Total Recall: The 15 Greatest Paul Newman Movies

RT chooses our favorite movies starring the legendary actor.

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Paul Newman's passing last weekend saddened film fans all over the world -- including your friends at Rotten Tomatoes, where we decided that a fond look back at Mr. Newman's distinguished career would be just the thing for this week's Total Recall.

Of course, we're talking about a man who starred in five decades' worth of films, and we went in knowing there was no way we'd be able to give you even a loosely comprehensive guide to his best performances; in fact, just choosing the 15 movies we ultimately opted to cover here was a difficult process. Consider this, then, a very brief introduction to a large, robust body of work. After you're finished reliving this selection of high points, take a look at his complete filmography.



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Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
Tomatometer: 80%

Newman got his first big break with this 1956 boxing picture, based on the life and career of the legendary pugilist Rocky Graziano. The part of Rocky Barbella originally belonged to James Dean, but after Dean's death in a 1955 car accident, the filmmakers turned to Newman at the last minute -- and the result was this minor sports classic, which jump-started Newman's career (as well as the careers of Steve McQueen, Robert Loggia, and Frank Campanella, all of whom make their screen debuts here). He clearly hadn't yet mastered the powerfully minimalistic style that would become his trademark -- and the film is perhaps, as Filmcritic's Christopher Null argues, "straightforward and simplistic" -- but in the morally conflicted boxer from the wrong side of the tracks, Newman found a character whose shades of gray would color the rest of his career.








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The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
Tomatometer: 86%

Newman's long streak of rakishly lovable ne'er-do-wells begins with this tense, drawn-out mishmash of several William Faulkner stories that pits Newman's mysterious drifter against the machinations of the wealthiest man in town (Orson Welles, sporting a fake nose). The Long, Hot Summer feels every minute of its nearly two-hour running time; after the first 45 minutes, viewers weaned on American movies made after 1980 may very well have tuned out in frustration or boredom. But the struggle between Newman and Welles is well worth watching -- as is the chemistry between Newman and Joanne Woodward, with whom he embarked on a 50-year marriage after Summer wrapped. And for those who stick it out to the end, the movie's final act is, in the words of the Apollo Guide's Jamie Gillies, "surprising and quite exciting."








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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Tomatometer: 100%

It isn't a terribly faithful adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play -- which is probably why he publicly disavowed it -- but Richard Brooks' film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is still remembered as a classic, due in no small part to smoldering early performances from Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor as Brick and Maggie Pollitt, the staggeringly dysfunctional couple at the heart of the story. Of course, this was the '50s, so Brick's homosexuality -- a crucial component of the play -- was more or less scrubbed out of the movie, but even in watered-down form, Cat did well enough to earn a slew of Academy Award nominations. Despite Williams' misgivings, the movie remains, in the words of Film Freak Central's Walter Chaw, "A mousetrap with teeth that grip and a musky atmosphere of frustrated sex and milky desperation that serves as poisoned bait."




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