Despite being a San Diego native, Robert Duvall has turned into a staple in Hollywood's Wild West. He's gone from a struggling acting student in New York City living with fellow unknowns Gene Hackman and James Caan to an Academy Award-winning actor and a legendary career that spans decades.
There are so many iconic performances, it's really hard to narrow down which are Duvall's best of all time. Who could forget his scene-stealing lead role in the Lonesome Dove miniseries playing former Texas Ranger Gus McCrae? The role earned Duvall his first of four Emmy Award nominations after all. From the Oscars to the Golden Globes, Duvall has an incredibly eclectic filmography ranging across all genres, budgets — Joe Kidd, Rambling Rose, The Road, Four Christmases, Newsies, John Q, True Confessions, Deep Impact, Days of Thunder, Secondhand Lions and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution all show his incredible range as one of the best actors of his generation.
Though it was hard to narrow down, here are our picks from Robert Duvall's best movie performances of all time.
16. True Grit
Back before he was a leading man himself, Duvall appeared in the classic John Wayne western as the notorious "Lucky" Ned Pepper. Ned even gets into an iconic shootout scene on horseback with Rooster Cogburn (Wayne). Even back in 1969, Duvall proved he had the acting chops to be memorable whether he was a lead or supporting role.
15. Crazy Heart
This film, starring Jeff Bridges as a down and out alcoholic and washed-up country singer, was already memorable and inspiring. But Duvall makes it even better. The legendary actor rounds out the incredible supporting cast and even sings in the film.
14. The Natural
This beloved sports drama co-stars Robert Redford, Glenn Close and Kim Basinger. Duvall stars as sports writer Max Mercy who follows Roy Hobbs' (Redford) baseball career from newbie to legendary player.
13. The Judge
Duvall received numerous award nominations for his role as Judge Joseph Palmer, the estranged former alcoholic father to Robert Downey Jr. This legal drama will keep you on the edge of your seat and tug at your heartstrings as estranged family members come back together.
12. Open Range
Duvall stars as Boss Spearman, a Montana cattleman who hires Kevin Costner to help him with a cross country cattle drive post Civil War. Costner also directed the film, which follows the two men's friendship through the Wild West and all of the dangers they face.
11. Sling Blade
Sling Blade was written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, who starred as a disabled man in Arkansas. He's living in a mental facility since he murdered his mother and her lover as a child. Duvall plays his old man, who has since turned into a grouchy old hermit.
10. Gods and Generals
In one of the most memorable Civil War films ever made, Duvall plays General Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederacy. Though it's a tough character to play, Duvall brought to life the general who was central to such a pivotal time in our nation's history.
9. THX 1138
Before Star Wars, George Lucas made his directorial debut with THX 1138. Proving that Duvall really has done it all, this science fiction film has garnered a cult following over the years. Duvall plays the ritual character who works in a factory making android police officers. In a strange futuristic community where intimate romance is outlawed, two people manage to come together and fall in love. It's an interesting film, and one that Lucas fans love for putting him on the map as a director.
8. Get Low
Duvall plays Felix Bush, a lonely hermit who lives in the woods. No one in town knows anything about him. So it definitely comes as a shock when he shows up at the local church one day requesting his own funeral party.
7. To Kill A Mockingbird
In a stunning film debut, Duvall plays Boo Radley in the film adaptation of the classic Harper Lee novel. Boo is the reclusive neighbor who comes to the rescue of young children Scout and Jem in Great Depression-era of Alabama.
6. The Great Santini
Lieutenant Colonel Bull Meechum is known as "The Great Santini" to his fellow Marines. Duvall does an incredible job playing Meechum and showing the difficulties he faces as he fails at being a family man and thrives as a hero in the military.
Who could forget the classic film that gave us 11 seasons of the TV series? Both the film and TV show were based on Richard Hooker's 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. Duvall plays the role of Frank Burns, the pompous surgeon working on the South Korea army base in 1951.
4. Tender Mercies
Duvall won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Mac Sledge, an alcoholic country singer who meets a widow and her son in rural Texas and decides to turn around his life. Duvall did all of his own singing in the film and even drove all over the Lone Star State doing research to perfect his Texas accent.
3.The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II
Francis Ford Coppola made history with his crime drama about the family of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). In both films, Duvall plays Tom Hagen, Corleone's lawyer and essentially an extended member of the family. Duvall proved he was one of the greats as these films featured numerous A-list actors, including Diane Keaton, Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert De Niro.
2. Apocalypse Now
This Francis Ford Coppola war drama also co-stars Marlon Brando and is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Duvall plays Lt. Col Kilgore whose memorable quote, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" is one of the most quotable in the film.
1. The Apostle
Though we know Duvall is an incredible actor, this film shows off his skills as a major filmmaker. He also served as executive producer, writer and director. Duvall plays Sonny Dewey, a charismatic preacher who leaves behind Texas to start fresh in the bayou of Louisiana. Duvall earned a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for his stunning performance.
This story originally ran on Oct. 14, 2020.