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Bye Bye, Bandit 

click to enlarge Burt Reynolds
  • Burt Reynolds

Who's the biggest movie star in the world? Tom Cruise? Jennifer Lawrence? At the end of the '70s, that question was easy to answer: Burt Reynolds. Without a doubt.

It's almost impossible now to comprehend how he completely sucked all of Hollywood into his orbit. He almost seemed in disbelief of his fame, a smirking, mustachioed wiseguy so aware of his audience he often broke the fourth wall to let us know he was in on the joke.

When Reynolds died last week, it had been awhile since he'd been in anything memorable, though he never stopped working. His defining film remains the 1977 car chase comedy Smokey and the Bandit, a film that was outgrossed only by Star Wars that year. It's hitting theaters this weekend (and streaming on Amazon Prime), and though it holds up, here are a few films you should check out to celebrate the the most 1970s of movie stars.

Deliverance (1972)

It's been ripped off and grossly parodied, but this backwoods thriller about big city river rafters facing off against violent, inbred hillbillies still packs a visceral, queasy wallop. It's also the only Best Picture Oscar nominee Reynolds ever appeared in. iTunes

Hooper (1978)

Burt's a stuntman eyeing retirement, but not before one last hurrah. Plotless and flimsy but a total blast, and little more than an excuse for awesome stunt sequences, including a grand finale in which an entire village is razed and a rocket-powered car jumps a collapsed bridge. DVD on Amazon

Sharky's Machine (1981)

Reynolds directs himself as an Atlanta vice squad cop investigating a prostitution and drug ring that involves a gubernatorial candidate. In terms of quality, it's on par with the Dirty Harry sequels (and just as un-PC), but it's twisty and surprisingly stylish. iTunes

Citizen Ruth (1996)

Alexander Payne's debut is an equal-opportunity satire about a pregnant addict (Laura Dern) who becomes a bargaining chip for both pro-life and pro-choice advocates. Reynolds is a sleazy conservative campaign donor with a dark side, and he's just great. iTunes

Boogie Nights (1997)

As slick, porn empresario Jack Horner, Reynolds received his sole Oscar nomination for Paul Thomas Anderson's restless, sprawling epic of the hedonism and disappointment of the disco age. He denounced his performance almost immediately, but it's the juiciest role he ever got, and the best movie he ever made. Netflix

The original print version of this article was headlined "Bye Bye, Bandit"

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