Join me for a tour de force of the late Bill Paxton’s movie roles. In ascending order, let’s examine the great Mr Paxton’s best big screen appearances.
5. PREDATOR 2 (1990)
PREDATOR 2, of course, came after ALIENS. It gets some bad press, but it also has many fans. I’m one of them. And, of course, Paxton’s Detective Jerry Lambert steals the show…
Bill Paxton has the honour of being killed by an alien, a predator and a terminator. In many ways, Lambert (check the ALIEN reference) is comic relief, and superficially could be compared to Hudson from ALIENS. But Lambert’s final sacrifice demonstrates that he’s a more heroic character than Hudson, and every time I watch PREDATOR 2 I feel a little pang of remorse that his head ended up in a trophy cabinet…
4. EDGE OF TOMORROW (aka LIVE. DIE. REPEAT) (2014)
Paxton’s talent for playing memorable roles is perhaps never more apparent than in EDGE OF TOMORROW. Master Sergeant Farrell is a highlight of this 2014 military SF blockbuster; almost a “what if” as to Hudson surviving ALIENS. Farrell’s a different character, sure, but he’s just as large and just as engaging.
3. WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
This is a classic of 1980s cinematography; a forgotten gem. It’s ridiculous, funny and larger than life. Paxton plays Chet: the big brother of Wyatt Donnelley, creator of Lisa (played by Kelly Le Brok). His role in the film isn’t huge, but it is very significant, and aside from Kelly Le Brok’s, the most memorable of the movie. He plays the perfect jerk: and is eventually rewarded for his behaviour by being turned into a giant turd…
2. APOLLO 13 (1995)
A big screen space adventure of a different sort, Paxton plays Fred Haise: lunar module pilot. It’s a big role, and one that is more serious than many of Paxton’s other performances, but he carries the part perfectly. A hugely historic movie, and another stellar performance by Paxton.
1. ALIEN (1986)
Bill Paxton had a pretty big part in my formation as a military SF fan. His portrayal of the cocksure Private Hudson is not only his best performance, but probably one of the best performances in this genre full-stop. Hudson represents everything that is wrong with many advanced military forces: so perfectly wrapped in technology that they feel invincible. That is, until they come up against an enemy that knows the terrain better, or is more dedicated… Many have seen a parallel between the Colonial Marines in ALIENS and the US armed forces in Vietnam; Hudson being the pinnacle of this comparative. He’s a damned good soldier, but he’s dependant on his pulse rifle and his technology to get the job done. Take those away, and his veneer of professionalism and discipline quickly begins to crack. I don’t think that anyone else could’ve played this role as well as Paxton. His relationship with the ultra-cool Hicks (played by another of my favourite actors, Michael Biehn) is just perfect: Biehn’s Hicks – so calm under pressure that it’s almost agonising – is the ideal counterbalance to Paxton’s Hudson.
And of course, Paxton has the best line in the film. It represents everything you need to know about the movie, about the era in which it was written, and about his situation.
“Game over, man. Game over.”
Peace out, Bill Paxton. You’ll be greatly missed.