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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Burt Reynolds

One of the biggest names in Hollywood during the 1970s, Burt Reynolds was a popular culture icon. His influence as an actor was far-ranging, especially his work in popular television shows like Gunsmoke which facilitated his entry into the world of cinema. In fact, Reynolds’ character in that show was so influential that Quentin Tarantino was named after him.

Born in 1936, Reynolds started out by having a promising career in university football but early injuries nipped it in the bud. After enrolling at a different college, he took up acting after being encouraged by his literature professor Watson B. Duncan III and ended up winning accolades for his work during those early years.

Reynolds would go on to become one of the most commercially successful film stars in America during the 1970s and the early ’80s. He kept his film career going right until the end and had even signed onto Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but he sadly passed away before the shooting took place.

Check out a list of Burt Reynolds’ iconic performances below.

Burt Reynolds’ six definitive films:

Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)

Often cited as the breakout performance of Reynolds, John Boorman’s 1972 survival thriller is a fascinating cinematic experience. Starring alongside the likes of Ned Beatty and Jon Voight, this was the film that propelled Reynolds towards unprecedented stardom.

The film revolves around four businessmen from Atlanta who decide to canoe down a river but they soon end up in unfamiliar territory. It quickly becomes clear that the rules of the city don’t apply to this place, with local groups becoming hostile to them.

White Lightning (Joseph Sargent, 1973)

A thoroughly enjoyable acting flick starring Reynolds, White Lightning is an engaging ride. Reynolds plays the role of “Gator” – an inmate in an Arkansas prison who was convicted of bootlegging moonshine. When he learns that his brother was murdered by the sheriff, he decides to go undercover.

The film is structured around multiple car chases which form an integral part of White Lightning. Both the visual narrative and the score aided the experience, with Tarantino even borrowing from the latter for his own films like Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds.

The Longest Yard (Robert Aldrich, 1974)

A very famous American sports comedy set in a prison, The Longest Yard features a football battle organised by a former NFL star who rallies up his fellow prisoners to play against the guards who kept them locked up. Later, the film was remade on multiple occasions including one starring Adam Sandler.

Given Reynolds’ own history with college football and injuries, it makes sense why he was cast as the NFL player and it shows in his performance as well. He ended up nabbing a Golden Globe nomination for his work in the prestigious Best Actor category.

Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977)

A product of its time, Smokey and the Bandit is a largely forgotten relic from the ’70s which starred the likes of Reynolds and Jackie Gleason. It was the first time that stuntman Hal Needham tried to make a feature film and it was certainly commendable for a first effort.

Reynolds puts in a starring turn as “The Bandit” – a local hero who is tasked with the enormous responsibility of moving 400 cases of beer across county lines without the sheriff holding it up. It ended up being the second most commercially successful film of the year, coming in after Star Wars.

Starting Over (Alan J. Pakula, 1979)

Alan J. Pakula’s 1979 comedy features Reynolds as a recently divorced guy whose wife was having an affair and ultimately left him in order to fulfil her dream of being a successful musician. Trapped in a difficult place, he struggles with heartbreak and loneliness.

However, he eventually manages to find love again even though it is complicated by the return of his ex-wife. While the film was nowhere near as good as some of Pakula’s finest works, it was a hit at the box office and added to Reynolds’ acting legacy.

Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

Reynolds showed the world that he wasn’t just a fading film star when he took on a fantastic role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s mesmerising 1997 project Boogie Nights. Set during the Golden Age of Porn in Los Angeles, Reynolds is brilliant as a porn filmmaker.

For his uncompromising work, Reynolds won the first Golden Globe of his career and even managed to score a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. Even now, many still insist that Boogie Nights was the greatest performance of his career and it’s hard to prove that wrong.