10 Best Billy Bob Thornton Movies
Often seen playing seriously sardonic characters with a knack for playing the role of the everyman, Billy Bob Thornton is an unconventional actor (to say the least). He’s known for his disdain for the Hollywood system, making sure to keep his personal life out of the news whenever possible. This was much harder to do during his short-lived marriage to Angelina Jolie, of course, but even then the actor tried his hardest to stay out of the spotlight. A prolific actor, writer, director, and songwriter, Billy Bob Thornton is as interesting as his choice in films. No matter if he’s acting in an independent drama or a studio comedy, Thornton certainly keeps things fresh from film to film. No matter what type of role, no matter what kind of movie, Billy Bob Thornton proves to be one of the best in the game.
Written by, directed by, and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade is an independent film about a troubled man who spent decades in a mental health facility for the killing of his mother and her boyfriend. Upon his release, he strikes up a friendship with a boy and his mother. It’s a masterwork on all fronts, with Thornton delivering top-of-the-line work in front of and behind the camera.
The Man Who Wasn’t There
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, The Man Who Wasn’t There is a send-up of the film noir genre from the mid-20th century. Shot in beautiful black and white by Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film happens to be co-written by its star, Billy Bob Thornton. The Coens are two of the best filmmakers in the game, so there’s no denying their team-up with Thornton resulted in nothing but excellence.
A Simple Plan
A neo-noir thriller directed by Sam Raimi, A Simple Plan stars Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton as two brothers who discover millions of dollars in a crashed plane. Raimi is a masterful filmmaker and Paxton and Thornton are sublime leading men, so the movie is obviously a smash. Bridget Fonda and Gary Cole give great performances, too.
One False Move
Oddly enough, One False Move is kind of a combination of the previous two films on this list — it co-stars Paxton and Thornton and features a script co-written by the latter. A neo-noir, the movie was supposed to be direct-to-video until word-of-mouth among studio insiders led it to be released in theaters nationwide instead. It’s a nice little low-budget picture that proves Thornton isn’t just in it for the money: he’s in it for the craft.
Friday Night Lights
The movie that spawned the hit NBC melodrama, Friday Night Lights is directed by Peter Berg and is actually based on a true story (like much of Berg’s work). Thornton is the humble high school football coach who leads his lowly team to great heights. It’s feel good and it’s real, making the story that much more impactful.
An incredibly controversial romantic drama, Monster’s Ball stars Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger, and many other recognizable names. It’s about a widowed corrections officer, their adult son, and a widowed father, all of whom are employed as executioners at a local jail. Clearly a very heavy film, this one isn’t for everyone — but Thornton’s performance is no doubt the highlight of the feature.
A comedy from the director of the cult classic Ghost World, Bad Santa stars Thornton and Lauren Graham as a thief and a bartender, respectively. It has become somewhat of a cult classic itself in the years since its release, which is something that isn’t uncommon for a Billy Bob Thornton movie. It even earned itself a sequel over a decade later.
Mike Nichols and Elaine May are two very unique voices in 20th-century filmmaking. Naturally, their collaboration ended up being spectacular: Primary Colors stars John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Kathy Bates, and Thornton and tells the story of a smooth-talking presidential candidate’s campaign. Thornton might just be in a supporting role here, but it’s nothing short of excellent work.
One of Thornton’s only voice acting roles, Princess Mononoke is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most critically-acclaimed films. Originally featuring a Japanese cast, the film was dubbed with American actors for its US release. Thornton is one of the actors included in the dub — he plays Jigo, a Buddhist monk.
A superb Western from the early 1990s, Tombstone stars Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and a whole bunch of other great actors (Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, and Thomas Hayden Church, to name a few) as some other recognizable lawmen from the Wild West. Thornton’s in a minor role as Johnny Tyler, but he contributes to an exceptional cast of characters that remains one of the best of its decade. Tombstone is simply as gripping as can be.
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