Recently, it was revealed that Bruce Willis would be stepping away from acting, thus marking the end of an incredible career that spanned over 30 years. Despite the fact that the final years of Bruce Willis weren’t exactly his greatest moments (though at no fault of his own), he’ll forever be in the history books as one of the best actors of this generation. This list will highlight the five best performances of the actor’s long career.
One of the more underrated films in Bruce Willis’s filmography is the time travel film, 12 Monkeys. The plot is extremely twisted, and 12 Monkeys can sometimes get lost in its heavy themes and messages, but this is without a doubt one of the best performances of Bruce’s career. Willis plays James Cole, a prisoner who’s selected for an experiment to find the original virus to help scientists develop a cure. He arrives in a different time period, but not the planned one, and he’s arrested and incarcerated at a mental hospital on the diagnosis of Dr. Kathryn. Willis is mostly known for his action roles, so it’s easy to forget just how great of an actor he is when he’s not kicking butt. It helps that he is in a complex role, embodying a man who’s dealing with his own mental issues in a world that’s not of his own. Willis’s performance feels raw and understated, and it continued to showcase that the actor isn’t a one-dimensional performer.
The Sixth Sense
This ghost story is what ultimately put M. Night Shyamalan on the map, but it also highlighted the talents of Mr. Willis once again. The actor is playing against type, a child psychologist haunted by the failure of his last patient and dealing with a lot of strain in his marriage life. This is one of the more grounded performances for the actor and it never feels as if he’s pretending to play a character. Willis feels right at home as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a man who’s dealing with the strain of life that has noticeably weighed down on him as a human being. However, Shyamalan is at his best in this film, showcasing the death of Malcolm just minutes into the film, but tricking audiences to believe that the psychologist is alive until the shocking reveal at the end. Willis is able to convey a man who’s seemingly lost the love of his wife, but in actuality, he’s dead and his wife is simply trying to move on.
The intrigue of Unbreakable is about how a seemingly normal man survives a horrific crash without suffering one single scratch in a wreckage that kills every other passenger on the train. This is essentially a superhero origin story, but once again, M. Night Shyamalan does a masterful job at crafting this saga by exploring just who David Dunn is. The pieces surrounding Dunn’s character are well executed, with one particular standout is his son Joseph, who’s convinced that his father is indeed a superhero with super strength. Unbreakable isn’t your typical superhero film, thus it allows Willis to flex his acting muscles; It’s not just the central conflict about the character that makes him engaging to watch, but the nuances in Willis’s performance that keeps you glued to the film. The scene where Joseph pulls a gun on David, in a subtle manner, you can see different stages of him going through the motions. On the surface, he’s stern and trying to get his son to put the gun down, but deeply he’s scared, and that anger he showcases in trying to get Joseph to give him the gun is his desperate plead on trying to get out of the situation. That’s confirmed once his plan works, and everyone sits down on the floor trying to collect themselves from an intense situation. Willis’s strong performance carries throughout the feature and helps elevate Unbreakable as a whole.
John Hartigan is a character more in line with Willis’s filmography, but one of the tamer versions without his usually quippy and gun tooting action heroine. Then again, he literally rips the Yellow Bastard’s pecker off so perhaps he’s a low-key psychopath. Either way, the detective of the corrupt and seedy Basin City values justice and does anything in his power to obtain it. From Willis’s internal monologue to his morose approach to the story, Sin City stands out with a sea full of colorful characters, but Hartigan manages to be one of the more realistic and grounded ones who doesn’t stick out like a sole thumb. It’s not hard to root for Hartigan given the nature of the Yellow Bastard’s crimes, but Willis’s performance helps you root for the detective to get his rightful justice.
You didn’t think this list would not include this iconic character, did you? Die Hard is so much more than just an action movie. It’s a film that digs into the character of John McClane and addresses the internal demons that’s eating him alive. Willis is perfect in this role balancing the action and story without it ever feeling over-the-top or hammy, and his scenes with Sgt. Al Powell have just as much impact as every kick, punch, or gun shot rounds served in this memorable action movie. Die Hard opened the door for a more sympathetic, everyday man hero, and whether you like or hate the actor, there’s no denying that he helped shaped the genre into a better direction.12 Monkeys
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