The recent news about Bruce Willis stepping away from acting due to ongoing health issues has not been easy to take. While we’re still brokenhearted about it, one of the ways we’ve been trying to cope with it has been to look at Willis’ career and highlighting some of his performances that don’t get enough attention. Sure, he’ll always be remembered as John McClane in the “Die Hard” series, and Butch in “Pulp Fiction,” but when you’ve had a career as extensive as his, it’s easy to forget how great he was outside of those roles. So let’s go back and comb through his filmography to pick out some of his best performances that don’t get the credit he deserves.
1 1. Dr. Ernest Menville – “Death Becomes Her”
By the time 1992 had rolled around, Bruce had already had two “Die Hard” films under his belt and cemented himself as an action star. Still, he had his roots in comedy, and those are used to great effect in this oft forgotten Robert Zemeckis black-comedy. Since this film itself is criminally underrated we don’t want to ruin the plot, but Willis plays a plastic surgeon and mortician whose life has pretty much browbeaten him into the ground. Seeing him in such a demure kind of role is unique but he pulls it off in a way that is central to the plot and the movie’s twisted and then untwisted moral message.
2 2. Mikey (voice) – “Look Who’s Talking”
Let’s be perfectly honest, “Look Who’s Talking” isn’t high class comedy, but it utilizes Bruce Willis to great effect. He plays the inner voice of a baby from the womb onwards with a level of snark that heavily draws from his days on the tv series “Moonlighting.” Even though the film stars Kirstie Alley and John Travolta in actual, physical roles, Willis’ vocal performance is really the draw to it with his one-liners and observations of a toddler as told by him. The sequel with Roseanne Barr draws the premise out too thin, but the gimmick works well for the first film without overstaying its welcome.
3 3. Jack Molsey – “16 Blocks”
Along with being the last movie that the late great Richard Donner would direct, “16 Blocks” is also a sorely overlooked gem. You could easily draw comparisons to “Die Hard” with Willis playing a discouraged police detective, but the chemistry he has with co-star Mos Def plays out differently than it did with Sgt. Al Powell or Zeus Carver in the aforementioned series. In fairness, the movie does play off of way too many clichés of the buddy action genre, but it’s still a solid action film. Donner keeps the action rolling and Bruce is on his game from start to finish.
4 4. Russ Duritz – “The Kid”
“The Kid,” a 2000 live-action Disney movie, is as trite as that description makes it sound. It’s predictable fluff, family-fare that by all rights should have no lasting impact on anyone who watches it. It’s basically a story about a 40-year-old guy who through some mystery of time travel, finds that his 8-year-old self is now with him in the present. Life lessons are learned, etc. but what makes the picture notable is how honestly genuine Bruce’s character is. Watching his character soften and grow feels natural and heart-warming despite how obvious the result will be. Now, I’m not saying it makes the whole movie watchable, but for family-friendly stuff, you could certainly do a lot worse.
5 5. David Addison – “Moonlighting”
In one way it’s hard to call his performance of David Addison in “Moonlighting” underrated, considering he won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. In another way though, it’s totally valid considering how hard it is to watch the series these days. The region 1 DVD’s have been out of print for years and it’s not streaming anywhere. So as it is there’s not really a good way to see Bruce wisecrack, break the fourth wall, foster sexual tension with Cybil Shepherd, and solve crimes with his sassy, lackadaisical attitude. Rest assured though, this is a fantastic performance from Bruce that put him into the limelight for a reason.