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Burt Reynolds’ 29 Best Movies — From All Star Halfback to Box Office Legend

Find out how many times the actor had to 'reinvent himself'

Burt Reynolds was a Hollywood box office legend who remained larger than life throughout most of his career. He was handsome, charming and talented, all of which fueled an enduring and widespread appeal that began in TV westerns in the 1960s and evolved into dozens of Burt Reynolds movies that at one point made him the biggest star in the world.

Burton Leon Reynolds was born on February 11, 1936 in Lansing, Michigan and raised in Riviera Beach, Florida. He became an All-Star Southern Conference halfback at Florida State University and seemed to have achieved his dream of being a professional football player when he joined the Baltimore Colts. Unfortunately, a car accident and knee injury derailed those plans and forced him to change direction.

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man with trophy smiling; burt reynolds movies
Burt Reynolds (1998)Bob Riha Jr / Contributor / Getty

Combining his good looks with steely determination, Reynolds dropped out of college midway through, packed his bags and headed to New York City with a new dream – to make Burt Reynolds movies. En route to that particular goal, he worked in restaurants and clubs while getting an odd TV spot or stage role here and there. 

Following a production of Mister Roberts, he began making television guest appearances before signing on as a series regular to Darren McGavin’s Riverboat (1959 to 1960) as Ben Frazier. By 1962 he was made a regular on Gunsmoke, playing Quint Asper in 50 episodes of that classic TV Western; and four years later he scored the lead role in the series Hawk.

He made his big screen debut in a (very) supporting role in Angel Baby (1961), followed by that same year’s Armored Command before taking the lead in Operation C.I.A., which would get everything rolling. Here’s a look at some of the best Burt Reynolds movies.

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Navajo Joe (1966): Burt Reynolds Movies

A Spaghetti Western shot in Spain, with Reynolds playing a Navajo Indian, who seeks vengeance against the bandits who murdered his tribe. “It wasn’t my favorite picture,” he admitted to the Los Angeles Times. “I had two expressions – mad and madder.”

Sam Whiskey (1969)

Reynolds is the title character in this comic Western co-starring Angie Dickinson as the attractive widow who offers Whiskey a job. “This was ahead of its time. I was playing light comedy and nobody cared,” he told the Chicago Tribune.

100 Rifles (1969): Burt Reynolds Movies

In this Western co-starring Jim Brown and Raquel Welch, Reynolds is native revolutionary Yaqui Joe in 1912 Sonora, Mexico.

Deliverance (1972)

Reynolds had his breakthrough role as macho Lewish Medlock in this controversial backwoods nightmare of a film that was a huge commercial and critical success. Four Atlanta businessmen, led by alpha male Medlock, decide to take a multi-day canoe trip in the northern Georgia wilderness. It isn’t long before their relatively peaceful trip takes a turn for the dark with river rapids and violently unwelcoming locals. Also starring Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, it established Reynolds as a major movie star.

Shamus (1973): Burt Reynolds Movies

Reynolds had the title role of Shamus McCoy, a modern-day private eye who had a penchant for girls, alcohol and gambling. Reviews were tepid at best, but the film became a box office success and even inspired a TV pilot with Rod Taylor playing the character. Reynolds described it to the Chicago Tribune as “not a bad film, kind of cute”

White Lightning (1973)

This light-hearted car chase film became another turning point in the career of Reynolds, who observed to film critic Gene Siskel, “The beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South…you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone.”

The Longest Yard (1974): Burt Reynolds Movies

Reynolds stood out in this sports comedy, which was extremely popular at the box office. He played a football player turned convict who has to organize a team of inmates to play against prison guards. What could go wrong? 

Hustle (1975)

This tough cop drama stars Reynolds as Lt. Phil Gaines, a Los Angeles cop investigating a suspicious young girl’s death, which has been labeled a suicide. 

Gator (1976): Burt Reynolds movies

The actor made his directorial debut with this movie. He starred as ex-convict Gator McClusky, who’s blackmailed to work for the federal government. His friend Jerry Reed co-starred. 

Smokey and the Bandit (1977); Smokey and the Bandit II (1980); Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983)

Another turning point in Reynolds’ career was a car chase film directed by former stuntman, Hal Needham and co-starring Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed and Sally Field. This was the biggest hit of Reynolds’ career as the film follows Bo “Bandit” Darville and Cledus (Jerry Reed), two truck driving bootleggers attempting to illegally transport 400 cases of Coors beer. Bandit drives a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am to distract law enforcement. So popular was the original film, that it spawned two more Smokey’s in this franchise. 

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Semi-Tough (1977): Burt Reynolds movies

Sports comedy based on a novel of the same name, which follows pro football friends and a third roommate, Barbara Jane Bookman. Of course, a romance develops between Shake Tiller (Kris Kristofferson) and Barbara Jane (Jill Clayburgh) due to his emerging self-confidence after completing a self awareness New Age course. Billy Clyde Puckett (Reynolds) sees an opening and tries to make a play to win Barbara Jane for himself. 

The End (1978)

This was Reynolds’ second directorial outing in this black comedy about a man diagnosed with cancer who makes numerous attempts at suicide. Originally written for Woody Allen.

Hooper (1978): Burt Reynolds movies

Another Hal Needham-directed flick co-starring Sally Field, with Reynolds playing an aging stunt man who is forced to accept reality. 

Starting Over (1979)

A change of pace for Reynolds where he co-starred with Candice Bergen and Jill Clayburgh in a romantic comedy. Reynolds is middle-aged Phil Potter, who is ditched by his ambitious singer wife (Bergan). In response, he begins to forge a new relationship with an insecure teacher (Clayburgh). But when the wife attempts a reconciliation, he realizes where his loyalty lies. 

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Rough Cut (1980): Burt Reynolds movies

Reynolds plays jewel thief Jack Rhodes who finds himself attracted to fellow thief Gillian Gromley, which creates a series of complications.

The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984)

Yet another car-related film directed by Hal Needham. This action comedy boasts an all-star cast, including Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Jackie Chan and Dean Martin. It’s based on an actual cross country outlaw road race beginning in Connecticut and ending in California. It’s sequel three years later was less successful at the box office The films represented the last movie appearances by Dean Martin. They also featured Jackie Chan in his second Hollywood role. 

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Sharky’s Machine (1982): Burt Reynolds movies

Reynolds directed himself in this tough action film where he plays Tom Sharky, a narcotics cop demoted to vice after a botched bust. While investigating a prostitution ring, he happens on a mob murder with government ties and assembles his “Sharky’s Machine” to bring the bad guys to justice.

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas (1982)

Wanting to try a musical, Reynolds agreed to this movie co-starring Dolly Parton. It was a huge hit, despite mixed reviews. Golden Globe nominations went to the film and Dolly Parton as Mona Stangley, who runs the Chicken Ranch, a brothel outside the town of Gilbert, Texas. Charles Durning was nominated for an Oscar for his role as the Texas governor. Sheriff Dodd (Reynolds) and Miss Mona have been in a “secret” 12-year relationship and, it should be noted, almost everyone in town approves of Miss Mona and her line of work.  

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Best Friends (1982): Burt Reynolds movies

Another box office hit for Reynolds in this movie co-starring Goldie Hawn. How do you survive the honeymoon after living together for five years?

A year of reinvention for the actor was 1982, when he was voted the most popular star in the United States for the 5th year in a row.  

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Stroker Ace (1983)

Turning down a lead role in Terms of Endearment in order to make another car chase comedy directed by pal Hal Needham, Reynolds said, “I felt I owed Hal more than I owed Jim (Brooks/writer of Terms),” he told the Los Angeles Times. But Stroker Ace was a big flop and represented another, but unfortunate, turning point in his career from which he never recovered. 

City Heat (1984): Burt Reynolds movies

Burt Reynolds teamed with Clint Eastwood as former partners who reluctantly team up to investigate a murder. It was a mildly popular film, but considered a box office disappointment. Additionally, Reynolds was badly injured during filming when he was hit in the jaw with a real chair instead of a breakaway prop, resulting in great pain and weight loss which, in turn, triggered rumors that he was suffering from AIDS. 

Reynolds returned to directing with Stick (1985), but it was another flop. So too were three other action films he made: Heat (1986), Malone (1987) and Rent-A-Cop (1987).

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Breaking In (1989)

This one had a poor reception both commercially and critically. Reynolds,himself received good notices for the caper comedy, though.

Striptease (1996): Burt Reynolds movies

Co-starring Demi Moore, Burt Reynolds actually had to audition for his role, and in the end received positive review for his performance. He plays Congressman David Dilbeck, who takes a fancy to stripper and single mom Erin Grant, played by Moore, who gets dragged into a dangerous situation.   

Reynolds followed Striptease with supporting roles in various films, among them Mad Dog Time, Meet Wally Sparks and Bean. Around this time, he also claimed he was broke, having gone through $13 million. 

Boogie Nights (1997)

Never count Burt Reynolds out. He played adult film director Jack Horner in this mega hit film, which was considered a comeback role for him. He received 12 acting awards and three nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, the first and only time this happened. Ironically, he hated the film once he viewed it and fired his agent. 

Even with an Academy Award nomination, Reynolds never did achieve the star power he’d previously held. Yes, there were many projects, but prestige was lacking. TV films and straight to video projects in the late 1990s came and went. 

The Crew (2000): Burt Reynolds movies

Reynolds had the lead in this film alongside Richard Dreyfuss. Four retired mobsters plan one last crime to save their retirement home.

The Last Producer (2000)

Reynolds starred and directed this film in which he plays a dying producer who turns to the mob for the money he needs to purchase a screenplay that he believes will make sure people never forget him.

Time Of The Wolf (2002): Burt Reynolds movies

A family drama where a young boy makes an unusual and dangerous friend with a wolf. 

The Longest Yard (2005)

A remake of the entry in Burt Reynolds movies from 1974, with Adam Sandler playing Reynolds’ original role while Reynolds himself plays the Michael Conrad part from that movie. 

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The Dukes Of Hazzard (2005): Burt Reynolds movies

Reynolds played Boss Hogg in a nod to his performances in 1970s car chase Burt Reynolds movies. 

The actor continued serving as the lead in Burt Reynolds movies such as Cloud 9 (2006), Deal (2008), Category 5 (2014), Elbow Grease (2016) and The Last Movie Star (2017), among others. There were also supporting parts in End Game (2006), Broken Bridges (2006) and Reel Love (2011), just to name a few.

I’ve had to reinvent myself four or five times,” he shared with Esquire, “and I’m now working on the most challenging reinvention: survivor.”

Sadly, Reynolds passed in 2018 from a heart attack at age 82, but devoted fans will always remember him for the amazing actor he was.

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