Movies & TV / Columns

Top 10 Kurt Russell Movie Performances (#10 – 6)

July 16, 2021 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Kurt Russell The Thing

The Top 10 Kurt Russell Movie Performances: #10-#6

Kurt Russell is one of my favorite actors, and on some days he is my favorite actor all-time (Russell often competes with Tim Thomerson, just in case you were wondering). Now a big time star, Russell got his start in acting on various TV shows as a kid, and made his big screen debut in an uncredited role kicking Elvis Pressley in It Happened at the World’s Fair (Russell would go on to portray Elvis in a TV-miniseries directed by frequent collaborator John Carpenter). Over his career, Russell has worked with Disney, major directors like Carpenter, Robert Zemeckis, Garry Marshall, Ron Howard, and Quentin Tarantino, and has excelled in just about every movie genre there is.

So what are Russell’s best movie performances? I picked ten movies and ten characters where, I think, Russell excelled and did an outstanding job and proved that he’s a real deal star. I’m sure your list is different, but then that’s what movie nerd fandom is all about. Personal choices that we can then argue over until the end of time. Ha.

This list will be similar to my other recent “mega” lists, with my picks split into two groupings. In this article, I will look at spots number ten through number six. The second article will divulge the second half of the list (spots five through one). So remember, after reading this list, there are five more entries coming.

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

The Top 10 Kurt Russell Movie Performances: #10-#6


10- Gabriel Cash- Tango & Cash: Russell’s scumbum LA cop Gabriel Cash is meant to be the exact opposite of the suave and sophisticated Ray Tango played by Sylvester Stallone. Cash is a jeans and T-shirt type guy who likes to eat big sandwiches and random pizza (Cash does it when he goes back to the office after getting shot at and arresting the assassin) and he complains about getting a hole in a shirt that cost him nine bucks, while Tango is all about three piece suits and managing his apparent vast stock portfolio. They’re also in a kind of competition to see who the best cop in town is (they duel for newspaper headlines). They shouldn’t be able to work together. And yet, when they’re framed for murder and sent to prison they team up to figure out who set them up. Sure, they argue and get on one another’s nerves and all that, but they eventually work their shit out and act as a team. Stallone is the clear straight man of the tandem (he gets in a few good one liners but Tango is meant to be a more serious personality. Stock brokers are serious people) while Russell is a wonderful goofball. Cash is all about getting the job done but he seems to be having more outward fun doing it. And it’s that sense of fun that makes Gabriel Cash so great. He doesn’t care if you know he’s having fun. Russell’s big scene where he disguises himself as a woman in order to get out of a dance club that’s surrounded by cops looking for him is the scene that probably best sums up Cash as a personality and Russell’s performance as a whole. It’s proof Russell will do anything for a laugh. Anything. You would have never seen Stallone in a dress, at least at that point in his career. It’s brilliant. If only we could have had a sequel, or a Gabriel Cash spin-off. Imagine how cool that would have been, Russell and Teri Hatcher (she played Catherine, Tango’s sister and Cash’s eventual love interest).


9- Jeff Taylor- Breakdown: In Breakdown, Russell plays Jeff Taylor, an ordinary guy who is travelling cross country with his wife when, after their truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Taylor has to figure out how to rescue his wife after she’s been kidnapped by supreme scumbag Red Barr (the great J.T. Walsh, in one of his scuzziest roles). Unfortunately for Taylor’s wife Amy (Kathleen Quinaln), Taylor isn’t an ex-Special Forces operator or a cop or any of that shit. Taylor is, again, just an ordinary guy. How the hell can Taylor rise to the occasion and rescue his wife? Shit, how can he even find his wife? Russell dives into Taylor’s ordinariness and makes you scared that he won’t find Amy. You don’t expect to see that kind of thing out of an actor and personality who just played action icon Snake Plissken for a second time and who was known for movies like Backdraft, Stargate, and Tombstone. I mean, yeah, Russell didn’t exactly play a man of action in Executive Decision, either, but David Grant was sort of prepared in that movie and an expert in something. In Breakdown Russell’s Taylor is, again, just a guy. Taylor does, eventually, figure it all out and manages to make the right decisions, but throughout the movie there was a real sense that he might fail and probably will fail. Jeff Taylor is proof of what John Carpenter said about Russell: “He can act in anything, he can act any part.” Breakdown director Jonathan Mostow picked the right actor for Jeff Taylor. Brilliant performance.


8- R.J. MacReady- The Thing: What’s amazing about Russell’s performance as MacReady is that he actually stands out among the ensemble director John Carpenter put together for his sci-fi horror remake. Yes, Russell is the top billed star and all that, but when you look at all of the characters inside the American research station does MacReady really stand out at the beginning of the movie (he does have that awesome hat)? Not really. MacReady is just one of many scientists and workers and whatnot. As the story progresses and the paranoia sets in among the group since no one really knows who the thing might be, MacReady is the one who ends up being the most level headed. He wants to get out of the station and stay alive until it’s obvious that, maybe, that can’t happen. The thing, the shape shifting alien that assimilate into damn near any living thing it comes in contact with, can’t be allowed to leave the base. The fate of the world could very well hang in the balance. So MacReady does what every level headed, “living in reality” person would do in that situation: he will try to keep the monster there and kill it. MacReady is the kind of guy we all sort of hope to be if and when the shit hits the fan. Great stuff.


7- Steven Post- The Barefoot Executive: Steven Post is a young guy with a lot of great ideas that no one believes in. He’s enthusiastic and ambitious, yes, but he doesn’t have the pedigree or the connections to get to where he wants to be at the UBC television network. He’s going to night school at the Moonrise Night School on Melrose Avenue, a known disreputable educational institution (it’s not like he’s going to whatever big hooha “serious” college that John Ritter’s Roger went to). He also rides a motorcycle all around town (what a hooligan). And on top of that he’s young. What the hell do young people know about anything? Why can’t he just be happy with being a mail boy in the UBC mailroom? Well, when Post realizes that his girlfriend’s pet chimpanzee Raffles can accurately pick what TV shows Americans like watching, he uses that knowledge to his advantage and, eventually, becomes an executive at the network (Post manages to convince UBC executives that he, Post, “knows” what Americans want to watch). It’s a ridiculous premise, sure, but young Russell (the movie came out in 1971) makes it work and holds his own against people like Joe Flynn, Harry Morgan, and Wally Cox, not to mention Raffles the chimp. You see flashes of what Russell would eventually become (there are a couple of line readings where you can practically hear Jack Burton) but he also embodies the misunderstood young person that the movie’s young audience wants to root for. It’s the kind of performance in the kind of movie that Disney just doesn’t make anymore. And check out Russell’s motorcycle riding in the movie’s opening titles sequence. You can sense the badass he would become later on in his life here.

And I just want to go on record and say that I would watch a TV show called Abe Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. I bet it would rock.


6- Snake Plissken- Escape from New York: Snake Plissken is the ultimate badass. A disgruntled U.S. war vet who only believes in staying alive, Plissken is recruited to save the President of the United States, who is being held hostage inside the notorious New York Maximum Security Penitentiary. If Plissken can save the President, he will be given a full pardon. If Plissken fails? Well, he was going to be in the prison anyway (he robbed a federal bank and was arrested for it. You see all of this in the movie’s deleted opening sequence). The America that Plissken exists in is a fascist police state, making the President (a brilliant Donald Pleasance) a disreputable individual. In fact, just about everyone in EFNY is a disreputable person, whether they’re a part of the fascist police state government or a prisoner inside of the prison. Plissken, despite being a criminal and kind of an asshole in a way, is one of the few people in this world that has any sort of honor. He will get the job done, even if he’s being coerced into it. He won’t willingly leave a man behind. Plissken has a hidden integrity that no one else seems to have. How the hell did that happen? That’s why I think director John Carpenter wanted Russell for the Plissken character. Carpenter needed an actor who could be a badass and a good guy (well, the closest thing to a good guy in the world of EFNY). Russell had played countless good guys up until that point in his career. The badass part was the big stretch for him since he hadn’t had a chance to do that yet. So Russell goes all in on the character and makes Snake one of the top action movie characters of the last forty years. Yes, Tommy Lee Jones and Charles Bronson could have played Plissken and done a good job, but would it have been the same? Maybe. But they probably wouldn’t have been able to be as cool as Russell. They certainly wouldn’t have been as “good” as Russell.


Thanks for reading. Agree? Disagree? Sign up with disqus and comment. You know you want to, so just go do it.

Please “like” The Gratuitous B-Movie Column on Facebook!

Oh, and B-movies rule. Always remember that.