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Six definitive films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Robert Redford

American actor and filmmaker Robert Redford is a bonafide cultural icon, known for his work in enduring classics like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men among several others. His list of accolades is too large to be cited but his greatest achievements are the unforgettable performances he has left behind. Redford has also dedicated his life to the fight against climate change, spreading awareness about the enormous environmental threats presently facing us.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Redford said: “People have become far more aware of the issues we face. Unfortunately, people who deny climate change also have stronger voices and are usually in positions of power. We’ve had to live with what’s happened over the last four years, where the attitude about the environment was so strictly negative.”

He added: “That caused so much damage — it’s like a road that needs repairing. We have to repair it quickly. Climate change is happening now, full time. No more denying… I’m more optimistic than ever. My optimism comes from seeing young people because they’re inspired, they’re engaged, and they’re passionate — they’re like a new group. They understand that the future is in their hands, and we’ve got to support them.”

As a celebration of his invaluable contributions to the world of cinema, we take a look at some of the essential works from Robert Redford’s illustrious filmography.

Robert Redford’s 6 definitive films:

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill – 1969)

One of the most well-known westerns ever made, George Roy Hill’s 1969 classic stars Redford and Paul Newman as a couple of outlaws who are on the run from the authorities after a series of robberies. The American Film Institute acknowledged the extensive legacy of this masterpiece by named it as the “7th-greatest Western of all time”.

“I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had wonderful relationships with people I’ve worked with,” Redford confessed. “But nothing has sustained like Paul Newman. Nothing has sustained like our connection. It went into movie friendship, into personal friendship. It cut very deep. He changed my life: he agreed to have me in the movie [Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid] that I shouldn’t have been in.”

Jeremiah Johnson (Sydney Pollack – 1972)

Starring Redford as the titular figure of Jeremiah Johnson, Sydney Pollack’s 1972 film tells the story of a hermit who practices self-reliance in the mountains but ends up in a complicated situation with the indigenous population. Jeremiah Johnson is now remembered as the first-ever western to have been screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

“Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford didn’t trust me very much at first, though,” screenwriter John Milius said. “I wasn’t really housebroken in those days. I was a wild surfer kid, you know, and they preferred their writers to be more intellectual. And so they would get the intellectual writers to try and rewrite it and they’d have to hire me back because none of those guys could write that dialogue. None of those guys understood that stuff. They didn’t understand the mountains. They didn’t understand what a mountain man was.”

The Sting (George Roy Hill – 1973)

Another classic collaboration between Paul Newman and Redford, The Sting stars the duo as a couple of con artists who enter dangerous territory when trying to trick a mob boss. The film ended up winning seven Academy Awards, with Redford earning a nomination for Best Actor.

Redford revealed: “What was really fascinating was that when we did Butch Cassidy, the studio didn’t want me. After the success of that, my name rose. Paul [Newman] hadn’t done so well in his last few films, so when we came to The Sting, the studio wanted me but they weren’t willing to pay Paul the amount that he was requiring. I was able to give over some of my points to him so he could come in the movie. Because what remained was just the friendship.”

Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack – 1975)

In Sydney Pollack’s 1975 political thriller, Redford plays the fascinating part of a CIA researcher who has adequate bookish knowledge but little experience of his own. When he discovers that all his colleagues have been brutally murdered, a memorable investigation fuelled by paranoia and intrigue begins.

Pollack said: “I think it’s interesting to take Redford as a man who trusts, in the beginning of the movie, and turn him into a guy who is practically paranoid by the end, so much so that he distrusts his lover. And to take a girl (sic) who doesn’t trust in the beginning, and when she’s forced to be close at gunpoint and doesn’t die, she ends up trusting in an odd way. Those ideas are serious ideas, but I don’t think of it as an idea picture. I think of it basically as a thriller, and that was what I wanted to make.”

All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula – 1976)

Probably the finest entry on this list, All the President’s Men is regarded by many as the greatest newspaper film ever made. Starring Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the two investigative journalists who try to figure out the Watergate scandal, the film paints a compelling portrait of a political atmosphere rife with conspiracies.

While reflecting on the legacy of Alan J. Pakula’s masterpiece, Redford commented: “History has a tendency to repeat itself. I was attracted to the story about two journalists who were searching for the truth. And that was the story I wanted to tell. It wasn’t about Watergate, really. It was about journalism and truth.”

Ordinary People (Robert Redford – 1980)

Redford’s directorial debut remains one of his biggest accomplishments to this day. An adaptation of Judith Guest’s eponymous novel, Ordinary People is an intense psychological examination of a wealthy family who break down after the accidental demise of the older son. Redford picked up an Oscar as well as a Golden Globe for Best Director in addition to several other prizes.

Judith Guest recalled: “In 1976, before my novel, Ordinary People, was published, I got a letter from Robert Redford telling me that he’d received my manuscript from his reader in New York City and wanted to let me know how much he’d enjoyed it.”

Adding, “I was thrilled, but it didn’t occur to me that this meant he was interested in making it into a film, until my publisher called to say there had been three movie offers on it. ‘Two are from big studios, which means they might make it. Or they might just buy it to keep somebody else from making it. And the third offer is from Redford.'”