Billy Crystal’s Birthday: His 15 Best Movies Ranked

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Newsweek

Billy Crystal, who turns 71 today, is an American actor and comedian. As well as being a household name thanks to his movies and stand-up career, he has hosted the Oscars more times than anyone except Bob Hope.

Born in New York City on March 14, 1948, Crystal went onto study at Marshall University in West Virginia on a baseball scholarship, only to drop out when the program was suspended. After returning home, he secured a place at New York University as a film and television directing major, sharing a class with Oliver Stone and Christopher Guest, and with Martin Scorsese an instructor.

Crystal started doing his own solo stand-up routines soon after, at comedy clubs like The Improv and Catch a Rising Star. In 1977, he secured his first prominent acting role as Jodie Dallas in the classic sitcom Soap —one of the first openly gay characters on television. “I think back to what we did and the things we talked about, all these years ago, and I'm so proud of what we did,” he said later.

His movie debut came a year later, starring in Joan Rivers’ Rabbit Test, about “the world’s first pregnant man.” It was universally panned, but it was only up from there and, in many ways, the 1980s was the decade that defined Crystal’s career.

In 1984, he hosted Saturday Night Live twice and joined the cast for the next season. In 1985, he released an album of his stand-up material, and one of his parody singles even entered the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1987, he starred in two hit movies: Danny DeVito’s Throw Momma from the Train and Rob Reiner’s much-loved adaptation of the William Goldman novel The Princess Bride. In 1989, he starred opposite Meg Ryan in the classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally, getting a Golden Globe nomination for Best Lead Actor and an American Comedy Award.

Other hits followed, from City Slickers to Analyze This and as the one-eyed monster Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University. In 1990, he hosted the Academy Awards for the first time, and has since taken up the role eight more times—the most recent in 2012—almost always to critical acclaim. From 1996, he also hosted the Grammys three times in a row.

“I love getting people to make a funny sound and make their face contort by something I said or did,” Crystal told The Boston Globe in 2017. “That’s what a laugh is. It’s some sort of physical, neurological response that’s sort of unexplainable. Ever since I was a kid, I get a great source of energy, a great calmness, a sense of power from it. A great sense of, ‘Wow, I just did something good there.’”

To celebrate his birthday, Newsweek has analyzed data from review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to rank his 15 best movies.

01 America's Sweethearts
Columbia Pictures

15. America's Sweethearts (2001). Total score: 48.06%. IMDb users: 5.7. Metacritic: 44. Rotten Tomatoes: 4.65. Rotten Tomatoes users: 2.8. 
Directed by: Joe Roth. Starring: Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin. 
Plot summary: A movie publicist deals with the messy public split of his movie's co-stars while keeping reporters at bay while a reclusive director holds the film's print hostage.
What the critics said: "All these good actors and all Crystal's sass and witty candor can't bring back the heyday of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges. Or even, most of the time, their off-days." Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

02 Untogether
Freestyle Digital Media

14. Untogether (2018). Total score: 48.74%. IMDb users: 5.9. Metacritic: 46. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.23. Rotten Tomatoes users: 1.8. 
Directed by: Emma Forrest. Starring: Jamie Dornan, Lola Kirke, Jemima Kirke, Ben Mendelsohn, Jennifer Gray. 
Plot summary: A former heroin addict trying to be a writer now that she's sober strikes up an affair with a successful writer. Meanwhile, her little sister's relationship with her older boyfriend is shaken when she is drawn to an even older charismatic rabbi.
What the critics said: "If only the film itself were willing to be a little more untogether, to lose control occasionally and show us something new and unpredictable." Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine/Vulture

03 Mr
Columbia Pictures

13. Mr. Saturday Night (1992). Total score: 53.6%. IMDb users: 5.8. Metacritic: 51. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.46. Rotten Tomatoes users: 2.7. 
Directed by: Billy Crystal. Starring: Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Julie Warner, Helen Hunt. 
Plot summary: The life of Buddy Young, a comic legend in flashbacks but an old man looking for work in the present.
What the critics said: "Crystal plays Buddy with love and perception, finding the rhythms of the old comedian, combining them with the double-reverse irony of Borscht Belt humor. He is especially good at showing us the mechanism of Buddy's self-destruction, that moment when success is offered to him and he stiffens and bristles and snatches failure out of the air." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

04 Running Scared
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

12. Running Scared (1986). Total score: 54.31%. IMDb users: 6.5. Metacritic: 49. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.35. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.1. 
Directed by: Peter Hyams. Starring: Gregory Hines, Billy Crystal, Steven Bauer, Jimmy Smits. 
Plot summary: Two street-wise Chicago cops have to shake off some rust after returning from a Key West vacation to pursue a drug dealer who nearly killed them in the past.
What the critics said: "No more original or eventful than an average police TV show, so it must sink or swim on the moment-by-moment cleverness of the dialog and the behavioral talents of Hines and Crystal. Fortunately, these elements prove formidable." Variety

05 Forget Paris
Columbia Pictures

11. Forget Paris (1995). Total score: 54.35%. IMDb users: 6.4. Metacritic: 50. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.36. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3. 
Directed by: Billy Crystal. Starring: Billy Crystal, Debra Winger, Joe Mantegna, Julie Kavner. 
Plot summary: A basketball referee flying to France to bury his father falls in love with an airline employee, but their relationship goes through many difficult patches.
What the critics said: "In the marriage-go-round Forget Paris, Debra Winger falls for Billy Crystal because he makes her laugh. Likewise, you will forgive Forget its faults because it will make you chuckle. Hard. And often." Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today

06 Throw Momma from the Train
Orion Pictures

10. Throw Momma from the Train (1987). Total score: 57.26%. IMDb users: 6.2. Metacritic: 56. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.67. Rotten Tomatoes users: 2.9. 
Directed by: Danny DeVito. Starring: Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal, Kim Greist, Anne Ramsey, Rob Reiner. 
Plot summary: A bitter ex-husband wants his former spouse dead. A put-upon momma's boy wants his mother dead. Who will pull it off?
What the critics said: "Mr. Crystal and Mr. DeVito ... make one of the oddest pairs imaginable but have a rapport that's a delight." Janet Maslin, New York Times

07 Analyze this
Warner Bros.

9. Analyze This (1999). Total score: 63.26%. IMDb users: 6.7. Metacritic: 61. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.47. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.1. 
Directed by: Harold Ramis. Starring: Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Chazz Palminteri. 
Plot summary: A comedy about a psychiatrist whose number one patient is an insecure mob boss.
What the critics said: "De Niro and Crystal are a crackerjack pairing, and their interplay is loony enough to make you forgive the movie being stuck in neutral most of the time." Paul Tatara, CNN. 

08 61
Home Box Office (HBO)

8. 61* (2001). Total score: 68.11%. IMDb users: 7.8. Metacritic: 63. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.73. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.8. 
Directed by: Billy Crystal. Starring: Barry Pepper, Thomas Jane, Anthony Michael Hall, Richard Masur. 
Plot summary: Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle race to break Babe Ruth's single-season home run record.
What the critics said: "While the script has its fair share of treacly moments intended to manipulate viewers into caring deeply for this duo, Billy Crystal's dream project about his beloved Yankees and one of their great chapters gets a heroic treatment in 61*" Phil Gallo, Variety

09 Deconstructing Harry
Fine Line Features

7. Deconstructing Harry (1997). Total score: 68.16%. IMDb users: 7.4. Metacritic: 61. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.21. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.6. 
Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobey Maguire, Robin Williams, Stanley Tucci, Amy Irving, Elisabeth Shue, Paul Giamatti, Billy Crystal. 
Plot summary: Suffering from writer's block and eagerly awaiting his writing award, Harry Block remembers events from his past and scenes from his best-selling books as characters, real and fictional, come back to haunt him.
What the critics said: "There is hardly a criticism that can be thrown at Allen that he hasn't already thrown at himself (or his alter ego) in the film. This is in many ways his most revealing film, his most painful, and if it also contains more than his usual quotient of big laughs, what was it the man said? 'We laugh, that we may not cry.'" Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

10 City Slickers
Columbia Pictures

6. City Slickers (1991). Total score: 68.55%. IMDb users: 6.7. Metacritic: 70. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.98. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.1. 
Directed by: Ron Underwood. Starring: Billy Crystal, Jack Palance, Daniel Stern, Jeffrey Tambor, Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater. 
Plot summary: On the verge of turning 40, an unhappy Manhattan yuppie is roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest
What the critics said: "There are so many ways this movie could have gone wrong—with gratuitous action scenes, forced dialogue or contrived showdowns—that it's sort of astonishing, how many ways it finds to go right." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

11 Monsters University
Pixar/Walt Disney

5. Monsters University (2013). Total score: 69.08%. IMDb users: 7.3. Metacritic: 65. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.82. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4. 
Directed by: Dan Scanlon. Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Sean Hayes, Alfred Molina. 
Plot summary: A look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at Monsters University—when they weren't necessarily the best of friends.
What the critics said: "I'm not sure I needed to revisit Mike and Sulley's world 12 years later (or, looked at from their point of view, earlier). But once you find yourself whisked over the threshold, it's a colorful, funny, charming place to spend an afternoon." Dana Stevens, Slate.