Charismatic, talented and underrated, three ways to describe actor and film director Bill Paxton. Dan Grant takes a look at his greatest films and most iconic roles.
Bill Paxton, in my humble opinion, is one of the greatest living actors. He will probably never win an Oscar and he will never be an A-lister whose name will open a film but if you put him in any film as the main supporting guy, you are almost guaranteed that your film will not suck!
I admire the guy so much that I even liked him in films like the cheap 80’s horror movie Mortuary and not so great films like Next of Kin. I have even paused my VCR looking for him in Stripes, where he apparently plays a soldier (I still haven’t found him). There is one thing that Bill has that you cannot teach or instill in someone and that is charisma. You either have it or you don’t. It’s the way he delivers his lines, or the way he smiles with that big toothy grin. He just has that IT quality that many strive to achieve but never do.
According to imdb.com, Paxton has been in 77 acting roles which includes television. These 10 are his best.
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10. Fred Haise in Apollo 13 (1995)
While other films on this list made Paxton more famous, this was perhaps this role that got him noticed by the industry. This was directed by Ron Howard and it starred Tom Hanks, Ed Harris and Gary Sinise. That’s a lot of star power. Not only did Paxton “hold his own” but like he does in many films he’s in, he steals scene after scene. Most of the film is Bill, Tom and Kevin stuck in a giant tin can floating around. So to keep the film interesting, you had to have strong actors and people that the public would identify with. Paxton is one of the best for situations like this. His charisma and likability really added to the success of the film.
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9. Dale “Hurricane” Dixon in One False Move (1992)
This 1992 film was the first one that garnered Paxton serious oscar consideration. Although he was not nominated that year, there were many critics who singled him out for his portrayal of a naive, small-town sherrif. This was a role that required Paxton to look cheery all the time and a bit awestruck when the big time authorities come to town. He wants to “make it” one day and possibly work in LA or NY City. Paxton then changes as the film hits its last act. Dixon changes from the star struck local hick sheriff to a man almost in charge as he knows just a bit more about the town than the two big city dicks. This is one of Paxton’s best performances.
8. Bill Harding in Twister (1996)
Paxton anchors a ridiculously strong and likable cast, including two future Oscar winners (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Helen Hunt) in a film about tornado chasers. Jan de Bont, of Speed fame directed this blast of a ride and he managed to get good and fun peformances out of everyone. This is the kind of role that could have been played by a lot of actors but once again, Bill brings his subtle quirkiness to the role. Once he springs into action, the character is back in his element and clearly needs to find his roots again. Paxton is charming in this and he looks very at ease and has a great rapport with Hunt, Hoffman and others such as Alan Ruck and Carey Elwes. On a side note, it’s kind of neat to see Paxton and Jaime Gertz in the film together as both were in different vampire movies in 1987. This is Bill’s highest grossing movie in which he had a the main starring role.
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7. Zachary Cody in The Last Supper (1995)
This made less than half a million dollars at the US box office. It did average on the home video market. I only saw it because one day, while looking to rent a film I hadn’t seen, my girlfriend at the time, looked on the bottom shelf and recognized “that guy you like from Aliens” on the cover. I thought I had seen every Paxton film up till that point. I was wrong. Bill plays a Gulf War veteran who starts a chain of events that will turn this yuppie gathering of wine drinking liberals into murderers who think they are righteous for doing so. Paxton knocks on their door one dark and stormy night and asks for shelter as his truck has broken down. He goes on to berate, make fun of and ridicule the physically inferior crowd of people he is now with and then something terrible happens. This is a funny film but with a very serious but brief performance from Paxton. I always thought this is what Chet would grow up to be like. If you haven’t seen this film, and it’s likely you haven’t, do yourself a favour and find it.
6. Dad Meiks in Frailty (2001)
This is Bill’s masterpiece in my opinion. He directed it, starred in it and was obviously very instrumental in getting the cast together as he got fellow Texans and former cast mates, Mathew McConaughey (U-571) and Powers Boothe (Tombstone) to star in the film for a sliver of their salary. Here he plays a deeply religious Bible Belt father of two who has a vision one day. In this vision, God ostensibly gives him the ability to see Demons who walk the earth. His job, and now his kids job is to kill these demons before they can do (more) bad. Paxton is excellent in this as the father who loves him kids but teaches them to kill with passion.
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5. Hank in A Simple Plan (1998)
It seems like Bill has a lot of loyalty with the people he makes films with. A Simple Plan is directed by Sam Raimi, whom Bill met on the set of Indian Summer and it stars Billy Bob Thornton, who Bill co-starred in One False Move with. I already mentioned Frailty and then of course there is his big connection (which will come up soon). In this film Bill plays an average, hard working, small town man who has his own general store. Him and his two cronies, played by Thornton and Brent Briscoe, find a crashed plane and 4 million dollars. His two cronies, one of whom is his brother, are rejoicing and discussing how rich they are. Bill then has one of the most memorable lines from any film as he says, “You work for the American dream, you don’t steal it.” While Thornton has the best performance in the film, maybe his best ever, Paxton plays the level headed one to perfection. He has to be the voice of reason, all the while dealing with his demons that are telling him to do what the others want. This is another performance from Paxton I thought should have garnered him an Oscar nomination.
4. Simon in True Lies (1994)
One of the things I love about Paxton is that he always makes me laugh. His best roles, for me anyway, are the ones where he is allowed to cut loose. James Cameron and Bill Paxton are good friends and Bill has been in 5 Cameron films (including Ghosts of the Abyss) and in every one of them, he shines. From bit parts like the punker who gets his chest punched in by The Terminator to Brock Lovitt (“And that makes you…my new best friend”) in Titanic, Cameron just knows how to channel a performance from Bill. This might be the role he had the most fun with as he gets to play a slimey used car salesman who tricks Jamie Lee Curtis into believing his story about being an international spy. He even changed his appearance to look slimey in the film. And his rapport with Arnold is bang on. Take this exchange:
Simon: Okay, just ask yourself: What do women really want? You take these bored housewives, married to the same guy for years, they’re stuck in a rut, then need some release! Promise of adventure, a hint of danger. I create that for them.
Harry: So basically, your lying your ass off the whole time. See, I can’t do that.
Simon: What are you, a boy scout? No, no, no, think of it as playing a role as fantasy. I mean, you got to work on their dreams. Get them out of their daily surburban grind for a few hours.
Harry: But what about their husbands?
Simon: Dickless! I mean, let’s face it, if they took care of business, I’d be out of business! You know what I mean?
Harry: [fake laughs] Those idiots!
3. Severen in Near Dark (1987)
1987 had two vampire movies. One was the excellent Schumacher film The Lost Boys and the other was directed by James Cameron’s wife Kathryn Bigelow. In this film, three members of the Aliens (1986) cast star as sort of cowboy vampires. While both Lance Henriksen and Jeannette Goldstein are fantastic in their roles, it is Bill Paxton that everyone talks about. He is the younger vampire to Henriksen who is the avuncular or even father figure to the rowdy bunch of hooligans. But it is Paxton that oozes charisma in this film. He is a vampire that has taken his invincibility and run with it in the most evil way possible. If you have seen the film, you know about the infamous bar scene. If you haven’t, you should, just for the bar scene. Also notable, it is Paxton’s gory and revolting image you see on the poster. He really rules the film in every way.
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2. Chet Donnelly in Weird Science (1985)
Paxton is 57 years old and has been in more than 100 productions. 27 years after Weird Science came out, this is the role that he is recognized for the most. People still approach him and ask him to do lines from the film. They ask him to say things like, “How about a nice greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray?” or “You’re stewed bud wad”. This is the film that got him noticed. Joel Silver liked him so much that he even gave Paxton a small role in Commando and a bigger one in Predator 2. Simply put, Paxton owns this film. In my opinion, this is one of the most memorable characters in the history of film. He plays the older brother of Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith)who with his best friend, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) create a woman (Kelly LeBrock) with their computer. Chet is a mean SOB who has just come home from military school. He extorts money from his brother, talks down to him and generally treats him like a peon. Paxton, with his military haricut and pretty decent physique in the film makes the character his own. After you see him in this, you cannot picture anyone else in the role. Chet is simply awesome.
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1. Hudson in Aliens (1986)
Was there ever any question what would be number one? While James Cameron makes Aliens the ridiculously fantastic kick ass film that it is, Paxton has the best performance. And that is saying something because this film has so many strong characters with excellent performances. But Paxton’s Hudson is perfect because at first he comes off as the comic relief with subtle touches liking asking Vasquez if she’d ever mistaken for a man and of course his reaction to the airship crashing. “Well that’s great, that’s just ****** great…game over man…game over.” But then he turns into a relatable character as the marine who is scared just like the rest of would be. Paxton won the Saturn award in 1987 for best supporting actor and he absolutely, unequivocally should have won best supporting actor Oscar that year. Michael Caine won it for Hannah and her sisters. Ask anyone who had the more memorable performance and my guess is that 9 out of 10 people who say Paxton. It really was the role and performance of a lifetime.
It was tough choosing just ten films as I loved him in Titanic, Tombstone, Indian Summer and even lesser roles like Last of the Finest, Navy Seals and even as Coconut Pete in Club Dread. Paxton is one of the greats.
What are your favourite Bill Paxton films?
Written and compiled by Dan Grant.
More actor Top 10s you might like: Annette Bening | Jeff Bridges | John Candy | Chevy Chase | Tony Curtis | Robert De Niro | Robert Downey Jr. | Richard Dreyfuss | Clint Eastwood | Michael J. Fox | Morgan Freeman | Whoopi Goldberg | Tom Hanks 1984 to 1989 | Tom Hanks 1990 to 2010 | Dustin Hoffman (Films) | Dustin Hoffman (Performances) | Steve Martin | Eddie Murphy | Julia Roberts | Adam Sandler | Arnold Schwarzenegger
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