Movie fans around the world were in for a shock in March 2022 when it was announced that Bruce Willis is retiring from acting due a health condition, bringing and untimely end to one of the most iconic careers in the history of Hollywood. Since then, there have been numerous tributes from fellow actors and an outpouring of support from cinephiles honoring Willis’ legacy.
To honor the career of the man who could effortlessly jump from comedy to horror and action to drama, we have put together a list of Bruce Willis’ best movies and just about every possible way to watch them, either for the millionth time or the first spin.
Die Hard (1988)
John McClane (Bruce Willis), a New York City police officer, leaves the Big Apple and heads to Los Angeles to attend a Christmas party with his estranged wife at her Los Angeles high-rise. But the reunion is cut short when a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) takes over the tower and holds the guests ransom.
People will always go back and forth on whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but there is no debate when it comes to how Bruce Willis helped redefine the action star in an era mostly made up of muscle-bound men armed to the teeth.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction centers on the stories a handful of characters all connected one way or another, whether they be two hitmen prone to engage in theological discussions, a former actress who’s now married to a ruthless gangster, or a boxer who doesn’t want to take a fall in a fixed fight.
It is hard to say which of the main stories in Pulp Fiction is at the top of the list, but the tale of Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) going on the run after not throwing a fight only to save the man who wants him dead is a strong contender. There’s so much depth to the story and a lot of that has to do with Willis’ ability to bring a level of contention and uneasiness to the role.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Following a series of hauntings, a young boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is visited by child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) who attempts to understand his client’s abilities only to come to terms with a secret of his own.
M. Night Shyamalan could have never made another movie after The Sixth Sense and he would have still been considered one of the most visionary filmmakers of his generation. Everything about this movie just works — the script, the pacing, and incredible chemistry shared by Willis and Osment are all out of this world. And then there’s the brilliant twist that makes a rewatch an absolute must.
After he fails to kill an older version of himself sent back in time, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds himself in a situation where his own actions and those of his future self (Bruce Willis) could potentially change the outcome of their lives but also countless others.
One of the things that makes Rian Johnson’s modern-day sci-fi classic such a gem, besides its take on time travel, is the relationship shared by the younger and older versions of Joe, who aren’t necessarily partners while also not being the prototypical enemies as well. They both feel, act, and look (thanks to some prosthetics) like the same person, which is a testament to the actors’ skill and chemistry.
With an asteroid set on a collision course with Earth, NASA doesn’t turn to a team of highly-trained astronauts to prevent the rock from killing the planet but instead a ragtag group of oil drillers led by Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) who are sent to space to drop a nuke into its core and split it in two.
Sure, Armageddon isn’t scientifically accurate, but it’s hard to find a big-budget disaster movie about a planet-killing asteroid more fun this Michael Bay thrill ride. It’s big, it’s dumb, and sees Willis take on the role of an overprotective father with serious trust issues but also the ability to bring a team of outcasts together to save the day.
12 Monkeys (1995)
Nearly 40 years after a deadly virus is released and wipes out all but a small portion of the human race, James Cole (Bruce Willis), a prisoner living in 2035 Philadelphia, is sent back to the 1990s to prevent the deadly pathogen from being released. But when he is sent back to the wrong year, his mission becomes all the more complicated.
It feels like Willis was born to play roles like that of the time-traveling inmate in Terry Gilliam’s 1995 mind-bending thriller 12 Monkeys, because his performance is simply incredible. The way in which he is able to pull off a character who is so ambiguous only makes the performance, and movie, better.
The Fifth Element (1997)
After a strange woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) crashes down onto his cab, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) finds himself in a race against time to save her and prevent a mysterious force from descending upon 23rd-century New York City and destroying the universe in the process.
Luc Besson’s eye-popping and stylish sci-fi action flick The Fifth Element puts the pedal to the metal and doesn’t let off until the credits roll. Everyone in this quintessential ‘90s movie is at the top of their game, including Chris Tucker and Gary Oldman, who appear in major roles. But at the center of the story is Willis’ character, who helps ground the movie and prevent it from going off the rails.
Death Becomes Her (1992)
The bitter rivalry of two frenemies — Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) and Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) — plays out over the course of decades after they each discover a potion that will grant them immortality, though with some drawbacks and routine maintenance. Caught between the two is Dr. Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis), a one-time successful plastic surgeon, who will do anything to escape the two.
Robert Zemeckis' 1992 horror comedy Death Becomes Her is mostly remembered for the outlandish performances by Streep and Hawn (and rightfully so), but the person who really anchors the movie is Willis, who is constantly being torn between the two loves of his life. Badgered, manipulated, and used time and time again, his character’s quest to remove the two women from his life (even if it means losing a chance at immortality) is one of the actor’s best turns.
Upon surviving a train crash in which everyone else died, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) discovers that he has superhuman strength and is impervious to injury. If this wasn’t difficult enough, David soon catches the attention of a mysterious man named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) who is his opposite in every imaginable way in Unbreakable.
Though not as groundbreaking as The Sixth Sense, the second collaboration between Willis and filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is just as powerful and does a superb job of flipping the superhero motif on its head. The idea of a reluctant hero being forced to face off against an over-eager villain-in-the-making also provides for some great discussions on the nature of good and evil.
Sin City (2005)
Based on Frank Miller’s landmark graphic novel series of the same name, Sin City tells four stories of crime and punishment on the deadly streets and back alleyways of the corrupt metropolis.
The Sin City cast is full of characters on both sides of the spectrum (as well as the gray area in between those absolutes), including Bruce Willis’ down-on-his-luck cop John Hartigan, who fights an army of thugs, officials, and his own failing body to save a young girl from a sadistic killer with ties to the city’s morally bankrupt elite.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
In the summer of 1965, two 12-year-olds living on an island off the New England coast run away from their small town and embark upon a romantic journey in the wilderness where they hide out from other residents and make a new life together in peace.
There are a ton of great characters in Moonrise Kingdom, arguably the best Wes Anderson movie, but few (outside of the two leads, anyway) compare to Bruce Willis’ portrayal of New Penzance Police Captain Duffy Sharp, who seems to be the only adult who cares for the missing children. This daring and caring authority figure rises to the occasion time and time again, especially in the film’s final minutes.
Look Who’s Talking (1989)
What starts out as a ride to the hospital turns into an unlikely romance when James Ubriacco (John Travolta) gives Mollie Jensen (Kirstie Alley) a ride to the hospital so she can give birth to her son. With no father figure, or at least one willing to step up, James starts caring for the young Mikey (voiced by Bruce Willis) and becomes the most constant person, besides his mother, in his life.
Look Who’s Talking was a massive box office hit upon release in 1989. And while a lot of that can be attributed to the undeniable chemistry shared by Travolta and Alley, there’s no question Willis’ voice-over work contributed to that that success. He brings so much life to the role and takes the movie from being a fun romantic comedy into one of the most recognizable movies of the era.
Bruce Willis has consistently been one of the most dynamic figures in Hollywood and has delivered a number of memorable performances throughout his career. And while we don’t know what the future holds for the veteran actor, we’re all better off having had him in our lives all these years.