Bruce Willis’s Birthday: His 15 Best Movies Ranked

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Newsweek

Bruce Willis, who turns 64 today, was a 29-year-old bartender and off-Broadway stage actor when he pulled off the kind of coup every Hollywood hopeful dreams of—getting picked out of 3,000 auditionees to play the lead role alongside Cybill Shepherd in the TV show Moonlighting, which became an instant hit.

A man of many talents—the New Jersey native had previously worked in a chemical factory and as a security guard—Willis soon became a household name. Alongside acting, he tried his hand at music too, having a moderate hit with his 1987 debut album “The Return of Bruno.”

Sadly for soft rock fans, Moonlight was a bigger hit than his album, and a movie career soon took off. He starred in two forgettable movies before landing the iconic role of John McClane, the wisecracking, hardboiled cop in 1988’s Die Hard. Despite being an unknown only three years previously, Willis commanded what was then an astronomical fee of $5 million for the movie. Die Hard made Willis an A-list star, establishing the blue-collar everyman image that still gets him parts today.

He kept his status as a box office draw, appearing in other action movies and Die Hard sequels, as well as box office mega franchises like Look Who's Talking. But Willis really got to shine when he was cast in the Tarantino indie classic Pulp Fiction, playing the washed-up boxer Butch Coolidge. His vivid, nuanced performance got rave reviews: “The days when Newsweek could scoff ‘Bruce Willis in a great movie?’ may be behind him, thanks to the extraordinary reviews for Pulp Fiction," Jill Gerston wrote in The New York Times [sorry, Bruce].

Although his primary fare remained action films, some of his post- Pulp Fiction roles gave him more complex material with which to show off his acting chops. He appeared in the 1995 neo-noir 12 Monkeys and the 1999 mega-hit The Sixth Sense.

In 2012 he made an unexpected appearance in Wes Anderson’s twee indie universe via Moonrise Kingdom. That’s not to say he doesn’t choose some bad projects—2015’s Vice went straight to video, while 2018’s Reprisal has an impressive zero percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

As Willis turns 64, Newsweek looks at critical aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to find the 15 best movies of his career so far.

01 The Fifth Element
Columbia Pictures

15. The Fifth Element (1997). Total score: 63.9%.
Directed by: Luc Besson. Starring: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry. 
Plot summary: In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr. Zorg at bay.
What the critics said: "In this movie and many like it, the only elements that count are impact, impact, impact and impact. The fifth element is gibberish." Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal. 

02 RED
Summit Entertainment

14. RED (2010). Total score: 65.23%.  
Directed by: Robert Schwentke. Starring: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich. 
Plot summary: When his peaceful life is threatened by a high-tech assassin, former black-ops agent Frank Moses reassembles his old team in a last ditch effort to survive and uncover his assailants.
What the critics said: "Much of the enjoyment comes from seeing these respected thespians so thoroughly embody cartoon characters; it's like Sidney Lumet directing Space Jam." Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader

03 Unbreakable
Buena Vista Pictures

13. Unbreakable (2000). Total score: 65.48%. 
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan. Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright. 
Plot summary: A man learns something extraordinary about himself after a devastating accident.
What the critics said: "By the time the film is over you may feel as if the 12-year-old inside of you has been utterly wowed and that the adult is still going, 'Hmmmm...'" Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly.  

04 Die Hard 2
Twentieth Century Fox

12. Die Hard 2 (1990). Total score: 66.39%. 
Directed by: Renny Harlin. Starring: Bruce Willis, William Atherton, Bonnie Bedelia, Dennis Franz. 
Plot summary: John McClane attempts to avert disaster as rogue military operatives seize control of Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.
What the critics said: "No one carries a one-liner better than Willis. He's also unusual among Hollywood's Action Men in seeming vulnerable at the same time as being invincible." Dominic Wells, Time Out.  

05 Live Free or Die Hard
Twentieth Century Fox

11. Live Free or Die Hard (2007). Total score: 70.14%. 
Directed by: Len Wiseman. Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Maggie Q. 
Plot summary: John McClane and a young hacker join forces to take down master cyber-terrorist Thomas Gabriel in Washington D.C.
What the critics said: "Ultimately it's Willis who makes this loopy action movie so endearing. Nobody dies it better." David Ansen, Newsweek

06 The Sixth Sense
Buena Vista Pictures

10. The Sixth Sense (1999). Total score: 73.21%. 
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan. Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette. 
Plot summary: A boy who communicates with spirits seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.
What the critics said: "Not only does this production contain what is probably Willis' strongest performance and a lot of other fine acting, but it is also one of the best films of the year. And it's sure to be a movie that the people who see it will want to talk about." Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel.  

07 Sin City
Dimension Films

9. Sin City (2005). Total score: 74.48%. 
Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan. 
Plot summary: A film that explores the dark and miserable town, Basin City, and tells the story of three different people, all caught up in violent corruption.
What the critics said: "I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. I loved every gorgeous sick disgusting ravishing overbaked blood-spurting artificial frame of it." David Edelstein, Slate.  

08 Twelve Monkeys
Universal Pictures

8. Twelve Monkeys (1995). Total score: 75.77%. 
Directed by: Terry Gilliam. Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt. 
Plot summary: In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.
What the critics said: "Bruce Willis, in an eruptive performance of startling emotional intensity, stars as Cole, a prisoner tagged for an experiment that may get him killed." Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.  

09 Grindhouse
Dimension Films

7. Grindhouse (2007). Total score: 75.82%. 
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie. 
Starring: Kurt Russell, Rose McGowan, Danny Trejo, Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin. 
Plot summary: Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's homage to exploitation double features in the 60s and 70s with two back-to-back cult films that include previews of coming attractions between them.
What the critics said: "Grindhouse is insider fun when Rodriguez is in charge and regrettable trash when Tarantino takes over." Tom Long, Detroit News

10 Nobody's Fool
Paramount Pictures

6. Nobody's Fool (1994). Total score: 79%. 
Directed by: Robert Benton. Starring: Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, Jessica Tandy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Melanie Griffith. 
Plot summary: A stubborn man past his prime reflects on his life of strict independence and seeks more out of himself.
What the critics said: "The movie is both a star vehicle and an ensemble piece; the other actors revolve around Newman yet give off more than just his reflected light." Michael Sragow, New Yorker.  

11 Die Hard
Twentieth Century Fox

5. Die Hard (1988). Total score: 79.32%. 
Directed by: John McTiernan. Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia. 
Plot summary: An NYPD officer tries to save his wife and several others taken hostage by German terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
What the critics said: "Die Hard is an action picture with a capital A. In fact, you might as well go ahead and capitalize the whole darn word." Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel