Bill Paxton's Best Movies
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the 2 Guns star.
Are people inherently good or evil, or are their morals and ethics driven by the choices available to them? That's the devilishly grim question at the heart of Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, an adaptation of the Scott Smith book about a pair of brothers (played by Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton) who happen upon a downed plane full of cash during a hunting expedition with a friend (Brent Briscoe). One secret and one lie seem like a small price to pay for a $4.4 million windfall split three ways, but their simple plan begins to unravel surprisingly quickly, making the trio -- and, by extension, the audience -- helpless witnesses to an increasingly gruesome tumble into darkness. "A Simple Plan is a suspenseful, unnerving movie that ranks as one of the best thrillers in recent years," marveled Mike McGranaghan for Aisle Seat. "The plot and characters converge nicely, and by the end, you are left to wonder how much money is enough to entice you to sell your soul."
4. Near Dark
Before she was the Academy Award-winning director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow cut her directorial teeth with 1987's Near Dark. Originally pitched as a straight Western, then rejiggered to take advantage of Hollywood's 1980s vampire infatuation, Dark starred a then-unknown Adrian Pasdar as a small-town guy whose nookie with a mysterious drifter (Jenny Wright) ends with her turning him into a vampire -- and then drafting him into a gang of undead drifters that includes a ruthless leader (Lance Henriksen) and his sociopathic second in command (Paxton). While Near Dark played to a lot of half-empty houses during its theatrical run, it became a cult classic on the home video market once audiences caught up to critics like TIME's Richard Corliss, who wrote that it "has filmmaking finesse to spare, but puts its dank characters on display rather than cadging sympathy for them" and applauded, "It is the Blue Velvet of date-night spook shows."
3. Apollo 13
This dramatization of NASA's aborted 1970 lunar mission combined one of star Tom Hanks' biggest personal passions -- space travel -- with Hollywood's favorite thing: a blockbuster prestige picture. With a cast that featured a number of similarly prolific actors (among them Paxton, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Sinise), Apollo 13 probably would have made decent money even if it had played fast and loose with the real-life details of the launch, but director Ron Howard and his crew strove for verisimilitude, going so far as to shoot portions of the film in actual zero gravity. The result was a summertime smash that restored some of space travel's luster for a jaded generation -- and made for an exceedingly good filmgoing experience according to most critics, including Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, who wrote that "It chronicles one of the most dramatic of all spaceflights, an American catastrophe that became an American victory, and it does this in a way that's so authentic, so brilliant in its technical details, that it succeeds in putting us on that ship."
Its commercial prospects were fatally hobbled by a lack of studio faith so profound that it wasn't even originally supposed to have a theatrical release, but thanks to overwhelmingly positive reviews, 1992's One False Move -- starring Billy Bob Thornton as the ringleader of a gang of criminals that runs afoul of an Arkansas sheriff (Paxton) who teaches them a thing or two about small-town justice -- ended up sneaking into theaters long enough for Gene Siskel to call it his favorite movie of the year. Siskel's enthusiasm for the Carl Franklin-directed thriller was shared by the majority of his peers, including Michael Upchurch of the Seattle Times, who enthused, "Franklin's convincing portrait of life on both sides of the color line isn't quite like anything I've come across before, making One False Move one very assured directorial move. We need more filmmakers like him."
It's a little hard to believe in today's Hollywood, but in the 1980s, Fox balked at James Cameron's proposal for an Alien sequel, claiming that the original hadn't made enough money -- and then, even when The Terminator's incredible success earned Cameron a shot at putting together a follow-up to Ridley Scott's sci-fi classic, the whole thing almost fell apart when the studio refused to pay returning star Sigourney Weaver what she felt she deserved. Happily, it all came together, and Cameron's Vietnam-inspired concept -- which imagined a conflict in which our protagonists are armed with "a lot of firepower and very little wisdom" -- turned into a $130 million hit that spawned a slew of sequels and spinoffs. Paxton, who'd played a bit part in The Terminator, earned a Best Supporting Actor Saturn Award for his work here as Private Hudson -- and (spoiler alert!) his on-screen demise put him two-thirds of the way toward his eventual distinctive cinematic trifecta: getting killed by a Terminator, an Alien, and a Predator. "The ads for Aliens claim that this movie will frighten you as few movies have," warned Roger Ebert, "and, for once, the ads don't lie."
In case you were wondering, here are Paxton's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. Tombstone -- 92%
2. Aliens -- 90%
3. Apollo 13 -- 80%
4. Frailty -- 77%
5. A Simple Plan -- 75%
6. Near Dark -- 72%
7. Titanic -- 70%
8. True Lies -- 69%
9. One False Move -- 68%
10. Weird Science -- 67%
Finally, here's the trailer for Paxton's second directorial effort -- The Greatest Game Ever Played, from 2005: