The death of Bill Paxton in 2017 was a heartbreaking blow to movie fans everywhere. Paxton was the kind of actor who was always fascinating to watch on screen. His performances were incredibly memorable, often stealing the show.
Though we sadly will not get to see what other memorable characters Paxton could create, he left plenty for us to revisit and remind ourselves of his talent. Whether playing the lead or a supporting role, the hero or the villain, Paxton knew how to create a character that would stick in the minds of the audience. Here are some of Bill Paxton’s best roles.
Paxton unusually brings a lot of humor to whatever role he’s playing, but he rarely got to play in a flat-out comedy. Club Dread gave us him the opportunity to fully embrace his comedic side in this fun horror-comedy.
The film is set in a wild swingers island resort where the fun is interrupted when a serial killer starts a bloody rampage. Paxton has a fun supporting role a Coconut Pete, a former musician who owns the resort who has a grudge against Jimmy Buffet. It’s a small part but one of the highlights of the film.
Around the time The Sopranos became a massive success, television began being seen as a viable medium for telling complex and challenging stories. This also saw many movie actors move into the television world including Paxton in Big Love.
Paxton plays the patriarch of a Mormon polygamist family who lives with three wives. The series ran for five acclaimed seasons and gave Paxton the opportunity to play a more subtle, down-to-earth character, despite the character's unusual marriage. Paxton, along with the amazing cast helped to sell the more soap opera elements of the show and made it a compelling adult drama.
Before Katheryn Bigelow was an Oscar-winning director, and even before making the action movie classic, Point Break, she was breaking into the filmmaking business with Near Dark. The western-horror mix is about a group of killer vampires on a killing spree across the American west.
The movie is a messy bit of fun, showing hints at Bigelow's considerable talent. But its Paxton who is the real reason to watch as his over-the-top performance as the more unhinged member of the gang is a whole lot of fun.
Tombstone is one of the most underrated westerns in recent memory. The film is a rousing epic about Wyatt Earp and his allies going to war with a ruthless gang of outlaws. The star-studded film features memorable performances from Kurt Russell as Wyatt, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday and Paxton as the youngest of the Earp brothers, Morgan.
Paxton find a nice balance in playing Morgan as both a heroic man who wants to see justice done and a young man scared by the mounting violence around him. It’s a prime example of how well Paxton fits into an ensemble while still standing out.
Along with being a fantastic and accomplished actor, Paxton was also a promising director. This dark psychological thriller that served as his debut film behind the camera, Paxton showed that his long career in films helped him develop exceptional skills as a filmmaker.
Matthew McConaughey plays a man recounting his upbringing by his father who murdered people he claimed were demons in disguise. Paxton plays the father in flashbacks as a reserved man who is unflinching in his claims of being the hand of god, making the story that much more unsettling.
Paxton gets a lot of attention for his wilder performances but in one of his biggest films, he had the chance to play a straight-up hero. In Twister, Paxton plays a retired storm chaser who gets back in the game to track a number of devastating tornadoes and help predict future storms.
Paxton plays the more level-headed straight man of the colorful cast of storm chasers. While the film might not be the most scientifically accurate study of tornadoes it’s fun popcorn entertainment with some ground-breaking special effects.
Though it may have been bumped down on the list of highest grossing films of all time, Titanic is still a massive cinematic achievement. The epic love story of Jack and Rose set on the doomed passenger liner quickly became one of the most iconic movies of all-time,
Paxton, who was a regular in James Cameron's films, plays a treasure hunter whose exploration of the Titanic wreck in modern days helps bookend the film. Though that part is certainly not the most interesting aspect of the film, Paxton is memorable as the audience surrogate learning about this romantic tragedy.
Paxton has played noble heroes and dangerous villains. A simple plan allowed him to play someone who operated in that grey area in between. He plays a mild-mannered man living a modest life when he and his brother come across a crashed plane with bags of money inside.
The film is a classic fable about the perils of greed with director Sam Raimi delivering a tense crime drama. Paxton plays the perfect everyman who keeps digging himself into a deeper hole. It certainly one of his most overlooked films.
Long before films like Gravity and The Martian showed us how difficult it was to survive in space, Apollo 13 explored a real-life NASA disaster in this Ron Howard film. Paxton, along with Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon, play the three astronauts who, on a trip to the moon in 1970, experience catastrophic failure and fight to return to earth.
The techniques used to portray life in space were ground-breaking but the real strength of the film are the characters. The film is filled with wonderful performances, including Paxton as the professional and determined Fred Haise.
It’s easy to forget that James Cameron’s Aliens was a pretty bold sequel. Following up the tense horror movie feel of the original with a high-octane action movie seems like an odd idea but it really works. The film builds on what made the original so good while expanding the scope considerably.
The film follows Ripley joining a group of marines to return to take on the Xenomorphs once again. Paxton is one of the most memorable parts of the film as Hudson, one of the marines. His high-wired, scared senseless performance helps keep the high energy of the film.