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Flashback Five – Toughest Movie Roles of Bruce Willis

If there’s a common thread through Willis’s career it’s that the poor guy is always getting the stuffing beat out of him. The crazy thing is that Willis’s characters are always so tough that they can take it and dish out a beating of their own. Indeed, his wisecracks and smirk seem meant merely to throw his enemy off — before the fatal blow. Whether it’s terrorists, hillbilly rapists, or a menacing asteroid, Bruce Willis is always up to the challenge. So which of his roles is the toughest?

1. Die Hard (1998)
When single-handedly battling terrorists, a normal person wears shoes. Not Willis, who steps through shattered glass, improvises bandages, and hobbles about from gunfight to gunfight. Yet Willis’s John McClane doesn’t lose his joie de vivre. (Remember his famous catchphrase?) As a seminal action flick of the nineties, Die Hard created a cottage industry of knockoffs and, rightfully, made Willis a star for audiences who admired his tenacity. Still, he might want to see about getting a tetanus shot.

2. The Last Boy Scout (1991)
The comic tough-guy persona cemented in Die Hard continues in The Last Boy Scout but with an additional element: Willis is a loser. As a deadbeat private eye, Willis looks like a pile of dirty laundry someone ran over with a car. To make matters worse, his wife is cheating on him, his daughter hates him, and the client he was supposed to protect was murdered. Can’t a sad sack catch a break? Nope, and, as if to prove it, the movie’s motif is Willis getting socked in the gut. But like some fighters, Willis doesn’t prevail because he hits hardest — but because he won’t fall down.

3. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Willis’s role in Pulp Fiction isn’t the biggest, but it may just be the toughest. Bruce makes an impression strutting about, riding on his motorcycle. But make no mistake about it: he does more than just look cool. The pattern of abuse continues as Willis gets punked by Travolta, beaten up in the ring, and hit by a car. His suffering reaches its apex when Willis’s over-the-hill boxer finds himself in the basement lair of a pair of sexual sadists. With seemingly nowhere to run, Willis summons his inner badass, going medieval on his captors with a pawn-shop sword.

4. Unbreakable (2000)
Quentin Tarantino calls this Willis’s best performance, and, while he may be gilding the lily a bit, the movie is sorely underrated and certainly among Willis’s strongest roles (pun intended). So how tough is Willis as security guard David Dunn? Tough enough to be the sole survivor of a horrific train crash. Tough enough for a mysterious stranger (Samuel L. Jackson) to posit that he’s developing superpowers. Unbreakable took comic books serious years before The Dark Knight, and any movie that gives Willis the added benefit of superpowers (which hardly seems fair) is worthy of a mention and a viewing or five.

5. Sin City (2005)
Willis would have made a great film-noir star, as he’s a natural at playing men who’ve fallen from grace. And his grizzled mug is a perfect companion to shadow-strewn alleys and spiraling cigarette smoke. As Cop Hartigan, Willis is incorruptible — unbending when it comes to saving a little girl from a sadistic senator’s son. He’ll do the right thing even if it means getting shot and losing his job — even if it means his life. How’s that for heroism?

Honorable Mentions

1. Die Hard 2 (1990): The inevitable sequel was unusually good. John McClane still kicks ass. This time it’s in an airport, and he’s wearing shoes.

2. Twelve Monkeys (1995): Try traveling through time while trying to stay out of mental asylums and keeping straight your mission to prevent the apocalypse. Or you can just leave it to Bruce.

3. The Fifth Element (1997): Predictions about the future are a dime a dozen. But it’s a safe assumption that Willis will still be kicking ass and saving the world. Exhibit one: this loony sci-fi yarn with the actor as a taxi driver on an interstellar mission.

4. Armageddon (1998): Willis’s oil-drilling skills are somehow deemed necessary to stop an asteroid from hitting the Earth. And — wouldn’t you know it? — the asteroid loses.

5. The Siege (1998): As a military man instituting martial law, Willis tells New York to sit down and shut up, and New York complies.

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Watch Unbreakable on Sun., Aug. 22, at 6:30PM | 5:30C.

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