What Are Warren Beatty's 10 Best Movies?

The Best Films Featuring the Legendary Actor/Writer/Director

For the past several years Hollywood has whispered about the return of Warren Beatty; prior to 2016's Rules Don't Apply, the Hollywood legend hadn't appeared in a movie since 2001 and hadn't directed a film since 1998. Beatty has been working on Rules Don't Apply off-and-on for over 40 years, but finally started production in 2011. To be fair, the absence wasn't very surprising—since Beatty started directing films in the late 1970s, he has been known for taking years-long breaks between films.

Still, despite the fifteen-year gap in Beatty's sixty-year career in Hollywood he still has had a career that anyone would envy. These are his ten best movies in a career that has ranged from award-winning classics to notorious failures like Ishtar.

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Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Splendor in the Grass
Warner Bros.

When Beatty's first film came out in 1961, it was quite a scandal. Splendor in the Grass stars Natalie Wood as a teenage girl who is conflicted about having sex with her boyfriend, played by Beatty. Beatty's character is the son of a rich family with high expectations for him, though he is unable to live up to the pressure from his family. The film is set during the stock market crash of 1929 and shows how the worst economic disaster in U.S. history affected family relationships. Splendor in the Grass is remembered for Beatty's character's line "You gotta take what comes" about accepting where life takes you.

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde
Warner Bros.

Though Beatty had been in Hollywood for ten years prior to starring in Bonnie and Clyde, playing notorious bank robber Cylde Barrow is what turned Beatty into a superstar and a filmmaker in his own right (he also produced the film). It was a groundbreaking movie and a blockbuster hit that inspired a generation of filmmakers to explore violence and sexual content in ways studios were reluctant to do before. 

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McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Warner Bros.

Though this "anti-Western" directed by Robert Altman might take more than one viewing to truly appreciate, McCabe & Mrs. Miller features one of Beatty's finest performances. Beatty plays McCabe, a gambler who settles in a small northwestern down in order to establish a brothel. He hires Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) to run the brothel, and their relationship—and McCabe's business deals—make up the story of the film.

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The Parallax View (1974)

The Parallax View
Paramount Pictures

The political-driven Beatty stars in The Parallax View as a reporter who uncovers a mysterious organization dedicated to assassinating politicians. Released roughly a decade after President Kennedy was assassinated, this political thriller plays with the concept of "lone gunman" assassinations being part of a much larger conspiracy.

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Shampoo (1975)

Columbia Pictures

Though a lot of the humor of Shampoo seems dated today, this romantic comedy was a hit film when it was released. Beatty (who also co-wrote the screenplay and produced) plays a Lothario hairdresser in Beverly Hills. The film follows his life on Election Day 1968, during which he comes in contact with a number of his former lovers. Co-stars in the film include Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, and Lee Grant, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. 

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Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Heaven Can Wait
Paramount Pictures

Heaven Can Wait is Beatty's directorial debut (he co-directed the film with co-star Buck Henry). In the film, Beatty plays an NFL quarterback who is killed in a traffic accident shortly before he is supposed to lead his team to the Super Bowl. While in the afterlife he discovers he wasn't supposed to die quite yet and is sent back in the body of a recently-deceased rich man. The former quarterback does whatever he can in order to get back on the field for the big game. The high-concept comedy was a hit at the box office and launched Beatty's career as an actor-director. 

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Reds (1981)

Paramount Pictures

Reds is an extremely ambitious film about radical American journalist John Reed, who is remembered for writing a book about the Bolshevik Revolution. Beatty not only stars as Reed, but he also directed, produced, and co-wrote the film. The film, which is over three hours long, took over a year to shoot and also includes real-life interviews with individuals who knew Reed. Co-stars in the film include Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Paul Sorvino.

Reds finally brought Beatty his long-overdue Oscar—though it came for Best Director, not Best Actor. 

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Dick Tracy (1990)

Dick Tracy
Touchstone Pictures

Though it didn't receive the credit it deserved upon its initial release, Dick Tracy—Beatty's adaptation of the long-running detective comic—was far ahead of its time. Dick Tracy is a comic strip movie that embraces all the color and zaniness of the comic strip world. Beatty (who also directed the film) is joined on screen by Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, Dick Van Dyke, and, at her most alluring, Madonna. Beatty still talks about making a sequel, though whether it will actually happen is anyone's guess.

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Bugsy (1991)

TriStar Pictures

While Dick Tracy was received as something of a disappointment at the time, Beatty bounced back the following year in Bugsy, a biopic about the notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel and his girlfriend actress Virginia Hill (played by Beatty's future wife Annette Bening). It was a return-to-form for Beatty, with the film being reminiscent of his acclaimed role in Bonnie and Clyde. Though at the time Beatty was more than decade older than Siegel was when the mob boss was killed, he was thought to be perfect for the role and he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor.

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Bulworth (1998)

20th Century Fox

Also ahead of its time, Bulworth plays with Beatty's lifelong interest in politics. Beatty portrays a California U.S. Senator who is full of self-hate for having sold out his core values for corporate interests. After arranging his assassination so his daughter could receive a large insurance payment, Bulworth begins speaking his mind freely and becomes a media sensation. Co-starring Halle Berry and Don Cheadle, Bulworth was the last film Beatty directed before 2016's Rules Don't Apply.