Willis enjoys working with directors like Quentin Tarantino, M. Night Shyamalan, and Wes Anderson, all of whom are masters in their own fields.
Even before Moonlighting, Bruce Willis was bound for greatness, but few could have predicted how great it would be. Even after all these years, I still regard him as one of the best actors the United States has ever produced, and I believe he deserves to be recognized as a national treasure.
Die Hard cemented Willis’ status as one of the world’s most recognizable action actors. Although he lacked Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body or Jean-Claude Van Damme’s training, people have come to admire his many everyday heroes over time because he was a man of the people. As an international action star, Willis has never rested on his laurels, and he’s done his best to show off his versatility. The films on this list should give you an idea of the many roles Willis has played, both as a leading man and as a supporting actor.
To be honest, the process of putting together this Top 10 list was rather straightforward. No matter how much I loved Willis’ 90s movies like The Fifth Element, The Jackal, The Last Boy Scout,The siege, none of them ever came close to cracking the top five. Color of Night, a sexy 1990s thriller starring Willis, is widely regarded as one of his most cringe-inducing flicks. That insane fondness for Color of Night, though, may make me the perfect judge here because I had the foresight to realize that I couldn’t get away with having that film on the list, which of course reflects both my personal taste and common sense..
As seen by his self-deprecating tone at the Comedy Central Roast in 2018, Willis has a sense of humor about his recent VOD flicks. I’m not here to point out Bruce’s flaws like those there that night; rather, I’m here to pay tribute to the best of Bruce Willis’ career, so join me in reliving some of his most memorable cinematic performances with tears in our eyes and champagne in our feet. Motherfuckers, rejoice!
Honorable Mention: Look Who’s Talking
Look Who’s Talking, and especially the first film, features a funny Willis voice performance that captures the thrill of being a newborn. I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention it. As a result of Willis’ portrayal of Baby Mikey, Roseanne Barr is introduced as a fun sparring partner for the sequel.
No, I’m not going to apologize for my love of the first two Look Who’s Talking films. All of Kirstie Alley and John Travolta’s work is excellent, and they have an excellent relationship. Willis, on the other hand, gets the bulk of the jokes, and he makes the most of it. Even though Cop Out didn’t pan out, I’d still like to see him in another major studio comedy in the future.
Color of Night, one of my favorite guilty pleasures, would have occupied this slot if this were a list of my personal favorites. However, Rian Johnson’s clever sci-fi film Looper is undoubtedly Willis’ best work in the last 15 years. He is able to play his age in the picture. No longer does he need to be impenetrable. This is a film about time and violence, but it was marketed on Willis and the crowd he attracts, not Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
My favorite moment in the movie was when Willis plays an older Joe who runs into his younger self at a diner. In order to save his wife, he’s going back in time to kill a murderer who killed her in the past. At that point, who would be considered expendable in the eyes of the Expendables guy?
It is Johnson’s script that raises the film above a number of other contenders for the No. 10 spot, but Willis (and co-star Emily Blunt) create the difference between this film and Brick. Imitation is the purest form of flattery, and Gordon-performance Levitt’s as a younger Willis is a success thanks to visual effects.
9. Moonrise Kingdom
In my opinion, Wes Anderson’s 2012 film, The Royal Tenenbaums, is underappreciated. As much as I loved the film as I did the rest of the cast, I was glad to see Bruce Willis join Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton as well as Bill Murray. This is another another chance to try out comedic material under the guidance of a well-known director.
After his adoptive parents decide they don’t want him anymore, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) moves in with Duffy Sharp, the town’s police captain, in the little New England town of New Penzance. Capt. Sharp must lead the search for Sam and his equally precocious girlfriend Suzy, who have fallen in love and fled together.
The casting of Willis in a Wes Anderson film may surprise you, but he’s exactly what the doctor ordered here. Who better than Bruce Willis to be the hero of Moonrise Kingdom? If you’re willing to risk your life to save two teenagers who are in love, and then enjoy a fatherly moment with one of them, this is the job for you. Willis always answers the call of duty, and may God bless him for it.
8. Death Becomes Her
Willis gets another chance to show off his low-key comic skills in Robert Zemeckis’s 1992 cult hit. To say that the movie belongs to Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn is an understatement. Willis is merely a passenger. In spite of his intimidating co-stars, he manages to shine.
Streep and Hawn play bitter rivals who are unfazed by the prospect of endless youth. Aside from the fact that Streep falls down the stairs after getting into a disagreement with Willis, no amount of plastic surgery will be able to save her from the consequences.
As an alcoholic played by Willis, Zemeckis wisely avoids making Willis the villain, even if he’s obviously not “a good person.” This is basically a new kind of crazy character for Willis, who works well with the visual aspects of the movie.
7. 12 Monkeys
The Fifth Element, which came out two years later and was a bit more “fun,” is liked by some, but I preferred Terry Gilliam’s eccentric sci-fi film 12 Monkeys. He plays James Cole, a prisoner who is taken back in time to identify the source of the fatal virus, so that doctors might develop a treatment for it later on in the movie. It’s a fitting film for our current quarantined state of affairs.
Even though Brad Pitt received an Oscar nod for his wacky supporting performance, Willis is a sturdy foundation for this future tale, and this is the rare picture in which Willis genuinely has romantic chemistry with his co-star, Madeleine Stowe.
Willis gives 12 Monkeys the seriousness it so needs, even if the film as a whole isn’t. To me, his dedication to the film’s concept is admirable, no matter how far-fetched it may seem at times. It’s wonderful to see Willis work with a filmmaker with Gilliam’s unusual views for a change, yet something that still has a bit of a bite.
Armageddon is one of two Michael Bay films included in the Criterion Collection, and while I prefer The Rock, Willis’ performance as Harry Stamper in this big-ass rock flick still rocks on its own.
Willis has another outstanding character in Stamper, who is widely regarded as the world’s best deep-sea oil driller. For him, there is no choice except to go into space and blow up the asteroids that threaten to wipe out all life on Earth, including that of his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler).
Willis’ last scenes with Ben Affleck are worthy of a place in the Tough Guy Museum. Willis delivers the pathos of Harry’s sacrifice for his nation and his family, his eyes communicating the optimism he has that Affleck’s A.J. would offer a better life for Grace. You rarely see the hero of the movie compelled to make such a sacrifice. If you think Armageddon is just a summer popcorn movie, I have just five words for you: Armageddon. What a dope flick, man!
5. Sin City
Sin City, a film based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, is one of the best comic book movies ever made, and even though it’s an ensemble piece, Willis is definitely the star. When he intervenes to prevent a child killer (Nick Stahl) from raping and killing young Nancy Callahan, John Hartigan is immediately positioned as a hero. Despite the fact that this is a high-tech society, Willis is still the decent guy who is willing to put his life on the line to defend Nancy.
Hartigan has just been released from prison and is eager to reunite with Nancy (Jessica Alba), who has grown up to become an exotic dancer after being forced into silence. Hartigan is in constant danger as long as she is alive since the child killer he stopped previously is back and ready for vengeance. As an actor who doesn’t appear in many death scenes, Willis does a fine job of portraying a hard decision.
While Mickey Rourke stole the show as Sin City’s heart and soul, Willis functioned as the spine of the film’s narrative. We are introduced to this harsh, black and white world by Hartigan; Willis does a good job of narrating. As Hartigan, he has a distinct style of speaking that works well for him. “A senior citizen passes away. The existence of a young woman is known. It’s a fair deal.” Both he and I would prefer it this way.
There is no doubt in my mind that Willis leaped at the opportunity to work with M. Night Shyamalan again on his follow-up Unbreakable, which is my personal favorite among M. Night’s films. Former football star Willis plays David Dunn, who lost his leg in a horrible car accident, along with his dream of becoming a professional football player. It’s been years since that fateful train disaster, yet years later, as a security officer at a Philadelphia sports stadium, he’s still attempting to preserve his failing marriage and protect his son from the consequences. Even though David is unharmed, he still craves explanations for how he got so lucky.
Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson, provides the answers he seeks as well as some he does not. With Spencer Treat Clark, Willis plays a typical father who discovers that his son isn’t exactly what he appears to be, and his scenes with his son are tremendously moving. When it comes to working with Willis, Shyamalan seems to have a magic wand, and it’s possible that Willis is the same. Remember, I’m the person who adored Glass, but I prefer Willis’ initial performance as Dunn in the original film.
It’s not simply the wonderful storyline and the smart color palette and Jackson’s amazing performance that make this movie so special. What holds us spellbound is Willis’ ability to stand in the middle of a crowd with his arms held out in silence. Willis helps us feel David’s power—the power of good—in the silent combat sequence in the film’s third act, which is rarely remarked about. Although water may be David’s downfall, I often shed a tear while seeing Unbreakable, and I have no doubt you will do so as well if you allow yourself to be receptive to the film’s strong themes.
3. The Sixth Sense
With M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 blockbuster, Willis reimagined himself. A young kid named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) comes to Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist, with the allegation that he can see the dead. As a result, it would be an understatement to say that Malcolm has his job cut out for him. When it comes to helping Shyamalan pull one of the greatest child performances in cinema history from Osment, Willis is more than up to the challenge. It’s not always simple to direct children, but having a patient veteran co-star makes it a little easier.
This time around, Willis is flexing an entirely other set of muscles, displaying his theatrical prowess in a performance that hit the mark. For real, Willis is a big part of why The Sixth Sense’s ending is so great; he sells Shyamalan’s plot shock like no other actor has before him. That’s what people don’t think about while discussing the ending of this story. In Shyamalan’s case, writing a fantastic twist ending is one thing; convincing an audience to believe it is another.
As a result, Willis’ understated performance goes unnoticed. This is a shame, because the film’s real “stars” are Haley Joel Osment and M. Night Shyamalan and, in particular, the script he wrote. I ask you not to forget how startled you were by this performance, which many people didn’t think Willis had in him. The two of them deserve a lot of praise.
2. Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino or Bruce Willis? I’m not sure which one of them was more grateful when Willis decided to co-star in Tarantino’s greatest film. Willis’ global star power helped the film, but the character of Butch Coolidge must have been soul food for him at a time when his career had been suffering from a string of high-profile disasters.
In the wake of films like Hudson Hawk, Billy Bathgate, and Bonfire of the Vanities, the opportunity to play a boxer who’s both a lover and an assassin doesn’t come around every day. When two hillbillies kidnap and rape Butch and Marcellus Wallace, we get to witness him wield a samurai sword in order to defend himself and Wallace (Ving Rhames).
Even though Pulp Fiction is my favorite film and should have been number one on my list based on that criterion, Willis’ John McClane is unquestionably his most iconic role. It’s a shame that Pulp Fiction doesn’t have a Bruce Willis role, but Fabienne’s sequences with Butch give the film a smattering of romance, so I’d put it at number two here (Maria de Medeiros). Although Willis is listed at the bottom of the cast on the poster, his supporting performance is well-deserving of a place in the spotlight.
1. Die Hard
You knew it was going to happen, didn’t you? This is Bruce Willis at his best. To be clear, Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With a Vengeance are included in our top spot since they’re also great movies in their own right. However, the original Die Hard is still the finest. You’re seeing the birth of a cinematic star right in front of your eyes.
John McClane was a perfect fit for Willis because he had never been an action star before, and he had a great time in the character. It was Willis who gave the New York police officer a wicked sense of humor and an unwavering determination to succeed. After seeing Die Hard so many times, I’m still uncertain if John McClane will make it out of Nakatomi Tower unscathed. To that extent, Willis’ performance has a special place in my heart.
If so, what time of year is Die Hard set? What’s the big deal? The season doesn’t matter, so you can watch it whenever you want. John McClane is Willis’ defining part, in the same way that Rocky Balboa and Arnold Schwarzenegger will be remembered for their roles. …and now that we’ve done the absolutely essential tribute to Die Hard, let us say hello to you, mate…