Die Hard (1988)
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia
This was the film that established Bruce Willis as a world-class action star. It was based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever and starred Willis as a hot-headed New York cop John McClane who is caught in a Los Angeles skyscraper on Christmas Eve during a heist led by criminal mastermind Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Willis seriously didn’t have the body of a true blue action star like Sylvester Stallone but carried the film through the intensity and the grit shown by his character. It became a blockbuster hit and spawned four sequels. It’s one of the most referenced films in movie history.
Death Becomes Her (1992)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Isabella Rossellini
Why Willis said yes to be pitted against actors the calibre of Meryl Steep and Goldie Hawn God only knows. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem out of place in this dark comedy, though the film does revolve around the two heroines. He plays an alcoholic mortician caught between two immortal women. The film focuses on frenemies (Streep and Hawn), who drink a magic potion that makes them eternally youthful but they experience unpleasant side effects when they physically die. And have to be repaired constantly because of that. It was one of the first films where computer graphics were extensively used and has become a cult classic over the years.
12 Monkeys (1995)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer
It’s inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La Jetée. Willis played a man sent by scientists of the future to a time in the past to study the outbreak of a virus and help locate its source. Why do we get the idea that such a thing might actually happen, given the present coronavirus crisis? Willis acted his heart out in this futuristic thriller, perhaps buoyed by the fact that it was Terry Gilliam who was directing him. Surprisingly it was Brad Pitt who won a Golden Globe for his supporting role. The film has been made into a series with the same name.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment
Who could have thought that an action star can play a child psychologist in a supernatural thriller? M. Night Shyamalan envisioned that and the rest is history. The film tells the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a boy who is able to see and talk to dead people, and Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychologist who tries to help him. The film dwells on the bond between the child and the psychologist, who becomes a father figure of sorts for the former. The twist ending, however, takes the whole structure apart and makes you disbelieve your own eyes. The line “I see dead people” from the film became popular after its release. People still use it even today.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard
After collaborating with Shyamalan in The Sixth Sense, Willis showed no hesitation in surrendering to the director’s vision again in another supernatural thriller. The film was the first in the Eastrail 177 Trilogy, which consists of Unbreakable (2000), Split (2016), and Glass (2019). Willis plays David Dunn, a security guard who is the only survivor of a horrific train crash. He sets about asking questions and discovers he has supernatural abilities. The film was praised for its strong emotional content and for its deconstruction of the supernatural genre. Some rank it as one of the ten best superhero films in the world.
Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren
The film starred Willis as a retired secret operative who has to reluctantly get back in the game when his life gets threatened. This action-comedy is loosely based on the limited comic-book series of the same name created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner and published by the DC Comics imprint Homage. To find out who is targeting him Frank tracks down his old associates for help. He goes to New Orleans, Louisiana, and visits his CIA mentor Joe Matheson (Freeman). He then rounds up another associate Marvin Boggs (Malkovich), who helps them solve the riddle behind the murders of several ex-operatives. The film was a spoof on the spy genre, with the old-time actors successfully executing stunts which are performed by much younger stars in such films. It also showed a world where spies, cutting across national borders, showed loyalty towards each other. It was followed by a sequel Red 2 released in 2013.
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels
Bruce Willis plays Old Joe, a contract killer who escaped being killed by Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his own younger self. The crime syndicate they both work for have designed a system where a hitman’s last victim will be his own future self. As Old Joe escapes, the timeline gets altered. It changes multiple times before Joe sacrifices himself to save the son of a woman he loves, thereby negating the possibility of future selves. Willis was praised for his histrionics in this philosophical thriller dwelling on the nature of time and free will.