Val Kilmer has made all kinds of movies throughout his long career, and many of his most high-profile performances (think Top Gun, The Doors, Tombstone, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and his groovy debut in Top Secret!) can be found in drama and action films. But when the Juilliard-trained actor—who’s had some health problems of late—goes genre, he makes some intriguing choices. Here are our 14 favorite Kilmer sci-fi and fantasy projects.
The erstwhile Batman plays silent stoner superhero Bluntman in Bluntman V Chronic, the reboot-within-a-reboot that drives the plot of the 2019 Kevin Smith meta-comedy. In a movie stuffed with cameos, Kilmer’s is one of the funniest, just because it’s one of the most unexpected.
We’re mostly focusing on Kilmer’s movie roles here, but how could we leave this truly random entry off the list? The iconic 1980s TV series about the talking car has been brought back a few times, including an NBC reboot that ran for one season starting in 2008. Kilmer supplied the voice of KITT, probably the only notable thing about this short-lived series.
Disney’s spin-off of Pixar’s popular Cars franchise is mostly about a crop duster voiced by unfunny comedian Dane Cook, but Kilmer and his Top Gun co-star Anthony Edwards do pop up to voice a pair of U.S. Navy fighter jets. No doubt that’s a little in-joke for adult viewers, since Planes’ target audience likely would not get the reference.
True Romance, directed by Top Gun’s Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino, is not a genre film; you’ll find it categorized under “crime” or “drama” or “extreme 1990s kitsch overload.” But it does have one fantasy element besides Patricia Arquette’s improbably hot n’ nerdy call girl with a heart of gold, and it’s Kilmer’s barely glimpsed yet still totally memorable appearance as the “Mentor” to Clarence (Christian Slater)—a guy who requires guidance and confidence-boosting from time to time and conveniently receives it in the form of a guardian angel who looks and sounds an awful lot like Elvis.
Though he more or less retreated from Hollywood in the late 1990s, legendary writer-director Francis Ford Coppola made a rare big-screen return in 2011 with this ghostly tale starring Kilmer as once-successful horror author Hall Baltimore. His latest book tour takes him to a small town with a serial killer problem; a good portion of the movie takes place in a monochrome dream world populated by maybe-vampires (Elle Fanning, Alden Ehrenreich), Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin), and other gothic types. Eventually, Baltimore’s dreams become entangled with his waking life, much in the way that the events of the movie become entangled with the comeback novel Baltimore’s in the process of crafting. Twixt is, sadly, nowhere near as good as the sorta similar In the Mouth of Madness, but Kilmer’s performance as a writer wrestling with reality is not among its weaker points.
Kilmer dons a series of questionable wigs and an array of accents to play iconic character Simon Templar, the benevolent but slippery master thief who can claim any prize for the right price. Really, seeing Kilmer adopt all those different corny identities (the sultry Spaniard! The leather pants-clad South African! The German with the pouffy mullet! The dowdy Russian housekeeper! The tweedy, spectacled man with the Doc Holliday twang!) is the main attraction here. Even with the character’s pedigree driving the story, without all the disguises and Kilmer’s charisma, The Saint would be just a middling mid-‘90s thriller with the Sneaker Pimps on the soundtrack, involving a formula for cold fusion that Simon seduces out of a gullible scientist (Elisabeth Shue) on behalf of some politically ambitious Russian mobsters.
Kilmer has a small role in this 2006 thriller that once again reunited him with director Tony Scott. Déjà Vu is mostly all about Denzel Washington’s character, ATF agent Doug Carlin, who’s among the first on the scene after a terrorist bombing in post-Katrina New Orleans. Kilmer plays the affable FBI agent who invites him to be part of a cutting-edge new task force that’s using some very timey-wimey high tech to solve the case. Though Kilmer—who played a very different sort of New Orleans law enforcement type opposite Nicolas Cage in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a non-genre movie that’s still chock-full of excellent weirdness—doesn’t get to do a lot, his presence adds dramatic heft to the supporting cast. Also, his character is the kind of cool boss who looks the other way when Carlin decides the only way to save the day is to risk his own life by testing the human limits of time travel.
I can’t be the only person who consistently confuses Red Planet with Mission to Mars, which both came out in 2000, but for the record: Mission to Mars is the one directed by Brian De Palma where Gary Sinise gets to hang out with aliens; and Red Planet is the one where Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss inexplicably bring a robot with an easily-triggered “kill mode” on the first manned journey to Mars. Red Planet is not a very good movie, but Kilmer gets to play a wild-man engineering genius (for some fashion flair on the long trip, he dons what very may well be his True Romance Elvis sunglasses), a character that exactly plays to his strengths—he’s almost like an older version of Chris Knight from Real Genius.
Kilmer plays Moses and God in DreamWorks’ 1998 animated musical retelling of the Book of Exodus, bringing appropriate levels of wonder, gravitas, and grief to his performances. The Prince of Egypt manages to infuse actual drama into the familiar story—with its burning bush, “let my people go,” plagues, parting of the Red Sea, Ten Commandments, etc.—by emphasizing Moses’ clash with his adoptive brother Rameses II (Ralph Fiennes), and even though it’s, you know, Bible stuff, The Prince of Egypt never gets too preachy. However, the movie also shows that even the great Kilmer has his limits; like several of the movie stars in the cast (and despite his totally serviceable crooning in Top Secret!), he doesn’t do his own singing.
Kilmer plays the first post-Michael Keaton Batman opposite villains Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Riddler (Jim Carrey), as well as Nicole Kidman as Bruce Wayne’s love interest and Chris O’Donnell as Batman’s new sidekick, Robin. Batman Forever, released in 1995 and directed by the great Joel Schumacher, is a sort of a midline Batman flick with forgettable details (remember Drew Barrymore was in Batman Forever? No? Neither did we, until a recent re-watch) that has been pushed to the back of all Batman-centric discussions. But you know... Kilmer’s fondness for bringing little eccentricities into his performances made him kind of perfect to play a reclusive billionaire crime-fighter with a bat fetish. (He also had the best Batman lips.) Too bad he only put on the cowl once, and then Batman & Robin happened.
John Frankenheimer’s famously troubled 1996 H.G. Wells adaptation has a lot going on—a wild cast that includes Marlon Brando as Wells’ mad scientist, and Fairuza Balk, Ron Perlman, and Temuera Morrison, among others, as his human-animal hybrid creations—but somehow Kilmer still makes an impression as Montgomery, Moreau’s right-hand man. He’s soft-spoken and only vaguely menacing at first, but like everyone in the movie, he grows way more unhinged as the plot progresses. After Moreau dies, Montgomery attempts to ascend to his former overlord’s white-wardrobed place of dominance, but even the former “brilliant neurosurgeon” can’t survive the island’s rapid spiral into furry, toothy, claws-out lawless mayhem.
This three-part anthology film, which you can watch in its entirety above, opens with Lotus Community Workshop, a segment directed by Harmony Korine featuring Kilmer as “Val Kilmer”—an alternate-reality version of the famous actor who’s turned to new-age motivational speaking. You can’t not love this performance, which sees Kilmer devoid of any vanity whatsoever (just behold his wardrobe choices: beret, polo shirt with an oversized bolo tie, old-man shorts, and a fanny pack) prowl a roller rink that’s been turned into a meeting room, bellowing into a headset mic about the “awesome secrets” he’s going to share with those assembled. His wackadoo monologue is great fun, but for my money the real prize is seeing Kilmer pedal along on a BMX bike, bursting with the sort of joy one can only discover, presumably, within the utopian fourth dimension, a place “Val Kilmer” himself describes as “a kind of world like cotton candy, almost.”
2) Real Genius
This 1985 comedy, Kilmer’s second big-screen outing, made it very clear that Top Secret! was no fluke. He plays Chris Knight, a college senior whose science smarts have taken a back seat to chasing girls and other campus shenanigans—at least until he meets his awkward new roommate, Mitch (Gabriel Jarret). Mitch desperately needs a cool mentor to help him break out of his shell, while Chris needs an ally to help him take down the jerky professor who’s been exploiting students to create what the kids don’t realize is dangerous, futuristic military tech. Chris is the ultimate blend of party-guy slacker and nerdy supergenius, but Kilmer brings actual dimension to a character who easily could’ve just been there for comic relief.
Obviously, Kilmer’s turn as the charming rogue Madmartigan, who lends a hand (and his sword) to Warwick Davis’ unlikely hero Willow, had to top this list. Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy comedy has become a classic, and even if Madmartigan isn’t part of the long-discussed future Disney+ TV series, he’ll always be one of our favorite characters in a movie filled with brownies, trolls, fairies, sorcerers, and evil queens. Plus, there’s the added bonus of getting to see Kilmer and future spouse Joanne Whalley fall for each other in real life as their characters are falling in love onscreen.
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