The highs and lows of Bruce Willis

We chart the skyscraping highs and bum-flashing lows of wisecracking action man and all-American idol Bruce Willis

1/20
Blind Date (1987) Written for newlyweds Madonna and Sean Penn, this yuppie-nightmare comedy gave our Bruce–then riding high on the success of TV’s Moonlighting–his first starring role. Read review
2/20
Die Hard (1989) The film that made stars of Bruce and his grubby vest, Die Hard is still his finest work. A fresh blend of comedy and ultraviolence, it spawned a number of sequels, only one of which–1995’s Die Hard With a Vengeance–is a patch on the original. Read review
3/20
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) The Brucie train didn’t take long to come off the rails. As the insanely overpriced Die Hard 2 failed to repeat the original’s success, this misjudged adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s political satire crashed into cinemas. Rumours of Bruce acting up on the set were rife throughout production, making the film’s title all the more ironic. Read review
4/20
Hudson Hawk (1991) After Bonfire, could things get any worse for our hapless hero? As it turns out, yes. Cat-burgling thriller Hudson Hawk remains a byword for expensive flops, despite the fact that the film isn’t really as bad as everyone remembers. Read review
5/20
The Last Boy Scout (1991) Bruce is back! Top Gun director Tony Scott and Lethal Weapon scriptwriter Shane Black gave a smirking Willis one of his finest non-McClane roles in this perfectly pitched, enjoyably nasty buddy-buddy thriller. Read review
6/20
Death Becomes Her (1992) In the years since it was first released to a chorus of critical groans, this macabre black-comic oddity casting Bruce as a moustachioed mortician has become inexplicably popular with nostalgia fans. Read review
7/20
Pulp Fiction (1994) Golden boy Quentin Tarantino sought Bruce out for the role of Butch, the put-upon boxer in his exhilarating, modern classic crime movie. His performance is subtle, gentle and sweetly heroic—aspects of his repertoire that he wouldn’t display again for a very long time. Read review
8/20
Color of Night (1994) Perhaps the worst of the post-Basic Instinct wave of so-called "erotic thrillers," Color of Night saw 39-year-old Bruce seducing 19-year-old "Sinner from Pinner" Jane March. Only to be watched if you’re really keen to get a squizz of Bruce’s saggy rump. Read review
9/20
12 Monkeys (1995) Once again, Bruce drags himself back from the brink, with the aid of Terry Gilliam and his eye for the bizarre and unexpected. This time-hopping adventure may not have aged perfectly, but Bruce’s performance remains a real treat: he’s a genuinely sympathetic, tragic figure. Read review
10/20
The Fifth Element (1997) A marmite film if ever there was one. This day-glo space opera picked up votes in Time Out’s 100 Best Sci-fi Movies poll. But for many it’s a crass triumph of French director Luc Besson’s tendency towards style over substance. Read review
11/20
Armageddon (1998) Another film that divides the critics. But we’re fans of Bruce’s square-jawed, blue collar matinee idol performance in this ridiculously fun disaster movie. The messianic climax is a real tearjerker. Read review
12/20
Breakfast of Champions (1999) At this stage, Bruce was really racking up the misfires. His wildly indulgent leading performance in this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s incisive satire on American commercialism ranks as one of his very worst. Read review
13/20
The Sixth Sense (1999) Another unexpected triumph, as Bruce plays the sad-eyed psychologist tasked with counseling a nine-year-old boy who can commune with the dead. The twist may not make complete sense, but it sure spooked filmgoers at the time. Read review
14/20
The Whole Nine Yards (2000) Bruce turned his hand to comedy in this featherlight tale of a mafia hood hiding out in suburbia. He may have coasted through his role, but the film was a welcome hit, spawning a totally unnecessary sequel. Read review
15/20
Tears of the Sun (2003) This ropey white-man-in-Africa adventure will have to stand for all the dodgy militaristic action movies Bruce has made over the past few decades (step forward The Siege, Hart’s War, Hostage, 16 Blocks and too many more to count). Lest we forget, it was around this time that Bruce volunteered to fight in Iraq, only to decide he was probably a bit long in the tooth. Read review
16/20
Sin City (2005) Some viewers loved comic-book artist Frank Miller’s seedy, ultra-stylied crime thriller for its slick dialogue and sprawling cast of characters. Others loathed its excessive violence and shifty attitude to women. Read review
17/20
Cop Out (2010) Director Kevin Smith loves to grumble about Bruce’s behavior on the set of this shaky cop comedy, his first straight-up funny role in several years. Whoever’s fault it was, the film really doesn’t work. Read review
18/20
RED (2010) Bruce leads a pack of ageing ex-CIA agents whose ranks include Helen Mirren and John Malkovich in this comic thriller that really should have been a lot better. The stock geriatric gags and lumbering action sequences get (ahem) old pretty quickly. Read review
19/20
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Thirteen long years since his last decent movie, Bruce accepted an invitation from master of whimsy Wes Anderson to take the role of an ageing, irascible cop in this wonderful coming-of-age tale. The twinkly-eyed result was his best performance since Pulp Fiction. Read review
20/20
Looper (2012) In a banner year for our Bruce, he followed Moonrise with another rock-solid, heartfelt, surprisingly dark-edged turn in this complex time-travelling actioner. Sure, he then decided to make the execrable Live Free or Die Hard. But hey, nobody’s perfect, as Willis’s CV makes abundantly clear. Read review

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