Bill Pullman has been a working actor since the ’80s, always improving the movies he’s been in, be it as a supporting player or as the lead. From president to detective or romantic lead, here are Bill Pullman’s best performances, ranked
Dr. James Harvey (Pullman) is recently widowed when he moves with his daughter Kat (Christina Ricci in one of her best performances) to a Victorian mansion in Friendship, Maine. The house is haunted by none other than Casper the friendly ghost, and his not-so-friendly uncles. Casper, the kid’s cartoon’s adaptation, showed that Pullman still knew how to be funny and ridiculous if the plot required it from him, as he did at the start of his career. He also gave a human, emotional performance to support Ricci’s character and her story. His sword-fighting sequence against the Uncle Ghosts should be shown in every slapstick comedy acting class.
A League of Their Own is one of the best movies to watch during Women’s History Month. The film tells the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that started during World War II, as many men were drafted to fight. The film follows two sisters, Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty), playing for the Rockford Peaches. Pullman had a stretch where most of his roles were at the losing end of a romantic triangle (mostly against Tom Hanks), and this story creates what looks like a similar role for him. Here, the outcome is different, as he plays Dottie’s husband, who comes back from the war with a foot injury. Pullman plays a doting, supportive husband, still in love with his wife. His role might not be that big, but his appearance makes Dottie rethink her priorities, changing her future as the Peaches’ pitcher.
Sleepless in Seattle is one of the romantic comedies that made Meg Ryan the queen of the genre. Here, she stars as Annie Reed, who, after listening to Sam Baldwin’s (Tom Hanks) son’s call on the radio and talk about the grief his father is experiencing after losing his wife, reconsiders her love life. This is another Pullman role where he’s the other guy against Tom Hanks, as he plays Walter Jackson, Annie’s fiancée. His character is sweet but dull, so he’s no real competition to Hanks’ Sam. The scene where Annie breaks up with his character shows Pullman’s sweetness, as he’s not even that angry or resentful that she’s breaking things off.
One of David Lynch’s best movies, proving his experimentation, love for Neo-noir, and stories where nothing is what it seems. In Lost Highway, Pullman plays the lead, Fred Madison, a sax player who starts getting VHS tapes in the mail of him and his wife. As in any Lynch ’90s movie, everything gets darker, stranger, and more complex from there. Pullman shows all the confusion and worry his character is feeling, while also evolving through the plot, as the Fred that starts the film and the one where it ends, are almost different characters. The actor holds the film together through all the twists and turns, while still finding the truth in his character’s experiences.
The Sinner was a Netflix show that followed one strange murder for the whole season, as detective Harry Ambrose (Pullman) discovered all the atrocities humans could do. Pullman’s character was as dark and troubled as the accused murderers in the cases he investigated. The actor was able to show the many sides of his Harry Ambrose: empathic, moral, and a proud grandfather, but also his dark interior that allowed him to recognize the bad in the possible killers in his cases. Pullman played the character alongside great actors like Carrie Coon, Jessica Biel, and Matt Bomer, and held his own with a character where he showed off all his acting talents.
Spaceballs spoofed all the popular sci-fi films at the time, especially Star Wars and Star Trek, proving that Mel Brooks still had it. Pullman started as Lone Starr, the rogue with a heart of gold, parodying Han Solo in one of the funniest sci-fi movies ever made. This was the actor’s first leading role, and one where he proved how good of a comedic actor he was, using his whole body just to get a laugh.
About working with Mel Brooks, Pullman told The Hollywood Reporter: “Mel had this thing where he said 10 percent of anything is good,” Pullman explains. “It was this way of saying that in art and being creative there are things you have to brush off, suggestions, ideas, whatever to get to that 10 percent that is really good. It’s that idea of looking for the exceptional, and knowing it is rare, and you have to always be aware of how hard you have to look for that 10 percent.”
While You Were Sleeping tells the story of Lucy (Sandra Bullock), a token taker at the Chicago subway that has a big crush on Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher). When Peter is mugged and thrown on the tracks, Lucy saves him, and while he’s in a coma, Peter’s whole family thinks Lucy is his fiancée, including his brother, Jack (Pullman).
Finally, they let Pullman play the guy that gets the girl in a romantic comedy. It’s well deserved, as his chemistry with Bullock was off the charts. The actor also gives a nuanced performance as he starts being weary and suspicious of this woman he has never heard his brother talk about, and bit by bit, scene by scene, we believe he starts falling in love with this charming, quirky woman. About Pullman, director Jon Turteltaub told The Washington Post: “ I know it mattered to Bill to finally not be the goofball tool, to actually show that he’s attractive and sexy.”
“This is our Independence Day!”, that monologue alone cements Independence Day as the best performance Pullman has ever given. President Thomas J. Whitmore (Pullman) is a man of honor who has to fight when aliens come to conquer Earth. Although this is a Will Smith hero film through-and-through, Pullman has a great supporting performance, giving hope to the people still alive and getting his hands dirty, as he’s one of the pilots in the final battle. It’s his speech, though, that proves how good the actor is, as you can see with every word, all the emotions he’s going through, from despair to hope, and then, he starts to get hyped himself as he knows the world’s destiny might hinge on his words. Is it too much to say that without this speech, humanity would’ve lost to the aliens? We don’t think so.