Professionally, Ron Howard has come a long way from the tousle-haired, barefoot sheriff's son who trod the byways of idyllic Mayberry to reside in the heady company of Hollywood's most elite directors. Howard's films are pure entertainment; they are well-crafted efforts, frequently technically challenging from a production standpoint, and aimed at mainstream audiences. Though some of his lesser works have been criticized for possessing formulaic scripts, Howard's films approach even hackneyed subjects in fresh ways. Though he does not characterize himself as a risk taker, he loves the challenge of exploring different genres; therefore, his filmography includes B-movie actioners, domestic comedies, fantasies, sci-fi, suspense-thrillers, historical dramas, and big-budget action films.
The son of actors Rance and Jean Howard, he made his theatrical debut at age two in a Baltimore production of The Seven Year Itch. He made his screen debut at age five in the suspenseful political drama The Journey (1959). The youngster became a hot property after that and appeared in several features, including The Music Man and The Courtship of Eddie's Father (both 1962). Through this period his father was a strong ally who kept Howard from being exploited by filmmakers. In a November 1996 interview with the Detroit News, Howard describes an incident in which he was six years old and during rehearsal could not cry on cue (Howard doesn't name the production), causing the director to threaten to flog him. Other children may have been terrified, but Howard felt secure because his father was on the set and would protect him. When producer Sheldon Leonard approached Rance Howard about casting Ronny (as he was billed during childhood) as Opie, the son of widowed sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968), the elder Howard stipulated that his son be allowed time off for a normal childhood.
It was as the mischievous but guileless Opie that Ronny Howard became famous. During the popular show's long run, Howard occasionally appeared in other feature films. While a series' demise often signals the death of a child actor's career, particularly if that child is obviously maturing, Howard managed the transition gracefully and continued working steadily. He was cast in a new television series, The Smith Family, in 1971 and starred opposite Henry Fonda, who became one of Howard's mentors, encouraging Howard to strive for creative growth and to take periodic risks to keep himself vital. The series lasted one season, but again Howard landed on his feet, making a bigger name for himself starring as a callow youth in George Lucas' smash hit American Graffiti (1973). The film spawned Garry Marshall's long-running hit, the '50s revival sitcom Happy Days (1974). Essentially reprising his role from the film, Howard (now billed as Ron Howard) starred as all-American youth Richie Cunningham.
Again, Howard also worked simultaneously in films, notably in The Shootist (1976), where he played a teen who worshipped dying gunslinger John Wayne. Though playing a teenager on the series, Howard was in his early twenties and felt it was time to follow his longtime dream of becoming a director. Producer Roger Corman, who had recently starred Howard in Eat My Dust! (1976), let Howard helm the similarly themed Grand Theft Auto (1977). Howard also co-wrote the screenplay with his father and starred in the film. While not exactly an original masterpiece, the film earned praise for its fast-paced, high-energy action scenes. After leaving Happy Days in 1980, he directed Bette Davis in a television movie, Skyward, and managed to earn the great lady's respect with his filmmaking skills.
Howard had his first big hit in 1982 with the black comedy Nightshift. It was to be the first of many instances in which he would work with producer Brian Grazer, who eventually became his partner and the co-founder of Howard's production company, Imagine Films Entertainment (established in 1985), and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who formerly wrote for Happy Days. Howard had even greater success with the Tom Hanks/Darryl Hannah vehicle Splash (1984), which launched Disney's Touchstone Pictures and became the company's most successful live-action film to date. He followed this up with sentimental favorite Cocoon (1985). He had his first misstep after hitting it big with Willow, a George Lucas-produced fantasy extravaganza that never clicked with audiences, though it has since developed a devoted cult following.
During the early '90s, Howard worked on a series of big-budget films such as Backdraft (1991) and Far and Away (1992), and Apollo 13 (1995), a gripping account of a failed moon mission. Apollo 13 was a huge international hit, nominated for nine Oscars (it won for Best Sound and Best Editing), and earned Howard the coveted Director's Guild award. In 1996, Howard attempted a new genre with the violent, bloody thriller Ransom, starring Mel Gibson. While an effective suspense thriller in it's own right, Ransom didn't darken Howard's sensibilities in any permanent terms, and after a few stints as producer on both the small screen (Felicity, Sports Night and the silver screen (Inventing the Abbots (1997) and Beyond the Mat (1999)), Howard was back in the director's chair for Ed TV in 1999, but itsuffered immediate and fatal comparisons to the more popular and strikingly similar Jim Carrey vehicle, The Truman Show. Undaunted, Howard next teamed with the rubber-faced star of Truman for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which became a box-office smash.
Once again turning back to reality after the marked departure of The Grinch, Howard helmed the sensitive real-life tale of paranoid schizophrenic mathematician turned Nobel Prize winning genius John Forbes Nash Jr. in A Beautiful Mind (2001). With Russel Crowe essaying the role of Nash and Jennifer Connelly as his faithful and enduring wife, the film gained generally positive reception upon release, and only seemed to cement Howard's reputation as one of the most versatile and gifted director's of his generation as the film took the Best Picture award at both the that year's Golden Globes and Oscars. Academy Award night proved to be an even bigger night for Howard as the film also took home awards for Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and, of course, Best Director. Howard followed up his Oscar wins with the dark Western drama The Missing starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett. Unfortunately, neither critics or audiences were too fond of the over-long film. Lucky for Howard, his next project would see him re-team with A Beautiful Mind's Russell Crowe. The Depression-era boxing film Cinderella Man starred Crowe as real-life boxer Jim Braddock and was released in 2005 to positive reviews and Oscar-buzz. Next, he helmed the adaptation of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, casting his old Splash leading man Tim Hanks in the lead. The film was as big a worldwide success as the book that inspired it. Howard followed the massive success with an adaptation of Peter Morgan's hit play Frost/Nixon. The film captured five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Editing, as well as a nod for Howard's direction.
As the 2000's continued to unfold, Howard would remain an extremely active filmmaker, helming movies like The Dilemma.