At 67 years old, Bruce Willis has had quite the legacy of an actor. He’s appeared in dozens of films, a handful of television, won numerous awards, and was granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006. His announcement of retiring has led to many looking back on his career and some of his finest performances.
After some small movie and TV appearances in the early 1980s, Willis had breakout success when he was cast as the lead of the TV series “Moonlighting”. He lucked out considering he was competing with over 3,000 actors for such a role and landed quote the show.
“Moonlighting” additionally starred Cybill Shepherd, lasted for five seasons, and won Willis an Emmy and a Golden Globe. The show opened up the doors for more commercial and acting roles, such as his major contract with Seagram.
By the late 1980s, most people knew Willis as a real charmer of an actor. His film career started to take off with roles in such pictures as “Blind Date” and “Sunset”. However, it was the action classic “Die Hard” (1988) that set his career on a new trajectory.
He played the snarky working class man turned action hero John McClane, taking on a tower full of terrorists on Christmas with bloody showdowns and explosion stunts. It was a brutal, exciting, and sometimes darkly comedic film that was expertly directed by John McTiernan. As a box office smash, audiences wanted more Die Hard and more of Willis.
By the 1990s, Bruce Willis embraced his penchant for being an action hero. He continued on with Die Hard by reprising his role as John McClane in “Die Hard 2” (1990) and “Die Hard With a Vengeance” (1995). He would lead a variety of action films with varying quality, ranging from the box office flop that was “Hudson Hawk” (1991) to the surprise hit of “The Last Boy Scout” (1991). He would jump into science fiction with lead roles in “12 Monkeys” (1995) and “The Fifth Element” (1997).
But he also still pursued some surprising roles in some of the best films of that decade. Namely, he became a part of the ensemble in Quentin Tarantino’s major cultural touchstone of “Pulp Fiction” (1994). He played Butch Coolidge, an aged boxer who makes his escape from a dangerous situation.
Willis took on such a role because it seemed as though his films were failing during the early 1990s and that it would do him some good to pursue some smaller films for a smaller fee. Thankfully, “Pulp Fiction” turned out to be a huge success of a picture that nobody from that era could forget.
It’s impressive that Willis would pull off this stroke of luck again in the late 1990s. Another slew of less successful films led to him seeking smaller projects, once more bringing him into the unexpected hit of M. Night Shyamalan‘s “The Sixth Sense” (1999), a supernatural horror where Willis plays Malcolm Crowe, a psychologist trying to figure out why a kid keeps seeing ghosts.
Willis would continue to be a player in more Shyamalan productions, including his follow-up film of “Unbreakable” (2000) and its sequel “Glass” (2019) as the supernatural investigator David Dunn. It became one of Willis’s most notable returning characters considering he surprised everyone with this cameo in “Split” (2016).
Going into the 2000s, Willis took on a little bit of everything. He worked alongside director Robert Rodriguez for his giddy and gritty action pictures of “Sin City” (2005) and “Planet Terror” (2007). He would provide his voice to the animated comedy “Over the Hedge” (2006). He would also jump into another Die Hard film with “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007), returning to the role of McClane for the fourth room.
The 2010s pretty much saw more of the same for the actor. He would star in yet another Die Hard film with “A Good Day To Die Hard” (2013), which happened to be filmed in Hungary. The man was getting older but still took on action roles, such as the aged action ensemble of “The Expendables” (2010) and “The Expendables 2” (2012). Willis would also become better associated with top-name directors like Wes Anderson for his supporting role in “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) and his lead role in Rian Johnson’s “Looper” (2012).
However, it was during this time that Willis started taking on a lot of direct-to-video action pictures. By the late 2010s, that’s all he was doing. It was impossible to go to a DVD rental box and not find at least one Bruce Willis starring film in the catalog. Sometimes he had a brief role and other times he was the lead.
Willis’s heart didn’t seem in these films that he mostly slept through and that very much seems to be the case. Based on stories told around the sets of these low-budget films, Willis was often confused and had to have his lines coached via an ear piece.
In March of 2022, we learned that Willis will be retiring from acting given his health issues with the communicative disease of aphasia. This would very much explain why his acting in such small and budgeted films felt flat. This discovery has forced many to reexamine how harshly they’ve treated Willis, including rescinding his Golden Raspberry Awards for being the Worst Actor.
Those familiar with Willis and his body of work already knew that he was a great actor. His body of work has highs and lows but the highs are quite exceptional in some big films. Like a lot of actors, he slowly faded into a series of dime-store action pictures to save the bills. Yet at the same time he has also worked with some of the most acclaimed directors, from Tarantino to Anderson. He leaves behind quite the legacy and a number of memorable characters, making him one of the most iconic actors of all time.