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J.D.'s Top 10 Best Bruce Willis movies

by JD Warnock on November 13, 2007

in Top 10s

It’s Top 10 Tuesday again! Just in time for more fun with “Bruno,” a.k.a. Mr. Bruce Willis. Last week, Eric pointed out that Bruce has made at least ten (and definitely more) really bad movies. I’m going the opposite direction. I would like you to consider the top five selections here a “best of list” and the bottom five a “best of what’s left” list due to the fact that my willingness to defend Bruce’s work gets considerably thinner past that middle point. Under those conditions, let the Bruce Willis love-fest begin.

10. “Moonlighting” (1985-1989)

I realize of course that I’m cheating a bit by starting my list with a television show, but in my opinion much of Bruce Willis’ best work was done on “Moonlighting.” Willis starred opposite one of Hollywood’s most annoying actresses, Cybil Shepard, as zany Detective David Addison. “Moonlighting” gave a young Willis the opportunity to go bouncing off the walls, displaying seldom-seen acting chops and making him a huge TV star. The fact that he was so successful on television makes his film career even more impressive – just ask David Caruso or Benjamin Bratt about moving from successful prime-time shows to features.

Maddie Hayes: I didn’t even know you had a brother.
David Addison: Never thought of him as a brother – just mom and dad’s science project.

9. “Death Becomes Her” (1992)

I’ve not seen this early Robert Zemekis directed weird-fest (just two years before winning Best Director for “Forrest Gump”) in ages and by all accounts the film wasn’t received well. It was however, a departure for the action-hero Willis and a very strange and silly movie. As a matter of fact it’s the strangeness that I find endearing. Willis, Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep give several of their more bizarre performances which alone elevates this enough for a spot on the back half of this list.

Ernest Menville: Where did you put my wife?
Second Doctor: She’s dead, sir. They took her to the morgue.
Ernest Menville: The morgue? She’ll be FURIOUS!

8. “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” (1995)/ “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” (1990)

Neither of the early “Die Hard” sequels can touch the original (I still haven’t seen the most recent one, “Live Free or Die Hard”), but both films bring back Willis’ swaggering John McClane which is enough to make them worth the time. The still shot here is from number three, which co-starred Samuel L. Jackson.

Zeus: What the fuck are you doin’?
John McClane: Interrogatin’ him.
Zeus: Well, what’s he gonna tell you, “I’m dead”?
John McClane: Well, I ain’t gonna know ’til I ask him, am I?

7. “Armageddon” (1998)

This will be the second time this year where I defend Michael Bay’s particular style of movies-as-roller-coaster entertainment. I’m not going to defend “Armageddon” as a fantastic flick on par with “Gone With The Wind” or “Munich,” I will, however, say that the movie is a big dumb explosion that I have enjoyed for its sheer entertainment value on more than one occasion. If ever there was a distinction between “movie” and “film,” Michael Bay’s work illustrates it. “Armageddon” is a movie that belongs in an amusement park and when viewed that way, “really bad” can be really, really good.

Harry Stamper: I have been drilling holes in the earth for thirty years. And I have never, *never* missed a depth that I have aimed for. And by God, I am not gonna miss this one. I will make 800 feet.
Colonel William Sharp: You swear on your daughter’s life. On my family’s that you can hit that mark
Harry Stamper: I will make 800 feet. I swear to God I will.

6. “Grindhouse: Planet Terror” (2007)

“Planet Terror” was by far the lesser of the two films in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s fabulously referential “Grindhouse,” a pair of exploitative tributes to New York’s sleazy cinema heyday. The saving grace for “Planet Terror” was watching Willis’ face melt off and I’m also not going to deny that I enjoyed greatly watching “The Duchess” of no-class herself, Fergie, get mauled by zombies.

Lt. Muldoon: Looks like I got you by the balls, Abby.
Abby: You certainly have.

5. “Unbreakable” (2000)

This film was an A-plus right up until the last five minutes, when M. Night Shyamalan wrapped up the story like the end of the video for Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” with a grotesquely unnecessary play-by-play on what happened in the postscript – effectively sucking the wind out of the picture and ruining any of the suspense built in the twist. Since then, we’ve witnessed a boom in superhero films and I can’t help but feel that shows like “Lost” and “Heroes” have borrowed more than a few stylistic and story ideas from Shyamalan’s superhero-in-the-making flick. Once again, Shamalyan thought Bruce was the right man for the part and I agree, Willis sold the intriguing plot and character with skill and presence.

David Dunn: Audrey, do you remember me ever getting sick? In the three years we lived in this house? In the old apartment? Before Joseph was born? Before we ever got married?
Audrey Dunn: I – I can’t remember.
David Dunn: Don’t you think that’s kind of weird, not remembering one cold or a fever or a sore throat? What do you think it means?

4. “Sin City” (2005)

All around, “Sin City” is one of the most visually electrifying cinematic achievements of the last decade. Robert Rodriguez is there again for Willis, with this perfect translation of Frank Miller’s uniquely violent graphic novel style onto the big screen. The role of grizzled detective Hartigan was tailor-made for the middle-aged Willis, and the noir vibe fits his delivery perfectly.

John Hartigan: Sometimes the truth doesn’t matter like it ought. But you’ll always remember things right. That’s gonna mean a lot to me. But stay away, Nancy. They’ll kill you if you don’t stay away. Don’t visit me. Don’t write me. Don’t even say my name.
Nancy, Age 11: Maybe you won’t let me visit, but I’ll still write to you, Hartigan. I’ll sign my letters “Cordelia.” That’s the name of a really cool detective in books I read. I’ll write to you every week… for forever.
John Hartigan: Sure, kid. Now run on home. It’s not safe for you here.

3. “12 Monkeys” (1995)

Director Terry Gilliam’s vision of a post-biological warfare apocalypse was full of riveting imagery and “big brother” paranoia. Willis gives a solid acting performance, as does co-star Brad Pitt. Pitt’s looney toons act won him Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for best supporting actor, while Willis upped his cool points for working with visionary Gilliam.

James Cole: Look at them. They’re just asking for it. Maybe the human race deserves to be wiped out.
Jeffrey Goines: Wiping out the human race? That’s a great idea. That’s great. But more of a long-term thing. I mean, first we have to focus on more immediate goals.

2. “The Sixth Sense” (1999)

It is hard to deny the effectiveness of M. Night Shyamalan’s least-maligned feature. While most may remember the standout performances of Haley Joel Osment (“I see dead people”) and Donnie Wahlberg (crazy guy in the bathroom), Mr. Willis sold Shyamalan’s twist beautifully as child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a man who’s painfully unaware of his own state of being.

Cole Sear: Are you a good doctor?
Malcolm Crowe: Well… I used to be. I won an award once. From the Mayor. It had an expensive frame.
Cole Sear: I’m gonna see you again, right?
Malcolm Crowe: If that’s okay with you.

1. “Die Hard” (1988)

It may be impossible for many readers to imagine a time when Bruce Willis wasn’t a bona fide action-hero commodity, but for many fans of “Moonlighting,” “Die Hard” was a shock and a revelation. John McClane is easily one of the action genre’s greatest heroes, so much so that Willis has been able to build a hits-and-misses-career on McClane’s tough-as-nails, wisecracking back.

Supervisor: Attention, whoever you are. This channel is reserved for emergency calls only…
John McClane: No fucking shit, lady. Do I sound like I’m ordering a pizza?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kinsey November 13, 2007 at 10:32 am

What!*&$? Where is Pulp Fiction’s Butch Coolidge? Come on, that was one of, if not his best performances!


2 Alan Rapp November 13, 2007 at 12:59 pm

Nice list, but I have a few minor quibbles. I’d change the order a bit and move Unbreakable and Sin City up to the top. I’d also cut Planet Terror and Death Becomes Her and slide The Whole Nine Yards and Blind Date in at the bottom.


3 Kinsey November 13, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead.


4 Charles November 19, 2007 at 6:40 pm

YESSSS! Just watched Die Hard (the original) last night and it rocked! I’d move Unbreakable to number 2, though. Bruce playing the origin of the superhero with such subtlety could not have been done better by ANYBODY else. He was perfect. Die Hard’s just too awesome, though.


5 john November 21, 2007 at 3:09 am

what about the fifth element? it has big explosions (a la armageddon without ben afleck), big body counts and one liners, and GARY OLDMAN as a villian.


6 cLaus November 24, 2007 at 9:46 pm

yeah, I totally think, Pulp Fiction should be in, and Armageddon should be out. Actually Fifth Element should also be in there too… some place. Armageddon was, yes, a roller coaster movie, but the overt nationalist tones and ridiculous premise (that the fate of the world lay in the hands of cowboy oil riggers) were both insulting to the intelligence of the viewer and ruined the fairly entertaining action sequences scattered throughout the movie. Also, why did they make such a big deal about the hand gun in space when the armadillos were equipped with gigantic chain guns?


7 NinjaYue December 4, 2007 at 12:26 am

what about the fifth element? it has big explosions (a la armageddon without ben afleck), big body counts and one liners, and GARY OLDMAN as a villian.

INDEED. Two and a half hours worth of awesomeness.


8 Scott Silver March 20, 2008 at 11:15 pm

Nice action list…basically. Have you seen this top action movie list?


9 Ross Rutherford April 22, 2009 at 9:12 pm

The fact that the 5th Element is not on this list really makes me wonder if you guys have seen it at all.

With comedy(ala Chris Tucker), a love story, and a adventure to save the world how can you put a television show over this fantastic Science Fiction film?


10 sss July 12, 2009 at 12:36 pm

what abt sixth sense??u forgot it??


11 David Cerino June 24, 2010 at 8:07 am

Bruce Willis is the best genuine action hero actor. He has appeared in over sixty movies, my top rated list of movies thats he’s been in are, The Sixth Sense , Armageddon, Live Free or Die Hard, these are all my personal favs and i really liked them all..


12 Nabeel Alam August 30, 2010 at 2:43 am

Die hard not first the first is a sixth sense


13 Jino Jiwan January 15, 2011 at 11:31 am

Why Death Becomes Her is on the list? Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep did great, but not Bruce Willis.
And yes, The Whole 9 Yards and Pulp Fiction should be on the list.


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