10 Best Ron Howard Movies, Ranked According To Rotten Tomatoes

With Ron Howard’s latest movie, Thirteen Lives, in theaters, his fans may be wondering which of his movies have the best reputation with critics. Sure enough, Rotten Tomatoes has tracked all of his narrative films, and his filmography has earned no shortage of critical acclaim.

Hollywood history is filled with stories of actors who became great directors, and Howard might be one the most famous examples of all. From his humble beginnings as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith ShowHoward made the transition to the directors’ chair as an adult and became a filmmaker known for reliably turning out quality entertainment.


10 Cocoon (1985) – 76%

An underrated ’80s science fantasy comedy, Cocoon follows a group of retirees who find themselves revitalized after swimming in a pool filled with alien cocoons. While the film didn’t reach the heights of success as Ron Howard’s previous movie, splashit was still a box office hit and even scored Don Ameche an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

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Cocoon may have some impressive visual effects, but the real highlight is the cast who give it some real heart, especially Ameche and Wilford Brimley. Surprisingly, for a movie he brought so much to, Ron Howard was not the first choice for the directors’ chair, having replaced a fellow ’80s icon, Robert Zemeckis.

9 Back draft (1991) – 76%

Although action usually isn’t Ron Howard’s genre of choice, back draft was early proof that he is more than comfortable in it. Starring an ensemble cast led by the always impressive Kurt Russell, back draft plays out like a detective story that combines great firefighting set-pieces with a surprisingly compelling mystery.

Surprisingly, for a movie that was a decent financial success and did well with critics, the movie hasn’t stuck around in the zeitgeist as much as it should have. Perhaps its most visible legacy is a Universal Studios Hollywood special effects show, which ran from 1992 to 2010 and remains a favorite of many old-school park enthusiasts.

8 Cinderella Male (2005) – 80%

Ron Howard has always been an actors’ director, knowing from experience how to get the best performance out of anyone, and pairing him up with Russell Crowe means quality cinema. A classic underdog story based on the life of boxer James Braddock, Cinderella Man features one of Crowe’s best performances as the heavyweight champion who gave Americans a ray of hope during the Great Depression.

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The movie was a box office disappointment, but was well-liked by both critics and audiences, even earning a rare A+ on Cinemascore. It actually has a higher Tomatometer score than Howard and Crowe’s previous outing, A Beautiful Mindwhich earned the former an Academy Award for Best Director.

7 The Paper (1994) – 88%

Coming out during a transition period for Ron Howard, The Paper is a comedy-drama following an eventful day in the life of Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton). The movie may not be one of Howard’s best known, but it did quite well with critics, who praised it as an entertaining look inside the newsroom with a terrific ensemble cast.

As befitting a movie focused on the newspaper industry, The Paper was co-written by brothers David and Stephen Koepp, the latter of whom was a senior editor at time magazine. Stephen’s experience in the industry helps keep the movie grounded, and its central plot of two Black American teens falsely accused of murdering two white businessmen feels authentic at a time when Rodney King and the Central Part Five were still fresh in public memory.

6 Rush (2013) – 89%

A biopic about the rivalry between F1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, rush combines Ron Howard’s eye for spectacle with his skill in working brilliantly with actors. The racing sequences are top-notch, but the true draws here are the performances of Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, who sell their characters’ rivalry perfectly.

While the movie sadly got no love from the Academy, reviews were strong, and rush is one of the highest-rated auto racing movies on Rotten Tomatoes. Even the real Niki Lauda was pleased with the film, saying “There was no Hollywood changes or things changed a little bit Hollywood-like. It is very accurate. And this really surprised me very positively.”

5 Splash (1984) – 91%

A romantic comedy with a fantasy twist, splash was the movie that cemented Ron Howard’s status as a major player in Hollywood. It was highly profitable and beloved by critics and audiences alike and was also the breakout film role for a young up-and-comer, Tom Hanks.

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splash may have been a hit primarily because of the chemistry and easy likability of Hanks and Daryl Hannah, but its humor and fantastical fish-out-of-water story are strong enough on their own. The movie does a good job at putting you in Allen’s shoes as an everyman, while also making Madison relatable in her attempts to understand a confusing new world.

4 Night Shift (1982) – 92%

Ron Howard’s Second Theatrically Released Movie After His Largely Forgotten Debut, Grand Theft Auto, Night Shift follows morgue attendant Chuck Lumley (Henry Winkler), who at the insistence of his new coworker, sets up a prostitution ring. It’s a quintessential ’80s comedy with a hijinks-filled plot and great gags, brought to life by a wonderful cast in their prime.

Frequent Howard collaborator, Michael Keaton, may have gotten the lion’s share of praise for his hilarious turn as Bill Blazejowski, but the movie wouldn’t be what it is without Winkler’s excellent straight-man turn. Released during the waning days of Happy Days‘ run, the film is a great example of Winkler’s talent and a sign that he could do more than just play the Fonz.

3 Parenthood (1989) – 92%

parenthood marked a shift in Ron Howard’s directing career, proving that he could handle drama as well as comedy. Centered around the Buckman family, a sprawling clan dealing with the highs and lows of life, the movie was a box office success that got some notable awards consideration and later inspired the popular 2010 TV series.

Not only is parenthood often considered one of Steve Martin’s best movies, but it’s also one of the films that perfectly captures the spirit of what it means to raise kids. The movie doesn’t shy away from the rougher parts of parenthood and childhood, with Garry’s (Joaquin Phoenix) discovery that his father wants nothing to do with him being a particularly effective tearjerker.

2 Frost/Nixon (2008) – 93%

Films about United States presidents are nothing new, but it takes true masters to bring a leader of the free world to life in a way that feels authentic. Frost/Nixon pulls that off beautifully, with Frank Langella’s performance as Richard Nixon making him a three-dimensional character who is sympathetic while still being deeply flawed.

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while Frost/Nixon underperformed at the box office and received criticism for its historical inaccuracies, it won critical acclaim for being an engaging drama with a pair of capable leads in Langella and Michael Sheen. In fact, Sheen’s portrayal of journalist David Frost quickly raised his pedigree in America and helped him land a string of roles high profile Hollywood films.

1 Apollo 13 (1995) – 96%

Space has been a favorite subject of filmmakers since Georges Méliès took 1902 audiences on a trip to the moon, so it’s only natural that Ron Howard would want to leave his mark on the final frontier. Apollo 13 is widely considered one of the best movies about aviation, racking up nine Oscar nominations to go with its impressive box office haul.

what makes Apollo 13 so special is the human story of those behind one of NASA’s most famous missions. Seeing Jim Lovell and crew risk their lives in the name of science and human ingenuity is truly inspiring and a reminder of the power that film has to be uplifting, as well as entertaining.

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