Where to Stream Alan Parker’s Best Movies

The British filmmaker Alan Parker, who died on Friday at 76, was not easy to pin down. Many of his contemporaries, particularly in the hyper-commercialized world of 1980s studio moviemaking, settled on a particular style or specialty, and drilled down into it. Parker was closer to the journeymen directors of the old Hollywood studio system, who would take on (and excel at) just about any story or genre they were assigned. Over the course of his 27-year career, Parker made thrillers, dramas, comedies and (especially) musicals, and though many bore little resemblance to one another, they were bound by two common elements: the intelligence of Parker’s approach, and the professionalism of his craft. Here are a few of his must-see works:

Parker was never one for timidity, and his feature directorial debut was admirably audacious: a classic ’30s-style gangster picture, enacted entirely by a cast of children. What could have been a lark (or a disaster) becomes a sly commentary on the conventions of the genre, as well as the high-stakes play of childhood: When these kids imagine themselves as cowboys or superheroes or, yes, gangsters, it’s real in their heads. So why shouldn’t it be real in front of our eyes? Scott Baio got his juiciest big-screen role as the title character, but Jodie Foster steals the show as the obligatory “hard-boiled dame.”


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The filmmaker received his first Academy Award directing nomination for this grueling and difficult but undeniably affecting dramatization of the true story of an American in Istanbul who’s nabbed for drug smuggling and sent to a Turkish prison — a phrase that quickly became shorthand for “hell on earth” after the picture’s release. Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning screenplay hasn’t aged particularly well (especially its offhand xenophobia), but Parker’s direction is ruthlessly efficient, using overwhelming darkness, abstract sound and unnerving gore to bring this ordeal to vivid, visceral life.

Parker’s next picture was a good deal sunnier, following a handful of talented students through their four-year stint at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. The song-and-dance sequences are electrifying — particularly the title number, which begins in a school cafeteria and spills into the city streets, an explosion of pent-up energy, scholastic impatience and raging hormones. But “Fame” is much more a character drama than traditional musical, focusing on the difficulties of coming of age, finding a home and making your way through the minefields of a career in the arts.


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Parker’s astonishing versatility is perhaps best encapsulated by the calendar year 1982, in which he released both the dark rock musical “Pink Floyd — The Wall” (sadly, it’s not currently streaming) and this razor-sharp drama of a family reeling from a contentious divorce. Albert Finney and Diane Keaton are a couple who have drifted apart and now seem determined to hurt not only each other, but also their four daughters. Parker directs with exceptional sensitivity and sympathy, recognizing both the considerable flaws and quiet virtues of these complex characters, while Finney and Keaton do some of their finest screen work in those roles (which is no small achievement).

Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine were still up-and-comers when Parker cast them in the leading roles of this adaptation of William Wharton’s novel. It’s one of Parker’s trickiest films, telling the story of two childhood friends who both serve in Vietnam and try to help each other heal back home. That sounds like a million other movies, but “Birdy” is uniquely itself, burrowing into the world of gonzo fantasy and unexpected beauty these two friends create to escape their considerable trauma. It’s a film that could’ve gone wrong in a million ways — too mawkish, too sentimental, too silly — and Parker never takes a false step.


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Most of the ink generated by this unnerving thriller centered on the presence of Lisa Bonet, then known only for the squeaky-clean “Cosby Show,” shaking up her image with a supporting turn as a sensuous voodoo priestess. But there’s much more to “Angel Heart” than that — in fact, true to its Creole setting, it’s a rich gumbo of Gothic horror, neo-noir and the supernatural, with a charismatic Mickey Rourke as a ’50s gumshoe sent into the bayou underworld by a mysterious client (Robert De Niro). Parker seems to revel in the swampy atmosphere and period trappings, crafting one of his moodiest and most menacing films.


Stream on Amazon Prime Video. Rent or buy on Apple and Vudu.

Though it netted several Oscar nominations (including Parker’s second and final one for best director), this procedural drama inspired by the 1964 murders of the civil-rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner proved one of Parker’s most controversial and contentious films. The criticisms were valid: its protagonists are F.B.I. agents, and Hoover’s F.B.I. was not exactly a friend of the movement. But Parker nails the insidiousness of small-town racism (and the violence it engenders), while Gene Hackman and Frances McDormand are beautifully understated in a pair of Oscar-nominated performances.


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After spending the ’80s making progressively higher-profile prestige dramas, Parker went back to basics (and back to Europe) for this spirited adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s raucous novel. It was a stripped-down production with a cast of mostly unknowns, the better to tell the story of a group of working-class kids in the Northside of Dublin who form a makeshift pub band, inspired by American soul music. Parker seems to see the picture as a party to keep in motion — and he does, filling each frame with memorable characters, charming interactions and, most of all, rousing musical performances.


Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple, Vudu, and Google Play.

Parker took one more run at the movie musical, and it was his most traditional in theory: a big-screen adaptation of a giant, long-running Broadway extravaganza. But the filmmaker didn’t have it in him to merely hit someone else’s marks. He rewrote the script himself, fleshing out the history and subtext of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical depiction of the life of Eva Perón, and finds inventive ways to sell this theatrical pageant onscreen. Madonna is magnificent in the title role, while Antonio Banderas is endlessly entertaining as a mixture of antagonist, Greek chorus and audience go-between.


Stream on Amazon Prime Video. Rent or buy on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.

Parker was taking on a next to impossible task when he adapted Frank McCourt’s memoir to the screen; it was a publishing sensation, one of the most beloved books of its era, and, as such, had already been “seen” in the minds of most of his audience. But Parker was never one to shrink from a challenge, and he gives this story of ceaseless poverty and familial misery a sense of lived-in naturalism. And once again, his skill with actors is exceptional — Emily Watson is pitch-perfect as the mother who’ll get this family through whatever hell is thrown at her, Robert Carlyle is both heartbreaking and horrifying as the father who throws much of it, and Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge play Frank (at various ages) with grit and determination.

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