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Why Marshal Jim Courtright From Yellowstone Prequel 1883 Looks So Familiar

The highly-anticipated "Yellowstone" prequel "1883" is going to feature a number of familiar faces, some from Hollywood and others from the country music world. One of those recognizable mugs will belong to none other than actor Billy Bob Thornton, who will be appearing on the show as a guest star (via Parade). 

Thornton is reportedly set to portray a real-life marshal named Jim Courtright, who was a lawman in Fort Worth, Texas, during the late 1880s. The book "Jim Courtright of Fort Worth: His Life and Legend" by Robert K. DeArment describes how Thornton's character was an infamous gunslinger who became known as one of the quickest draws in the West (via Outsider). "Courtright, like more than a few of his contemporaries, sometimes operated his six-shooter with a badge on his chest, and sometimes without," explained Luc Nettleton in his review of "Life and Legend" for HistoryNet

With "1883" set to premiere on December 19, it's only a matter of time before "Yellowstone" fans get introduced to Taylor Sheridan's version of Courtright. As for the man portraying him, let's discuss where viewers may instantly recognize Thornton from.

Billy Bob Thornton was Bad Santa

For many movie fans, Thornton can come about as a creepy, but loveable cinematic uncle, often appearing in ornery, yet playful roles like the foul-mouthed Willie T. Soke in 2003's "Bad Santa."

"My wheelhouse is intense characters who have a certain sympathetic streak and also a sense of humor," Thornton told Collider in 2014. "I have 10 year olds who come up to me and say, 'Oh, Bad Santa, I just love you.' I don't know what it is."

Over the years, Thornton's crude Christmas classic has become a staple on many people's December watchlists. While "Bad Santa 2" was both a critical and box-office disappointment (via Box Office Mojo), the first one is still considered to be a must-watch for grown-ups looking to have some R-rated laughs around the holidays. Thornton's Soke delights as a despicable department store Santa who attempts to rob the place with help from his tiny mall helper and partner, played by Tony Cox. 

"Bad Santa" came along during an incredibly busy time for Thornton, who had been slowly establishing himself as a Hollywood heavyweight since the mid-1990s.  

Thornton's first big blockbuster was Armageddon

While 1996's "Sling Blade" may be Billy Bob Thornton's most critically successful movie — earning him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and a nomination for Best Actor — it was Jerry Bruckheimer's 1998 blockbuster "Armageddon" that made Thornton instantly recognizable to the masses.  The disaster flick was the high-grossing film that year and one of the most-watched movies of all time (via Box Office Mojo). It also led to a number of other big roles for Thornton, including "Pushing Tin," "The Man Who Wasn't There," and "Monster's Ball." 

In "Armageddon," Thornton played NASA scientist and executive Dan Truman, who is tasked with trying to round up an expert team of oil drillers to help stop a killer asteroid the size of Texas from crashing into Earth. Bruce Willis played the leader of the drill team, Harry Stamper, and was joined by a litany of familiar Hollywood faces, including Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, and Michael Clarke Duncan, to name a few. 

After "Armageddon," Thornton began amassing more and more acting credits, making him a household name with moviegoers and even sports fans at one point.

He reunited with Lucas Black in Friday Night Lights

In 2004, Billy Bob Thornton appeared in one of his most beloved films — Peter Berg's "Friday Night Lights." In terms of IMDB ratings and Rotten Tomatoes scores, the movie is right up there with "Sling Blade" and other Billy Bob classics. It later spawned a television series of the same name. 

For "Friday Night Lights," Thornton played Gary Gaines, head football coach for the iconic 1988 Permian High School team. The squad had been profiled in the H.G. Bissinger book "Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream," on which Berg based the movie on. Thornton got to star alongside former "Sling Blade" castmate Lucas Black, who played Mike Winchell, the starting quarterback for Permian. 

To many people, the film has become a timeless classic with one of the most inspirational scenes and speeches in sports flick history. "That halftime speech — some of it was on the page and some of it I ad-libbed," Thornton revealed in September 2021 during an interview with the "Lights, Camera, Pod" podcast. "The reason for the improvisation in it was because the night before, just the night before, a friend of mine betrayed me in a way that I can't describe. So all that stuff about, 'When you get down, and you can look at that guy next to you, look him in the eye,' and all that kind of thing ...That's where all that stuff came from."

Thornton has also done amazing work on television

While most will remember him for his decades-long movie career, Billy Bob Thornton has also been able to carve out quite the career path on the small screen. He made numerous appearances on TV shows between 1987 and 2001, including a supporting role on the political sitcom "Hearts Afire" alongside John Ritter. But television eventually took a back seat to films, that is, until 2014 — when Thornton took on the role of Lorne Malvo in the first season of "Fargo."

Appearing on the hit FX mini-series did wonders for Thornton's TV stock, later landing him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in the genre that following year. "My wheelhouse is intense characters who have a certain sympathetic streak and also a sense of humor," Thornton told Collider in 2014. The longtime actor also found his TV footing in 2016 with Amazon's "Goliath" series, which is currently in its fourth and final season.

"There's more freedom in television," Thornton said to Collider, noting how viewers have matured and accepted the more graphic sides of things. "Part of that is that censorship has loosened up over the years. Now you have sex and violence and language on TV. So, all those things that made us not want to do television, when I was coming up in the 80s, are gone. And so, there's no reason not to do it ...And all the guys of my age, like Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Dennis Quaid and Kevin Bacon started thinking, 'Hey, wait a minute, this is the place to be.'"