The 5 Best Performances of Billy Zane.
Hans summed it up pretty nicely when he told Derek Zoolander that Billy Zane is “a cool dude.” In fact, there might not be anybody cooler than Billy Zane. With a career that has spanned 30+ years, Zane has performed in a variety of roles. He’s been a hero and a villain. Some might even say he portrayed one of the greatest villains ever written in James Cameron’s epic Titanic. But there is much more to the actor than just that one role. Any movie that Zane is in is immediately better because of his presence. Whether he was a superhero, an aristocrat, or a demon knight, Billy Zane has developed a niche in Hollywood that is unmatched. Though he might not appear in as many films as we would like him to, he still manages to stay relevant and it’s just a matter of time before he called upon once again to try to talk down the Derek Zoolander’s of the world. Any time we’re struggling with a life-altering decision, we tell ourselves to “listen to our friend Billy Zane; he’s a cool dude.” It has never steered us wrong before.
5) I Woke Up Early the Day I Died (1998)
This is probably the least recognized film in a career full of less recognized films, yet I Woke Up Early the Day I Died is utterly fascinating. Written by notorious director Ed Wood, and produced posthumously in 1998, this is a silent film starring Zane as “The Thief,” is about a madman that dresses in a nurse’s uniform and proceeds to go on a crime spree that includes interactions with a veritable “who’s who” of Hollywood including, ahem: Ron Perlman, Tippi Hedren, Will Patton, John Ritter, Eartha Kitt, Nicollette Sheridan, Steven Weber, Rain Phoeniz, Christina Ricci, and many, many more. Because it is a silent film, no dialogue was recorded and Zane had to use his body language and facial expressions to help tell the story. While panned by critics, this film was a true test for Billy Zane to actually “act,” instead of just being so damn cool. He did a fine job and we can’t wait for Tim Burton to make a movie about the making of this movie.
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4) Dead Calm (1989)
Zane’s first foray into villainy, Dead Calm is an underrated thriller centering on a married couple (played by Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman) who are trying to cope with the death of their son. To do so, they decide to take out their yacht for an extended vacation to clear their minds and their hearts. In doing so, they come across a shipwrecked survivor name Hughie Warriner (played by Zane). Warriner claims that every other person on his ship died of food poisoning, but his story doesn’t quite check out. The couple welcomes him aboard their boat anyway, which proves to be a grave mistake. Dead Calm is a typical 80’s-fare thriller, but it’s the unnerving performance of Zane that especially stands out. It’s sleek, sexy and stylish which could all be words used to describe Zane himself, and it’s a film that shows just how delightfully bad Billy Zane could be- a format that would prove a hundred times more successful in future projects.
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3) Demon Knight (1995)
This is, arguably, Billy Zane’s greatest performance not-from-Titanic. Tales from the Crypt presented Demon Knight back in 1995, and it provided the perfect outlet for Zane’s silly shock value humor. While Zane was, supposedly, the “bad guy” of the film, he was so damn charismatic that you couldn’t help but cheer on his antics. When Zane finally reveals his true character following the beheading of the local sheriff, he calls the survivors a bunch of “ho-dunk, po-dunk, well-then-there mother*ckers!” Our lives were made. Zane then spends the rest of the film doing Typical-Billy-Zane-Stuff, including seducing a prostitute, using sex workers to seduce an old man, making fun of Thomas Hayden Church and trying to, again, seduce Jada Pinkett-Smith. All the while, he’s firing off wisecracks faster than the Crypt Keeper himself and he is the reason that Demon Knight has become a cult-hit over the years. Zane is funny, charming, seductive and oh-so evil in this film, and in his life, probably.
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2) Titanic (1997)
And here it is, folks: the role that most casual audiences think of when they hear the sacred name of Billy Zane. In Titanic, Zane plays Cal Hockley, an aristocrat who considers Kate Winslet’s Rose to be just another possession. Zane is delightfully evil in this role and he provides the perfect foil to Leo’s everyman-character, Jack Dawson. Zane had been in movies before Titanic, and he was in movies after Titanic, but it is this role that most remember him for. While this does a disservice to Zane’s other movies, it’s easy to see why this one was so memorable. It was the ultimate romance movie, mixed with the ultimate disaster flick, with the ultimate dreamboat squaring off against the ultimate jerk. Allegedly, it was Zane’s role in The Phantom (which just missed a spot on this list) that caught director James Cameron’s attention.
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1) Zoolander (2001)
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