It's hard to know what you're going to get when Bruce Willis stars in an action movie. Sometimes you get “Die Hard” and sometimes you get, er, “Cop Out.” With Willis back to the top of the box office with M. Nigh Shyamalan brain-bender “Glass” (a continuation of the work he began, almost 20 years ago, in “Unbreakable”) and his 64th birdhay, here's a look back at his long -- but very rocky -- history of action movies.
27. 'A Good Day to Die Hard' (2013)
The Die Hard franchise had completely run out of steam by its fifth go-around. Gone was any semblance of Willis' John McClane being an everyman action hero. Once you factor in the walking anti-charisma that is Jai Courtney, this one never stood a chance.
26. 'Cop Out' (2010)
Sometimes it's painfully obvious that no one in a movie actually wanted to be there. That's very much the case with this disastrous, Kevin Smith-directed buddy cop flick, as Willis and co-star Tracy Morgan's chemistry ranged from nonexistent to outright hostile.
25. 'Hudson Hawk' (1991)
Willis wore many hats in this heist film, co-writing both the screenplay and the theme song in addition to acting. Sadly, about all “Hudson Hawk” accomplished was proving that Willis should stick to acting (and be more discerning about his projects).
24. 'Vice' (2015)
It's never a good sign when a star of Willis' caliber stars in a direct-to-video feature. Lionsgate had the right idea by letting this abysmal sci-fi film die a quick, obscure death.
23. 'Red 2' (2013)
“Red 2” suffers from a textbook case of sequel-itis. It has all the same winning ingredients as the original, but the end result simply doesn't taste as great the second time around. Still, it's fun to watch Willis and his fellow aging action heroes light up the screen all over again.
22. 'Maruaders' (2016)
Willis didn't fare much better in his next collaboration with Lionsgate, which was quietly released via video on demand in 2016. This heist/conspiracy thriller did little but cycle through the usual tropes.
21. 'Hostage' (2005)
There's potential in the idea of a sort of reworked-“Die Hard” movie, with Willis playing the hostage negotiator instead of the blue collar action hero. However, that potential wasn't realized in this forgettable action thriller.
20. 'The Jackal' (1997)
Conventional wisdom states that there's no point in remaking a beloved movie if you can't do it justice in the process. That's a lesson Hollywood never seems to learn. “The Jackal” is a pale shadow of 1973's “The Day of the Jackal,” though we do have to respect Willis' mustache and his commitment to the role of a cold-blooded baddie.
19. 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' (2014)
Fans were left waiting nearly a decade for a sequel to “Sin City” and in the end the wait wasn't even justified. While the film still has visual style to spare (even more eye-popping in 3D), it's bland and lifeless whenever Eva Green’s slinky femme fatale isn't on screen. That goes for Willis' scenes as much as anyone's.
18. 'Last Man Standing' (1996)
Here's another case where Willis made the mistake of starring in a remake that had no good reason to exist in the first place. “Last Man Standing” transplants Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” into a Prohibition-era gangster setting but fails to channel any of that film's appeal. (Although writer-director Walter Hill’s muscular staging is appreciated.) Willis was particularly criticized for his bland, emotionless performance.
17. 'Live Free or Die Hard' (2007)
The belated fourth entry in the “Die Hard” franchise has fared better with age, if only because it became clear how much further the franchise still had to drop. While entertaining, this sequel lost touch with the core appeal of John McClane as it emphasized ridiculous, over-the-top action sequences and even more hilarious ideas about computer hacking and the Internet.
16. 'Surrogates' (2009)
Hopes were high for this 2009 adaptation of the popular sci-fi comic about an FBI agent investigating murders in a world where most of humanity hides behind remote-controlled robot avatars. The film shows moments of inspiration (we love how robots call humans “meat bags” and it gets bonus points for reuniting Willis and his “Pulp Fiction” costar Ving Rhames), but it also devolves into a bland sci-fi action flick after a while.
15. 'The Expendables 2' (2010)
While Willis had a cameo in the “Expendables,” the sequel was where his character was finally allowed to join in on the fun. Like its predecessor, “Expendables 2” delivers plenty of mindless, nostalgia-draped fun featuring some of the biggest action heroes on the planet. It's hard to complain too much about that.
14. 'Die Hard 2' (1990)
The fact that this sequel was subtitled “Die Harder” tells you all you really need to know about its ambition. “Die Hard 2” mostly settles for regurgitating the formula of the first with a nastier, more nihilistic streak, but at least Willis was still at the height of his appeal as a grounded action hero.
10. 'G.I. Joe Retaliation' (2013)
The second “G.I. Joe” movie is every bit as dumb as the first, but at least it recognizes and celebrates that fact. Additionally, this sequel does a far better job of capturing the larger-than-life quality of the cartoon series, bolstered by some inspired additions like Willis' Joe Colton and Dwayne Johnson's Roadblock. Yo Joe!
12. 'The Last Boy Scout' (1991)
You might think the combination of Willis and Damon Wayans, with their wildly different comedic styles, would doom this action comedy. But “The Last Boy Scout” works surprisingly well, thanks in no small part to a clever script from writer Shane Black (at the time one of the most expensive screenplays ever sold, which of course meant it was endlessly re-written). This film helped restore some of Willis' luster after the disastrous “Hudson Hawk” and is something of a cult classic today.
11. 'Lucky Number Slevin' (2006)
Sure, this 2006 crime thriller is more than a little reminiscent of “Pulp Fiction.” But even if it can't really compete in that arena, it still delivers a fun, stylish story about colorful New York mobsters clashing with one another.
10. '16 Blocks' (2006)
This very underrated action thriller is notable for its use of real-time action and for being the final film (for now) from legendary director Richard Donner. While not one of the more remarkable films in Willis' resume, it definitely has its moments (many of them thanks to the surprisingly effective rapper-turned-actor Mos Def, as a prisoner being transported the titular “16 Blocks”). If you’ve never seen it, seek it out.
9. 'Planet Terror' (2007)
Willis proved to be one of the more entertaining elements of this campy, Robert Rodriguez-helmed zombie movie. “Planet Terror,” originally packaged with Quentin Tarantino’s vehicular horror movie “Death Proof,” is a good reminder that sometimes it's better to let Willis play the bad guy, even if that involves some gruesome, disgusting zombie effects in the process.
8. 'Armageddon' (1998)
Like many Michael Bay movies, “Armageddon” is dumb as a bag of rocks and more interested in delivering emotionally manipulative spectacle than real, nuanced characters. Still, you can't help but have a fun time with this superzied disaster flick, even if that Aerosmith song has only grown more grating with age.
7. 'Red' (2010)
Who says old age is a barrier to making great action movies? This comic book adaptation made the most of its aging cast as it told the story of a group of retired CIA agents who join forces to bring down their would-be assassins. “Red” sets a strong example for the type of action movies Willis should be pursuing at this point in his career.
6. 'Sin City' (2005)
“Sin City” may just go down in history as the most faithful comic book adaptation ever made. That's not always necessarily a good thing, but regardless, it brings Frank Millers's nourish, black-and-white comics to life in amazing, painstaking detail. Willis himself is perfectly cast as aging hard-boiled cop John Hartigan, who unwittingly creates a truly horrifying villain while trying to save a young girl’s life.
5. 'Die Hard With a Vengeance' (1995)
The third “Die Hard” movie remains the best of the sequels. Even as it built directly on the back of the original, “Die Hard with a Vengeance” shook up the formula and took risks in a way “Die Hard 2” (and all the subsequent sequels) failed to do. The addition of fellow “Pulp Fiction” alum Samuel L. Jackson as Willis' new foil didn't hurt, either.
4. 'Unbreakable' (2000)
While it's clearly a superhero movie, it's debatable whether “Unbreakable” actually qualifies as an action flick. Regardless, it remains one of the better films in Willis' resume, offering a moody and introspective look at a family man coming to terms with his heroic potential. And at long last, we'll get to see Willis' David Dunn return to action in this week’s “Glass.” Super!
3. 'The Fifth Element' (1997)
When it was originally released, critics were sharply divided on this Luc Besson candy-colored sci-fi action movie, but it's developed a pretty strong following in the years since. Willis hasn't always fared so well in the sci-f realm (see also “Surrogates”). This time, though, he felt right at home in this weird, futuristic universe, as a cab driver forced to save the world.
2. 'Looper' (2012)
Willis proved he still had that magic as he joined forces with director Rian Johnson and co-star Joseph-Gordon Levitt for this entertaining and engaging time travel thriller. No, Gordon-Levitt didn't exactly make for a convincing young Willis, no matter how many prosthetics were glued to his face, but the clever storytelling and the dynamic between the two more than made up for that.
1. 'Die Hard' (1988)
How could any other film top this list? “Die Hard” put Willis on the map, making him a Hollywood leading man virtually overnight, and it remains his best action movie ever and one of the greatest movie of all time (period). “Die Hard” gave viewers a very different breed of action hero, one who got by on his wits and daring more than giant muscles or elite training. We just wish the sequels were better about taking notes.