Burt Reynolds 81st birthday: His Top 15 Southern movies, ranked


Car chases, moonshining, country music, some football, more car chases. Is there anything more Southern than a Burt Reynolds movie? (Not bad for a guy born in Lansing, Michigan.)

To honor the Bandit’s 81st birthday on Feb. 11, we go eastbound and down to check out the 15 Best (And Worst) Burt Reynolds Southern Movies.

15. Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983)

The series mercifully ran out of gas with this story of Sheriff Buford T. Justice smuggling a fish out of Florida. Burt finally realized enough is enough: He only does a cameo at the end.

14. Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

This time, they’re transporting an elephant. Really. Burt probably wishes he’d only done a cameo in this one, too.

13. Stroker Ace (1983)

This NASCAR comedy got five golden Raspberry nominations, but here’s all you need to know: This is the movie Reynolds turned down “Terms of Endearment” to make. You know, the role that won Jack Nicholson an Oscar.

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12. The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

Johnny Knoxville? Please. Burt is quite funny, though, as hammy Boss Hogg in a slick white suit. And he gets into a fistfight with Willie Nelson. Just a good ‘ol joy.

11. The Crew (2000)

Florida is geographically in the South, though Miami Beach might be stretching the definition a bit. This “Oldfellas” caper comedy has retired mobsters reverting back to crime because they’re driven from their South Beach apartment by Miami’s escalating real estate prices. Floridians can certainly sympathize. But it’s no Scarface.

10. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

It’s hard to resist Burt and Dolly Parton singing “Sneaking Around” in their skivvies. With Burt using his toothbrush as a microphone.

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9. W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975)

Burt’s a charming Southern stick-up artist who wangles his way into managing a country music group. This is a Reynolds rarity — it’s never been released on home video and few have ever seen it. Why? It deserves a better fate. (Trivia: Two years later, the director of this film, John Avildsen, would direct Best Picture Oscar winner Rocky.)

8. Gator (1976)

Reynolds directed this sequel to “White Lightning” and while it’s not as good as the original, it does have some cool airboat action scenes, the gap-toothed pleasures of Lauren Hutton and the always watchable Jerry Reed playing against type as a vicious baddie.

7. Striptease (1996)

Burt has a long history of being the best thing in bad movies, and this might be the best of the bad, so to speak. He’s a delight as lusty, lizardy Florida Congressman David Dilbeck, who’s got the hots for stripper mom Demi Moore. Reynolds has the Southern thing down pat, and captures the comic tone of Carl Hiaasen’s novel perfectly. There’s just one problem: Moore think she’s in some dreary drama, and the contrast sinks the film. Still, Burt’s worth seeing here.

6. The Longest Yard (1974)

One of Burt’s best Southern lockup and ’70s football movies, directed by the great Robert Aldrich (who also teamed up with Reynolds on the underrated Hustle). Here, Burt plays Paul “Mean Machine” Crewe, a former quarterback sent to the hoosegow and forced onto a prison squad by a win-obsessed warden (Eddie Albert, who’ll make you forget his amiable role in the TV series Green Acres.) Even though Burt’s in it, we’re not going to discuss that dim Adam Sandler remake.

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5. Sharky’s Machine (1981)

Every Burt fan wishes he’d starred in and directed more movies like this gritty Atlanta cop drama, a B-movie classic, co-starring a young Rachel Ward in a slinky fur coat and the unforgettable Henry Silva as the chillingly heinous Billy Score. Reynolds had a smooth touch here in everything from camera angles to the music (Street Life!), and it’s a shame he didn’t do more work like this.

4. Semi-Tough (1977)

An underrated ’70s charmer, with Burt and Kris Kristofferson as Miami football players vying for the love of their best pal, Jill Clayburgh. Underneath the buddy comedy and jock jokes is a sharp satire on EST-like self-help movements of the 1970s.

3. White Lightning (1973)

Burt’s underrated drive-in drama about convicted moonshiner Gator McKlusky, who is released from the pen so he can take on an evil sheriff (Ned Beatty) who murdered Gator’s brother. There’s plenty of good-ol-boy banter and car chases, but this story has an interesting subtext about the horrors of small-town racism and Southern prejudice. The opening scene of a body being dumped in a bayou is haunting.

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2. Deliverance (1972)

Most people are going to argue that this is the greatest movie Reynolds ever made. Reynolds would probably make the argument. It remains a stunner, with poetic insights on male bonding, nature, aggression, and the dangers of encroaching development. That cast. Those dueling banjos. That scene everybody talks about. A movie that works on every level. But what stays with you is director John Boorman’s masterful control. You’re right on the river with these guys. It’s a terrifying trip into a dark and dangerous unknown, showing how the wild is never far from so-called civilized society.

1. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Sorry, serious movie fans, but this is the greatest movie Burt Reynolds ever made. It’s nothing less than a revved-up American classic, a down South version of a Preston Sturges/Frank Capra screwball comedy. Burt’s never been more foxy and delightful, and Jackie Gleason is the best co-star and foil he ever had. The idea of illegally transporting Coors beer across state lines and outrunning the police via CB radio (that’s a 10-4, good buddy) may be outdated now, but the film moves like a bullet. The cast is perfect from the top stars to the supporting players (Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Paul Williams, Pat McCormick, that black TransAm). Just try not to sing along with “Eastbound and Down.” Now, excuse me, while I go get a diablo sandwich and a Dr. Pepper.

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