A recognizable and beloved character actor for decades, Oscar nominee Ned Beatty carved out a career over the past forty years, displaying a deft ability to excel at everything from wild comedy to heartbreaking drama. As we remember the actor after his passing in 2021, here’s a look at just a handful of the colorful and memorable roles that made him a welcome presence in many classic films.
Beatty first appeared on the big screen in this classic John Boorman adaptation of author James Dickey’s harrowing survival tale about four Atlanta buddies whose weekend of whitewater rafting takes a nightmarish turn when they run afoul of some inhospitable locals. Nominated for three Oscars, the film was shocking at the time (with Beatty’s most grueling scene still seared into viewers’ memories) and a career milestone for all of its stars, including Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, and Ronny Cox.
Beatty famously resided in a trailer for the duration of making this classic Robert Altman snapshot of country music and its intersection with politics in the title city. Here he plays Delbert Reese, a lawyer, and political campaign organizer whose gospel singer wife, played by Lily Tomlin, figures prominently in the iconic climax.
In Richard Donner’s massively influential comic book classic, Beatty shines in what could have been a minor role as Otis Berg, the bumbling sidekick to Gene Hackman’s scheming Lex Luthor. With impeccable timing, he created a lovably goofy bad guy who just wants to fulfill his dream of creating a city called Otisburg. Beatty would go on to reprise his role in “Superman II” (1980).
The dark side of Beatty gets the spotlight in this steamy crime thriller starring Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin, with Beatty cast as Quaid’s boss, a police captain entangled in a twisty murder mystery. A surprise hit, the thriller went on to inspire a 1990s TV series and is now known as one of the premier examples of location shooting in New Orleans.
A last-minute casting replacement, Beatty turned heads everywhere with a single powerhouse scene as network head Arthur Jensen and delivered an all-time classic monologue (done in a single days’ shooting) in this watershed dark satire of modern television, directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Paddy Chayefsky. The film went on to earn ten Oscar nominations, ultimately winning three of the four acting categories (a very rare feat!) and Original Screenplay.
Beatty had one of his most heartwarming roles as the father to Sean Astin’s Rudy Ruettiger in this true story about an underdog who dreams of playing football for the University of Notre Dame despite lacking the physical attributes necessary for the sport. Guaranteed to lift your spirits, this film is now fondly regarded as one of the great American sports movies.
Director Mike Nichols’ final feature was this snappy dramedy based on a true story about a covert CIA-tied plan carried out during the Soviet-Afghan War, with Tom Hanks cast as the title character. Beatty gets to have a field day in a supporting turn as a congressman who could make or break the plan as it unfolds.
The most memorable villain in the entire Toy Story series, the seemingly benevolent but ruthless bear Lotso, wouldn’t have been possible without Beatty’s expert voice performance in Pixar’s Oscar-winning animated classic. The character (minus his voice) also pops up briefly in the two earlier films, as well as another Pixar masterpiece; see if you can spot him!