Total Recall: Bruce Willis' Best Movies

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

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!

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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."



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 don┤t 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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