As director Ron Howard celebrates his 65th (!) birthday, here are the filmmaker's best movies.
14. 'Willow' (1988)
Howard and George Lucas cribbed a lot from Tolkien in this fantasy adventure about an unlikely hero who goes on an epic quest in order to thwart an evil monarch. No matter; Warwick Davis is charismatic as the title hero, while Val Kilmer steals the film as his roguish sidekick.
13. 'Cinderella Man' (2005)
This biopic of Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock is an utterly shameless and sentimental melodrama, but is no less effective for that. It's hard to imagine anyone but Russell Crowe as the fighter in search of redemption (and a better life for his impoverished family), or Paul Giamatti as the fast-talking manager who's also putting a brave face on his own straitened circumstances.
12. 'Ransom' (1996)
This thriller is one of the grimmer outings of Howard's career, but the ever-vengeful Mel Gibson makes it work. Gibson stars as the anguished dad who uses his money and media access to put a bounty on the heads of the abductors who've kidnapped his son.
11. 'The Paper' (1994)
Two decades before “Spotlight,” Michael Keaton played a big-city newspaper's metro editor in this dramedy. It's not very realistic, but it does capture the headlong spirit of fun that crusading journalists enjoy when hot on the trail of a big scoop and racing against deadline.
10. 'Rush' (2013)
In a way, this account of the 1970s racing rivalry between Formula One stars James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is a throwback to Howard's first movie, 1977's micro-budgeted “Grand Theft Auto.” Like his rookie effort, this one is a celebration of both fast cars and the kinetic possibilities of filmmaking. “Rush” was sadly overlooked at the box office, and it's ripe for rediscovery.
9. 'The Missing' (2003)
This stark western is one of Howard's most unjustly overlooked movies. Cate Blanchett is a hard-bitten frontierswoman who sets off with her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) to rescue her kidnapped daughter. It's the kind of story of adventurers in extreme conditions that Howard excels at.
8. 'Backdraft' (1991)
Here's another overstuffed epic that's trying to be too many movies at once -- an effects-driven adventure, a sibling-rivalry drama, a romance, a political expose, a detective story, and even a little bit of “Silence of the Lambs” (with Donald Sutherland as the Hannibal Lecter of arsonists). Still, most of it works, especially the firefighting sequences, which inspired a stunt show at Universal Studios.
7. 'Cocoon' (1985)
Again, there are really two movies going on at once here: Steve Guttenberg's comic adventure with the alien visitors and the old folks' bittersweet dip into the fountain of youth. Howard integrates these tonally different plots surprisingly well.
6. 'A Beautiful Mind' (2001)
This Oscar-winner, for both Best Director and Best Picture, is a somewhat problematic biopic about mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe), but it's based on an especially specious script by Oscar-winning scribe Akiva Goldsman that fabricates a great deal in order to simulate the effect of Nash's mental illness. Still, Howard’s earnestness (somehow) makes it work.
5. 'Frost/Nixon' (2008)
Howard liked Peter Morgan's Broadway play so much he imported it wholesale, keeping Morgan as screenwriter and Michael Sheen and Frank Langella as stars. The result, set mostly in Richard Nixon's post-presidential living room, isn't terribly cinematic, but it's still unexpectedly exciting -- built around the cat-and-mouse game played by two men hungry for glory.
4. 'Night Shift' (1982)
There's some mild raunch in this early Howard comedy about a pair of New York morticians who run a brothel out of the city morgue, but the movie deserves mention mostly for having done us all the invaluable service of giving a young Michael Keaton his big break.
3. 'Parenthood' (1989)
Howard's film inspired not one, but two, NBC series centered on the comic (and sometimes trying) relationships between parents and their children. As the central dad, who's projected his neuroses onto his kids, Steve Martin gives an almost heroic performance; when his troubled son finally makes a big little-league play, it's worth the price of admission to watch Martin's body erupt with joy.
2. 'Splash' (1984)
Howard's first big hit is also the movie that made Tom Hanks a star. It's a thoroughly sweet romantic comedy, with Hanks at his most Everyman-charming and Daryl Hannah at her most adorable and winning as the mermaid he falls for. (This was also one of the movies that proved that Disney could make movies for adults too.)
1. 'Apollo 13' (1995)
It's hard to make a suspenseful adventure out of a true story that everyone knows ended happily, but Howard pulls it off. Everyone here is just perfect, from astronaut Tom Hanks to NASA ground chief Ed “Failure is not an option” Harris. This is Howard operating at the peak of his powers; as Harris' character might say, it's his finest hour.