film, even when he was just an actor and not a director:

    This was the first acting Beatty had done since Dollars wrapped in April 1971, and he was rusty. Pakula [the director of The Parallax View] didn’t mind indulging his [Beatty’s] penchant for double-digit takes. Like Beatty, he would say, “It’s only film.” One of the director’s strengths was his ability to deal with difficult actors, which would shortly see hm through All the President’s Men, with Redford and Hoffman. “Both Allan [Pakula] and Warren are very canny, very crafty, very manipulative people who know how to charm someone and get them on their side,” says Boorstin [an intern who worked on the film]. “That whole process of the rewriting I’m sure was as much about managing Warren as it was about changing the script. Because I didn’t see the script doing a lot of changing around.”

    In one scene, Beatty does nothing more complicated than sit at a table stirring soup. The actor did take after take to get just the right amount of steam coming off the soup. Charlie Maguire, the production manager, whom Beatty had first met on Splendor in the Grass and who went on to work on many of his films, took the slate used to spark the start of each take and kept it as a souvenir. It said, “Warren Stirs Soup. Take 98”!…

    With little of Pakula’s patience, DP Gordon Willis was another story. He was a tough, gruff customer who even at the beginning of his career liked to take control of the set. “Gordon had no patience with actors,” Boorstin recalls. “He would get pissed off. He thought [all the takes were] just a waste of time. How many times can you stir the soup? After six or seven takes, it wasn’t getting any better anyway.

    Pretty funny.

    • These, certainly with some omissions, are my best American films of the 1980s (I’ve included ones that I’m not particularly fond of for purposes of comparison)

      I think it was a weak decade but also, that the 1970s and the 1990s were particularly strong

      The Shining
      Body Heat
      True Confessions
      Blade Runner
      The Right Stuff
      Terms of Endearment
      Tender Mercies
      The Terminator
      Blue Velvet
      River’s Edge
      Something Wild
      Broadcast News
      Full Metal Jacket
      House of Games
      Dangerous Liaisons
      Die Hard
      Midnight Run
      Working Girl
      Crimes and Misdemeanors
      Do The Right Thing
      Drugstore Cowboy
      The Fabulous Baker Boys
      Raiders of the Lost Ark
      Trading Places
      Raging Bull
      The Verdict

      • JMK said:

        I reordered your list

        May be great, but no interest:
        The Shining
        Blue Velvet
        Something Wild
        Full Metal Jacket
        Raging Bull

        Haven’t Seen

        Body Heat
        Drugstore Cowboy

        Like, but not as much as you
        True Confessions
        Tender Mercies
        River’s Edge
        Broadcast News (minority view, I know)

        Agree with Great

        Blade Runner
        The Right Stuff
        Terms of Endearment
        The Terminator
        House of Games
        Dangerous Liaisons
        Die Hard
        Midnight Run
        Working Girl
        Crimes and Misdemeanors
        Do The Right Thing
        The Fabulous Baker Boys
        Raiders of the Lost Ark
        Trading Places
        The Verdict

        Would add:
        Fish Called Wanda
        ET (I didn’t love it, but certainly impactful)
        Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (highly underrated, beginning to get recognition)
        The Thing (probably makes my top 10)
        Local Hero (would make my top 10 easily)
        A Room With a View
        The Big Easy
        The Hidden
        Who Framed Roger Rabbit (any film that can kill a boot and make me feel bad…)
        Bull Durham (really? Not on your list?)
        Running on Empty

        Not necessarliy great, but way more fun than a lot of yours.
        A Soldier’s Story
        Murphy’s Romance
        All of Me
        Sixteen Candles
        Out of Africa
        Killing Fields
        Passage to India
        The Package

  20. My Glaring Omissions From the 80s
    A Fish Called Wanda
    Local Hero

    Perfectly Fine Films, Not Much More
    Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan 
    The Thing 
    A Room With a View
    The Big Easy
    The Hidden
    Who Framed Roger Rabbit
    Bull Durham (doesn’t travel all that well, but Ron Shelton was overrated even when he was hot)
    The Package

    Never Saw 
    Running on Empty
    All of Me
    Murphy’s Romance

    Wildly Overrated
    A Soldier’s Story
    Sixteen Candles
    Out of Africa
    Killing Fields
    Passage to India

  21. JMK said:

    Notice I didn’t put any of your overrated movies in “Great”. I agree they aren’t great, but they are all enjoyable watches.

    Star Trek: Wrath of Khan may or may not be a great movie. It certainly is considered the greatest of the Star Trek films. But from an industry impact point of view, it saved the franchise and when you consider that from a popular culture standpoint, it’s pretty huge. 30 years ago, no one would have mentioned it as an important film of 1982. Today, it is often given credit by non sci-fi critics for its impact. That’s kind of all I meant.

    The Hidden is an amazingly good film in both horror and scifi realm. That’s hard to do. When you consider it’s the same genre as T and T2, with a tenth of the budget, its achievements look impressive.

    The Big Easy is that rare thing, a good murder mystery movie and the performances are outstanding.

    But I’ll settle for really good, not great.

    All the “never saw” movies are worth a look. Matewan and Running on Empty are political and you have to overlook a bit, but I think both of them have scenes of such emotional power they’re worth it. All of Me is pretty charming. Murphy’s Romance is just what it says it is, a sweet little romance. Fun for James Garner, although Sally Field is a little too high on the plucky side.

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