Dissecting Bill Paxton!

Last Updated on August 2, 2021


"Do you realize, it's snowing in my room goddamn it?!?" Ah, Bill Paxton, what a national treasure. Not sure about you, but this dude has been such a part of my life the through the litany of parts he's played in some of the most iconic of films over the years – big and small, blockbuster or indie – that he's easily become one of my favorite character actors of all time. This dude flat-out f*cking rules! Which is why, given that today is officially been dubbed Alien Day, that we're fixing to fete Private Hudson for his tremendous 30-year service. You know who we mean, right? Yup, the same cat who once declared: "I'm ready, man, check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do NOT wanna fuck with me. Check it out!"

Check it out we'll indeed do, and much more in fact. Considering how Bill Paxton has made such a substantial dent in the genre, to the tune of showing up in MORTUARY, THE TERMINATOR, IMPULSE, COMMANDO, WEIRD SCIENCE, ALIENS, NEAR DARK, BRAIN DEAD, PREDATOR 2, ONE FALSE MOVE, TRESPASS, THE VAGRANT, FUTURE SHOCK, TRUE LIES, APOLLO 13, TWISTER, A SIMPLE PLAN, FRAILTY, CLUB DREAD, THE COLONY, EDGE OF TOMORROW, NIGHTCRAWLER and others…we're long, long overdue with this here honorary procedure. Seriously, that's one hell of an impressive filmography! But hey, better late, right? Right! Scroll below and join us as we Dissect the great Bill Paxton!



Here's a quick trivia question for you: can you name the only two actors to appear in the ALIEN, PREDATOR and TERMINATOR franchises? Lance Henriken is one, and the other is…yup, our man Paxton. Hell of a feat on its own, no?! And while it only seems fitting to fete Paxton's work as the dopily self-deluded Private Hudson on this here international Alien Day, I think it makes more sense to celebrate the longstanding relationship Paxton has had as a recurring recruit in the James Cameron army of filmmaking. After-all, without Cameron seeing something in Paxton early on, perhaps they'd both have embarked on a wildly different career path. It started with the spiky-blue-haired punkish cameo in THE TERMINATOR, followed quickly with far meatier Hudson in ALIENS, then was cast in supporting parts for TRUE LIES and TITANIC in the succeeding decade. Hell, if Paxton wasn't doing the polygamist drama Big Love on HBO at the time, I bet he'd have gotten the call to play a part in AVATAR as well. Alas, let's go back to 30 year anniversary of ALIENS and Private Hudson…

It's no secret that, as a function of comic relief, Paxton gets all the best lines in Cameron's ALIENS. Whereas Ridley Scott's original took on such a gravely sterile tone and tenor, Cameron wisely juxtaposed such with a lighter touch, placing much of that responsibility in the mouth of Paxton. We identify with his character because he says all the things we as an audience are thinking…mainly, let's get the f*ck out of here ASAP! The cutting barbs and quips he trades with Hicks (Paxton and Biehn have done 5 films together), Vasquez, Ripley and others goes such a long way in slicing the ever-mounting tension the film is imbued with.


Take the knife trick scene, for instance, which was not originally scripted. Word is that, in order to achieve the desired reaction, Lance Henriksen told everyone about the prank except for Paxton. So when Hudson's hand was added to the mix, a genuine expression is captured. It's a great touch. So is the line, "Game over man, game over!", which Paxton, like most of his dialogue, totally improvised. And speaking of dialogue, it's interesting to note how much the movie EDGE OF TOMORROW – also starring Paxton – appropriated Hudson's own lines "fuck that" and "it's the only way to be sure." The lines were written in the Hiroshi Sakurazaka novel ALL YOU NEED IS KILL and used in the Doug Liman film, even coming from Paxton's own mouth. Time traveling indeed!



I've personally never seen Paxton give a bad performance, but that doesn't mean he hasn't appeared in some fetid stinkers over his illustrious four-decade career. IMPULSE, FUTURE SHOCK, THE VAGRANT are a few that come to mind among sci-fi/horror/thrillers, but even they don't come without some merit. In terms of the big, dumb, fallow spectacles, you could say TWISTER ranks right up there. But for my sensibilities, based on how much I love the original, I can't help but think Paxton's zanily cartoonish character in PREDATOR 2 might be his biggest blemish to date. It's as if director Stephen Hopkins adamantly wanted Bill to reprise his unbearably douchey role of Chet from WEIRD SCIENCE and throw him smack dab in the middle of hardened action thriller. Doesn't quite work. Neither does the entire premise for that matter, about a predatory incursion in the heart of Los Angeles during a volatile gang-riot. Nothing against Paxton here personally, it's just that, with its ludicrous story, chintzily outmoded VFX and stodgy action set-pieces, PREDATOR 2 left a lot to be desired on almost every conceivable front. I know many others feel different, but that's where I stand.



No spoilers here, but Paxton rarely makes it out of a movie alive. It's true. Not only is he one of two actors to appear in all three TERMINATOR, ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises, he gets gorily felled by each of those respective titular villains during his run. But you know what, the best characters always tend to die in a genre joint, and by that metric, Paxton lives in perpetuity as one of the beloved. And I know this may sound a bit odd, but I've always thought Paxton's voice was as distinctive as anybody I've ever heard. I'm actually a bit shocked he hasn't done more voice-over work. Seriously, it's to the point where I don't need to even be looking at the screen, if Bill utters a line of dialogue, I instantly know it's him. And thus I tune the f*ck in!

Beyond that, the sheer diversity of roles and genres essayed are what stick out to us most about Paxton's work. Horror, sci-fi, action, thriller, drama, war, western, TV…I think the only variety Billy hasn't yet attempted is a musical. And to make his wide array of characters equally memorable across all swaths, well, it's truly remarkable.



A herculean task, this one is. How can you possibly mine a single diamond or two among such a invaluable jewelry box that is Bill Paxton's filmography. Damn near impossible. Think about it. How do you not mention the first real starring role of Bill's in the 1983 horror flick MORTUARY. Not a great film, but a damn obscure one for certain. Or how about how time and space unified in 1990 when Paxton joined forces with the other ubiquitous 80s Bill…Bill Pullman…for the sci-fi mind-bender BRAIN DEAD. Paxton and Pullman…together? Mind F*cking Blown!

Moving onward, how can one omit the sterling crime dramas Paxton partook in the 90s…the first being ONE FALSE MOVE, and the other Sam Raimi's superlative A SIMPLE PLAN. I recall seeing the latter in theaters with my friends and being fully engrossed, if not bowled over, by the entire film…emotionally anchored by Paxton's compassionate turn as brother in charge. It's a truly great movie that no one ever really talks about. Which is a shame. Or hell, if you want sheer entertainment value and overt humor, what about Paxton as Coconut Pete in CLUB DREAD. Often panned due to the expectations Broken Lizard gave us with SUPERTROOPERS, I've come to appreciate the film as a fun summertime slasher romp. And a lot of that has to do with Paxton's boozy bacchanalian performance. Goddamn it, what about just two years ago when Paxton showed up, completely unrecognizable, as the seedily competitive cameraman in NIGHTCRAWLER. So capable, so believable no matter what part he plays.


All that as a roundabout way of calling two movies his absolute, definitive hidden gems. I of course refer to the 1987 biker-western-vampire yarn NEAR DARK, and my own personal favorite, the labor of love Paxton both directed and starred in, the spine-tingling 2001 flick FRAILTY!

NEAR DARK is an absolute blast of a hybridized vampire flick, one that not only has the great pedigree of our good pal Eric Red writing and Kathryn Bigelow directing, it just might be the funniest, most gregariously memorable turn of all of Paxton's. The dude steals the show in every single scene he's featured in. Just look at the sumbitch mean-mugging for the camera! Such a good movie this is, one that defies all genres, I cannot for the life of me figure out why it's gone so quietly into the night. Granted, real horror fans know what's up, but for the general filmgoing public, the title remains dark indeed. Perhaps it was the popularity of THE LOST BOYS, released the same year, that led to the film being benighted. Whatever the case, NEAR DARK is not only one of the most underrated of all vampire yarns, it happens to also feature one of Paxton's most iniquitously overlooked performances. Damn this movie kicks ass!

Not to be redundant, but so too is FRAILTY. Paxton delivers nothing short of a tour de force in this undisputed four-star psychological horror gem. And he directed it too! The movie about a religious fanatic of a father who, claiming direct communication with God, implores his two young sons to aide him in the slaughter of whomever God deems evil. It's mortifying. The way Paxton so ably tows the line between a true believer…a simple man doing God's work…and a homicidal huckster preying on the weak is so damn spot one, so well balanced that much of the movie hinges on whether we can take him on his word or not. The commitment here by Paxton is as strong as any I've seen…Day Lewis included. The way he plumbs the grey area between saint and sinner, they way he keeps us guessing throughout, all the while inculcating his innocent, malleable children, turning them into what he rails against…I swear, it's genuinely bone-chilling stuff. I love this movie, and admire the hell out of Paxton for taking it on with such a straight face. This isn't cheap, throwaway horror…it's psychological terror at its absolute finest!


As the bona fide A-list character actor he continues to be, Paxton remains in high demand. For the purposes of our twisted genre bent, it's worth noting a pair of projects – one TV, one film – that he has in the pipeline for 2016 and beyond. We're talking about the small screen adaptation of TRAINING DAY, which Paxton will star in, and the mysterious techno-thriller THE CIRCLE that he'll play a bit part for. Let's examine!

In TRAINING DAY, Paxton will in essence play the part Denzel won an Oscar for. That is, he'll play a multi-shaded corrupt cop that takes a wide-eyed rookie under his wing. No word yet who'll play the younger officer, but we do know Julie Benz and Katrina Law will costar. Danny Cannon (JUDGE DREDD, I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER) is onboard to helm the pilot.

As for THE CIRCLE, it originates from a novel by Dave Eggers (AWAY WE GO, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, PROMISED LAND) and is directed by James Ponsoldt (THE SPECTACULAR NOW, THE END OF THE TOUR). Here's a quick plot-crunch:

A woman lands a job at a powerful tech company called the Circle, where she becomes involved with a mysterious man.

Paxton reunites with Tom Hanks (APOLLO 13) in the film, with Emma Watson, John Boyega, Karen Gillan and Oswalt also in the cast. The flick is currently in post-production for a tentative 2016 release. Stay tuned!



I mean, come on, what's not to love about Bill Paxton? Honestly. Not only has the man taken part in some of the all time great horror/sci-fi franchises – ALIEN, PREDATOR, TERMINATOR, etc. – he's acquitted himself more memorably than most of his contemporaries in so doing. The sheer variety is astounding, whether doing huge A-list blockbusters like TRUE LIES, APOLLO 13 and TWISTER, to more indie-driven character work in stuff like ONE FALSE MOVE, TRESPASS, A SIMPLE PLAN, THE COLONY and others. He's done out-and-out horror work nobody's heard of (MORTUARY, IMPULSE, THE VAGRANT), as well as durable hybrid-horror in stuff like NEAR DARK and FRAILTY. I suppose it only makes sense then, on this official Alien Day, that we salute a dude whose talents have remained out of this world for over four decades. Here's to you Billy, you're one of our all time favorites!

Source: AITH

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.