Total Recall

Billy Bob Thornton's 10 Best Movies

We look back at the best-reviewed work of the Bad Santa 2 star.

by | November 23, 2016 | Comments

Actor, writer, director, recording artist: there’s nothing Billy Bob Thornton can’t do, including bringing a sequel to a cult comedy to the screen over a decade after the original played in theaters. In celebration of the latter achievement, playing out in this weekend’s Bad Santa 2, we turn our attention to Mr. Thornton’s estimable filmography, whose critical highlights boast eclectic riches you may not suspect. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. Primary Colors (1998) 81%

primary-colors

Based on a thinly fictionalized account of the 1992 presidential campaign written by Joe Klein (who hid, for a time, behind the nom de plume “Anonymous”), and featuring cameos by Geraldo Rivera, Charlie Rose, Larry King, and Bill Maher as themselves, 1998’s Primary Colors could easily have been overshadowed by the real-life circus that followed Bill Clinton’s administration during both of his terms — but director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May had been a creative team for decades, and their comfort with one another, as well as a terrific cast, made Colors one of the better-reviewed films of the year. Thornton, tasked with providing a caricature of Democratic strategist James Carville that was still layered enough to make sense in an ostensibly grounded drama, passed with flying colors; as Stanley Kauffmann wrote for the New Republic, “Sheerly as film, Primary Colors generally sizzles.”

Watch Trailer


9. Chrystal (2004) 80%

chrystal

As a guy who habitually writes and directs his own movies, perhaps Billy Bob Thornton is predisposed to have a soft spot for films led by triple-threat talents — or maybe he just appreciated Chrystal, the 2004 directorial debut from actor-screenwriter Ray McKinnon, on its own merits. Either way, this drama about an Arkansas ex-con (Thornton) grappling with the painful aftereffects of his crimes earned a number of positive reviews during its limited release; despite its dark themes, wrote Duane Byrge of the Hollywood Reporter, the movie comes across as “A grand story of redemption, laced with barbecued wit and slopped with intrigue.”

Watch Trailer


8. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) 81%

the-man-who-wasnt-there

The Coen brothers went neo-noir for 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There, drafting a stellar batch of character actors (including Thornton, Richard Jenkins, Tony Shalhoub, and Frances McDormand) to tell the story of a barber (Thornton) whose placid-seeming suburban post-WWII existence unravels into a crazy tangle of blackmail, murder, and one very precocious teenage girl (Scarlett Johansson). The black-and-white Man failed to make much of an impression at the box office, but it enthralled critics like ReelViews’ James Berardinelli, who praised it as “An unconventional, unpredictable thriller that Hitchcock probably would have enjoyed.”

Watch Trailer


7. Friday Night Lights (2004) 82%

friday-night-lights2

Before it was an acclaimed cult favorite on the TV dial, Friday Night Lights was a Buzz Bissinger non-fiction book about life on the Texas high school gridiron — and then it was a Peter Berg drama starring Billy Bob Thornton as a football coach with the weight of a small town’s hopes and dreams on his program’s shoulders. In hindsight, it seems awfully easy to say Lights was always destined to play out more powerfully on the small screen, but the film stands up pretty well on its own; as Michael O’Sullivan wrote for the Washington Post, “The movie is full of both crushing disappointment and hope, resignation and joy, ugliness and great beauty.”

Watch Trailer


6. Daddy and Them (2001) 86%

daddy-and-them

Thornton and Miramax enjoyed a fairly fruitful relationship (see Sling Blade), but the industry is always changing — as are studio fortunes. You’d think the guy who won an Oscar for writing, directing, and starring in Sling Blade would have a blank check, but 2001’s Daddy and Them — made for a paltry $4 million — barely eked out a limited release before heading off to DVD. As far as critics were concerned, it was a shame: starring Thornton and Laura Dern as an Arkansas couple embroiled in family drama after his uncle gets carted off to the hoosegow for attempted murder, it earned praise from scribes such as Variety’s Edie Cockrell, who wrote, “Beneath its deadpan and often absurdist exterior, Daddy and Them feels like a very personal piece of work about how family really does come first, warts and all.”

Watch Trailer


5. Monster's Ball (2002) 85%

monsters-ball

There are dark indie dramas, and then there’s Monster’s Ball. Starring Halle Berry as a widow raising her child after the death of her husband — and Thornton as the former prison guard who strikes up an affair with her after helping supervise his execution — it’s a film whose characters are flawed to the point that most of them spend much of the film doing awful things to the few who aren’t predisposed toward unspeakable cruelty. But if it didn’t leave most viewers feeling fuzzy inside, Ball was certainly warmly received: Berry won a Best Actress Oscar for her work, and Arizona Republic critic Bill Muller echoed the thoughts of many of his peers when he called it “A textbook example of fearless filmmaking, exhibiting a brand of gritty realism that’s hard to watch but impossible to ignore.”

Watch Trailer


4. A Simple Plan (1998) 91%

a-simple-plan

Are people inherently good or evil, or are their morals and ethics driven by the choices available to them? That’s the devilishly grim question at the heart of Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, an adaptation of the Scott Smith book about a pair of brothers (played by Thornton and Bill Paxton) who happen upon a downed plane full of cash during a hunting expedition with a friend (Brent Briscoe). One secret and one lie seem like a small price to pay for a $4.4 million windfall split three ways, but their simple plan begins to unravel surprisingly quickly, making the trio — and, by extension, the audience — helpless witnesses to an increasingly gruesome tumble into darkness. “A Simple Plan is a suspenseful, unnerving movie that ranks as one of the best thrillers in recent years,” marveled Mike McGranaghan for Aisle Seat. “The plot and characters converge nicely, and by the end, you are left to wonder how much money is enough to entice you to sell your soul.”

Watch Trailer


3. The Apostle (1998) 90%

the-apostle

Two years after Robert Duvall appeared in Billy Bob Thornton’s labor of love Sling Blade, Thornton repaid the favor, taking on a role as a town resident whose views and temperament threaten to cause problems for Duvall’s titular man of the cloth. Like Sling Blade, The Apostle found its leading man working behind the camera, directing from his own screenplay — and also like Thornton’s film, Duvall’s passion project united an unusual but well-seasoned ensemble that included Miranda Richardson, Farrah Fawcett, June Carter Cash, and Walton Goggins. The result, wrote Roger Ebert, “is like a lesson in how movies can escape from convention and penetrate the hearts of rare characters.”

Watch Trailer


2. Sling Blade (1996) 96%

sling-blade

Thornton had been around for awhile by the time he made Sling Blade, but it really marks the spot where he became a known quantity for moviegoers — and for power players in Hollywood, who sat up and took notice when it turned into an Oscar-winning sleeper hit. He wrote, directed, and starred in the rural-set drama, which centers on a developmentally disabled man who returns to his hometown years after being institutionalized for murdering his mother and her lover; not exactly cheerful stuff, but it was a story that resonated with filmgoers through its telling — and partly thanks to an eclectic cast that also included Robert Duvall, John Ritter, and Dwight Yoakam. “The lure of Sling Blade is both elemental and hauntingly familiar,” wrote Film.com’s Tom Keogh, “and I would not be surprised if Thornton’s breakthrough film is one day considered a classic in its own right.”

Watch Trailer


1. One False Move (1992) 94%

one-false-move

Its commercial prospects were fatally hobbled by a lack of studio faith so profound that it wasn’t even originally supposed to have a theatrical release, but thanks to overwhelmingly positive reviews, 1992’s One False Move — starring Thornton as the ringleader of a gang of criminals that runs afoul of an Arkansas sheriff (Bill Paxton) who teaches them a thing or two about small-town justice — ended up sneaking into theaters long enough for Gene Siskel to call it his favorite movie of the year. Siskel’s enthusiasm for the Carl Franklin-directed thriller was shared by the majority of his peers, including Michael Upchurch of the Seattle Times, who enthused, “Franklin’s convincing portrait of life on both sides of the color line isn’t quite like anything I’ve come across before, making One False Move one very assured directorial move. We need more filmmakers like him.”

Watch Trailer

Tag Cloud

Pop Logo Film toy story The Walking Dead Rocky docudrama Elton John The Purge slashers FXX scorecard toronto X-Men Certified Fresh nature war sitcom die hard Mary Poppins Returns batman Pixar IFC Films Lifetime Comedy Spike HBO Go rom-coms documentary Dark Horse Comics Shondaland Photos AMC Broadway adventure Biopics streaming 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Christmas prank theme song sag awards Sony Pictures Esquire NYCC GoT mission: impossible The CW Awards Tour worst movies Apple discovery godzilla Star Trek Video Games miniseries spinoff Musicals transformers Interview Calendar medical drama The Walt Disney Company Ovation Musical hollywood Crackle indiana jones Stephen King Epix Emmys police drama TV One cooking strong female leads VH1 TruTV witnail CBS superman TV Land Syfy 2018 Kids & Family RT History independent Writers Guild of America OWN criterion Creative Arts Emmys movies Winter TV sequel Captain marvel political drama 45 BET italian true crime Red Carpet comic ABC Family First Look technology 2020 jurassic park Comics on TV Animation crime thriller San Diego Comic-Con Classic Film BAFTA classics President Mindy Kaling SundanceTV USA Network TIFF Legendary series YouTube Premium finale Summer doctor who cancelled MCU Endgame Teen Women's History Month DGA canceled a nightmare on elm street BBC One natural history 21st Century Fox screenings harry potter Country Heroines justice league zombies Action Rock green book OneApp singing competition Freeform Year in Review obituary anthology vampires Brie Larson spider-man CMT franchise CW Seed Alien adaptation 24 frames See It Skip It Drama ratings free movies king kong blockbuster Amazon Prime Video ESPN politics Black History Month Horror E! Quiz reviews Pirates Ellie Kemper Apple TV Plus scary movies psycho science fiction stoner Universal james bond Ghostbusters Emmy Nominations Mudbound composers BBC America ghosts Marathons Schedule Election Cosplay screen actors guild disaster TBS Apple TV+ TNT Opinion Trailer women MSNBC Western indie foreign HBO Max biography Peacock Countdown rotten movies we love Pet Sematary Bravo Netflix CBS All Access crime razzies Disney History Extras crossover 99% Television Academy directors christmas movies Set visit DC Universe hidden camera all-time period drama Lionsgate YouTube Red Amazon supernatural stand-up comedy social media ViacomCBS Tubi Fall TV TCA Winter 2020 Cannes fast and furious Black Mirror game show trailers Nominations satire Funimation Disney streaming service rotten New York Comic Con elevated horror TCA Anna Paquin TCM Premiere Dates dragons Nat Geo Exclusive Video comics cinemax Super Bowl Trivia Amazon Prime diversity Sundance Now ID Holiday latino comiccon DC Comics LGBT VICE Reality Competition psychological thriller comedies The Academy cartoon Toys cults worst Rocketman zero dark thirty concert fresh Trophy Talk best jamie lee curtis LGBTQ comic books Crunchyroll TLC revenge travel spain Masterpiece children's TV Song of Ice and Fire french award winner Infographic National Geographic kaiju Star Wars stop motion 4/20 Columbia Pictures rt archives First Reviews Marvel PaleyFest dc quibi Grammys hispanic superhero halloween 007 game of thrones festivals serial killer hist emmy awards Superheroes Amazon Studios telelvision facebook asian-american GLAAD TV TV renewals dramedy Tarantino El Rey spanish language HBO Shudder Academy Awards 20th Century Fox Rom-Com Film Festival Best and Worst based on movie thriller FX on Hulu Food Network Tomatazos FOX Sneak Peek SDCC Travel Channel ITV PlayStation Discovery Channel twilight aliens Adult Swim nfl Fox News A24 Polls and Games 2015 Tumblr black Netflix Christmas movies GIFs cars Pride Month universal monsters Marvel Television 2019 The Witch child's play E3 canceled TV shows Spring TV movie Hear Us Out blockbusters MTV Character Guide Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt FX Thanksgiving romance space football 72 Emmy Awards nbcuniversal Binge Guide deadpool Avengers name the review laika robots reboot Hallmark kids Valentine's Day golden globe awards Superheroe docuseries Reality Marvel Studios boxoffice Cartoon Network Comic Book Awards television tv talk Comedy Central festival sequels YouTube Box Office TCA 2017 2021 joker what to watch Disney+ Disney Plus richard e. Grant Chilling Adventures of Sabrina kong BBC romantic comedy American Society of Cinematographers Sci-Fi video on demand Disney Channel Warner Bros. historical drama cops casting Oscars dogs Paramount Plus animated ABC Signature APB versus WGN Chernobyl video golden globes Holidays popular sports VOD 2017 binge crime drama Showtime pirates of the caribbean PBS chucky Martial Arts Paramount unscripted Sundance TV Hallmark Christmas movies mutant A&E BET Awards talk show boxing Nickelodeon halloween tv blaxploitation australia mockumentary RT21 teaser Television Critics Association Watching Series Mary Tyler Moore Mystery news IFC Spectrum Originals Disney Plus Family ABC cancelled television Lucasfilm archives breaking bad WarnerMedia dark Acorn TV parents 2016 DC streaming service DirecTV dceu Mary poppins NBC Vudu YA Winners werewolf cats SXSW Podcast anime Turner Classic Movies renewed TV shows japanese Music Turner Britbox Paramount Network Pop TV critics Fantasy book cancelled TV series south america USA Fox Searchlight Sundance Walt Disney Pictures spanish cancelled TV shows spy thriller 71st Emmy Awards venice Baby Yoda Hulu Starz Arrowverse CNN Lifetime Christmas movies TCA Awards monster movies The Arrangement documentaries remakes zombie films