Total Recall: Bruce Willis' Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Looper star.
He's been a television star, recording artist, wine cooler pitchman, and Idaho real estate tycoon, but Bruce Willis is best known for his films -- and his latest, this weekend's Looper, looks to be one of the most critically renowned of the year. Not too shabby for a guy who's been cranking out movies for 25 years -- and whose filmography includes some of the most beloved hits of the last quarter century. In honor of this latest achievement, we decided now would be the perfect time to take another fond look back at some of Mr. Willis' brightest critical highlights, and you know what that means... yippee-ki-yay, it's time for Total Recall!
10. Over the Hedge
Willis might be most famous for his smirk, but he's made pretty good use of his voice, too -- scoring a Top Five hit single with "Respect Yourself," lending his pipes to the Look Who's Talking Movies, and entering the vocal booth for projects as varied as the Apocalypse video game and the Bruno the Kid cartoon series. Oh, and there's also Over the Hedge, 2006's star-studded adaptation of the syndicated comic strip about a crafty raccoon (Willis) who helps a group of woodland critters (voiced by Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, among others) cope with their habitat being encroached upon by a suburban neighborhood. "Over the Hedge may be 'just' a cartoon," admitted Roger Moore for the Orlando Sentinel. "But it's also a biting and funny jab at SUV-MSG Nation."
9. In Country
Willis' first few films offered viewers variations on David Addison, the fast-talking P.I. he played on Moonlighting, but in 1989, director Norman Jewison offered him his first major shot at a solidly dramatic role -- and he delivered, disappearing behind mammoth facial hair to play a haunted Vietnam vet whose young niece (Emily Lloyd) tries to draw him out of his shell in order to learn more about the father she lost in the war. "The movie is like a time bomb," argued Roger Ebert. "You sit there, interested, absorbed, sometimes amused, sometimes moved, but wondering in the back of your mind what all of this is going to add up to. Then you find out."
8. Sin City
A blackly cartoonish noir whose garish violence seeps into every millimeter of the frame, Sin City united a stellar ensemble cast (including Willis, Mickey Rourke, Elijah Wood, Clive Owen, and Benicio del Toro) on a journey into blight, corruption, betrayal, and death. Not exactly cheerful stuff, in other words, and plenty of viewers took issue with what they saw as the movie's misogynistic overtones -- but for fans of the genre, Sin City provided one of the most hard-hitting and skillfully crafted entries in years. "It's a hard, viciously funny little movie, one with all the subtlety of a billy club," admitted Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "But there's artistry here, too."
For awhile, it looked like 1995's Die Hard with a Vengeance would be the last time audiences got to see Willis saving the day as Detective John McClane -- but the lure of the beloved franchise (and its attendant paycheck) eventually proved too strong to resist, and in 2007, he finally returned with Live Free or Die Hard. Swapping out the earlier films' Everyman conceit for a tongue-in-cheek humor that wholeheartedly embraced the silliness inherent in the series, Live Free amped up the action to such a ridiculous extent that it might as well have been a non-Die Hard movie -- but the result was still entertaining enough to satisfy critics like Jonathan F. Richards of Film.com, who wrote, "Movie characters like McClane are the Paul Bunyans and John Henrys and Pecos Bills of our age, the stuff of tall tales spun with the technology of an age whose campfires are found in multiplexes with stadium seating."
As the 1990s wore on, Willis tended to gravitate toward quiet dramatic roles that sublimated his famous smirking charisma -- a trend that reached its commercial apex with The Sixth Sense, the supernatural thriller that introduced writer/director M. Night Shyamalan to the world, turned Donnie Wahlberg into a character actor, and doomed Haley Joel Osment to a life of hearing people whisper "I see dead people" whenever he walked into a room. Some of its luster has been lost thanks to Shyamalan's downward career spiral, but Sense was one of the biggest movies of 1999, and for some very good reasons -- not the least of which was a Willis performance that helped inspired the San Jose Mercury News' Charlie McCollum to call the film "An intense, haunting, often beautifully crafted character study and meditation on the nature of death and life after death."