Bruce Willis has decided to step away from acting due to an ongoing medical condition affecting his cognitive abilities. Willis has always been a box office success during his career and had occasional positive response from critics as well. Let’s take a look back at his greatest films in our photo gallery that ranks his top 15 performances from worst to best.
Willis grew up in New Jersey, but after appearing in a college production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” he dropped out and left for New York City to launch a professional acting career. He first became a famously flashy bartender in various clubs (think Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”), but found his big break years later understudying and later replacing Ed Harris in the acclaimed off-Broadway production of Sam Shepard’s play “Fool for Love.”
After only a few television guest starring roles on shows such as “Miami Vice” and “The Twilight Zone,” Willis rocketed to television stardom on “Moonlighting.” The show became known as much for its off-screen fireworks as those onscreen due to the combustible relationship Willis had with his co-star Cybill Shepherd. The show would run for five seasons and win Willis an Emmy for Best Drama Actor in 1987.
Willis then did the unthinkable thing for the time and somehow managed to parlay his television fame into a highly successful film career. In the 1980s the divide between film and television stardom was still pretty wide and many actors such as Tom Selleck and Ted Danson found difficulty making their TV success work on the big screen.
Tour our photo gallery of Willis’ greatest films, including the “Die Hard” franchise, “Pulp Fiction” and “The Sixth Sense.”
15. MERCURY RISING (1998)
Director: Harold Becker. Writers: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal. Based on the novel by Ryne Douglas Pearson. Starring Alec Baldwin, Chi McBride, Camryn Manheim.
Willis gives one of his better action performance in this story of an FBI agent trying to save a young autistic boy’s life. The boy has cracked a secret government code which sets corrupt National Security Agents on a quest to kill him. Willis has nice chemistry with the young actor playing the boy.
14. ARMAGEDDON (1998)
Director: Michael Bay. Writers: Jonathan Heinsleigh, J.J. Abrams. Starring Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler.
This year saw two films about asteroids hitting earth released at the same time. While “Deep Impact” got the better reviews “Armageddon” was still a huge hit. Willis plays a deep space oil driller who is sent into space to try and destroy an asteroid hurling towards the planet.
13. DEATH BECOMES HER (1992)
Director: Robert Zemeckis. Writers: Martin Donovan, David Koepp. Starring Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, Isabella Rossellini.
Willis played a doctor who leaves Goldie Hawn for her rival played by Meryl Streep. The film dealt with the obsession many people have over aging with both actresses using a magic potion that made them immortal. Willis plays against type here and does a nice job. As the increasingly beleaguered man stuck between two demanding women and their vanity, Willis equates himself nicely even though it was the film’s special effects that ultimately received the most attention.
12. SIN CITY (2005)
Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriquez, Quentin Tarantino. Writer: Frank Miller. Starring Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Benicio Del Toro.
Willis is a stand out amongst the all star cast of this thriller shot in the style of a comic book. He plays a cop with heart troubles who gets involved in a complicated scheme where not everything is what it seems.
11. RED (2010)
Director: Robert Schwentke. Writers: Jon and Erich Hoebner. Starring Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker.
Willis had a big success with this thriller in which he plays a former CIA assassin who falls in love with a customer service representative at his pension plan (Mary-Louise Parker.) When the two eventually decide to meet in person their first date throws the unsuspecting Parker into a series of dangerous events involving things such as the KGB. Parker and Willis have great chemistry in the film and Parker’s dead pan delivery of how she has had worst first dates than the one she is on make the film worth a look.
10. MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012)
Director: Wes Anderson. Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola. Starring Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray.
Willis has a more sensitive role than usual in this typically bittersweet and wistful film from Wes Anderson. The film follows the misadventures of two bookish young summer campers who befriend each other. Willis is sweet and understated as the police chief who eventually adopts one of the boys.
9. LOOPER (2012)
Director and writer: Rian Johnson. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano.
Willis had an interesting role in this thriller involving time travel and various other science fiction elements. Willis co-stars with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and actually plays the older version of his character. The two meet each other in this nicely plotted film by Rian Johnson who would go on to be chosen to direct and write “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” largely based on the success of this film.
8. NOBODY’S FOOL (1994)
Director: Robert Benton. Writers: Robert Benton based on the novel by Richard Russo. Starring Paul Newman, Melanie Griffith, Jessica Tandy.
This is a small gem of a movie from director Robert Benton, who won Oscars for his work on “Kramer Versus Kramer” and “Places in the Heart.” The film is really a vehicle for Paul Newman (who received a Best Actor Oscar nomination), but Willis his many fine moments too as Newman’s nemesis and sometime employer whom he loves to taunt with lawsuits and by flirting with Willis wife played by Melanie Griffith. It was a bit of a reunion for Willis and Newman as one of Willis first on screen appearances was as a background actor in Newman’s 1982 courtroom drama “The Verdict.”
7. THE SIEGE (1998)
Director: Edward Zwick. Writers: Lawrence Wright, Menno Meyjes, Edward Zwick. Starring Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Tony Shalhoub.
“The Seige” was met with mixed reviews upon its release but its themes and exploration of a terrorist incident affecting New York City would sadly become quite relevant in the years to come. Willis has a rare villainous role as an army Major General who oversteps his position’s role as the city grapples with the terrorist incident and its aftermath.
6. BANDITS (2001)
Director: Barry Levinson. Writer: Harley Peyton. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Troy Garity.
“Bandits” from Oscar winning director Barry Levinson didn’t really live up to its potential at the box office but it is still a very entertaining and off beat comic heist film. While Cate Blanchett steals the film as a neurotic housewife who gets caught up with two bank robbers, Willis also shines as one of the bumbling bandits. Blanchett stole the reviews since it was one of her first non-period piece roles and she also masterfully played an American but Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Troy Garity (son of Jane Fonda) also are quite good in this somewhat forgotten film.
5. PULP FICTION (1994)
Director and writer: Quentin Tarintino. Starring John Travolta, Samuel J. Jackson, Uma Thurman.
Willis had a strong autumn in 1994 when in addition to “Nobody’s Fool” he also had a role in Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking film. The highly acclaimed (but also highly controversial film due to its violence) was the most talked about film of that year and went on to earn seven Oscar nominations and change the way films were made for years to come.
4. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)
Director and writer: M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Toni Collette, Hayley Joel Osment, Donnie Wahlberg.
While supporting players Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment earned the Oscar nominations, Willis has the main role in this box office sensation from M. Night Shyamalan. Willis has the more reactive role in the film as a child psychologist treating a young boy who “sees dead people” while his co-stars get the flashier moments. This remains one of Willis’ biggest hit films and his quiet strength and compassionate portrayal features some of his best work.
3. IN COUNTRY (1989)
Director: Norman Jewison. Writer: Frank Pierson and Cynthia Cidre. Starring Emily Lloyd, Joan Allen, Judith Ivey.
Willis gave his first dramatic performance on screen as a Vietnam Veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The actor who had been known pretty much for his comedic work at this point showed a different side of his talent and earned a Golden Globe Award Nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his efforts.
2. DIE HARD (1988)
Director: John McTiernan. Writers: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza based on the novel by Roderick Thorp.
Willis was riding high on the success of his TV series “Moonlighting” but his attempts to translate that success to film had not really worked out until he signed on for this action adventure/comedy. As a police officer trying to free his wife who is being held hostage in a skyscraper, Willis gave a gung ho full out performance filled with both action thrills but also wryly delivered comic one liners as he desperately tries to fight the people holding his wife and others captive. The film was a huge success, spawned many sequels and pretty much cemented Willis place as a full-fledged movie star.
1. TWELVE MONKEYS (1995)
Director: Terry Gilliam. Writers: David and Janet Peoples. Starring Brad Pitt, Madeline Stowe, Christopher Plummer.
In visionary director Terry Gilliam’s masterful post-apocalyptic film “12 Monkeys” Willis has his best role as the center of the madness and time travel the movie revolves around. Brad Pitt got an Oscar nomination for his Supporting role but Willis is equally good in the film. Janet Maslin the esteemed critic of the New York Times summed up Willis performance the best in her review: “Mr. Willis holds the film together with his poignant, battered physicality, the suffering of a man fighting desperately for sanity and survival. When a doctor studies him closely, she sees a Cassandra complex. He is said to be suffering “the agony of the knowledge combined with the impotence to do anything about it.”