Total Recall: Bruce Willis' Best Movies

Yippee-ki-yay! We take a look at the best-reviewed work of the Surrogates star.

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5. 12 Monkeys

After popping up in two of 1994's best-reviewed films, Willis retained his momentum the following year, dividing his time between a return to the blockbuster antics of John McClane (Die Hard with a Vengeance) and a starring role in Terry Gilliam's far quirkier, though still ultimately quite profitable, 12 Monkeys. Willis' 12 Monkeys character, a time-traveling convict forced to try and avert a global virus outbreak, had the shiny scalp and perpetual five o'clock shadow of a Hollywood tough guy, but fans expecting their usual fix of skull-cracking action might have been surprised by the nervous, somewhat mousy demeanor Willis adopted for the film. It was an admirably atypical element of one of the year's most unusual mainstream movies, and it earned praise from critics like's Sean Means, who wrote, "Willis gives a quietly intense performance, looking like he's trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle in his head."

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4. The Sixth Sense

The late 1990s found Willis firmly ensconced as one of Hollywood's biggest and most bankable stars -- but not necessarily one of its most astute script choosers, as attested by the thudding sounds made by Last Man Standing, The Jackal, The Siege, and Breakfast of Champions. Of course, he also starred in some big hits -- including Die Hard with a Vengeance and Armageddon -- but they found him dipping back into his action hero's bag of tricks instead of doing much in the way of real acting. That changed with The Sixth Sense, which cast Willis opposite Haley Joel Osment as a psychologist with a secret so big that not even he knows it. A hit so big it made a jumble of letters like "M. Night Shyamalan" a household name, Sense revealed a quiet strength previously unseen in Willis' repertoire, and earned praise from critics like Brian Webster of the Apollo Guide, who wrote, "More than just a scary movie, it's ultimately about love and death and allowing ghosts to rest. It's a highly successful film."

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3. Nobody's Fool

The early 1990s were not kind to Bruce Willis, to put it mildly: After starring in a pair of successful-by-default sequels (Die Hard 2 and Look Who's Talking Too), he entered a miserable skid that boasted some of the decade's most notorious flops, including The Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk, and Color of Night. But just when it seemed safe to write him off for good, Willis reinvented himself, turning in a pair of smart, dialed-down performances in two of 1994's best films. Pulp Fiction is the one we all remember, but the low-key Nobody's Fool proved Willis could hold his own in some pretty fine company, including Jessica Tandy, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Melanie Griffith, and Paul Newman. There are no explosions, no car chases, and no high-concept plot devices in this adaptation of Richard Russo's 1993 novel -- just a rock-solid script and plenty of terrific acting. In the words of eFilmCritic's Scott Weinberg, "Nobody's Fool offers a hell of a lot more than just Paul Newman at his very best, although that alone would make the flick worthy of your attention."

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2. Pulp Fiction

"Zed's dead, baby." And before his career-resurrecting supporting role in Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis seemed to be headed that direction too, at least as far as Hollywood was concerned: he squandered his Die Hard capital on 1991's roundly panned Hudson Hawk, helped take the action movie to absurd new lows with The Last Boy Scout and Striking Distance, and even had a hand in the dreaded North. Then along came this Tarantino classic, which may not have asked Willis to do anything out of the ordinary (how many world-weary tough guys had we seen him play at this point?), but at least surrounded him with terrific dialogue and stellar performances from a cast that included Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, and John Travolta, the latter of whom enjoyed his own post-Pulp professional comeback. Willis wasn't the focus of the movie -- in fact, Tarantino himself arguably stole that spotlight -- but it did help break him out of the rut he'd fallen into, and perhaps proved to Willis that his most interesting roles didn't have to be his least commercially noteworthy. In a career full of successful films, it might be Pulp Fiction that has had the greatest impact in the Willis filmography; it is, in the words of Variety's Todd McCarthy, "a spectacularly entertaining piece of pop culture."

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1. Die Hard

Die Hard was Bruce Willis' third major film role, and it could easily have ended up being one of his last: After being rewarded for Moonlighting's immense (albeit brief) popularity with a clear shot at movie stardom, Willis stumbled out of the gate with a pair of Blake Edwards-directed flops -- 1987's Blind Date and 1988's Sunset -- that generated equal antipathy among audiences and critics. By the time Willis earned an eye-popping $5 million for Die Hard, the emerging consensus was that he was a television star whose luck in the big leagues was about to run out. The rest is action movie history: this 1988 classic not only proved Willis could carry a hit film, it reinvigorated the genre (and provided a plot framework for dozens of copycats, but let's not hold that against Die Hard). As NYPD Detective John McClane, Willis found the perfect character to blend his gift for smart-mouthed riffing with his ability to add a little much-needed Everyman blood and bewilderment to an increasingly ridiculous style of movie. Surrounded by a strong cast, including Bonnie Bedelia as McClane's estranged wife, Reginald VelJohnson as a sympathetic cop, and Alan Rickman as the perfectly villainous Hans Gruber, Willis kicked off his film career in earnest with Die Hard -- and inspired countless cries of "Yippee-ki-yay." As Caryn James of the New York Times wrote, "The scenes move with such relentless energy and smashing special-effects extravagance that Die Hard turns out to be everything action-genre fans, and Bruce Willis's relieved investors, might have hoped for."

Take a look through Willis' complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for Surrogates.

Finally, here's Bruno extolling the virtues of his favorite beverage -- in song:



Tommy Savor

A great list of films, but I think Live Free or Die Hard is too far up the list. I didn't really like the film, and Timothy Olyphant as the villain was PAINFUL!!! I would put the Fifth Element, and Sin City way ahead of it. Thank goodness Armageddon wasn't on the list. Atrocious film!

For films not on the list, I liked him in The Last Boy Scout, Death Becomes Her, Unbreakable, and The Jackal.

Sep 23 - 09:20 AM

Ryan N.

Ryan Nixon


Sep 26 - 02:19 PM

Jack Waters

zachary leeman

Agreed. Great and underrated film.

Sep 27 - 10:06 AM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

DIE HARD for sure; EVERYBODY can relate to John McClane; McClane's the first "real" action hero (first being a figure of speech).

DIE HARD is actually adapted from author Roderick Thorpe's NOTHING LASTS FOREVER which, in turn is a sequel to Thorpe's novel, THE DETECTIVE that was adapted into a movie of the same name starring Frank Sinatra in the "John McClane" role (the guy's name is Leland in both novel's).

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER features McClane's (Detective Leland's) daughter trapped in the skyrise and is gross (gory) at times. DIE HARD 2 is adapted from Walter Wager's 58 MINUTES.

I wish "they" had made more movies together (Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment)--THE SIXTH SENSE's the best buddy-buddy movie--it could strech into a good TV series

(that would run for no more than 3 seasons because its would be an anthology-series and audiences hate anthology series because each episode is "too much to 'get into'" each week.

Reality shows with no plot are very easy to "get into" requiring little to no imagination and little-or-no-imagintion is comfortable to the average viewer's mind


Sep 23 - 09:32 AM

Wayne C.

Wayne Campbell

How are you going to have Die Hard 4 on this list but not With a Vengeance? Blasphemy.

Sep 23 - 09:48 AM

Maxwell K.

Maxwell Kale

no "the kid"?

Sep 23 - 09:52 AM


Todd Hobart

Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie!!

Sep 23 - 09:56 AM

R.J. MacReady

Greg Thomas

Die Hard is truly the GREATEST christmas movie of all time!

Sep 23 - 11:38 AM

moviestalk R.

moviestalk Radio

After reading all of the summary paragraphs, i have come to realize that Bruce Willis is the most up and down actor ever. And for some reason everyone seems to totally ignore his flops and almost nobody every has anything bad to say about the guy.
He has made probably 10 of the worst movies ever (North, The Whole ten Yards, Mercury Rising, Jackal, Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk, The Story of Us, Last Man Standing, Color of Night, and Striking Distance. These just arent bad movies these are terrible and these are all the movies released after he became a huge star with Die Hard, its not including Sunset and Blind Date.
Plus i looked up the Die Hard movies and was surprised at how long rated they were and I love all 4 of them.

Sep 23 - 09:57 AM


Mike Greenblatt

Hollywood forgives.

Sep 23 - 10:45 AM


Salvador Lievanos

Where is Unbreakable and Tears of the Sun?

I think those two are some of his best.

Unbreakable is his best film in my opinion and remains in my book one of the best superhero films of all time, even ahead of Iron Man.

Sep 23 - 09:59 AM

moviestalk R.

moviestalk Radio

Agreed about Unbreakable Great Movie.

Sep 23 - 10:09 AM


Brian Gant

It's my favorite Willis flick, just edging out "12 Monkeys". Nolan attempted to make his Batman movies "real" and succeeded for the most part... but "Unbreakable" worked on every level as a "real" superhero movie IMO.

Sep 23 - 01:06 PM

King Kubrick

Travis Earl

Unbreakable still reigns as Shamalyan's best effort to date. Definitely in the top ten superhero films of all time. After that film, he began a slow descent of quality until he suddenly plummeted and crashed into his fiery artistic death with Lady in The Water.

Willis is the man. One of the few actors whom I like no matter what horrendous film he finds himself in. Also one of the few actors (like Eastwood) who can play the same character type repeatedly without a loss of audience interest (not to say he or Eastwood don't stretch their acting muscles, but, both return to an archetypal hero role and we never get bored with it).

Sep 23 - 01:19 PM

moviestalk R.

moviestalk Radio

Agreed about Unbreakable Great Movie.

Sep 23 - 10:09 AM


idle one kenobi

Bruce Willis is awesome! Even in a bad movie, he makes it at least watchable. Unbreakable was brilliant i agree. Many awesome films not on the list, but that just goes to show how cool he is. More great films than bad. So thats why we can forgive the bad ones, there just aint many of em, and some of his "bad films" mentioned by a poster above, are actually pretty good. ie, Last man Standing,and the jackal, was decent. And Hudson Hawk, at the time was fun.

I liked most of DieHard-4, except the ending silly freeway/fighter plane chase, and Timothy Olyphant sucked eggs as a villain. Still, I like the movie.

Hopefully Surrogates will be good too. Unbreakable needs its sequel too, so get on the case M.Night.Shamalan! Its what the fans have been wanting.

Sep 23 - 10:19 AM

moviestalk R.

moviestalk Radio

Well i apoligize for being a "poster" but Last Man Standing, the Jackal and most of all Hudson Hawk are, universally, considered bad movies. To each his own i guess on opinions but those are pretty bad movies, and the point I was trying make was that someone who is considered such a great movie star like Willis has made many bad movies. Whether or not you like Hudson Hawk I still had 9 more movies i mentioned that you had nothing to say about.

Sep 23 - 10:44 AM


Mike Greenblatt

Hollywood forgives.

Sep 23 - 10:45 AM


Auguman .

Another great cameo: foor rooms.
Tears of the sun? (proletariat 13) really? that's a lame movie
Hudson Hawk --- > Bad movie, but I enjoyed everytime I see it.

Sep 23 - 11:08 AM


Auguman .

oh! and 6th Sense? I donīt know you guys, but I think is Bruce Willis' most OVERRATED movie from them all, it's only good 1 time, when you see it for the firs time, but after that, nothing good.

Sep 23 - 11:11 AM


carl latin

i agree with everything augman says: hudson hawk was clearly made by people who watched die hard, then thought "how can i make a cartoon based on this character?" after realizing they couldn't draw, figured they might as well make it live action and cast bruce willis as the lead. the villains were named after candy bars for god's sake!!

as for the sixth sense, could only watch it twice: once in theatres to be blown away by the ending, and once on dvd to catch everything that leads up to it...after that its pretty slow and boring.

Sep 24 - 11:26 AM


Chuck O'Leary

I'm glad you included "In Country." It's so underrated, and quite possibly the best film of 1989. All Bruce Willis fans who haven't seen it should make a priority of seeing it.

I also think "Last Man Standing" is another great Walter Hill-directed film starring Bruce that never got the credit it deserves, and "The Jackal" was way more entertaining than most people wanted to admit.

Sep 23 - 11:37 AM

R.J. MacReady

Greg Thomas

Die Hard is truly the GREATEST christmas movie of all time!

Sep 23 - 11:38 AM

Nader Idkeidek

Nader Idkeidek

I didn't understand why Over the Hedge and Sin City are in the Top 10, neither why is The Fifth Element graded 10th in the list while Die Hard I is numero uno !?

But Bruce is the guy who realy worked his way up starting from Moonlighting to the top Action Heroes.

Sep 23 - 11:48 AM


Greg Guro

He dates porn stars.

That's why we love him.

Sep 23 - 12:00 PM


Daniel Raimondi

yippie kai yay mother f**ker!

Sep 23 - 12:34 PM


dave karns

Every single list like this, you yahoos come out and ***** about what's on it and what's not. You say you do not 'understand' why "Over the Hedge and Sin City are in the Top 10 and The Fifth Element graded 10th in the list while Die Hard I is numero uno !"? It's pretty freaking simple. THIS LIST IS BASED OFF OF THE TOMATO METER!!! How hard is that to understand??? Please, go hang out at

Sep 23 - 12:55 PM

Laura E.

Laura EB

oh, and chill out ShopSmart. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with the Approved Tomatometer Critics, which generates the Tomatometer, which generates the list, which we are totally allowed to disagree with. Or are you one of those people who insists that everybody stay on topic all the time or be banned from a site?

Sep 23 - 01:26 PM


Seth Green

I gotta back up ShopSmart on this one. Of course there's nothing wrong with disagreeing with the Tomatometer... And that's obviously not what ShopSmart's point was. An alarming number of people who've commented clearly don't get that this list is based on Tomatometer scores. I think that's worth pointing out, especially since some are getting angry at the RT staff for their "choices." Criticizing the critics? Fine. Criticizing RT because you can't read? Lame.

Sep 24 - 01:31 AM

Laura E.

Laura EB

Ok, fair enough, planetawesome, but s/he really does need to chill out and not call people yahoos. For one thing, why the assumption that EVERYONE must know by now that it's based on the meter? Took me a while to get that when I first started reading RT. I'm sure for some people this is the first list they've read.

@John Mclane: yeah, but over DH 2 or even DH 3? I don't think so. :)

@Hamboner: good call - The Siege: two thumbs up

Sep 25 - 07:49 AM

Sean A.

Sean Altly

Why the assumption? Maybe because it clearly states it at the beginning of every one of them. I too get irritated reading these people throw around insults and imply that the RT staff are stupid when they clearly don't understand how these lists work. It's hilarious and frustrating at the same time.

Sep 25 - 03:36 PM

John Arthur Beaman

john b

Quick Fix: Don't read the comments.

Jul 12 - 12:19 AM


Robert Crow

Bruce Willis is the man. DH With a Vengeance should be on there instead of the 4th or Over the Hedge. Both good, but not his best.

Sep 23 - 12:56 PM

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