While he might have made a name for himself as the smarmy and smug type, he’s shown an impressive range of emotion, nuance, and complexity over the years.
Whether he’s teaming with his friend James Cameron, or working with other talented directors like Ron Howard and Sam Raimi, or even making a guest-starring turn on popular television shows, Paxton always gave 110%.
Paxton was truly a legend in Hollywood, even if it wasn’t always recognized.
And even though he was often typecast as a villain or jerk, he made the most of those roles with great delivery, wonderful ad-libbing, and an amazing range of facial expressions.
The deceased actor deserves recognition in the wake of his death. And so we are looking back at some of his most memorable performances over the years.
Click the slides to see some of our favorite Bill Paxton films, and make sure you let us know what your favorites are in homage to the amazing actor.
After a minor appearance in the Terminator, James Cameron brought Paxton on board his sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. The film introduced Ripley to a group of Marines locked and loaded to investigate the dark colony on LV-426.
Paxton played the most memorable in the outfit, Private Hudson, a cocky and chipper technician whose nerves were quickly frayed when the mission went south.
Hudson immediately established himself as a bit of a jerk, despite obvious vulnerabilities.
When his squad mates held his arm down and the android Bishop showed off his knife skills with a game of five finger filet, Hudson whined like a child.
That first crack in the armor wore thin, but even when the chips were down he never gave up on his squad.
Alongside Jenette Goldstein’s Pvt. Vasquez, the two stuck with Ripley to the end, even if Michael Biehn’s Cpl. Hicks had to slap some sense into him from time to time.
His death in their final stand against the Xenomorphs allowed Ripley and co. to escape certain death, and Paxton played the role while dancing a fine line between hammy and nuanced.
While he doesn’t play the most significant role in the film, it’s one of those “classic Paxton” characters that cannot go without being mentioned.
As the older brother to one of the two nerds, Paxton’s Chet is a constant source of torment. He attempts to portray himself as a military man, but really is anything but.
Chet extorts his younger brother Wyatt and his friend Gary, played by Iian Mitchell-Smith and Anthony Michael Hall respectively, and threatens to lord over them for the entire duration of Wyatt’s parents’ vacation.
When they create Lisa, the “perfect woman,” played by Kelly LeBrock, she begins building their confidence by forcing them into uncomfortable situations and giving them the means for success.
After their house is nearly destroyed in a crazy house party that conjures up both a ballistic missile and a gang of mutated bikers, Chet really loses it.
So Lisa turns him into a human piece of sh*t. Or, to go with one of his favorite insults, a “human turd.”
Paxton’s trademark facial expressions are in full range here, establishing why he’s perfect at playing a villain or, quite simply, a smarmy asshole. He could be easily typecast in these kinds of roles, but over the years he’s shown he has a much wider range as an actor.
Paxton’s smarminess and charm are in full range here, in one of the most financially successful films of the ‘90s.
Helen Hunt co-stars as Paxton’s estranged wife, Jo. Paxton plays Bill Harding, nicknamed “the Extreme,” a former storm-chaser turned weatherman.
Bill and his new finance join Hunt’s character in a set of ridiculous circumstances in which they need her to sign divorce papers, but hey, just go with it.
The group competes with a smug Cary Elwes from Princess Bride fame, as Paxton can never be out smugged without a fight, in an attempt to document the dangerous storms brewing.
Volatile tornadoes begin popping up left and right, including F2, F3, and F4 class twisters, truly giving the film it’s namesake.
It’s notable for being among the first “disaster-porn” movies of the ‘90s, a theme that extended with films like Armageddon, Deep Impact, Volcano, and more.
But Twister remains among the most memorable, due to Paxton and Hunt’s chemistry in the midst of the chaos.
Agents of SHIELD
When Paxton was cast as a character named John Garrett, fans wondered if the character would stay true to his comic book roots.
Frank Miller and Bill Sinkiewicz created the character in the pages of Elektra: Assassin. He was a captured SHIELD Agent that became one of the initial test subjects for the Deathlok project.
Season 1 of the series delved heavy into Deathlok technology, but when Garrett appeared he seemed to be a regular, high-ranking Agent of SHIELD. His friendship with Phil Coulson and mentorship to both Grant Ward and Antoine Triplett established him as one of the good guys.
And then Captain America: Winter Soldier heralded the rise of Hydra, revealing Garrett and Ward’s true natures.
Garrett had been one of the main villains all along, being referred to as ‘the Clairvoyant’ in previous episodes before finally revealing his villainy.
They also paid homage to his original comic roots as he revealed he too underwent the Deathlok procedure after being injured in a mission.
His purpose revolved around obtaining the secrets behind Coulson’s resurrection after his death in Avengers, which pointed the team to a dead Kree body being kept in stasis so that SHIELD could harvest the blood.
They use the blood to manufacture a drug called GH. 325. Circumstances force Garrett to take the drug after an injury, giving him visions and causing him to truly live up to his name, “the Clairvoyant.”
His menace lasts until the end of the season when he is killed by Coulson after a standoff between Hydra and SHIELD. His arc on the series was short lived but memorable and impactful, and his legacy has endured well into the series. It also allowed fans to see much of his acting abilities, playing a charming and charismatic figure to being menacing, intimidating, and—as usual—smarmy as hell.
One of HBO’s most successful series, Big Love was the true successor to the Sopranos and established the network as a premier destination for great television.
And Paxton played a big part in the series as Bill, the patriarch of the Henrickson family.
The series focused on the Henrickson’s, mostly showcasing Bill and his three wives, Barb, Nicki, and Margie.
Taking place in Salt Lake City, Utah, the series earned many criticisms from the Mormon Church while being one of the most critically acclaimed programs during its duration.
Big Love focused on the complexities of American families and relationships.
Ginnifer Goodwin, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Chloë Sevigny played Paxton’s wives in the series, and Amanda Seyfried portrayed his daughter with Tripplehorn’s character, establishing an all-star cast.
The show chronicles Paxton’s character as he builds a business empire through his “Home Plus” hardware stores, as well as his attempts to climb the hierarchy within the LDS Church.
Running for four seasons, the show did not overstay its welcome and reached a climactic ending, continuing the success of HBO original dramas, and allowing Paxton to substantially play a role that he had yet to receive to such a degree.
Paxton’s career was blessed as he had the opportunity to work with amazing directors. His appearance in the Ron Howard film Apollo 13 really cemented the fact that he was not one note.
The actor starred alongside Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Sinise in the true-to-life story about NASA’s aborted Lunar landing.
Paxton played the Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise.
The film portrayed claustrophobic and sterile conditions making use of zero-gravity atmosphere. It allowed the actors to float around in the capsule as they struggled to make necessary repairs to their constantly-failing systems.
Again, Paxton plays a character stretched to the brink and nearly frayed; his temperaments are often soothed by Hanks cool and calm demeanor in the face of danger.
While restricting itself in a filmmaking sense, Apollo 13 was more about the actors portrayal of a high-stress environment than it was their surroundings, or even their ingenuity. Good movies don’t have people sitting around figuring out how to solve a problem.
Good movies have characters interacting with each other, and those scenes with Bacon, Hanks, and Paxton in the face of certain death, showcasing their perseverance and endurance, is what makes Apollo 13 a great film.