The late Bill Paxton’s career was incredibly varied—he earned widespread critical acclaim for HBO polygamy drama Big Love, and rocked one of the best mustaches in the West in Tombstone. But our favorite Paxton performances came in genre movies—and he was a high point in some of the greatest of all time.
The most fun thing about Paxton’s role as John Garrett in season one of Agents of SHIELD was the glee Paxton took in chewing the scenery once the character’s true allegiances to Hydea were revealed. Garrett’s turn was vital to making the midseason twist work on television. Paxton had to play a long history with Coulson, making Garrett just likable enough that we believed he was a good agent, and enough of a jackass that we believed the heel-turn later. Plus, as mentioned before, he was just really, really fun to watch once his evil side was revealed.
If you measure screen time versus iconically quotable dialogue, there may not be a stronger character in film history than Hudson from Aliens. Paxton’s goofy coward has such an instantly recognizable delivery and comic timing that literally everything he says is pure gold. Most people love “Game over, man! Game over!” but I’m partial to “Oh yeah, sure! With those things runnin’ around? You can count me out.” Click his IMDb quotes page and laugh forever.
This movie doesn’t work without the actors playing the astronauts having chemistry with each other, and the ability to convincingly fake things that the real people they were playing had trained years to be able to do. As Fred Haise, Paxton did all that and more, which is why the whole cast won a SAG award as an ensemble.
Paxton sings! Broken Lizard’s tropical-island horror-comedy would not have been half as funny without Paxton’s over-the-top turn as Coconut Pete, owner of the titular resort, paella fan, and crooner of such questionable booze-soaked jams as “Piña Coladaburg” (not to be confused with “Margaritaville”).
Apparently, the role of Master Sergeant Farell was written for Paxton, and it does show. He savors every line, enjoying every chance to be big, loud, and in charge. It’s a role that is comedic but not in the regular way, where the comic relief is the weaker character. Paxton is the stronger one in every scene he’s in, but still funny and still eminently believable. Just like in Agents of SHIELD, Paxton’s joy in playing his part made the whole viewing experience even better for the audience.
Paxton made his feature directorial debut with this Matthew McConaughey-starring serial killer thriller. He also has a small but crucial part as the father of McConaughey’s character, whose crimes are guided by spiritual and supernatural forces.
This movie is mostly a showcase for an up-and-coming star named Charlize Theron and one giant-ass gorilla, but Paxton has a nice supporting turn as a shaggy-haired wildlife refugee director.
Paxton plays the most dangerously unhinged bloodsucker in Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire biker Western. You can’t take your eyes off the character any time he’s onscreen because you don’t want to miss whatever horrific and/or goofy thing he’s going to do next.
Another largely comic-relief role for Paxton, as an LAPD officer who transfers into Danny Glover’s department right when the beleaguered squad is dealing with its most horrific foe yet. At first, Lambert seems like an oily sleaze, but he turns out to be more than capable—right up until the Predator takes him down.
In the scheme of things—in a career as long as Paxton’s—his part in Terminator isn’t that big. And yet, the confrontation between the punks and the Terminator is an iconic one and one that set the tone for an entire franchise. It’s a little bit of film history that Paxton, as a blue-haired punk, will always be a part of. It’s a key early moment in what would become a long association with director James Cameron. And it let him check off the Terminator as one of the many famous creatures that would do him in.
Simon, the used-car salesman who lies to women to “score,” is a horribly offensive character. Something only a film from the past could handle. And yet, Paxton plays him with an unbridled joy. Simon is such a huge piece of shit but you can’t help but laugh at him because he’s so confident and so stupid. His look, the way he talks—he just oozes scumbag. And it’s absolutely perfect. Simon has almost as many iconic lines as Aliens’ Hudson and his ultimate comeuppance is so, so satisfying.
Paxton may have played a guy named Bill in Twister, but we’ll forever call the character by his real name: “The Extreme.” However, the storm chaser-turned-weatherman who gets sucked back into the tornado game doesn’t live up to that moniker in the film. In fact, for a blockbuster, this is one of Paxton’s more measured performances. He wisely lets Twister’s real stars, the special effects, take center stage. And yet his boyish charm and charisma fill every scene. You just have to cheer for him.
1980s movies and asshole older brothers go hand in hand, and Chet is the king of them all. The entire character and performance are summed up in Paxton’s facial expressions. It looks like he’s always smelling a fart, always, and the character channels that raw energy and anger into his every essence. Plus, how many other ‘80s bullies got turned into an actual monster?
In addition to Frailty and a few other titles, Paxton’s directing career also included this awesome early 1980s oddity: the music video for Barnes and Barnes’ immortally weird song “Fish Heads.”