Bill Paxton was a widely-beloved character actor. He was somehow able to be simultaneously the best character in any scene while also keeping the focus on the film at large. He often played roles in campy or otherwise high-budget filmmaking. From the 1980s itself, to modern films which tried to recapture the best of late-20th century blockbusters, Paxton was often there. He was also there the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As an eight year old, he and his family joined a crowd outside Kennedy’s Fort Worth hotel.
To say that James Cameron subsidized his career is perhaps fair, though it was entirely deserved on Paxton’s part. The duo made four films together: The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies and Titanic. Paxton and Cameron even went down in a submarine to the actual Titanic together. After Paxton’s premature passing, Cameron reportedly said that he was hoping to put him in a role in his many upcoming Avatar sequels. The loss of Paxton was a genuine tragedy for film fans the world over. Here are the seven best films in which he played a role.
The Terminator (1984)
In James Cameron’s now-classic The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the T-800, a deadly human-presenting android. He is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of John Connor, before she can give birth to him. In the future, John is the leader of the human rebellion against Skynet, a self-aware authoritarian computer program. To protect his mother and his unborn self, John sends back in time his second-in-command, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). When the T-800 first arrives in 1984, it finds itself accosted by a group of punks, one of whom is played by Paxton in one of the most memorable-yet-nameless roles in film history.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow blends a contemporary, high-budget action-science fiction flick with the basic structure of Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day. Tom Cruise plays a decorated but combat-averse major named William Cage. In the fight against seemingly-invincible aliens, he dies almost immediately. Yet, he wakes up to find the day of his death has just begun. Somehow, Cage is caught in a time loop and he must seek the help of Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) to escape it and defeat the aliens. Paxton plays Master Sergeant Farrell, a superior of Cage’s who is not exactly a fan of him.
In response to Ridley Scott’s masterful horror-science fiction film Alien, James Cameron builds a genre-crossing sequel. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the only human survivor of the titular creature’s attack on her ship the Nostromo, is called upon. In the years since the incident, a small human outpost now exists where the Nostromo crew found the alien eggs. Ripley is asked to accompany a unit of space Marines—one of whom is played by Paxton—to investigate when contact is lost with said outpost. It may not be quite as good as the fantastic previous film, but it is an entertaining film in its own right.
True Lies (1994)
In Cameron’s thrilling action film, True Lies, Schwarzenegger plays a mild-mannered salesman named Harry Tasker who is secretly—even to his wife and daughter—a covert counter-terrorism agent. His marriage is becoming increasingly strained due to his frequent absences. Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), his wife, is bored and frequently flirts with a dirtbag car salesman (Paxton) who has convinced her he is a spy. That is, until both Harry and Helen are kidnapped by a terrorist named Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik). What True Lies lacks in subtlety, it more than makes up for in entertainment.
Tombstone, in addition to being a prominent frozen pizza, is a town in Arizona in which the Earp brothers and their friend Doc Holliday lived for a time in the late 1800s. Hoping for a place to settle down, Wyatt (Kurt Russell), Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan Earp (Paxton) find anything but in Tombstone. The town is terrorized by a group of outlaws known as the Cowboys, led by “Curly Bill” Brocius (Powers Boothe). Though it may not be entirely faithful to the historical events upon which it is based, it is the most exciting western this side of the muddy Mississippi.
Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a gripping drama in which Jake Gyllenhaal gives an haunting performance not so unlike that he gives in David Fincher’s Zodiac. Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom is a hustler. He makes his way through life as a petty thief and little else. That is, until one day he witnesses a crash. He learns that some photographers and videographers make a living by selling their firsthand photos and footage of such events to broadcast news stations. From then on, he resolves to make his money in the same gruesome business. Paxton plays Joe Loder, on of Louis’ main competitors.
In Commando, an ex-special forces single father named John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is forced to get back into action. Arius (Dan Hedaya), a former authoritarian leader of the fictional South American nation of Val Verde kidnaps him and his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). Arius hopes to parlay possession of Jenny into John helping him gain a position of power once more. John struggles to keep his daughter safe while also refusing to do the task that Arius asks of him. Paxton has a cameo in the exciting film as an intercept officer.