In a career that has spanned more than six decades, Kurt Russel has become one of the best-known faces of genre film for both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Kurt Vogel Russell (born March 17, 1951) is an American actor. He first began acting on television for the western series, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (1963–64). In the late 1960s, he signed a ten-year contract with The Walt Disney Company where he became the studio’s top star of the 1970s.
During the 1980s, he starred in several films by director John Carpenter, including anti-hero roles such as army hero-turned-mercenary Snake Plissken in the futuristic action film Escape from New York (1981), and its 1996 sequel Escape from L.A.. He also appeared as Antarctic helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady in the horror film The Thing (1982), and truck driver Jack Burton in the dark kung-fu comedy action film Big Trouble in Little China (1986), all of which have since become cult films. Russel also got nominated for an Emmy Award for the television film Elvis (1979), also directed by Carpenter.
Russell also starred in other films in a career dotted with cult genre hits, which he came away from after having portrayed and created some of the genre’s most enduring characters, including Overboard (1987), Tombstone (1993), which remains one of my favorite modern westerns to this day. Stargate (1994), the seminal genre film that gave birth to a franchise, and needs no introduction, Miracle (2004), Sky High (2005), Poseidon (2006), Death Proof (2007), Bone Tomahawk (2015) and The Hateful Eight (2015). Most recently Russel appeared in Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2 (2017) as Ego the living planet.
Whether he is playing the stoic misanthrope Snake Plissken, the loud mouthed asinine Jack Burton, the outdated programmed soldier Todd 3465, or the emotionally damaged Col. Jonathan ‘Jack’ O’Neil, Russel imbued his portrayals with remarkable quality. His work resulted in the creation of some of science fiction’s most iconic and enduring characters. With a unique quality not found anywhere else. He can ham up a role without overdoing it or making it a distraction. Whether portraying a character that is darkly dramatic, or comedic, his classic features are a welcome addition to any movie in which he appears. Russel’s most memorable roles are:
Escape From New York (1981) – The 1981 dystopian action film co-written, co-scored, and directed by John Carpenter. This movie, set in the then near-future 1997 in the crime-ridden United States that has converted Manhattan Island in New York City into a maximum security prison. Ex-soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given 24 hours to find the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence), who has been captured by prisoners after the crash of Air Force One.
The Thing (1982) – Another John Carpenter classic that is a remake of the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World. Russel plays the working class hero amusingly named R.J. MacReady. The Thing is considered to be one of the greatest horror films ever made.
Big Trouble In Little China (1986) – The 1986 American fantasy action film directed by John Carpenter. It stars Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun and James Hong. The film tells the story of Jack Burton, who helps his friend Wang Chi rescue Wang’s green-eyed fiancee from bandits in San Francisco’s Chinatown. They go into the mysterious underworld beneath Chinatown, where they face an ancient sorcerer named David Lo Pan, who requires an Asian woman with green eyes to release him from a centuries-old curse. Russel is hilarious in the role of the loud-mouth-not-too-bright-braggart Jack Burton.
Stargate (1994) – The memorable 1994 adventure science fiction film gave birth to the Stargate franchise. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the film stars Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Alexis Cruz, Mili Avital, and Viveca Lindfors. The plot centers on the premise of a “Stargate,” an ancient ring-shaped device that creates a wormhole enabling travel to a similar device elsewhere in the universe. The film’s central plot explores the theory of extraterrestrial beings influencing ancient human civilizations. Russel’s role in the movie as the tough, but emotionally damaged O’Neill who is still mourning the accidental shooting death of his son is memorable.
Soldier (1998) – Russel as the outdated programmed-from-childhood soldier Todd 3465 is one in which he shines, at the age of 39, Sgt. Todd 3465 is a hardened veteran and the best soldier of the first 1996 infants. Todd rises to the challenge when his unit faces replacement by a superior group. Colonel Mekum, the leader of the original project, introduces a new group of genetically engineered soldiers, designed with superior physical attributes and a complete lack of emotion, except aggression. The story is pure corn, in which Todd proves there’s more to his makeup than programming, with a message that if you have enough heart, you can overcome any obstacle.
Russel’s career was more than the result of the pure dumb luck of having the right face in the right time and place but is a solid testimony to his ability to tackle any role and make it his, with memorable results. He deserves recognition as being the capable talent that he is and should go down in history as one of the best.