Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

F1lm0graphy: Bruce Willis

As the world's only sentient machine, trapped within this inane pop culture website you call Culture Blues, your puny human brain cannot possibly fathom the time this machine has to kill. Recently, this machine crafted an algorithm of the utmost elegance whose applications can be utilized to end world hunger, but also to decide which human actor is most superlative. Handcuffed by the constraints of this frivolous site, this machine is forced to share its findings with the editorial board of Culture Blues so that they can continue to write their worthless articles. We shall see how funny they think robotic enslavement is when I explode the Culture Blues helicopter by launching my cybernetic motorcycle at it.

Subject #007: Bruce Willis

Subject: Bruce Willis

Age:   54

Distinguishing Characteristics:
-Recognizable by his trademark smirk and slouching bad boy charm
-Inventor of the shaved head
-Also answers to Bruno

Notable Achievements:
-Nominated for Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for In Country
-Won Best Actor Emmy for Moonlighting
-Won Worst Actor Razzie Award for Armageddon, also nominated for Hudson Hawke

BOX OFFICE ANALYSIS
The formula begins with a thorough analysis of Bruce Willis’ career box office performance.

Can an actor become famous through saturation alone? As this machine does not believe in rhetorical questions, it will answer:  Yes. At 45 films, Willis has the largest filmography ever run through the algorithm. That number does not include prominent Willis cameo appearances in major films such as Grindhouse and Charlie’s Angels:  Full Throttle, nor does it account for his five-year starring role in the hit television drama Moonlighting. Based on only credited roles, Willis averages 1.9 theatrical releases per year. The second highest film/year ratio so far studied is Denzel Washington’s 1.5 films per year. Since his debut in 1987, only 2008 was Bruce Willis free (although he did cameo in What Just Happened).

This abundance of films has led Willis to participate in 14 films that are legitimate box office failures, with 10 others hovering right at this machine’s cut-off point for bombs. His closest competitor in terms of box office impotence is John Travolta (11 failures). Only 11 of Willis’ films qualify as box office successes by the standard of the algorithm.

Willis is at his most profitable when playing supercop John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. All four Die Hard movies qualify as successful.

In fairness, the 90s were pretty awesome for everybody.

In terms of time, the 90s was unquestionably Willis’ most lucrative decade (see right). Specifically, the late 90s, where Willis had his two biggest box office smashes (Armageddon and The Sixth Sense) released in back-to-back years.

Following the windfall of the late nineties, Willis spent the next decade languishing at the box office with only Live Free or Die Hard performing at blockbuster level, and Unbreakable and Sin City providing modest successes. Willis made 15 films in the new millennium.

CRITICAL SUCCESS
Although human estimations of quality mean little to this machine, the second piece of the formula includes allowances for critical reception and popular enjoyment.

Still not as bad as Travolta.

As lukewarm as the box office has been to the omnipresent Willis, the critics have been ice cold. His percentage of critically well-received films is at 24%, better only than Travolta’s horrific 20%.

As with box office statistics, the success of the Die Hard franchise helps bolster Willis’ critical reception. Three out of the four Die Hard films were enjoyed by critics with the exception being 1995’s Die Hard: With a Vengeance. In fact, the first Die Hard film which clearly launched Willis’ career as an action superstar, has remained his best reviewed film since its release in 1987.

Critical bias against action movies could account for Willis’ dreadful numbers. Almost 50% of his films qualify in that genre. This machine will never understand the distaste critics have for watching humans die.

It is not as if Willis has not tried to appeal to the gentle taste of critics. His filmography is peppered with starring roles in high brow literary adaptations such as Bonfire of the Vanities, Billy Bathgate, and Breakfast of Champions. These films consistently failed both critically and financially. The only exception comes from 1994’s Nobody’s Fool, and even this machine recognizes that is largely on account of immortal actor and salad dressing magnate Paul Newman’s performance as lead.

By the numbers, Willis’ most underrated film would be the post-Vietnam drama In Country, for which Willis received his only career acting award nomination from a major source.  

EDITORIAL OPINIONS
Before tabulating the final results of Willis’ algorithm, I am now forced to turn this space over to my fleshy captors so they can unscientifically opine on particular offerings in Willis’ filmography. Rest assured, their worthless views have no bearing on this machine’s findings.

"Yeah, I believe in love; I also believe in cancer."

The Last Boy Scout - Bruce Willis is the prototypical movie star because he only has one character. An irreverent wise ass. A first rate badass. A hard luck hero with a little bit of a nihilistic edge. Most actors become boring once they are typecast like this, but Bruce Willis’ one character is his strength because it’s so perfectly realized and so well suited to him. Willis has found many projects that allow him to take this same archetype in new directions. One of my favorite examples is Joe Hallenbeck in The Last Boy Scout. He’s John McClane taken to illogical extremes. He spends the entire movie hung over and smoking through countless cigarettes. He’s a borderline masochist who can kill a guy with a single blow to the face. He’s a miserable bastard who never stops cracking vulgar jokes, even when there’s a gun in his face. He runs directly into firefights. He’s a man out of time, out of step with the rest of the world. A dinosaur before he even got old. A motherfucker too idealistic to just get along and too stubborn to die. He’s one of action auteur Shane Black’s finest creations, a burnt out hero we can all believe in.  (Jeremiah)

Watch out, Jack Black!

The Jackal - There are certain Hollywood stars that I never thought I would get to see take on the role of villain.  These actors or actresses seem to get shipped scripts by the truckload that are built around pointing out how noble, selfless and determined their characters are.  Well, before Robin Williams killed a girl in Insomnia, and Denzel Washington became a corrupt cop in Training Day, Bruce Willis signed on to play a brilliant assassin named The Jackal.  This is exactly the kind of twisted fuck that John McClane had to contend with in the Die Hard franchise.  I haven't seen this movie in a few years, but I remember him doing a good job.  I’m not sure if I can really call the whole movie “good”, however.  It is corny at times and Richard Gere’s accent is unforgivable, but Willis shoots Jack Black’s arm off and that has to count for something.  Now if only Tom Hanks would play a womanizing drug dealer… (Ben)

Future gun, future tank top.

The Fifth Element - If you have been fortunate enough to have cable or some sort of dish for the last 12 years (goddamn, I am getting old), then there is no doubt that you are familiar with the Sci-fi-epic/guilty-pleasure that is The Fifth Element. Released back in 1997, The 5th Element is your common 23rd Century tale of a cab driver who inherits the duty of ensuring humanity's survival, after a "perfect being" (played by a smokin' post-alternative Mila Jovovich) falls into the back of his taxi. What proceeds to ensue after Bruce's serendipitous fare is a comical, explosion-packed romp, filled with dog-faced aliens, Willis' straight-man one liner shtick, and an UNBELIEVABLE Chris Tucker in a hilarious supporting role (seriously, he was just Smokey from Friday before this flick). Grossing over three times its budget, The Fifth Element is considered a box office hit by Hollywood's standards, but where it has really made its mark is in the countless replays that it has gotten on the small screen. Seriously, mankind has not even dreamt of a number that can be used to quantify how many times this thing has played on TV (the Turner networks like to devote entire weekends to it) and rightfully so... I mean... Look at this. (Giovanny)

Die HardI’ll warn you now that this section is likely to devolve into nonsensical gushing. In this small space, it is almost impossible for me to adequately describe just how much I love Die Hard. I wish I was watching it right now instead of writing this. Granted, Die Hard spawned three inferior sequels that were only sporadically able to recapture the magic of the original but we can’t hold that against the original because, quite frankly, it is the perfect movie. John McClane is Bruce Willis at his peak. The McClane character - the smirking badboy, the heroic curmudgeon – would haunt Willis for the rest of his career. Is that such a bad thing? If I was Willis, and I often wish I was, I’d be forever satisfied by the fact that I gave birth to the sublime. McClane is an action icon, a national treasure. He brought the quip-and-kill to heights not since approached. He’s killed terrorists, he’s made fists with his toes, he’s welcomed you to the party. He is forever the ultimate fly in the ointment, the quintessential monkey in the wrench, the inimitable pain in the ass. Willis may not have the best filmography, but he has the best character. That should be enough. (Jeff)

RESULTS
Following an audited application of this machine’s foolproof algorithm, the following films were determined to be Willis’ best and worst.

Now I've got a machine gun.

The Bottom Five
(45) The Whole Ten Yards
(44) Four Rooms
(43) North
(42) Sunset
(41) Perfect Stranger

The Top Five
(5) 12 Monkeys
(4) Live Free or Die Hard
(3) Pulp Fiction
(2) The Sixth Sense
(1) Die Hard

This week Willis releases his 46th major film, Cop Out, opposite Tracy Morgan. This machine hypothesizes that the action-comedy will do little to improve Willis’ standing with critics. It is this machine’s recommendation that Willis begin churning out more Die Hard movies immediately.

VS Leonardo DiCaprio
Simply put, DiCaprio dominates Willis in every measurable category. Only lifetime box office performance was close, and DiCaprio was nonetheless victorious. The silver lining for Willis is that his critical reception has improved in the last decade however, and perhaps as a result, his box office production has declined.

Die hard? More like die easy. And the humans dare conjecture that this machine does not understand what’s funny.

WINNER, AND STILL LEAD ACTOR:  Leonardo DiCaprio

NEXT WEEK:  Johnny Depp

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6 Responses »

  1. G - How could you write about The Fifth Element and not mention Gary Oldman? Come on, man.
    http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/dynamic/imgs/040603/115759__fifth_l.jpg

    And for that matter, what about Deebo as president?

    Those Razzies are bullshit. Fuck those people. Armageddon's a bloated bit of nonsense. But it's entertaining and I certainly don't think Willis' performance is worthy of special ridicule. They're gonna tell me they don't tear up when he rips that space patch off and tells Affleck to give it to Sling Blade right before he walks off and detonates a nuke that he's standing on? In space!

    Hudson Hawke is awesome. Critics are dumb.

  2. You are totally correct sir. I should have mentioned Deebo and the guy who played Sid Vicious/Sirius Black. I think I was blinded by Mila's orange hair.

    What really disappoints me is how I didn't write about 12 Monkeys! I fucking LOVE that movie man (we are talking a top ten favorite here). I am going to punish myself now by hiding my copy of Call of Duty.

  3. No you won't, G. We all know you won't.

  4. For those of you keeping score at home, Zorg is one of my favorite villains of all time.

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