All 20 Walter Hill Movies Ranked From Worst To Best
14. Crossroads (1986)
Hill has made a career out of hard nosed genre fare, but what’s not as talked about is his great ear for music. His best films have a musicality to them, be it the great needle drops in movies like The Warriors or the Ry Cooder scores that help to make the movies feel of a piece with the areas it’s set in.
Hill loves music and it is no surprise to see him make a road movie with music at the centerpiece. Ralph Macchio is a wannabe blues man who finds a legendary blues man in Joe Seneca’s character, Willie Brown. Macchio believes that Robert Johnson, the famous bluesman who is rumored to have a made a deal with the devil, left one song undiscovered. Macchio thinks Brown, who was friends with Johnson, could help him find it to launch him into the blues stratosphere.
But Brown finds the easy route that Macchio wants to take as cheating, and he wants him to live a hard life before he can be a blues man. So off they go on a trip to Mississippi for the missing song. But it is revealed that there is no song and that Brown is trying to free his soul from the devil’s pact that he made many moons ago.
Yep, the movie takes a hard turn into the mythic and ends with a guitar duel of Macchio and Steve Vai for souls. It’s a wild turn, one that makes the movie much more interesting that what came before. And what came before wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t filled with much originality and fire to make it stand out. But this ending really just throws it all into a different perspective, with Browns quest to make Macchio earn his bones make much more sense. Macchio is a bit in the weeds as a performer here, since he’s not a really good one to begin with. Putting him up against Seneca isn’t fair either, as Seneca burns up the screen.
The music is great and the love Hill/Cooder has for the stuff really helps to make the place feel real and lived in. There’s an honesty to the Southern music scene that helps it overcome the potential white savior thing that it comes close to becoming. But Hill is smarter than that and he avoids those pitfalls. Yet, the movie never really brings anything magical to the table, until the batshit ending. It’s a fine little movie though.
13. Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)
How is this movie not more well known? A Walter Hill movie that was co written by John Milius and starring Wes Studi, Jason Patric, Matt Damon, Robert Duvall, and Gene Hackman should not feel like it was forgotten to time. Now, it’s not some hidden classic like “Extreme Prejudice”, but it’s a damn fine movie that allows Hill to play in a more classic Hollywood sandbox.
It’s a PG13 western, so it’s playing in easy to digest broad strokes for mass consumption. But Hill isn’t some easy workman, making bland product that aims to make everyone feel good. This is a kind of sad movie. It’s not dour or hard to watch, but the movie is very much about the culture on Native Americans being wiped out and the film is very much in the corner of the Natives. It paints the US as a band of untrustworthy con men looking to wipe out anything different from them, even if it’s US soldiers that care for the Natives.
The movie was made in 1993 so it has the now problematic issue of white men leading the story of colored folk, but here it at least makes sense. The times were different and the story itself at least lends itself over to the fact that the US doesn’t discriminate in who it discriminates against. Showing how those naive enough to think the US has everyones best interest at heart are gonna be in for a rude awakening when a man a different shade than them makes them look bad.
Also being Walter Hill, he can’t help himself but somehow get Peckinpah level violence into a PG13 movie. The violence is bloody and it hurts. Which makes it all the more tragic because it isn’t sanitized what’s happening. People are being hurt and it’s all for the simple fact that the US doesn’t like what is different. What keeps this movie from being higher on his list is that it feels a little short.
This kind of movie begs for an epic telling that allows every aspect of the story to breathe. In this current form, it’s a little too breezy for its own good. But it doesn’t diminish the story as is, which is a sad story that just so happens to fit into Hills filmography of order vs chaos.
12. Undisputed (2002)
This movie is a solid if unremarkable entry in Hills career, but one that has its share of influence on cinema, although it’s in a much less mainstream way. Hill would make a morally ambiguous boxing drama that would somehow spawn a really well received DTV franchise that helped to shape action filmmaking back to traditional filmmaking styles of clean and crisp framing.
A series that has helped launch the careers of a great action filmmaker waiting for the jump to the big leagues in Isaac Florentine, while also helping to bestow upon us the glory of action master Scott Adkins. All of that stems from this modest boxing movie that works wonders because of the way Hill doesn’t really play favorites.
The movie may be a bit slanted towards Wesley Snipes’ character, but it allows Ving Rhames to be a human being too. The movie lays these two outs, warts and all, and doesn’t hand wave them away to be a typical rah rah crowd pleaser. What it does is, by setting this in prison, allows us to get invested in the fight because it makes the fight feel much more important than a simple championship belt. It becomes about these men’s spirits, about their place in the world.
Snipes has built up a world for himself in prison, becoming the zen like champion in his little neck of the words that allows himself contentment in this life he brought upon himself. Rhames has crafted his entire personality around being the best, so much so that it has poisoned him and led him to the place he’s in where it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that he did rape the woman he’s charged with doing.
But in a world where identity could be so easily lost like prison, holding on to something that allows them to feel human is important. So by the end we may be more tilted towards Snipes, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Rhames won. Hill does good work in that regard, and as usual with the fights.
Cinema has come a long way since the days of Charles Bronson throwing haymakers. The boxing here, when we finally get to it, is great. Hill shows a great passion for the sweet science. Snipes and Rhames are great. It’s a real good film that doesn’t aim too high and hits its own bullseye to be a satisfying experience.
11. Bullet To The Head (2013)
This is one that doesn’t get too much credit but it should. It’s not a modern day classic or anything like that. But it is a supremely competent crime flick with a bit of a cynical mean streak to it that doesn’t really fit in in the era it came out in. For the first time in a long while, Hill made a movie that feels like it would fit in with his works in the 70s and 80s in terms of style and content. It may not hit the dizzying heights of many of those movies, but the feel is there.
Adapted from comic book but feeling anything but kid friendly, this is a hitman revenge movie with Sylvester Stallone that bleeds testosterone. Unlike his earlier film with Arnold, Hills cinematic dalliance with Stallone fares much better. For right off the bat, Stallone gives a much richer performance than one would assume for the kind of movie this is.
Stallone never played something like this, an actual bad guy. He’s played badasses and killers of one type or another for years, but a straight up scumbag had eluded him until this point. He is the protagonist here mainly because he at least has a code and he looks much better in comparison to the dishonorable men he has to tangle with. He’s thrust into a real estate conspiracy scam where he needs to be eliminated so no one can trace kills he was hired to do all the way back up the ladder.
A cop is thrust into the mix as well, played by Sung Kang from “The Fast and Furious” sequels, who is in way over his head. Watching this naive optimist be broken down by the lived in cynicism of a hitman gives the movie a bit of a charge. The cynicism of the movie is detailed in this relationship, with Stallone being proven right at every step of the way.
There’s also a bit of love for the analog over the digital, with Stallone’s old school methods paving the way for success over Kangs reliance on digital devices, although Kang is given enough wins throughout to not make him completely a wet blanket of a character. Jason Momoa is great as the vicious killer tasked with taking Stallone down, really showing off a display of talent that isn’t just derivative of his work in Game of Thrones. He’s really intimidating in a different way here, all dead eyed sociopathy. It all culminates with a really badass axe fight between Stallone and Momoa.
The movie itself is a well done but traditional crime flick that’s done with more pizazz than most and a low key sleaziness that helps it stand out, as well as the cajun influence that runs through it. But really, the work from Stallone and the movies ability to not let him off the hook for being a cold blooded killer is something special in a career designed to be liked. This is not a likable performance, and the movie is all the better for it.
10. Trespass (1992)
Hill would team up with the crew he worked with on “Tales From The Crypt” (including Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale on scripting duty) to create a reimagining of “The Treasure of The Sierra Madre”. Bill Paxton (RIP bub) and William Sadler star as two fire fighters who find a treasure map that leads them into an abandoned warehouse, getting trapped by gangsters headed up by Ice’s T and Cube.
What follows is a tense little bottle episode of a thriller, with the Bill’s having to figure out an escape and the Ice’s having to figure out how to get in. But there’s a catch. Sadler doesn’t want to leave without treasure, and Ice T’s brother is trapped in the room with the Bill’s so a simple shootout isn’t in the cards. So there’s a real sense of getting the lay of the land and people having to work things out in a manner they aren’t ready for. Two firemen aren’t exactly built for entering a battle whereas the gangsters aren’t exactly made for a SWAT like siege on a hostage situation.
What holds this back from greatness is two things. One, it looks and feels a bit like TV thanks to the “Tales From The Crypt” elements. It looks like expensive TV, but TV at that. And secondly, it feels very truncated. The ending doesn’t feel just right, like it was hacked to bits for some behind the scenes concerns. But in the end, you don’t feel cheated. The movie is fun and packs enough thrills to be a fun time. It’s just a minor entry into the world of Hill, who is usually much more capable of wringing something out of a genre exercise.
9. The Long Riders (1980)
The first western that Hill would make in a career that has its share of westerns. Be it a movie that has the form or feel of a western set in modern times or a full blown western, Hill has westerns in his blood. Here he makes a true blue western with a cool little gimmick.
He makes a movie about the Jesse James Gang and he casts all the brothers with real life brothers. He wrangles up the Carradines, The Quaids, The Keaches and The Guests to play relatives, and that real life shorthand helps out. For a man who doesn’t go overlong in his films, he has to do good work in quick time to build out relationships. So to have these guys in the film it helps to sell their relationships. There’s a built in closeness at play so it allows him to build out the rest of the world.
For the first time out, he builds a narrative that isn’t completely air tight. Maybe he just couldn’t find the right entry point into this story or wasn’t able to fill out the in between moments, but it just doesn’t soar as well as one wishes. It has some cracker jack moments, like a knife fight with David Carradine and the “Wild Bunch” ending, it just feels a bit too quick.
It feels like it’s the story of the James Gang on fast forward. So while the brothers may help ground things and get us invested in the story, it doesn’t really rise to the level of his prior entries. But taking away his prior work, the movie is a great little western in a time when the western was dead. Hill has a great eye and crafts some gorgeous imagery in his first western.
The violence is a real step up for him, adding a Peckinpah level of blood and pain to his already impressive talent of cinematic violence. His cast is all great, the B movie giants that we would all come to love delivering some fantastically savage western villains. Because that may be the biggest thing that makes this stand out on a narrative level. Hill doesn’t shy away from the fact that these are bad guys and they have a lot of issues. For fans of westerns, this is a modest winner that delivers enough thrills to be a worthwhile time.
8. Last Man Standing (1996)
Walter Hill taking a crack at that ole Akira Kurosawa/Sergio Leone/Dashiell Hammett classic story of “Yojimbo”/“A Fistful of Dollars”/“Red Harvest”. Why the hell not? It’s a story ripe with Hill’s picadillos. A man with a code roaming into town and taking advantage of a chaotic situation caused by chaotic men. Bruce Willis takes on the mysterious gunslinger role this time out in a prohibition era tale of warring bootleggers in a dusty ole south town.
Willis may be shifty enough to take advantage of these guys, but he is not a big enough shitbag to let the town burn down around him nor will he allow innocents to get hurt. What’s fun about this entry in his filmography is that he is taking on classic story that was told in classic movies from Italy and Japan. By doing so, he does two things to pay homage to those two countries. One, he makes it a western set in a dusty ole town to pay homage to Italy’s Spaghetti Western industry that “A Fistful of Dollars” was a big part of. And he updates his action stylings to fit a more asian oriented style of gunplay.
While it isn’t a 1 to 1 comparison, as he takes on a more John Woo style which is Chinese and not Japanese, it’s a way to shoutout the nationalistic history of the story in cinema. It’s those John Woo shootouts that are real exciting, as it has Hill in a more playful and over the top mode than he usual plays in. His stuff is usually more down to Earth, but this time it’s Bruce duel wielding pistols that send their victims flying back on wires.
The rest of the movie is patient and a bit slow, taking its time to build out the overly complicated plot. That over complication hurts the movie a bit, as it becomes a bit hard to understand the various betrayals and double/triple crosses that Bruce sets into motion. But in the end it just matters that Bruce is playing two sides against each other and he kills a shit ton of bad guys in thrilling ways. Throw in a delicious villain role for Christopher Walken and you got yourself a movie. A movie that wasn’t well received back in the day, but should be reevaluated.