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The Top 10 Kurt Russell Movie Performances (#5 – 1)

August 2, 2021 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Big Trouble in Little China

The Top 10 Kurt Russell Movie Performances: #5-#1

I don’t really have an intro for the second part of this list beyond saying that everyone seems to agree that Kurt Russell has had a terrific career. To a certain extent, Russell has never really given a bad performance. If the movie was bad, odds are good that Russell was a highlight of the movie, maybe the only highlight of the movie. That’s just how good of an actor he is.

Anyway, here’s the first part of this list, just in case you missed it: The Top 10 Kurt Russell Movie Performances: #10-#6 As for the movies that you thought should have appeared but didn’t, I only wanted to do the top 10 without any honorable mentions. That’s the only reason those movies don’t appear.

And now, without any further what have you, the Top 10 Kurt Russell Movie Performances list concludes:

The Top 10 Kurt Russell Movie Performances: #5-#1


5- Captain Ron- Captain Ron: When I first saw Captain Ron I was worried that it wouldn’t work. For some reason I thought that Martin Short would somehow overwhelm the movie and make Russell, at best, a secondary character. And would they even have chemistry? As much as I liked Three Fugitives I didn’t think Short and Nick Nolte worked well enough in that movie. Would that same thing happen with Captain Ron? Thankfully, no. Short moved back and forth easily between being the straight man to Russell’s seemingly oblivious goof ball Captain Ron and being the stressed out goofball that Short’s Martin Harvey turned into when he was, well, stressed out. And that’s really the essence of Russell’s performance in the movie. He’s the comedian when he has to be the comedian, and he’s the side kick when he has to be the sidekick to Short. And it’s completely seamless. I know that Captain Ron wasn’t a megahit and that the consensus seems to be that the movie found its audience on cable and home video, but I’m still surprised that Russell didn’t star in more comedy projects/family comedy projects after Captain Ron. He’s that good in it, and I’m sure he would have excelled, too, in something else and become a legit comedy guy or, at least, someone that wouldn’t be out of place in a comedy like Captain Ron. It’s a performance for the ages and something that never really gets old.


4- Dean Proffitt- Overboard: One of the great things about Russell’s performance as Dean Profitt is that he’s one of the most irresponsible parents you’ve ever seen and yet you still like him. Yes, he provides a house and food and whatnot for his four sons, but he never seems to be there for them. He isn’t involved in their education, he doesn’t spend time with them when he gets home from work, and he doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about his lack of attention to them. Granted, he’s still in a kind of extended mourning period after the death of his wife and he’s in over his head with being a single parent and running a handy man business, but it’s still kind of galling that he can’t figure out how to be a better parent. And yet you don’t want to give him shit for it. You still root for him. And when he kidnaps the amnesiac Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn) and makes her think she’s his wife Annie, which is incredibly upsetting and creepy in so many ways, you don’t fault him for it at all. Because look at what Joanna did to him while working for her on her yacht (and, Jesus, no one liked Joanna). Dean may not be doing the right thing, but you can’t say it’s wholly wrong, either. I mean, I doesn’t seem that way while watching the movie. It’s really, really hard to be a totally irresponsible creep and be the movie’s hero.

And think back to the scenes where Dean starts to realize that he is a bad parent and needs to become a better one. You can see it in Russell’s face that he knows it but can’t quite admit it just yet. He has to work it all out for himself. This is another performance and another Kurt Russell movie I will never tire of. It’s always worth watching.


3- Jack Burton- Big Trouble in Little China: Out of all of the “cult movie” characters Russell has played in his career, Jack Burton is probably his most popular. Burton is a blowhard of the highest order. He gives off the aura of a supremely confident man of the world, both with his hilarious CB soliloquies and the way he carries himself when he’s out of his truck and interacting with people. The reality, though, is Burton is a mediocre man with a big mouth who gets through harrowing situations by luck and the help of others (like his old friend Wang Chi, brilliantly played by Dennis Dun). Burton is not the badass he oh so wants you to believe he is. It’s funny watching Burton skate through David Lo Pan’s Chinatown HQ and not get killed. Russell embraces the absurdity of Jack Burton, giving him a John Wayne type speech pattern and not living up the idea of the Duke at all. The only thing Burton seems to be good at is the one thing that helps him kill James Hong’s Lo Pan at the end of the movie; Burton can catch things thrown at him (“It’s all in the reflexes”). That’s the only reason he’s able to take out Lo Pan. It’s a miracle that he was able to do it. Director John Carpenter could have had Russell play Burton as a true man of action and the consummate hero. He didn’t. And, again, Russell embraces Burton’s ineptitude and runs with it. I’m not sure any sort of Big Trouble in Little China remake/reboot will ever be able to duplicate what Russell did as Jack Burton. I doubt any other actor will be able to do Jack Burton with the same kind of integrity and presence.

Okay, so how many of you quote Jack Burton all of the time and what line do repeat? Is it “It’s all in the reflexes” or is it “I’m a reasonable man but I’ve seen some pretty unreasonable things”? And how many of you do the “Hollow. Hollow? Fuck it!”?


2- Snake Plissken- Escape from L.A.: The consensus among movie nerds seems to be that Russell’s performance as the eyepatch wearing badass Snake Plissken is better in Escape from New York than in EFNY’s sequel Escape from L.A.. I, obviously, disagree. While EFNY is a great movie and Russell kicks ass in the movie (I talked about it in the first part of this list), I think his second turn as Plissken is better and that, in many ways, L.A. is a better movie. When we first see Plissken in L.A. he looks exactly the same as he did at the end of EFNY. He’s basically wearing the same clothes. He also appears to have the same surly, I don’t give a fuck attitude that he had in EFNY. But there is something slightly different about Plissken when he’s taken into the room and given his pardon offer/mission. There’s a world weariness about him that he didn’t have in the first movie. He’s exhausted. It almost seems like he’s done. He’s still defiant but he knows, in a way, that he can’t win. When he talks to Malloy (Stacey Keach) and the President (Cliff Robertson) he’s not interested in what they have to say at all. The first time Plissken shows any life or rage is when he’s told that he’s been injected with a virus that will kill him in ten hours. It’s just like what he had to deal with in New York. What the fuck? When he tells them to “Get this crap out of me” and then tells them “You better hope I don’t make it back. All of you,” he’s the angriest we’ve ever seen him. Ever. Angrier than when he tried to strangle Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) in EFNY. When he gets into the LA prison, he’s constantly in motion. He wants to get his mission done as soon as possible because he wants this shit to be over. It’s a position he doesn’t want to be in.

I mean, Plissken keeps telling people that he wants to disappear, go away, and at the end of the movie we see what he’s willing to do in order to have that happen. He will shut down the entire planet in order to get away.

On top of all that, Russell also puts Plissken in a full on action situation and excels tremendously (EFNY is more of an action thriller with a deliberate pace while EFLA is full throated action movie that’s constantly moving. They’re very different movies despite telling similar stories). How many actors could do that? And how many actors end up getting to play an iconic character twice and give two very different performances? Very, very few. It’s too bad we never got a third Plissken movie. I would have loved to see what a third Plissken adventure would have looked like (Escape from Earth? Escape to where?).


1- Todd 3465- Soldier: I know I’m in the mega extreme minority on this, but I think Russell should have received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in Soldier. That was obviously never going to happen because sci-fi action movies rarely, if ever, get nominated for anything outside of, maybe, special effects, especially back in 1998 when the movie came out and bombed at the box office. It’s not the “kind” of movie that gets looked at for anyone’s acting performance. The Academy, and critical establishment, should have, though. Sgt. Todd is Russell’s most nuanced performance. Todd barely has any dialogue in the movie, as the character is meant to be a soldier/human weapon that follows orders and not much else. Whatever Todd may be feeling at any moment Russell has to express through his face, subtle eye movements, and the way he moves his body. And Todd ends up feeling a lot as the movie progresses and he figures out, after being literally thrown into the garbage when more advanced human weapons are enlisted and then living with a group of pacifists, that there’s more to life than the military and fighting and war. He doesn’t have to fear having feelings and expressing himself. At the end of the movie, when Todd has to suit up and take on the very super soldiers that replaced him, he’s doing it out of love for people he’s actually gotten to know as human beings. It’s a transcendent moment. Watch how Todd “does war” at the beginning of the movie and then at the end. The Todd we see at the end is an actual person, not a machine. It’s such a brilliant performance. I implore everyone reading this to check out Soldier either again or for the first time. You will see what I’m talking about. It really is Kurt Russell’s finest performance.


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