Bruce Willis' 10 Most Terrifying Characters

Bruce Willis as John McClane holding gun in A Good Day to Die Hard
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Bruce Willis is a badass. That’s not even a hypothesis at this point. It’s a fact damn near universally accepted by everyone that’s not a character he’s about to beat the shit out of and turn into a true and bloody believer. Even at fifty-seven-year-old, he mows down men with the type of reckless aggression typically reserved for hungry cage fighters and high end military recruits. I’m not sure that he actually likes the sight of blood, but he sure as hell isn’t deterred by it. Over the course of his twenty-five-plus year career, Willis has painted hundreds of rooms red with the fluids of his foes, and something tells me twenty-five years from now, he’ll be sitting on a stoop with a shotgun, picking off bad guys and pleasing audiences in yet another terrifying turn on screen.

Earlier this year, Willis struck scary, vicious gold once again with Looper. This week, that awesomeness will receive its very own Blu-ray and DVD releases; so, to celebrate, Cinema Blend decided to put together a list of the bald-headed badass’ 10 most terrifying roles. Believe it or not, compiling the list wasn’t exactly easy. Some people are of the option that Willis was at his best during his younger, more energetic days, while others are convinced his crotchety old sociopath routine is the best he’s given us. I’m of the option that the motherfucker probably came out of the birth canal with a knife in his hand, making threats toward the doctor and has been terrifying ever single day since. Consequently, what you’re about to read will represent a pretty long timeline.

Without further ado, here are Willis’ ten most terrifying roles…


Old Joe Simmons in Looper

Old Joe Simmons is terrifying because he’s both physically intimidating and batshit crazy. His basic plan is to murder three defenseless children, and after he picks the first one off, he doesn’t even look back. He clearly doesn’t think it’s his finest moment, but he’s still willing to do anything in order to accomplish his goal and save his wife. That obsession with success no matter what gets in the way is pretty scary, and thanks to his shootout with Abe and his men, we know Old Joe is capable of fighting those who can defend themselves, as well.

I have no idea how many people he kills after he’s hauled in, but to be conservative about it, I’ll say dozens. He uses their dead bodies as protection, keeps pushing forward and slays every last person stupid enough to cross his path, leaving a trail of dead in his wake so long investigators might wonder whether an army had been there. Nope. Just Bruce Willis.


Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction

Aging boxer Butch Coolidge definitely isn't the character people most fondly remember in Pulp Fiction, but he's actually a really scary bastard. Not only does he take money from gangster Marsellus Wallace to throw a fight he has no plans on throwing, he bets on himself with the proceeds and beats the hell out of his opponent so aggressively that he kills the poor guy. Then, he returns to pick up his watch with the full realization that he might well die in the process. Every single element of that plot arc takes some serious balls, and under Willis' watchful command, we buy every single bit of it.

There's also the whole matter of him knocking out the Gimp and killing Maynard with the Katana. Honestly, that's just bonus, however. Even if that last element didn't happen, he would have found his way onto this list for the numerous reasons mentioned above.


John McClane in Die Hard

Yippee-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker. Willis’ skillful, angry Irish American detective first busted onto the scene in 1988’s Die Hard, and in the two plus decades since, he’s been in four hit movies with a fifth slated for release in 2013. He routinely finds himself near the top of movie badasses lists, and he remains one of the more beloved action characters in cinematic history. A combination of clever, wiseass remarks and brutal efficiency, he’s an extremely entertaining watch, and he’ll likely always be the first character people relate Willis to.

One of the reasons why McClane works so well is because he’s not really the type of guy you expect things to work out for. He’s too much of a loose cannon to be a stable husband to Holly. He’s got so much pride and pent-up aggression. Luckily, all of those qualities that make him a shitty family man make him a cop who shouldn’t be fucked with, and really, that’s all most of us care about anyway. Anybody can get married. Few people can pick off terrorists one by one and throw their leader out of a window.


Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element

Of all the cab drivers in the universe to randomly get, I’m not sure there’s one on Earth as ready and able to eviscerate extraterrestrial threats as Willis’ Korben Dallas. A former Major in the Special Forces, he’s a bit of a nut job, but he knows his way around weapons and has all the bravery and stupidity needed to go up against a force far greater than his own. To some, the over-the-top weirdness of The Fifth Element itself obscures a bit of Willis’ trademark scariness, but to me, it’s just proof he can adapt his brand of terrifying to any genre.

Dallas also deserves inclusion here if for no other reason than he shoots an alien in the face in the middle of negotiations. That’s not really something people do, especially when they’re far and away outnumbered by the victim’s sidekicks, but it certainly worked out for the best here.


The Jackal in The Jackal

The Jackal might not be the best movie Willis has ever made, but I still love the idea of casting him as a villainous killing machine who speaks multiple languages and is a master of disguise. That meticulous planning, coupled with all of the crazy, high tech weaponry he has to work with, make him a pretty formidable force and a good opponent to go up against another assassin and high end members of the FBI since him one-on-one against anyone would be unfair.

It’s also hard to completely discard a film that allows Willis to blow Jack Black’s arm off with a weapon his foe actually made in a Most Dangerous Game-esque scene involving a head start and a pack of cigarettes. I’d actually like to see the action star use his opponents as target practice more often. There’s just something brutal and fitting about it.


Lt. Muldoon in Planet Terror

Everything about Planet Terror is deliciously over the top. From Rose McGowan’s machine gun leg to Bruce Willis’ mutating Lieutenant Muldoon, it always prefers excess over subtlety, and while the merits of that as a filmmaking technique can be argued, it certainly pays off here in the form of one badass, ludicrous claim by Muldoon. Apparently, he killed Osama Bin Laden. Contrary to what Zero Dark Thirty may tell you, the real story involves Muldoon and his men wandering around the Afghani border when the Lieutenant found the enemy, looked him right in the eyes and put “two in his heart and one in his computer”.

Add that baller backstory to the whole crazy infected angle, and there’s really no stopping Willis here. He’s a highly decorated sociopath with nothing to lose and all kinds of heinous gas flowing through his veins. Even on this list of terrifying characters, he’d be among the last I’d mess with.


Detective John Hartigan in Sin City

Willis has played plenty of more imposing men on the Big Screen, but never has he played one quite as cagey and selfless as Detective Hartigan. On two separate occasions, he trades or tries to trade his life for Nancy’s, and on two separate occasions, he’s willing to piss off a Senator and his fellow members of the police force in order to do what’s right. There are few things more terrifying than squaring off against a man who isn’t concerned about death.

Unfortunately for Roark Junior, one of those more terrifying things is a man who doesn’t think twice about shooting a dude in the balls to prove a point. I’m not saying Roark Junior doesn’t deserve what he gets, but even an overwhelming majority of rogue cops wouldn’t consider firing bullets into a man’s groin.


David Dunn in Unbreakable

There’s something about giving a Willis character superhuman strength that’s almost unfair, but that’s exactly what security guard David Dunn gets in Unbreakable. He survives car accidents, train accidents and rips doors right off their hinges like an ordinary man might pick up a small end table. Had Audrey not been so bothered by it, he could have been one of the coolest, most durable players in the history of the NFL, but as it stands, he’s a pretty damn good vigilante too.

Provided he stays away from water, he’s basically unstoppable, though he’s beset a bit by the fact that he doesn’t really enjoy conflict as much as many of the other characters on this list who love nothing more than beating men to death. Still, he’s not exactly the type of person you’d like to stare down.


Lieutenant A.K. Waters in Tears Of The Sun

Forget criminals. Sometimes nothing is scarier than a man hellbent on doing what is right for motives far greater than himself. At the beginning of Tears Of The Sun, Willis’ Lieutenant A.K. Waters has no problem leaving all of the refugees in Dr. Kendricks’ care to fend for themselves, but after he sees the actual carnage following their mass murders, the guilt and anger start building up inside him to the point where he decides to do something about. Given he has a team of Navy Seals at his disposal, he has the power to respond pretty much however the hell he wants too.

Ordinarily, Willis is a bit of a messy gunman/ vigilante in his movies. He breaks the rules and goes about killing in unconventional ways. As a soldier here, he’s far more ordered and disciplined, which is a nice change-up and in the long run, more effective anyway.


Mr. Goodkat in Lucky Number Slevin

Mr. Goodkat might technically be a hitman with a conscience, but his capacity to sympathize doesn’t exactly extend very far past innocent children caught up in bad situations. Beyond Slevin, he’s not exactly interested in sparing many lives, and he’ll gladly put himself in harm’s way to work both sides of the aisle if it means he can up the bodycount in the long run. Plus, considering he was the one who raised Slevin, his bloodlust is basically a product of his bad parenting too. He could have always worked on counseling him to get over it and move on with his life.

Plus, it takes a special brand of crazy to want to knock off Lucy Liu over some pictures. Of course she doesn’t die, but the mere idea itself shows you how indifferent Goodkat is to human life. He’d kill thousands if it meant a clean getaway without strings attached.

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Editor In Chief

Mack Rawden is the Editor-In-Chief of CinemaBlend. He first started working at the publication as a writer back in 2007 and has held various jobs at the site in the time since including Managing Editor, Pop Culture Editor and Staff Writer. He now splits his time between working on CinemaBlend’s user experience, helping to plan the site’s editorial direction and writing passionate articles about niche entertainment topics he’s into. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English (go Hoosiers!) and has been interviewed and quoted in a variety of publications including Digiday. Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.