Gene Hackman's Birthday: His 20 Best Movies Ranked

Eighty-nine years, seventy-nine movies, two Oscars and four Golden Globes. Newsweek looks back at Gene Hackman's 20 best films.
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Gene Hackman’s Birthday: His 20 Best Movies Ranked Newsweek

Gene Hackman—cinema's exceptional "everyman"—turns 89 today. Born in 1930 at the dawn of the talkies, he's seen America move from the Great Depression to the aftermath of the Great Recession, from Hoover to Trump, establishing himself as one of the all-time-greats of acting along the way.

Hackman actually found fame relatively late—his breakthrough role came as Buck Barrow in 1967's Bonnie and Clyde when he was 37—but they greeted each other like old friends: he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination at that year's Academy Awards. It would be the first of five, two of which he won—Best Actor as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle in 1971's The French Connection, and Best Supporting Actor as Little Bill Daggett in 1992's Unforgiven.

Hackman's illustrious acting career spanned more than 70 movies and included four Golden Globes and two BAFTAs. But it all came to an end in 2004 when he announced his retirement. In 2014, Yahoo Movies asked him if audiences could hope to see him onscreen ever again. "Only in reruns," he replied.

But this end only marked a new beginning, as Hackman embarked on an unlikely career as a novelist. Alongside narrating a couple of TV documentaries, he has now published five novels, the last of which came out in 2013.

"I like the loneliness of it, actually," he told Reuters in 2008 about being an author. "It's similar in some ways to acting, but it's more private and I feel like I have more control over what I'm trying to say and do… I don't know that I like it better than acting, it's just different. I find it relaxing and comforting."

Hackman was never really at home in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. He tells a story about meeting Dustin Hoffman's father. After Hackman left, Hoffman's father asked: "Who's that guy? A truck driver?"

Hackman had once been a truck driver, and it was partly his personal history of hard manual work—he had also served in the army—that made him such a powerful presence on screen, and such a down-to-earth character off it.

In 2011, when Hackman was asked by GQ how he would like to sum up his life, he replied: "'He tried,' I think that'd be fairly accurate."

He tried and he certainly succeeded. To celebrate Hackman's 89th birthday, Newsweek has collected data from review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to rank his best 20 movies.

01 The Poseidon Adventure
Twentieth Century Fox