With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 coming out soon, I thought it would be a good idea to list my favorite top 15 Kurt Russell movies. He’s definitely one of my favorite actors and has so many good roles over the years.
15 – Used Cars (1980)
Now leading up to the release of this film, Kurt Russell was a Disney name. My brother and I were 10 years old when this film was released and Kurt was our favorite Disney actor, so of course, my Mom took her twins to see Used Cars as soon as it came out…only to walk out of the theatre halfway through, shocked…she never realized it was rated R. Definitely not a Disney film. I have seen it since as an adult, and I can appreciate the film now, but back then, not so much. I am glad that he did this film early on as he had to break the Disney mold somehow, otherwise he would have never done some of his later great films as an adult. This film was shot in and around Mesa and Scottsdale, Arizona, and we moved there when we turned 15 years later and recognized many of the locations. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. The movie is about the owner (Jack Warden) of a struggling used car lot, who is killed. His hot-shot car salesman (Kurt Russell), wanting to keep the car lot going and to save his job, steps in to save the property from falling into the hands of the owner’s ruthless brother and used-car rival.
14 – Elvis (1979)
Shot the year before by director, John Carpenter, Elvis would be the first pairing for the director and Kurt Russell. They would go on to make four more movies together. Kurt Russell made his initial film debut in It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963) which starred Elvis Presley. According to Russell, Presley was 27 years old when he did “…World’s Fair” and Russell was 27 years old when he did this film.
13 – The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)
This is part of the series of films Kurt Russell did for Walt Disney, playing a character named Dexter Riley, which my brother and I love. I’ll just mention this one as the first and best one, but they are all fun family films. They include Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), and we’ll throw in The Barefoot Executive (1971), because he pretty much plays the same character in that one too. Kurt Russell’s co-star in these was Joe Flynn, a very under-rated character actor that is hilarious in all of these movies. Joe Flynn played Dean Higgins of Medfield College, where student Dexter Riley goes to school. The name of the educational institution, “Medfield College” is also the setting featured in other Disney films such as this movie’s sequels Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World as well as the earlier The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and its sequel Son of Flubber (1963) where Professor Brainard (Fred MacMurray) teaches science.
Side note – these 4 films were written by Joseph McEveety, who also wrote Disney’s Superdad (1973), No Deposit, No Return (1976), and Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978). He’s the brother of directors Bernard McEveety and Vincent McEveety, who would go on to direct for Disney, the films; The Bears and I (1974), Napoleon and Samantha (1972), One Little Indian (1973), and Donovan’s Kid (1979) for Bernard and Menace on the Mountain (1970), The Million Dollar Duck (1971), The Biscuit Eater (1972), Charley and the Angel (1973), Superdad, The Castaway Cowboy (1974), The Strongest Man in the World, Treasure of Matecumbe (1976), Gus (1976), The Ghost of Cypress Swamp (1977), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979), The Watcher in the Woods (1980) and Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) for Vincent. These 3 brothers were very effective at driving a lot of the Disney films in the 1970’s.
12 – The Art of the Steal (2013)
A little known film about Crunch Calhoun, a semi-reformed art thief, who agrees to get his old gang back together to pull off one last heist. Kurt Russell plays Crunch. This is a great heist film with some fun twists, written and directed by Jonathan Sobol. Cool cast includes Matt Dillion, who I think is an under-utilized actor. He should be in more movies than he is.
11 – Follow Me, Boys! (1966)
This is a fantastic movie and simply the best film ever done that features the Boy Scouts. It’s about Lem Siddons, who is part of a traveling band who has a dream of becoming a lawyer. Deciding to settle down, he finds a job as a stockboy in the general store of a small town. Trying to fit in, he volunteers to become scoutmaster of the newly formed Troop 1. Becoming more and more involved with the scout troop, he finds his plans to become a lawyer being put on the back burner, until he realizes that his life has been fulfilled helping the youth of the small town. Kurt Russell plays a boy that Lem reaches out to help and the main boy in the movie. It was Kurt’s first movie for Disney and it established him for the next 12 years in the studio. He would go on to star in 9 more Disney movies as well as numerous Disney TV shows.
10 – Breakdown (1997)
This movie was Taken, before Liam Neeson came around. Not really but technically the same story, but with his wife instead of daughter. Kurt Russell has starred with J.T. Walsh three times before, in Tequila Sunrise (1988), Backdraft (1991), and Executive Decision (1996). Kurt Russell has killed J.T. Walsh twice in a movie. In Tequila Sunrise he shoots him. In this film, he throws him off the bridge, and Amy puts the truck in neutral, causing the truck to land on him.
9 – Executive Decision (1996)
When terrorists seize control of an airliner, an intelligence analyst accompanies a commando unit for a midair boarding operation. The real surprise in this movie happens about 20 minutes into the film when Steven Seagal, who you think is going to be a major character, dies. It was the first time in a movie, where Steven Seagal’s character gets killed. It would happen again in Machete (2010). Kurt enjoyed the script as soon as he read it. He said later, “When I read Executive Decision, it was a real page-turner. I read scripts for the stories more than I do for the characters. I’ve read lots of characters I’d like to play, but I didn’t enjoy the movie itself that much. I liked the fun of Executive Decision, you know, I feel when an audience sees my name attached to a film, they think it’ll probably be a pretty good movie. The movies I do, if we make them well, will be fun to watch. They may not be the best movie of the year, and I may not be your favorite actor, but people come up to me all the time and say, “I like the movies you do”.
8 – Escape From New York (1981)
This movie has an incredibly unique premise; in 1997, when the U.S. president crashes into Manhattan, now a giant maximum security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in to rescue him. That man of course is Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). He reprises the role again in Escape From LA, but that movie is really cheesy. I mostly like cheese, but that sequel is too much at times. Kurt Russell has stated that this (the first one) is his favorite of all his films, and Snake Plissken is his favorite of his characters. Snake Plissken’s eyepatch was suggested by Kurt. Clint Eastwood was considered for the role of Snake Plissken. Kurt based his performance on Eastwood, in his westerns. The line “I thought you were dead” was probably borrowed from Big Jake (1971). Every time John Wayne tells someone his name, the standard response is “I thought you were dead.” Which would mean that parts of this film were inspired by two legendary western stars, or their films; John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Snake, being based on Clint, has the added irony that Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were in several “spaghetti westerns” together, who also stars in this movie.
7 – Stargate (1994)
An interstellar teleportation device, found in Egypt, leads to a planet with humans resembling ancient Egyptians who worship the god Ra. In a magazine interview, James Spader said that he found the original screenplay “awful” but also that it was so bad it actually intrigued him. He then met with Roland Emmerich, was inspired by the director’s passion for the project, and decided to make the movie because he felt the energy and craziness of making such a film would translate into an exciting final film.
6 – Backdraft (1991)
Ron Howard directed film about two Chicago firefighter brothers, who don’t get along, who have to work together while a dangerous arsonist is on the loose. Kurt Russell, Kevin Casey, Scott Glenn, and William Baldwin did a lot of their own stunts, and the Stunt Coordinator Walter Scott was so impressed by their performances, that he credited them as stunt performers in the credits. William and Kurt went to a firefighter “boot camp” to learn the ropes. They even slept at a Chicago firehouse for about a month. Ron Howard described Kurt’s approach was “aggressive, but entertaining, and totally honest.” Kurt was originally considered for the lead role of Connor Macleod in Highlander (1986), which was written by the same writer of this film.
5 – Overboard (1997)
A cruel but beautiful heiress screws over a hired carpenter, who later is the first one to find her when she gets amnesia. Looking for a little revenge he convinces her that she’s his wife. Great romantic comedy by Garry Marshall and also starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt’s real life love. As of 2017, this is the third and last of three movies that real-life couple Goldie and Kurt appeared in together as co-stars. Their earlier collaborations were Swing Shift (1984) and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968). Looking back on the film, Garry Marshall thinks that it’s “still one of the funniest pictures I ever made,” he said later.
4 – Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
An All-American trucker, Jack Burton, gets dragged into a centuries-old mystical battle in Chinatown. Kurt Russell confessed on the DVD commentary that he was afraid of starring in the movie, because he had made a string of movies that flopped at the box-office. When he asked John Carpenter about it, he told Kurt that it didn’t matter to him – he just wanted to make the movie with him. It did flop at the box office initially, but became a huge hit on video and DVD years later. Now it’s considered a cult classic. John and Kurt explain on the audio commentary that the first test screening was so overwhelmingly positive, that both of them expected it to be a big hit after they made it. However, 20th Century Fox put little into promoting the movie, and it ended up being a box-office bomb. According to John and Kurt in the DVD commentary, the story was originally written as a western, but Carpenter decided to set it during modern times. They even mention that instead of Jack Burton’s truck being stolen, it was originally his horse. Kurt Russell turned down the lead role of Connor MacLeod in Highlander to appear in this film. Both movies were made and released by 20th Century Fox. An interesting side note, in the scene where Kurt is attempting to infiltrate the brothel, he is wearing the same outfit that he wore in Used Cars.
3 – Tango and Cash (1989)
The original idea for this film was to get Rambo and the Terminator together for a buddy cop film. They couldn’t get Arnold Schwarzenegger back then so it became a Rambo and Snake Plissken film. Not really, but it had Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, two action stars in one movie. Kurt was originally considered and offered the role of Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon (1987), but he turned it down, and it went to Mel Gibson, with whom he worked on Tequila Sunrise. His character in this film is loosely based on Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.
2 – The Thing (1982)
It’s no secret that I love this movie. I write about it in a blog post: http://brothers-ink.com/2016/02/the-thing/
It’s the finest horror film ever made and is about a research facility in Antarctica that comes across an alien force that can become anything it touches with 100% accuracy. The members must now find out who’s human and who’s not before it’s too late. John Carpenter has stated that of all his films, this is also his personal favorite. John Carpenter’s film is a much more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s original novella “Who Goes There?” than The Thing from Another World (1951). For example, the 1951 version introduced female characters including a “love interest” for the hero. This film, like the original story, has no roles for women. Also, the use of a hot needle, to check the blood of the characters to see if they were still human or not, was taken directly from the original novella, and was not used in the 1951 movie. When the crew are all discussing what the alien spacecraft might be, one of them explains it by saying “Chariots of the Gods.” This is a reference to the famous 1968 book by Swiss-German author Erich von Däniken entitled “Chariots of the Gods?” which hypothesized that many of the world’s great historical monuments, such as the Egyptian Pyramids, were built with the aid of technologies and religion provided by extra-terrestrial beings, who were treated as deities by ancient peoples.
1 – Tombstone (1993)
I mention this film as the top film for a list for Val Kilmer as well in a post from our blog: http://brothers-ink.com/2016/12/top-15-val-kilmer-movies/
It’s the best film you can find about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the fight at the OK Corral. Unbelievable cast with Kurt, Val, Bill Paxton, Sam Elliott, Powers Booth, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Dana Delaney, Charlton Heston, and Michael Biehn. In an interview with True West magazine in October 2006, Kurt admit that after original director Kevin Jarre was fired, he directed a majority of the picture. According to Russell, George P. Cosmatos served merely to make things run smoothly. Also, in the True West interview, Kurt stated that the film was nearly cast with Richard Gere as Wyatt Earp, and Willem Dafoe as Doc Holliday.