25 Gene Hackman Classics That Prove He’s a Hollywood Legend

Two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman has wowed audiences for half a century with his no-holds-barred performance techniques. Never one to add sparkle to his roles, he has always excelled in bringing a human rawness to his characters. We’ve listed 18 of his performances ranked from worst to best.

1) Welcome to Mooseport

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

It was a comedy that didn’t quite land. Despite his fantastic charisma in the role of ex-President Monroe Cole, it wasn’t enough to save this one from being a forgettable rom-com. He said it was his final film, but we were not holding our breath.

2) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Photo Credit: Warner Distributors.

We grew to love Lex Luthor, and he was a valuable addition to the Superman series. Sadly, even Superman couldn’t rescue this one from the depths of bad special effects and a lackluster plot. It wasn’t Hackman’s finest hour, although he seemed to enjoy the role.

3) Loose Cannons

Photo Credit: TriStar Pictures.

Despite Hackman’s attempt to inject some life into this GA buddy cop comedy, his performance was set back by an average movie that fizzled out. He offered a few wisecracks, however, which kept us amused.

4) The Chamber

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Hackman’s performance as a death row inmate is solid, but the movie’s slow pace and predictable storyline left much to be desired. The movie was perhaps too small for a star like Hackman, and his great performance was overlooked within a tired picture.

5) Heist

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

As far as heist movies go, it was a decent one, but it lacked the spark that makes other films in the genre stand out. At best, it provided some good old-fashioned entertainment, with Hackman firmly in the driving seat as a middle-aged professional thief.

6) Heartbreakers

Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Hackman shone in this comedy as William B. Tensy, an ill-fated tobacco titan, but the film struggled to maintain momentum. Around this time, Hackman declared that he was quitting Hollywood. Luckily for us, he backtracked.

7) The Firm

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Hackman delivered a memorable performance as Avery Tolar, a corrupt legal professional, in this John Grisham-inspired thriller. However, there was no denying that this was Tom Cruise’s film, and Hackman was overshadowed by star power.

8) Behind Enemy Lines

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Hackman’s humor as Admiral McMahon added gravitas to this action-packed film. However, the movie itself was a bit cheesy and ultimately held back by clichés.

9) Crimson Tide

Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures.

Hackman’s intense portrayal of submarine captain Captain Ramsey elevated this thriller to another level. He puffed away on cigars and curled up next to Bear, his beloved pet terrier. He gave us the authoritarian figure that we love him for the most.

10) Runaway Jury

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

In another movie based on a John Grisham novel, Hackman’s villainous turn as the shady jury consultant Rankin Fitch added intrigue to this courtroom drama. It was one of his best roles, making the movie a compelling watch.

11) Unforgiven

Photo Credit: Warner Bros..

Hackman’s role as the Little Bill, the antagonist in this Western masterpiece, earned him an Academy Award, and rightfully so. He overshadowed the super-talent Clint Eastwood by portraying a detestable and ruthless character.

12) The French Connection

Photo Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

In this iconic and gritty performance as the flawed Detective Popeye Doyle, Gene Hackman earned his first Oscar. The movie was dubbed one of the greatest New York movies ever.

13) Mississippi Burning

Photo Credit: Orion Pictures.

Hackman delivered a powerful performance as Agent Rupert and stole every scene he appeared in. This gripping drama explored racial tensions in the South and the true story of a missing civil rights worker in a small town.

14) Hoosiers

Photo Credit: Orion Pictures.

Hackman’s portrayal of a small-town Indiana basketball coach was heartwarming and inspiring. However, rumors circulated at the time about his difficult on-set relationship with director Wes Anderson.

15) The Royal Tenenbaums

Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures.

The movie didn’t quite make headlines, but Gene Hackman was sensational in the role of Royal Tenenbaum. He’d gained a reputation for playing tougher roles, so this was a breakthrough into a lovable yet conniving character that we couldn’t help but be champions of.

16) Bonnie and Clyde

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

While not a leading role, Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Buck Barrow in this classic crime film was memorable. One of his first leading roles earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

17) Enemy of the State

Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures.

At a time when Will Smith stole the screen in each of his movie appearances, he was upstaged by Gene Hackman’s angsty NSA agent, Edward Lyle.  That said, the chemistry between the two characters was explosive, ultimately elevating this action thriller and making it a standout in the genre.

18) The Conversation

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The movie showed us that Gene Hackman knows how to take up space, and his nuanced performance in this psychological thriller solidifies it as one of his best works. Francis Ford Coppola managed to make surveillance expert Harry Caul small and fragile, but he still portrayed the horrors of a living reality with perfect precision.

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