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9 Robert Redford Movies That Defined His Career

9 Robert Redford Movies That Defined His Career

robert redford best movies

In the Toast series today, we celebrate Hollywood legend and Oscar-winning director Robert Redford, whose illustrious career spans six decades. The ‘Sundance’ kid turns a glorious 87 today! From Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969) to The Horse Whisperer (1998), we round up the best Robert Redford movies.

Robert Redford once said in an interview that he loved mythology growing up. The mystical, powerful gods and goddesses. And the idea that we humans could somehow, if we’re very lucky, be gifted with their magical superpowers. Yes, you know where this is going.

The actor. The Oscar-winning director. The Father of Independent Film (aka Sundance). The environmentalist. The social activist. The notoriously private man off-screen. And yes, that rare, rare Hollywood star who was actually born in Los Angeles. (He is to Los Angeles what Al Pacino and Robert De Niro might symbolize to New York City. Redford has that carefree blonde West Coast charisma, as opposed to Pacino and De Niro’s delightfully tough New York City street manner and dark locks.)

All told, Robert Redford is a Hollywood god. He’s had a beyond successful career spanning the 1950s to just a few short years ago before he casually hung up his boots (retiring as an actor at least!) in his trademark pleasant, understated manner. Asked personally by icon Natalie Wood to appear in her 1965 film, Inside Daisy Clover, he has never looked back.

He’s starred in sweet flicks like Barefoot in the Park (1967) and smash hits like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). There are also smaller films like Downhill Racer (1969) and Jeremiah Johnson (1972) that inspired him to one day start Sundance Film Festival – and to pioneer the feasibility of an independent film movement that could co-exist harmoniously alongside a commercially-driven Hollywood mainstream market. Redford achieved all this and before 50!

 

Oscar For Lifetime Achievement 

Since the 1970s, he’s also become a directorial force, making thoughtful, compelling films like Ordinary People (1980), which won multiple Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture. He also directed A River Runs Through It (1992), notable for its young breakout star Brad Pitt, and Quiz Show (1994), among others. No surprise, in 2002, Redford was gifted with an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.

Born and bred in Los Angeles, but choosing the vast, beautiful mountains of the American West as his inspiration-filled home in adulthood (Utah, New Mexico, etc.), Redford is a beloved enigma who’s left an indelible footprint in the film industries of the world. He’s both a Hollywood and global treasure.

What’s more, after all these years, people are still intrigued by him, want to know him, are intimidated by him, and are enamored by him. So this August 18, 2023, here’s wishing a happy, heartfelt 87th birthday to Robert Redford, a true friend to film. Thank you, Robert Redford, for your unique, pioneering, and talented spirit. Quickly then, let’s get down to the best Robert Redford movies that have defined his career.

 

9 Best Robert Redford Movies

9. The Natural (1984)

Image Source: The New York Times

Here’s where Robert Redford channels his inner god and love for mythology. Flashback to him as a kid loving all those old mythology books, and we see why Redford wanted to star in The Natural. Quite simply, he’s a “natural” fit. He plays Roy Hobbs, a baseball player with a lot of potential, due possibly to a magical bat made from the wood of a tree that gets hit by lightning. What more, this wood is from the tree next to where his beloved father died. See all the twists and turns, and if Hobbs makes it to the baseball pro league. The Natural is epic, touching, and a must-see for any sports fan. Redford successfully creates his mythical, mystical “baseball god.” This movie undoubtedly inspired Redford to direct 2000’s The Legend of Bagger Vance, a film that explores the sport of golf in a supernatural way.

Where to watch:  Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix

 

8. The Horse Whisperer (1998)

Image Source: IMDb

A culmination of everything Robert Redford is about, The Horse Whisperer is Redford’s ultimate mash-up. Here’s why. It’s set in the American West. It’s a romance. It has political/social undertones regarding urban vs. rural lifestyles. Fourthly, Redford directs, where he showcases his trademark subtle, understated touches. Finally, his character, Tom Booker, is the namesake Horse Whisperer – a man with a supernatural ability to understand horses. (Cue that mythological god status.The Horse Whisperer is visually gorgeous, the acting is excellent, and this film reminds us that movies can take their time. It’s a millennial-era movie from 1998, and it seems to purposefully ask its viewers to slow down, take a seat, and simply watch a story unfold.

After forty years in Hollywood showbiz, Redford had earned the right to make any picture he wanted. This movie is Redford at quite possibly his most comfortable, and he even directs a young Scarlett Johansson in one of her very first superb performances. (For equestrian fans, here are 12 horse movies you’ll love).

Where to watch:  Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu

 

7. Out of Africa (1985)

Robert Redford movies
Image Source: Vox

Winner of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Out of Africa is undoubtedly one of Redford’s most “career-defining” films. He teams up with fave director, Sydney Pollack, who directed him in 1966’s bittersweet This Property is Condemned and 1973’s iconic The Way We Were, among other films. (Scroll down for the scoop on The Way We Were.) A period piece set in exotic East Africa during the early 1900s, and co-starring three-time Oscar- winning legend, Meryl Streep, Out of Africa is a gorgeous, sprawling “cinematic love poem.” Redford plays Denys Finch Hatton, a safari-man who falls in love with baroness Karen von Blixen. Redford had already been dubbed “Hollywood’s hottest leading man” for many years, but Out of Africa’s lush, dreamy setting, coupled with his stellar colleagues of director Pollack and actress Streep, allow him to shine in truly beautiful ways. Redford is downright unforgettable as enigmatic Denys, whose love for both Africa and Karen prove precious as a gem and fragile as a sunset. Watch, become hypnotized, and bring tissues.    

Where to watch: Redbox, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Microsoft Store, AMC on Demand, DirecTV, Google Play Movies, YouTube

 

6. Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Image Source: IMDb

Though it wasn’t their first match-up (cue 1966’s The Chase), Barefoot in the Park is certainly their most memorable. Yes, enter the beloved on-screen couple called “Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.” They play Paul and Corie Bratter, newlyweds in New York City who must navigate the ins and outs of their new life together. Can their love survive in their new Greenwich Village apartment? (Fifth floor, here we come!) If you crave a young rom-com Redford, here’s your movie. Redford successfully brings his uptight lawyer character to life from the early 1960s Broadway play. As a Hollywood feature film, Barefoot in the Park works exceptionally well.

Redford and Fonda’s romantic chemistry is dynamite. Their comedic timing is perfect. And this movie doesn’t have that claustrophobic feel that some plays fall victim to when being adapted from the stage to the big screen. Everything feels right. Redford and Fonda would go on to star in two more films together – The Electric Horseman (1979) and Our Souls at Night (2017). This Hollywood acting couple is truly “one for the ages.”         

Where to watch:  Roku Channel, Paramount+, Spectrum TV, Amazon Prime Video, Redbox, Vudu, Apple TV

 

5. Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Image Source: Criterion

Robert Redford is synonymous with the Sundance Film Institute and Sundance Film Festival in Utah. By all accounts, this is where they started, with this movie. The character Jeremiah Johnson is based on the real-life 1800s “mountain man” of the American West, and this movie chronicles his tumultuous wilderness life. He fights for survival amid run-ins with both human and animal foes, and the elements of nature. (Cue those frigid snow-capped mountains.)  Jeremiah Johnson is an exceptionally quiet film, and not at all what one would expect from superstar Robert Redford. And that’s part of its power. For audiences, Jeremiah Johnson was a truly unique film experience. And for director Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford, it was an equally unique filmmaking experience.

Pollack and Redford kindly and respectfully bucked the Hollywood trend, and instead of filming this movie on a Hollywood backlot as requested for US$200,000, promised the studio that they could film it at the same budget in their ideal location. Where was that? None other than Redford’s idyllic, sprawling Utah property. The success of this movie paved the way for independent films, and an independent film industry that continues to thrive today.

Where to watch: Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV

 

4. All the President’s Men (1976)

Image Source: New Yorker

Let’s be 1970s real. This movie had some potent 1970s Hollywood glitter showering down on it. Released in the USA’s Bicentennial year of 1976, and chronicling the fall from grace of recent real-life American President Nixon, All the President’s Men was the right movie at the right time. But for all the unfortunate, wrong reasons. Redford plays Bob Woodward alongside Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein), two real-life journalists investigating then-President Nixon and his suspicious connection to illegal activities at Washington, D.C.’s, Watergate Hotel. This film is one of the best political movies ever, told without a lot of pomp and circumstance. It has that wonderfully gritty, realistic, almost documentary 1970s vibe. Redford and Hoffman’s performances are stellar. Redford was known for having a strong social conscience off-screen, and this movie was a perfect vehicle for him to explore questions related to politics and journalism, ethics and privacy.

Where to watch:  Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV

 

3. The Way We Were (1973)

robert redford movies
Image Source: Mubi

Call him leading man, heartthrob, the hottest male superstar on the planet. This movie solidified all that. Say what you want about the questionable moral goodness of his character, Hubbell Gardiner, but one can’t deny that Redford delivered his character well. He and fellow superstar Barbra Streisand (also in one of her most “career-defining” films), create on-screen chemistry that is legendary. In fact, The Way We Were has achieved such “romance” icon status that it’s listed as a monumental #6 out of 100 for the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Passions” romance movie ranking compiled in 1999. At face value, it’s the quintessential “opposites attract” love story. But, Redford and Streisand, the stunning 1970s superstars that they were, took that storyline and made it “next level.”

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Wait, how’d they do that? Call it raw talent. Redford wisely knew how to play “understated frat jock Hubbell” to Streisand’s “outspoken activist Katie.” Then add in legendary director Sydney Pollack’s dreamy filmmaking style, and this tearjerker romance rips your tender heart out. No surprise Redford was a hot commodity for romance films after this.  There’s nothing like a Robert Redford romance.

Where to watch:  Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV

 

2. Ordinary People (1980)

Image Source: Letterboxd

Enter Robert Redford, Oscar-winning director. Redford’s directorial debut Ordinary People, in fact, won four Oscars – Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Timothy Hutton, and most importantly, Best Picture. A tale about an upper-middle-class family in the Chicago suburbs who experiences severe emotional trauma (the oldest son accidentally drowns in a boating accident, and the younger son becomes suicidal after surviving the accident), Ordinary People is beautiful in its subtlety, realism, and heart.

Redford shows us so much by way of his story selection, casting choices, cinematography style, etc. The result? You’re intrigued, mesmerized, and ultimately heartbroken. He taps into male sadness, then female strength (or stubbornness). He shows us that “we” as so-called “ordinary people” are anything but. This film is spellbinding in its own “ordinary” way. It’s pure magic and told with a compassionate hand. Unsurprisingly, Redford went on to direct more amazing films after this exquisite debut.

 

1. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)

Image Source: Letterboxd

Usher in the ultimate Dynamic Duo of New Hollywood, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Or in millennial terms, the ultimate Bromance. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck? Tobey Maguire and Leonard DiCaprio? All great, but let’s hail the original. Filmed in the late 1960s, when Hollywood was reinventing itself to be more realistic and gritty, this Western masterpiece from director George Roy Hill is a fresh take on an old genre. There’s witty banter, some modern Burt Bacharach music, and it’s a ‘buddy film’ that makes early 1900s outlaw train robbers (Butch and Sundance) somehow likable anti-heroes.

Robert Redford was relatively new to movies, and this film, the namesake for the now-popular Sundance Film Festival founded by him, catapulted him to super-stardom. It also forged a lasting off-screen friendship between Redford and Paul Newman. They also teamed up again for 1973’s super-successful The Sting (with director George Roy Hill at the helm). What an awesome Hollywood friendship. Is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Redford’s most career-defining film? Absolutely.

Where to watch: Hulu, Disney+, ESPN+

 

Conclusion

The legendary Robert Redford has an extensive filmography and has delivered many remarkable performances throughout his career. All the above films showcase Redford’s versatility and range as an actor, and have become timeless classics in their respective genres. Did your favorite Robert Redford movies make it to the list? What did we miss? Let’s talk in the comments below.

 

Catch all the features from The Toast series here.

 

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