Highlights: Bruce Willis

By Jason Barney

September 14, 2009

He really hates Ashton sometimes.

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Bruce Willis is one of the most recognizable actors on the big screen over the last 25 years. His first leading role was in the 1987 comedy/romance Blind Date. Now, as the summer of 2009 slips into fall, he stars in the science fiction film Surrogates. In between, he has saved the world a couple of times, fought terrorists, been the voice of a baby, and entertained audiences for years. When an actor has this much work under his belt, it is appropriate to wonder just which films on his resume stand out above the others.

There is no secret formula behind this list. Box office success isn't added to critical reception and then divided by how many times I have seen these movies. I didn't take the square root of how many quotable lines Willis has spoken over the years and multiply it by the number of films he's appeared in.

Critics certainly have a lot to say when movies are released, and audiences either embrace a film or they don't. This list is based on a couple of factors, some more important than others. First, limited or small roles naturally hold down a flick's chances of making my "finest five". While glimpsing the career of Willis, this naturally holds back movies such as Fast Food Nation or Ocean's Twelve. Also, box office success was not much of factor either. If it were, a film like Armageddon would have to be in my top five since it made $550 million worldwide.


I imagine anyone could look at Willis's career and come up with something totally different. Some people might like smash 'em up films; others might think some of Willis's creative efforts deserve further credit. I am not stating these are his best performances. This list is simply based on my "enjoyment factor" when I watched a movie and my impression of it afterward. Here is my take on his five finest films.

1) Die Hard (1988)

This film was the one that put Bruce Willis on the map and it did it in a very big way. Prior to Die Hard, Willis was recognizable for his role in the television show Moonlighting. After his encounter with terrorists in L.A., his career was brighter than the Nakatomi Plaza at the end of the movie. Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop who gets caught in the middle of a terrorist plot in Los Angeles. The film unfolds during Christmas and manages to deliver some of the most incredible action sequences ever as gifts to its viewers. The scene where the LAPD sends in an armored vehicle to take on the terrorists is incredibly intense. McClane fleeing bare foot over broken glass makes us all cringe. The shootout and explosions at the top of the Nakatomi Plaza provide a worthy climax to a film that just never slows down. With all of the emphasis and attention that has been given to action movies over the last 20 years, it is still amazing how much respect the original Die Hard gets. The American Film Institute ranks it 39th on its list of "100 Years....100 Thrills". In 2007, Entertainment Weekly identified it as the best action film of all-time. Perhaps everything fell into place for Willis, considering Alan Rickman plays such an incredible villain and the musical score was absolutely first rate. Three sequels from the Die Hard franchise and nearly 60 films later, this is still the highlight of Bruce Willis's career.

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