Celebrating Bruce Willis in Five Sci Fi/Thriller Roles (Big Up Bruce Part 1/3)

Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer

I have long been a fan of American actor Bruce Willis, all the way back from when he made the leap from 80s comedy-drama Moonlighting to an everyman action hero with the greatest action film of all time (just ask Jake Peralta) Die Hard. And over the years I have enjoyed his work in other action films like The Last Boy Scout and Tears of the Sun, comedies like The Whole Nine Yards and Red, and crime dramas like the iconic Pulp Fiction and Sin City. And as a lover of science fiction and fantasy he has also appeared in some pretty great genre content as well (we’ll get to those soon).

But since the mid-2010s Willis has been appearing in a lot pretty uninspired, direct-to-video films, and at points I wondered if he had just given up and was just cashing checks. Sadly, this week it was announced the 67 year-old actor would retiring from acting due to a brain disease called aphasia, a language disorder triggered by brain damage that results in a loss of ability to understand or express speech (tvline.com). Truly terrible news and we at Red Mango Reviews wish him and his family all the best. And I thought what better way to celebrate his long career than doing some lists celebrating some of his best movies in different genres. And since today is Sci Fi Saturday on RMR Facebook page (like and follow) we’ll be kicking it off with Bruce Willis’ Five Best Sci Fi/Fantasy Films! Oh, and a SPOILER ALERT is in effect.

#5 Looper (2012)

You’re supposed to be the young me? Seriously?

On the box Looper does not sound like anything special. A time-travel action flick with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis? Meh. But the film is so much more than the sum of its parts and delivers a stylish, unique and surprisingly thoughtful experience.

Willis is great as life-weary Old Joe and sells a man at the end of his tether willing to do anything to secure his future, including killing a kid with telekinetic powers before he become an evil crime boss. And yes, Gordon-Levitt’s Bruce Willis make-up makes him look nothing like Bruce Willis. I probably look more like Bruce Willis than he did. But it’s not enough to detract from how well done this film is.

#4 The Sixth Sense (1999)

Yeah, well, I see bored people. Specifically me. Can we keep this moving, creepy kid?

M. Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece supernatural psychological thriller features one of the greatest twists in film history. But even taking the twist of the equation the film is so exquisitely made. His co-stars Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette may have been the ones nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscars but Willis is no slouch as child psychologist Malcolm Crowe.

He delivers an ethereal performance as a man haunted by ghosts both figurative and literal, and his strong paternal chemistry with the young Osment holds the entire film together.

#3 12 Monkeys (1995)

You know there is not one monkey in this entire film? Talk about false advertising

Man this movie is just bonkers and I love it so much. Willis plays James Cole, a prisoner in the year 2035 sent back to the past to stop a virus that wiped out most of humanity and believed to have been released by the titular group. The star brings in the audience through his odd adventures in the desolated future and during his time at a mental hospital with wild-eyed fellow patient Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt).

I love the visuals, the mystery and the utterly bleak tone. And when Cole dies in front of his child self I felt that one in my heart strings.

#2 The Fifth Element (1997)

Me? Negotiate? Nah, I’m cool

When I think science fiction and Bruce Willis this is the film that comes to mind. Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is just so odd and energetic and wild and unforgettable. As future cab driver Korben Dallas Willis plays the stoic straight man in this crazy world of mystical stones, monks, over-the-top media personalities (Korben! Korben! Korben! Korben! Korben!), a variety of intriguing aliens, quirky and amoral industrialists, evil planet-sized entities, and a sexy perfect being in the form of Milla Jovovich.

With its mix of tones and weird characters this film could have been a big old mess. But instead we got a supremely fun and infinitely quotable movie, and Willis deserves some of that credit. Leeloo Dallas Multipass indeed.

Honourable Mention: Armageddon (1998)

When you’re listening to the radio in 1998 and you hear ‘Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’ for the fifth time in one hour

Michael Bay’s Armageddon is not a great film. Heck, it’s not even a great film. The plot is nonsense, the scientific accuracy is practically non-existent, the juvenile comedy is more hit than miss, and there is a cheesy, campy vibe that permeates every scene. But it can be enjoyed from an ironic, slightly so-bad-it’s-good perspective. And to Willis’s credit he gives it his best as hardy oil driller turned astronaut and protective father Harry S. Stamper.

So while not in the running for one of his best Sci Fi films I think it is worthy of a mention.

#1 Unbreakable (2000)

I know we’re here for Bruce but can we take a moment and appreciate SamJack’s glorious halfro?

Can you believe it was just a year between The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable? M. Night really hit us a powerful one-two combo. And while The Sixth Sense deserves its iconic status I prefer the infinitely rewatchable superhero thriller Unbreakable.

Bruce Willis gives us an understated but powerhouse performance as security guard turned superhero David Dunn. His twisty relationship with mysterious comic book expert Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is fascinating, his troubled relationship with his wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) is heartfelt, and his hopeful relationship with his starry-eyed son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) is touching. The film also features some stunning visuals, loads of atmosphere, a grounded action sequence and a mind-blowing twist (it was Elijah all along!). Man I love this movie and it tops this list. Oh, and Willis did return to the role of David Dunn, but the less said about the ill-conceived and utterly disappointing Glass the better.

So do you agree with my ranking? Any films you would add? And you can check out more Bruce Willis content below:


Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.