In honor of the release of A Good Day To Die Hard, we decided to rank our ten favorite Bruce Willis roles:
10. Old Joe, LooperFirst, if you haven't seen Looper yet, now is the time. It's one of the most intelligent and thrilling movies of the last year. As you would expect, Bruce Willis is the rock around which story revolves, his trademark mix of melancholia and wit punctuated by bursts of kinetic energy on full display. As Old Joe (to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Young Joe) he bursts out of the screen and sends his young self--and the audience--on a whirlwind tour of how the decisions we make today impact the people we become tomorrow. It's the type of role Willis has always owned: self-aware, larger-than-life without being campy, and still utterly relatable. The list of actors who can pull that off is short indeed.--CroutonBoy
9. Korben Dallas, The Fifth ElementThe Fifth Element is a film that could have very easily sucked. It's over the top, colorful, and has a lot of bad hair and wild costumes. But it's wildly entertaining, in large part thanks to Bruce Willis. He's charming and funny and has great chemistry with Milla Jovovich. He's like the colorful, graphic novel version of Han Solo and I'm OK with that. If anyone should take over the quippy handsome action mantle from Harrison Ford, it's Bruce.--Archphoenix
8. Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski, The Whole Nine YardsLet's face facts: The Whole Nine Yards was not a great film. It's funny. It's cute. But it's not a masterpiece or anything. Nobody played against type: Bruce Willis played the smarmy, cocksure mobster contract killer and Matthew Perry plays the sweaty, unsure dentist. But yeah, I'd watch it again. And that's mostly because of Willis.
And Amanda Peet.--Chris
7. David Addison, MoonlightingMoonlighting is where it all started, at least for me. The show--about a detective agency about as functionally believable as Ally McBeal's law firm--was supposed to be a showcase for Cybill Shepherd, but for me at least it was the Bruce Willis show. Willis was so funny and clever as David Addison that I was originally shocked when Willis did Die Hard; wasn't he a comedian? Willis took sarcasm to a whole 'nuther level on that show, and that patented smirk has stayed with him throughout his career. If you can find it, I highly recommend going back and finding the "Taming Of The Shrew" episode... Comic gold.--CroutonBoy
6. Dr. Malcolm Crowe, The Sixth SenseI saw The Sixth Sense on a rainy afternoon at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Two hours later, I went back and saw it again. Haley Joel Osment and the legendary twist ending are what people tend to remember, but Bruce Willis played Dr. Crowe masterfully. There was no shooting or sarcasm to be had in that role, just a man struggling to connect with his wife, help his patients, and understand why he was struggling so hard at both. I loved his performance, which like his character was at the center of the story yet somehow apart. It's a film that demands repeated viewings, and Bruce Willis is a big reason why.--CroutonBoy
5. Harry Stamper, ArmageddonArmageddon is pure explosions and cheese, one of the world's greatest bad movies. I know you've seen it, but just think about the plot: a group of guys who work on an oil rig become astronauts so they can go into space, land on an asteroid, and blow it up. Um, yeah.
But like most of the films on this list, Bruce Willis makes the movie. He plays the gruff dad who doesn't want his daughter marrying someone like him. But in the end, he realizes that his daughter really does love Affleck, and decides to save him and the rest of mankind.
4. James Cole, 12 Monkeys12 Monkeys kind of starts off like it's going to be your usual Bruce Willis shoot 'em up film. And then it takes a weird left turn into Crazytown. Directed by Terry Gilliam, the film is a fantastically demented time trip of a sci-fi film and Bruce really pulls it off, the porn star mustache included. Brad Pitt got an Oscar nomination for his work in this film, and that's warranted. But I would argue that Pitt's performance wouldn't have worked without Willis's rock solid performance to reflect off of. It's an interesting flick and it reminded me that Willis actually has some serious acting chops when he decides to pull them out and use them. I love quippy action Willis, but serious Willis? He's a force to be reckoned with.--Archphoenix
3. David Dunn, UnbreakableI think Unbreakable is a vastly underrated film. It's a superhero origin film before those were in vogue. And, more importantly, nobody knew it WAS a superhero film until it came out. So it was fun to watch the story unfold. But equally compelling as the fresh take on an old genre is Bruce's performance. After years of doing really loud films like Die Hard, it was refreshing to see him take on something... quieter. Because it's a very quiet and understated bit of acting he does in the film. He is vulnerable and interesting and, in my opinion, it is some of Bruce's best work.--Archphoenix
2. Butch Coolidge, Pulp FictionThere's no doubt that Bruce Willis is a guy who likes to be in the spotlight. He is also dead certain that movies in which he is a top-billed character will succeed wildly, regardless of whether he brings his A-game to the role.
Given this, Willis's roles in Quentin Tarantino films are anomalies. Many (like his role in the fourth story in Four Rooms) are uncredited. And even those that are credited tend to be secondary or, at most, ensemble roles.
Butch, the worn out boxer who refuses to take a dive in Pulp Fiction, is one of the more fleshed-out of the bunch. He's actually only in about a quarter of the movie, but he makes a definite impression. Like John McClane, Butch is an everyman character. You don't realize it at first. When he wearily accepts a sizable bribe from Marcellus to take a dive in his last fight, you figure he's just another crook in a movie in which pretty much every character is, to some extent, a crook. The weird thing is that, in the end, Butch is one of only a couple characters in the film who turns out to be a stand-up guy. Sure, he steals from Marcellus--but he kind of balances that out in the end. And, yeah, he offs Vincent--but Vincent really had it coming. Alright...he also stole Zed's chopper. But Zed was dead, baby. Zed was dead.
Honestly, as I reflect on it, I think Butch Coolidge might well be one of the best roles Willis has ever played. He managed to reign in his cockiness and deliver a solid performance that really grounds the whole film.--Dave
1. John McClane, the Die Hard franchiseDie Hard was the movie that made me not hate Bruce Willis. After watching only a few episodes of Moonlighting, I made the firm decision to never watch anything starring that smarmy SOB. I know that at least some of that impression was of David Addison... but, after reading Kevin Smith's book Tough Sh*t--a good read, by the way--I know that there was a lot of Bruce Willis in David Addison's dickish persona.
Willis's portrayal of John McClane managed to transcend that, however. McClane (at least in the first two movies) was the "everyman" hero--a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time who has to do some amazingly dangerous stuff to get out of the situation alive. There's definitely some of that cocksure David Addison-ness in McClane, but it's organic to the story and takes a back seat to the desperation. And the violence, of course.
Not that my movie dollars could have a noticeable effect on Bruce Willis's bottom line... but he should be thanking John McClane. Without that character, I would have happily boycotted Bruce Willis for life. Or, at least, until I became a Quentin Tarantino fan.--Dave
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