He’s been an ever-present presence on our screens since the late 1980s, but yesterday (March 30), Bruce Willis announced that he would be retiring from acting.
The star, who is 67, has been diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that impedes a person's ability to speak and write. In a statement given by his family, (opens in new tab) his retirement was confirmed:
“Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities. As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”
The announcement is very sad news and brings to an end a career that has enjoyed the highest of highs. It is a career that deserves celebration. So here, in tribute to Bruce Willis, a man known as the ultimate action-hero – but who is so much more than that – is a look back at celebrating his finest films.
The most obvious and only place to start. This is the film that made Willis (who’d previously only been known for his role opposite Cybil Shepherd in hit comedy Moonlight) a bona-fide movie star.
The actor was actually a long way down casting directors’ list for the part of John McClane, with the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford all among those to turn it down.
In the end, producers settled on Willis for the role of McClane, the down-on-his-luck New York City cop who finds himself caught up in a terrorist takeover of a Los Angeles skyscraper and forced to do battle with Alan Rickman's ruthless Hans Gruber.
Still beloved to this day, Die Hard (opens in new tab) set a new benchmark for action movies and remains Willis’ most iconic role. He would return for four Die Hard sequels, but none had the magic of the original. Its setting also makes it a secret Christmas hit (opens in new tab)for when you tire of snow and elves.
Where To Stream It: Prime Video (US), Disney Plus (UK)
The Sixth Sense
Willis and director M.Night Shyamalan have enjoyed a productive partnership over the years, making four movies together. Their best is The Sixth Sense.
Willis played Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who is assigned Cole Sear, a new nine-year-old patient who sees the dead walking among the living. Initially sceptical about his case, Crowe then becomes determined to try and help the boy manage his condition.
With a killer twist (we won’t spoil it, but, honestly, where have you been?), the film was a smash-hit. It made over $670 million at the box office (well over a billion in today’s money) and was nominated for six Oscars.
A move away from Willis the action-hero, it reaffirmed his status at the top of the Hollywood food chain.
Where To Stream It: Disney Plus (UK), Premium Rental (US)
Before Quentin Tarantino (opens in new tab)offered Willis the role of boxer Butch Coolidge, the star had been going through a sticky patch. He’d made Striking Distance, a critically-mauled action thriller, and Hudson Hawk, a passion project where Willis had crafted the story and even composed the theme song, had been a box office bomb.
Tarantino’s offer meant accepting a salary far lower than Willis had become accustomed to, but it proved to be a very smart move.
Pulp Fiction is a cinematic touchstone and Willis is perfect in his role. Nobody needs another recommendation to watch Pulp Fiction, but, if you haven’t, you should.
Where To Stream It: Hulu (US)
Willis teamed up with director Terry Gilliam for this dystopian thriller, which wowed both critics and audiences.
He plays James Cole, a prisoner of the state in the year 2035, who is offered the chance to gain his freedom if he agrees to travel back in time and thwart a devastating plague which has wiped out most of the Earth's population.
A twisty-turny action thriller with clever plotting and real drive and pace, it combines a high-concept with Willis’ flair for action setpieces. Another well worth revisiting.
Where To Stream It: Peacock (US), BBC iPlayer (UK)
The Fifth Element
Willis’ bankers have been action-thrillers, but he hasn’t been confined to that during his career and has often taken surprising choices, including this team-up with then fledgling director Luc Besson – one-time guest editor of TechRadar (opens in new tab).
Starring alongside Willis were Gary Oldman, and Milla Jovovich, with designer Jean-Paul Gaultier providing the costumes, giving the film a distinct look and real style.
Set in the 23rd century, Willis plays Korben Dallas, a taxi driver who somehow becomes responsible for the survival of planet Earth after a young woman falls into his cab.
Fantastical, eccentric and full of ideas, the film didn’t set the box office alight, but it is an ambitious and daring adventure, one where Willis brings a grounded presence amid many a flight of fantasy. Today it enjoys a cult following – and feels particularly ripe for renewal on one of the best streaming services, like Netflix (opens in new tab) or Apple TV Plus. (opens in new tab)
Where To Stream It: Sling TV (US), Premium Rental (UK)
Robert Rodriguez’s neo-noir anthology was a revolutionary piece of cinema, taking Frank Miller’s graphic novel and putting it on screen in a style and format that mirrored the source material’s power and elegance.
Willis plays John Hartigan, an honest detective surrounded by crooked colleagues, a loner battling against the odds and a rigged system. A call back to his turn as McClane, Rodriguez used Willis’ charm, spirit and continued flair for action setpieces to great effect.
Where To Stream It: Premium Rental
Another left-turn for Willis as he teamed up with master of quirk Wes Anderson for this tender coming of age drama.
The film follows Sam Shakusky, an orphan who decides to escape from a scouting camp on the fictional island of New Penzance and sets out to try and find his pen pal, who he hopes to woo romantically.
Willis plays Master Ward, an overzealous scout leader, who seizes the chance to put his charges’ skills to the test and order Shakusky's fellow scouts to track him down.
The whole film is a charming marvel and Willis is perfectly cast in it.
Where To Stream It: HBO Max (US), Netflix (UK)
Before Rian Johnson was given the chance to make Star Wars: The Last Jedi (opens in new tab), he earned his sci-fi stripes with Looper, where Willis starred alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The movie is set in a world where contract killers, who are known as "loopers", are hired by criminal syndicates from the future to terminate victims whom they send back through time.
Gordon-Levitt’s Joe is one such looper, but, when he’s sent back to Willis’ character, another Joe, he quickly figures out that this assignment is a lot more than he bargained for.
Bold, daring and meticulously plotted, Willis is the perfect ageing action hero, faced with a battle against a younger man to stay alive. Another excellent piece of casting and a fine performance.
Where To Stream It: Netflix (US), NOW (UK)
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