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Let’s start with a Kurt Russell movie where we don’t even see Kurt Russell. This Disney animated film about a puppy and a fox cub who share a friendship as youngsters but as adults face much harsher truths is both a cutesy adorable tale as well as a smack-in-the-face reality story that earned the film high praise for offering up a legit lesson for kids while engaging adults with some great animation.
Russell plays the adult voice of Copper, a hound dog whose owner is a hunter and wants his dogs to have nothing to do with the neighbor’s pet fox Tod (voiced by Mickey Rooney). Their vow to be best friends forever though is challenged when circumstances pit them against each other in a movie that avoids a typical romance plot and instead focuses on the value of being good to each other. A warm and character-driven Disney winner.
Not all of the movies on this short list are classics of course, and this one is arguably the weakest of the bunch, but there’s something about it that works well if you’re in for this kind of story. While it plays with some tropes and is fairly predictable, it is also a little gem of a movie with some terrific performances and plenty of inspiration.
It follows Jack Dundee (Robin Williams), a banker in the small town of Taft who is shadowed by the memory of a dropped football in a high school game thirteen years earlier, one he should have caught and believes is the reason his life is not what it should be. Russell is Reno, the quarterback of that game, and now in-debt to the bank, and Jack convinces Reno to replay the game, involving not just them, but the entirety of the old team and the ones they played against, re-invigorating the town and their marriages. Harmless and full of charm, both Russell and Williams are endlessly watchable.
A highly-acclaimed film about the suspicious death of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) who worked at a nuclear fuel production facility in Oklahoma, the story follows the union activist’s investigation of some wrongdoing at the plant, causing some serious backlash from higher-ups. The film earned high marks for its accurate depictions of the real events and critical praise for the deeply-personal and authentic performances of the leads.
Those leads further include Cher as Karen’s lesbian friend and Russell as Silkwood’s boyfriend. All three gives emotionally-impactful turns with both women earning nominations for Oscars. Russell often gets forgotten as a part of this small ensemble, but he too earned praise (and Golden Globe nom) and is very good in a role that helps tremendously in giving the film its lasting appeal.
An underrated action/thriller that sparked for a short time but has since faded under the growth of bigger movies of the time, this smoldering love-triangle movie showcased three of the hottest stars of the era steaming it up in a quintessential bit of 80s pop. While critics were mixed, audiences loved it, not caring so much about the often convoluted story but more interested in the star power and terrific chemistry.
Russell plays Lt. Nick Frescia in a southern California town trying to take down a Mexican drug lord (Raul Julia). His best friend is Mac (Mel Gibson), a former drug pusher working to clean himself up. Between them is Jo Ann (Michelle Pfeiffer), an alluring restaurant owner who draws in both men, testing loyalties for all involved and leading to some serious trouble when she is placed in danger when the worlds of both men collide. Russell is really good here.
This little-known thriller is a fantastic showcase for Russell, a film about a strange relationship between a journalist and a serial killer looking for attention. While it got lost in the shuffle and under-performed at the box office, it met with mostly positive acclaim for its authenticity and performances.
The story follows Miami newspaper reporter Malcolm Anderson (Russell), who is in love with his girlfriend Christine (Mariel Hemingway) and vows to her that he’s taking her out of the city and away from the depressing crimes he’s covered. But that changes when he gets involved with a killer (Richard Jordan) who calls Malcom with exclusives about his murder spree. This leads to fame for Anderson, and the killer takes it personally, kidnapping Christine. A great game of cat and mouse and an cleve expose on the blurred lines of reporter’s role in a story, Russell is great fun to watch.
While Escape from New York and The Thing have come to define Russell’s career in this decade, and deserve all the acclaim they get, it is this movie that is easily his third best of the 80s (though some might argue number one). From John Carpenter, who directed Russell in Escape from New York, this action/fantasy has become a cult classic and considered well ahead of its time.
Russell plays truck driver Jack Burton who stumbles upon, well, big trouble when his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) needs to rescue his green-eyed fiancée (Kim Catrall) from ruthless bandits in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Full of incredible practical visual effects and great humor, this is one of the most innovate and creative movies of the era and still great fun to watch. Learn more about why right here.
What are some of your favorite Kurt Russell movies from any decade?