Total Recall

Total Recall: Dennis Quaid's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Footloose star.

by | October 13, 2011 | Comments

Dennis Quaid

Over the course of his long film career, Dennis Quaid has done a lot of things — played piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, helped NASA make history, policed the wild west, battled a 3D shark, and piloted a teeny-tiny ship through Martin Short’s innards, to name just a few. But he’s never had his own Total Recall, so in honor of his supporting turn as the tight-seated Reverend Shaw Moore in Craig Brewer’s Footloose remake, we decided to take a look at some of the brightest highlights from the DQ filmography. Which of your favorites made the list? Read on to find out!


10. Innerspace

Pretty much the definition of a high-concept 1980s comedy, Joe Dante’s Innerspace stars Martin Short as a neurotic grocery store clerk who’s accidentally injected with a solution containing a miniaturized test pilot (played by Dennis Quaid) who’s being hunted by criminals (led by Fiona Shaw, Robert Picardo, and Dante favorite Kevin McCarthy) that want to steal the top-secret technology that shrunk him to microscopic size. Boasting laughs, romance, and high adventure, it was an inexplicable failure at the box office, but it was warmly received by critics like Roger Ebert, who wrote, “Here is an absurd, unwieldy, overplotted movie that nevertheless is entertaining — and some of the fun comes from the way the plot keeps laying it on.”


9. The Long Riders

Quaid made a rare onscreen appearance alongside his big brother Randy — not to mention the Keach, Carradine, and Guest brothers — in this Walter Hill Western about the James-Younger gang. Casting four real-life sets of brothers as four real-life sets of brothers could have been a pretty cheap gimmick, but Hill (working from a script co-written by Stacy and James Keach) kept things appropriately gritty, aided by ace soundtrack work from Ry Cooder. “Hill is very much in the American grain,” observed TIME’s Richard Schickel, calling the director “the inheritor of the Ford-Hawks-Walsh tradition of artful, understated action film making.”


8. The Rookie

Ah, the inspirational sports drama. Every film fan has seen enough of them that we can sense every beat in the storyline coming half an hour away, but if they’re done right, we still can’t resist welling up when our scrappy protagonist overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the final act — and Quaid, who learned a thing or two about the genre when he filmed Breaking Away, scored again with 2002’s The Rookie. Based on the undeniably film-worthy true story of pitcher Jim Morris, who broke into the big leagues at the thoroughly unlikely age of 35, this artfully assembled, family-friendly hit overcame most critics’ cynical misgivings. Admitted the New York Times’ Stephen Holden, “As averse as I usually am to feel-good, follow-your-dream Hollywood fantasies, this one got to me.”


7. In Good Company

With a beautiful family, a nice house in the suburbs, and a healthy career, Dan Foreman (Quaid) is feeling pretty good about his life. And then it all goes topsy-turvy: his wife (Marg Helgenberger) announces she’s pregnant, the company he works for is bought out, and his much younger new boss (Topher Grace) starts dating his 18-year-old daughter (Scarlett Johansson) behind his back. Clearly, In Good Company‘s premise is fraught with soapy domestic melodrama, and according to some critics, that’s all it had to offer — but for most, the solid cast and sensitive work of director Paul Weitz made the film more than the sum of its parts. In fact, according to the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris, it was “not only the best American picture of 2004, but also the most grown-up movie to come from Hollywood in recent years.”


6. The Parent Trap

Personal issues temporarily derailed Quaid’s film career in the mid-to-late 1990s, leading to ill-advised choices like his part in the Jim Belushi/Tupac Shakur vehicle Gang Related, but just when it looked like he was headed off into the direct-to-DVD sunset, he rediscovered his knack for choosing solid scripts and started popping up as an older, wiser version of his raffish 1980s screen persona. Surprising case in point: Disney’s 1998 version of The Parent Trap, a remake that no one asked for, but which still managed to win over critics and audiences with its frothy blend of wholesome humor and charming performances (led by Lindsay Lohan, making her film debut). “Every once in a while,” wrote Scott Renshaw, “uncomplicated and inoffensive fun feels just right.”


5. Far From Heaven

Quaid earned some of the finest accolades of his career — including a Golden Globe nomination — for his work in this Todd Haynes drama, which mimics the style of Douglas Sirk’s 1950s romances to tell the story of a suburban housewife (Julianne Moore) whose seemingly idyllic world is turned upside down when she walks in on her husband (Quaid) with another man. Although the role only fell to Quaid after passing through the hands of James Gandolfini, Russell Crowe, and Jeff Bridges, he made the most of it, plumbing the depths of his character’s anguish with what Premiere’s Glenn Kenny called a “multileveled, perfectly modulated, frankly amazing performance.”


4. Postcards from the Edge

Dennis Quaid has played a lot of flawed heroes and lovable cads during his time in Hollywood, but it’s rare that you see him in the part of a character who’s a complete and utter heel. One notable exception: 1990’s Postcards from the Edge, adapted from Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel about an actress with a substance abuse problem (Meryl Streep) and issues with her mother (Shirley MacLaine). As a sleazy producer who takes advantage of Streep without the slightest bit of remorse, Quaid took what was very much a supporting role — but then, in a movie starring Streep and MacLaine, pretty much everything else has to come second. “In this era of postverbal cinema,” wrote TIME’s Richard Corliss, “Postcards proves that movie dialogue can still carry the sting, heft and meaning of the finest old romantic comedy.”


3. Breaking Away

Quaid’s looks earned him a lot of attention early in his career, but he was always more than a pretty face — and he started proving it with his first film roles, particularly his layered turn in Peter Yates’ Breaking Away as Mike, a mouthy small-town teen with a chip on his shoulder. Like the film’s other characters, Mike could have been a lifeless archetype, but Quaid invested him with the kind of depth anyone could relate to — even if they’d never lived in Indiana and didn’t care about cycling. “There are a few moments when the picture’s easygoing pace turns into wobbliness,” admitted TIME’s Richard Schickel, “but these are insignificant compared with its many moments of shrewd insight into the lives of amusingly shaded but very recognizable human beings.”


2. The Big Easy

An early and enduring critical favorite, The Big Easy was a concerted move to the mainstream for director Jim McBride, who cut his teeth on stuff like the X-rated apocalyptic fantasy Glen and Randa. It captured Quaid at his Hollywood heartthrob peak, chucking him into the bayou with a never-sultrier Ellen Barkin for a sex-drenched neo-noir about police corruption (and, it must be noted, really good music). Easy wasn’t a huge hit — it grossed less than $18 million during its theatrical run — but its cult has grown over the years, affirming the words of critics like the Washington Post’s Hal Hinson, who enthused, “This is one movie that lives up to its billing; it’s easy all right. Like falling off a log.”


1. The Right Stuff

It’s based on one of America’s most inspiring true stories, it features an ace ensemble cast, and it earned rave reviews from critics — so why did audiences turn their backs on The Right Stuff during its 1983 theatrical run? The fact that it’s more than three hours long probably had something to do with it, but in writer/director Philip Kaufman’s defense, it’s hard to think of a better way to tell the story of NASA’s famed “Mercury Seven.” As astronaut Gordon Cooper, Quaid held his own against talented co-stars such as Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, and Ed Harris; together, they helped create the four-time Oscar winner that Roger Ebert recommended by writing, “It joins a short list of recent American movies that might be called experimental epics: movies that have an ambitious reach through time and subject matter, that spend freely for locations or special effects, but that consider each scene as intently as an art film.”

In case you were wondering, here are Quaid’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Right Stuff — 87%
2. Breaking Away — 84%
3. Soul Surfer — 80%
4. Frequency — 78%
5. Far From Heaven — 77%
6. The Express — 73%
7. Gang Related — 72%
8. Any Given Sunday — 70%
9. The Long Riders — 70%
10. The Rookie — 68%

Take a look through Quaid’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Footloose.


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