Celebrate Bruce Willis’ Birthday With Our Ranking of His 5 Most Iconic Roles

“Yippee ki-yay, motherf*cker!”

Die Hard John McClane
Movie Still

Bruce Willis is ageless. While he’s another year into his sixties as of March 19th, hitting 64, it’s hard to believe he’ll slow down anytime soon. Over the years he’s played a succession of tough-as-nails everymen who get the job done in truly heroic style—all the while seeming like the guy next door who is anything but invulnerable. That’s Bruce’s secret sauce as an actor in just about every role he plays: the feeling that he’s going to take some blows and get knocked down, but he’ll get back up again, no matter how bloodied and beaten he may be. 

Any list of Bruce’s most memorable roles is going to be open to debate, especially if they’re ranked. This is just one rundown—with a filmography like Bruce Willis’s this could be a completely different set of roles next year. 

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5. The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan’s breakthrough film, an eerie masterpiece of slow horror. Much credit goes to the filmmaker, but the soul of this movie is Bruce Willis in a non-action role as psychologist Malcolm Crowe. Sense gave Bruce a chance to show his true range as an actor in a role requiring sensitivity and nuance. If you don’t come away from the movie respecting his skills as a performer, you aren’t paying attention. 

4. 12 Monkeys

Brad Pitt got some attention for playing totally against type in 12 Monkeys as a wild-eyed lunatic eco-terrorist. But the movie belongs to Bruce Willis as time traveling James Cole. He seems like a broken man for a good part of the movie, and that’s why it’s such a great demonstration of the actor’s skill, because there’s never any doubt that he’ll try to do the right thing, no matter what it takes. 

3. Unbreakable

M. Night Shyamalan has been good for Bruce Willis. Whatever the filmmaker’s flaws, he knows what he has to work with in Bruce and in Unbreakable he took on the perfect role—an average guy who gradually discovers over the course of the film that he may just be a superhero. It’s a role we find it hard to imagine anyone else pulling off at all.

2. Die Hard—the film series

Look, this will obviously be number one to many fans. After all, Bruce Willis simply is John McClane, the regular guy star of the Die Hard franchise who happens to be kind of unkillable and will come out on top, even if he’s damn near broken to pieces in the end. McClane is the archetypal all-time Bruce Willis role. He owns it, catchphrases (“Yippee ki-yay…,” etc.) and all. 

1. Pulp Fiction

While Quentin Tarantino’s breakout flick is really more of an ensemble film than many on this list, in the end it’s perhaps Bruce Willis’s best work because he’s playing every level of what makes him a legendary star. There’s no doubt his Butch Coolidge is a tough guy, but he goes through the ringer in Pulp Fiction to the point where you’re sure he’s going to be part of the film’s huge body count—in the end he’s a hero at the most unlikely moment and gets away to fight another day. That sums up the ideal Bruce Willis role.

And we’re pretty sure that even in his sixties, Bruce has got a few more relatable heroes just like Butch to go.