The List: Top 5 Kurt Russell Performances

With the release of Kurt Russell's first feature length film in 5 years, Touchback, I felt it appropriate to revisit my opinion of the top 5 best performances from the greatest actor of all time (well, I exaggerate a bit, but I love this guy).

5. Captain Ron - Captain Ron, 1992

"Alright, now stay with me: When we left, we had just enough fuel to make it to San Juan. And now... we are out of fuel!"

1992's Captain Ron finds Kurt Russell at his goofiest, and that is a good thing. Martin Short and his family hire a local sailor, Captain Ron to assist with piloting a boat that they just inherited. Captain Ron is a very free and laid back character which initially does not mesh well with Martin Short's Martin Harvey character. Over time, Martin's family becomes won over by Captain Ron, even when faced with danger by guerillas or landing in Cuba.

Captain Ron is by no means an Oscar caliber film, and never tries to be. What it is, is a small and fun film with very quotable lines and a go-for-broke performance from Kurt Russell. Captain Ron seems like a dullard, but in the end, helps the Harvey family grow closer and enjoy the time they have spent together while also providing a very entertaining and likable character.

Stuntman Mike McKay - Death Proof, 2007

"I'm not a cowboy, Pam... I'm a stuntman."

Even though hyped as the main character, Stuntman Mike McKay plays a supporting character in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Stuntman Mike is, as his nickname says, a stuntman. When not performing stunts in films, he moonlights as a serial killer; using his car as the murder weapon.

As this is a Quentin Tarantino film, this is not an ordinary slasher film. Tarantino basically breaks the film in half: first focusing on a group of women in Texas, then jumping to a group of women in Tennessee. The female characters, as typical in a Quentin Tarantino film are strong, tough and front and center. It is only after long periods of dialogue between these groups of women does Stuntman Mike really emerge. When he does, though, you get a serial killer unlike no other.

What truly makes Stuntman Mike stand out from other serial killers is his transformation. Without going into specifics, the difference from the Stuntman Mike we get in the first half of the movie compared to the second is night and day. Though the transformation is earned due to watching Kurt Russell using his talents with Quentin Tarantino's brilliant characterization of Stuntman Mike. What starts out as a solid serial killer character turns into much more as the film progresses and Kurt Russell makes it work.

R.J. MacReady - The Thing, 1982

"Hey, Sweden!"

This might draw some ire as to why this performance is only number 3. Kurt Russell's R.J. MacReady is the least charismatic performance on the list. MacReady is a helicopter pilot of Outpost 31 for a scientific research facility in Antarctica. After a situation with a group of Swedish scientists, a parasitic alien that can perfectly imitate its host is loose upon Outpost 31. MacReady becomes the reluctant hero as him and his team try to find out who is "the thing" and survive the winter.

When we first meet MacReady, he is drinking and playing chess on a computer. He does not want to be the leader, as he says, "I just want to get up to my shack and get drunk." MacReady has no answers once "the thing" is let loose on Outpost 31. He has his doubts over who is "the thing" as do the other members of Outpost 31. MacReady is weary and tired, but still heroic. There are no heroic speeches or moments done by MacReady, just the truth. He does not know who is who.

This performance is very subtle when compared to other performances by Kurt Russell. He provides the right type of mood for the story created by John Carpenter, in their third collaboration. There is no fun to be had at Outpost 31, and MacReady knows that. He understands the situation they are in and knows that the odds are not stacked in their favor. All they can do is try to trust each other and hope to make it out alive. As reluctant heroes go, R.J. MacReady is one of the best.

Snake Plissken - Escape From New York, 1981

"Get a new president!"

Snake Plissken is one of the greatest anti-heroes in all of cinema. Teaming up with Kurt Russell for the second time, John Carpenter takes us into the then-future (1997) Manhattan Island is a fully-fortified prison. The current president's plane crashes into the island, where he is kidnapped and held hostage by the inmates of the island. With no choice, the U.S. government offers a deal to Snake Plissken to enter the island, find the president along with a top secret cassette tape and escape the island alive. This film, along with its sequel Escape From L.A. showcase what an iconic performance that Snake Plissken truly is.

Snake Plissken reluctantly takes the deal, after the police commissioner has injected Snake with microscopic explosives that will kill him in 24 hours. Once on the island, Snake meets various people along the way. Dark action and even some dark humor find their way into the film, mostly from Snake's anti-authorial behavior.

Kurt Russell and his performance are iconic from this film. Snake doesn't want to be put in the position he is. He hates it, but he does what he has to do in order to live. Snake is the face of resistance towards the government that John Carpenter was trying to convey. Kurt Russell made this role his and in the process created one of the most iconic roles in film history.

Jack Burton - Big Trouble in Little China, 1986

"Everybody relax, I'm here."

In my opinion, Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China, is the best performance from Kurt Russell. The story is too complicated to dive into completely, but Jack Burton gets involved in Chinese gangs, Asian black magic, gods, martial arts, monsters, mysticism and one-liners.

Jack Burton finds himself in San Francisco's Chinatown with his friend Wang. Wang's girlfriend is kidnapped by an Asian gang and sets off a chain of events that pulls Jack and Wang further into the dark, seedy Chinatown underworld. Teaming up with an assorted cast of characters, Jack and Wang use their physical skills along with their wits to try and escape alive with Wang's girlfriend.

Kurt Russell's performance of Jack Burton is amazing. Jack is a blowhard truck driver who in actuality is a sidekick in a hero's role. He bumbles his way through the story making mistakes left and right with Wang there to cover for him. Even with Wang saving the day throughout the film, Jack still finds a way to make a one-liner or feel like he contributed more than he did. Kurt Russell infuses the role of Jack Burton with the right amount of humor and gusto. His character doesn't understand the situation he is in, but is willing to do what it takes to get out of it.

The way Kurt Russell makes this character so fun to be with is why Jack Burton is ranked number 1 on my list. He is the best sidekick hero in all of film history and is a load of fun to watch.

Now, there are other roles that stand out to me including Eldon Perry from Dark Blue, Stephen "Bull" McCaffrey and Wyatt Earp from Tombstone. I really enjoy those roles along with the ones listed, but unfortunately with a list that only allows for 5 performances, some roles didn't make the cut. This is a list to just show my appreciation of Kurt Russell and showing off some of his best performances.

If there are some that you feel should be included, obviously feel free to post them.


  1. Oh, man... The Thing is third behind "New York"? I love Snake Plissken and everything but... wow. I won't argue "Big Trouble" because I know how much you love that but I'm surprised on that pick.

  2. I know, I said it would draw some ire. This is only based on the performance of the role and not the film. I think Kurt Russell provided the right blend of a man who can't handle the situation and seems to know the end is near in The Thing. Snake Plissken on the other hand is iconic and really, only Kurt Russell can occupy that role. Both of them were close and it took a bit to pick the order.