Five Classic Burt Reynolds Movies You Can Watch on Streaming
We’re still reeling from the sudden, sad news that legendary Hollywood star Burt Reynolds has passed away at the age of 82. If you’re a longtime fan feeling nostalgic for Burt’s glory days, or a newcomer who wants to know why Reynolds’ death has provoked such a strong reaction on social media, here are five classics from Burt’s long career you can watch at home tonight. Put a couple of them together into a double feature and you’ll start to get a sense of what made him such a special talent. Rest in peace, Burt.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Directed by Hal Needham
Streaming on Amazon Prime
Unless you’re a huge At Long Last Love fan, odds are the image you have of Burt Reynolds — cowboy hat, mustache, wry grin, driving a hot Trans Am — comes from Smokey and the Bandit, a shamelessly entertaining chase film about the Bandit (Reynolds) accepting an assignment to deliver 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta. Along the way, he hooks up with a runaway bride (Sally Field) and gets into hot water with a local sheriff (Jackie Gleason as the immortal Buford T. Justice). With incredible chase footage (a hallmark of Reynolds, particularly in his movies with former stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham) and great banter, Smokey and the Bandit is like cinematic chicken soup; it’ll just make you feel good. And all this years later, it still holds up.
The Longest Yard (1974)
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Streaming on Hulu
If you’ve only seen the Adam Sandler version of this prison football picture, you haven’t seen it. In the real Longest Yard, Reynolds plays Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former football star who swipes his girlfriend’s car and winds up in the clink. The warden convinces Crewe to create a team of inmates to challenge his team of guards. The Sandler Longest Yard isn’t terrible, but it’s missing the grit and grime of the original, and of course, Reynolds’ muscular lead performance. The intensity of the final game helps this one hold up as one of the better football movies ever made. Long live the Mean Machine.
White Lightning (1973)
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Streaming on Tubi
“Classic” might be a little strong in this case, but if you want a blast of authentic Burt in his prime, check out White Lightning, with Reynolds playing Gator McKlusky, a moonshiner who goes undercover for the U.S. government to expose a corrupt sheriff (Ned Beatty) who murdered his brother. You may detect some similarities with Smokey and the Bandit in that plot synopsis; a lot of his ’70s movies remixed the same couple essential elements: Car chases, Southern characters and locales, plenty of action, and Burt being Burt. If you can’t get enough of Gator, White Lightning’s sequel, Gator (directed by Burt himself) is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Streaming on Netflix
Burt’s status as one of the iconic figures of the 1970s was put to its best use in later years as Jack Horner, the paternal porn director in Boogie Nights. As the adult film industry changes around him — from celluloid and genuine craftsmanship to video tape and cranking the movies out as cheaply as possible — Jack sticks to his old-fashioned principles. He’s a filmmaker dammit! It was the ideal role for Reynolds, whose particular flavor of meat-and-potatoes action pictures had gone out of style. Boogie Nights isn’t much like those classic Burt movies, but it features some of Reynolds’ best scenes in his entire career, including his famous monologue where Jack lays out his cinematic ambitions, which makes boning on camera sound like the highest artistic calling one can aspire to. Reynolds supposedly hated Boogie Nights. Even the greats are wrong sometimes.
Directed by John Boorman
Available for rent
For a fifth film, I want to recommend Hooper, Reynolds’ classic ode to Hollywood stuntmen, but sadly it’s not streaming or even rentable anywhere online. Instead, how about the Oscar-nominated Deliverance, a horror-action thriller about a bunch of Atlanta buddies (Reynolds, along with Jon Voight, Ronny Cox, and Ned Beatty) on a backwoods canoe trip gone horribly awry. The film’s most famous moment belongs to Beatty, but Burt and his bow and arrow are pretty memorable in their own right; Deliverance became his breakout hit and led to all the other movies on this list, and plenty of others.
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