Top 10 Gene Hackman Films

A Salute to America's Anti-Hero, Gene Hackman

<i>The Conversation</i>
The Conversation

Top 10 Gene Hackman Performances

The ordinary-guy, everyman shit has got to stop. When's the last time Gene Hackman -- the 71-year-old ex-Marine with heart trouble and a serious soft spot for road rage who just happens to be "consistently the finest American screen actor over the past quarter-century," according to critic David Denby -- played an ordinary guy? Just about never, that's when, and certainly not in his best performances. No way. The anger, the intensity, the deception, the inspiration, the problems he brings to such inhabitancies as surveillance expert Harry Caul in The Conversation or car-wash ex-con Max in Scarecrow or Sheriff Little Bill Daggett in Unforgiven are not ordinary. They are not normal. They are extraordinary and abnormal. The closest Mean Gene's come to normal is when he was offered the role of Mike Brady (Bunch, that is). Crisis averted, of course, and Hackman's current outing as a father -- Royal of The Royal Tenenbaums -- is perhaps the finest turn of his career, and not just because it nabbed a Golden Globe nomination. Is he at the peak of his powers? Maybe. But here are 10 other masterful performances from his 40-year résumé, available somewhere on video or DVD. Call it our Salute to America's Anti-Hero.

1. The Conversation (1974): Paranoia runs deep in Francis Ford Coppola's post-Godfather classic, and Hackman is simply, sleazily brilliant as a man who knows way too much deciding what to do about it.

2. The French Connection (1971): His hard-nosed narc Popeye Doyle in the William Friedkin classic brought him an Oscar for Best Actor.

3. Mississippi Burning (1988): An old-school, good-ol' boy FBI agent is at odds with his young partner (Willem Dafoe) over the disappearance of three civil rights workers. Neo-realist race and anger in the Deep South, courtesy of Alan Parker.

4. Hoosiers (1986): With Dennis Hopper and Barbara Hershey, love and basketball at their hickory-smoked finest. "Absolutely no shots until you've passed off four times." Solid Midwestern advice from troubled coach Norman Dale.

5. Scarecrow (1973): An underrated romp with another pretty good American actor, Al Pacino.

6. Unforgiven (1992): Of Hackman's handful of Western roles, his despicable sheriff in Clint Eastwood's Oscar winner is far and away his best and most disturbing.

7. Night Moves (1975): A missing girl. A private eye. A murder. A critical darling.

8. Bonnie and Clyde (1967): Warren Beatty's surprising first choice as Clyde's brother, Buck Barrow, and an Oscar nomination. So emotional he can't stand still, or talk straight.

9. Cisco Pike (1972): Another round as a hard-nosed narc, but a corrupt one on the other coast. With Kris Kristofferson, and near impossible to find.

10. Superman (1978): Simply Lex-cellent.

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Gene Hackman, The Conversation, The French Connection, Mississippi Burning, Hoosiers, Scarecrow, Unforgiven, Night Moves, Bonnie and Clyde, Cisco Pike, Superman

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