Best Paul Newman Films: Tribute to a Great Man

Every once in a while, someone famous dies with whom I had no personal relationship at all. But because of this person’s presence in my life, I still feel like I’ve lost someone. I felt that way when Jim Henson died, and I feel that way today, with the death of Paul Newman.

I have only the most tangential relationship with Newman, as a fellow alumnus of Kenyon College in Ohio. But Newman’s presence was always there; he contributed heavily to the college, making news back in 2007 with the endowment of a $10 million scholarship fund. His quiet philanthropy always impressed me, and maybe even influenced some of my own views of how best we can give back to the world. I also thought his marriage and creative partnership with his wife Joanne Woodward, at least as far as the public was allowed to see, was a role model of what a marriage should be.

But how he was first known to me, and known to most of us, was as an actor. So as a tribute to him, I’d like to give you my personal list of Paul Newman’s best films. How does this pertain to writing? Do you really have to ask? A great actor can make schlock seem palatable, and can make great writing seem like a 7-course feast. These films are the 7-course feasts, my friends.

Cars (2006, story credits by John Lasseter, Joe Ranft and Jorgen Klubian): If you have kids, you probably own this movie. Newman’s portrayal of Doc Hudson took the audience on a moving journey of watching an aging car get the recognition he always deserved.

Nobody’s Fool (1994, novel by Richard Russo and screenplay by Robert Benton): Newman got a chance to display his sense of humor in acting the role of Sully; it’s a wonderful ensemble film.

The Verdict (1982, novel by Barry Reed, screenplay by David Mamet): A carnivore of a film, Newman’s Frank Galvin traveled the road from hell to redemption, all because of a single case. One of the all-time great lawyer films.

The Sting (1973, written by David S. Ward): One of the first movies I ever saw starring Newman, and a completely wild ride as we travel the con with Newman’s Henry Gondorff and Robert Redford’s Johnny Hooker.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, written by William Goldman): Hello, boys! The respective hotness of Robert Redford and Newman as young ‘uns drew me in; the engaging story and the fun they clearly had working on the film kept me engaged.

What are some of your favorite Paul Newman films?

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10 Responses to “Best Paul Newman Films: Tribute to a Great Man”

  1. Connie Wilson Says:

    Neither “Cars” nor “Nobody’s Fool” really cuts it as one of Paul Newman’s “best” films. True, he did score an award nomination for the latter (which, as almost always, he lost) but go to to read my comments regarding the following “20 Best Films of All Time” by Newman: 1) “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969); (2) “Cool Hand Luke” (1967); (3) “The Hustler” (1961); (4) “The Color of Money” (1986); (5) “Hud” (1963); (6) “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958); (7) “Sweet Bird of Youth” (1962); (8) “The Long, Hot Summer” (1958); (9) “The Verdict” (1982); (10) “Road to Perdition” (2002); (11) “Absence of Malice” (1981); (12) “The Sting” (1973); (13) “The Drowning Pool” (1975); (14) “Harper” (1966); (15) “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956); (16) “Slap Shot” (1977); (17) “Sometimes A Great Notion” (1971); (18) “Exodus” (1960); (19) “From the Terrace” (1960); “Towering Inferno” (1974). I don’t think “Cars” belongs on the list, as you have suggested, and I’m sure a good argument can be made for placing “The Sting” higher on the list than I have placed it. I reviewed film for close to 20 years for the Quad City Times, and if there is a Paul Newman film I haven’t seen, I’ll be surprised.

  2. toddiedowns Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Connie! I may have met my match in unqualified good taste. As fabulous as your list is, and it IS fabulous, I stand by my choices. Once you’ve hit the 127th watching of CARS with a rabid 4-year-old fan, you begin to truly notice the nuances of the vocal performance by Newman. Either that or I’m beginning to have aural hallucinations. Which is entirely possible.

    Note too that I’m examining these films through the hazy filter of memory (outside CARS, it’s been years since I saw any of these films), as well as from the dual standpoint of appreciation for the writing in conjunction with Newman’s performances. And NOBODY’S FOOL is such a gorgeous example of quiet writing, and Newman I think did some of his best “quiet” acting in that movie.

    I respect your comprehensive movie knowledge and think you’ve compiled a heck of a list. We may just have to agree to disagree on a couple of the choices.

  3. Gloria Says:

    I enjoyed reading your tribute to Paul Newman. You said many of the things I was feeling and just couldn’t express. Beautiful job. I enjoyed your list as well. As I read through it I smiled, my memories of those movie-going experiences washing over me. I’m glad you have Nobody’s Fool on your list. It’s not one of his most famous movies, but I enjoyed it very much.

  4. toddiedowns Says:

    Glad you enjoyed the tribute, Gloria. It’s heartening to see how many people Newman touched.

  5. movie fan Says:

    it’s hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman’s Own line–high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes… very smart.

  6. coffee fiend Says:

    Paul Newman is a legend for his work in movies, and he’s a stud for all his work outside of movies

  7. Liam Says:

    No love for “HUD”?

  8. Connie Wilson Says:

    Dear Toddiedowns,
    I hadn’t been out here since suggesting some Paul Newman films for your “Best of” list.
    I have now assembled the Best of 2009 list and the Best of the Past Decade list at I wish I were better at putting down “links.” If so, I’d put one here, but take a look, if you, like me, like movies.

    And today, I posted the people snubbed for Oscar nominations on Associated Content (and a review of “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans” which was not good.


    Connie Wilson

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