Total Recall: The 15 Greatest Paul Newman Movies

RT chooses our favorite movies starring the legendary actor.

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."




Comments

vitajex

Mike M

It's true.

NOBODY can eat 50 eggs.

Oct 1 - 04:18 PM

vitajex

Mike M

Also, Absence of Malice and The Verdict have the pictures switched around.

Oct 1 - 04:19 PM

Chuckyrules

David Dittlinger

And if you did eat those 50 eggs there'd be a whole lot of "shaken the bush boss."

Oct 1 - 04:21 PM

rt-ryan

Ryan Fujitani

Good catch, vitajex. We'll take care of that right away. Thanks!

Oct 1 - 05:59 PM

The Mighty Celestial

Mighty Celestial

The Verdict may not be action packed,
but it kicks some serious @ss.

Oct 1 - 08:19 PM

mjohnston051

michael johnston

Undoubtedly my favorite actor of all time. My favorite movie since I was 12 has been Cool Hand Luke and I don't think any movie will ever replace that. Not only was Paul a great actor, but a FANTASTIC person. I always spend a little extra on Newman's Own products when I can, because I know what Paul decides to do with the proceeds (and they always taste great too!). I don't necessarily aspire to be an actor, but if I can grow up to be almost as good a person as Paul Newman, I think the world would be that much better a place to live. I'm sad to see him go but I'm glad such a great person lived a long and wonderful life. Long live Paul Newman's legacy!

Oct 2 - 12:07 AM

calwillnol

Helen Eschenbacher

Interesting in that here in Hawaii, Newman's own is cheaper than any other brand name!

I am 59 years old and grew up watching these movies. I went to the same university as Newman (Ohio U.) when he lived in the the Scott quad residences. His motto was still on the wall..."I will graduate Magna Cum Lager."
Of course, I never knew him personally, but there is an empty place in my heart and I wept as I read his obituary.

Oct 2 - 02:25 PM

Dachshund96

Alpha Z

Never saw any of those movies never plan on seeing them.

Oct 2 - 12:35 AM

explosionsinthesky

Joshua Fountain

And why, Dachshund96, will you never see any of these movies? Not a fan of flawless acting, or not enough explosions and CGI?

Oct 2 - 01:58 AM

Dachshund96

Alpha Z

No interest in them.

Oct 2 - 02:25 AM

medikboi_84

Kevan Brenay

Great actor with a lot of great films. Cool Hand Luke will always be one of my top films of all time. I also love Road to Perdition and the Color of Money.

Oct 2 - 02:37 AM

Sulaco2k

Joseph McWilliams

'The fall will probably kill ya.' Rest in peace Mr. Newman, you will be missed.

Oct 2 - 04:26 AM

noahsark

Rod Bowles

"what we have here is......failure to communicate" Has somebody lost their memories ? Paul Newman made the NAME John Russell FAMOUS !! You mention "Slapshot" but fail to mention "HOMBRE". "HOMBRE" is right up there with "COOL HAND LUKE" and "THE HUSTLER" You mention "Slapshot" , but fail to mention "THE RACK". "what we have here is....failure to communicate". I'm Pluggin' in "HOMBRE" right NOW. "SEEEEEYAH"

Oct 2 - 09:22 AM

mjbmjb

Mel Brown

I was fortunate(?)enough to see most Newman's movies in a theatre when they were first released. Lot's of good ones and a few great ones as is attested to by most of your respondents. Daschund96 will come around when they start showing these films in his favourite bowling alley.
My all-time list of favourites includes one Newman film, 'Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid'. All the attributes of the Human Condition are portrayed by the actors in this film. In the 27 minute chase scene, Newman repeated on a number of occasions what to me is one of the great movie lines of all time: "Who are those guys?"

Oct 2 - 11:40 AM

willpower

will molinar

God, he was so good. Look at all those 100% movies here. Not that it means everything but I can't think of another actor with more.

Oct 2 - 11:58 AM

rle4lunch

Chad W

Great actor. Great movies. He's one that actually contributed to what makes us go see movies because of the actor's talent versus just blowing crap up.

Oct 2 - 12:40 PM

Lugnuts

Dean Hubert

"Slap Shot" is still the S---! Haha oh my god I saw that at the drive-in with my parents when it first came out, I was 12 and had never really heard language like that before. "You know, your son looks like a *** to me. You better get married again or he's gonna end up with somebody's **** in his mouth before you can say Jack Robinson!"

Oct 2 - 01:01 PM

Lugnuts

Dean Hubert

"Slap Shot" is still the S---! Haha oh my god I saw that at the drive-in with my parents when it first came out, I was 12 and had never really heard language like that before. "You know, your son looks like a *** to me. You better get married again or he's gonna end up with somebody's **** in his mouth before you can say Jack Robinson!"

Oct 2 - 01:02 PM

Tide53

Joe McDaniel

Paul was the Classiest of the Classly

Oct 2 - 01:28 PM

indiefilmfan2

Brandon R

The final shoot-out in Butch Cassidy is one of my all time favorite scenes and I am definitely one of the supporters of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head". I also liked the use of it in "Spider-Man 2".

Oct 2 - 01:54 PM

calwillnol

Helen Eschenbacher

Interesting in that here in Hawaii, Newman's own is cheaper than any other brand name!

I am 59 years old and grew up watching these movies. I went to the same university as Newman (Ohio U.) when he lived in the the Scott quad residences. His motto was still on the wall..."I will graduate Magna Cum Lager."
Of course, I never knew him personally, but there is an empty place in my heart and I wept as I read his obituary.

Oct 2 - 02:25 PM

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