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15 best Bruce Willis films – from Die Hard to The Sixth Sense

The action star has a more varied set of movies than you might expect.

Bruce Willis
Published: Friday, 13th May 2022 at 1:48 pm
15 10

Bruce Willis fans are still coming to terms with the actor's retirement under sad circumstances, after his family revealed he has been struggling with a cognitive disorder called aphasia for some time.

However, the Hollywood legend can be proud that his career spawned some of the most iconic films in recent cinema history, which will surely be remembered for many decades to come.

If you're looking to celebrate Willis' extraordinary career, you've come to the right place as we've combed through his extensive filmography to find the absolute cream of the crop.

While most widely known for his action work, it should be noted that Willis worked across many other genres, including comedy, drama, sci-fi, horror and even family fare.

With that in mind, there really is something for everyone on this list, so scroll on to pick the line-up for your next big movie night.

15 best Bruce Willis movies

Showing items 1 to 15 of 15

  • Die Hard

    • Action
    • Thriller
    • 1988
    • John McTiernan
    • 126 mins
    • 18

    Summary:

    Action thriller starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman. New York cop John McClane gets caught up in a terrorist plot after arriving in Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife Holly and his two children. When Holly is taken hostage in the offices of the Japanese corporation she works for, McClane launches a daring rescue attempt.

    The film that made him an action icon.:

    Frequently named as one of the best action films ever made, Die Hard is the one that started it all for Bruce Willis. The actor plays everyman John McClane, a detective for the NYPD who is unexpectedly drawn into a deadly hostage situation on Christmas Eve. Trapped inside skyscraper Nakatomi Plaza, he's tasked with dispatching a number of hired goons on his way to a confrontation with mastermind Hans Gruber (played masterfully by the late Alan Rickman).

    There's a reason why Die Hard has stood the test of time in a way many action films haven't. The ambitious sequences orchestrated for this film remain as pulse-pounding as ever, but the strong character work is also a refreshing change of pace for a genre that can sometimes be too focused on explosions. Willis and Rickman are both excellent as the endearing underdog and his cunning rival, aided by a sharp script that finds room for witty jokes in its grounded tale of survival.

    How to watch
  • Death Becomes Her

    • Comedy
    • Fantasy
    • 1992
    • Robert Zemeckis
    • 99 mins
    • PG

    Summary:

    Black comedy starring Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn. In the 14 years since actress Madeline Ashton stole writer Helen Sharp's fiancé, time has not been kind. When Helen reappears on the scene, seemingly untouched by the passing years, Madeline feels compelled to seek help, but she soon finds that the price of beauty is more than merely financial.

    Willis excels in an off-type role in this star-studded dark comedy.:

    Willis cut his teeth on the hit US sitcom Moonlighting, so it should come as no surprise that he does a sterling job in this darkly comedic fantasy. The film explores the feud between actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) and writer Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn), which takes a turn for the macabre when the former drinks a potion that grants her eternal life. Willis plays mild-mannered plastic surgeon Dr Ernest Menville, who proves an easily manipulated pawn for both women as the story unfolds.

    Death Becomes Her holds a rather unique place in the actor's filmography, marking one of the few occasions where he doesn't adopt his typical 'tough guy' persona. It's a pleasure to see him out of his comfort zone and playing off such an accomplished cast, with Streep and Hawn on top form opposite co-star Isabella Rossellini. Director Robert Zemeckis (of Back to the Future fame) also earned acclaim for his groundbreaking visual effects, which remain gleefully grotesque to this very day.

    How to watch
  • Pulp Fiction

    • Drama
    • Crime/detective
    • 1994
    • Quentin Tarantino
    • 154 mins
    • 18

    Summary:

    Quentin Tarantino's award-winning, multi-stranded crime drama, starring John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson and Uma Thurman. Downtown LA: lovebirds Honey Bunny and Pumpkin plan to hold up a diner. Washed-up boxer Butch is paid to throw his last fight, but has other ideas. "Fixer" the Wolf has to get hitmen Vincent and Jules out of a sticky situation. And Vincent is nervous when he has to escort his boss's wife for the night - with good reason.

    Quentin Tarantino's ensemble flick is legendary.:

    Willis teamed up with acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino for this star-studded ensemble piece, which is arguably one of the most lauded films of all time. It includes a number of dramatic vignettes, some of which overlap as the stories unfold, with Willis taking the role of a boxer on the run after double-crossing a dangerous crime boss (played by Mission: Impossible star Ving Rhames).

    Though hard to believe now, the actor was considered to be taking a big risk when he signed on for Pulp Fiction, which was a lower-profile project for the swiftly rising star. Fortunately, it paid dividends as the unconventional flick proved a box office hit and awards favourite, although it was John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson and Tarantino himself who came away with the most nominations.

    How to watch
  • Die Hard 2: Die Harder

    • Action
    • Thriller
    • 1990
    • Renny Harlin
    • 118 mins
    • 18

    Summary:

    Action thriller sequel starring Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedelia. Christmas Eve: while waiting for his wife's plane to land at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC, detective John McClane becomes involved in a deadly and dangerous mission to outwit a bunch of ruthless terrorists who have taken over the busy airport in a bid to rescue a drugs baron.

    John McClane returns to save the day once more.:

    Following the mammoth success of the first film, a sequel to Die Hard was a complete no-brainer, but it would have been easy for the filmmakers to rest on their laurels and let Willis' star power do all the heavy lifting. Fortunately, they brought their A-game, delivering an action-packed blockbuster that remains a thrilling watch to this day – even if it doesn't quite match the iconic original.

    This time, John McClane is taking on terrorists at Washington Dulles International Airport, racing against the clock to dispel the threat before planes circling above run out of fuel – one of which is carrying his own wife. He'll need to put all his survival skills to work if they're to make it out alive, but that won't be easy with the authorities standing in his way. While the plot of Die Hard 2 has been dismissed as rather daft by critics, most are agreed that it functions well enough as an excuse to see Willis let loose in more white-knuckle action sequences.

    How to watch
  • Nobody's Fool

    • Comedy
    • Drama
    • 1994
    • Robert Benton
    • 105 mins
    • 15

    Summary:

    Drama starring Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy and Bruce Willis. Donald "Sully" Sullivan is 60 years old, unemployable and has spent most of his life shirking responsibility in the weather-beaten town of North Bath, New York. Sully is a lovable rogue whose past is about to catch up with him.

    Willis supports an acting legend in this touching comedy-drama.:

    Veteran actor Paul Newman would earn an Academy Award nomination for his tour de force performance here, with Willis playing a rare antagonistic role opposite him. Nobody's Fool follows Sully, a work shy hustler, who is forced to take life a bit more seriously when his estranged son tracks him down – now with a son of his own. Suddenly, he faces tough questions about his life choices and must decide if he can finally step up to being something more.

    Willis plays contractor Carl Roebuck, a rival of Sully's, with whom he's constantly involved in legal disputes and petty oneupmanship. Nobody's Fool stands out among Willis' filmography as a quieter, more introspective story, which was hailed by critics upon release for its wit, heart and strong performances. The film is adapted from the novel of the same name by author Richard Russo.

    How to watch
  • Twelve Monkeys

    • Mystery
    • Sci-fi
    • 1995
    • Terry Gilliam
    • 129 mins
    • 15

    Summary:

    Futuristic thriller starring Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe. The year 2035: an unknown virus has wiped out most of humanity and the few survivors live in a grim subterranean city beneath Philadelphia. Haunted by a vision from the past, convict James Cole is "volunteered" to travel back in time to 1996 to discover the origin of the epidemic. But Cole is transported to the wrong year and is soon arrested as a madman.

    Mind-bending time travel flick from Terry Gilliam.:

    Following collaborations with Zemeckis and Tarantino, Willis then teamed with a third prolific director, Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam, for sci-fi thriller Twelve Monkeys. In a change from those earlier two efforts, Willis is front and centre here, taking the lead role as a convict who volunteers to be sent back in time in search of a way to prevent an extinction-level event for the human race.

    Once again, he's supported by a stellar cast that includes Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe and Christopher Plummer, while the film's bleak dystopian future is impressively well-realised by Gilliam, making the it an intense and atmospheric watch. Some viewers found the plot to be a tad confusing – and as with any time travel story, it's easy to nitpick things – but those partial to some mind-bending sci-fi will find a lot to love here.

    How to watch
  • The Fifth Element

    • Action
    • Drama
    • 1997
    • Luc Besson
    • 121 mins
    • PG

    Summary:

    Science-fiction action adventure set in 23rd-century New York, starring Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman. When a mysterious female humanoid crash-lands in Korben Dallas's cab, he becomes drawn into a race to save Earth from an approaching evil force.

    Milla Jovovich co-stars in this eccentric sci-fi epic. :

    Willis sticks to the sci-fi genre for this next recommendation, but the eccentric future presented by The Fifth Element really couldn't be more different to the dour dystopia of Twelve Monkeys. Visionary director Luc Besson collaborated with influential French artists Jean Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières to craft the aesthetic of his distant future Earth, which becomes the target of an evil entity long-prophesied to return.

    Our man Bruce plays Korben Dallas, a taxi driver who is unexpectedly drawn into the matter when the mysterious Leeloo (played by Resident Evil's Milla Jovovich) crash lands in his cab. What follows is a whimsical adventure brimming with charm and an off-beat style that sets it far apart from the less ambitious offerings frequently churned out by Hollywood. Gary Oldman co-stars in a delightful villainous role.

    How to watch
  • The Sixth Sense

    • Drama
    • Mystery
    • 1999
    • M Night Shyamalan
    • 102 mins
    • 15

    Summary:

    Supernatural drama starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. On the same night that he receives an award for his achievements, child psychologist Malcolm Crowe is injured after a confrontation with disturbed ex-patient Vincent Gray. Nevertheless, several months later he decides to take on the case of a nine-year-old boy, who claims he can see dead people, just as Gray had done.

    This chiller put M. Night Shyamalan on the map. :

    The Sixth Sense became a box office juggernaut on the back of its mind-blowing twist ending which chances are, you've had spoiled for you by now (on the off chance you haven't, we won't disclose it here). However, even if you know what's coming, the film remains a gripping watch as child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Willis) attempts to get through to a young boy who claims he can see dead people.

    Indeed, while this was a major win for Willis, the movie star was ultimately overshadowed here by newcomer Haley Joel Osment, who scored an Academy Award nomination at just 11 years old. Writer-director M Night Shymalan was also highly praised, with The Sixth Sense setting the template for almost all of his future efforts, none of which have been able to match the narrative gut-punch that this final act flawlessly delivers.

    How to watch
  • Unbreakable

    • Drama
    • Mystery
    • 2000
    • M Night Shyamalan
    • 106 mins
    • 12

    Summary:

    Fantasy drama from the director of The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson. After surviving a train crash in which all other passengers are killed, David Dunn meets the mysterious Elijah Price who suffers from a bone condition that makes him susceptible to fractures. Obsessed with comic-book lore since childhood, Elijah believes that Dunn is an "unbreakable", a gifted individual who has the ability to survive injury and illness. Is David really a superhero or is there some other bizarre explanation?

    Willis and Shyamalan reunite for this interesting take on superheroes. :

    Off the back of their mega-hit The Sixth Sense, which boasts a box office haul of more than $670 million (that's over a billion when adjusted for inflation), Willis and Shyamalan reunited the following year in an attempt to recreate the magic. Alas, Unbreakable isn't quite as strong an effort, but still holds a dear place in the hearts of superhero fans for its novel deconstruction of comic book archetypes.

    Willis plays security guard David Dunn, who becomes a person of interest to the eccentric Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) after surviving a horrifying train crash without a scratch. The intense interactions between the two is the highlight here, with their complex relationship being a key focus of the film. Sure enough, Shyamalan sprinkles in some solid surprises along the way, while never losing sight of the emotional core of the story.

    How to watch
  • Sin City

    • Thriller
    • Drama
    • 2005
    • Frank Miller
    • 118 mins
    • 18

    Summary:

    Adaptation of Frank Miller's hard-boiled comic book, starring Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke. In the ultra-violent metropolis of Basin City, cops, criminals and femmes fatales collide in love, lust or gory conflict. Honest cop Hartigan tries to protect a dancer from a sadistic killer, while ex-con Marv wants revenge for the murder of his sweetheart. Meanwhile, man with a past Dwight finds himself at the centre of a gang war when he tangles with corrupt policeman Jackie Boy.

    Robert Rodriguez helms this stylised comic book adaptation. :

    Here we go from a comic book homage to a proper adaptation – and a remarkably faithful one at that. Sin City is instantly recognisable for its stylised black-and-white aesthetic, with flashes of bright colour being used sparingly to emphasise certain characters or items. Similar to Pulp Fiction, the film is comprised of a series of vignettes, with director Robert Rodriguez juggling a star-studded ensemble cast.

    Willis plays police officer John Hartigan, who dedicates himself to protecting a young girl from a serial child-killer in one of the film's most gripping storylines. However, as you may have gathered from that brief synopsis, it isn't for the faint-hearted. Indeed, Miller's vision of a city overwhelmed by darkness proved controversial for its violent content, but fans of neo-noir may nevertheless find its slick style irresistible.

    How to watch
  • Over the Hedge

    • Comedy
    • Family
    • 2006
    • Tim Johnson
    • 79 mins
    • U

    Summary:

    Animated comedy adventure featuring the voices of Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling and Steve Carell. When Vincent the bear wakes from his winter hibernation to find that scheming raccoon RJ has stolen his stash of food, he gives RJ a deadline to return it, or else. After duping a bunch of animals into helping him, the desperate RJ discovers that part of the forest has been turned into a suburb, and there's a massive hedge separating him from a potentially rich source of salvation.

    A rare family friendly entry in his filmography.:

    The animation genre has attracted no shortage of massive stars over the years, with this oft-forgotten mid-noughties offering being no exception. Willis takes the lead role as wily raccoon RJ, who finds himself in deep trouble after inadvertently destroying the food supply of an enormous bear. He then convinces a naive community of wild animals to gather snacks from a middle-class suburban neighbourhood, but secretly plots to steal the stash to settle his own debt.

    While it might not have the name recognition of fellow DreamWorks offerings Shrek and Madagascar, this family feature is well worth a revisit. The colourful cast of critters are a hilarious bunch, with Steve Carell's hyperactive red squirrel and Garry Shandling's cautious box turtle being highlights, while the story is a heartwarming morality tale that all ages can easily enjoy. Over the Hedge is also notable for casting Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as husband and wife almost a decade before Schitt's Creek premiered.

    How to watch
  • Planet Terror

    • Action
    • Comedy
    • 2007
    • Robert Rodriguez
    • 101 mins
    • 18

    Summary:

    After an experimental bio-weapon is released, turning thousands into zombie-like creatures, it's up to a rag-tag group of survivors to stop the infected and those behind its release.

    Cheesy B-movie made for fans of grindhouse cinema.:

    Willis reunited with Sin City director Robert Rodriguez for this tongue-in-cheek homage to the exploitation flicks of the 1950s and 60s. Planet Terror stars Rose McGowan as go-go dancer Cherry Darling, who is thrown into the fight of her life when a rural town in Texas becomes the epicentre of a ravenous zombie outbreak. Blood-splattered action ensues in a riotous horror-comedy that really stands out among a crowded genre.

    Willis takes a supporting role here as the unhinged Lieutenant Muldoon, who is in part responsible for unleashing the biochemical agent that sparks the terrifying invasion of undead. Planet Terror was released in the US alongside Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, comprising a double feature titled Grindhouse. Both films went largely unnoticed by mainstream movie-goers, but those with an appreciation for cheesy and absurd humour should get a kick out of them.

    How to watch
  • Red

    • Action
    • Thriller
    • 2010
    • Robert Schwentke
    • 106 mins
    • 12A

    Summary:

    Action comedy starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich. Former special agent Frank Moses lives a contented if slightly bored life in retirement. But in his world you never really hang up your gun, so when Frank becomes the target of a mystery assassin, he reassembles his old team in an effort to stop the attempt on his life.

    Bruce joins forces with a killer cast.:

    The Expendables boasts a larger roster, but we'd argue that Red is actually the best action ensemble that Willis has participated in. He plays former black ops agent Frank Moses, who is the target of an assassination attempt one fateful night for reasons unknown. Determined to root out the conspiracy against him, he reunites the members of his old team – played by acting veterans Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Dame Helen Mirren – all of whom are classed as Retired Extremely Dangerous (aka RED).

    There are some great action set-pieces in this crowd-pleasing blockbuster, but the film's sharp sense of humour is arguably its biggest selling point. Malkovich gives an unpredictable turn as paranoid hermit Marvin Boggs, while Weeds star Mary Louise Parker is endearing as an admin worker unexpectedly drawn into the chaos. But in our opinion, Mirren is the standout and Red clearly gave her an appetite for more action fare, as evidenced by later roles in Fast & Furious and the upcoming Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

    How to watch
  • Moonrise Kingdom

    • Comedy
    • Drama
    • 2012
    • Wes Anderson
    • 89 mins
    • 12A

    Summary:

    Coming-of-age drama directed by Wes Anderson and starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis and Bill Murray. Unhappy 12-year-old boy scout Sam Shakusky runs away with bookish Suzy Bishop to live an idyllic life in the New England countryside. Meanwhile, back home, the pair's disappearance throws a group of dysfunctional adults into a panic.

    Willis teams with quirky filmmaker Wes Anderson for this comedy-drama.:

    In a somewhat surprising change of pace, Willis added quirky filmmaker Wes Anderson to the list of his collaborators in 2012, when he took a supporting role in comedy-drama Moonrise Kingdom. The coming-of-age flick follows a boy who escapes from a scout camp to spend time with his pen pal, but it isn't long before his absence is noticed – and Captain Sharp (Willis) of the local police makes it his mission to track them both down.

    Anderson is known for his distinctive directorial style, which often involves perfectly symmetrical shots and quaint production design, with Moonrise Kingdom being no exception. Seeing Willis against such a wholesome backdrop is rather surreal given the darker projects that preceded this, with many critics hailing his work here as some of the best of his career.

    How to watch
  • Looper

    • Thriller
    • Drama
    • 2012
    • Rian Johnson
    • 113 mins
    • 15

    Summary:

    Sci-fi action thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. In the year 2074, when the Mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past where hitmen like Joe are waiting to execute the contract and dispose of the body. It's a lucrative business for Joe but when he runs into his older self, he realises his employers want to close the loop for good.

    Willis faces off with a younger version of himself, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.:

    Before The Last Jedi turned him into a figure of controversy, director Rian Johnson was earned a legion of fans for crafting this exciting sci-fi thriller. The premise imagines a world in which hitmen are hired to kill targets sent from the future, where new technology has made it nigh-impossible to get away with murder. Part of the lucrative arrangement is accepting that one day they'll have to kill an older version of themselves, thus creating a 'closed loop' that eliminates any risk of being caught.

    However, when so-called looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is faced with his future self (Willis), he hesitates for a moment – unintentionally giving his counterpart just enough time to escape. It's a cardinal sin that he'll need to correct or face a fate worse than death. Johnson strongly executes a highly original idea, with many critics praising his world-building, while the performances from Willis, Gordon-Levitt and their co-star Emily Blunt are also to be admired.

    How to watch
See more 15 best Bruce Willis films – from Die Hard to The Sixth Sense
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