10 Bruce Willis Performances That Deserved Oscar Love

10 Bruce Willis Performances That Deserved Oscar Love

Despite having been in the industry since the late 1970s, Bruce Willis has never received an Oscar nomination. Now that Willis’ career has seemingly been ended due to health complications, there’s no better time to look back on all the gifts the actor has given film fans.

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On top of Die Hard, which is itself a masterpiece, Willis has starred in some less action-oriented pieces. From co-starring alongside Paul Newman to mentoring Haley Joel Osment, Willis has always displayed range that he was never given proper credit for. Comedy is undoubtedly the hardest genre to perform in because it either works or absolutely does not, and that’s precisely where Willis started. He rose to fame with Moonlighting and chose a romantic comedy (the negligible Blind Date, co-starring Kim Basinger) as his first foray onto the big screen. The man could do it all, and it’s about time he gets recognition for the range he displayed throughout his career.


John McClane: Die Hard (1988)

John McTiernan’s Die Hard is not only one of the most iconic movies of Bruce Willis’ career, but it also contains Willis’ most iconic performance bar none.

Die Hard is the ultimate action film. The dialogue is rock solid, Willis’ has never been better, and Alan Rickman’s performance as Hans Gruber is easily one of the top 10 villainous portrayals in cinematic history. The role of John McClane is mostly based on spouting one-liners and shooting machine guns (ho ho ho), but there’s also a lot of subtle character building going on. He’s a lost man who misses his family, but doesn’t know how to leave the job behind. He has to choose one or the other, but then a situation is thrown in front of him where he must choose the career (even if he is out of his jurisdiction) in order to save the one who makes his career a liability. Willis sells it, and does it with a very natural smirk.

Butch Coolidge: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction Bruce Willis On A Motorcycle

Reservoir Dogs did a lot for director Quentin Tarantino, but Pulp Fiction took him to the next level. Every performance is note-perfect, with Willis carrying the film’s main middle section: “The Gold Watch.”

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Willis’ boxer, Butch Coolidge, is supposed to take a dive. Instead, he betrays Ving Rhames’ Marsellus Wallace and hits the road with a bunch of his cash. Unfortunately, his girlfriend Fabienne forgot to pack his father’s watch. Willis’ performance is nuanced, mostly silent but very emotional. With that being said, he’s extremely intimidating when he does speak. For instance, after he discovers his watch is missing, Coolidge’s outburst at Fabienne conveys bottled-up anger leaking out. However, the audience knows he’d never lash out because Willis had already conveyed something else: Fabienne is Coolidge’s world.

Carl Roebuck: Nobody’s Fool (1994)

Willis strayed from fight scenes for Nobody’s Fool and the results were just as compelling as McClane’s best adventures.

The plot follows Paul Newman’s Donald “Sully” Sullivan, a 60-year-old man who spends the vast majority of his time drinking with friends or intermittently working odd jobs. When his son shows up at the door with Sully’s grandson, the aging man realizes he has a second chance to actually be involved in the life of someone he helped create. Willis portrays Carl Roebuck, another of the town’s contractors who Sully feels owes him unpaid wages. Sully gets back at Roebuck by consistently stealing the man’s snowblower, which Roebuck then steals back and the cycle continues. It’s a heartwarming movie that displays the best of what both Newman and Willis had to offer in a smaller-scale project.

Malcolm Crowe: The Sixth Sense (1999)

A fan-favorite Bruce Willis movie if ever there was one, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense was a pop-culture juggernaut. Furthermore, Willis’ first pairing with Shyamalan is probably the closest the Academy ever came to considering Willis for a trophy.

Willis is more than adequately tender in his scenes with Haley Joel Osment, which ultimately comprise the majority of the film. The Sixth Sense is also arguably the film where Willis conveyed the purest grief, and it was never over the top, resulting in a well-done portrayal that a lesser actor could have ruined.

Hartigan: Sin City (2005)

The Academy is hesitant to give high honors to graphic novel adaptations, but few would argue that Willis gave the best performance in Robert Rodriguez’s cinematic take on Frank Miller’s Sin City.

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Detective John Hartigan is a broken man with little hope for the future of either himself or the city he lives in. Fortunately, protecting the life of exotic dancer Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) reinvigorates his paternal instinct, though that instinct just may lead him to death.

Old Joe: Looper (2012)

Bruce Willis as Old Joe in Looper

Willis didn’t share the screen with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for much of Looper’s runtime, but when they did, Gordon-Levitt made for one of Willis’ best costars.

Looper marked one of the final times Willis went all-in on a performance, and it shows. In fact, if there’s any movie where Willis does the most acting without uttering a word, it’s Johnson’s. It’s Gordon-Levitt’s movie, but Willis makes for one compellingly conflicted antagonist who just may be right.

Captain Sharp: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp in Moonrise Kingdom

One of the greater shames of Willis’ retirement is the fact that he won’t get to reteam with Wes Anderson. Some actors seem like a cut and dry natural fit for Anderson’s prose and style: Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray.

Willis was an odd choice for the material, but thank goodness it was the choice Anderson made because the actor is a delight in the film. It’s also readily apparent that he was having fun in the director’s goofy world, and that’s a stark contrast to just about everything that followed.

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About The Author

Ben Hathaway
(295 Articles Published)

Ben Hathaway is a Senior Writer (Lists) for Screen Rant. A former Therapeutic Day Treatment counselor, Ben is now a career writer. When not working, he is writing and self-publishing (on Amazon) novels under the name Scott Gray. In his spare time, he’s reading on the porch or watching every film under the sun. Ben can be contacted at scottgraywrk@gmail.com.

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