best film:   The Royal Tenenbaums. Going with the 2001 Wes Anderson masterpiece does not feel as risky as it did five or ten years ago. Gene Hackman has his big five films and four performances and that upper echelon does not seem overly debatable. Cinephiles may debate the order, but The French Connection, The Conversation, Unforgiven, and The Royal Tenenbaums are the most important works for Gene Hackman (more on that below). Going with Clint Eastwood’s best film as a director, Francis Ford Coppola’s paranoia zoom-crazy and auditory dazzler, or William Friedkin’s no-nonsense adrenaline rush are certainly not wrong in this category. Still, Wes Anderson is maybe the modern master of production design and his third film here is one of the landmarks of the 2000s decade. The only other masterpiece yet to be mentioned is Bonnie and Clyde – so that deserves some space here. This is a key supporting role for Hackman and his ascending career in the 1960s –  but his contribution here is certainly much smaller here than his big four. It is also worth noting that Hackman was famously was cut and replaced from Mike Nichols’ The Graduate – he was supposed to play Dustin Hoffman’s father – the William Daniels’ part.


Hackman not only got one crucial role post-60 years old in the 1990s with Unforgiven, but another major resume boost in the 2000s with Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Hackman would appear in just three (3) more overall films (none of them in the archives) – before retiring in 2004.


best performance:  The French Connection but there is virtually no difference between those top four (4) below – talk about a Mount Rushmore. He is splendid (and diverse) in four masterpieces (two in the 1970s, one in the 1990s and one in the 2000s).  Hackman’s trademark grit and temper have never been better than his Oscar winning turn as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle. There is some phenomenal physical acting – almost Kuleshov effect-like with the montage of the epic car chase – and foot pursuit sequences from Hackman. He takes a cliché (a racist, crude cop) and turns it on its head. It is so remarkable that it creates (or rather recreates) the archetype.


Gene Hackman who is an absolute powder keg as Popeye; such a complex character. The French Connection is a landmark in film editing. The greatest example of this level of formal detail and stylistic bravado is the famous car chase scene. It is one of the best editing sequences in the history of film and it perfectly marries William Friedkin’s formal and stylistic elements. The shot/reaction shot editing and Hackman’s brilliant acting in these scenes really invokes the early work of the power of suggestion montage editing by Eisenstein and the other 1920s Russian auteurs. Friedkin even plays homage to Eisenstein the the montage and Potemkin by including a baby stroller in this sequence – quite genius.



stylistic innovations/traits: Gene Hackman has a towering thirty-one (31) archiveable films, two Oscar wins, and performances in loud box office juggernauts (The Poseidon Adventure, Superman, The Firm) and sort of indie-cred quieter films (I Never Sang for My Father and Scarecrow). Speaking of quieter, The Conversation is such a vital role and film for Hackman as he gets to turn down the volume (he is one of the great all-time yellers – his battles with Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide are more than worth the price of admission) and gives his resume a nice variation and range. If one were to sort of close their eyes and think of Hackman, it is probably that toughness and determination in Crimson Tide, Hoosiers, and The French Connection that come to mind first. Yet, Hackman is hilarious in Get Shorty and again in The Royal Tenenbaums – Hackman gives one of the best lead performances in a comedy this century … period (not that genre definitions are of much value). Still, it takes power and presence to stare down Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven and Hackman has that in spades. The isolated drug sequence in The French Connection II is a worthy addition to any actor’s body of work (even if the larger film does not hold a candle to the first film). The film also adds to that crazy run he was on from 1970 to 1975. In this period, he is in eight (8) films in five (5) years, two (2) masterpieces, and Hackman’s fifth (5th) and sixth (6th) best performances overall are during this string of  years with both Scarecrow and Night Moves. This may not quite be Al Pacino or Jack Nicholson during this stretch – but it is just a half step back.


few, if any, can bark like Gene Hackman – and he is menacing as Little Bill Daggett in 1992’s Unforgiven. The revenge of Clint Eastwood’s William Munny character does not work unless the hatred for Hackman’s character is properly built up.


directors worked with:  Arthur Penn (2), Mike Nichols (2), Robert Rossen (1),
William Friedkin (1), Francis Ford Coppola (1), John Frankenheimer (1), Warren Beatty, (1), Woody Allen (1), Clint Eastwood (1), Sydney Pollack (1), Lawrence Kasdan (1), Wes Anderson (1)


Hackman in The Conversation. Many cinephiles will seek out films like The French Connection (1971) or Unforgiven (1992) as they are try to watch and check off all the Oscar best picture winners (a worthy trip and accomplishment) – but at some point every cinephile gets the pleasure of experiencing the slightly lesser known subgroup of films that include this 1974 Francis Ford Coppola gem. Hackman is nothing short of miraculous as the introverted, guarded, insecure, pained Harry Caul.


top five performances:

  1. The French Connection
  2. The Conversation
  3. Unforgiven
  4. The Royal Tenenbaums
  5. Night Moves


archiveable films

1964- Lilith
1967- Bonnie and Clyde
1969- Downhill Racer
1970- I Never Sang for My Father
1971- The French Connection
1972- The Poseidon Adventure
1973- Scarecrow
1974- The Conversation
1974- Young Frankenstein
1975- French Connection II
1975- Night Moves
1977- A Bridge Too Far
1978- Superman
1980- Superman II
1981- Reds
1983- Under Fire
1985- Twice in a Lifetime
1986- Hoosiers
1987- No Way Out
1988- Another Woman
1988- Mississippi Burning
1989- The Package
1990- Postcards from the Edge
1992- Unforgiven
1993- The Firm
1994- Wyatt Earp
1995- Crimson Tide
1995- Get Shorty
1995- The Quick and the Dead
1996- The Birdcage
2001- The Royal Tenenbaums