8 Decades of Duvall

By  · Published on January 5th, 2011

Robert Duvall turns 80 today, and that’s an achievement all on its own. It’s also important to keep in mind that Duvall has been in the filmmaking business for 49 years. That’s 61% of his life. The last thing any of us dedicated that much time to was our Regarding Henry action figure collection and doing the math for that problem.

Duvall is an icon amongst icons, a living legend that has put just as much love into his craft as he’s gotten back, a cinematic luminary that still continues to make great films.

Attempting to pay tribute to him is a difficult task not only because there’s not enough space on the internet to do it, but because his career is a difficult one to wrap one’s mind around. He’s done just about everything except compose a film score, and he’s done so while staying at the top of his game through almost five decades of Hollywood evolution.

To put some perspective on this, Duvall had already worked on 36 films, one an Oscar and created at least 8 iconic roles before I was born. When he started in Hollywood (his first film being To Kill a Mockingbird), John F. Kennedy was President.

However, as impressive as it is, the length of his career is just the starting point. He has been both a stellar acting talent and fan favorite the entire time. If the entire world made a list of their favorite films, Duvall would probably be in half of them. Ned Pepper in the original True Grit, THX, Tom Hagen, television impresario Frank Hackett, Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, Mac Sledge, Max Mercy. Duvall created all these roles, imbuing something different into each one whether it be the level-headed calm of his role in The Godfather or the maniacal greed of his role in Network.

He earned an Oscar for his performance in Tender Mercies after being three times before. He would be nominated twice more after his win, but his Academy Award almost seems like a minuscule achievement in the face of just how many memorable characters he’s been.

While some actor’s careers can be done by hopping from great film to great film, Duvall went ahead and made sure pretty much every movie he was in was a great film.

He’s also produced, directed (narratives, documentaries, and by playing The Director for The Conversation), and even written songs for films like Crazy Heart and Apocalypse Now.

His impact on the world of filmmaking cannot be overstated. His legacy is unshakable. Hopefully, after he’s done blowing out the 80 candles on his cake, he’ll get right back to delivering phenomenal performances for audiences and do so for years to come.

What’s your favorite Robert Duvall movie?

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.