Seriously, Bruce Willis was once known for his work in comedy, such as in the popular comedy/drama/mystery series Moonlighting. During the show's run, Willis was also hired to do wine cooler commercials.
His big break came when he played resourceful, smoking, snarky NYPD officer John McClane in the thriller Die Hard. People were at first surprised and skeptical when they heard of his casting, since he was mostly known as a funny guy, as well as that annoying guy from those wine cooler commercials. Playing McClane with a mix of humor and sympathy and performing most of his own stunts, Willis proved he had the chops as a serious action star, and Die Hard was a hit that jump-started a blockbuster franchise.
Before and following his success on Die Hard, Willis had a brief but mildly successful stint as a pop singer, most notably under the persona of Bruno (no, not that persona).
Since Die Hard, Willis has had a healthy film career, alternating between action, comedy, and even straight-up drama. In many of his action movies, Willis is the king of the heroic comeback, and usually has one scene where the bad guys work him over badly, only for him to come back in the final reel and win out. This was perhaps best codified in 1994's Pulp Fiction in which he plays a down-and-out boxer who bets the money he took to take a fall on himself and earns himself a very bizarre day, only to come through in the end and ride off into the future on a chopper with his girl by his side. It's also worth noting that the ending of Bruce's story arc is also technically the end of the movie itself, at least as far as the strict continuity of events is concerned.
He also co-founded the Planet Hollywood restaurant alongside fellow action movie titans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Appropriately, all three shared the big screen for the first time (although Willis was just a cameo) in 2010's The Expendables.
A frequent collaborator with Quentin Tarantino.
- Walter Davis in Blind Date (1987)
- John McClane in Die Hard (1988), Die Hard 2 (1990), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Live Free or Die Hard (2007), and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). Willis also plays this character in a cameo in Loaded Weapon 1 (1993).
- Tom Mix in Sunset (1988)
- The voice of baby Mikey in Look Who's Talking (1989) and Look Who's Talking Too (1990)
- Peter Fallow in The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
- Eddie "Hudson Hawk" Hawkins (and co-writer) in Hudson Hawk (1991)
- Bo Weinberg in Billy Bathgate (1991)
- Joe Hallenbeck in The Last Boy Scout (1991)
- Dr. Ernest Menville in Death Becomes Her (1992)
- Det. Tom Hardy in Striking Distance (1993)
- Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction (1994)
- North's guardian angel (Complete with... a bunny suit? Our Angels Are Very, Very Different.) in North (1994)
- Bill Capa in Color of Night (1994)
- Carl Roebuck in Nobody's Fool (1994)
- Leo in Four Rooms (1995)
- James Cole in 12 Monkeys (1995)
- John Smith in Last Man Standing (1996)
- Muddy Grimes in Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)
- Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element (1997)
- The Jackal in The Jackal (1997)
- Harry S. Stamper in Armageddon (1998)
- Major General Devereaux in The Siege (1998)
- Art Jeffries in Mercury Rising (1998)
- Dr. Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense (1999)
- James Stefan "Jimmy the Tulip" Tudeski in The Whole Nine Yards (2000) and The Whole Ten Yards (2004)
- David Dunn in Unbreakable (2000), Split (2017) and Glass (2019)
- Russ Duritz in The Kid (2000)
- Joe Blake in Bandits (2001)
- William Rose Bailey in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
- Lt. A.K. Waters in Tears of the Sun (2003)
- Spike the Dog in Rugrats Go Wild! (2003)
- As Himself in Ocean's Twelve (2004)
- Jeff Talley in Hostage (2005)
- John Hartigan in Sin City (2005) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
- Sonny Truelove in Alpha Dog (2006).
- Mr. Goodkat in Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
- RJ in Over the Hedge (2006)
- Jack Mosley in 16 Blocks (2006)
- Harrison Hill in Perfect Stranger (2007)
- Lt. Muldoon in Grindhouse (segment "Planet Terror") (2007)
- Himself in What Just Happened (2008)
- Agent Greer in Surrogates (2009)
- Jimmy Monroe in Cop Out (2010)
- Frank Moses in Red (2010, 2013 sequel)
- Mr. Church in The Expendables and The Expendables 2 (2010, 2012) note
- Mike Cella in Fire with Fire (2012)
- Captain Sharp in Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
- Adult Joe in Looper (2012)
- General Joe Coulton in G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
- Omar in The Prince (2014)
- Julian Michaels in Vice (2015)
- Paul Kersey in Death Wish (2018)
- The Return Of Bruno (1987)
- If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger (1989)
- Apocalypse (1998)
- Peter Jay Novins in The Twilight Zone (1985) episode "Shatterday"
- David Addison, Jr. in Moonlighting (1985–89)
- Bruno the Kid in Bruno the Kid (1996–97)
Tropes associated with him include:
- Bald of Awesome: Since the late 1990s.
- "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Sang the theme song for his animated kids' show Bruno the Kid.
- Mr. Seahorse: Bruce parodied his then-wife Demi Moore's nude pregnant-belly cover shot on Vanity Fair by also posing naked with a pregnant belly in the same fashion for the September 1991 issue cover of Spy magazine.
- The Prima Donna: He's gotten this reputation in The New '10s. Kevin Smith said he was a nightmare to work with on Cop Out, and he's also been difficult in interviews looking disinterested in the films he's promoting and not bothering to answer questions. Woody Allen also replaced him from his movie Cafe Society for not knowing his lines, even with the help of cue cards.
- The Southpaw: Willis is left-handed, and thus so are most of the characters he portrays, such as John McClane. However there are exceptions. In Sin City, he wielded his gun with his right hand to portray the character of John Hartigan, who was right-handed in the original comics, accurately.
- Younger and Hipper: His big break, John McClane in the Die Hard films, was a huge example of this. In Nothing Lasts Forever, the novel the film was based on, Joe Leland (the McClane equivalent) is no-nonsense, uncool, tight-assed, and around twice Willis' age at the time he did that film; in fact, the film was supposed to have the lead role played by a then-73 Frank Sinatra (though that was more the result of a contractual obligation)! The casting of Bruce Willis, fresh from Moonlighting, forced the scriptwriters to overhaul the character completely to fit Willis' acting style.