Bruce Willis is just an unreconstructed tough guy, right? It wasn’t always so. A scant two decades ago, he was Cybill Shepherd’s co-star in the romantic TV series Moonlighting. Then Die Hard came out, in 1988, and Willis began compiling a nearly unparalleled tough-guy résumé. So which of his characters is toughest? Let’s have a look.
1. Hartigan, Sin City
In the first five minutes, Willis knocks someone out, kills two guys, gets shot, and rescues a little girl. He then gets shot in the back and takes on someone else’s prison term to keep his wife and the little girl safe. He later survives being hanged and left for dead, before killing himself to keep the girl (now an adult Jessica Alba) safe. Take that, John McClain.
2. John McClane, Die Hard
Die Hard‘s wisecracking cop is the role that made Willis the tough guy he is today. His exploits aren’t quite on par with those in Sin City, but it’s a close call. In the first Die Hard, he fights off a couple dozen terrorists without special weapons (let alone superpowers), and he engages in ever-escalating feats of heroism throughout the rest of the franchise.
3. Korben Dallas, The Fifth Element
It’s not Die Hard, but it’s the next best thing: John McClane goes to the future. The Fifth Element basically transposes Die Hard‘s down-on-his-luck tough-guy cop ahead in time: instead of stopping terrorists in an office building, he’s saving the galaxy from destruction. Die Hard plus space plus Milla Jovovich? Where do we sign up?
4. Harry Stamper, Armageddon
He barely wields a gun and doesn’t beat anyone within an inch of his life, so it’s no Die Hard or Sin City, but the rest is all here. Tough-guy job? Check. (He’s an oil driller.) Gruff exterior? Check. Ability to adapt easily to space travel, with only a week’s training? Check. Of course, the topper is that he’s willing to sacrifice himself to save humanity, when someone else (Ben Affleck) is equally as willing.
5. William Devereaux, The Siege
Playing a savvy military officer doesn’t sound so tough, does it? It is: Willis is upholding martial law in a New York City under assault. This allows for a variety of tough-guy staples, including barking orders, holding a gun, wearing a uniform, and letting everyone know who’s in charge. Willis is eventually outfoxed, but not before the entire city gets a two-hour lesson in why not to mess with him.
6. Butch Coolidge, Pulp Fiction
Butch Coolidge isn’t a cop or a cab-driving former soldier or a tough-as-nails oil driller, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a dude: for starters, he’s a boxer. And it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie, so Willis inevitably does a variety of tough-guy things, including slicing someone open with a sword.
7. Jimmy “The Tulip” Tudeski, The Whole Nine Yards
A contract killer who’s also funny, Willis intimidates mobsters, fellow hit men, and dentists alike, a put-down never far from his lips. Even Matthew Perry can’t keep up. As always, nobody in the cast is nearly as tough as old Bruce. There’s a joke too many in this comedy, so it comes in last.