A Fred Ward Tribute – Top Five Film Performances

Talented actor Fred Ward recently passed, and for a massive fan like myself, the news is indeed sad.  Having grown up watching a gaggle of highly memorable flicks featuring Ward right alongside my movie-going father, I can safely say that his work greatly influenced my love and nostalgia for great cinema.  Fortunately for fans, he left behind a plethora of damn fine film performances that can be watched and enjoyed over and over again.  From early turns in iconic flicks like Escape From Alcatraz and The Right Stuff to his later collaborations with Robert Altman (The Player and Short Cuts!), Ward’s choices were much like the actor himself – highly original.  (Plus love that he wasn’t afraid to explore his wacky side with the likes of Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult and Joe Dirt!)  But for the sake of this tribute article, I’m looking at what I consider to be THE best of the best in terms of characters that Ward ever brought to the screen.  Turns that stuck in my movie mind and burrowed in like a Tremor worm on a mission. (And narrowing them down to five was a truly difficult – shout out to MIA flick Timerider: The Adventures of Lyle Swan!)  And so what follows are, for better or worse, my definitive picks of Fred Ward’s….Top Five Film Performances!

1. “MIAMI BLUES” (1990)

Of course, as a film, the highly underrated Miami Blues from the get-go has a lot going for it.  A dark and charismatic lead via a young Alec Baldwin, a cute and pixie gal pal in the form of an even younger Jennifer Jason Leigh, one seriously biting screenplay, and highly layered dramatic and comedic directing via Grosse Point Blank helmer George Armitage.  But it’s the turn by the engaging Ward (who also served as executive producer on this one!) as flatfoot schlub Sgt. Hoke “Pork Chop” Moseley, who steals this show.  As a victim of Baldwin’s surly recently released ex-con who forcibly takes his gun, badge, and false teeth, Moseley is the perfect everyman foil with a quick quip at the ready (“The beer’s gone, I’m gone!”) to take on such a horrible hooligan.  Age before beauty indeed – Ward wins this one, hands down.


There might be some controversy over this selection as the Korean martial arts master of this adventure was played by a very un-Asian Joel Grey, but seeing as this one was made back in 1985, I say give it some cinematic slack.  A very cool flick based off of The Destroyer novels, this one finds Ward playing a cop who gets “killed” and then reborn to become an assassin for a secret organization.  (And his rechristened name Remo comes from…a bedpan!)  And while it’s entertaining as hell to watch Ward as the charming Remo goes through everything from training to cool action sequences (the famed Statue of Liberty fight is utterly impressive!), it’s the antagonistic yet paternal relationship between Ward’s cocky tough guy and Joel Grey’s straight-faced Sinanju teacher Chuin that gives this one its tasty timeless quality.  It was an adventure that ultimately ended before it began (aka no sequel!). At least Ward’s Remo got the one memorable movie moment.

3. “TREMORS” (1990)

I would agree that while Ward is himself terrific in this B-flick involving giant underground worms, Tremors does fare best because of its impressive ensemble cast of characters.  From Kevin Bacon as a small-town hick to Michael Gross as a gun-toting goofball, everyone here definitely brings their own unique flavor to the films’ well-blended genre recipe.  But what’s impressive about Ward here is his ease and flair for funny, playing comedic second fiddle – but never second best – to Bacon’s buffoon and holding his own.  Worms may be the headliner, but Ward’s ability to amuse is well worth watching.

4. “HENRY & JUNE” (1990)

A flick that drew a lot of controversy as the first film to receive the infamous MPAA NC-17 rating, the lesser-known Henry & June was never really given a fair shot.  Being mired in salacious headlines, film fans never got a chance to see just how good this one indeed was.  Skilled helming by famed filmmaker Philip Kaufman, early provocative performances by Uma Thurman as June Miller and Maria de Medeiros as Anais Nin, and lush cinematography that lingers are just a few of the film’s notable virtues that were missed.  But for my money, it’s the understated work by Ward as aging novelist Henry Miller that’s the anchor of Henry & June.  Equal parts solemn and sexual, Ward’s Miller is a character that conveys so much with so little, and it’s a terrific turn – the greats make it look so simple.

5. “SECRET ADMIRER” (1985)

Huh?  What the heck is a comedy of errors 80’s hormone fest doing on a list of best Fred Ward flicks?  Well, this forgotten teen sex comedy about a love letter that falls into the hands of more than one wrong person features a Ward performance that makes witnessing the rest of the so-so flick totally tolerable.  As grumpy gus Lou Fimple, a wound-too-tight cop, jealous husband, and over-protective father who wrongly suspects his wife of having an affair with a neighbor (“Ryan, George Ryan. Lousy scumbag!”), Ward gets to play surly and sarcastic in every scene he graces to the hilarious hilt, and it’s a sight to be seen.  See past the typical 80’s tropes and dig deep, funny film fans – the secret here is Ward’s side-splitting comic timing.



I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

1 Response to “A Fred Ward Tribute – Top Five Film Performances”

  1. michael

    5great choices Jason!!!
    I have always liked watching a great character actor at work and Fred Ward was no exception. My favorite too was Miami Blues where he was equal to the match with Baldwin’s bad guy and a sensational early performance by Jenifer Jason Leigh.
    RIP Hoke Mosley, we will enjoy your work for years to come!