The Criticwire Survey: The Least Expendable 'Expendable'

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by Matt Singer
August 13, 2012 9:57 AM
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"The Expendables 2."
Every wee k, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:

Q: "The Expendables 2" opens this Friday, starring every action star on the planet, including former rivals Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis. My question: which Expendable's film career is least expendable -- Stallone, Schwarzenegger or Willis?

The critics' answers:

Raffi Asdourian, The Film Stage:

"It seems like Willis is able to break the mold on occasion and remain slightly more relevant than both Stallone and Schwarzenegger with compelling sci-fi roles to pad out his fading action star image. He is also the only one of the three actors who has a film, 'Looper,' that I'm actually looking forward to seeing."

Adam BattyHope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second:

"While 'The Expendables 2' doesn't interest me in the slightest, I do actually think that each of the key three have their good points. Schwarzenegger's early '90s run is fairly unparalleled as this sort of thing goes, with the magnificent 'Total Recall' still holding up 22 years on, while I still hold fond memories of 'Terminator 2' fever sweeping through my school playground. Stallone, while ultimately something of a punchline by the time his path crossed with mine has his own mid-career saving grace in the form of another satirically-driven dystopian drama: 'Demolition Man.' His 'Judge Dredd,' while somewhat straying from the source material, is a visual feast and not as bad as you've been led to believe. And let's not forget 'Cop Land.' But alas, it's Willis that wins this round for me, having positively reinvented himself in this year's 'Moonrise Kingdom' as the hangdog sheriff with a heart of gold. His earlier turns may have been lacking in the iconography of a Rocky Balboa or a T-800, but in terms of which one is most pressingly relevant as an actor in 2012 there really is no competition."

Patrick Bromley, F This Movie:

"What? That's like asking which one of my limbs is most expendable. Bruce Willis has made more 'legitimate' movies, but Schwarzenegger will always be king to me. Of course, without Stallone, we wouldn't have 'Demolition Man,' and I would never have learned how to use the Three Seashells. I CAN'T CHOOSE. But it's Arnold."

Danny BowesTor.com/Movies By Bowes:

"Immediately, we can toss Stallone: the world can survive very comfortably without 'Rocky' and 'Rambo' (here's a more expansive explanation of the former, if you care, and the latter was always better in theory than reality). The loss of 'Nighthawks,' 'Tango and Cash,' and 'Demolition Man' would sting slightly, but such is life. This leaves us with the choice between Arnold and Bruce Willis, which is a bit Solomonic. Bruce Willis was John McClane. His cameo in 'The Player' was hilarious, he was in 'Pulp Fiction,' and now he's even working with Wes Anderson for crying out loud. But I have to go with Arnold. The thought of living in a world without the first two 'Terminator' movies, 'Total Recall,' 'Red Heat,' 'Commando, hell, even the non-nightmarishly-sexist parts of 'True Lies' (which, granted, mainly consist of the sequence where Arnold chased Art Malik on horseback, but the bigger point here is ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ON A HORSE, people) makes me sad. So yeah, the least expendable career is definitely Arnold's."

Ian BuckwalterNPR/The Atlantic:

"There's so little contest here that I feel a little bad even answering, as if I'd been asked to compare the Olympic performances of the men's basketball teams from, Nigeria, Tunisia, and the U.S. So let's level the playing field. Let's even handicap Bruce Willis by throwing out the roles that make him least expendable, the roles that show his range and interest in a diverse body of work. So no 'Moonrise Kingdom.' No 'Sixth Sense.' Not even 'Pulp Fiction,' and certainly not 'Moonlighting.' Even if we limit things to straight up action cinema only, Willis still routs the competition as easily as Dutch's crew taking out a Central American guerrilla encampment in 'Predator,' or Rocky mowing down weak, handpicked pseudo-contenders between 'Rocky II' and 'III.' And Willis does it with just two words: 'Die' and 'Hard.'"

Christopher CampbellDocBlog

"Definitely Schwarzenegger. All three have their respective action masterpieces but he had the most consistently iconic contribution to cinema and pop culture in general. It's hard to imagine losing certain individual films, but it's harder to imagine losing the identity of a whole era of film history, which I believe was more heavily represented and strengthened (whether positively or negatively) by Arnold."

Lee Cassanell, Cine-Vue/The New Empress:

"Stallone's contribution to cinema is probably the superior of the three. He was the main man in the late '70s and early '80s, as famous as it gets, and although post-'Terminator' Arnold surpassed him in the fame stakes the fact that Sly is responsible for the creation of two global icons in the shape of 'Rocky' and 'Rambo' should not be underestimated. I've always liked Willis. A decade ago I would probably have argued his corner but that sparkle and charisma has long faded and these days he's a pale imitation of his former self. I'd hate to choose between Schwarzenegger and Stallone as I consider them to be on a par but as a boxing fan, I'll put myself in Balboa's corner."

Sean ChavelFlick Minute:

"Bruce Willis. He's always attracted more interesting scripts even for B-movies like 'Surrogates.' We can count on more 'Die Hard's or clones of 'Die Hard' in the future, and that appeals to the meathead in me. But what makes him least expendable for the long haul is the likelihood of getting another fantastic art film or classic genre mash-up from him, like 'Pulp Fiction' or '12 Monkeys.' I don't see Richard Linklater or Steven Soderbergh working with those other two guys anytime soon."

David Chen, /Film:

"Definitely Schwarzenegger. Between the first two 'Terminator's, 'Total Recall,' and 'True Lies,' Schwarzenegger blasted his way into my geek heart and has been there ever since. Willis and Stallone certainly have their career highlights as well, but I think overall, Schwarzenegger has a better ratio of classic films to disposable ones." 

Michael DaltonMovie Parliament:

"The career of Bruce Willis is the least expendable, as it is the most varied. While 'The Expendables 2' is the only film Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are starring in this year, Bruce Willis has also appeared in Wes Anderson's quirky romance 'Moonrise Kingdom' and will star in Rian Johnson's science fiction film 'Looper' (I could rest my case right there). If you glance at Willis' filmography you don't merely see a list of 'Die Hard' sequels and rip-offs, but also films like '12 Monkeys' and 'The Sixth Sense.' Have you seen or could you imagine Stallone or Schwarzenegger doing what Willis has done in films such as 'Moonrise Kingdom,' '12 Monkeys' and 'The Sixth Sense?' As a result of their careers, Stallone and Schwarzenegger have allowed themselves to be stereotyped as one kind of character. Willis on the other hand has played with and rejected his tough guy image in numerous films, exploring multiple genres and playing a much wider scope of characters. Willis is the best actor of the three, with the most interesting and varied filmography of the three. If I were stuck on a desert island and could only take one of their careers with me, it would be Willis' hands down, I'd get some romance, drama, comedy, and science-fiction to go with my yippee ki yay."

Erik DavisMovies.com:

"Definitely Bruce Willis. We haven't seen enough post-Governator Schwarzenegger to determine how valuable a star he still is, and Stallone's only career objective right now is to work the old glory days angle. Willis, while he plays a lot of similar characters, is the best actor of the three, and has the most range."

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

"It depends what you mean by 'expendable.' If it means that one of these stars' films would never have been made, I'd say Bruce Willis is the least expendable on the strength of 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Die Hard' alone. Still, I'd miss Schwarzenegger's consistency overall for his career, and the action genre wouldn't be the same."

Steve DollarWall Street Journal/GreenCine Daily:

"This was too easy! Stallone. As a cultural signifier. As the eternal underdog/one-man-army triumphant. As the very air we breathe. And if he didn't exist, neither would have the 1980s. So while I guess that means we have Sly to blame for Madonna and Star Wars (the high-tech lasers in outer space defense system, not the George Lucas franchise), we should also thank him for inspiring the current generation of alt-cinema geek repertory of such celluloid meccas as the Alamo Drafthouse and 92YTribeca and CInefamily. His career outlasted communism AND capitalism!"

Edward DouglasComing Soon:

"Clearly Bruce Willis has proven that he can have a career outside of action by appearing in movies like 'Moonrise Kingdom' and 'Lay the Favorite' and bouncing between comedy and thrillers with ease. He's appearing in six movies this year and it would be seven if 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' hadn't moved, so clearly his name can get movies made and released. Stallone has not been making enough movies outside of 'The Expendables' and returns to other franchises to see if he can bring people into theaters and Schwarzenegger is just now returning so we'll have to see how he fares post-governorship, but WIllis is golden and he'll probably be working well into his 70s."

Mark DujsikMark Reviews Movies:

"We all know from 'Last Action Hero' that Stallone and Schwarzenegger are interchangeable. I kid. Both of their careers petered out for a while, with the former falling into a funk of bad choices and the latter focusing on his political obligations. Both have had their chances to break expectations, like Stallone's fine work in 'Cop Land' and Schwarzenegger's comic work (I'm also partial to Stallone in 'Oscar'), and it will be interesting to see what they do as they reach the second half of their seventh decades. Willis is the keeper of the group, though. Yes, like the other two, he's made questionable choices in the past, but there is an Everyman quality to his work that the brawnier action heroes lack (neither of his co-stars could have pulled off 'The Sixth Sense' or 'Unbreakable' anywhere near as well as he did). He takes chances, and there's probably no American actor working today that does stone-faced intimidation as well as him."

Alonso DuraldeTheWrap/What The Flick?!:

"My vote goes to Bruce Willis, if only for the first two 'Die Hard' movies and for 'Death Becomes Her.' Not that I would want to live in the 'Last Action Hero' universe where Stallone plays the Terminator, mind you. It's a tough choice overall."

Scott Foundas, Film Society of Lincoln Center:

"Willis is the best actor of the lot by a country mile, and also the one who has only grown better with age. He’s especially terrific in the little-seen Richard Donner picture '16 Blocks' from 2006, in which he plays an ashen, worn-down NYC detective escorting a petty thief turned police informant (Mos Def) the titular distance from the station to a nearby courthouse. At the time, I wrote, 'Now 50, and looking every minute of it, Willis has allowed himself to grow older honestly on screen, realizing that each new wrinkle and sag is an actor’s ally, not his enemy. If he keeps this up, in a few years he could be Nick Nolte or Jeff Bridges, or even Bill Murray. Behold, the American cinema’s next master of weary repose.' This potential was further hinted at by the following year’s 'Live Free or Die Hard,' the fourth in that reliably entertaining series, in which Willis’ perpetually embattled John McClane seemed a life study in existential exhaustion. And then there he was in this summer’s 'Moonrise Kingdom,' as the police captain canoodling with Frances McDormand behind none other than Bill Murray’s back -- a true battle of the hangdog eminences grises. In a word: magnificent."

Kenji FujishimaThe House Next Door:

"I'll go with my gut and throw in my support for Bruce Willis as the man with the least expendable career -- and I suspect most of that lies simply with my affection for 'Die Hard,' which, thanks in part to Willis's by-now-iconic performance, brought to the '80s action-blockbuster landscape something resembling a genuine human being as hero after the increasingly cartoonish antics of musclemen protagonists played by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in previous action films. He's the one that I usually enjoy watching the most out of the three, both as an actor -- an often subtle one, but a fine one nevertheless -- and as a sheer presence."

Eric HavensDownright Creepy:

"The obvious answer is Willis as his resume is a bit more impressive. That said, I keep coming back to what Schwarzenegger has done for the world of puns. Yeah, I'm still going with Willis."

Jordan HoffmanScreenCrush:

"Willis is not even a contender. He's a fine enough actor (anyone remember 'Nobody's Fool?') but he's not a cinematic icon on the level of Charlie Chaplin. Sly and Arnold, strange as it may seem, are. I certainly prefer Arnold's films. He's brought me much joy over the years. I hardly recall a time when I wasn't mocking his ridiculous accent. However, Sly's two main roles, 'Rocky' and 'Rambo,' actually mean something. Rocky was, and perhaps still is, the patron saint of put-upon 'ethnic whites,' a strangely underrepresented pocket of the over-represented, if that makes any sense. Rambo, for better or worse, grew to become the perfect snapshot of American foreign policy under Reagan. So, while Arnold rank higher for me for entertainment, I'll pick Sly as 'least expendable' cultural touchstone."

Drew HuntChicago Reader/The Talking Pictures:

"I think Schwarzenegger continues to reveal the true face of the American dream. His rise to prominence was Reaganesque -- he came from Europe, became a huge movie star, then became head of the eighth largest economy in the world, and is now a movie star again. His career trajectory can teach us a lot about the ways capitalistic ambition and an imposing physical presence can overcome seemingly average intelligence and a striking lack of charisma. Also, 'Kindergarten Cop.'"

John Keefer51Deep.com:

"Willis takes the title of least expendable in my opinion. He's worked with a lot of greats, 'Die Hard,' the blues album... um... but yes, I would say, of the three, Willis has films I cherish, films I can cheer at, and goofy blunders that have a certain charm where as the other two mostly have just cheers and blunders. Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting:

"Two names: John McClane. Butch Coolidge. There are certainly Stallone and Schwarzenegger performances/films I really appreciate and would hate to have missed out on, but Willis is the only one of the three capable of any kind of capital-A acting in addition to nailing the big Hollywood star stuff (sorry, 'Cop Land' did nothing for me). I've always enjoyed watching Willis in character roles that Stallone or Schwarzenegger simply could never pull off, such as 'Moonrise Kingdom' and 'Fast Food Nation.' He's one of the screen's all-time great 'less is more' actors."

Chris Klimek, Washington Post:

"Bruce Willis is going to run away with this one, and he should. He's way-better-then-merely-viable in films wherein nothing blows up. Remember, his casting in 'Die Hard' 24 years ago was controversial at the time: He was the wiseguy from 'Moonlighting,' not an action lead. I actually think both Stallone and Schwarzenegger are somewhat underrated as actors, but they've only themselves to blame for painting themselves into the corners that they have vis-a-vis the narrow range of roles now available to them. Stallone's surprising turn as a pudgy, shlubby underdog in 'Cop Land' fifteen or sixteen years ago was rightly celebrated, and I enjoyed him in the age-acknowledging 'Rocky Balboa,' but Sly failed to use either of these opportunities to try to segue into more complex and/or age-appropriate roles. Willis, I'm certain, will continue to interest important directors like Wes Anderson and Rian Johnson for as long as he chooses to keep making films."

Adam KuntavanishNext Projection:

"Sly and Arnold are axioms of action cinema, it's true, but Bruce Willis' filmography is simply head-and-shoulders above theirs. The 'Die Hard's are the equals of the 'Terminator's and 'Rambo's in the shoot-em-up genre, plus he's excelled in comedies ('Moonlighting,' 'Bandits,' 'Moonrise Kingdom') and subtler and more sensitive dramas ('Nobody's Fool,' 'Pulp Fiction,' 'The Sixth Sense,' 'Unbreakable'). Only Sly even approaches the latter in the likes of 'Rocky' and 'Cop Land,' but Bruce far eclipses either of his rivals outside the action realm. Finally, who is the only one of the three to have sung a hit song?"

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/The Cinephiliacs:

"My gut reaction was to go with Bruce Willis, who certainly acted in the best movies out of all three ('Pulp Fiction,' 'Die Hard'), but I cannot imagine my childhood with our Ahnuld. I grew up loving 'Terminator,' 'Total Recall,' and yes, even 'Jingle All the Way.'"

Joanna LangfieldThe Movie Minute:

"This is a tough one. While Arnold made his own film career expendable by taking on a political role, Stallone and Willis have stayed, each bringing some pretty essential stuff to the party. Of course, Sly will always be remembered for 'Rambo' and even more so, his labor of love, the 'Rocky's, which at least initially, turned the industry on its heel. But anyone who questions his expendability as an actor should take a look at the amazing performance he delivered in 'Cop Land.' And then there's Bruce. There are those of us who 'discovered' him on 'Moonlighting,' which made that TV show pretty dependable fun. His 'Die Hard' John McClane is non-expendable magic, so too, is his terrific and more subtle work in 'The Sixth Sense' and 'Sin City.' But I'll never forget what he pulled off in 'Pulp Fiction,' wide-eyed, pissed off, and dabbling in mayhem, all Butch wants to do is get back to his 'baby' and ride her off into the sunset. A movie hero like that isn't expendable at all."

Josh LarsenLarsenOnFilm.com/Filmspotting:

"Has to be Willis. Not only is 'Die Hard' a defining action movie, but many of his non-action films far outclass anything done by Stallone or Schwarzenegger."

Adam Lowes, Hey U Guys:

"Easy: Bruce Willis. The 'Die Hard' star has proved time and time again that it’s entirely possible to juggle those macho, heroic exploits with roles of a serious, thoughtful nature. It’s inconceivable to imagine someone like Schwarzenegger pulling off the part of an emotionally deadened New England police captain forging a bond with a teenage runaway, or a repressed child psychologist working to rehabilitate a haunted eight year-old. When Stallone attempts a more overtly dramatic change of pace (like 1997’s 'Cop Land') that becomes a large focus of the film itself, but for Willis (whose beginnings in the industry sat outside of the action genre anyway) those two sides of his career have always proved a less problematic undertaking, 'Color of Night' and 'Perfect Stranger' notwithstanding."

Joey MagidsonThe Awards Circuit:

"In certain ways, all of the men involved are both completely expendable and rather essential to the cinematic world. In terms of the least expendable, I have to go with Sylvester Stallone since without him, we wouldn't have 'Rocky,' and that's just a damn good movie."

James McCormickCriterion Cast:

"Even though I'm a huge Schwarzenegger fan, and even after seeing 'Total Recall' on the big screen at NYC's Film Forum (go see it this week), and also a huge Willis fan, considering he tries to do an eclectic group of films through the grime (I'm looking at 'Death Becomes Her,' 'Moonrise Kingdom' and 'Breakfast of Champions' as examples), I look at Stallone's career as the one that's the least expendable. Considering he, just like Rocky Balboa himself, went through the beginning of his life struggling, slowly gaining some steam with small roles in 'Lords of Flatbush,' 'Death Race 2000,' and 'Capone,' he then hit through the public's consciousness with 'Rocky,' a film that still moves me to tears. Most will say his career never hit the same highs as those days, but I will always hold 'Tango and Cash,' the 'Rambo' films, 'Cop Land,' 'Demolition Man,' 'Cliffhanger,' among many others in the highest regard. Fine, his comedies were never as good as Schwarzenegger or Willis', but I find 'Judge Dredd' to be one of the funniest comedies ever put to film. And nobody else cuts cold pizza with a pair of scissors quite like Stallone."

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

"Let's get the easy part out of the way first. Stallone has made twice as many bad movies as good ones, so he's automatically out of the running. That leaves Willis and Schwarzenegger. Of the two, Willis is clearly the better and more versatile actor, and he's got some bona fide classics on his resume: 'Die Hard,' 'Pulp Fiction,' 'The Sixth Sense.' Unfortunately, he's also got some serious turkeys, like 'The Whole Ten Yards' and 'The Kid.' My real problem with Willis isn't the turkeys -- every actor with a career of any notable length has at least one or two -- but with the questionable quality of his recent output. 'Moonrise Kingdom' aside, his work has seemed lazy and detached as of late, with 'Cop Out' and 'Surrogates' being prime examples. Willis has also been in a few too many cheap-o direct-to-DVD flicks in the last few years. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, really only does two genres: action and comedy. He seems to know what his strengths are, and is content to play to them. Yes, he's made some bad decisions (e.g. starring in a movie with Sinbad), but on the whole, his output has been fairly consistent. By my estimation, when I walk into a Bruce Willis movie, there's a 50% chance it'll be worth my time. When I walk into an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, the odds go up to maybe 70%. For this reason, I'll say that Schwarzenegger's career is least expendable."

Scott MeslowThe Atlantic:

"Willis in 'Die Hard,' Arnold in 'Total Recall,' Sly in 'Tango and Cash'... this is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. But if I'm being completely objective, I have to give the edge to Bruce Willis. Though Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis possess nothing that even remotely resembles dramatic range, Willis has shown more courage than his 'Expendables' co-stars in his many attempts to branch away from the action genre. That's sometimes led him to garbage, like 'The Bonfire of the Vanities' or 'Perfect Stranger,' but it's also resulted in great, unexpected performances in movies like 'The Sixth Sense' and 'Moonrise Kingdom.' The Stallone/Schwarzenegger equivalent -- 'comedies' like 'Twins' or 'Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot' - is considerably less impressive, and if we're looking ahead to the future, neither Stallone nor Schwarzenegger has anything as promising on the horizon as 'Looper,' or as gleefully ridiculous-looking as 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation.'"

Jana J. MonjiThe Demanders/Pasadena Art Beat/Examiner.com:

"Of the three you mention, I'd pick Arnold Schwarzenegger as the least expendable (for an action hero who can really perform the action, Jet Li would be the greatest and best of 'The Expendables'). Let's start with the process of elimination. While I was charmed by Bruce Willis in his break-out role in the TV series, 'Moonlighting,' and he was convincing in 'Pulp Fiction' and sensitive as the psychiatrist in 'The Sixth Sense,' I can think of other actors who could have taken those roles and done just as well, and there's nothing particularly outstanding about his John McClane in the 'Die Hard' series. Sylvester Stallone may have created Rocky Balboa and originated the role of Rambo and both are action heroes with Rambo being like a patriotic cartoon, but outside of those two roles, he hasn't been very successful. It's hard to top a man who first gained fame as Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia and from there went on to star as a comic book hero, 'Conan,' and then was the original Terminator. He's better than any of the three mentioned at playing the comedic action hero in the 1993 spoof 'Last Action Hero' or the 1994 'True Lies' than Stallone whose comedic touch is as light as a lead balloon. Willis has the timing and wise guy smirk for comedy as we saw in 'Moonlighting' but he doesn't come off so easily as a comic book action hero as Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger looks like a comic book hero (or villain) without anything but his incredible over-the-top physique. His action career came to a halt when he attempted to become a real-life action hero as California's top elected official, The Governator. Apparently the god of comic books, Stan Lee, is interested in packaging the Governator as a comic book and animated series. His marital scandal brought that project to a standstill but who knows what will happen in the next few years. As far as I know, Lee hasn't express interest in creating an action figure for Willis or Stallone."

Tony NunesDreaming Genius/Fangoria:

"If you stack up the 'classic' roles each of these guys have played they're all impressive, but one tops the rest: you can't beat Arnold. 'Commando,' 'Terminator,' 'Predator,' 'Total Recall,' 'Conan' and 'True Lies' are some of my all time favorite movies. Who has more one-liners than Arnold? He's probably one of the top 3 quoted actors of all time. I was obsessed with everything Arnold when I was a kid. Eight year old me even wrote a book called 'The Day Arnold Schwarzenegger Came To My House,' my first and only piece of fan fiction. Plus, Arnold even has the credibility of having worked with Altman. Look it up."

Scott NyeRail of Tomorrow:

"While it's tempting to go Stallone for 'Rocky' alone, it's hard to beat Willis overall. Not only would we lose a 'Die Hard,' but we'd be without his considerable contributions to 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Unbreakable,' '12 Monkeys,' 'Moonrise Kingdom,' and, yeah, I'll say it, 'Armageddon.' Plus, to be denied the entire insanity of 'Hudson Hawk' is a world I cannot -- will not! -- live in."

Rudie ObiasShockYa.com:

"As much as I love Bruce Willis in the 'Die Hard' movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Total Recall' and the 'Terminator' films, I have to give the edge to Sylvester Stallone. He’s the only one out of the three that is also a writer and a director. If and when Stallone’s acting career ends, he will always have a job behind the camera."

Kristy PuchkoCinema Blend:

"Bruce Willis. Hands down. From the start he was so much more than an action hero, he was also truly funny. Plus, he's the one whose taken the most risks artistically and so has developed most as an actor. Consider the genres he's tackled, and the distinct directors he's worked with. Not only has he done a slew of thrilling action flicks, he also took on Robert Zemeckis' weird and wonderful horror-comedy 'Death Becomes Her,' Quentin Tarantino's brutal ballet 'Pulp Fiction,' Terry Gilliam's mind-bending sci-fi thriller '12 Monkeys,' and of course most recently he tried his hand at Wes Anderson's eccentric comedy stylings with 'Moonrise Kingdom.' Willis refuses to be defined as only an action star and this coupled with his smirking charm makes him an endlessly enticing performer. It's always a treat to see where he'll go and what he'll do next."

Jordan Raup, The Film Stage:

"Easily Bruce Willis. He may make bucket loads of junk, but with some of the best action films ('Die Hard'), indie efforts ('Moonrise Kingdom'), and flat-out classics ('Pulp Fiction'), not to mention a pair of M. Night Shyamalan's finest films, he edges out the others. Plus, 'Looper' looks extraordinary."

Vadim Rizov, GreenCine Daily:

"This is a tough question, because it depends on how you measure a legacy. American audiences who grew up with Arnold think of him as an outmoded relic of a previous blockbuster era, but around the world his influence remains massive and nothing to joke about. Stallone also retains global pull, but he's basically a muscled monster who isn't nearly as charming as he thinks he is. (Also, unlike the ideologically flexible Arnold, Stallone's politics remain rooted in a peculiarly Reagan-era, kill-'em-all-and-fly-the-flag mentality.) So the honors have to go to Bruce Willis: the best actor of the three by a yard, and someone who's made a number of adventurous choices over the years. 'Die Hard''s deservedly iconographic, but he also went to bat for Terry Gilliam on '12 Monkeys,' cheerfully sent himself up in 'Ocean's Twelve,' contributed an unexpected and hilarious cameo with Adam Goldberg to 'Nancy Drew,' and turned out to fit in perfectly into the Wes Anderson universe in 'Moonrise Kingdom.'" 

Mike RyanHuffPost Entertainment:

"Bruce Willis. For this alone:

Well, maybe this, too:

Craig SkinnerBleeding Cool/Hey U Guys:

"At this point I think Bruce Willis is by far the least expendable. Easily the most talented actor of the three Willis has the greatest range, 'Moonlighting' alone makes me confident of this, and this will undoubtedly continue to serve him well as an older actor. Willis has also always picked the most interesting projects by comparison to the other two actors. His choices haven't always paid off, for every '12 Monkeys' there is 'The Whole Nine' and 'Ten Yards,' but his ability to play a range of roles has afforded him the opportunity to break out occasionally from the seemingly endless sequels that almost certainly keep his bank balance topped off. There may be multiple sequels in Willis' future but there's also 'Looper,' a film that certainly appears to have a lot more potential than any of the projects that Stallone or Schwarzenegger are getting involved in."

Josh SpiegelMousterpiece Cinema/Sound on Sight:

"The answer’s simple: Bruce Willis. Though that may not, in itself, be sacrilege, my reason may be close to it. While I do think Bruce Willis has had a spotty, but sometimes truly stellar career, I’ve never been a fan of Sylvester Stallone’s mook-with-a-heart-of-gold style (yes, this means I can’t stand the 'Rocky' movies); and though I love 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' and like 'The Terminator' as well as 'Kindergarten Cop,' I’m just not a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a performer. With Willis, it’s not only that he was in the be-all and end-all of action movies, 'Die Hard.' What I like is that Willis challenges himself as an actor, whether it’s by working with directors as diverse as Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson or in breaking out of the action genre with roles in films like 'The Sixth Sense' and 'Unbreakable.' His upcoming role in Rian Johnson’s 'Looper' also looks like it could hearken back to another of Willis’ best performances, in '12 Monkeys.' So yeah, Rocky and The Terminator are expendable. But not John McClane. Never John McClane."

Max Weiss, Baltimore Magazine:

"My first thought was: Bruce Willis in a no-brainer. He’s the best actor of the bunch and has made the most good films. But then I thought, whoa. A world without 'Rocky?' 'Rocky' is the single best film on any of their resumes. (I also loved the underrated 'Cop Land'). And Schwarzenegger is no slouch, either -- I’m a huge fan of the 'Terminator' series, especially 'T2.' But I gotta stick with Bruce. I think 'Sixth Sense' is a classic (it’s been sadly cheapened by our knowledge of what a hack Shyamalan is, but it’s great) and when you factor in 'Die Hard' (Bruce’s own seminal action series) plus 'Pulp Fiction,' '12 Monkeys,' 'Moonrise Kingdom'... yeah, gonna trust that first instinct."

Scott Weinberg, Twitch/Movies.com:

"Willis is the least expendable. True, Stallone is an Oscar winner, but that was a long time ago. Willis is the only one of the three who is still able to maintain an amusing 'everyman' presence -- not to mention a successful sense of humor -- in most of his films. I like all three action men, but Willis is far and away the most interesting of the trio."

Mark YoungSound on Sight/New York Movie Klub:

"Stallone is the least expendable, and it's not close. Neither Schwarzenegger nor Willis has approached the heights of 'Rocky' or 'First Blood,' and I'll also take 'Cliffhanger' against most of the action films that the other two men have made. And it's not only the acting; Stallone writes many of his films as well, something that Willis and Schwarzenegger don't do. Yes, Stallone also gave us 'Over the Top,' 'Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot,' and half of 'Tango and Cash,' but all three men have had some stinkers. When Sly is good, he's the best by far."

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

"Bruce Willis is the least expendable. Unlike Schwarzenegger and Stallone, Willis still chooses interesting roles to play (e.g. 'Moonrise Kingdom') and does them well. Come to think of it, I'd like to see what a director like Wes Anderson would do with a cast of aging action stars."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on August 13, 2012:

The Most Popular Response"Moonrise Kingdom"
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes"The Imposter," "Beasts of the Southern Wild,"The Dark Knight Rises," "Hope Springs," "Killer Joe," "Klown."

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7 Comments

  • jessie | August 14, 2012 7:06 AMReply

    this will be awesome movie....

    watch movies online

  • AS | August 13, 2012 12:25 PMReply

    Why are 95% of the critics listed here men? Are there no female critics?

  • Matt Singer | August 13, 2012 5:52 PM

    I have male and female critics on my email list -- every week, I get different responses from different critics based on the question and who chooses to participate. This week, these were the answers I got. If any working film critic wants to participate -- male or female -- they are always welcome. They can email me at any time matt at indiewire dot com.

  • Tyler Foster | August 13, 2012 4:33 PM

    This is a good question. MaryAnn Johanson, Staci Layne Wilson, Sara Vizcarrondo, Amy Nicholson, Christy Lemire, Jen Yamato, Anne Thompson, etc. Not that I think this is anything more than an accidental oversight.

  • Jordan Hoffman | August 13, 2012 11:24 AMReply

    Everyone who said Willia didn't understand the question. Of course he's the best actor. Frankly, he's the only actor. But talent does not necessarily an icon make!

  • Tony Nunes | August 13, 2012 12:54 PM

    I agree 100 percent. Stallone is a bigger cultural icon, especially to the city of Philadelphia where he has a statue to his honor. Arnold though is more culturally mocked and iconically noticeable worldwide. Willis is a great actor, 'Die Hard' is an amazing movie, but "Yippee Kay-ay Motherfucker" comes third in quotability when compared with "Yo Adrianne" and "I'll be back." All the proof you need of Arnold's notoriety is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDxn0Xfqkgw

  • Christopher Campbell | August 13, 2012 10:15 AMReply

    I think it's important to think about careers rather than specific films, most of which could have been made without the actors who ended up starring in them. That's why I think Willis is the MOST expendable. But even though Stallone wrote many of his best, most iconic works, I find Schwarzenegger to be more of an auteur in terms of his stardom. Arnie's movies are nothing except for being Arnie movies to an extent.

    That said, I think the reasoning I went with in picking Schwarzenegger is sort of problematic. It's like saying Hitler is the least expendable historical figure because he's the most significant and contributed the most to how the world was shaped during and after his life.

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