The late Bill Paxton’s career was incredibly varied—he earned widespread critical acclaim for HBO polygamy drama Big Love, and rocked one of the best mustaches in the West in Tombstone. But our favorite Paxton performances came in genre movies—and he was a high point in some of the greatest of all time.
1) John Garrett, Agents of SHIELD
The most fun thing about Paxton’s role as John Garrett in season one of Agents of SHIELD was the glee Paxton took in chewing the scenery once the character’s true allegiances to Hydea were revealed. Garrett’s turn was vital to making the midseason twist work on television. Paxton had to play a long history with Coulson, making Garrett just likable enough that we believed he was a good agent, and enough of a jackass that we believed the heel-turn later. Plus, as mentioned before, he was just really, really fun to watch once his evil side was revealed.
2) Hudson, Aliens
If you measure screen time versus iconically quotable dialogue, there may not be a stronger character in film history than Hudson from Aliens. Paxton’s goofy coward has such an instantly recognizable delivery and comic timing that literally everything he says is pure gold. Most people love “Game over, man! Game over!” but I’m partial to “Oh yeah, sure! With those things runnin’ around? You can count me out.” Click his IMDb quotes page and laugh forever.
3) Fred Haise, Apollo 13
This movie doesn’t work without the actors playing the astronauts having chemistry with each other, and the ability to convincingly fake things that the real people they were playing had trained years to be able to do. As Fred Haise, Paxton did all that and more, which is why the whole cast won a SAG award as an ensemble.
4) Coconut Pete, Club Dread
Paxton sings! Broken Lizard’s tropical-island horror-comedy would not have been half as funny without Paxton’s over-the-top turn as Coconut Pete, owner of the titular resort, paella fan, and crooner of such questionable booze-soaked jams as “Piña Coladaburg” (not to be confused with “Margaritaville”).
5) Master Sergeant Farell, Edge of Tomorrow
Apparently, the role of Master Sergeant Farell was written for Paxton, and it does show. He savors every line, enjoying every chance to be big, loud, and in charge. It’s a role that is comedic but not in the regular way, where the comic relief is the weaker character. Paxton is the stronger one in every scene he’s in, but still funny and still eminently believable. Just like in Agents of SHIELD, Paxton’s joy in playing his part made the whole viewing experience even better for the audience.
6) Meiks, Frailty
Paxton made his feature directorial debut with this Matthew McConaughey-starring serial killer thriller. He also has a small but crucial part as the father of McConaughey’s character, whose crimes are guided by spiritual and supernatural forces.
7) Professor Gregg O’Hara, Mighty Joe Young
This movie is mostly a showcase for an up-and-coming star named Charlize Theron and one giant-ass gorilla, but Paxton has a nice supporting turn as a shaggy-haired wildlife refugee director.
8) Severen, Near Dark
Paxton plays the most dangerously unhinged bloodsucker in Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire biker Western. You can’t take your eyes off the character any time he’s onscreen because you don’t want to miss whatever horrific and/or goofy thing he’s going to do next.
9) Jerry Lambert, Predator 2
Another largely comic-relief role for Paxton, as an LAPD officer who transfers into Danny Glover’s department right when the beleaguered squad is dealing with its most horrific foe yet. At first, Lambert seems like an oily sleaze, but he turns out to be more than capable—right up until the Predator takes him down.