The late billionaire Howard Hughes (1905-1976) wore many hats during his lifetime: industrialist, aviator, inventor, film producer, movie director and philanthropist. Hughes was in fact one of the most interesting people ever to walk the earth – a mysterious, oddball, adventurous character whose achievements and eccentricities are still avidly discussed today.
Howard Hughes has been played by a handful of actors in various Hollywood film productions. Here are the best amazing Howard Hughes movie and TV portrayals…
Tommy Lee Jones as Howard Hughes, The Amazing Howard Hughes (CBS-TV, 1977)
Fellow Texan Tommy Lee Jones stars as Howard Robard Hughes Jr. in this made-for-TV film basedon the book by longtime Hughes aide Noah Dietrich, played by Ed Flanders. Directed by William A. Graham, The Amazing Howard Hughes charts the rise and fall of the enigmatic Hughes as he amasses great wealth, wins fame as a pioneering aviator and Hollywood film producer-director, romances starlets, acquires Las Vegas real estate, assists the CIA in the recovery of a sunken Soviet submarine via the Glomar Explorer and eventually succumbs to his inner obsessive-compulsive demons. Jones, who somewhat resembles the tall, lanky Hughes, is dynamite as the Texas tycoon. In one scene, the imaginative/vindictive Hughes fires a film director, sending the hapless man on a location hunt and then moving the entire film set in his absence.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, The Aviator (Miramax, 2004)
Blue-eyed Leonardo DiCaprio plays the young Howard Hughes in The Aviator, director Martin Scorsese’s $110 million film chronicling the early, formative years of the eccentric billionaire. The movie’s main focus is the late 1920s to the mid-1940s, detailing Hughes’ derring-do as an aviator and Hollywood filmmaker. Prominently featured is Hughes’ preoccupation in making Hell’s Angels (1930), his cinematic tribute to World War I aviation. Hughes’ Hollywood romances are also fleshed out by Scorsese, including his torrid pursuit of actress Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett). Current Hollywood garners the chance to play some old film idols in this picture, with Kevin O’Rourke as Spencer Tracy, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner and Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow. The Aviator earned 11 Academy Award nominations.
Jason Robards Jr. as Howard Hughes, Melvin and Howard (Universal, 1980)
Jason Robards Jr. plays a scruffy, disheveled Howard Hughes in this lighthearted comedy-drama directed by Jonathan Demme. It’s the story of the real-life Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat), a Utah service station owner who claims that he had once helped the reclusive Hughes after the latter had incurred a motorcycle accident in the Nevada desert. When Hughes subsequently dies in 1976, a mysterious limousine driver stops by Dummar’s gas station and hands him a will allegedly handwritten by Hughes. In the document the late billionaire bequeaths $156 million to the hard-luck Dummar, astounding both him and wife #1 Lynda (Mary Steenburgen) and wife #2 Bonnie (Pamela Reed). "Mr. Robards is not on the screen very long but, looking like something out of a benign nightmare, he is the mythical figure that gives point to the entire fantasy," reported Vincent Canby of The New York Times (9/26/80).
Milton Buras as Howard Hughes, The Hoax (Miramax, 2007)
Milton Buras portrays Howard Hughes in this dramatic story in which writer Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) and accomplice Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina) fake the eccentric billionaire’s "authorized autobiography." A financially desperate Irving concocts the scheme and nearly gets away with it before Hughes himself – or more accurately his voice – emerges via a weird televisedconference call where he denounces the hoax. Respected New York publisher McGraw-Hill is sucked into the scheme along with venerable Life magazine. Lasse Hallstrom directs with tongue-in-cheek flavor.
Victor Holchak as Howard Hughes, Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell (PRO International, 1978)
Victor Holchak plays a dashing Howard Hughes in this fictional retelling of the making of Hell’s Angels (1930). Playing the role of budding film goddess Jean Harlow is Lindsay Bloom, with direction by Larry Buchanan. "He made Hollywood’s greatest anti-war film…She became Hollywood’s greatest sex symbol!" the movie’s tagline declares. From a historical viewpoint Hughes and Harlow is woefully inaccurate, but some might enjoy Holchak’s aw shucks portrayal of the amazing Howard Hughes.
David Kockinis as Howard Hughes, Pancho Barnes (CBS-TV, 1988)
David Kockinis plays Howard Hughes in this made-for-TV film directed by Richard T. Heffron. Hughes, directing his first motion picture Hell’s Angels (1930), hires real-life female aviator Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes (Valerie Bertinelli) to do some stunt flying during production in California. Barnes later founded the Associated Motion Picture Pilots union in 1931.
Dean Stockwell as Howard Hughes, Tucker: The Man and His Dream (Paramount, 1988)
Dean Stockwell appears briefly as Howard Hughes in this film biopic of Preston Tucker, the maverick automobile designer who tried to revolutionize the car industry following World War II. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Tucker captured three Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Martin Landau), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design.
Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes, The Rocketeer (Buena Vista, 1991)
Terry O’Quinn – John Locke on TV’s Lost (2004-2010) – plays Howard Hughes in this $40 million comic book fantasy directed by Joe Johnston. Set in the 1930s, pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) dons a newly-invented rocket pack and blasts off as The Rocketeer, battling evil Nazis while trying to save his gal pal Jenny (Jennifer Connelly). "How did it feel, strapping that thing to your back and flying like a bat out of hell?" O’Quinn’s aviator Hughes asks Cliff in one scene.
More Howard Hughes Movie & TV Portrayals
- Lars Hanson as Howard Hughes, One of the Hollywood Ten (2000)
- Jacob Davich as Howard Hughes at age nine, The Aviator (2004)
- David Neff as Howard Hughes, Bettie Page: Dark Angel (2004)
- Michael Ferreri as Howard Hughes (voice), Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator (2004)
- Tim Matheson as Howard Hughes, Fallen Angels, "Since I Don’t Have You" (9/26/93)
- Madison Mason as Howard Hughes, Dark Skies, "Dreamland" (11/2/96)
- James B. Steele as Howard Hughes, Modern Marvels, "Howard Hughes Tech" (12/9/04)
- Jordan Romano as Howard Hughes, Undercover History, "Howard Hughes Revealed" (12/11/07)