Bruce Willis has retired from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia. This brings and end to a film career that defined the late 80s to the early 2000s. Willis was one of the rare actors who turned television stardom, in the ground breaking ‘Moonlighting’ (1985-89), to film stardom in an era when TV actors were seen as inferior. His raw charisma won over audiences worldwide and with the right material there was no one better with his hits being both critical and box office successes.
M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Unbreakable’, released in 2000 was a film ahead of its time. It was a deconstruction of the superhero genre a decade before the genre truly came into its own. Willis plays David Dunn, the sole survivor of a train disaster, who might just be the world’s first superhuman. In his quest for answers he encounters Elijah Prince, played by Samuel L. Jackson, a man whose bones are so brittle that people call him Mr. Glass. Glass acts as a mentor but there is something darker going on. The film offers genuine surprises with Willis delivers subtler performance than normal. The film was designed to set up a franchise and it’s popularity final saw this happen with ‘Split’ in 2016 and ‘Glass’ in 2019.
4. 12 Monkeys
’12 Monkeys’ was probably the most artist film of Willis career. Teaming with visionary Terry Gilliam, the film was a reimaging of Chris Marker’ sci-fi short ‘La Jetée’. In a future world devastated by disease Willis plays James Cole, a convict in the year 2035 who is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet. He gets bounced through time until he finally ends up in 1996 to track down the cause of the disease while plagued by visions of his past. Like ‘Unbreakable’, this film showed that Willis was more than just an action star and was one of the top actors of his generation.
1991’s ‘The Last Boy Scout’ is the perfect product of it’s era. Produced by Joel Silver, one of the top blockbuster producers of all time, the film was directed by Tony Scott, the king of stylised action, and written by Shane Black who was at that point the highest paid script writer in Hollywood history. Add Willis into this mix, coming off two ‘Die Hard films, and you have the recipe for what should have been the peak of everyone’s careers. While the film doesn’t hit the heights it was aiming for, most likely due to the amount of ego involved, this tale of a down on his luck ex-secret service officer turned P.I. whose smalltime case draws him into a much large conspiracy is pure entertainment from start to finish.
2. Pulp Fiction
Often overlocked in Willis’ filmography, most likely because he has the less showy role in the film compared to the likes of Travolta and Jackson, is Tarantino’s crime masterpiece ‘Pulp Fiction’. Willis plays Butch, an aging boxer, who is paid to throw a fight but ends up killing the opponent in the ring. Essentially he his the hero of the film, a good man who just wants to get his father’s watch and flee town with his girlfriend but gets sucked into a nightmarish L.A. underworld, and it’s his part of the story that stitches everything together.
1. Die Hard
‘Die Hard’ didn’t just define Willis’ career; it redefined action cinema and became the film that every other action film wanted to be. After a decade of action films that revolved around musclebound one man armies it was Willis’ John McClane that brought about the age of the everyman. It was a role that virtually every leading man in Hollywood turned down before Willis was signed up while still starring in ‘Moonlighting’. He would film the TV show during the day and the film at night but the effort was worth it. The tale of a man trying to rescue his wife from a group of thieves on Christmas Eve made Willis a movie star overnight and spawned four sequels of varying quality. From this point forward every action hero was a version of John McClane.
Yippee Ki-Yay motherfucker.
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