If you only know James Caan from Elf, these are the movies you need to see

To movie buffs, James Caan was a legend, but to younger audiences he’s better known as the bah-humbug dad in Christmas classic Elf.

The Hollywood actor, who died Wednesday night at the age of 82, was seen as one of the last big “tough guys” in the industry.

In an interview with Caan for his podcast in 2019, actor Alec Baldwin labeled Caan’s roles as “tough than heavy”, but added that she “frustrated him”.

“Caan’s characters, especially the early ones, are fleeting, with liberal touches of humor and mischief,” Baldwin said.

James Caan standing in a black suit as character Sonny in The Godfather, standing next to Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, John Cazale.
Caan’s portrayal of volatile brother Sonny (left) in The Godfather earned him a place in film history. AP: Paramount Pictures

“There’s no denying that Caan plays a certain type.”

Not exactly full of Christmas spirit.

“I didn’t get a goddamn script where there weren’t 12 deaths on page 20 for three years,” Caan said at the time.

Between an infamous party lifestyle and turbulent marriages, his career has been one of major ups and downs, but there are some serious highlights not to be missed.

So if you only remember James Caan as “that guy from Eleven”, here’s your movie guide.

The Godfather (1972)

His most famous role. This is where you want to get started.

Caan stars in Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia epic as Santino “Sonny” Corleonethe violent and hot-headed counterpart of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone.

In an interview for the film’s 50th anniversary, Caan said he “just let go” and was given “a measure of freedom,” and it shows.

“There was this guy who played a photographer who had one of those old box cameras and when I went in there, I grabbed the damn thing and smashed it, literally threw it on the floor,” he said.

“Nobody knew I was going to do it, but I just did it.”

misery (1990)

kana and Kathy Bates Locked together in a house in the 90s. What could go wrong?


In this Stephen King film, Caan plays a novelist who survives a car accident but finds himself the bedridden inmate of a dangerously obsessed fan.

His mounting horror and despair as the nightmare unfolds makes the entire film work and proved to be a boost to Caan’s then-stalled career.

Thief (1981)

Caan gives one of the best performances of his career as highly skilled jewel thief Frank, who longs to leave his criminal life behind and settle down with his girlfriend.


Like most movies of its kind, it doesn’t work that way.

But Caan — who actually learned to crack a real safe himself — wears the film and often spoke of it as the film he was most proud of.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Each Wes Anderson lovers there?

Caan plays the mentor of Owen Wilson’s character in Anderson’s crime comedy directorial debut, about three friends who try to pull off a simple robbery and go on the run.

It was a commercial failure, but was later credited as one of the directors Martin Scorsese’s favorite movies. Undoubtedly higher praise.


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