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15 Essential Bruce Willis Performances (and Where to Stream Them)

Obviously. Willis might have found another path to film stardom, but there’s no question the endlessly rewatchable Die Hard (made during the tail-end of the Moonlighting run) propelled him to the A-list. Critics at the time were split on both Die Hard’s virtues and Willis’ performance, but audiences never had a doubt. Though the first is undoubtedly the best, each of the films in the series (with the exception of disappointing final entry A Good Day to Die Hard) is basically perfect, and inspired countless one-man-against-impossible-odds imitators.

Where to stream: Prime Video, Fubo

Just a few months after Moonlighting ended (and a year after Die Hard), Bruce Willis earned a Golden Globe nomination for a movie that might have sent his career down a very different path. He gets top billing, though his part is secondary to that of Emily Lloyd, an English actress playing the teenaged daughter of a soldier who died in Vietnam. Willis is the seemingly laid-back, but traumatized uncle who ultimately helps her connect to her own history. It’s a film that doesn’t lean on easy emotion, and Long and Willis give impressive, heartfelt performances.

Where to stream: Digital rental

It’s a silly movie that works because everyone seems to know it’s silly, including director Tony Scott and writer Shane Black; it’s stylishly and capably made, with stylish action set-pieces. Ably assisted by Damon Wayans, Willis demonstrates the everyman charm and sly sense of humor that have carried him through so much of his career, selling us on movies that simply wouldn’t work without that hint of a smirk.

Where to stream: Digital rental

This Robert Zemeckis-directed jet black comedy received a fairly chilly reception when it was released, but it’s become a cult classic, particularly in queer spaces. As nerdy plastic surgeon Dr. Ernest Menville, romantic interest to two vengeful women who have figured out a way to cheat death in their ongoing efforts to outshine (and outlive) one another, he’s playing wildly against type—this is Bruce at his most gloriously goofy.

Where to stream: Starz

As part of a memorable ensemble in a wildly quotable film, Willis gets one of the film’s best-remembered lines as ill-fated prizefighter Butch Coolidge: “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”

Where to stream: Fubo, Showtime Anytime

Another anthology in which Bruce Willis gives the best performance, here as all-but incorruptible police detective John Hartigan in the two “Yellow Bastard” chapters. In the first, Hartigan is hunting down a serial killer on his last night on the job; the second takes place after he’s been in prison for eight years after having been framed for a terrible crime. It’s hardly a groundbreaking performance for Willis, but it is a potent reminder of his primary strengths as a feature film actor: His dour, determined anti-hero serves as the hard-bitten but believable point of audience identification in an otherwise garish, pointedly cartoonish world. To the heightened world of Sin City, he’s a reliable guide.

Armageddon is not a great movie; it’s not even the best asteroid-disaster movie of 1998 (that would be Deep Impact). It’s big, loud, and dumb, but it also had a cultural moment, for better and for worse, and cleaned up at the box office. As is so often the case, and ever surrounded by some surprisingly talented name actors, Willis (playing oil driller Harry Stamper) is the best thing about the movie, giving his all to dialogue that less committed actors would have just phoned in. Just try to get through that farewell scene without sobbing along with Liv Tyler.

Where to stream: Fubo, The Roku Channel, Sling

Willis is the lead in Terry Gilliam’s twisty-turny sci-fi thinker, playing a prisoner from the way distant future of 2035 who’s sent back in time to collect information on the virus that will eventually wipe out much of humanity. He’s doing this not in hope of stopping the plague (time travel doesn’t work that way); best case, the information he retrieves might aid in treating humanity’s few survivors. Cole is desperate, abused, and betrayed, seemingly trapped in a  hopeless, possibly endless cycle, and Willis plays him minus his typical bravado. The film was nominated for several major awards, with Brad Pitt’s supporting performance singled out, but Willis undoubtedly provides its heart.

Where to stream: Peacock, Max Go

Another smart time-travel thriller; pair with 12 Monkeys for a solid (if mind-bending) double-feature. Looper represented a big break-out for writer/director Rian Johnson, but Willis’s weary take on his familiar action hero persona is a big part of the reason it works so well. The film balances its sci-fi conceits (Willis plays an older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, on the run from his own execution) with impressive character work.

Where to stream: Netflix

One of three films Willis appeared in in 2012, it’s a testament to his star power and spot in the pop culture pantheon that, in a movie series featuring action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc., etc. etc., he’s the one who gets pride of place as the mysterious CIA operative Mr. Church. His cameo in the first movie was treated as a big deal, and he’s accorded something like special-guest-star status in the sequel.

Where to stream: Fubo, Epix, FX Now

Again, 2012 was a helluva year for Willis both in terms of box office and variety, but it’s in Wes Anderson’s beloved and acclaimed Moonrise Kingdom that he gives one of his best performances as Police Captain Duffy Sharp. The straight-man among a varied cast of Wes Anderson-esque oddballs, he more than holds his own with the likes of Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray.

Where to stream: HBO Max

Upon release, all of the awards talk centered on Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette, who both certainly deserved their Oscar nominations. It’s possible critics and audiences weren’t accustomed to thinking of Willis as something other than an action star, but he holds the film together with his reserved, saddened performance as a damaged child psychologist who tries to help Osment’s Cole, afflicted by visions of ghosts. It’s about as far from John McClane as it gets.

Where to stream: Digital rental

M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to The Sixth Sense wasn’t nearly as much of a slam-dunk, but time has been kind to this unconventional, surprisingly quiet superhero movie. Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are perfectly paired as archetypical comic book hero and wise mentor made real, and Willis once again proves he can lead a film by underplaying opposite Jackson’s wild-eyed fervor. As a glut of modern superhero movies all seek to strike the same notes, this film (and Willis’ performance) only look better and better.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Though he’s appeared in a string of direct-to-video movies since, Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn might wind up representing something of a swan song for Willis—one last quiet, solid performance as Ed Norton’s mentor in the thoughtful if uneven neo-noir film (based on the jittery Jonathan Letham novel. It’s not a huge role, but it’s a pivotal one—the entire movie hinges on it.

Where to stream: Digital rental

This post first appeared on Chickens For Sale, please read the originial post: here

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15 Essential Bruce Willis Performances (and Where to Stream Them)


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