Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Most Iconic Scenes In Kurt Russell's Career

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

Kurt Russell is one of Hollywood's most revered and successful talents, with dozens of movie performances that truly rank as iconic. What's even more impressive is just how many film genres Russell has been able to shine in. With high-octane action sequences, laugh-out-loud comedic moments, not to mention bone-chilling performances in the horror realm and beyond, the Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated actor's filmography is absolutely full of fan-favorite scenes.

Before he returns to our screens for some more holly jolly hijinks as Santa Claus in The Christmas Chronicles 2, here's a look back at some of the most iconic movie moments of Kurt Russell's career.

The Thing - Why don't we just wait here for a little while?

Every scene in John Carpenter's 1982 horror classic is incredible, but it's the final exchange in The Thing that continues to haunt audiences nearly four decades later. The movie — one of the greatest horror movies of all time — centers on an Antarctic research team that comes under attack by a shape-shifting extraterrestrial after it's unearthed by a neighboring research facility. In the film, Russell stars as helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady, who takes hostile control after the creature begins to assimilate several of the scientists.

MacReady uses a flamethrower to extinguish several of his former colleagues after they are overtaken by the Thing, and, eventually, he also decides to detonate the entire station to destroy the creature and prevent its spread to the rest of human civilization. In the film's final moment, MacReady is alone and freezing outside of the burning station as Keith David's character, Childs, also returns to the site. Childs had gone missing after watching over another infected character and tells MacReady that he simply got lost in the storm, but it's clear from this tense final exchange that neither MacReady nor Childs trust that they are who they say they are — or that they have any ambition of surviving their circumstances. The scene epitomizes the governing sense of dread and paranoia that the Thing has caused them, which makes MacReady's final statement even more chilling as he says, "Why don't we just wait here for a little while, see what happens."

Big Trouble in Little China - It's all in the reflexes

Russell has been at the center of many, many amazing action sequences, not the least of which is the knife fight scene in John Carpenter's 1986 martial arts comedy Big Trouble in Little China. In the film, Russell stars as truck driver Jack Burton, who becomes entangled in a wild rescue effort after his friend's fiancée is abducted by a Chinese gang. In one pivotal fight scene, Jack finally faces off with James Hong's character David Lo Pan, a magical master of three warriors with weather-related powers.

The sorcerer seems to have the upper hand on Jack after he clumsily throws a knife at Lo Pan and it hits a nearby gong instead of his target. However, we soon discover this was simply Jack's way of getting Lo Pan to release his hostage to grab the knife himself; once Lo Pan throws the knife back at Jack, he quickly catches it and throws it right back at him — and this time, he doesn't miss. As the statues in Lo Pan's headquarters begin to crumble, and his now-rescued love interest looks on in admiration, he boasts coolly, "It's all in the reflexes." It's this cavalier comment, made while he's wearing lipstick no less, that solidifies this moment as a keeper on Russell's highlight reel.

Backdraft - You go, we go

In Ron Howard's 1991 action classic Backdraft, Russell stars as the conflicted Chicago firefighter Lt. Stephen "Bull" McCaffrey, who has experienced personal tragedy in his line of work and at home, and he now struggles to make sound decisions on the job. But when a series of arson cases brings his own department under fire, Bull sets to work trying to find out who could cause so much devastation. He eventually discovers that only someone with deep knowledge of firefighting would be able to create such deadly backdrafts — and the investigation ultimately leads him to his longtime mentor, Scott Glenn's John "Axe" Adcox.

In one distinctly gutting scene, Bull confronts Axe at a chemical plant and his worst suspicions are confirmed about the man who helped raise him after his father's untimely death. Despite all the destruction and harm he has caused, though, when a catwalk is destroyed in the ongoing explosion, Bull tries to save Adcox. Their bond is so strong that he refuses to release Adcox's hand even as he loses his own grip on safety and then utters the film's most famous line, "You go, we go."

Tombstone - No need to go heeled

George P. Cosmatos' beloved 1993 western Tombstone revisits the story of Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp and his historic gun fight at the O.K. Corral. The film sets the tone very early on for how sharp and brave its based-on-real-life protagonist really is. In one unforgettable scene, Wyatt visits a saloon and learns from the barkeep that a local thug named Johnny Tyler, portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton, has been "slapping" around the shop's customers and scaring them away so that he can rule this roost.

Wyatt doesn't hesitate to handle the situation and confronts Johnny, who chides him for not going into the aggression "heeled" — which is cowboy-speak for armed. Wyatt retorts in very western slang that there's "no need to go heeled to get the bulge on a tub like you" and tells him to either draw his own weapon or quit the tough guy act. "Go ahead, skin that smoke wagon and see what happens," he threatens with eyes sharp enough to pierce the movie theater screen. When Johnny continues to smart off in return, Wyatt gives him a dose of his own medicine with multiple slaps across the face before disarming the man and ejecting him from the bar for good. Wyatt might be officially retired from peacekeeping, but he's still a darn good lawman at heart.

Escape from L.A. - Tsunami, Snake!

Another classic collaboration between Kurt Russell and John Carpenter came by way of 1981's Escape from New York and the 1996 sequel Escape from L.A. In both films, Russell plays Snake Plissken, a former Special Forces soldier who turned to a life of crime, who's is forced by the government to infiltrate their own city-sized prisons. Fans might remember Russell's very quotable line from these movies — "Call me Snake" — but they will almost certainly not forget the second film's chase scene, which easily ranks among the most uniquely '80s movie moments of the entire decade — even though that film came out in the mid-90s.

In Escape from L.A., Snake is recruited to retrieve the remote to the tyrannical president's power grid-destroying super weapon, which was stolen by his own daughter Utopia, and he finds an unlikely ally in Peter Fonda's Pipeline. Pipeline is a surfing enthusiast and thus the only one who can prepare him to hang ten amid an encroaching tidal wave, which allows Snake to surf his way back into action to catch the nearby car of a swindler who has the information he needs to complete his mission. Not only does this moment feature the eye patch-sporting antihero coasting alongside and eventually jumping onto a car, but Snake and Pipeline make sure to give each other a spirited high five before he makes a break for it. Now that's gnarly.

Tango & Cash - We're gonna get FUBAR now

Both Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone are two of the biggest names in action movie history, and they joined forces for the 1989 buddy cop drama Tango & Cash. In the movie, Russell stars as the titular Cash alongside Stallone's Tango, and the two are very different L.A. police officers who are just too good at busting drug dealers. They're so successful, in fact, that they find themselves framed for murder by the city's biggest crime boss. Thanks to some falsified evidence against them, they have to take a plea agreement that lands them in a maximum-security prison where all kinds of criminals they dealt with on the job are now serving out their sentences.

It doesn't take long for those perps to seek out their revenge on the men that helped lock them up. After being nabbed from their beds by the drug lord's main henchman, the two find themselves surrounded by a gaggle of prisoners in the boiler room, and Cash uses some clever and chaotic diversionary tactics to give them an edge in the otherwise very lopsided fight. The best moment comes when Cash appears to chastise Tango for his on-the-job treatment of one of the prisoners before signaling to Tango to start throwing punches, "like right now." That ignites an all-out brawl, which breaks out with exactly the kind of pulpy fight flare that makes that era of action such a treasure.

Miracle - Blow the whistle, again

Before Team U.S.A.'s men's hockey squad captured the gold in the 1980 Winter Olympics and became a point of pride for generations, coach Herb Brooks had to work hard to get his players into the right mindset for victory. That effort was memorably dramatized in the 2004 sports biopic Miracle, which featured Russell as the spitfire coach who managed to lead his team to victory over the heavily favored Soviet team during the "Miracle on Ice."

One of the most searing scenes of the movie comes when Herb realizes that his players are not living up to his expectation that they unite under the Team U.S.A. banner. That's when he forces them back onto the ice for a grueling and seemingly endless new practice cycle after a tied exhibition game. Even after the lights are cut off at the rink and the players are becoming physically ill from doing so many "Herbies," he orders his assistant coach to blow the whistle for more "again" and "again," until finally one player stands up and says the words that he's been waiting for all along: "I play for the United States of America." It's an intensely satisfying moment that gets audiences buttoned up for the heart-swelling achievements to follow in the rest of the film. But it might also make you want to never hear a whistle ever again.

Death Proof - You're gonna have to start getting scared

In Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, Kurt Russell stars as the sinister stuntman Mike McKay and reminds us all exactly why we should never accept a ride from strangers. Russell's McKay is charming enough to convince Rose McGowan's Pam to accept a ride home with him in his car, but it doesn't take her long to regret that decision. When Pam reveals the direction she needs him to turn at an intersection, he informs her that he is going the other way. In a menacing tone, he taunts her by saying that if she'd said left instead of right, "It would've been a while before you started getting scared. But since you're going the other way, I'm afraid you're going to have to start getting scared immediately."

From there, the action intensifies, as McKay takes off at top speed, with Pam helplessly objecting in her plexiglass-separated seat with no safety belt. He then goes on to remind her of how he told her his car was "death proof," only this time, he reveals that the caveat is that it's only safe for the driver. It's all down hill from there for poor Pam and her friends in the other car. Mike McKay earns a permanent place in our nightmares as a result of this encounter.

The Hateful Eight - Can't catch me sleeping if I don't close my eyes

Kurt Russell was very good at being bad in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. The 2015 western features Russell as John "The Hangman" Ruth, a 19th Century bounty hunter who's in the process of transporting fugitive Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Lee, to Wyoming. Along the way, he runs into an old friend in Samuel L. Jackson's Major Marquis Warren. As the two share a stagecoach car heading to the same destination, Warren reveals to Daisy and the audience alike exactly how it is that Ruth has earned his nickname.

In the scene, Warren teases Ruth about always choosing the latter option in the "dead or alive" bounty listings, and Ruth gleefully agrees that he likes to watch his charges meet their fates after he brings them in. When Warren points out that it can make the journey much more dangerous for a bounty hunter like himself, Ruth says smugly through his pipe-clenched teeth, "Can't catch me sleeping if I don't close my eyes." We won't spoil what happens next, but suffice it to say, he maybe should've listened to Warren's wisdom on that note.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - I know that sounds bad

It takes a long time for Kurt Russell's celestial villain Ego to reveal his true nature in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But once he does, all bets are off. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2's climactic third act, Ego reveals that his humanoid form is nothing more than a manipulation and that he has spread his seed across the universe in hopes of creating a second, similarly powerful being that can access his celestial power. Chris Pratt's Peter Quill is his first success, which means all of the skeletons the Guardians discovered on Ego's planet were of his long lost half-siblings who just didn't make the cut.

But the most stunning revelation comes when Quill asks about his mother, whom Ego claimed to love. Ego then reveals that he did indeed love her, but since an attachment like that would be a problem for him, he condemned her to the tragedy that has haunted Quill his entire life. 

"I know that sounds bad," he says blithely, after admitting that he gave Quill's mother her fatal tumor. That's when Quill realizes what his father had done, and he finally decides to fight back. If that weren't all exciting enough, things really come to a head when Ego transforms into David Hasselhoff, just because he can, to make absolutely sure that the Guardians' big showdown with Ego begins on a delightfully bizarre note.

The Christmas Chronicles - All you want for Christmas

Kurt Russell's Santa Claus has a tough task ahead of him in 2018's The Christmas Chronicles. The Christmas Spirit is dwindling, and Ole' Saint Nick finds himself behind bars after a reindeer roundup mission gone wrong. Santa has some tricks up his sleeves, though, because he's had the arresting officer, Martin Roach's Dave Poveda, on his list for quite some time. The interrogation that follows is anything but ordinary as Santa reveals that he knows exactly what the policeman really wants for Christmas this year — and that he should take a chance in trying to reunite with his ex-wife. 

Officer Poveda is still not fully convinced of Santa's powers and eventually locks him in a cell, but to avoid the Christmas Spirit falling too low, Santa then spearheads a rockin' rendition of "Santa Claus Is Back in Town." Soon after, a helpful elf slips through an air vent to give Santa back his hat, and Officer Poveda gets a call from his former flame that confirms Santa's suspicions — there is a potential future between them. Thus, he lets him go just in time to save Christmas, and the officer officially has bragging rights about having the zaniest interrogation session ever.