Total Recall: Bruce Willis' Best Movies

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

by Jeff Giles | Wednesday, Sep. 23 2009

How lucky is Bruce Willis? Not only did he go, seemingly overnight, from tending bar to starring in ABC's hit Moonlighting, marrying Demi Moore, and scoring a Top 10 single, but he also made the transition to movie megastardom -- and then survived the Great Action Hero Purge of the 1990s, jumping to smart indie features (and the occasional blockbuster) while the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers of the industry were left grasping at past glories. And if all that weren't enough, the Planet Hollywood co-founder -- and star of Jonathan Mostow's sci-fi thriller Surrogates -- is also the subject of this week's Total Recall!

As always, we left our personal biases out of the mix and simply set the Tomatometer for "awesome," letting the world's greatest film critics do the heavy lifting for us. By limiting our list to only the 10 best-reviewed movies from Willis' extensive filmography, we're undoubtedly courting controversy (sorry, fans of The Player and Grindhouse -- cameos don't count), but hey -- sorting that stuff out is what the comment section is for, isn't it? Let's get the countdown started!


71%
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Fresh

10. The Fifth Element

Loud, garish, silly, and featuring plenty of a scantily-clad Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element comes across like the product of a precocious young boy's imagination -- which it was, actually; writer/director Luc Besson (The Professional) came up with the idea when he was a teenager, and kept fleshing it out until he somehow secured an $80 million budget for a sci-fi epic about a bleached-blond cab driver/army vet in the year 2263 (that'd be Willis) who finds himself at the center of a plot to destroy the universe (led by Gary Oldman, natch). Filled with state-of-the-art special effects and liberal dashes of a pre-Rush Hour Chris Tucker, Element does a fairly splendid job of balancing its sci-fi, action, and comedy elements, which probably had a lot to do with why critics and audiences both responded to the movie so strongly -- the former sending it to 71 percent on the Tomatometer, and the latter helping Besson and crew rack up over $263 million in worldwide grosses. "The Fifth Element has to be the most creative visualization since Tim Burton's first Batman in 1989," wrote Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle. "On top of that, it's a whole lot of fun."


75%
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Fresh

9. Over the Hedge

Cartoons have been used to make animals talk ever since the dawn of animation, and celebrity voice casting has become a fixture of the art form since Robin Williams made a splash as the genie in Aladdin. Still, 2006's Over the Hedge -- a DreamWorks adaptation of Michael Fry and T. Lewis' syndicated comic strip -- was noteworthy: after all, how many times do you get to hear Bruce Willis pretend to be a raccoon, Garry Shandling act like a box turtle, Nick Nolte turn into a bear, Steve Carell play a squirrel, Wanda Sykes lend her voice to a skunk, and William Shatner and Avril Lavigne play opossums, with soundtrack songs from Ben Folds? As RJ, the double-dealing raccoon with a heart of gold, Willis got to essentially revisit the fast-talking persona that made him famous as Moonlighting's David Addison, without seeming like he was taking a step backward -- and it certainly helped that Len Blum and Karey Kirkpatrick's script had enough smarts to appeal to adults as well as children. It appealed to a whole lot of them, too, earning more than $335 million worldwide and a 74 percent Tomatometer thanks to critics like TV Guide's Ken Fox, who called Hedge "a sly satire of American 'enough is never enough' consumerism and blind progress at the expense of the environment. It's also very funny, and the little woodland critters that make up the cast are a kiddie-pleasing bunch."


70%
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Fresh

8. In Country

By early 1989, Willis had cut a vanity album, filmed a series of unpopular wine cooler commercials, had a high-profile run-in with the law, and smirked his way through enough box office duds (including Blind Date and Sunset) to earn a reputation as less of an actor than a guy who got lucky -- and was in the process of wearing out his welcome. Norman Jewison's In Country, an adaptation of the Bobbie Ann Mason novel about a Kentucky teenager (played by Emily Lloyd) who wants to learn more about her deceased father, was arguably the first project that asked Willis to do much besides wisecrack and/or blow stuff up; in fact, his character -- a haunted Vietnam vet who wouldn't know a smirk from a shattered sigh -- required a level of subtlety few would have suspected he had. He proved the doubters wrong, though, winning critical acclaim from scribes such as Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, who wrote, "With uncanny skill, Willis finds the frightened kid hiding behind Emmett's detached stare. He gives a dynamite performance, both touching and haunting."

78%
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Fresh

7. Sin City

We thought Die Hard's John McClane was a tough customer, but it's another John -- Sin City's John Hartigan -- that might be the toughest of all Willis characters. A lot to live up to? Sure, but Hartigan is a guy who takes a ton of bullets, does eight years of hard time, is hanged, and castrates a man with his bare hands. A cartoonish list of accomplishments, to be sure -- which makes sense, because Sin City was adapted from the popular graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller (writer and illustrator of 300, which was awesome, and director of The Spirit, which will not be mentioned here again). Directed with incredible visual Úlan by Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino, Sin City provoked strong reactions from critics (the Milwakee Journal Sentinel's Duane Dudek dismissed it as "the most strikingly innovative dumb movie you'll ever see") and rescued Willis from a strong of uninspired films like The Whole Ten Yards and Tears of the Sun. "If Raymond Chandler and Daffy Duck could have produced a child," wrote New York Magazine's Ken Tucker, "Sin City would be their baby."


82%
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Fresh

6. Live Free or Die Hard

Arriving more than a decade after the third installment in the franchise -- and with a title that reads like something you'd see on a fan-made trailer, to boot -- 2007's Live Free or Die Hard had all the makings of a classic "quit while you're ahead" sequel. After all, when we left John McClane at the end of 1995's Die Hard with a Vengeance, he seemed awfully tired -- but whether it was due to the long layoff or the re-energizing touch of Len Wiseman's direction, Live Free or Die Hard ended up being one of the year's nicest surprises, as well as an unexpectedly pleasant throwback to the classic action movies of the '80s (not a few of which starred Willis), with some nifty 21st century touches added to the mix. With a healthy domestic gross and an 81 percent Tomatometer rating, it proved that not all long-delayed sequels are created equal, and prompted critics such as MovieCrypt's Kevin A. Ranson to proclaim, "With an infectious laugh when he blows up the bad guys and the power to stay alive no matter what, Bruce Willis' John McClane is a welcome sight back in theaters."

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