Genre Movies Won’t Be The Same Without Bill Paxton
One of Hollywood’s most respected character actors (and a victim of the iconic title villains in The Terminator, Aliens, and Predator 2), Bill Paxton never fully graduated to leading man status, but he slowly accumulated a distinguished body of work. While he was regularly mistaken for Bill Pullman—a phenomenon that that may stem from their similar names or even their onscreen pairing in 1990’s Brain Dead—Paxton’s screen presence was entirely his own.
As the movie world reels from his unexpected death over the weekend, we suggest you focus on the genre films at the core of his impressive legacy.
Paxton’s wacky turn as cartoonish goofball Chet gave little sense of the actor’s dramatic potential, but it remains one of his most memorably go-for-broke performances. With no shortage of bizarre dialogue (“you’re stewed, buttwad”), Chet set the stage for Paxton’s unusually colourful ’80s.
While Paxton worked with director James Cameron on The Terminator, True Lies, and Titanic, the collaboration that left the most indelible impression was Aliens. Given his lack of discernible intelligence, Paxton’s Private Hudson might as well be a grown up Chet, but that hasn’t stopped fans from quoting him for over 30 years: “Game over, man. Game over.”
Chet and Private Hudson don’t have especially good excuses for their unhinged behaviour, but Severen definitely does: he’s a vampire. An early cult classic from director Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Near Dark remains one of the high points of the ’80s vampire revival, thanks in large part to the leather clad leadership of Paxton and his Aliens co-star, Lance Henriksen.
One False Move
Over the years, Paxton did much of his best work in modest, noir-infused crime movies that were sadly overlooked, including this 1992 gem co-written by (and co-starring) Billy Bob Thornton. If One False Move is your idea of vintage Paxton (it should be), be sure to take a chance on Traveller, another one of the actor’s overlooked crime dramas.
Not to be confused with the 2011 Nicolas Cage dud of the same name, 1992’s Trespass follows a pair of firemen who go looking for gold in an abandoned building, only to find themselves in a turf war with a pair of gang members played by Ice-T and Ice Cube. Bringing together the talents of screenwriters Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and director Walter Hill (The Warriors), Trespass delivers a generous dose of the efficient, no nonsense entertainment Paxton perfected over the years.
Playing straight-laced, by-the-book astronaut Fred Haise, Paxton seized the opportunity to finally abandon his goofball screen persona and pursue a more grown up career path. As always, his presence resulted in constant watchability. His newfound maturity also helped steer the film toward nine Oscar nominations.
This mega-hit about tornado-chasers might not be remembered for its acting, but Twister gave Paxton his one and only starring role in a certified Hollywood blockbuster.
A Simple Plan
The career highlight of just about everyone involved (including Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and director Sam Raimi), this inexplicably under-seen crime drama deals with the tragic events that occur when two brothers and a friend find a big bag of money. Like most of Paxton’s best work, A Simple Plan was sadly overlooked, but it’s no less impressive than the celebrated film it most resembles: Fargo.
Many actors have tried their hand at directing, but few debuts demonstrate the assurance of Frailty, Paxton’s engrossing film about religious fanatics driven to murder. Sadly, he only got a chance to direct one more movie: 2005 Shia LaBeouf vehicle, The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Hatfields & McCoys
On the heels of his long-running HBO drama Big Love, Paxton returned to TV with this five-hour mini-series that earned him his first Emmy nomination and the best reviews of his career. It’s all the proof you need of the still-growing potential cut short by Paxton’s abrupt exit.