Ron Howard's Top 10 Movies, Ranked

With the release of Ron Howard newest film, In the Heart of the Sea we have the next chapter in what has become one of the more impressive filmographies of any working director. From light-hearted comedy to serious drama, Howard has done it all. He’s seen his movies nominated for Best Picture and he’s won the award himself. It’s a difficult task to try and not only pick the 10 best movies of Howard’s career, but to rank them in order, but we’re going to try.

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10. Cinderella Man

Ron Howard’s 2005 movie about the life of professional boxer Jim Braddock is one of those stories that you can’t help but feel good about. Braddock is a boxer well past his prime in depression era America, when an entire nation is down on its luck and having difficulty getting by. Russell Crowe plays Braddock, the boxer who fights to earn money for his struggling family, because he doesn’t really know what else to do. In the process, he becomes a hero at a time when everybody needed to believe that they still existed. Paul Giamatti was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

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9. The Paper

The story of 24 hours in the life of a New York City newspaper is probably incredibly dated over 20 years later, as we are now in an era where newspaper’s are hardly the vital source for news that they once were. Still, this film is full of top notch performances from great actors like Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall. Two white businessmen are murdered and two African-American teenagers are arrested for the crime. What follows is a day of insanity as reporters try to find the truth in time to make their deadline. The medium may be passe, but the issues are still real today.

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8. Backdraft

We know that Ron Howard can do drama, but he can do action just as well. The proof to this point comes from the 1991 heart-stopper Backdraft. The film follows Chicago Engine 17 and two brothers, played by Kurt Russell and William Baldwin, who try to work together, even though they have unresolved issues. The fire sequences in the film were groundbreaking in their time and earned the film Oscar nominations for both sound and visual effects.

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7. Ransom

It’s easy to try and discount Ransom, now that Mel Gibson has gone all Mel Gibson on the world. But there was a moment when he was a huge star and the teaming of him with Ron Howard was an amazing opportunity. Gibson plays Tom Mullen, a self-made millionaire whose world comes apart when his son is kidnapped. Gibson and Rene Russo, who plays his wife, do a phenomenal job taking you through all the emotions that a couple in this situation must be feeling. You experience their terror as well as their rage. Every choice the characters make feels dangerous, and Howard's tight direction is able to keep the tension high from start to finish.

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6. Splash

Splash was only Ron Howard’s second big Hollywood directing job, following the screwball comedy Night Shift a couple of years before. While that movie was the debut film for a young Michael Keaton, this one introduced Tom Hanks to the big screen. This slightly more adult version of The Little Mermaid story sees Daryl Hannah as a mermaid who goes searching for a human she has fallen in love with. When she dries off she gains legs but she has to avoid getting wet in order to avoid turning back into a mermaid. It’s funny, romantic, and still holds up as a light-hearted classic to this day.

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5. Frost/Nixon

Making a movie about a US President is an undertaking unto itself, but doing so with Richard Nixon is a whole new level of epic. Frost/Nixon tells the story about one of the most famous interviews in the history of the television medium when British journalist David Frost scored the interview of a lifetime: the opportunity to sit down with the only President to ever resign from office. It went on to become one of Ron Howard’s most award-nominated film, and Frank Langella’s performance as Richard Nixon is not to be missed.

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4. Parenthood

A film that’s both hilarious and touching, Ron Howard’s Parenthood is not given nearly as much credit as it should receive. The 1989 dramedy tackles family life from ever conceivable angle. With a stellar cast including Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen Rick Moranis, Keanu Reeves - just to name a few - this movie resonates not just with those who understand the difficulties of parenting, but anybody who has navigated the minefield that is family.

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3. Willow

The only straight fantasy movie on Ron Howard’s resume, Willow was an idea spawned by George Lucas back in his heyday. While it didn't have the success of Star Wars or Indiana Jones when it was originally released, it has since become incredibly popular in the years since. Val Kilmer is at his most heroic as Madmartigan and this is without a doubt Warwick Davis’ greatest role, at least, where you can see his face. There are certainly fans who would love to see a sequel, and we're among them.

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2. A Beautiful Mind

The story of a mathematician who overcomes paranoid schizophrenia, A Beautiful Mind is the film that finally won Ron Howard the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. It’s also the finest acting performance in Russell Crowe’s career, as he brings a certain fragility to the role of tormented genius John Nash Jr. The film gives the audience a unique insight into the more personal sides of math, love, and mental illness, by depicting the slings and arrows associated with them in equal measure. It’s a wonderful film, but if we’re being honest, it’s not Howard’s best. That honor belongs to...

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1. Apollo 13

Do we even need to make an argument? Apollo 13 has action, suspense, and even a little bit of humor, making it the best history lesson we've ever seen on film. The fact that it’s based on a true story means the result is already known but that doesn’t matter. The film is still incredibly intense, and every performance is top notch. That’s a testament to the work that Ron Howard and others put into producing a film such as this, and there's a lot of detail to spare. Apollo 13 is one of those films that appeals to the art house awards crowd and the summer blockbuster fans equally. It is, far and away, the best film on Ron Howard's resume.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.