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Every Kurt Russell Movie Ranked Worst To Best

Every Kurt Russell Movie Ranked Worst To Best

One of the top tier action stars of the ’80s and ’90s, Kurt Russell came to stardom largely off the back of “Escape From New York” in 1981. Though he’d had a long string of films prior, it was the John Carpenter classic that shot him to stardom, and made him a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood, establishing Russell as a tough, charismatic hero and strong leading man.

But ex-con Snake Plissken isn’t the only role he’s known for, nor is “Escape From New York” even Russell’s best movie. The captain of cult classics has worked with a number of big names on screen and behind the camera, and produced some of the best (and worst) films ever made. He’s made hits, misses, classics, and clunkers, but Russell is one actor who never phones it in, no matter the movie. From “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” to “Christmas Chronicles: Part Two,” here is every movie starring the former Mouseketeer, ranked from worst to best.

Crypto

The 2019 crime thriller “Crypto” had a surprisingly talented, well-known cast for a low budget B-movie, featuring Kurt Russell, Luke Hemsworth (“Westworld”) and Alexis Bledel (“A Handmaid’s Tale”). In the film, Russell plays Martin Duran, Sr., father of the film’s lead, who returns to his childhood home in upstate New York after being transferred from his New York City banking firm as punishment for killing a potentially massive deal. As Duran Jr. uncovers a major money laundering scheme in his old hometown, his father becomes embroiled in a volatile situation when he’s taken hostage and used as leverage by Russian gangsters to get Duran Jr. off their trail.

Though it has a promising concept on paper — mining the emerging tech of cryptocurrency for what might seem like an edgy thriller — the movie is just plain bad. As the review in the L.A. Times noted, all the big names in the film, Russell included, get star billing when they are really just window dressing so the producers can boast of an all-star cast.

Superdad

Early in his career Kurt Russell starred in a number of family movies from Walt Disney, one of which was the 1973 slapstick comedy film, “Superdad.” Focusing on a father-daughter duo we meet Charlie McCready (“Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane), who disapproves of his daughter Wendy’s undisciplined ways, and is especially irked by her relationship with the free-wheeling Bart, played by Russell. When McCready’s first attempts to relate to his daughter fail spectacularly, he schemes to get her into his alma mater in hopes of turning her around — only to find it’s not quite the same place he remembers from his youth. 

An unremarkable off-the-wall comedy that delivers too few laughs, a review by The New York Times nevertheless mentioned the charming performance from Russell as being a highlight of the family-friendly film. Other than seeing a young Russell though, there’s almost nothing worth seeing in “Superdad,” a film you can skip even if there’s nothing else to watch.

Escape from L.A.

In the long-gestating 1996 sequel to the ’80s classic “Escape From New York” Kurt Russell reprises his role as snarky ex-soldier Snake Plissken. This time, Snake is sent back to the Manhattan prison, but the United States President has offered Snake a deal: The arrangement is a full pardon in exchange for a mission into Los Angeles to retrieve a devastating super weapon stolen by his daughter, who has handed it over to a band of rebel terrorists. It sounds like it could be another Russell action-movie-classic in the making, but that’s not what it turned out to be. 

Though the original director John Carpenter returned to helm the sequel — and Russell himself was as charismatic as ever — a lackluster script, embarrassingly silly action sequences, and terrible special effects (even for the time) made the film a flop with critics, audiences, and at the ticket counter. Scoring that trifecta, “Escape From L.A.” left fans of the original sorely disappointed, and killed the franchise for good.

Poseidon

This disappointing 2006 remake of the 1970s disaster movie classic “The Poseidon Adventure” saw Kurt Russell starring as Robert Ramsey, the former New York City mayor who is returning home with his daughter aboard the RMS Poseidon, a transatlantic luxury cruise liner. But when a massive rogue wave strikes the ship and capsizes the vessel, Ramsey, his daughter, and their fellow passengers must fight for their lives. As the ship slowly begins to fill with water while upside down, the passengers and crew work together and use their wits to stay alive until they can be rescued. 

Though the ensemble cast included known and notable names like Richard Dreyfuss, Mike Vogel, Emmy Rossum, and Andre Braugher, there was little that could save this disaster epic. Even Russell’s star power couldn’t rescue this cruise ship from a beating by critics (via Rotten Tomatoes).

Captain Ron

The 1992 screwball comedy “Captain Ron” starred Kurt Russell, a smarmy, cocksure scoundrel and boat captain. The one-eyed Ron Rico is hired by the meek and awkward Martin Harvey (played by “SNL” favorite Martin Short) to return him and his family from their trip to the tropical island of St. Pomme de Terre when they can’t find anyone more reputable to help. But the wild, unpredictable, and hard-drinking Captain Ron turns what should have been a simple family trip into a raucous adventure. From a scrape with a band of rebel guerrilla fighters that gets them in trouble with island authorities to a maritime run-in with vicious pirates, Ron’s endless escapades turn Martin’s ride home into a fight for their lives.

Despite a pair of talented stars, “Captain Ron” couldn’t match the charm and excitement of his other, better films. It was absolute disaster in theaters, sinking to the bottom of the box office and barely making back its budget.

Soldier

The 1998 sci-fi action flick “Soldier” starred Kurt Russell as a stoic, silent killing machine named Sergeant Todd. Trained since childhood, he’s quickly “retired” when the government’s next generation of super soldiers is introduced, a genetically-engineered army vastly superior to Todd’s ilk, who are then discarded on a backwater planet. But Todd is forced to face off against the new breed of soldier when they begin killing civilians. Though it only received mixed reviews, “Soldier” boasted an impressive cast that included Jason Scott Lee, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, Michael Chiklis, and Russell’s own son Wyatt in his first credited film role playing a younger Sergeant Todd as a child soldier in training. 

Maybe “Soldier” was a shot at capitalizing on the popularity of ’90s sci-fi military action hits like “Universal Soldier” or “Starship Troopers,” but giving the talented and charming Russell, a character who rarely speaks was a complete waste of the actor’s talents. Though the movie has a favorable premise and some intriguing moments, we’d recommend checking out Russell in “Stargate” instead.

Barefoot Executive

The 1971 wacky Walt Disney comedy “The Barefoot Executive” starred a young Kurt Russell as a low-level employee at a major TV studio named Steven Post. He comes across a chimpanzee named Raffles who somehow has the uncanny ability to predict which new television programs will be a hit and which ones will be failures. Keeping the chimp a secret, executives won’t listen to his recommendations, so Post forces his way into the station’s control room and airs the monkey’s first hit pick. When the show is a runaway success, the young Post quickly becomes a favorite of the network higher ups. 

As Post rises through the ranks by picking the hits with Raffle’s help behind the scenes, he makes enemies of rival executives who are determined to find out the secret to his seemingly supernatural TV instincts. A movie that barely works on paper, it may have played better as a short animated film, because there’s just not enough story to mine from the premise to justify it. There’s a few decent laughs, but “The Barefoot Executive,” like many of Russell’s early Disney work, is more cringeworthy than anything else.

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

“The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” was a family comedy from Walt Disney released in 1969, and the first of three films that saw Kurt Russell playing Dexter Reilly, a student at perpetually cash-strapped Medfield College. Here, science geek Dexter wants to improve the equipment at the school and convinces A.J. Arno, a local business tycoon played by Cesar Romero, to supply them with a computer for their campus. But while Reilly is repairing the exotic new machine, a freak lightning storm zaps them both and turns Reilly from an ordinary teen into a living super-computer. Suddenly Reilly is a mathematical genius, able to read and process information at astronomical speeds, which brings him instant notoriety. 

Unfortunately, Reilly’s newfound abilities may be more trouble than they are worth when it’s discovered that the computer’s original owner (Arno) was a big time crook. A harmless family film, it should be diverting enough for the little ones if they’re not too discerning about older movies — and parents might get a kick out of the baby-faced Russell.

The Strongest Man in the World

Yet another Walt Disney family comedy with a silly premise, this 1975 entry is the second sequel to “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” and once again gave Kurt Russell’s Dexter Reilly superhuman abilities. In “The Strongest Man in the World” Medfield College is still facing serious financial problems and may be forced to close. At the same time, Reilly becomes an accidental test subject after the chemical compounds from two different lab experiments are mixed together into a breakfast cereal — and this gives him super strength. Planning to use his powers to help the school fix its budget problems, he and his friends propose a strong man competition with a deep-pocketed cereal company, but things get sticky when gangster A.J. Arno tries to sabotage the event.

Like the two movies before it, this one is intended as a wholesome kids film, but it’s such a repeat of the first two that it lacks all stakes, not to mention freshness or originality. The only fun you might have is seeing Russell look older — he’s just a few years away from playing the likes of Snake Plissken — but still playing a bumbling school nerd.

Winter People

In the 1989 romantic drama “Winter People” Kurt Russell plays Wayland Jackson, a wandering clock-maker who makes his way to a mountain village in the Appalachian Mountains searching for work during the Great Depression. He falls in love with Collie Wright (“Top Gun” star Kelly McGillis), a young single mother, but their love affair brings him into the path of the Wright’s familial rivals, led by Drury Campbell whose son is the father of Collie’s baby.

Wayland is drawn into a blood feud and must fight for Collie’s love. While the story seems like the Oscar-bait kind, it fails to provide any real tension or stakes, with paper-thin characters and a resolution that is too neat and lacks the kind of drama you’d want from a frontier romance focused on rival western families. Savaged by critics, it’s been a largely and rightly forgotten entry in Russell’s long career.

The Best of Times

Across all genres it seems Kurt Russell has excelled in buddy comedies, and here he’s paired with none other than genius comic Robin Williams, at perhaps the height of his career, in the 1986 comedy “The Best of Times.” Williams plays Jack Dundee, a disillusioned banker who still dwells on a pivotal high school football game he lost more than a decade before. Obsessed with his failure at a crucial moment in the big game, Dundee reaches out to the school’s former quarterback, Reno Hightower, who 13 years later is himself a down-on-his-luck mechanic. Together, the pair head back to their hometown and convince the school to reenact the game so Dundee can get another shot at winning — and energize both of their failing lives in the process.

Though the movie might not have aged as well as some of Russell’s better known work, both he and Williams give good performances. “The Best of Times” is forgettable, and nothing you’ll write home about, but the The New York Times made mention of its spirit and heart in their review. Worth a look, especially for the odd pairing of its two stars.

The Mean Season

The 1985 newsroom crime thriller “The Mean Season” featured Kurt Russell in perhaps one of his most serious and dramatic roles to date, as reporter Malcolm Anderson. Covering the crime beat in Miami for years, the embittered Anderson has promised his longtime girlfriend that they’ll move out to rural Colorado to find a quieter life. But things change when the world-weary newspaper man gets pulled into the case of a serial killer that’s terrorizing the city. Picking Andersen to be his contact in the press, the killer calls on him by phone and promises more victims. 

Once tired from reporting on crime, Anderson suddenly finds himself more than reporting on the series of ghastly killings, but unwillingly becoming a part of them. He can’t pry himself away from the job, especially when the killer makes Anderson’s girlfriend his next target. Planned as a gripping drama to contend with the likes of other ’80s thrillers, such as “Fatal Attraction” and “To Live and Die in L.A.,” “Mean Season” punches a bit too far above its weight and can’t match up. 

3000 Miles to Graceland

Featuring a terrific cast that also includes Kevin Costner, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Thomas Haden Church, Ice-T, Christian Slater, and Bokeem Woodbine, the 2001 film “3000 Miles to Graceland” may not have been an award-winner, but it’s a fun, daring crime comedy. In this offbeat buddy story, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner play a pair of con men who get together to stage a robbery of the Las Vegas Riviera Casino in Las Vegas. 

But the so-called brilliance of their bold plan is to commit the crime while the resort is playing host to a convention of Elvis impersonators. They dress up as the King as well, using hundreds of identical copycats as cover. Though not loved by critics — who knocked it for its hackneyed and unfunny script — it was a return of sorts for Russell, who had worked with Elvis as a child actor, and had once played him in a TV biopic (via Tampa Bay Times).

The Christmas Chronicles 2

The unexpected sequel to a surprise Netflix hit — the 2020 “Christmas Chronicles” — once again saw Kurt Russell taking on the role of jolly ol’ Saint Nick. Two years after the events of the first film, jaded brother and sister Kate and Teddy are both whisked away to the North Pole just before the big holiday by a dastardly evil elf named Belsnickel, who wishes to destroy Santa’s home and ruin Christmas forever. Rescued by Russell’s Santa Claus and brought to his village to stage a defense, the gang set out to thwart Belsnickel, who hatches a series of devious schemes to put an end to holiday cheer once and for all. 

Though not as delightful as the first film, and unable to match its critical response, it does add Russell’s real life partner Goldie Hawn as Mrs. Claus, and delivers enough holiday fun to keep the family entertained. Russell continues to inhabit the role with the customary “twinkle” in his eye, which is really what these movies are about.

Tequila Sunrise

The 1988 romantic crime drama “Tequila Sunrise” saw Kurt Russell share the screen with two of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the time: Mel Gibson (“Mad Max”) and Michelle Pfeiffer (“The Witches of Eastwick”). Russell plays Los Angeles detective Nick Frescia who is on the hunt for Carlos (Raul Julia), the mysterious leader of a notorious Mexican drug cartel. Gibson is Nick’s good friend Mac, a former drug dealer who’s trying to put his past behind him and start a new life with Jo Ann, owner of a local restaurant. 

But the two men’s friendship is tested when Nick begins an affair with Jo Ann and discovers that Mac may be involved in the drug business and working with Carlos. A promising but ultimately disappointing drama, Roger Ebert said it was “an intriguing movie with interesting characters” but was let down by a muddled story and a revelatory twist that didn’t make much sense.

Now You See Him Now You Don't

In the first of two sequels to the Disney comedy “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” Kurt Russell once again plays Medford College student Dexter Reilly as he receives incredible super powers. With the school still facing a poor financial outlook, Dean Higgins once again has high hopes that a regional science competition will help bring in needed investments, and Reilly believes his invisibility formula could take home the top prize. 

But recently released criminal A.J. Arno seeks to take advantage of the their money problems, with his own secret plans to turn the school into a massive casino. With help from his friends, Reilly sets out to use his new powers to stop Arno and save the school one more time. It’s an inoffensive film, and once again Russell gives a charming performance as the geeky, lovable Reilly, but that’s really all there is to enjoy.

Charley and the Angel

“Charley and the Angel” is another Disney family comedy, but this one stars Fred MacMurray, with Kurt Russell in a supporting role. In the film, Charley is a shopkeeper who doesn’t have the best relationship with his wife and two sons, while his daughter is dating the aloof Ray (Kurt Russell), who he disapproves of. But things change for Charley when a visiting angel from heaven appears and tells him his death is imminent, and he has one last chance to do good in the world. 

In the end, Charley sets about trying to help those around him with hair-brained do-gooding schemes that are the source of the film’s laughs. When his time does come, Charlie is able to do one final good deed, defending his family from violent mobsters with the help of Russell’s Ray — finally earning his respect. It’s another fine family film for the young Russell, who by 1973 already had a handful of Disney films under his belt. “Charley and the Angel” is one of the better entries, even if he’s not front and center.

Sky High

A cult favorite now for its goofy performances and tongue-in-cheek humor, the 2005 superhero comedy “Sky High” was Disney’s attempt to capitalize on the success of “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” films with a fun action comedy about a school for up-and-coming superheroes. Kurt Russell plays the world’s greatest superhero, The Commander, and father to the film’s lead, Will Stronghold, who is just learning how to use his newfound superpowers when a dangerous villain rises up and attempts to destroy the superhero school and replace it with an academy for villains. 

A fantastic cast featured Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Will’s ex, the villain Royal Pain, as well as memorable appearances from “The Kids in the Hall” stars Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, and genre stars Lynda Carter and Bruce Campbell. Though not well-received at the time, it’s been more fondly remembered today, with Den Of Geek saying in 2017 that “it was so ahead of its time that a decade later, it seems sharper and funnier than ever.”

Art of the Steal

Kurt Russell leads the 2013 crime comedy “The Art of the Steal” as an ex-con and motorcycle stunt driver whose brother, criminal lowlife Nicky, ropes him into a daring heist of a priceless book. Recruiting old friends from his less reputable days, the gang hatches a clever scheme to break into a warehouse in Canada and swap the book for a forgery. But when Nicky gets greedy, things go south quickly, and Crunch (Russell) finds himself in way over his head.

Though the movie was given low marks for originality, most critics seemed to agree that it used its cast well, with Russell giving a fine turn as the cliche’d ex-con out for one last job. Jay Baruchel, Terence Stamp, Katheryn Winnick, and Matt Dillon round out the strong cast, which was the real highlight of an otherwise run-of-the-mill heist film.

Guns in the Heather

In one of his first dramatic starring roles, an 18-year-old Kurt Russell played Rich Evans, who is shocked to discover that his older brother Tom isn’t an ordinary young man working abroad, but actually an American intelligence agent operating out of Ireland. Walt Disney’s “Guns in the Heather,” an all-ages adventure, sees Evans pulled into one of Tom’s latest missions involving a scientist who has defected from the Eastern Bloc. When one of Tom’s contacts arrives at Rich’s doorstep with a secret message, the brothers go on the run.

“Guns in the Heather” becomes a pulp-inspired nail-biting action film, albeit a tame one, with car chases, gun fights, and one narrow escape after another as the brothers bolt from enemy spies. Though there’s nothing groundbreaking here, it’s a classic ’60s spy adventure that the whole family will enjoy.

Swing Shift

“Swing Shift” starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, was a romantic war drama from director Jonathan Demme (who would go on to craft “Silence of the Lambs” a few years later). In the film, Hawn plays Kay, a young woman left behind while her Naval serviceman husband Jack (Ed Harris) is off fighting in the Pacific. Lonely, she soon befriends and eventually falls for the inspector at the factory where she works, a charming man named Lucky (Russell) and the two begin an affair that comes undone when Jack returns home. 

Met with mixed reviews, this one is worth a watch if you like this sort of dramatic romantic fare. But don’t expect the same swaggery hero you may remember from some of his more famous films, as Russell here delivers a more subdued, nuanced performance. Roger Ebert awarded it three stars, but as strong of a heartfelt film as it may be, it’s perhaps more famous as the production during which Russell and Hawn began dating.

Dark Blue

Kurt Russell plays LAPD Sgt. Eldon Perry in the 2002 crime drama “Dark Blue” written by David Ayer (“Suicide Squad”) from a story by James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”). Perry has just helped his partner beat an excessive force charge when their corrupt supervisor, Jack Van Meter, instructs them to investigate a deadly robbery — but to pin it on two ex-cons — knowing full well the two men weren’t involved. Realizing too late that Van Meter has put them in the middle of a broader conspiracy, Perry tries to unravel the truth just as the L.A. riots begin in the summer of 1992.

Right at the middle of the pack on this list, “Dark Blue” received mixed reviews but Russell was praised for another fine performance. Beyond that, however, the film was dismissed as a conventional corrupt cop story, but with an interesting historical angle. 

Tango & Cash

In a classic ’90s team-up of iconic action stars, Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone — Snake Plissken and Rambo, after all — joined forces for the 1989 mismatched buddy-cop action comedy “Tango & Cash.” A copycat of the much more successful (and far better) 1987 action comedy “Lethal Weapon,” the film puts Russell in the role of chaotic, messy officer Gabe Cash, and Stallone in the unlikely part of well-dressed, clean cut Ray Tango, both top lieutenants in the LAPD. On the tail of an infamous drug lord, the odd couple cops are framed for the death of an FBI agent — and so they set about to prove their innocence and take down the criminal kingpin.

Another cliche’d film in Russell’s arsenal, “Tango & Cash” is nevertheless one of the better movies, and one of his better on-screen pairings, with Stallone by his side. It was never a favorite with critics, but has remained one of Russell and Stallone’s more memorable movies, even if it’s not among the best in either of their careers.

Touchback

A spiritual sports movie, “Touchback” introduces audiences to Scott Murphy, a man who still reminisces about the life he could have lived. In high school he’d been a star quarterback, with a chance to make the pros, but destroyed his leg in the final game of the state championships. Twenty years later, the disaffected husband and father is about to lose his farm when he suddenly wakes up back in 1991 with a chance to do it all over. 

Kurt Russell plays Scott’s indomitable high school football coach who helps teach Scott important life lessons when he returns to the past — especially important now because he’s ready to hear them. A touching and earnest family drama, “Touchback” is the story of one man’s regret and how a magical journey helps him cherish his life, a story that Variety called “a mashup of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Friday Night Lights.'”

Unlawful Entry

In the same vein as “Fatal Attraction” or “Single White Female,” the 1992 psychological thriller “Unlawful Entry” follows married couple Michael and Karen (Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe) who become the target of a disturbed man’s obsession. The twist with this tale, however, is that the stalker in question (played by “Goodfellas” star Ray Liotta) is police officer Pete Davis, introduced to them when they become victims of a violent home invasion. When Pete quickly reveals himself to be mentally unstable, the couple finds that separating themselves from the deranged cop is easier said than done.

Despite obvious comparisons to other, similar thrillers, “Unalwful Entry” proved a hit with critics, receiving strong reviews for being a suspenseful film that walked the line between fresh and conventional. It was given high marks for strong performances from its quality cast, stylish direction, and a jaw-dropping ending.

Executive Decision

As Dr. David Grant, a consultant working for U.S. Army Intelligence, Kurt Russell returned to the dramatic action genre in the 1996 film “Executive Decision,” directed by Stuart Baird (“Star Trek: Nemesis”). Ostensibly billed as a Steven Seagal film, the “Under Seige” actor makes a shocking exit from the movie fairly early on, and Russell takes the lead as the man now charged with taking back control of a plane hijacked by terrorists. 

With a deadly nerve agent threatened to kill everyone in Washington, D.C., it’s up to Grant to figure out how to stop the terrorists, lest the military be forced to shoot the plane down and kill everyone on board. While “Executive Decision” won’t be remembered as among the best of a decade filled with great action heroes, it remains an effective and entertaining action thriller just the same. 

Dreamer

Inspired by a true story about an injured thoroughbred horse named Mariah’s Storm, the 2005 film “Dreamer” follows Kurt Russell as Ben Crane, a horse trainer who works long hours and hardly has a relationship with his daughter (Dakota Fanning). When one of his horses is seriously injured, and Crane refuses to put it down, he buys the horse, but loses his job. Over time, the horse begins to heal, and with the help of Crane, and his daughter Cale who cares for her, the mare makes a miraculous recovery that nobody expected.

“Dreamer” may not have become an all-time classic, but the film was met with generally warm reviews from critics and is a solid feel-good family drama sure to lift your spirits. If you’re looking to see Russell show his range and display a more sensitive side, watch “Dreamer” — a genuinely heartwarming film with a positive message.

Used Cars

The 1980 satire from Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (the team behind “Back To The Future”), “Used Cars” chronicles the relationship between two brothers, Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) and Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), whose rival used car dealerships sit across the street from each other. Constantly attempting to outmaneuver one another, the brothers are eager to use any underhanded tactic to steal away customers, all while pulling the dirtiest tricks in the books to sell cars on their own lots. But when disaster strike’s Rudy’s brother, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep both businesses afloat.

A deeply cynical black comedy that can be seen as a takedown of capitalism and a greed-focused culture, it was overlooked and poorly reviewed at the time. Thankfully, with Russell, Zemeckis, and Gale all finding subsequent success, it has received renewed attention, with kinder reactions in the decades since. Now a cult classic, Irish News says it “deserves a chance to garner some love from a much wider audience.”

The Christmas Chronicles

The 2018 Netflix original “The Christmas Chronicles” was an unexpected delight from “Harry Potter” and “Home Alone” director Chris Columbus — he produced this holiday movie — with Kurt Russell cast as a different kind of Santa Claus. Far from the soft-spoken, mild-mannered jolly grandpa-like figure, this Santa is a grizzled, tough talking, hard-headed, brash savior. He’s determined to deliver another Christmas and bring cheer back to the holiday with the help of two young children who were left alone on the holiday’s eve. 

While it’s tough to become a holiday classic these days, “The Christmas Chronicles” could very well become this generation’s favorite fictional Santa. Russell imbues this version of the hero with vigor, swagger and lovable charm that would be hard to pull off for anyone else. It received a sequel in 2020, but there’s yet been no word on a third.

Breakdown

Higher up on the list is “Breakdown,” the 1997 suspense thriller that Roger Ebert called “taut, skillful and surgically effective,” favorably comparing the film’s storytelling to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. In the movie Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan are Jeff and Amy, a married New England couple on a cross-country drive to San Diego when their car breaks down in the middle of the desert. The nearby locals are hostile and unhelpful, and when Amy gets a lift to a diner to call for services, she promptly disappears, and the trucker who gave her a lift tells police he’s never met her.

In a showdown with the town — and even the police — to find his wife and get out alive, “Breakdown” delivers a haunting story that show’s how desperate a good man can get when everyone is against him and he sees no way out. A high stakes thrill ride from start to shocking finish, “Breakdown” is one of the better reviewed movies that decade for Russell.

Overboard

The 1987 comedy “Overboard” stars real-life couple Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Hawn plays Joanna Stayton, an  overbearing, demanding, and downright snobby wife whose husband leaves her when she suffers a bout of amnesia after falling off her yacht. But when the boorish Dean (Russell), a carpenter who had worked for Stayton, discovers Joanna’s situation, he pretends to be her husband, fighting hard to keep up the ruse. 

The best straight-up comedy in Russell’s career, it’s bolstered by the natural chemistry between he and Hawn, the mismatched couple who find themselves together through suspect circumstances. While it was a box office flop, and reviews were mixed at best when it was released, history has been kind to “Overboard” with retro reviews giving it higher scores (via Empire). It even received a remake in 2018 starring Anna Faris in a gender-swapped version of the story. 

The Fox and the Hound

The only animated movie on this list, Kurt Russell provided the voice for the lead character of Copper in the 1981 Disney classic “The Fox and the Hound.” It’s about a wild fox named Tod and a young hound named Copper who have been best friends through their “youth.” But after one fateful winter during which Copper has been trained to be a hunting dog, the two find themselves enemies — as farmer Amos tasks Copper with tracking Tod during hunting season.

In one of Disney’s many high-quality animated adventures, Mickey Rooney voices Tod the fox, and a very young Corey Feldman voices the young Copper at the opening of the film. Though certainly no trailblazer, “The Fox and the Hound” is an important film in Russell’s repertoire, as it’s his only major voice acting role to date.

Death Proof

In the film “Death Proof,” Kurt Russell plays a professional body double and stunt driver named Mike McKay. McKay gets his thrills from hunting and killing innocent young women with his souped-up, modified, “death-proof” muscle cars. But when he takes on a gang of tough, rabble-rousing women in Lebanon, Texas, McKay finds he may have bitten off more than he can chew.

Released in 2007 as part of a unique double feature with “Planet Terror” from Robert Rodriguez, “Death Proof” was director Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to grindhouse films of the 1970s. Not surprisingly, it was Tarantino’s part of the two-fer that was the bigger hit, with critics lauding the gritty throwback for its clever script, high-octane thrills, and pulpy performances from Russell and co-stars Rosario Dawson, Rose McGowan, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. 

Stargate

Before “Independence Day,” the writing and directing of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich created the 1994 sci-fi action film “Stargate” with Kurt Russell and James Spader. Starring as Colonel Jonathan ‘Jack’ O’Neil, Russell is a special ops soldier who leads a top secret government project that oversees the ‘Stargate,’ an ancient device that creates a wormhole to allow passage to distant planets. After traveling through the Stargate with a team of soldiers, they find themselves trapped in an alien world that resembles ancient Egypt — and become entangled in a war with a primeval being.

A hit in the fall of ’94, it received good reviews but was even more beloved by fans, sparking a multi-media franchise that would last for more than 15 years. Spun-off into a long-running television series (with Richard Dean Anderson replacing Russell as O’Neil) which itself spawned several successful spin-offs of its own.

Deepwater Horizon

Helmed by director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”), the 2016 disaster drama “Deepwater Horizon” was based on the true story of the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Kurt Russell plays Jimmy Harrell, who managed the platform when he discovered a serious problem with the high-pressure reservoir. After an attempt to resolve the issue fails, it triggers a massive explosion that kills a number of workers, and quickly becomes a fight for their lives to get everyone out and quell the blaze. 

Though Mark Wahlberg got the starring role, Russell’s part was a big one, and helped deliver the film good reviews from critics and audiences (via Rotten Tomatoes). Despite its overwhelming positive response however, the film proved to be one of the biggest box office duds of the year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Silkwood

Based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, a young woman who was a union activist and whistleblower and killed under mysterious circumstances in 1974. But, rather than exploring the circumstances surrounding her death, the 1983 film “Silkwood” focuses entirely on her investigations and the case that she brought against a nuclear power plant, with allegations of willfully endangering workers and falsifying safety reports. Kurt Russell co-stars opposite Meryl Streep as Karen’s boyfriend and co-worker Drew — the film also explores the friction her work to expose the plant created on her home life.

 “Silkwood” was the spiritual precursor to “Erin Brokovich,” a story about an ordinary woman who fights injustice. Though it did well with critics, with Roger Ebert giving the film four stars — and packs a punch with compelling performances and real-life drama — it unfortunately never became the kind of classic that it aspired to be. 

Bone Tomahawk

The 2015 western survivalist horror film “Bone Tomahawk” is set in the frontier town of Bright Hope where Kurt Russell’s Sheriff Franklin Hunt keeps order. When three townspeople go missing, including Nick — one of Hunt’s deputies — evidence suggests they’ve been captured by a rogue group of cannibalistic Native Americans who live in a far off region. Along with two men, and the injured husband of one of the missing townspeople, Hunt sets out to rescue them. Their trip quickly becomes a doomed mission as they are attacked by bandits and must fight for their lives just to survive the journey.

Co-starring Matthew Fox, Patrick Wilson, Sid Haig, and David Arquette, “Bone Tomahawk” is not the rousing western adventure you might expect, but a dark, sobering drama about the grim reality of life on the western frontier. Receiving rave reviews from critics, it was a low-budget horror thriller that earned Russell a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Actor.

Backdraft

The 1991 film “Backdraft,” directed by Ron Howard, saw Kurt Russell and William Baldwin playing estranged Chicago firefighter brothers. Russell is “Bull” McCaffrey, an experienced, veteran officer, while Baldwin plays younger brother Brian, who resents the respect his brother receives. But when a series of unexplained and dangerous fires called “backdrafts” are set around the city, resembling those set years before by a now-incarcerated man, the two must work together to find the truth. After the revelation that the arsonist may be a veteran firefighter, the investigation tests their relationship like never before. 

A surprising thriller about a line of duty rarely covered in film, “Backdraft” became a much talked-about action film in the summer of ’91. With a cast that included Donald Sutherland, Scott Glenn, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, it impressed critics too. Nearly 30 years later in 2019, Baldwin and Sutherland returned for a belated sequel, “Backdraft 2.”

Miracle

Based on the true story of the 1980 American Olympic hockey team, Kurt Russell stars as coach Herb Brooks, who led the U.S. team to the gold medal at the winter games. Despite the Soviet team being heavily favored, and the American team being serious underdogs, the U.S. Olympic squad defied the odds and toppled the Russians. More than just a sports victory, it was a symbolic political win, too — defeating the Soviets at a game they had previously dominated, at the height of the Cold War.

In the starring role as Coach Brooks, Russell was lauded for his effort as the spirit behind the Olympic team and embodiment of American pride. Toasted by the press, and loved by audiences, the critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes calls out the actor, saying “Kurt Russell’s performance guides this cliche-ridden tale into the realm of inspirational, nostalgic goodness.”

Escape from New York

In perhaps the most iconic role in Kurt Russell’s long career, he stars as the cocky ex-soldier and convicted felon Snake Plissken in the low-budget science-fiction adventure “Escape from New York.” The 1981 film — which turned the actor into a bonafide action star — took place in a crime-ridden future where the entire city of Manhattan had become a giant island prison. When terrorists hijack Air Force One and crash it into New York City, authorities offer notorious prisoner Plissken a deal to rescue the President in exchange for his freedom.

Directed by “Halloween” helmer John Carpenter, “Escape from New York” didn’t blow up the box office, but became one of the biggest cult hits that decade. It catapulted Russell from young Disney star and part time TV actor to surprise action hero almost overnight. Along with “Mad Max,” “Escape from New York” helped turn the genre of post-apocalyptic sci-fi films into a cottage industry. It may not be the highest rated Russell film, but some could argue it’s his best role to date. 

Big Trouble in Little China

Another celebrated ’80s classic, “Big Trouble in Little China” once again teamed Kurt Russell with “Escape from New York” director John Carpenter. This time, far from the cool, charming, devil-may-care Snake Plissken, Russell plays dim-witted, smart aleck truck driver, Jack Burton, who gets drawn into a battle with a mystical sorcerer when his friend’s fiancee is kidnapped by a local street gang. Following the ne’er-do-wells to Chinatown, Burton discovers a secret society of ancient warriors who are attempting to keep their beloved master Lo Pan alive by sacrificing a woman with green eyes.

Though more serious reviewers lambasted the film for its over-the-top silliness and non-stop action, it’s become celebrated and beloved by fans for all of those same reasons. In 2016 Den Of Geek chronicled its ascendance from low-budget flop to all-time action comedy classic, calling it “a cinematic oddity, a joyous blending of varied styles and genres with a non-traditional hero, an iconic villain … and is endlessly quotable.”

Tombstone

Two ’90s film’s focused on real-life western hero Wyatt Earp. “Tombstone” (1993) was the decidedly superior entry, beating Kevin Costner’s “Wyatt Earp” (1994). Chronicling a two-year period in the life of the legendary Wild West lawman (Kurt Russell), it begins when he and his brother Virgil (Sam Elliott) relocate to the quiet town of Tombstone, Arizona and encounter their old friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) following Earp’s retirement. But the three men soon become targets of a ruthless outlaw gang when the townspeople look to him for help, leading to the fateful gunfight at the O.K. Corral. 

“Tombstone” boasted an all-star cast that included Kilmer, Elliott, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Michael Rooker, and Charlton Heston. Released to positive reviews, it was even more celebrated by audiences, making the famed western gunman one of Russell’s most famous roles.

The Hateful Eight

Reuniting with “Death Proof” director Quentin Tarantino, Kurt Russell took one of the lead roles in the pulp western ensemble “The Hateful Eight.” Russell kicks off the story as bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth, who is bringing vicious outlaw Daisy Domergue back to be hanged when a violent blizzard strikes, stranding him in a cabin with seven other mysterious individuals. Determined to see Domergue delivered alive, Hunt must decide which of the seven are friends, and which are foes, in a taught western psychological thriller that’s dripping with Tarantino’s usual charms.

One of the director’s sharpest scripts, he used Russell’s talents to full effect as the gruff, no-nonsense bounty hunter. While it’s one of the actor’s best movies and most impeccable performances, his part in the film is still perhaps best known for an infamous scene where he unwittingly destroyed a priceless guitar on set while acting.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

As one of the most iconic action heroes of the ’80s and ’90s, it isn’t surprising to think of Kurt Russell in a comic book superhero epic, but nobody ever expected his Marvel role to be that of an interstellar being: Ego, the Living Planet. In “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” director James Gunn cast Russell as an ageless cosmic entity who reveals himself to be the long lost father of the hero Star-Lord, and summons the rogue runaway to his side. When it’s revealed that Ego has far more nefarious plans than a simple family reunion, Star-Lord must stop running and confront his family legacy once and for all.

Though the sequel couldn’t quite match the magic of the first film, it remains one of the best entries in the MCU, and Russell’s layered cosmic villain is a big reason why. Bringing a combination of wit, warmth, and sinister charm, he turns a once-obscure Marvel character into one of the MCU’s best baddies.

The Thing

A year after “Escape From New York,” director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell would get back together for a quasi-remake of a ’50s sci-fi b-movie that would become itself an all-time classic in the genre — and the best film to date in both of their illustrious careers. The movie follows a small crew at a remote research station in the icy borderland of Antarctica. All alone, they must battle with a mysterious shape-shifting creature that seems intent on killing everything and everyone within its reach. Russell stars as a resourceful helicopter pilot who leads the charge and rallies the crew to fight back.

A creepy, suspenseful, and utterly brutal sci-fi horror movie that’s gotten better with age, there’s not much that we can say about the film or Russell’s performance that hasn’t already been said. It’s enough to say that if you’re a fan of Russell and haven’t seen it  … you might not be of this Earth.

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