Born in West Germany in 1955, Bruce Willis has remained a prominent A-list actor for nearly three decades. He has played everything from a foul-mouthed NYPD detective to a troubled psychologist; from a real-life superhero to two characters from the future.
He is an extremely versatile actor who has proven his worth as a leading man as well as a part of an ensemble cast. Whether you’re a fan of his work in action films or his more dramatic roles, odds are that you have a favorite Bruce Willis movie.
10. Planet Terror (2007, Robert Rodriguez)
Although it is only a small role in which he has less than 10 minutes of screen time, Willis is one of the more memorable parts of Robert Rodriguez’s ultraviolent and ultimately superior half of Grindhouse, his collaboration with Quentin Tarantino in paying homage to the trashy “Grindhouse” flicks of the 1970s.
Willis plays Lt. Muldoon, a military official who plays a part in accidentally unleashing a biochemical agent called DC2 into the atmosphere after a deal turns sour. The gas then begins to turn those who are exposed to it into flesh-eating zombies.
Planet Terror is an exceptionally fun tribute to the exploitation films of the 1970s. It also showcases some of Willis’s talents in a character role, since he generally tends to be the lead actor or at least one of them. Perhaps the most memorable moment involving Lt. Muldoon’s character is his fate at the film’s climax.
Muldoon and his men are required to breathe in an exposure to DC2 itself in order to counteract the toxin. When he runs out of gas to breathe in, Muldoon’s face begins pulsating and his entire body swells up, giving him a monstrous appearance before he is shot by two other characters. It is a wonderfully over-the-top and grotesque sequence with Willis at its core.
9. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)
Bruce Willis joins an ensemble cast which also includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, and Bob Balaban in Wes Anderson’s 2012 coming-of-age comedy set in the summer of 1965. He portrays Captain Duffy Sharp, a New England police captain who helps with the search for 12-year-old Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), who ran off with a girl named Suzy (Kara Hayward).
Moonrise Kingdom is one of Willis’s better performances in recent years. He is completely convincing as the character who ends up becoming a father figure to Sam at the film’s conclusion. He successfully holds his own among other cinema greats. The film is another example of why Willis is as strong of an actor when he stars in an ensemble piece as he is when he plays a leading role.
8. The Fifth Element (1997, Luc Besson)
The Fifth Element, Luc Besson’s loud, colorful, cyberpunk science-fiction classic, showcases Bruce Willis when he was at the height of his coolness. Willis plays Korben Dallas, an ex-special forces major turned taxi driver in 23rd Century New York City.
Korben becomes involved in a quest to save the world from complete destruction when an ancient alien artifact in the form of a female (Mila Jovovich) jumps into his cab after escaping from authorities. The being, named Leeloo, is a weapon against a great evil which arrives every 5,000 years.
The Fifth Element is a campy piece of late 90s popular culture which doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has a terrific supporting cast and is chock full of colorful characters, the most memorable being the over-the-top villain, Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman). Willis shines in the lead, even though some might argue that the film acts as a Bruce Willis vehicle more than anything else. It is, nonetheless, a fun romp full of riveting action and exhilarating special effects.
There are scenes featured in the climax of the film where Korben battles alien creatures called “Mangalores” in a fashion which plays out like a futuristic Die Hard. The Fifth Element is a perfect example of a film which asks its audience to shut their brains off for two hours and enjoy the ride.
7. The Sixth Sense (1999, M. Night Shyamalan)
In a chilling performance like nothing he has ever played, Bruce Willis brings everything he has to the table as Dr. Malcolm Crowe in M. Night Shyamalan’s critically-acclaimed thriller. In the beginning of the film, Malcolm and his wife, Anna (Olivia Williams), are interrupted from a private moment when a former patient of Malcolm’s named Vincent Grey (Donnie Wahlberg) breaks into their home and shoots Malcolm before killing himself.
A year later, Malcolm and Anna remain estranged and do not talk to one another. Malcolm begins to work with a disturbed 8-year-old boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment in an Oscar-nominated performance). Cole has the ability to see dead people walking around who are unaware of the fact that they are dead. Malcolm is dedicated to helping Cole, as he believes that he and Vincent shared the same ability.
The Sixth Sense is best known for its twist ending involving Malcolm’s character. Willis does a brilliant job of making the audience feel Malcolm’s plight- his failure with Vincent, his marital difficulties, and ultimately, the revelation that he is not quite who he thinks he is anymore.
The Sixth Sense was the second-highest grossing film of 1999, right behind the less-than-stellar Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Part of the reason for its success can be attributed to the haunting performances provided by Osment and Willis.
6. Unbreakable (2000, M. Night Shyamalan)
In his second and final collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis portrays David Dunn, a security guard who is the sole survivor of a train crash which left 131 dead. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is a man who suffers from a rare disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, in which his bones break easily.
Elijah has spent most of his life reading comic books, and is convinced that if there is a man as weak as he is on one end of the spectrum, then there must also be a man who is a real-life superhero. He is convinced that David is this man. Elijah does everything in his power to convince David of his abilities. He asks him how many times he has been sick in his life and why he chose to be a security guard, a profession which involves protecting people.
Elijah begins to stalk David’s wife, Audrey (Robin Wright Penn), and his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). Elijah has Joseph convinced that his father is the type of person which characters in comic book lore are based on.
Unbreakable tends to be an overlooked entry in Willis’s filmography. It has the unfair reputation of being not as good as The Sixth Sense. Despite this, it has developed a cult following over the years. In 2009, acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino named it one of his 20 favorite films since 1992 (the year he started directing), and mentioned that he considers it to be Bruce Willis’s best performance to date.
Willis is extremely believable as a seemingly ordinary man who, with the help of his polar opposite, discovers that he has gifts which are thought to only exist in the pages of comics. It is a realistic and clever take on the comic book mythology, and is Shyamalan’s last good film. Willis and Jackson both give it their best as two archetypal figures on opposite sides. The twist ending, although not as well-known as the ending of The Sixth Sense, is still chilling and powerful.