News recently broke that renowned and iconic Hollywood actor Bruce Willis would effectively retire from acting, after being diagnosed with aphasia, a disorder that affects language comprehension. For years, Willis’s unpredictable on set behavior with a number of directors led to a reputation that he was simply hard to work with.
Willis held arguably Conservative political leanings, admitting in an interview with Bill O’Reilly that he was for smaller government, less government intrusion, and reduced taxation, which made him more accessible to movie fans on the Right. He has also held anti-Covid masking views in the recent past, though it’s unclear whether that stance was political.
With Willis announcing that he would step back from acting, it seems as if Hollywood has lost another of its cinematic giants. Willis was a fan favorite for years, bouncing back and forth between action, comedy, and drama films, while crafting interesting and charismatic characters in the process.
Bounding Into Comics would like to pay tribute to Bruce Willis with our personal top 10 favorite movies starring this influential, hard-working actor.
10) Death Becomes Her
One of Bruce Willis’s most memorable roles was Dr. Ernest Menville in the madcap supernatural black comedy Death Becomes Her. He co-starred with Meryl Streep as Madeline Ashton, a puffed up, arrogant actress who seeks to extend her lifespan by drinking a strange potion which later reanimates her deceased corpse.
It’s good old fashioned slapstick comedy mixed with charming performances by the cast, and married to a wickedly sinister story. It has since become something of a meme regarding the pomposity and egoism of Hollywood’s actors and actresses, and the lengths they will go to maintain their own relevancy over time.
9) Moonrise Kingdom
Bruce Willis teamed up with quirky director Wes Anderson for this coming-of-age tale of love between two kids, along with other notable thespians like Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton. Willis played Sharp, a local police captain who took his job quite seriously.
The entire film is drenched in a kind of abstract surrealism, right down to the disjointed and slightly self-aware performances of the main actors. Willis, for his part, played Sharp as an overbearing, yet caring man with a slightly whimsical sense of comedic timing.
8) Sin City
Frank Miller’s Sin City got an imperfect, yet noble live action adaptation with a slew of excellent and diverse talent attached to it, including Willis in the role of detective John Hartigan, a stoic yet selfless crusader of justice. Willis was very enthusiastic about the part, and it showed throughout his performance.
Sin City was notorious for adapting the graphic novel’s brutally violent source material. It also stuck true to Hartigan’s character, with Willis providing key inner monologue narration that best summed up what the gritty world of Sin City was all about.
Cheesy and ridiculous as it may be, there’s something to be said for the charm of a good old fashioned 1990s disaster flick like Armageddon. Here, Bruce Willis played Harry Stamper, a blue collar oil driller who agrees to go on a spacefaring mission to blow up a Texas-sized asteroid before it can obliterate Earth.
The only rotten aspect of Armageddon is that it was designed from the ground up to compete against Deep Impact, which debuted in theaters just two months earlier. Studio sliminess aside, there’s a timeless aspect to Armageddon that makes it a great action classic, not to mention a convenient date movie.
Bruce Willis had endeared himself to director M. Night Shyamalan in 1999’s The Sixth Sense, and it was enough for the two to team up and create an entirely separate film just one year later. Unbreakable took the concept of comic book superheroes and stuck them in a real world scenario, with all the complexities that come with living in it.
In this film, Willis played David Dunn, a seemingly normal father and husband who appears to have multiple superpowers, including enhanced strength, near-invulnerability, and the power to read the thoughts of others. The film presented the dilemma of such a person living in a world where superheroes were confined to the pages of comics.
5) The Fifth Element
Willis had already established himself as an action hero icon by the time The Fifth Element went into production, which is probably why he was cast in the lead role. It became one of his most memorable performances, thanks in large part to how awkward the character of Korben Dallas was in relation to the world around him.
Dallas was, for all intents and purposes, a nobody, but his compassion ended up being one of two parts of a universe-saving formula. Willis sold that understated character with ease, while helping to craft a highly entertaining and imaginative sci-fi classic in the process.
4) The Sixth Sense
Bruce Willis had managed to sail through the 1990s in relatively good shape, thanks to his performance in Pulp Fiction, but he really hit his stride with M. Night Shyamalan’s classic thriller The Sixth Sense. Here, Willis portrayed an entirely different kind of character; a child psychologist forced to deal with a child’s unenviable “gift” of seeing ghostly apparitions.
While a lot of the focus was on Haley Joel Osment’s character Cole, the actual plot orbited Willis’s character Malcolm Crowe, exclusively. It led up to one of the most mind-blowing and shocking plot twists in cinematic history; a feat that Shyamalan would have trouble duplicating over the rest of his hit-or-miss career.
3) 12 Monkeys
Universal had an unexpected hit on their hands with 1995’s 12 Monkeys, starring Willis in the role of James Cole, a man sent back through time to try and prevent a viral contagion from decimating humanity. He sold the performance well, bouncing back between a man traumatized by future events, and one who is possibly insane.
12 Monkeys dabbled in many intriguing subjects, from eco-terrorism and viral pandemics, to corporatism and time paradoxes. It’s still hard to believe that Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam managed to produce such a provocative and terrifying film, but choosing actors like Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, and Bruce Willis was a smart move.
2) Pulp Fiction
Bruce Willis got a major boost to his career in the 1990s with Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Here, he played Butch Coolidge, a diminished southpaw boxer who gets in over his head when he takes a bribe from mob boss Marsellus Wallace to throw a fight.
Willis was a natural fit for Tarantino’s quirky directorial style and sadistic tongue-in-cheek humor. He’d later take what he learned on the set and apply it to films like Sin City, with equally wicked subject matter. Pulp Fiction is a renowned classic thanks to its eclectic cast, and it wouldn’t have been the same without Willis.
1) Die Hard
It’s impossible to deny the staying power and iconography of this 1980s action hit, nor its influence on Bruce Willis’s later career. John McClane instantly became an action hero hall of famer, thanks entirely to Willis cranking out one of the most over-the-top performances of his entire career. The best part? He seemed to enjoy every moment.
Willis’s charm and energy was apparent in every shot as he alternated between vicious shootouts, bloody kills, and hilarious one-liners. The Die Hard franchise saw diminishing returns as it pressed ever forward, but the original stands tall as the defining character in the career of Bruce Willis.