Kurt Russell turns 71 today. His films have earned him widespread acclaim as one of Hollywood’s most beloved movie stars.
To wish the Massachusetts-born actor a happy birthday, we’ll share our 10 favorite films of his.
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10) The Hateful Eight (2015)
In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters. We could watch Kurt Russell channel John Wayne for hours in Quentin Tarantino’s violent (and ugly) Western/chamber play. As a bounty hunter suspicious of every last soul he encounters, Russell also endures great heartbreak when he reveals a hopeless yearning for American idealism that vanished before he knew it in a kill-or-be-killed wilderness.
9) Backdraft (1991)
Russell and William Baldwin star as Chicago firefighter brothers who don’t get along but must work together to stop a dangerous arsonist on the loose in this explosive thriller featuring a superb ensemble cast and truly amazing visual effects. Russell delivers a dynamite performance surrounded by Robert De Niro, Scott Glenn, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca De Mornay. The firefighting sequences are worth the watch alone.
8) Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
As knife-biting, TEC-9-wielding, tough guy trucker Jack Burton, Russell (and sidekick Kim Cattrall) face off with an ancient sorcerer in a supernatural battle beneath Chinatown in frequent collaborator John Carpenter’s wacky adventure that once again proved Russell’s worth as an action star with comedic chops.
7) Breakdown (1997)
Russell nails a reluctant everyman searching for his missing wife after his car breaks down in the middle of the desert in director Jonathan Mostow’s underrated, Hitchcockian thriller. At first a passive schlub out of his element, Russell kicks his action star persona into gear when the stakes are highest and he stops at nothing to find his better half and kicks trucker tail in the process.
6) Executive Decision (1996)
Woefully buried amid the rise of the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer action wave, this taut thriller sees a commando unit boarding an airliner (mid-flight!) after terrorists seize control. Russell plays the dweeby intelligence analyst who springs into action. Edge-of-your-seat ‘90s action fun with an electric cast and feverish pace.
5) Miracle (2004)
The story of Herb Brooks, the player-turned-coach who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to victory over the seemingly invincible Russian squad. Nothing gets our patriotism in a tizzy like a good sports movie, especially when they really happened and defied the greatest odds. For many, the “Miracle on Ice” remains the biggest upset in sports history. Disney nailed the feeling, thanks in large part to Russell’s performance as Brooks.
4) Death Proof (2007)
Russell does some career-best work as a predatory and impotent stunt double preying upon women in Texas and Tennessee in Quentin Tarantino’s ode to grindhouse cinema. His plan works like a charm in the first half, tracking down a group of girls partying one Friday night before he murders them with his “death proof” movie car. It doesn’t go as well in act two, happening upon women in the same profession who survive his first attack and quickly turn the tables on the coward. Equally menacing and pathetic, Russell charms and frightens into an instant classic performance behind the wheel.
3) Tombstone (1993)
Your dad, uncle or good buddy’s favorite movie — or they’ve at least seen it 100 times, with good reason. Russell plays legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, whose plans to retire anonymously in Tombstone, Ariz., are disrupted by dangerous outlaws. Wearing a mustache rivaling co-star Sam Elliott’s, Russell chews up scenery with classic lines like, “You tell ‘em I’m coming… and hell’s coming with me!” But the scene that still sticks out comes when Earp interrupts bully Johnny Tyler’s (Billy Bob Thornton!) card game to tell him, “Skin that smokewagon and see what happens!” When Tyler backs off, Earp gives him a smack and goes even harder: “I said throw down, boy!”
2) Escape from New York (1981)
John Carpenter’s cult classic about an ex-soldier tasked with saving the President from the island of Manhattan (now a giant maximum security prison). As sneering Snake Plissken (”Call me ‘Snake.’”), Russell becomes one of the coolest anti-heroes of all time, borrowing some Western toughness and injecting his brand of humor through a slew of clever one-liners. “Swear to God, Snake, I thought you were dead,” someone tells him. “Yeah, you and everybody else.”
1) The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s take on Howard Hawks’ 1951 film “The Thing from Another World” quickly cemented itself as an all-time great sci-fi horror flick, thanks partially to its isolated Antarctic research station setting, as scientists are stalked by a mysterious, well, thing. It already seems miserable enough that these fellas would endure such cold, but to deal with this monster that suddenly threatens their existence and pits them against each other makes it that much worse.
Honorable mention: Used Cars (1980), The Fox and the Hound (1981), Overboard (1987), Unlawful Entry (1992), Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)
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Kurt Russell’s 10 best movies ranked