ICONS: The Films of Paul Newman

When it comes to legendary actors that define the term “Furious”, the late great Paul Newman (1925-2008) is at the tip top of our list. To celebrate Mr. Newman’s birthday today, we’ve gone through his filmography and picked out the movies we love most. These are the films that feature the most memorable, most iconic performances of his career and are the very reason we’ve been such big fans of him over the years. Included are some brief synopsis’ and comments.

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Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956, Dir: Robert Wise)

Based on the real life of boxer Rocky Graziano, Paul Newman burst onto the film scene with this breakout role that showcased his talents for getting audiences cheering for him. James Dean was originally supposed to play Rocky but when he died, Newman got the role instead and he knocked it out cold. Co-starring Pier Angeli, Everett Sloane, Sal Mineo. Look for an early cameo from Steve McQueen.

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The Hustler (1961, Dir: Robert Rossen)

Newman gives a brilliant performance as the wreckless but exceptionally talented pool player “Fast Eddie” Felsen in this intense, emotional sports drama set around dark, smoky pool halls and the shady folks who inhabit them. Newman took off from James Dean’s lead and became one of the new faces of the young rebellious generation of actors. He is cool and charismatic in this role. Co-starring Piper Laurie, George C. Scott and Jackie Gleason.

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Hud (1963, Dir: Martin Ritt)

The character of Hud Bannon was Newman’s chance to show his bad boy side and he definitely did just that. In the film, he plays the brash, cruel son of a rancher (Melvyn Douglas) that couldn’t give a damn. Hud’s kindhearted nephew (Brandon DeWilde) looks up to him, but begins to lose his admiration when Hud becomes more and more disrespectful and mean to those around him. A magnificent family drama set against a dusty country backdrop. Co-starring Patricia Neal.

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Hombre (1967, Dir: Martin Ritt)

Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, Paul Newman stars as John Russell, a white man who was raised by Apaches that is thrust into a life and death fight with a gang of outlaws while traveling by stagecoach. Newman’s standard dialogue based acting was replaced with a more stoic, silent yet strong style. Co-starring Fredric March, Richard Boone, Cameron Mitchell, Barbara Rush, Martin Balsam.

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Cool Hand Luke (1967, Dir: Stuart Rosenberg)

When war vet Luke Jackson (Newman) is placed on a Florida chaingang after committing a petty crime, he becomes a hero to his fellow inmates due to his rebellious personality. Another iconic part that Newman just shined in like a star. A timeless work of 60s cinema that never seems to lose its energy and influence. Co-starring George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton.

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Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969, Dir: George Roy Hill)

This first teamup of Newman and Robert Redford based on the exploits of the legendary Old West outlaws is simply magnificent. It is filled with action, humor, romance, great music and everything you want from a Western genre movie. Co-starring Katherine Ross, Strother Martin, Jeff Corey.

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The Sting (1973, Dir: George Roy Hill)

Newman, Redford and Hill’s second collaboration moves the rip roarin fun from The Wild West to the Depression era 1930s. The story follows a pair of grifters as they set up a daring caper on a cruel fatcat (Robert Shaw) as revenge for the murder of their close friend. A crackerjack crime-comedy that unfolds with superb performances from all involved. Co-starring Charles Durning, Jack Kehoe, Harold Gould.

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The Towering Inferno (1974, Dir: John Guillermin)

Newman stars as Doug Roberts an architect who gets caught in a deadly trap when the contemporary building he designed catches fire during a large celebration. The suspense and thrills go into the red as the partygoers try to escape. An example of the 70sdisaster genre films at its best with an incredible all star supporting cast. Steve McQueen plays a firefighter who comes to the aid of Newman and its a special piece of cinema history to see those two legends onscreen together. Co-starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain.

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Slap Shot (1977, Dir: George Roy Hill)

One of all time greatest sports comedies with Newman as Reggie Dunlop a minor league hockey player/coach who resorts to a variety of wild schemes to keep his losing team in the mix. Filled with punches and laughs. Co-starring Strother Martin, Michael Ontkean, Jennifer Warren.

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The Verdict (1982, Dir: Sidney Lumet)

In this gripping courtroom drama, Frank Galvin (Newman) is a down on his luck alcoholic lawyer who is given a new case concerning medical malpractice. Galvin is under the assumption his involvement will help him regain his lost integrity due to a big cash settlement. During the trial, he begins to realize his twisted views have affected him negatively and tries to change his ways. Co-starring Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason.

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The Color of Money (1986, Dir: Martin Scorsese)

In this follow up to The Hustler, Paul Newman returns as Fast Eddie Felsen. 25 years have passed since he walked away from playing pool. Now a successful liquor salesman, Eddie finds himself pulled back into the world of pool when he encounters a young hotshot named Vincent (Tom Cruise) who is like a mirror reflection of his younger self albeit with a few minor personality flaws. Eddie decides to mentor Vincent and along with his girlfriernd Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio) the three hit the road to make some big bucks. Paul Newman won a Best Actor Osca for his role.

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The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, Dir: The Coen Bros)

In this rollicking throwback to 30s/40s screwball comedies, Paul Newman plays a supporting role as the scheming Sidney J. Mussberger, member of the board of directors at Hudsucker Industries. Mussberger decides to appoint a shmuck from the mailroom (Tim Robbins) as the company’s President to keep the stocks on the rise.

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Nobody’s Fool (1994, Dir: Robert Benton)

One of Paul Newmans last great starring roles is Donald “Sully” Sullivan an aging smalltown construction freelancer who scams everyone he knows to survive. A quirky little dramedy with a colorful supporting cast including Bruce Willis, Jessica Tandy and Melanie Griffith.

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Road to Perdition (2002, Dir: Sam Mendes)

Set during The Great Depression this crime-thriller co-stars Paul Newman as John Rooney a feared Illinois based mobster. Another nuanced performance from his later career and an excellent movie based in part on the Japanese Lone Wolf & Cub manga. Co-starring Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh.

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Peter

Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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