20 Best Gene Hackman Movies of All Time, Ranked

20 Best Gene Hackman Movies of All Time, Ranked

Few actors are quite as beloved as Gene Hackman, a two-time Oscar winner who appeared in a wide variety of movies from the early 1960s until his retirement from acting in 2004. He brought a certain amount of dedication and intensity to just about every role he played, becoming such an acclaimed actor because he never phoned it in, and could always reliably deliver great performances, even in movies that overall might not have been great.

As for the following movies? They are all good to great, and represent Hackman’s best work as an actor, and the overall best films that he appeared in throughout his remarkable acting career. Few actors can claim to have excelled in such a large number of movies, and across almost every genre under the sun, with all the following titles serving to demonstrate Hackman’s unparalleled acting chops.

20 ‘The Birdcage’ (1996)

The Birdcage - 1996
Image via MGM/UA Distribution Co.

The Birdcage is a significant film within LGBTQ+ cinema, and was among the first to achieve widespread popularity. It’s a farcical comedy about two gay men who are partners, and find themselves needing to pass as straight for a family-related event where they’ll be meeting the conservative parents of the fiancée to one of their sons.

RELATED: Best LGBTQ+ Movies of All Time, Ranked

It’s a film with a very strong cast, featuring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams in the lead roles, and Gene Hackman as the seemingly conservative Senator Kevin Keeley. It’s an amusing and good-natured movie, and also stands as one of the most well-known movies directed by Mike Nichols (and doesn’t represent the only time Nichols directed Hackman, either).

19 ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (1972)

A man helping an injured woman

Gene Hackman won his first Oscar in 1971, and then in 1972, he got the leading role in one of the biggest blockbusters he ever appeared in. That movie was The Poseidon Adventure, which is a large-scale and even epic disaster movie about an ocean liner that capsizes, plunging everyone on board into a desperate fight for survival, where failing to escape will lead to almost certain death.

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It’s very of its time, because these sorts of big disaster movies with lots of characters – and notable stars playing them – were particularly big in the 1970s, but not so much outside the decade. Still, The Poseidon Adventure is certainly one of the better ones, with some gripping sequences that hold up well, and a central performance from Hackman that anchors (pun intended) the movie.

18 ‘Postcards from the Edge’ (1990)

Postcards from the Edge - 1990
Image via Columbia Pictures

Postcards from the Edge is first and foremost a movie that stars Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, with Gene Hackman’s role being comparatively minor. It’s a film based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher, which was about her relationship with her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, and her struggles with addiction.

Despite the title, it does feel like something where some of the edge was potentially removed, because the film ultimately chooses to focus on the mother-and-daughter dynamic, and doesn’t explore addiction much beyond the first act. Yet it still works well as a dramedy, being fantastically acted by Streep and MacLaine, and having a strong supporting performance from Hackman as a director named Lowell Kolchek, who Streep’s character collaborates with on and off.

17 ‘No Way Out’ (1987)

no_way_out_hackman and costner

An underrated 1980s thriller, No Way Out stars Kevin Costner as a Navy Lieutenant who gets entangled in a very complex situation. He begins having a relationship with a woman who’s also having an affair with Kevin Costner’s character, Defense Secretary David Brice, who has powerful connections that he ends up using once the two men cross paths.

To say more about a twist-filled thriller like No Way Out would be doing it a disservice, and it all builds up to one kind of ridiculous – but also memorable – ending. It largely works and feels pretty well-paced overall, and Hackman once again shows how great he is at playing characters who are equal parts sleazy and intimidating.

16 ‘A Bridge Too Far’ (1977)

a_bridge_too_far_1977 cast

Among all the great war movies out there, A Bridge Too Far feels like one of the most large-scale, and also one of the longest when it comes to runtime. It has a huge ensemble cast and runs for just shy of three hours, taking a detailed look at 1944’s Operation Market Garden, which was an important World War II event, the success of which would likely make an Allied victory in Europe possible.

RELATED: The Greatest Movies of the 1970s, Ranked

Beyond Hackman, the cast also includes Michael Caine, James Caan, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, and Robert Redford, among many others. It’s packed with stars and has a scope that still impresses to this day, being a long yet ultimately rewarding World War II epic.

15 ‘Night Moves’ (1975)

night-moves-1975_gene hackman

Gene Hackman plays a private detective in the neo-noir movie Night Moves, and it’s overall one of the most underrated movies of its genre from the 1970s. Hackman’s character at first believes his task to be a simple one – finding a missing girl – but as always happens in movies like this, what he discovers is anything but straightforward.

RELATED: Best Movies of 1975, Ranked It’s certainly a moody and unpredictable movie, and though it sometimes feels like a slow burn, it’s never boring to watch. It’s easy to recommend to both Gene Hackman fans, and those who like the kinds of steadily paced – and often bleak – crime movies that were popular in American cinema during the 1970s.

14 ‘Scarecrow’ (1973)

Al Pacino and Gene Hackman in Scarecrow
Image via Peacock Films

The pairing of lead actors in Scarecrow is worth the price of admission alone, as this is a film that stars both Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. It’s about two drifters who, fittingly enough, lack a direction in life, with the movie around them similarly lacking a straightforward narrative, and instead showing how the two men pass their time.

They naturally have bigger dreams they want to accomplish, too, but the bleakness of the world they inhabit ultimately has other plans. It’s a sad and slow-paced movie, but it leaves a mark, and things are undeniably helped by the fact that two of the greatest actors of all time are both featured as the lead characters.

13 ‘Superman II’ (1980)

Superman II - 1980 (1)
Image via Warner Bros.

A well-received superhero sequel that was even better received when it got a 2006 director’s cut, Superman II isn’t quite as good as the 1978 movie it follows, but is nevertheless compelling. It increases the stakes and number of villains for the titular hero to combat, with Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor still in the picture, and new foes – led by General Zod – coming to Earth after their banishment from the planet Krypton.

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Zod might steal the show, but Hackman’s Luthor still doesn’t kneel before him in totality, given Hackman still shines when returning to one of his best-known roles. Lex Luthor isn’t a subtle or understated villain by any means, but it’s great to see Gene Hackman play someone so outwardly villainous, and it helps that it also looks like the actor is having a good time in the role.

12 ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974)

Young Frankenstein - 1974
Image via 20th Century Fox

It doesn’t belong to the official Frankenstein series, as it’s a Mel Brooks spoof, but Young Frankenstein is still a classic nevertheless. It follows the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein inheriting the scientist’s castle, ultimately following in his elder’s footsteps, only for the results to be far more comedic than horrific.

Gene Hackman’s role in the movie is essentially just a cameo, as he plays a blind man named Harold who’s briefly visited by Frankenstein’s creature when the monster roams the countryside. Still, it’s fun to see Hackman pop up in a broad and silly comedy movie, and though he’s not in it much, the fact Young Frankenstein’s such a classic still means it’s one of the best movies he ever appeared in.

11 ‘The Firm’ (1993)

Gene Hackman as Avery and Tom Cruise as Mitch in 'The Firm.'
Image via Paramount Pictures 

The Firm might not have any business being 2.5 hours long, but to its credit, it remains compelling enough to be entertaining for the majority of that lengthy runtime. It’s about a young lawyer who joins a very shady law firm, and then finds himself troubled by the FBI – who want evidence about the firm’s misdeeds – and the powerful executives who serve as the higher-ups at the firm.

Tom Cruise shines as the star of the film, with Gene Hackman playing one of the seniors at the firm whose character becomes more multi-layered as the film goes on. It’s decently suspenseful and well-made overall, and manages to feel like it’s of its time, but not in a way that negatively dates it or makes it difficult to watch nowadays.

10 ‘The Quick and the Dead’ (1995)

John Herod in The Quick and the Dead

Somewhere between directing the Evil Dead trilogy and the Spider-Man trilogy, Sam Raimi also made The Quick and the Dead, which is one of its decade’s best Westerns. It’s about a town that holds a quick-draw tournament, and a dangerous one at that, as it continually ends up proving fatal for many participants.

RELATED: The Most Action-Packed Classic Westerns of All Time, Ranked

It has a great cast, with it being led by Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman, and a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Hackman’s villainous character here is one of the slimiest and most despicable he ever played, being a great love-to-hate character that helps make the otherwise fairly simple story worth caring about.

9 ‘Hoosiers’ (1986)

Gene Hackman standing with his team in Hoosiers
Image via MGM

A compelling and underrated 1980s sports drama, Hoosiers sees Gene Hackman playing a determined – and sometimes divisive – coach of a small-town basketball team. The film takes place in the 1950s, and uses familiar sports movie tropes in telling its story about how this team struggled yet improved under their coach.

It’s a very quiet movie, with the lack of flashiness or explosive action perhaps leaving it within the realm of the underrated. But it’s worth checking out, because it tells a familiar story well, and has some great performances – one from Hackman, of course, but also an equally great supporting turn from an Oscar-nominated Dennis Hopper.

8 ‘Reds’ (1981)

Reds - 1981 (1)
Image via Paramount Pictures

Reds is a mammoth film, clocking in at 195 minutes and telling a large-scale historical story with a truly impressive cast. Beyond Gene Hackman (in a relatively small role), that cast also includes Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, and Jack Nicholson, and is about love and attempted revolutions, centering around an American journalist who wanted to spread socialist principles among the U.S.’s working class.

It might be a little long or even over-ambitious for some, but the effort has to be appreciated, with star Warren Beatty also directing, producing, and co-writing the film. Hackman’s briefly featured as an associate of the main character, with his role here having some similarities to his first credited (brief) performance in 1964’s Lillith, as that also featured Beatty in the lead role.

7 ‘Superman’ (1978)

Superman - 1978 (2)
Image via Warner Bros.

The original Superman is arguably still the best movie to ever feature the iconic superhero. It’s a pure and good-natured superhero movie, with the titular character doing a whole lot more saving people than fighting them. Its 1980 sequel was good, but the Superman movies (and the 1984 Supergirl movie) that followed weren’t exactly great.

RELATED: Overly Ambitious Superhero Movies That Bit Off More Than They Could Chew

Christopher Reeve is great in the lead role, though his status as a newcomer actor meant he was unfairly billed below both Marlon Brando (who has a fairly small role) and Gene Hackman (who’s the lead antagonist). Still, you can’t deny that the latter is a fantastic villain here, with the film’s overall popularity and status as a classic also making it one of Hackman’s most recognizable works.

6 ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ (2001)

Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums
Image via Buena Vista Pictures

It’s fair to call The Royal Tenenbaums a comedy, so long as you include a disclaimer of sorts that clarifies it’s a very sad comedy at times. It was one of Wes Anderson’s earliest feature films, and expertly blended quirky humor and tragic family drama, telling the story of a dysfunctional family upended further by the return of its on-and-off patriarch, played by Gene Hackman.

It marked the start of Anderson’s foray into directing movies with ensemble casts, given his previous two movies – Bottle Rocket and Rushmore – each had a more restricted scope. And the casting of Hackman as arguably the film’s central character also did wonders for The Royal Tenenbaums, with it being one of his most captivating and complex roles, and the greatest film of his released in the 21st century.

5 ‘Mississippi Burning’ (1988)

Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman in Mississippi Burning
Image Via Orion Pictures

Mississippi Burning is a very tense and hard-hitting crime/drama movie, and is set during a particularly turbulent time in the 1960s. It follows two FBI agents – played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe – who go to investigate a series of murders in a segregated Southern town that has a persistently strained atmosphere thanks to racial tension.

It does a great job of creating a hot, overwhelming atmosphere, and is one of those particularly visceral movies where you can really feel what the characters would be feeling. It’s tough and authentic overall, moving well with a compelling narrative and being enhanced by two great lead performances, courtesy of Hackman and Dafoe.

4 ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde - 1967
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

1967 was an important year for Hollywood, and Bonnie and Clyde was one of the most significant American films released during it. The movie broke ground when it came to showing violence and not shying away from having criminal protagonists who were surprisingly likable, with the film making the titular duo sympathetic anti-heroes, rather than villains.

RELATED: The Best Movie from Every Year of the 1960s, According to Letterboxd

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are the stars, but Hackman has a fantastic supporting role as Clyde’s older brother, Buck, with the performance also netting Hackman his first Oscar nomination. Classic crime movies don’t get much more iconic or historically significant than Bonnie and Clyde, with its uncompromising style and radical filmmaking ensuring that the film still holds up when watched today.

3 ‘The Conversation’ (1974)

The Conversation’ (1)

The Conversation is the less well-known Francis Ford Coppola movie released in 1974, given its competition is The Godfather: Part II. Yet it shouldn’t be overlooked, and is an overall fantastically made and underrated thriller, starring Gene Hackman in one of his most subdued lead roles.

It’s a film that’s all about surveillance, with Hackman playing an expert in the field who’s asked to listen in on a young couple, only to find himself increasingly wrapped up in their lives after he begins to suspect they might be in danger. It’s a very subtle and slow movie, but it remains consistently tense and expertly paced throughout, and is certainly worth sticking with until the end.

2 ‘Unforgiven’ (1992)

Gene Hackman as Little Bill in Unforgiven
Image via Warner Bros.

First and foremost, Unforgiven is a Clint Eastwood movie, and one of his greatest, at that. The legendary actor/filmmaker starred in and directed this dark and uncompromising Western about morality and revenge in the Old West, with it being one of his most successful overall, winning several Oscars, including Best Picture.

Another of the film’s Oscars went to Gene Hackman – his second win for acting – as he played the film’s menacing central antagonist, Sheriff ‘Little Bill’ Daggett. Little Bill’s one of the most menacing villains of all time, and Hackman performed an acting miracle by making such an evil character feel hauntingly real, and not at all cartoonishly villainous or inauthentic. It’s an unbelievably good performance in an unbelievably good movie, making Unforgiven rank among Hackman’s most essential films.

1 ‘The French Connection’ (1971)

Gene Hackman standing in front of armed men in The French Connection
Image via 20th Century Fox

Just over 20 years before Unforgiven, Gene Hackman won his first Oscar, and did so in an action/crime movie that also won Best Picture. That film is The French Connection, and it’s without a doubt one of the best of its genre, following an uncompromising narcotics detective who goes to great lengths when it comes to bringing down a large-scale drug-smuggling operation.

It’s a movie that boasts Gene Hackman’s best lead performance, and alongside his supporting turn in Bonnie and Clyde a few years earlier, made him a Hollywood star. Besides Hackman being iconic, it’s also a fantastically directed and well-assembled movie, still proving thrilling all these years on from release, and containing one of the greatest car chase sequences of all time to boot.

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