I often think of Dennis Quaid as a poor man’s Harrison Ford – rugged & world-weary; a could’ve-been-hero. But that does a disservice to an actor of real range, charisma & talent as these films prove.
10. The Big Easy (McBride, 1987)
Jim McBride, whose directorial career was hardly full of success, oversees this messy 1987 police procedural mystery thriller which never finds the right tone and forgets what it’s about half the time. However, Quaid is a shining light as the crooked cop who falls for the district attorney tasked with investigating his corrupt department. Pointlessly exploitative and a bit dull, The Big Easy nevertheless benefits from some strong performances including the dependable Ned Beatty, John Goodman and love interest Ellen Barkin.
9. In Good Company (Weitz, 2004)
A feel-good comedy-drama about a marketing exec who finds himself demoted after a company takeover. Conflict ensues when he discovers his newly appointed boss is half his age. Weitz thankfully avoids overt sentimentality as the film moves towards its predictable conclusion with a smattering of funny, heartwarming moments along the way. Quaid eases himself into the nice-guy role, playing the charming husband and devoted father with the sort of relaxed confidence he’s known for. In Good Company might be subpar Working Girl – transplanting age versus youth into the woman versus man motif – but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
8. Flesh and Bone (Kloves, 1993)
Secrets and consequences become the focus of writer-director Steve Kloves’ neo noir. A restrained, quietly assured Dennis Quaid stars once again alongside Meg Ryan in a story about a devastating 30-year-old crime and its impact on the lives of those involved long after the memories have faded. The problem for Quaid’s vending machine salesman is that the past can never be fully buried. Witness to a brutal murder committed by his father, it’s a bloody legacy that rests wearily at the back of his mind. However, when he meets a struggling stripper and begins a friendship that turns sexual, their individual pasts are revealed to intertwine with tragic consequences. Perhaps hindered somewhat by Kloves’ relative inexperience in the director’s chair, Flesh and Bone suffers somewhat from pacing and structural issues that hamper the drama. But the performances across the board are excellent (a young Gwyneth Paltrow and the dependable James Caan round out the cast), while a clawing sense of dread nags persistently at the story’s four main participants.
7. Suspect (Yates, 1987)
A terrific take on the courtroom drama from director Peter Yates and writer Eric Roth might stretch the capacity of the imagination a little but does so only in order to entertain. And it’s so good at diverting the attention, immersing the audience in a whodunit while an innocent deaf and mute man (played by Liam Neeson in possibly his easiest ever film role) stands at the mercy of a jury leaning towards the prosecution’s opinion that he’s “done it!”. A strong performance from Cher is central to Suspect’s success as a mystery-drama because we end up caring about her plight more so than the homeless man in the dock, but she’s ably supported by the square-jawed Dennis Quaid whose womanising lobbyist decides to relieve his guilty conscience by helping the permed public defender solve the crime.
6. Breaking Away (Yates, 1979)
Breaking Away is neither Quaid’s best performance nor his most memorable but a film as good as this needs to be on his top 10. Quaid plays second fiddle to lead Dennis Christopher, a pair of cycling enthusiasts from the working class portion Bloomington in Indiana. The idealistic friends spend their days musing of future prospects and scrapping with Indiana State students. Rated as one of the best sports movies ever made, Breaking Away is a terrific coming of age drama and one of the best film’s Quaid has been involved in.
5. The Rookie (Hancock, 2002)
Typically grizzled, Quaid plays Jim Morris, a real life former Major League Baseball player who thought his dream of playing in the big leagues had disappeared. Years after injuring his arm and blowing his chance to become a professional, Morris is asked to play catch with a member of the high school baseball team he coaches. When he discovers he can still throw a ball at over 90mph he is encouraged to give his dream of playing pro-baseball one more shot. It’s a dream-come-true movie and Quaid works perfectly well in the title role as an old hand in a young man’s game.
4. Far From Heaven (Haynes, 2002)
2002 was a particularly strong year from Dennis Quaid who snapped up a number of accolades – including the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor – for his performance in Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven. Quaid’s work in the film is undoubtedly some of his best, perhaps encouraged by the director approaching three actors ahead of him before hiring the Frequency and Innerspace star. Haynes’ powerful film sees Quaid play Frank Whittaker, a seemingly successful husband and advertising executive who lives a secret homosexual life behind his wife’s back. The film confidently deals with issues of sexual orientation and race during the morally conservative 1950s.
3. The Right Stuff (Kaufman, 1983)
Young and eager to please, Dennis Quaid neither stands out nor fades away in this all-American classic featuring an impressive ensemble. Alongside Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris and Fred Ward, as well as Barbara Hershey, Veronica Cartwright and Charles Frank, Quaid holds his own as a daring test pilot thrust into NASA’s pioneering exploration of flight during the height of the “space race” with the Soviet Union.
2. Frequency (Hoblit, 2000)
Frequency is a film for which I have a real soft spot. That’s because of a number of reasons, not least the inclusion of Dennis Quaid as its co-star (alongside Jim Caviezel) but the combination of time travel and murder-mystery to create a unique whodunit. Terrific performances can be seen all round but Hoblit’s use of an old ham radio to connect father and son in two different time periods to solve a decades old crime is relentlessly captivating and a whole lot of fun.
1. Innerspace (Dante, 1987)
Released during that period of the 1980s when audiences couldn’t get enough fantasy adventure and film studios couldn’t get enough of exploiting the craze, Joe Dante’s Innerspace is another example of imagination meeting the expanding potential of special-effect laden cinema. Dennis Quaid is an absolute delight as the rogue, lovable test pilot Tuck Pendleton who opts to put his life on the line in favour of science when he signs up to a miniaturisation experiment. When rival, money-hungry scientists scupper the initial test, Pendleton’s grain-of-sand-sized capsule is inadvertently syringed into hapless no-hoper Jack Putter (Martin Short in an equally entertaining co-star role). Now he’s running out of oxygen while floating around Putter’s body. He’s got to steer hypochondriac Putter on the hero’s path, find the re-enlargement chip stolen by the bad guys, avoid deadly stomach acid and somehow get the girl (who happens to be Meg Ryan’s reporter Lydia Maxwell). Thanks to Dante’s wonderful sense of humour, some great special-effects as Pendleton navigates his way around the body of Putter, a collection of memorable characters (both heroes and villains), and two terrific performances from Quaid and Short, Innerspace is one of the kings of the genre.
Written and Compiled by Daniel Stephens
Over to you: what are your top 10 films of Dennis Quaid?
See more great lists about actors on Top 10 Films: Caine | De Niro | DiCaprio | Downey Jr. | Hanks | Hoffman | Streep | Roberts | Schwarzenegger | Oldman | Gandolfini | Freeman | Ford | Eastwood | Dreyfuss | Keitel | Woods