Hot take: Ron Howard is not a bad director. Oh, he’s got a lane, but when he stays in it? He’s done a couple of stone-cold classics and a few movies that I will count as classics when they’re old enough, probably. And a few that I’ve never seen because they look terrible, I grant you, but I will watch Apollo 13 any day of the week. And the day Tom Cruise dies, I will celebrate by watching Far and Away, which is a bad movie don’t get me wrong but which is not bad because of its direction. Though, uh, Ron Howard also has a writing credit, so a lot of the rest of the bad is also his fault. A much bigger problem is the casting, and I don’t know if Ron Howard came up with the idea of Tom Cruise.
I can’t help wondering if his early acting career was in part because no one will let a nine-year-old direct. He says that he figured out young that he would eventually want to direct, but of course he wasn’t doing that in the beginning of his career. He was five when he started acting, and I guess it only took a few years before he realized that wasn’t the side of the camera he wanted to be on. Still, he was Opie for a long time. Then, to evade the draft, he was Richie. He agreed to be in the dreadful-looking Corman-produced Eat My Dust! in exchange for being allowed to direct his first movie.
Grand Theft Auto, which Howard cowrote with his father, actor/writer/director Rance Howard, was his first directing credit and the only time he starred in a movie he directed, one of the requirements of his deal with Corman. He then directed Skyward, a made-for-TV movie starring Bette Davis of all people. She apparently came to like him quite a lot and think he had the potential to be the next William Wyler, which coming from Bette Davis is high praise indeed. It also starred an actual paraplegic in the role of a woman in a wheelchair who wanted to learn to be a pilot.
His career in directing took off quickly after that. Cocoon and Splash are generally accepted as classics, and while there’s more debate about Willow, I honestly like it better than I like Splash, a lot of which has aged poorly. Despite Steve Martin’s joke about getting to be in a movie directed by Opie, Parenthood is considered one of the great comedies of the ‘80s. And if his Oscar wins for A Beautiful Mind aren’t for his best-ever movie, it’s still well-regarded despite its . . . questionable history. Frost/Nixon is better, funnier, and mostly ignored by quite a lot of people. I was asked why I was spending money on seeing a movie about two guys in a room talking, in fact.
Ron Howard is so wholesome he’s married to his high school sweetheart. And he definitely has directed his share of turkeys. Arguably more than his share, though I’d probably push back against that argument, and I think most of his failings come from moving out of his lane. Ron Howard’s best movies are showing the triumph of decency, I think, and when people come together to solve a problem. Maybe I’m wrong; I haven’t seen his whole directorial filmography. (Though I do hear good things about Thirteen Lives.) If you’re not in the mood for that, I can see how Ron Howard would fail you.