Douglas's acting career was propelled to fame when he produced and starred in the 1984 romantic adventure comedy Romancing the Stone. It also reintroduced Douglas as a capable leading man and gave director Robert Zemeckis his first box-office success. The film also starred Danny DeVito, a friend of Douglas since they had shared an apartment in the 1960s. It was followed a year later by a sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, which he also produced.
Douglas again teamed with Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito for the 1989 film The War of the Roses. In 1989 he starred in Ridley Scott's international police crime drama Black Rain opposite Andy García and Kate Capshaw; the film was shot in Osaka, Japan.
In 1992, Douglas had another successful starring role when he appeared alongside Sharon Stone in the film Basic Instinct. The movie was a box office hit, and sparked controversy over its depictions of bisexuality and lesbianism. In 1994 Douglas and Demi Moore starred in the hit movie Disclosure focusing on the topic of sexual harassment with Douglas playing a man harassed by his new female boss. Other popular films he starred in during the decade were Falling Down, The American President, The Ghost and the Darkness, The Game (directed by David Fincher), and a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic – Dial M for Murder – titled A Perfect Murder. In 1998 Douglas received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
In 2000 Douglas starred in Steven Soderbergh's critically acclaimed film Traffic, opposite Benicio del Toro and future wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones. That same year he also received critical acclaim for his role in Wonder Boys, as a professor and novelist suffering from writer's block. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Drama as well as several other awards from critics.
Types of rolesAccording to film historian and critic David Thomson, Douglas was capable of playing characters who were "weak, culpable, morally indolent, compromised, and greedy for illicit sensation without losing that basic probity or potential for ethical character that we require of a hero." Critic and author Rob Edelman points out similarities in many of Douglas's roles, writing that in some of his leading films, he personified the "contemporary, Caucasian middle-to-upper-class American male who finds himself the brunt of female anger because of real or imagined sexual slights."
These themes of male victimization are seen in films such as Fatal Attraction (1987), with Glenn Close, War of the Roses (1989), with Kathleen Turner, Basic Instinct (1992), with Sharon Stone, Falling Down (1993), and Disclosure (1994), with Demi Moore. For his characters in films such as these, "any kind of sexual contact with someone other than his mate and the mother of his children is destined to come at a costly price." Edelman describes his characters as the "Everyman who must contend with, and be victimized by, these women and their raging, psychotic sexuality."
Conversely, Douglas also played powerful characters with dominating personalities equally well: as Gordon Gekko, in the Wall Street franchise, he acted the role of a "greedy yuppie personification of the Me generation," convinced that "greed is good;" in Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile, he played an idealistic soldier of fortune; in The Star Chamber (1983), he was a court judge fed up with an inadequate legal system, leading him to become involved with a vigilante group; and in Black Rain (1989), he proved he could also play a Stallone-like action hero as a New York City cop.
Having become recognized as both a successful producer and actor, he describes himself as "an actor first and a producer second." He has explained why he enjoys both functions:
I love the fact that on one side, with acting, you can be a child—acting is wonderful for its innocence and the fun. . . On the other side, producing is fun for all the adult kinds of things you do. You deal in business, you deal with the creative forces. As an adult who continues to get older, you like the adult risks. It's flying without a net, taking chances and learning. I was never good in economics or business—had no business background, you know, and I like it.He has also offered reasons why he has become successful in both acting and producing:
I think I'm a chameleon. I think it's something that I possibly inherited early on as a child going back and forth between two families. I know that whether it's right or wrong, I have an ability to sort of fit into a lot of different situations and make people feel relatively comfortable in a wide range without giving up all my moral values. I think that same chameleonlike quality can transfer into films. I think if you can remember the reason you got involved with it in the first place and try to keep that impulsive, instinctive feeling even when you're being beaten down or exhausted or waylaid, you'll be successful.