Earlier this year, Kurt Russell turned 72 years old, but he’s far from finished in Hollywood. Last year marked Russell’s sixth decade as a movie star, and he’s currently starring in the Apple TV+ Godzilla-adjacent series, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. In recent years, Russell has been introduced to a new generation of movie lovers in the Fast and Furious films as the enigmatic Mr. Nobody. But before he became an elder statesman action hero, Russell was an icon through the ’80s and ’90s.
The late Walt Disney personally predicted that Russell was going to become a big star, which is why Disney locked him up with a ten-year contract that lasted into the ’70s. But even Disney couldn’t have foreseen that Russell would have such an impressive run decades later. Few actors ever get the chance to appear in as many films and TV shows as Russell has. And his career path is one of a kind.
To celebrate the cinematic legacy of Kurt Russell, we’ve put together this list of his seven best movies. But knowing Russell, there’s always a good chance these ratings could change the next time that he’s given the chance to headline a film.
Although many of Russell’s best movies are action-oriented, he also displayed his dramatic chops in Miracle. This film is based on one of the most famous upsets in sports history, the Miracle on Ice, in 1980, when the U.S. men’s hockey team defeated the Soviet Union’s professional team on their way to winning the gold medal at the Olympics.
Russell plays Herb Brooks, the coach who had to find ways to bring his makeshift team together to pull off what many believed to be an impossible feat. Brooks’ leadership helps guide the team through their trials all the way through their inspiring victory. This is one of the ultimate feel-good sports movies, and Russell is terrific in the leading role.
Watch Miracle on Disney+.
It’s very rare for Russell to play a villain on the big screen, but he does so in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Within this film, Russell portrays Ego, a literal living planet and a member of the god-like Celestials. He is also the long-lost father of the Guardians’ leader, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). Russell’s performance is meant to catch some of the audience off guard because he’s so friendly and outgoing for most of the film. Ego acts like he wants to reconnect with his son.
When Ego inevitably reveals his true agenda, Russell easily steps into a more malevolent take on his character. Many Marvel villains were disposable and forgettable, but Ego left quite an impression thanks to Russell’s performance.
Watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on Disney+.
Russell may have the leading role in Tombstone, but Val Kilmer stole the show in this Western. The film is loosely based on the true exploits of the legendary lawman, Wyatt Earp (Russell), and his best friend, Doc Holiday (Kilmer). In the late nineteenth century, Wyatt and his brothers run afoul of “Curly Bill” Brocius (Powers Boothe), Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), and their gang, The Cowboys. And when The Cowboys kill one of his brothers, Wyatt feels compelled to seek revenge alongside Doc and a few of their closest friends for a final showdown.
Watch Tombstone on Amazon Prime Video.
The Hateful Eight takes place two years before Tombstone, although it’s a very different kind of Western. Writer and director Quentin Tarantino cast Russell as a legendary bounty hunter. John “The Hangman” Ruth. On his way to deliver “Crazy” Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for a bounty, Ruth reluctantly allows Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) to join him as they attempt to find shelter from a winter storm.
However, once they arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, strangers surround the unlikely trio, and they are forced to wonder if they can trust anyone, even each other. This film is a master class in creating tension and is one of Tarantino’s greatest movies.
Watch The Hateful Eight on Netflix.
Russell and director John Carpenter have collaborated on five films, and one of their most memorable flicks together is the action/fantasy comedy, Big Trouble in Little China. Russell plays Jack Burton, a truck driver who finds himself thrust into the battle between the magical forces of good and evil in Chinatown. Early in the movie, Jack and his friend, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), attempt to rescue Wang’s kidnapped fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). And when Jack’s beloved truck is also stolen, he takes it personally.
Sex and the City‘s Kim Cattrall co-stars as Gracie Law, a lawyer with some romantic banter with Jack and a common purpose in saving Miao’s life. However, the evil sorcerer David Lo Pan (James Hong) eventually decides to take both Gracie and Miao as his wives, with one of them destined to be sacrificed to the ancient gods. To save the day, ‘ol Jack Burton is going to have to step up and become a hero.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the all-time great sci-fi horror flicks and also one of Russell’s most popular films. Within this story, Russell plays a helicopter pilot named R.J. MacReady, who is assigned to a remote U.S. research station in Antarctica. After the team unwittingly takes in a sled dog under unusual circumstances, the dog is revealed to be an alien organism that can imitate any life form.
This unnamed thing is so good at mimicking its victims that MacReady and his rapidly dwindling crew are left wondering if the creature is actually one of them in disguise. And if they fail to prevent the creature’s escape from the Arctic, then the entire world may be in jeopardy as well.
If you’ve been following Russell’s career long enough, then you probably guessed that number one on this list was always going to come down to The Thing or Escape From New York. This was Russell’s second time working with Carpenter, and he perfectly embodied the film’s antihero, Snake Plissken. In the near future, New York has been transformed into an unescapable prison for the worst criminals in the nation. When President John Harker (Donald Pleasence) is kidnapped and taken deep into the heart of the city, Snake is the only man for the rescue mission.
Russell’s performance as Snake helped make him an action icon, but it was lighting up in a bottle. Even Carpenter and Russell’s final film together, Escape From L.A., couldn’t recapture the elements that made Escape From New York such an effective thrill ride. In our opinion, this is the best movie that Russell has ever made.