Greetings, glancers! Today’s TTT post unveils my favourite 10 films by Mr Bruce Willis, a man primarily known for his action movie work but who has had a massively varied career and is an accomplished comic and dramatic actor. Possibly this list will be the first to get a lot of varying opinions when compared with the previous actors and directors I have covered precisely because Willis has appeared in so many different genres. Willis has effectively towed the line between blockbuster and smaller/indie film perhaps better than any other actor, appearing in an incredible number of successes and of course contributing to those successes thanks to his ability. I won’t comment on his work as a musician (I haven’t heard any), though I will remind everyone of his Emmy-Award winning beginnings as a comic actor – he has returned to TV regularly over the years including memorable work in Friends and Bruno The Kid (as a voice actor). I will add that there are quite a few films I have not yet seen by Willis so if you add your favourites in the comments I will reply to let everyone know which ones I’ve missed.
10. Death Becomes Her
I’m going to cheat a little with this first one – it’s by no means the best film Willis has made, and I was torn between including this and any number of his other action or thriller oriented movies, but I felt that the list needed a little comedy so here we are. Death Becomes Her sees Willis at his most un-Willis – there is little of the world-weary wise-cracking hard-ass persona we know from his most famous features, instead he is a broken down, weak-willed husband who wants an easy way out of a loveless marriage. Turning the tables later though he refuses to consume the elixir of life as that would meaning spending an eternity with women he despises. Willis is very funny in the frustrated husband role, acting as a great foil to Streep and Hawn, and he picked up a Golden Globe nomination in the process.
I’m sure many of you will be surprised at this selection, and many of you may not have even heard of the movie. Indeed, when I first chose to watch it I assumed it was going to be an average thriller, Willis just cashing a cheque, so I was happily surprised at how good it actually is. I should say at the outset that while Willis is very good, it is Ben Foster who steals the film in an alarmingly good performance – why this man hasn’t won an Oscar yet is a mystery – I hear he is set to play Lance Armstrong in an upcoming film which has Oscar-bait written all over it. Back to Hostage, and we follow Willis as a former Hostage negotiator (Talley) who denies an order and sees a family slaughtered. Living as a small time police chief some time later, he again becomes embroiled in a hostage crisis as three teenagers hold a family at gunpoint during an apparent failed robbery. Talley is reluctant to get involved, but as the violence escalates he is forced into action.
The film is an effective action thriller with a few twists as we learn more about the motives of the hostages. Willis plays the tortured figure well, and his call to arms feels genuine, and while the surrounding cast is strong the film is owned by Foster, whose mysterious killer character is never truly revealed. With a less effective lead, or in the hands of one not as convincing as Willis the film would not have been as watchable – it’s a difficult one to describe to entice your typical action fan into watching, but there is a fair amount of tension and gun play which is both gripping and brutal. I would heartily recommend everyone giving this a shot.
8. Beavis And Butthead Do America.
Given that the TV show which the movie was based on is one of my favourites of all time, it was a given that this be included in my list. While movies based on TV shows are rarely much good, this feels like an extended episode given the fact that the same main players are fully involved. The film follows our awkward teen pair across America in search of sluts and their stolen TV. Along the way they get mistaken for hitmen by Muddy (Willis) who wants them to ‘do’ his wife (Demi Moore). Believing they are getting paid to have sex with a hot woman, they pair accept not realizing that they are supposed to kill her. This kicks off a chain of events as every cop in the country chases them down, they meet the President, laugh at place names, drop peyote with possibly their own parents, annoy Mr Anderson etc etc. Willis plays the gruff, alcoholic Muddy well – the in-joke of Willis and Moore being married in reality is not overplayed – and he even manages to get a few laughs. The film is packed with stupid jokes and funny moments so it’s one to enjoy again and again.
While not nearly as successful, critically or commercially, as their previous outing together – M.Night Shyamalan and Willis struck gold again with Unbreakable – a film which feels on the surface to be another supernatural thriller up until its closing moments when the classic Shyamalan twist comes in. The twist here isn’t as much of a shock as in The Sixth Sense, indeed most viewers should have worked it all out before the end of the film, but that isn’t what sets the movie apart. It’s a slow burning, gloom-riden, rain-soaked drama featuring two stellar turns from Willis and Samuel L Jackson. It’s also arguably the greatest origin story of a superhero ever told, with Willis as a downbeat, life-going-nowhere family man who realises his remarkable gifts and begins to slowly use them to save people, but also be drawn into a horrific good versus evil battle. As with such films, I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen it, but Willis is superb as the man whose family is falling apart only to realize the power he has possessed and possibly ignored his whole life. Equally strong is Jackson as the man who finds and mentors Willis, a wheelchair bound comic book fan who has been bullied for much of his life and sees meeting Willis as a chance to give both of their lives purpose. There isn’t a load of action on show here, but in the same way The Sixth Sense weighed up its light number of scares to give the impression of an efficient whole, the films rumbles along as we hope to see Willis become the hero he was born to be.
6. Sin City
The most visually impressive and stylized film on the list is also one which sees Willis play a smaller role in a much larger ensemble cast. Willis once again plays the downtrodden, battered cop – this time Hartigan – a man whose selfless, or couldn’t-give-a-damn-about-himself nature allows him to sacrifice himself multiple times to save the life of an innocent, tracking down a ruthless and untouchable killer and trying to bring an end to corruption in a city borne of it. It’s difficult for any single cast member to stand out in a film whose visual nature means that those characters with a certain look will instantly be the most memorable, but amidst Rourke, Wood, Alba, Stahl and the rest, Willis does stand out as one of the few good guys, a plain cop just trying to do his job in a world that couldn’t be less black or white.
5. Die Hard With A Vengeance
One of the finest action sequels ever made, this third outing reunites Willis with the original’s director John McTiernan and reunites John McClane with the Gruber clan. The film sees McClane as a washed-up alcoholic shade of his former self, having lost his marriage to Holly and become estranged from everyone he cared about. Living on his past glories and pissing off everyone he meets, McClane is reluctantly forced back into the line of fire after a terrorist asks for him specifically. Sporting a delightfully racist sentiment in the middle of Harlem, McClane is ‘rescued’ by Zeus Carver (Samuel L Jackson) and the two find themselves in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a psychotic terrorist named Simon.
The film is split in two parts – the first focusing on the race through New York to foil Simon’s plans – and the second being the realization of who Simon really is and the plan to take him down. While the second half cannot maintain the frantic mayhem and momentum of the glorious first half, the wit of the main players and the stellar script from Jonathan Hensleigh. Willis is at his fast-talking, quick-thinking best once again and his interaction with both Jackson and Irons are a joy to watch. Taking the one-man army trope to the streets of NYC and giving it the full 90s makeover leaves DHWAV as one of the best action movies of the decade.
4. Pulp Fiction
Similar to Sin City in that Willis has a smaller role in an ensemble cast, it proved again that he could branch out into areas unknown – his character in Pulp Fiction being different from both the comedy and action performances he was known for up to this point. It isn’t the first dramatic role or indie film Willis appeared it, but it was arguably the first that brought his talents to the attention of an up and coming breed of fans and filmmakers who saw that they could use him as more than just a gun-totting maniac. Here he is an opportunist, a man who decides to not take the easy way and instead try for once to be noble and heroic, even if it may cost him his life. Willis doesn’t get many lines, but does contribute to a few of the movie’s most memorable scenes.
3. Die Hard
The film which made him a movie star, and one which is frequently cited as the best action movie ever made, Die Hard is as flawless a film as you are ever likely to see – a spectacle of carnage with gripping story, wonderful characters, timeless action, and a superb cast. I won’t spend too much time talking about this one as I assume everyone reading it has seen it, but it contains Willis in his most iconic role giving maybe his best all round performance. Alan Rickman does his best to steal every scene he is in, but Willis holds his own and cements his place as one of the best action performers ever.
2. The Last Boy Scout
An all-time personal favourite of mine, and easily one of the best action movies of the 90s, The Last Boy Scout is a self-referential, ultra-violent, misogynistic riot – taking all of the elements, good and bad, of the 80s action movie and turning them inside out. Willis is excellent as Joe Hallenback, yet again a washed up version of former glory. He was a secret service agent who once saved the President’s life but has since become disgraced, bitter, and drunk, with a wife and daughter who despise him. Joe takes a job as Halle Berry’s bodyguard to the annoyance of former NFL star Jimmy Dix (Marlon Wayans). Berry is murdered shortly after, and Joe and Jimmy uncover a case of corruption and murder whilst trying to not get themselves killed.
The partnership of Wayans and Willis is superb, so much so that I’m annoyed that they haven’t starred together again. It seems like a match made in heaven here, and when you thrown Danielle Harris, Taylor Negron, and others into the mix we have one of the best acted films of its type. This would not be enough to make the film a classic – it takes the assured direction of Tony Scott, and the glorious screenplay by Shane Black – again one of the best of the decade – to ensure it reaches the highest level. It’s rare that such a violent film contains so many one-liners and hilarious moments, but this one is literally a laugh a minute with quotable dialogue from all quarters. If you can look past the nasty stuff, and of course the fact that almost all of the women are treated as fodder, then you should absolutely adore this. I’ve no idea why this isn’t as revered as Willis’ more famous action work – I implore all action fans to seek it out.
1. The Fifth Element
Recalling any number of sci-fi films, from Blade Runner to Stargate, from Star Trek to Metropolis, The Fifth Element is nevertheless a triumphantly unique tour de force by Luc Besson. A stellar cast, a visionary director, and a brilliant story ensure that this is a feast for the eyes, mind, and heart – an endlessly entertaining, camp, futuristic film which is certain to be seen as both a cult film and a culturally significant one in decades to come.
Willis stars as Korben Dallas, a washed-up (even 200 years in the future Willis can’t get clean) 23rd Century former marine turned taxi driver whose life is interrupted by the literal dropping in of the perfect Milla Jovovich – an apparent alien who is being chased by all manner of cops and critters. After (and before) that the plot gets a little too convoluted to cover in a brief blog post, but basically Dallas has to protect Jovovich from Gary Oldman and The Great Evil and save the Universe. Along the way we meet Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry and others, and we learn that love is the key.
Aside from the strong action, great dialogue and performances, the film is one of the most visually stunning that I’ve seen – a detailed, realistic future world with all of the decay, pollution, vanity, and wealth/status gap we are familiar with today, just with more aliens and flying cars. Willis is playing his usual robust self with a little more heart, and while his own comic turn is dialled down a little, he is allowed to increase his manic everyman side and show some lighter emotions. It is a film which may polarize, but is a rampant, challenging, always brilliant dream brought to life.
This concludes my list of Top Ten Bruce Willis films – really I could have added a few more to this list to round it off, but I’m happy with the 10 above. What films do you think I’ve missed, and which Bruce Willis films are your favourites? Let us know in the comments!