The 8 most underrated Bruce Willis performances of all time

Bruce Willis’s long and storied career is coming to an end, his family announced this week, after the actor was diagnosed with the brain condition aphasia.

The news has been hard to take for fans who have watched Willis charge screaming across our screens, often while wearing a vest, for decades.

While the actor will always be known as the indestructible super-cop John McClane to most of us, his filmography is also littered with underappreciated gems that demonstrate why he made such a likeable action hero.

Here are eight of Willis’ most underrated roles of all time, ranked in no particular order.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Bruce Willis plays a sheriff leading a search party in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

(Focus Features)

We’re all very used to Willis playing tough cops, but in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, he plays a very nice one. As Captain Sharp, a local sheriff on an island off the coast of New England, Willis is loving and touching.

“Mr Willis always tried to make the little Khaki scouts he was working with feel relaxed,” his co-star Bob Balaban said in a promotional video for the movie. As with most of Anderson’s work of him, Moonrise Kingdom has charm in spades, but it’s especially worth watching to see Willis show off his softer side.

Looper (2012)

Willis battles his younger self in a sci-fi that’s like ‘The Terminator’ remade by Terrence Malick

(Alan Markfield)

Ignore the slightly significant obstacle of Joseph Gordon-Levitt looking nothing like Willis – his alleged older self – and this is an excellent, if very confusing, film. Gordon-Levitt plays a “looper”, someone who kills people who are sent back from the future (where time travel is possible but illegal). One day, the man he’s delivered to kill is the middle-aged version of himself (Willis).

Death Becomes Her (1992)

Willis plays Dr Ernest Menville, subject of the attentions of Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, in this satirical black comedy. In their fight for the doctor, the women drink a magic potion that grants them eternal youth, but they soon learn that immortality comes at a price. The movie was critically derided but won an Oscar for its cutting edge visual effects, which were way ahead of their time. It has since grown a cult following, particularly among the LGBTQ community.

12 Monkeys (1995)

Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in ’12 Monkeys’

(Universal Pictures)

Willis is wonderfully unhinged in this Terry Gilliam classic. It doesn’t quite get the same dues as Willis’ other supernatural Nineties thriller The Sixth Sense, but it should not be forgotten. It’s also worth watching for Brad Pitt’s crazed, rambling monologues.

Bandits (2001)

It’s all about the cast in this comedy crime caper starring Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett. Directed by Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man), the film follows two bank robbers who fall in love with the girl they’ve kidnapped. It also features Willis in some atrocious hairstyles, including a ponytail.

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Over the Hedge (2006)


This is a criminally underrated DreamWorks Animation in which Willis plays the lead. The film follows a raccoon named RJ (Willis) who manipulates other woodland creatures to help him replace the food he stole from a hibernating bear. It’s a huge amount of fun for all the family.

16 Blocks (2006)

Willis is in his element here as an aging alcoholic cop with a mustache to match. He must transport a witness (Mos Def) from local custody to a courthouse 16 blocks away. Simple, right? Of course, it turns out to be anything but. This film was also Richard Donner’s (Lethal Weapon) last as a director before his death in 2021.

In Country (1989)

“The character of Emmett is the opposite of every other character Willis has ever played,” American film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review at the time. Willis plays Emmett, a Vietnam war veteran with PTSD. The film itself is a solid watch, but Willis shines as a meandering, hurt survivor.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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