The 14 Essential Robert Duvall Movies

The Judge opens in theaters this Friday, and it boasts a wonderful cast, headed up by the legitimate screen legend Robert Duvall.

At 83, Robert Duvall is as sharp and as appealing as he’s ever been. These days, he’s a combination of a kindly grandfather, a stern professor, a knowledgeable expert of life, and an empathetic soul. Duvall has the canny ability to play both aloof and approachable, sometimes simultaneously. He can wrap an arm around you just as well as he can seem incapable of that act. He is imposing and invisible all at once.

And that makes him endlessly intriguing. I have been watching Robert Duvall movies since I was a small child, and I still feel like I’m sussing him out. Figuring what he’s capable of. Duvall performances are never showy, never powerhouses. Duvall, unlike contemporaries Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, doesn’t swing for the walls. He doesn’t do broad character work. He does the distant, stable, whole characters. He banks in subtlety. And he never lets you down. Oh sure, he’s appeared in his share of stinkers like Gone in Sixty Seconds, Lucky You, and John Q, but what legend hasn’t starred in a few bad films in their career? What’s more notable is that he has never given a bad performance. It’s like he doesn’t know how.

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Duvall spent the first several decades of his career in television, mostly as the one-or-two-shot guest star in a long-running show. He played two roles in “The Fugitive,” appeared in three episodes of “The Outer Limits,” and played an endless series of cops. If you’re a fan of American TV of the 1960s, then you have seen Robert Duvall more often than you know. Seriously. From “The Defenders” to “Combat!” to “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” to “The Mod Squad,” Robert Duvall was pretty steadily employed.

Perhaps it was that sort of workaday blue-collar approach to acting that dictated his stalwart performances later in his career. He would not try to stand out, but serve the material. Work the job, do what the director asks, and do it well. Only one of his performances provided us with a quotable oddball, but it was in a movie rife with bizarre imagery and wartime insanity.

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Indeed, Robert Duvall’s first notable film role was a silent one. He did very little, talked not at all, and yet lent the movie he was in a strange eerie weight just with his stature, his posture, his aloof and innocent threat. Indeed, in the following countdown, we’ll start in 1962 with that very role, and count our way forward through Duvall’s 14 most notable film performances.  


Slideshow: The Essential Robert Duvall: 14 Must-See Films

Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly Trolling articles here on Crave, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.