Ron Howard's Career EKG: Which Films Flatlined and Which Made Our Hearts Pump

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Published December 07, 2008

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Frost/Nixon opens in theaters this week, and it's sure to prove once again that it must be great to be Ron Howard. He's incredibly successful, happily married for over 30 years to his high school sweetheart, and everyone in Hollywood says he's a really nice guy. But despite over the years his having directed 23 feature films—most of them pretty darn good—it has to sting just a bit that so many of us still think of him as little Opie from "The Andy Griffith Show
or Richie Cunningham from "Happy Days."

With his newest film generating Oscar buzz, we're wondering if his directing career will finally eclipse his early roles as an actor. To find out, we've examined his directorial efforts with our career EKG. Celebrity careers are like heartbeats—some move at a consistent rhythm, with strong steady beats. Others feel occasional palpitations: moments of blockbuster success. Then there are those random murmurs: beats that are neither strong nor weak, movies that are neither good nor bad, but show that a body—or career—still has a pulse. But, sadly, every career seems to have its moment of flat-lining.

Here are the results of our Ron Howard Career EKG, covering his early efforts directing light comedy and heart-warming family movies to the more serious fare of recent years. Surprisingly, the famously even-keeled director has had his share of frightening career lows and heart-pounding highs.

Check out the Ron Howard Career EKG FlipBook here.

Grand Theft Auto, 1977

EKG reading: MURMUR

You've got to start somewhere, and Ron unfortunately started here. The film, which Howard co-wrote and also starred in, proves the old adage that there's nowhere to go but up.

Night Shift, 1982

EKG reading: MURMUR

We should probably be embarrassed to say this, but "Night Shift" is our favorite Ron Howard movie of all time. Starring Howard's Happy Days costar Henry Winkler, as well as Michael Keaton and Shelley Long, the film is pure comedy genius fed directly to us. Call Starkist.

Splash, 1984

EKG reading: PALPITATION

This is Ron's shining coming-out moment. It made Tom Hanks a film star, and Daryl Hannah charmed us as the mermaid he falls in love with. In supporting roles, John Candy and Eugene Levy were at their comedic best.

Cocoon, 1985

EKG reading: PALPITATION

This schlocky tale of old folks (led by Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn) rejuvenated in a swimming pool fountain of youth belonging to aliens warmed our hearts. It was Howard's first film to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor Don Ameche), and it propelled his career to a new level. It gives us a little boost of "life force" every time we see it.

Gung Ho, 1986

EKG reading: FLATLINE

This film about the takeover of an American car company by the Japanese should have been so much better. It starred Michael Keaton at the height of his career, George "Norm!" Wendt from "Cheers, and the dude who played Long Duk Dong in "Sixteen Candles." We're laughing just typing it. Sadly, it was not so funny on the big screen.

Willow, 1988

EKG reading: ARRITHMYIA

We're not buying the whole Val Kilmer in a kid's movie thing. And Howard's sensibility matched with George Lucas in full fantasy mode was just too odd a pairing to work.

Parenthood, 1989

EKG reading: PALPITATION

Ron was back on track in true Howard style with this story about family, laughter, and tears. Featuring a delightful performance from Steve Martin and a Carpenters' a cappella number, it's one of his finest.

Backdraft, 1991

EKG reading: MURMUR

Howard gets into serious action and drama with this movie about a pair of firefighting brothers. Although the film, which starred Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, and Robert De Niro, has its flaws, it points the way for Howard's more serious efforts to come.

Apollo 13, 1995

EKG reading: PALPITATION

Teamed up once again with Tom Hanks, Ron takes the true-life story of the Apollo 13 astronauts and brings home nail-biting drama in this Oscar-nominated film.

Ransom, 1996

EKG reading: MURMUR

Mel Gibson in a kidnapping movie: another departure from the feel-good fare we'd come to expect from Ronnie.

EdTV, 1999

EKG reading: FLATLINE

Released in the shadow of Jim Carrey's "The Truman Show," this film starring Matthew McConaughey wasn't given much love by critics or audiences. But while it's not one of Ron's career or box-office highlights, it's not a bad film, just not great.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas, 2000

EKG reading: MURMUR

We were destined not to like it. Take our favorite animated Christmas show, make a live-action version, AND mess with the lyrics of the theme song. Unacceptable. But the kids seem to dig it, so we guess it can't be all bad.

A Beautiful Mind, 2001

EKG reading: PALPITATION

This Russell Crowe movie not only won the Academy Award for Best Film, but it also netted the directing Oscar for Howard and the Best Supporting Actress statue for Jennifer Connelly. Gotta say that we didn't see the plot twist in this one coming. We won't say anything more, as we don't want to give it away for those of you still working through the year 2001 on your Netflix queue.

Cinderella Man, 2005

EKG reading: FLATLINE

Oh well, not all Ron Howard/Russell Crowe collaborations can be as good as "A Beautiful Mind." Maybe Russell started throwing cell phones over the sheer disappointment of it all.

The Da Vinci Code, 2006

EKG reading: PALPITATION

He had big shoes to fill turning one of the most popular books of all time into a movie. It was smart to rely on his old pal, silver screen icon Tom Hanks, and even smarter to also cast the appealing French actress Audrey Tautou. Did it live up to the book? Of course not, but it's a well-made film and worth watching, so we have high hopes for "Angels & Demons," the sequel he's directing for release in the spring of 2009.

Frost/Nixon, 2008

EKG reading: PALPITATION

Howard's latest adaptation—this time from the critically acclaimed play by Peter Morgan—is generating Oscar buzz for Howard and its stars, Frank Langella (who won a Tony for his role on Broadway) and Michael Sheen. If it wins, maybe Howard will finally be able to put Opie and Richie behind him for good.

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