The Best Strategies When Playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

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Image Credit: Team Coco

Imagine your perfect game night. Whether it is at home with your family or a party with friends, there are the tried and true staples of games we love to play. Mystery lovers adore Clue. Strategists enjoy Risk and Monopoly (in their many forms). There's Life and Sorry, Trivial Pursuit, and Family Feud. But a fun-filled game night can include something other than board games.

Charades and karaoke are always a hit. But if you're a movie fan, one of the most fun games we can partake in is a lively game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

If you are unfamiliar with the game, it was invented in 1994 by three college students, Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli. After watching two movies with Bacon one evening back to back, they postulated that Bacon is the center of the entertainment industry. So they created this game that says almost any actor can be linked back to Bacon in six steps or less.

Their game garnered national attention when the trio appeared on The Jon Stewart Show and The Howard Stern Show (with Bacon himself) explaining the game. And thus, a phenomenon was born.

Since its inception, this game has entered the cultural zeitgeist. And while a board game version is now available, we can play this with simply a knowledge of Bacon’s filmography, the movies, and actors in general. Playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is very simple. You can play individually or as a team.

You begin by giving the opposing player(s) an actor, who must link that actor back to Bacon in six steps or less. Sometimes you can feel stumped and thrown for a loop. But if you can employ the best methods we discuss, you will surely be a winner. If you want to dominate or impress your fellow players during your next match, several strategies will leave your competition in the dust.

The Landmark Films of Kevin Bacon

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures

The most prevalent strategy when playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is using the “Landmark Films” of his career. These are the movies that Bacon has starred in that bolster large and incredibly impressive ensemble casts. So when playing, chances are you will arrive at one of these films as your final degree.

And although ending with one of these movies is commonplace, that does not mean this is a rudimentary or poor strategy.

The first of these films is undoubtedly used the most as your final step: A Few Good Men. This courtroom drama from 1994 has a staggering cast of lead and supporting players that can prove key in your gameplaying. These actors include Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollack, Keifer Sutherland, Noah Wylie, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Christopher Guest.

Actors like Cruise and Nicholson are excellent links, as both have had long and varied careers. And Cruise can be linked to anyone from character actors like Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, Oscar winners like Dustin Hoffman and Renée Zellweger, and leading ladies like Cameron Diaz and Emily Blunt. He also links current stars such as Glen Powell and Miles Teller, who starred with Cruise in the 2022 juggernaut Top Gun: Maverick.

Landmark Kevin Bacon Films Continued

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Nicholson could be an even more helpful link to Bacon if you are given an older actor or one no longer with us, as Nicholson’s career began in the 1960s. He has starred in films with performers such as Faye Dunaway, Jessica Lange, Shelley Duvall, Helen Hunt, Morgan Freeman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Angelica Huston, Reese Witherspoon, and Diane Keaton, to name a few.

All these actors, and many of Nicholson's co-stars, have careers as illustrious as they come, providing valuable steps in the game. You will surely win this round if you can link back to Cruise or Nicholson.

Besides Cruise and Nicholson, the other actors in A Few Good Men are excellent links to employ in your game-playing strategy. Someone like Kevin Pollack is wonderful because character actors often appear in more films than the leading actor types and all kinds of genres.

Likewise, Christopher Guest is a useful link as the creator of a slew of quirky ensemble films like Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and A Prairie Home Companion. Remembering who stars in these films, you can swiftly link back to Bacon if given actors such as Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Lindsay Lohan, and more. Of course, Guest has starred in many films. If someone was attempting to stump you with someone like Wallace Shawn or Andre the Giant, one need only two steps to get to Bacon, using the film The Princess Bride, which co-stars Guest as the, ironically, six-fingered man, Count Reugan.

Even More Landmark Kevin Bacon Films

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers Entertainment

The other “Landmark Films” from Bacon’s filmography that are the best ending points for this game are undoubtedly Apollo 13, Mystic River, and JFK. The cast of Apollo 13 includes Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and Gary Sinise, making it an easy step to other films such as The Green Mile, Titanic, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. You would have an easy path. Likewise, if given character actors like Patricia Clarkson, Sam Rockwell, Diane Kruger, Kathy Bates, or Billy Zane.

Mystic River has a just as impressive and potentially helpful cast of performers: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Emmy Rossum, and Eli Wallach. Anyone of these actors is a fantastic stepping stone in your gameplay. Do you think linking Kevin Bacon to Disney darling Hayley Mills is challenging? It isn't when using Mystic River because Mills starred in the 1960s drama The Moon-Spinners with Wallach.

And lastly, with JFK, we see a fantastic cast that includes Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau. Again, the cast is exceptional, but they tie directly into the other strategies you can employ to be the best player possible.

Genre Ensemble Films

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers Entertainment

Employing the “Landmark Films” from Bacon may be the most significant and prevalent strategy you will use because these movies can be your ending spot. But other films can be used in a similarly significant and frequent way. Namely, these are ensemble romantic and teen comedies from the 1980s to the 2000s, murder mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, and superhero films.

While there are many films in each genre, specific ones are good to keep in your back “gameplaying” pocket. Regarding romantic comedies, the pinnacle films are Love Actually and the Gary Marshall-directed holiday films Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, and Mother's Day. Love Actually is an obvious choice as it stars one of Bacon’s Mystic River co-stars, Laura Linney.

Moreover, its other cast members are some of Britain's best, like Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Bill Nighy, all of which can be connected to any number of actors you could be given as a starting point.

The Gary Marshall rom-coms are also stepping stones because they star the “Who’s Who” of Hollywood, such as Julia Roberts (who would be only two degrees to Bacon, having starred in two films with Tom Hanks). The casts of these films also range from movie stars like Anne Hathaway and Bradley Cooper and character actors like Margo Martindale and Sarah Paulson.

And one must not forget a few of the notable rom-coms Bacon had starred in, namely Crazy, Stupid Love and Picture Perfect. So if needing a link from actors like Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, or Jennifer Aniston, the path to Bacon is easy if you end on one of these charmers.

Teen Comedies

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Image Source: Paramount Pictures

Teen comedies are also always an excellent genre to remember when strategizing. Specifically speaking, the best are She's All That and Can't Hardly Wait. Both movies have casts that are stacked and include actors that are still working today. Moreover, some are only a few degrees to Bacon, such as Ethan Embry (in That Thing You Do with Tom Hanks).

In the case of She's All That, any cast member can be linked because that film features Kevin Pollack, Bacon’s co-star from A Few Good Men.

Other teen comedies you could utilize would be Easy A, The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, and Clueless, to name a few.

Murder Mysteries

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Image Credit: Lionsgate

Regarding other genre films, murder mysteries, especially recent ones like Agatha Christie-based Murder and the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, and Rian Johnson’s Knives Out and Glass Onion, are imperative staples to have in your repertoire of knowledge while playing. This is not only because these films have large casts but also because they include actors of vastly different ages.

And thus, you are given links to classic and modern eras of film. Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, and Janelle Monaé would be prime examples of this concept.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi Universes

Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The same strategy can apply to fantasy franchises such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the superhero Marvel and DC universes. The number of actors in these films is vast and varied and another essential component to utilize when playing the game. Anyone from Maggie Smith, Ian McKellen, Paul Rudd, Carrie Fisher, and Robert Redford can potentially link back to Bacon.

Bacon has even starred in the genre, portraying Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class alongside James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence.

The critical thing to remember is who stars in these films. With enough knowledge of the actors featured in any of these films, winning can be a walk and the park. And you will look like a star in the process. That is truly the key to mastering Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Remember The Early Films of Kevin Bacon

Image Credit: Paramount

While Films like A Few Good Men and Mystic River will often be your last degree while playing, remembering Bacon's earlier films can also be handy. For example, do you remember that Bacon had a small cameo in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? If you are given or can link back to that film's stars, Steve Martin and John Candy, that's all you'll need.

Films such as Footloose and Diner have strong potential to be a final step with casts that include John Lithgow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mickey Rourke, Steve Gutenberg, and Ellen Barkin.

Likewise, The River Wild and Tremors have eclectic casts of performers that have tremendous linkage potential, including heavy hitters like Meryl Streep and David Strathairn and character actors like Fred Ward and John C. Reilly.

Actors With Long Careers

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Image Credit: Warner Bros.

When playing, your opponent or opposing team often attempts to stump you by giving you an obscure actor or one from many years ago. If you are given a performer from the classic era of film, the best strategy is to think of actors with careers that span many decades and then try to find a connection.

For example, you may think the musical actress of the 1950s, Jane Powell, would be tough to link back to Bacon. But when utilizing two actors who had long careers (Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman), a path can be achieved in less than six steps:

  1. Jane Powell was in A Date With Judy with Elizabeth Taylor
  2. Elizabeth Taylor was in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman
  3. Paul Newman was in Road to Perdition with Tom Hanks
  4. Tom Hanks was in Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon

Paul Newman isn't the only actor whose career was long and, therefore, has excellent potential for your game-playing. Bacon's JFK and Mystic River co-stars Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Eli Wallach are terrific examples. Some other prime examples would be Mickey Rooney, Carl Reiner, Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, Robert Redford, Norman Lloyd, Rita Moreno, Michael Caine, Marlon Brando, Ricardo Montalban, Eva Marie Saint, and Max von Sydow.

Bonus Round: Utilize Television

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Image Credit: Showtime

When playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, you are meant only to use films with each link. But given the different nature of television in the modern era, especially with streaming and the caliber of shows produced, you can bend the rules if you choose. Utilizing television could make gameplay easier because it broadens the possibilities.

In this day in age of film, actors no longer look at television as secondary or “less than,” so there are countless shows with high-caliber casts and guest stars. If you can link back to any actor on the show Once Upon a Time, the path to Bacon is easy because the show's lead, Jennifer Morrison, was in Stir of Echoes with Bacon. Moreover, he has guest starred as himself on both Will & Grace and Bored to Death and starred in the Showtime Drama City on the Hill with Aldis Hodge and Jill Hennessy.

Final Thoughts

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers Entertainment

So, the next time you play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, all the strategies we've discussed are a surefire way to win the game. Whether you utilize one or all of these strategies, you will undoubtedly impress everyone so much that you could compete with Bacon himself. The most important thing is always to have fun and remain footloose.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency. She writes on her own website, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video