The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Jerry Bruckheimer

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

In last week’s column, we took a look at the career of leading-lady extraordinaire Meryl Streep. Typically the star of- let’s say “classy” fare, Streep and this week’s subject haven’t had the chance to work together (yet) but his career runs just a long and quite possibly spans even more classic films, albeit of a totally different genre…

Jerry Bruckheimer

I’d wager that if you were born between 1970 and 1990 (or heck, even later) you very likely grew up with Jerry Bruckheimer productions being an essential part of your formative film-watching years. Having been born in ’81 myself, I grew up on a steady diet of the classics Bruckheimer produced with his late partner Don Simpson. When I was about five, TOP GUN made its debut on pay-TV, and I remember recording it on VHS and wearing out the tape from having watched it so many times. To this day, Tom Cruise is one of my all-time cinema heroes, and it’s this movie that is mostly responsible.

It took until I was much older before I realized that the same guy who was responsible (in part) for TOP GUN also had a hand in many of my other childhood favourites like BEVERLY HILLS COP 1 & 2, FLASHDANCE & DAYS OF THUNDER. Bruckheimer & Simpson took a few years off in the early nineties, and by the time their second wave of blockbusters hit I was a teen. In 1995 the duo were responsible for three of the year’s biggest hits- BAD BOYS, CRIMSON TIDE & DANGEROUS MINDS, all movies I loved. The next year, they did THE ROCK, which was another film I watched on a loop all throughout high-school.

Sadly, Simpson passed away during the production of THE ROCK, but Bruckheimer continued on, producing an insane series of high-concept hits including CON AIR, ENEMY OF THE STATE, ARMAGEDDON, PEARL HARBOR, BLACK HAWK DOWN, REMEMBER THE TITANS and more. He also became a major force on network TV, being responsible for dozens of hits like the CSI franchise. In 2003, he hit pay-dirt with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and the success of this film put him in the tentpole game, spawning three global mega hit sequels. Bruckheimer stumbled a bit this year with THE LONE RANGER, but in a weird way, it’s failure may actually be a good thing as it’s freed him from his high-concept Disney deal. He’s heading back to his old stomping grounds- Paramount- to get back to doing the kind of movies that made him an eighties powerhouse, with sequels to TOP GUN and BEVERLY HILLS COP all on tap. No matter what, Bruckheimer is a name we can expect to see stamped all over action blockbusters for years to come.

His Best Film

To qualify this, let me say that I’m not considering any movies produced prior to FLASHDANCE in ’83, as that was the first movie that distinctly bore his imprint on its style. Previous movies like AMERICAN GIGOLO and THIEF were more auteur driven. Of his movies, my favourite has to be TOP GUN. Having just gotten an IMAX 3D re-release last year, TOP GUN holds up beautifully, and it’s stylized pop-MTV aesthetic set an action movie mold that has yet to be broken. It’s not only the movie that made Tom Cruise an international star, but it also introduced Tony Scott to the action-movie world, and his frenzied-style, paired with the Simpson-Bruckheimer aesthetic made this a truly unique-feeling film for the era, and it’s one I still watch on a yearly basis.

His Most Underrated Film

I’ve always had a soft soft for CON AIR. I have fond memories of seeing this in theaters. When it came out in ’97, theaters in Quebec had a weird policy where almost all R-rated films were basically re-rated as PG-13 (or 13+) in the province (like THE ROCK & FACE/OFF) but certain films were slapped with a restrictive 16+ rating where, if you were under age, you couldn’t even get in with an adult. Hence, my father had to basically trick the manager into letting me in to see CON AIR theatrically, and- of course- I was blown away by what I saw. It’s a dumb film- I’ll give you that- but it’s also so much fun, with Nicholas Cage and his rockin’ hillbilly mullet looking like a white-trash Jesus Christ on steroids. Add to that John Malkovich and Steve Buscemi having a whale of a time as the colourful baddies, and a slumming John Cusack, and you have a film that’s crazy good times.

His Most Overrated Film

To me, the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels are all pretty bad. I actually really enjoyed the first film in the series- THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, but I’m stunned that the three bloated follow-ups were successful. The series certainly minted billions of dollars for Disney and made Johnny Depp a mega-star, but for everyone involved it seems to have been a double-edged sword, in that they were so successful follow-ups had to be made, even though they all should have moved on a long time ago. These are just loud, bloated, and soulless films- although again, the first one was great.

His Most Memorable Scene

For me, a quintessentially Bruckheimer sequence is the insane Humvee chase in protege Michael Bay‘s THE ROCK. All the hallmarks are here- explosions, hot cars, crazy quick cutting, pounding music, color filters, and two surprisingly high-brow leading men, with Sean Connery making a huge action-movie comeback in a role that harkens back to his 007 days, and Nicholas Cage just coming off his Oscar win for LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Cage would become a Bruckheimer mainstay.

His Top-Five Films


Up Next

In addition to his new films at Paramount, Bruckheimer’s also on tap to produced yet another PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN movie (sigh) along with tons of new network dramas, so he’s as busy as ever. The beat goes on…


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.