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Posterized: Bruce Willis, Perennial

I raced excitedly to a A Good Day To Die Hard screening earlier this week though I couldn't quite put my finger on why. As a rule of thumb, I love Bruce Willis but I don't exactly seek his movies out and haven't seen a Die Hard since the second one. (I've been the furthest thing from a loyal fan mostly because he churns out so many disposable actioners.) I was just in the right mood I guess though I am sad to report that it felt like a phone-in.

But for this week's edition of Posterized, I thought we'd look back on his whole career. I've previously applauded him for his unheralded range. Which is to say that even though he is always "Bruce Willis" he can easily slip into auteur pieces, comedies, dramas, and action flicks without ever disrupting the site-specific tonal demands. That's as true of a definition of Movie Star who also happens to be a Fine Actor as I know of. But the posters disagree with me since every other one cribs some element from the original Die Hard (1988) poster, Bruce with a tense side stare, Bruce pursing those thin lips, Bruce holding a gun (or signifying that a gun is just outside the frame with battle gear on). Every movie wants to be Die Hard... especially all the subsequent Die Hards. Die Hard 2 may be the most hilarious example of the unspoken sequel motto ("be the same movie over again... only bigger")

The "Moonlighting" Years (85-89)
aka Cybil (TV) and Demi (The Movies) share him
Blind Date (1987), Sunrise (1987), Die Hard (1988)

Seemingly hundreds of movies after the jump! How many have you seen?

Bruce Seeks Oscar Nods (Still Waiting)
In Country, Die Hard 2, Bonfire of the Vanities

Very soon after explosive stardom hit, Bruce demonstrated his willingness to do supporting roles. Not that he was a supporting player to Demi's divadom; that was a two movie stars household.  This 'one of the gang' quality would serve him well in navigating the ficke waters of stardom. Some years you're hot. Some you're not.

The Mr. Demi Moore Years (1990-1996)
AKA Her Stardom Suddenly Rivals / Briefly Surpasses His Own

Mortal Thoughts, Hudson Hawk, Billy Bathgate

The Last Boy Scout, Death Becomes Her, Striking Distance

Pulp Fiction, North, Color of Night
(a particularly volatile run since Pulp was a sensation, North was savaged, and Color of Night was all "omg, Bruce's peen!") 

Bruce Seeks Oscar Nods Again? (1994-1995)
Nobody's Fool, Die Hard With a Vengeance, 12 Monkeys 

Bruce Focuses on Thrills (1996-1999)
Last Man Standing, The Fifth Element, The Jackal

Mercury Rising, Armageddon, The Siege

Demi-Breakup (1998-1999)
Breakfast of Champions, The Sixth Sense, The Story of Us

The Mad Prolific Genre Juggling Years (2000-2005)
The Whole Nine Yards, The Kid, Unbreakable

Bandits, Hart's War, Tears of the Sun

The Whole Ten Yards, Oceans Twelve, Hostage

There was always a grab bag quality to Bruce's filmography but shortly after the Post Demi Years begin, it starts getting especially random. Supporting roles and cameos abound -- I didn't posterize all the cameos and none of the voice work --  and he seems to choose movies irregardless of anything like cast list or auteur presence, mixing curious with cash-ins and anything else...

The Bruce Will Say Yes To Anything Years (2005-present)
Sin City, Alpha Dog, Lucky Number Slevin

16 Blocks, Fast Food Nation, Perfect Stranger

Live Free or Die Hard, Planet Terror, Assassination of a High School President

What Just Happened, Surrogates, Cop Out

RED, Set Up, Catch .44

Lay the Favourite, The Cold Light of Day, Moonrise Kingdom

The Expendables 2, Looper, A Good Day To Die Hard

Bruce is very successful and somewhat impervious to the ups and downs of fames but I can't with so many of his movies! I've seen just under half of these.  He's almost 58 and still working like a dog. Do you see more randomness in his future or will one of the many auteurs he's worked with in the past (Tarantino, Anderson, Johnson) finally give him a showcased Oscar nominatable role... Oscar does love the weathered very famous male stars once they try even a little in a well regarded film.

How many have you seen? Which are your favorites? I'm partial to his 90s run Death Becomes Her, Pulp Fiction12 Monkeys are all pretty great in very different ways and I think he had a pretty strong 2012 (Looper & Moonrise Kingdom hit my top 20 and top 10 respectively.)

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Reader Comments (31)

Death Becomes Her...can never get enough of that movie.

Hel: Madeline! I must speak to Madeline at once!
Ernest: She's not home.
Hel: Oh thank God!

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Bruce Willis was my first actor-crush if you will. I remember seeing The Sixth Sense and just being entranced and he made me watch more movies, since at that point in my life (I was barely a teenager) I was far more into music and books and could care less about actors and movies. Bruce changed that. Sure, he had a slew of action-centered brainless fare, but I loved every second of it, and finding gems within his filmography like '12 Monkeys' and 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Death Becomes Her' was the highlight of my teenage years.

I love the fact that he can really do it all, and pull it off. He can be the action star, even pushing 60, and yet he can be the comedian or the romantic centerpiece of the dramatic star. Most notably, I feel that his recent work in 'Moonrise Kingdom' shows that the man has so much to offer. The quiet burning he gives to his portrayal of a life-lost policeman was just so incredibly moving (still depressed he didn't at least earn himself a Film Bitch Award nomination).

I personally nominate him for his work in 'Die Hard' (the benchmark performance for all action stars to look to), 'Pulp Fiction' (he's almost as good as Jackson) and 'Moonrise Kingdom' (his finest moment to date). I'll always have affection for him for what he represents in my movie watching life, and despite his random film choices, he always manages to bring a smile to my face.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I lice his cameo in Ocean's Twelve!

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I love it, I mean! Damn phone

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Even though I LOVED Grindhouse, I completely forgot that he was in Planet Terror.

LOVE Death Becomes Her, and Pulp Fiction of course (and DAMN but he was hot in that movie!), and Sin City, but my favorite Bruce is probably either The Sixth Sense or The Fifth Element. The latter is just so much freaking FUN. He had a surprisingly good year in 2012 with Moonrise Kingdom and Looper, even though the others look like they were barely released.

Nathaniel, silly question, but have you seen The Story of Us? I have heard such mixed things about it, and I thought it would be interesting to hear what Pfeiffer's biggest pfan had to say.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Is Willis the first megastar of the "modern" indie scene (Sex, Lies & Videotape on) to do a real mix of Hollywood pics and smaller ones? I've always appreciated that about him, even for all the duds.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

I've always thought of him as a bad actor, even though I've only seen 4 of his movies (Die Hard, The Sixth Sense, Moonrise, Kingdom, and Looper).

I definitely an Oscar nomination is coming someday though.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

My question is: how has he avoided the taint that has attached to other stars who've made this many bad action films for blatantly cash-in purposes? Yes, I'm talking about Nicholas Cage, but also Jackie Chan and others. Hostage? Cop Out? The Expendables 2? I'm not sure they're much better than Drive Angry or The Tuxedo. It was a pretty long dry spell between Sin City and Moonrise Kingdom, give or take the supporting turns in Fast Food Nation and Planet Terror (and much as I like Planet Terror, does anyone think of Willis as a particular standout in either of those ensembles?). Yet Bruce endures.

I'll confess, though - I did sort of enjoy Surrogates.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaika


I think the difference between Willis and Cage in particular is that Bruce Willis can act, and so he's an enjoyable presence, even in bad films. Cage is painful to watch.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I've seen 39. WIllis is great. I love his 1992-1997 stretch most of all. The Fifth Element, Death Becomes Her, Die Hards 1-3 and Unbreakable are my favorites, but I pretty much like him in everything, whether the movie is good or not.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Perfect Stranger is one of the craziest movies. It's easily one of the best bad movies of the last decade. Everyone should see it, if for nothing else than for Giovanni Ribisi's unhinged performance and the fascinating amount of Victoria's Secret product placement.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWill h

Bruce has a cool reserve to him that Nicolas Cage can't even fake when he's sleeping. it serves him for the best usually, but sometimes his "wink-wink I'm better than this" gets the best of him. But it never ever shoots him off the deep end like Cage.

Love him when he's totally on though. Wonderful work in Moonrise.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA

'Die Hard' is one of my favorites of all time. Sometimes people laugh at me when I say I'm a movie buff and I love Die Hard, but they can never really name a flaw in it.

Also a fan of Looper, Moonrise Kingdom, Pulp Fiction, Death Becomes Her, The Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

"Irregardless"? lol

I do enjoy Death Becomes Her, Twelve Monkeys, and his support/cameo in Nobody's Fool, but I absolutely love Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, and Die Hard. Those are his classics and what he'll be remembered for until he's Oscar-nominated (if he ever is).

It really wasn't until this year that I truly realized how good he is. He was my favorite part of Moonrise Kingdom (besides the children) and Looper. Since I seem to find myself watching Pulp Fiction a lot in my life, I only noticed this year how good he is in it. He always gets overshadowed by the other three leads, but he's just as good as Travolta at least. He really is a great actor and I can't wait to see what other visionary directors can do with him.

P.S. - Sin City and Grindhouse are also favorites

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

Bruce Willis was a high school crush of mine, for Moonlighting. I remember a friend and I going to see Blind Date on opening night because we adored Bruce Willis so much. I still have great fondness for him even though I've only seen 22 of his movies. He has a great sense of humor and seems to be mocking his action-star credentials as much as he's celebrating them. See the terribly underrated Hudson Hawk for proof.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAR

He is so good when he's bad, like in Nobody's Fool. I am hoping to see Moonrise this weekend. As much as I like him, his movies are usually beneath him.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I've seen 31 of the films you've posterized.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Wow. Before I read this, I would have sworn that Bruce Willis was nominated for Sixth Sense. How did that not happen?

The stretch from Sixth Sense to Unbreakable are my favorites. I want to go out and rent The Kid this weekend. And Story of Us is my personal favorite of his. I think he and Pfeiffer have amazing chemistry.

Finally: The Whole Ten for reminding me of one of the most hideously photo-shopped movie posters of all time.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentershawshank

Correction: Sixth Sense to Bandits is my favorite run of his.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentershawshank

What an odd choice for posterized! I've seen 27 although I can't remember a single thing about more than one.

I used to love Blind Date as a kid, but I haven't seen it in ages so I'll go with Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, Death Becomes Her and Nobody's Fool.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I've seen 20. I remember convincing a friend of mine to watch 16 Blocks when it first came out because "Bruce Willis' movies are always good..." And of course he's proven me wrong since then with his fair share of duds, although he did rebound strongly last year with Moonrise Kingdom and Looper.

My favourite film of his has to be Unbreakable; just an absolutely lived-in, wrenching performance. I just wish he would stray into dramatic territory more often because he's obviously very capable.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

maybe because he's so ubiquitous i was sure i'd seen heaps of these but turns out i've only seen four (death becomes her, pulp fiction, sixth sense, moonrise kingdom)

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Whenever I start doubting his talents, I just think back to Death Becomes and go, "oh yeah."

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSanty.C

Have to go with The Fifth Element and The Sixth Sense as his top films and performances as well. Although, he was really great in Unbreakable and 12 Monkeys as well, and of course. Love SIn City and Planet Terror. Have to agree about him having a nice 2012.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJerry Maguire

Top Shelf Willis:

Die Hard
Pulp Fiction
Twelve Monkeys
The Sixth Sense
The Fifth Element
The Last Boy Scout
Sin City
Moonrise KIngdom

Watchable Willis:

Die Hard with a Vengeance
Death Becomes Her
Nobody's Fool
Planet Terror
The Siege
Die Hard 2
Mortal Thoughts
Oceans 12

Unwatchable Willis:

Color of Night
Cop Out
A Good Day to Die Hard
The Whole Ten Yards
Perfect Stranger
The Jackal
Bonfire of the Vanities
The Kid

WTF Willis:

Catch 44?
Cold Light of Day?
Lay the Favorite?
Set Up ?????

February 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdaniel23

My favorites: Death Becomes Her, The Fifth Element, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Looper, Moonrise Kingdom.

And Die Hard. I love</> Die Hard. Not only a great action movie, but one of the most fun, most rewatchable Christmas movies ever.

February 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteryoonah

Liked~loved him in: Death Becomes Her, The Fifth Element, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, 12 Monkeys, Looper, Moonrise Kingdom.

And of course Die Hard. I love Die Hard (just the first one). Not only a great action movie, but one of the most fun, most rewatchable Christmas movies ever.

I'm a Vonnegut fan, and I kept meaning to watch Breakfast of Champions, but never did. Is it any good?

February 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteryoonah

To borrow one of your formats, thoughts I have while reading this post:

1. Yay, The Sixth Sense. Love that movie so much.
2. Actually, Willis have been in many solid to great movies that I enjoyed. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, 12 Monkeys, Moonrise Kingdom...
3. Wow, The Kid and Looper. How did I not make this connection when Looper came out? I might actually prefer The Kid to be honest.
4. Zero Oscar nominations? Surprising really.
5. But then, how the heck did he makes so many movies that hardly ever, hmm, see the light of day (haha)? I follow movies quite regularly, and I have never heard of Set Up, Catch .44 and Lay the Favorites. Did he sign a four-pictures deal with an amateur movie company or something?

February 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkin

Gotta love Bruce and his forehead-size tip-of-the-nose-to-upper lip area.

I've seen 29 of his films and was never even aware of three (Cop Out? Set Up? Catch .44?!).

He was magical in Death Becomes Her, Pulp Fiction, Nobody's Fool (my personal favorite), 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Bandits, Moonrise Kingdom and Looper. And, of course, Moonlighting (well, the first couple of seasons), which may not technically be filmography but...

Irregardless is right.

February 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Hey, how about his stint on Friends as Rachel's boyfriend who was also the father of Ross' girlfriend? Ha.

Anyways, I've only seen 12. Could've sworn I've seen more, but then again I'm the weird one who hasn't seen any Die Hard films nor Sixth Sense.

February 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

No one has mentioned his full-frontal in the Director's Cut of "Color of Night"?!?! Hellooo, handsome!!! He has eternal points for me from "Moonlighting" the only appointment television in my college days. We actually had a party to celebrate he and Cybill Shepherd finally doing it!

I've seen 37, almost everything before The Kid / Unbreakable / Whole Nine Yards, and little since then. Loved Death Becomes Her (so deliciously bitchy!) and the Die Hard movies. I think he's a solid, dependable actor.

February 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

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