The Films of Ron Howard


Earlier this week, I had a brain fart and mistakenly told a friend that Angels & Demons was directed by Steven Spielberg. To make ammends, I'll profile the movies of the actual director, Ron Howard.
The former child actor has become an award-winning filmmaker with an impressive list of movies in his filmography. (I'm not counting the short films he made as a film student or the early movies on his resume like the Roger Corman produced Grand Theft Auto or Cotton Candy and Skyward.)

Night Shift - Howard's first big motion picture was a comedy starring Michael Keaton and Howard's Happy Days co-star Henry Wrinkler as two entrepreneurs working at a city morgue. It's a nice beginning to what will be a great career.

Splash - This fantasy comedy starring Daryl Hannah as a mermaid and Tom Hanks as the guy who falls for her was Howard's first big hit. It's a great example of the director's knack for making movies that appeal to mainstream audiences.

Cocoon - Next, Howard made a fun little science fiction flick about senior citizens who regain their youthful exuberance after swimming in a pool that happens to have alien pods. The cast included Steve Guttenberg, Tahnee Welch, and Linda Harrison, but the true highlights were the talents of Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley, Brian Dennehy, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, and Gwen Verdon. Ameche won an Academy Award for his performance and I think Ron Howard deserves a lot of praise for making this a really heartfelt crowd-pleaser.

Gung Ho - Not one of Howard's greatest films, this comedy (starring Michael Keaton as a liaison between American automobile factory workers and the Japanese managers who come in after buying the plant) taps into some social issues of the 1980s and has some nice moments mixed in with the laughs.

Willow - I wonder what this movie might have been if it were made today. Produced by George Lucas, it is supposed to be an epic fantasy, and Ron Howard does his best, but unfortunately it does not live up to expectations despite enthusiastic performances by Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis. I would be curious to see a reboot of this someday.

Parenthood - Howard dabbles in comedy again, this time with a big ensemble cast, and it works. Thanks to Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton, Keanu Reeves, and others, this was a popular hit, and they tried to turn the premise into a television show -- they're trying again with a new version scheduled to debut on TV soon.

Backdraft - Ron Howard makes a movie about firefighters starring Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert DeNiro, Donald Sutherland, and Jennifer Jason Leigh -- great cast but a mediocre film.

Far and Away - Although it was too long and could have used some better editing, I actually enjoyed this film with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as Irish immigrants trying to live the American dream.

The Paper - This ho-hum effort by Ron Howard suffers from a weak script about the newspaper business, but the cast is stellar, including Michael Keaton and Jason Robards again, as well as Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid, Jason Alexander, Spalding Gray, Catherine O'Hara, and others.

Apollo 13 - Finally, Ron Howard makes a classic. From beginning to end, this retelling of the true story about the attempted trip to the moon that nearly ended in disaster is a gripping motion picture that ranks as one of the best of all time. Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon all are perfect. This is one of those movies I can watch over and over again.

Ransom - I'll never forgive the studio for giving away key plotpoints for this film in the coming attractions trailer. Starring Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, and Gary Sinise, this might have been a suspenseful film about a kidnapping, but I'll never know because the entire storyline was revealed before the movie even opened. I wonder if Ron Howard had any control over that. If so, shame on him.

Edtv - Before reality television became the cultural phenomenon that it is today, Ron Howard made this underrated flick about a guy whose life is broadcast for everyone to see. Overshadowed by the similar-themed and better movie The Truman Show that came out coincidentally about the same time, this film starring Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, and Woody Harrelson has some fine scenes and is worth viewing.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas - I'm so disappointed that Ron Howard made this film. It was a hit, and Jim Carrey was his usual hilarious self, but there was no need to turn the Dr. Seuss children's book and holiday classic cartoon into a feature length live-action movie.

A Beautiful Mind - Ron Howard finally cements his standing in the A-list with this film, earning an Academy Award for Best Director. Howard also shared the Award for Best Picture with his producing partner Brian Grazer. Oscars also went to actress Jennifer Connelly and writer Akiva Goldsman. Actor Russell Crowe got a nomination and won a batch of other awards.

The Missing - Howard followed the peak of his directorial life with a little film that most people forgot, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett.

Cinderella Man - Teaming up with Russell Crowe again (alongside Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti) unfortunately does not replicate the success of A Beautiful Mind.

The DaVinci Code - Howard adapts Dan Brown's controversial bestseller and it proves to be a blockbuster hit, even if it is not exactly a terrific film. Proving that he can make a popcorn flick better than most, this was still a case of the book being better than the adaptation.

Frost/Nixon - Returning to greatness, Ron Howard brings a stage play to the big screen with fantastic results. Frank Langella is brilliant as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen is wonderful as David Frost. This is a must-see.

Angels & Demons - Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's first Robert Langdon thriller is arguably better than The DaVinci Code even if the storyline about the Illuminati isn't nearly as headline-grabbing scandalous. No doubt, Ron Howard will also give us a Lost Symbol movie someday to complete his Langdon trilogy.

There you have it -- a diverse list of films in various genres. Say what you want about him, Ron Howard is a talented filmmaker who just needs to be a little more selective in choosing his projects. I think he still hasn't developed a distinctive visual style yet compared to some auteurs. Nevertheless, he works hard to make movies that the public will enjoy. I look forward to seeing what he gives us next.

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