Kurt Russell’s Best Roles

“Someone in this camp ain’t what he appears to be.” — R.J. MacReady, The Thing

“Snake Plissken”

In the past few days, I’ve come across at least four articles about Kurt Russell‘s (5’11”,b.1951) best movies, performances, etc., either in celebration of his recent birthday or initiated by his current appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I haven’t seen that movie, yet, so I can’t tell you what I thought of it or Russell’s performance. But, I thought it might be fun to look back at his career for myself and highlight my personal favorites.

Now, I wouldn’t say I am a superfan of Russell nor an aficionado of his films. But, I have seen quite a few — mostly those within the sci-fi and action/adventure genres. On the other hand, since beginning his Hollywood career as a child (1962), he has made a *lot* of movies (TV and big screen) and appeared in several TV shows, so it’s no surprise there are many roles I haven’t seen, as well. Naturally, I’ll stick to those I’ve seen….

Many of the TV series he guest-starred in as a kid/teen were cop shows and westerns, which were quite popular at the time. These included “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, “The Virginian”, “Laredo”, “The Fugitive”, “Daniel Boone”, “Gunsmoke”, et al. Of course, he also showed up on “Gilligan’s Island” and “Lost in Space”. But, the earliest role I remember him from (with possible exception of ‘Jungle Boy’ on “Gilligan’s Island”) was as the young “problem student” ‘Dexter Riley’ in a series of Disney movies: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), and The Strongest Man in the World (1975). Those were a lot of fun! Campy, but fun. I think I saw the last one at the theaters, but I must’ve watched the others when they played on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color”. (He was in other Disney stuff, too.)

“Wyatt Earp”

As a big Elvis Presley fan (especially as a kid), I also enjoyed Russell in the title role of John Carpenter’s Elvis (1979). The 1980s, though, was when Russell’s career really took off, largely thanks to his working on several more projects with John Carpenter. His iconic portrayal of ‘Snake Plissken’ in Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) — and the somewhat disappointing sequel, Escape from L.A. (1996) — made him a cult hero for many of us growing up then. The eyepatch and the attitude, set in an anarchic prison-city of the near future, made a great combination.

Russell and Carpenter followed up the next year with another modern genre classic, i.e., the remake of The Thing. The mix of horror, mystery, and action made for a great vehicle for Russell’s (and co-star Keith David’s) talents. But, it was 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China (also directed by Carpenter) where he got to showcase his comedic skills along with the action/adventure moves. This is considered by some to be a cult classic. Tequila Sunrise (1988), co-starring Mel Gibson and Michelle Pfeiffer, was a decent crime drama. But, I preferred the action-comedy Tango & Cash (1989), where Russell teamed up with Sylvester Stallone (and the gorgeous Teri Hatcher).

Another action-oriented crime drama where Russell shined was Backdraft (1991), followed by crime thriller Unlawful Entry (1992). But, it was his portrayal of Wyatt Earp in Tombstone (1993) that I really liked (the whole cast, really), as well as genre-fave Stargate (1994). Executive Decision was a pretty good action thriller that paired Russell with Steven Seagal (1996). Breakdown (1997) and Soldier (1998) were entertaining films that rounded out the 90s. 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) was another fun film, featuring Russell and Kevin Costner as thieves robbing a casino during an Elvis convention — in costume, of course. Sky High (2005) was a genre highlight with Russell as a superhero teaching teens & pre-teens with powers of their own. Not long afterward, Russell returned to the horror/thriller (sub)genres as ‘Stuntman Mike’ in the “Death Proof” segment of Grindhouse (2007).

“Col. Jack O’Neil”

I have not yet seen The Art of the Steal (2013), Bone Tomahawk (2015), The Hateful Eight (2015), or Deepwater Horizon (2016). Nor have I watched The Fate of the Furious (2017), but I did see Furious 7 (2015). I thought Russell did a good job with the cool-headed, somewhat mysterious government agent and task force leader, ‘Mr. Nobody’. It’s a supporting role and one that he likely enjoys playing, especially since he gets to hang out with a fun cast.

OK, after all that, can I pick a Top 5? Honestly, it has been quite awhile since I’ve watched most of these movies. But,… if I must:

1) ‘Snake Plissken’ in Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.;
2) ‘R.J. MacReady’ in The Thing;
3) ‘Wyatt Earp’ in Tombstone;
4) ‘Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil’ in Stargate; and
5) ‘Stephen & Dennis McCaffrey’ (father & son) in Backdraft.

For nostalgic reasons, I have to make ‘Dexter Riley’ from the aforementioned Disney trilogy my #6. Honorable Mentions go to ‘Lt. Gabriel Cash’ in Tango & Cash, ‘Stuntman Mike’ in Death Proof, and, I suppose, ‘Jack Burton’ in Big Trouble in Little China.

What about you? If you want to share your favorite Kurt Russell roles/movies, feel free to do so below!

Fan-Cast: Fantastic Four

“[Y]ou didn’t think to account for our personalities. The inner strength that my family has, that I’ve seen grow with us through the years. You forgot to include that in your calculus. If we’re down, we rise. If we fail, we try again. If we lose the battle, we win the war. And that is what makes us… the Fantastic Four!”  — Mister Fantastic to the Quiet Man

I’m going to try something different this time and fan-cast a whole team in one post. To do so, I’m going to have to cut down on the amount of text. So, since readers of this blog likely already know who the Fantastic Four are and at least the basics of their “origin story”, I’m going to skip all that, along with most of their history.

ff-classic-artFirst, a few notes about physical appearances and ages. We know that all four of our heroes are/were attractive and physically fit — even moreso in later years. All four are Caucasian. The Storm siblings are blonde, whereas Reed and Ben both have brown hair, with Reed’s temples having turned white in his late teens. Reed’s build was originally on the slender side, though his powers allow him to look more muscular. Ben, of course, was always stockier and more muscular, even before he transformed into The Thing. Reed’s height is listed as 6’1″, Ben’s at 6′, Sue’s at 5’6″, and Johnny’s at 5’10”. I would prefer to stay within 2-3 inches either way for each of them. It should be no surprise that my casting choices try to retain the classic appearances of the characters, though I realize that some things (e.g., hair color, eyewear, muscularity) can be altered in the service of playing a role.

According to Marvel’s wiki page, Reed — of Prime Earth, not “Ultimate” — had attained four degrees by the time he was 18 years old. While working on his fifth, he roomed first with Victor von Doom and then with his soon-to-be best buddy, Benjamin J. Grimm. I’m not sure about Doom, but it says this was Ben’s freshman year, so he was roughly the same age as Reed. (However, I read elsewhere that Ben was a few years older. This may be an effect of ret-conning.) Ben later joined the U.S. Air Force, where he became a highly-skilled pilot, and Reed went on to build his first experimental rocketship.

While working on yet another degree at Columbia University, Reed’s landlady’s niece, Susan Storm, developed a crush on him. She was only 12 (though other sources say she was older), and I’m guessing Reed was 22 to 24 years old by then. When Sue started college, she went to California where Reed was working on his project, and they began dating. By the time of the ill-fated accident that gave them their powers, Sue was no longer considered a “teen”, so she must’ve been at least 20 years old. This would put Reed and Ben in their early 30s. Johnny Storm, however, was referred to as an adolescent teenager. My sense of him was that he was maybe 4 to 5 years younger than Sue, give or take. So, for argument’s sake, at the time of the accident they were 15 (Johnny, who we remember is Peter Parker’s peer), 20 (Sue), and 30 (Reed & Ben).

ff509That having been said, while it would be nice to see casting match these ages, it might not be all that easy, and I certainly haven’t come across 15 and 20 year olds that fit the bill for Johnny and Sue. So, I have no problem casting them both in their early- to mid-20s (though the actors might be slightly older), as was done in the last FF movie. I would also understand if those casting for the next screen version decide to make Ben a few years older, which would be believable for giving him time to become a noted test pilot/astronaut. Or, they could even make Reed and Ben in their late-20s, but I wouldn’t go any younger than that. This all assumes that the next movie begins with the FF’s “origin story”. But, it wouldn’t have to. The characters can be further along in their careers as heroes and, therefore, a few years older.

Personality-wise, we have 1) the super-brilliant, sometimes distant and absent-minded Reed Richards (aka the super-elastic Mister Fantastic); 2) the streetwise, cigar-chompin’, somewhat impatient but ever-dependable jock-turned-pilot Ben Grimm (aka the super-strong, rocky-hided Thing); 3) the empathetic, commonsensical, oft-maternal, stronger-than-she-knows Susan Storm (aka the mistress of invisible force-fields, Invisible Girl/Woman); and 4) the immature, thrill-seeking, sometimes hot-headed Johnny Storm (aka the aptly-named Human Torch).

Beyond all that, the most important thing is that the actors have not only the talent but the necessary chemistry together. After all, while only two are related by blood, these characters really do become a close-knit family, as well as a well-oiled team of explorers/superheroes. That family dynamic really needs to come across on-screen for any FF movie (or series) to work.

Now, rather than suggesting two to four candidates for each character individually, allow me to present to you two possible teams. Feel free to mix-n-match, though….

Tom Mison

Tom Mison

Greg Finley

Greg Finley

Eliza Taylor

Eliza Taylor

Lucas Till

Lucas Till

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first team has Reed and Ben in their early 30s, as played by Tom Mison (6’1″,b.1982) and Greg Finley (6′,b.1984), respectively. Mison is best known for the “Sleepy Hollow” series, but he can also be seen in Mysterious Island, an episode of “Inspector Lewis”, and various romance/comedies. Finley has appeared in several episodes of “The Flash” and “iZombie” lately, but he has also been in Hypothermia, “Star-Crossed”, and episodes of “CSI” and “Law & Order: SVU”. Then we have a 20-something Sue played by Eliza Taylor (5’5″,b.1989). She is best known in the U.S. for her starring role in “The 100”, though she’s also appeared in The November Man and Patrick. Finally, the role of Johnny in his early- to mid-20s goes to the youthful Lucas Till (5’10”,b.1990). Till, whom others have also suggested for Johnny, is known for portraying Alex Summers/Havok in the X-Men films and most recently in the title role of the new “MacGyver” TV series.

James Badge Dale

James Badge Dale

Domenick Lombardozzi

Domenick Lombardozzi

Brittany Snow

Brittany Snow

Luke Bracey

Luke Bracey

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second team is a little older, with Reed in his mid- to late-30s and Ben pushing 40. Our stretchy team-leader is played by my first choice, James Badge Dale (5’10”,b.1978), whom you may recall from “24”, “The Pacific”, “Rubicon”, World War Z, and 13 Hours. The role of Benjy goes to Domenick Lombardozzi (6′,b.1976) from “The Wire”, “Breakout Kings”, “Boardwalk Empire”, Bridge of Spies, and “Rosewood”. (While looking for a photo of him for this post, I found that someone else cast him for Ben, too. Great minds…. I will note that I think Lombardozzi’s voice is all wrong for Ben/Thing, so he’d either need to learn to talk without his usual Bronx accent and/or someone else’s voice would need to be dubbed in.) Sue is in her mid- to late-20s and portrayed by Brittany Snow (5’4″,b.1986). Snow can be seen in “American Dreams” and the Pitch Perfect movies, along with such genre fare as Prom Night, Black Water Transit, and the upcoming Hangman. Sue’s younger brother Johnny is played by Luke Bracey (6′,b.1989), who is known for his roles in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The November Man, the Point Break remake, and the recent Hacksaw Ridge.

Alright, those are my picks for Marvel’s First Family — not counting Reed and Sue’s kids that come along later, of course. I’m thinking it might be time to fan-cast some villains next. We’ll see…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.