Tom Jolliffe selects his Five Essential Bruce Willis films…
By the time the 80’s were in full swing, the muscle bound action hero era was at the forefront of blockbuster movies. Stallone was in his pomp, and so to was Arnold. The mono-syllabic tough guys with square jaws, rippling 12 packs and far more baby oil on their bods than is actually required, reigned supreme. Still, by the time the 80’s were heading to a close, it was clear there was room in the market for a few everyman tough guys to offer a slightly more relatable hero, a more sympathetic hero, and a more vulnerable hero.
As well as Mel Gibson, who became synonymous as the deranged Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon, even more successful was Bruce Willis, who threw his hat into the action ring in 1988. However, though he’s fired many a gun and set off many an explosion, Bruce Willis has successfully ventured into many genres and taken some well calculated risks over the years with young up and coming film-makers. Turkey’s aside, Willis has a career that has largely entertained and offered diversity. Here is the essential Bruce Willis!
5. The Last Boy Scout (1991, dir. Tony Scott)
A total guilty pleasure. Willis offers us a darker version of John McClane. As Hallenbeck he’s an outright bum, a shit, and a burnout who has to pull himself out of the gutter to solve his latest case, aided by comedy sidekick Damon Wayans. Last Boy Scout is pure excess. It’s one-liners aplenty, style over substance (thanks to Tony Scott’s visuals-first approach), and with some excellent action set pieces. Willis is superb and his deadpan delivery is hilarious. Willis and Wayans bounce off each other brilliantly, while Shane Black's script is stock full of brilliant black humour.
4. The Sixth Sense (1999, dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
Before M Night Shyamalan disappeared up his own backside, he introduced himself to the world with this brilliant film about a boy who sees dead people. It’s a film reliant so much on it’s young star, Haley Joel Osment, as well as Bruce Willis. The two hold the film magnificently. While the film may lose a little once the twist is revealed, it is still very well made, and impeccably acted. The only downside following its release was that it started a whole spate of “twist” films in the first years of the new millennium. M Night has also failed to come close to equaling this since, and his films of late have been woeful.
3. Twelve Monkeys (1995, dir. Terry Gilliam)
A fantastic science fiction film from Terry Gilliam. This is the crazy Python stalwart at his best. The film is well designed and challenging, and Willis proved here that he’s a great actor, not just a movie star. Brad Pitt also shines in a role which earned him an Oscar nomination. The film looks great, opting for a bleak, cold and grimy view of the future. Gilliam’s attention to detail is put to good use to create one of the best sci-fi movies of the last two decades.
2. Pulp Fiction (1994, dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Following such a brilliant first film like Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino had an uphill task even coming close to repeating his success in his sophomore effort. However, with great aplomb, he manages to match it toe-to-toe. Many will in fact stand rigidly in the corner of Pulp Fiction as QT’s best work, though I’m still too much in love with Reservoir Dogs to ever switch corners. There are so many standout roles in this piece, and the award plaudits headed the way of Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta and Uma Thurman. In any other film Willis’ performance could have earned him an Oscar nomination. He’s superb here, making full use of his screen time. The film is a work of genius, which as yet, Tarantino has not come even close to matching since.
1. Die Hard (1988, dir. John McTiernan)
The career defining role of Bruce Willis. Die Hard is quite possibly the best action film ever made. It’s fantastic! Why? Well it’s got it all! It’s got awesome set pieces, the best action hero ever, the best bad guy ever, the best henchman ever, the best douche-bag reporter ever, the best incompetent chief ever, the best partner who protagonist never meets ever, the best slime ball with eyes on lead's wife ever, and the best FBI partnership ever! The humour is simple and brilliant. The film is consistently funny, with great gags, without even trying too hard. The film has a lot of great set ups and pay offs (the bare feet, the watch). But best of all is the pitting of the wise-cracking monkey in the wrench, Bruce Willis, against the sharp suited criminal mastermind, Alan Rickman. Die Hard is infinitely repeatable, with new brilliant subtleties to be unearthed with every re-watch. Action movie perfection.
The Fifth Element, Die Hard 2, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Die Hard 4.0, Sin City and Hudson Hawk (nah, just kidding!).
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