Skip to main content

Main Area

Main

Best and worst Bruce Willis movies

  • Best and worst Bruce Willis movies

    It’s not an easy leap, but Bruce Willis jumped from being a TV star (on the hit “Moonlighting”) to leading man (as John McClane in “Die Hard”) in record time, eventually becoming one of the biggest box office draws ever, with films generating more than  $5 billion worldwide. “Die Hard” brought him his first major role and first blockbuster. The villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) aptly labels Willis’ wisecracking cop “Mr. Cowboy.”

    Willis became a new classic American hero: a cowboy of his own making and charismatic action star who makes murder look effortless, cool, and—most of all—good. McClane’s famous “Yippee ki yay” rejoinder (complete with profanity) captures the hallmarks of the Willis star persona: the smirk and the one-liner that combine unstoppable bravery with tactical know-how that seems superhuman—all that in a regular everyman with contagious charm and a five o’clock shadow. Even when Willis’ characters are vulnerable, they’re still infused with power. McClane picks glass out of his bare feet, but still beats the terrorists.

    Willis’ McClane character spawned a franchise and remains an icon, representing ideal, masculine heroics. “John McClane” even shows up in the Urban Dictionary as both a verb and a noun that names a white, ribbed undershirt.

    As a modern action cowboy, Willis' characters almost always intersect with cultural ideas around the law, giving audiences a sense of right and wrong, and of justice. Willis is known for playing cops, black-ops agents, CIA guys, hostage negotiators, detectives, and private eyes. He’s also frequently cast as the bad guy, usually a likable one—an ex-cop who’s gone rogue, a hitman, a heist mastermind, a gangster, or any mob type who knows his way around gun craft and beatdowns.

    In the recent “Death Wish,” his surgeon character enforces his own laws, moving the moral line as he exacts vigilante justice. David Dunn from the “Unbreakable” franchise has the same function, as a superhero working outside the bounds. Willis' characters make their own rules whether as rogues, vigilantes, or soldiers like the menacing commander in “The Siege.” Willis’ roles as family men, animated characters, and comic heroes still carry his signature smirk and the charm that, in action films, makes violence somehow charming too.

    Stacker compiled all the IMDb data as of October 2019 on feature films featuring Bruce Willis as an actor and ranked these films according to their IMDb user rating, with ties broken by the number of votes. Cameos, uncredited roles, and production credits without acting roles were not considered. Willis’ latest release, “Motherless Brooklyn,” was left off since this is ranked by audience reaction and it hasn't been publicly released yet.

    You may also like: 100 best films of the 21st century, according to critics

  • #78. Air Strike (2018)

    - Director: Xiao Feng
    - IMDb user rating: 3.2
    - Votes: 2,838
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 97 min

    Mel Gibson was a producer for this Chinese film starring Bruce Willis as a colonel who trains fighter pilots during World War II during the Japanese bombings of Chongqing. The release was delayed in China and went straight to video in the U.S. Rumer Willis, Willis’ real life-daughter, makes an appearance in a small role.

  • #77. Extraction (2015)

    - Director: Steven C. Miller
    - IMDb user rating: 4.1
    - Votes: 8,843
    - Metascore: 25
    - Runtime: 82 min

    Willis brings his characteristic black-ops action grit to this major flop with a limited release that then went straight to video. Kellan Lutz plays Willis’ son, both CIA operatives, but the plot—extracting a briefcase computer called “The Condor” that can hack any global network—proves banal and uninspired, despite Willis star power.

  • #76. Reprisal (2018)

    - Director: Brian A. Miller
    - IMDb user rating: 4.2
    - Votes: 4,655
    - Metascore: 19
    - Runtime: 89 min

    One review accused Willis of “phoning it in” as yet another ex-cop pulled into criminal mayhem that requires him to save the day. In the 2010s Willis’ roles often build on his familiar star persona, a tough guy routine still in rotation as the actor ages. Willis plays the neighbor of a banker with a kidnapped wife, who helps enact vengeance and reprisal.

  • #75. Vice (2015)

    - Director: Brian A. Miller
    - IMDb user rating: 4.2
    - Votes: 14,640
    - Metascore: 17
    - Runtime: 96 min

    Similar to Willis’ “Surrogates” from 2009, “Vice” references “Westworld,” “Blade Runner,” and other sci-fi set-ups about humanoid robots. Willis plays Julian, the maniacal owner of “a better reality,” a resort called Vice populated with humanoids where anything goes, mostly violent crimes. Willis plays the antagonist, rather than the rogue cop investigating homicides. The cop role goes to Thomas Jane who ends Vice, although a twisty final shot of Julian casts doubt.

  • #74. Setup (2011)

    - Director: Mike Gunther
    - IMDb user rating: 4.4
    - Votes: 19,854
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 85 min

    Early 2010 action films start Willis’ passage to straight-to-video thrillers that play on his considerable star power as a tough rogue who can play either a criminal or a crime fighter with equal ease. In the low-budget “Setup,” Willis plays mobster “Biggs,” who teams up with a betrayed robber (50 Cent) to seek vengeance and retrieve heist money.

  • #73. North (1994)

    - Director: Rob Reiner
    - IMDb user rating: 4.5
    - Votes: 12,698
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 87 min

    In this Rob Reiner-directed family film, a boy (Elijah Wood) wants to divorce his parents. Willis both narrates and shows up as a series of wise mentors along the boy’s journey. Willis gets a softer role, but the action star’s bravado is still in place. At one point, he gives the kid sage advice (via macho wisecracks) while costumed in a pink bunny suit.

  • #72. Breakfast of Champions (1999)

    - Director: Alan Rudolph
    - IMDb user rating: 4.6
    - Votes: 7,387
    - Metascore: 42
    - Runtime: 110 min

    The runaway blockbuster “The Sixth Sense” came out in 1999, as did this disastrous flop that was pulled from theatrical release shortly after its premiere. Willis’ career often careens between megahits and bombs, with the actor making consistent recovery and remaining popular. In this black comedy, he plays a suicidal car salesman, but the bizarre surrealist style falls flat. The ensemble cast also includes Nick Nolte, Barbara Hershey, Omar Epps, and Glenne Headly.

  • #71. Precious Cargo (2016)

    - Director: Max Adams
    - IMDb user rating: 4.6
    - Votes: 7,653
    - Metascore: 27
    - Runtime: 90 min

    “Precious Cargo” is another of Willis’ 2010s-era, straight-to-video action capers, this one garnering 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Willis brings his signature smirk to yet another mob kingpin role and gives whispery delivery of lines like, “All this, just to get shot up here on this roof, that’s your plan?” This round, the mobster seeks vengeance against the woman who betrayed him, and anyone else close by, after a botched heist.

  • #70. Catch .44 (2011)

    - Director: Aaron Harvey
    - IMDb user rating: 4.6
    - Votes: 16,084
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 94 min

    As another mob boss, Willis plays Mel, the mastermind behind a treacherous set-up involving a drug shipment at a roadside diner. Malin Akerman and Forest Whitaker round out the cast in this stylish attempt to give life to a tense tangle of violent double-crosses and shock kills.

  • #69. The Prince (2014)

    - Director: Brian A. Miller
    - IMDb user rating: 4.6
    - Votes: 16,324
    - Metascore: 19
    - Runtime: 93 min

    “The Prince” is the first of three video-on-demand, low-rent action thrillers Willis made with director Brian A. Miller. Willis plays the unhinged mobster Omar who kidnaps the daughter of the man who accidentally killed his own wife and child (played by Jason Patric). At one point, there’s mention that these kind of mishaps are just a part of mob life.