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Every Billy Bob Thornton Movie Ranked Worst To Best

Billy Bob Thornton is the rare actor who brightens any project, whether he's in a leading or supporting role. He can disappear into a character or let his singular offbeat charisma carry an entire franchise. Born in Arkansas, Thornton began his career in show business by performing in the band Tres Hombres. Eventually Thornton broadened his creative horizons and wound up writing and starring in hit indie films like "One False Move" (which he co-wrote) and "Sling Blade" (which he wrote and directed). Frankly, it's a good thing Thornton got out of the music business — movie fans everywhere are better off for his sprawling 30-plus years on the big screen, and his performances in hit TV shows like FX's "Fargo" have made him a star on the small screen, as well.

Thornton likely isn't winding his career down anytime soon, but for anyone curious to check out his previous work while waiting for the next Thornton project, here are all of his movies ranked from worst to best.

49. The Smell of Success

2009's "The Smell of Success" has to be one of the strangest movies ever committed to the big screen (it currently has no critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes). It's a farce about the manure business in the 1950s and its cast boasts Billy Bob Thornton, Kyle MacLachlan, Ed Helms, and Téa Leoni in significant roles. As if this weren't odd enough, the movie is also shot formalistically — in other words, the sets are clearly sets, the driving shots are clearly staged, and the costumes are consistently just off from how anyone might dress in real life. None of these components are bad on their own, but when they come together in "The Smell of Success," the end result is a movie that may be just too odd for its own good.

Leoni stars as the daughter of a recently deceased manure magnate, and Thornton plays alongside her as the company's top salesman, who she enlists to help steer the ship in her father's absence. What follows is a difficult-to-describe series of events, but rest assured, manure and feces puns abound. There's a chance that co-writing brothers Mark and Michael Polish have something to say about the nature of capitalism in their film, but the movie winds up being a real stinker.

48. London Fields

One of the few films to hold a 0% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, "London Fields," directed by Matthew Cullen and based on a novel of the same name from 1989, was expected to be a smash hit, but tanked with audiences. The film was intended to premiere in 2015, but was mired in multiple controversies and ended up being released three years behind schedule.

It's a shame the behind-the-scenes drama was more engaging than the onscreen drama, because "London Fields" has quite the stacked cast. Thornton and Amber Heard are an intriguing lead duo and actors Jim Sturgess, Jason Isaacs, and Cara Delevingne round out the powerhouse ensemble. If the cast wasn't enough to impress movie goers, the source material should've been — the novel that inspired the movie attempted to satirize the femme fatale archetype in noir fiction. While this topic is full of potential for onscreen exploration, lawsuits and criminal activity derailed the project into the abyss of unseen films. Ironically, Thornton still delivers the goods in his lowest-rated picture, even though the version most people saw in theaters is nigh-unwatchable.

47. A Gun, A Car, A Blonde

1997's "A Gun, A Car, A Blonde" is the story of Richard, a cancer survivor who escapes the harsh reality of day to day life by imagining himself as "Rick Stone," a P.I. embroiled in classic noir stories. The fantasy helps Richard cope with his circumstances, and characters from his real life all take up roles in his fictional adventures. Jim Metzler stars and is supported by a cast that includes Thornton, Andrea Thompson, and John Ritter.

While the movie's concept is definitely original and an interesting way to subvert what might otherwise have been a devastatingly depressing yarn, critics were not particularly kind to the movie upon its release. In his review for Variety, critic David Rooney claims the movie suffers due to the lackluster nature of its performances. He says the actors appear as if they're "merely walking through it" and specifically names Ritter and Thornton for phoning it in. While the movie's subject matter is very interesting, it's hard to watch Thornton sleepwalk through any role — especially for fans of his singular energy and sleazy charm. This one's for late '90s indie completists only.

46. The Informers

Based on a novel by Breton Easton Ellis (author of tales about the perils of privilege like "Less Than Zero" and "American Psycho"), "The Informers" depicts the titillating and dangerous drug subculture of '80s Hollywood. Thornton plays William Sloan, a producer who struggles with addiction and maintains a highly toxic marriage with his wife, played by Kim Basinger. The cast is rounded out by Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke, Amber Heard, and Rhys Ifans.

Between the cast and the source material from a notable author, the movie sounds like a slam dunk. However, its subject matter is so relentlessly dark that it's hard to enjoy. Famed critic Roger Ebert said of the film, "If 'The Informers' doesn't sound to you like a pleasant time at the movies, you are right. To repeat: dread, despair and doom." It's not really a surprise that something as bleak as "The Informers" was met with such poor reviews, though as always, Thornton brings the heat to his role.

45. On Deadly Ground

1994's "On Deadly Ground" is a ham-fisted eco-morality tale/action movie starring Steven Segal as Forrest Taft, an expert firefighter who decides to fight back against ruthless oil company Aegis Oil after their malpractice maims several rig workers. The biggest questions viewers may have after watching the movie include "Why does an Alaskan firefighter like Segal have an expertise in martial arts?" and "How did studio executives talk Michael Caine into joining the movie?" The answer: Who cares, it's peak Segal lunacy.

It's also one of Thornton's earlier performances on the big screen — he plays Homer Carlton, an Aegis Oil mercenary stooge. To his credit, Thornton makes a big impression as a dead man walking, even getting some strong one liners in before Segal inevitably turns him into Swiss cheese. While it can't be argued that "On Deadly Ground" is "good" in the traditional sense of the word, it is entertaining in that special way only truly bad movies can be. Absolutely worth viewing to see Michael Caine rock a bolo tie and make a meal out of every scene he's in.

44. Waking Up in Reno

2002's "Waking Up in Reno" is an odd film. It takes the gambling adventure, the road trip movie, and the indie couple dramedy, mashes together pieces of each genre, and turns them into ... an absolute dud. What's worse is that it has enormous potential. The movie follows two couples (Thornton, Natasha Richardson, Patrick Swayze, and Charlize Theron) on a cross country road trip to Reno. The cast alone should've been a slam dunk, and to the actors' credit, they give the material their best.

But while Thornton is perfectly cast as a sleazy used car salesman who neglects his wife, Swayze has no business playing such a down-to-earth role — nobody wants to watch the man who made "Ghost" have a mid-life crisis and make lame dad jokes about keeping the hotel bathrobe. Critics agreed; "Waking Up in Reno" is a vacation to avoid at all costs.

43. South of Heaven, West of Hell

The bizarre passion project of country singer songwriter Dwight Yoakam, 2000's "South of Heaven, West of Hell" follows a conflict between an Arizona Marshal (Yoakam) and his adoptive father (Luke Askew). The movie also features Thornton, Vince Vaughn, and Bridget and Peter Fonda.

Yoakam really went all out for his one shot at helming at Western. He incorporates everything from surrealism to nods to Spaghetti Westerns to rifts on genre classics like Howard Hawk's "Rio Bravo." Unfortunately, for all the film's passion, the movie doesn't quite come together. In his review for Variety, critic Robert Koelher called out the movie's performances, calling Vaughn's villain shtick "tired" and suggesting Thornton was just "doing the part as a favor" to Yoakam.

Passion projects are difficult films to make well, as the director winds up getting in their own way more often than not. All things considered, Yoakam's directorial debut is proof that he's a much better musician than he is a filmmaker.

42. Mr. Woodcock

Following the efforts of John Farley (Sean William Scott) to prevent his mother from marrying the titular gym teacher who tortured John in middle school (Thornton), "Mr. Woodcock” should've been a major comedic hit. It takes a relatable topic to absurd heights — who hasn't disliked a gym teacher at some point in their life — and Thornton and Scott have great comedic chemistry, but the movie is just a little too mean-spirited to stick the landing.

Few actors can play a horrible person like Thornton can, but he may have leaned too far into his inner awfulness for this one. Woodcock is one nasty potential stepdad, so much so that it makes the movie's heartfelt ending feel jarring, even if Farley does eventually accept Woodcock's marriage to his mom. A report around the film's release from the LA Times' Patrick Goldstein said the studio called for three weeks of reshoots because its humor was "so off the mark" — never a good sign. Like nasty memories from your middle school days, better to just leave "Woodcock" in the past.

41. The Winner

1997's "The Winner" is a strange movie to describe. It's based on a play by Wendy Riss (who also wrote the screenplay), contains a who's who of '90s indie actors (Michael Madsen, Delroy Lindo, Rebecca DeMornay, Vincent D'Onofrio, and of course, Thornton), and is directed by all-time cult filmmaker Alex Cox, who's best known for "Repo Man" and "Sid & Nancy." Its plot revolves around D'Onofrio's Phillip, a man who never loses in a casino, and the effort of some shady figures to exploit Phillip's gift for winning.

Like most of Cox's movies, plot is something that happens to his characters, not something he constructs. He lights, sets, and films everything gorgeously, but the movie meanders in fits and starts as Phillip moves in and out of sticky situation after sticky situation. Normally, "meandering" is Cox's perfect operating speed, but "The Winner" doesn't quite earn the cult status of Cox's other films. For Cox completists, it's worth checking out. For Thornton fans, the stakes on missing this one are pretty low.

40. The Baytown Outlaws

Exploitation directors and writers love the American South, and on paper, "The Baytown Outlaws" should be an exploitation layup. It follows the misadventures of vigilante criminal hunters the Oodie Brothers — Brick, Lincoln, and McQueen. The brothers are hired by a woman named Celeste to rescue her godson, Rob, from Celeste's ex-husband, a drug dealer named Carlos played by Thornton. After securing Rob, the Oodies start to bond with him on the road, and of course, they also participate in a series of ridiculous gunfights with the goons Carlos sends to recapture the boy.

Even for an exploitation flick, "The Baytown Outlaws" has far too much going on for its own good. It also leans heavily into Confederate imagery and offensive jokes just for the sake of being shocking. Even Thornton's villainous performance reads like he doesn't really want to be in the movie. This one's a pass.

39. Bad Santa 2

2003's "Bad Santa" probably should've never worked, and yet, it was met with strong responses from critics and audiences alike. Its unlikely box office success was likely the reason a sequel, "Bad Santa 2" was greenlit and released in 2016. While the follow up doesn't capture the magic of witnessing Santa Claus use foul language for the first time, Thornton's alcoholic Saint Nick remains a hilarious gimmick.

The movie also made some solid additions to the cast — most notably, Kathy Bates joins the fray as Thornton's crooked mom and Christina Hendricks (of "Mad Men" fame) does a fine job as the film's love interest. The sequel's plot picks up where the first "Bad Santa" left off and the audience is given a moment to catch up with Thornton's anti-hero Willie Soke. It's not long before general mayhem ensues, with returning cast members Tony Cox and Brett Kelly clearly having a ball in their old roles. While viewing this movie on its own may prove to be a bit confusing for the uninitiated, including "Bad Santa 2" in a double feature with the original is sure to spark some holiday laughs.

38. School for Scoundrels

Thornton teams up with Jon Heder of "Napoleon Dynamite" fame for 2006's "School for Scoundrels," a remake of the 1960s British concept comedy of the same name. Heder's passive meter reader, Roger, takes lessons from Thornton's Dr. P, who promises to teach Roger how to land the woman of his dreams — but things get complicated when Dr. P begins to pursue Roger's crush himself.

While the movie is directed by Todd Phillips — the 21st Century maestro of "men behaving badly" movies — many of its jokes wind up falling flat. The movie is something of a blip in the careers of most folks involved, including the late, great Michael Clark Duncan, David Cross, and Ben Stiller in a cameo role. The New York Times called the movie "lousy" and specifically noted that Thornton's "estimable talents are squandered" in the film. While it's hard to know exactly why movies with so much talent involved sometimes just don't work, it's easy to recognize when it happens. Any movie wasting Thornton's talents is probably a skip, though Thornton himself is, as always, an excellent villain.

37. Eagle Eye

A story about a mysterious woman involved in a secret plot to wipe out the United States government isn't anything groundbreaking. The catch of 2008's "Eagle Eye," however, is that the mystery woman in question is an artificial intelligence program who has recruited a pair of regular citizens (Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan) to take the government down. LaBeouf and Monaghan are supported by Thornton as a dogged FBI agent trying to see the whole picture.

While Thornton is more than fine in "serious government agent" mode, the movie did not receive much love upon its release. In fact, Roger Ebert titled his harsh review of the movie, "Only the credits are plausible." It does contain some interesting ideas about artificial intelligence and national security, but its effort to keep audiences guessing will leave most viewers scratching their heads in confusion. "Eagle Eye" has long been lost to time and doesn't demand a resurrection by re-watch anytime soon.

36. A Million Little Pieces

Based on the controversial memoir of the same name, 2018's "A Million Little Pieces" follows James Frey's battle with addiction in a rehabilitation center. While it's a juicy role for Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who gets the opportunity to show off some big emotions and holds his own alongside amazing actors like Thornton and Giovanni Ribisi, the controversy surrounding the book renders the movie a little ridiculous. It turns out Frey made a lot of the story up, resulting in Oprah Winfrey pulling the book from her book club after having previously rocketed Frey into the mainstream.

All of this context makes the movie a bit of an oddity considering it was released more than a decade after Frey was exposed. It's well-made and the actors all deliver — Thornton himself plays Leonard, a rehabbing mafia boss who probably never existed — but the movie never addresses Frey's dishonesty. By simply ignoring the massive controversy that inherently alters the story, what could have been an interesting film is relegated to fairly bland fiction.

35. The Alamo

2004's "The Alamo" was an attempt to depict the fabled battle in Texas through the lens of historical realism. The movie's "warts and all" retelling is a bit overlong and not particularly flattering to mythical subjects like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett; however, "The Alamo's" efforts to tell the truth creates a unique viewing experience. Thornton in particular shines in a role that requires him to play Crockett as a man who understands the value of his own legend while knowing he can never live up to the ideal.

Thorton is so good as Crockett that he winds up scoring the best scene in the movie, in which he plays his fiddle to accompany the tune played by the drums of the Mexican Army, intended to intimidate the Texans. It's a simple and poignant scene that displays the melancholy of the men about to die and allows Crockett, for one brief moment, to embody his own mythology. "The Alamo" may not be a perfect movie, but it's one of the few films that commits to bringing a fable back down to earth, and is more interesting for it.

34. The Badge

Thornton's Sheriff Daryl Hardwick investigates the death of a sex worker and uncovers a conspiracy and a web of state corruption in the 2002 film "The Badge." The film also features performances from Patricia Arquette, Ray McKinnon, and Thomas Hayden Church.

Thornton could play the Hardwick role — small-town lawman who sometimes bends the rules — in his sleep, but he does a good job of keeping his interpretation original. The rest of the movie however, resides mostly in familiar conspiracy territory. "Chinatown" in the Deep South is a great hook, but "The Badge” doesn't bring anything new to the genre. It also probably didn't help that one of the film's production companies, Propaganda Films, closed its doors in 2001 after being shuttered by its parent venture capital firm, Safeguard Capital Partners. Whether it was due to a lack of originality or production troubles, audiences didn't find "The Badge" terribly arresting.

33. Entourage

Both the long-running show "Entourage" and the 2015 film that served as its capstone are roughly based on the experiences of Mark Walhberg and his friends after Wahlberg hit the big time in Hollywood Appropriately, Wahlberg cameos as himself in a movie that features more than 50 such cameos, including UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, comedian Bob Saget, and NFL quarterback Tom Brady. Thornton, in contrast, appears as Texas oilman Larsen McCredle, who is financing the latest film project of "Entourage" protagonist Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier).

As is par for the course in "Entourage," financing the movie is no simple feat and Vincent and his gang end up in all sorts of shenanigans in order to keep the film on track. Thornton chews up the few scenes he's in, his role is pretty limited, and this one shouldn't be considered essential viewing unless you're an "Entourage" fan — which you very well might be, considering the show garnered 8.4 million viewers per episode at its height.

32. Levity

The story of a convicted murderer's search for redemption after his release from prison, the title of this 2003 Thornton vehicle can only have been meant ironically, because moments of levity are few and far between. To his credit, Thornton does a lot with the fairly unforgivable role of released convict Manuel Jordan, playing the part with the conviction of a man who truly wants to do better. But for all of Thornton's acting talent and the strength of the film's cast — Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter, Kristen Dunst — critics were not kind to "Levity."

Upon its release, the film was pegged with harsh reviews. Roger Ebert, in particular, brought the hammer down, saying the movie had "stolen two hours from the lives of everyone who sees the film." The movie is seriously heavy-handed and its themes are stated aloud by most characters in the film at one point or another. Sometimes this works to great effect — nobody would ever criticize "The Godfather" for taking itself seriously or overstating the word "family" — but this is not one of those times.

31. Into the Grizzly Maze

Violent and wearing its inspirations proudly on its flannel sleeves, 2015's "Into the Grizzly Maze" sends several recognizable actors (including Thornton, Thomas Jane, James Marsden, Piper Perabo, and Scott Glenn) into the Alaskan wilderness to fight a bear who hunts humans. Thornton delivers a reliable performance as Douglass, the obsessed monster, hunter archetype, a bear trapper who fires off lines like "You've never met a bear like this before!" He essentially serves as "Into the Grizzly Maze's" Van Helsing, or Quint from "Jaws." 

Unfortunately, any viewer instantly titillated by the idea of "'Jaws' but with a bear" may be disappointed by this flick — critics noted that the movie drags when it focuses on "lackluster human drama." Its overwhelmingly ridiculous premise almost gives it enough energy to keep audiences moving through the woods towards the finale on the other side, but the script never rises to the level of the stellar cast its supposed to serve. Which is a real shame, considering the high camp potential of a movie that sees Billy Bob Thornton take on a bear.

30. Cut Bank

The Coen-inspired "Cut Bank" is a crime thriller filled with quirks and evil. The movie revolves around a man, played by Liam Hemsworth, who catches the grizzly murder of the local postman on camera. From there, it spins out into multiple interrelated storylines about greed, getting packages on time, and escaping small-town life. On paper it all sounds very promising, especially since the film also stars John Malkovich, Teresa Palmer, Bruce Dern, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Unfortunately for viewers, it turns out it's very hard to capture the Coens' crime magic without actually being the Coens.

The movie's not bad, exactly — it just leaves you wishing you were watching "Fargo" or "Blood Simple" instead. Even Thornton doesn't deliver. Critic Brian Tallerico says Thornton's performance feels like an actor "reciting lines he just learned," which makes it a miss for Thornton fans. There's no sense in watching a master phone in a performance.

29. Our Brand Is Crisis

Dramedy satire blend "Our Brand Is Crisis," from director David Gordon Green, follows Sandra Bullock's campaign consultant "Calamity" Jane Bodine and her work on a presidential election in Bolivia. The movie is an odd mixture of self-serious realpolitik and very, very funny cynicism, and while it doesn't quite pull off this tonal tightrope walk, it certainly deserves credit for trying — mixing cynical observation with sincere consideration for social issues is nothing if not ambitious. Plus, when the humor does come, it most definitely comes correct.

Most of that humor springs from Thornton's performance as Jane's rival, Pat Candy. Candy is a great Thornton creation, all quick wit, slimy Southern charm, and scene-stealing chicanery. This isn't the first time Thornton has played a wheeling-and-dealing campaign staffer — he dips into a very similar well in "Primary Colors — but he's so good in the role that any producer hard-up for ideas should take note: A show about Thornton leading a political campaign is sure to be a slam dunk.

28. Armageddon

Michael Bay's gloriously silly "Armageddon" spins a yarn about a group of hard-living oil drillers on a mission to destroy a meteor on a collision course with Earth. Why are these roughnecks getting sent into space, you ask? Because NASA needs them to drill into the meteor and plant a nuclear bomb inside it to split it in half. Again, it's heinously ludicrous. Luckily for the film — and its audience — it features an absolutely stacked cast. In a move only director Michael Bay could've pulled off in the late '90s, the movie features two leading men, played by Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, alongside a who's who of character and comedic actors alike.

The supporting cast in "Armageddon," including Thornton, Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Liv Tyler, and the late great Michael Clark Duncan, absolutely steals the show. Thornton in particular, as NASA executive Dan Truman, hits a home run in nearly every scene, gracefully leaning into the role of straight man. He knows exactly what kind of bonkers film he's in, and his sly line readings play as one enormous wink to the audience. The movie's critical reception remains largely negative — it has a 38% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes —  but its 73% audience score means performers like Thornton did their job.

27. Faster

"Faster," a 2010 revenge thriller following Dwayne Johnson's hunt for the men who killed his brother, sees Thornton take on the Rock. The movie is interesting for a few reasons. First, it's the Rock's lowest-grossing wide release film. Second, Thornton's performance as the movie's heavy is criminally underrated. 

It's hard to say exactly why "Faster" didn't perform well at the box office. It could be that taut revenge actioners were in a bit of a rut until their popularity was resurrected by 2014's "John Wick." Or it could be that the movie is simply too dark. "Faster" contains every hard-edged thriller trope and then some — from corrupt cops to snuff filmmakers to a hitman who's credited as "Killer," the movie plays like a game of noir mad libs. One thing's for sure, though — "Faster's" lackluster reception can't be placed at Thornton's feet. With a name like Slade Humphries, Thornton could've chosen to really ham up his performance as the film's big bad. Instead of chewing scenery ,however, he plays Slade as a husk of a human who's been hollowed out by years of evil-doing. It's a masterclass in subtlety.

"Faster" may not be the greatest piece of the Thornton canon, but it's worth a watch.

26. Homegrown

"Homegrown," a lackadaisical dark comedy set in California's pot country, is the not most well-known movie, but it's most definitely worth tracking down. Focusing on the trials and tribulations of growing marijuana for profit in the '90s (an interesting and still relevant topic), "Homegrown" also boasts a lot of star power, with a cast that includes Thornton, Ryan Phillippe, comedic genius Hank Azaria, John Lithgow, and appearances from Jon Bon Jovi (yes, really), Jamie Lee Curtis, and even a young Jake Gyllenhaal.

The film follows three marijuana farm hands who decide to go into business for themselves after they witness their boss get murdered. This decision leads to endless trouble, including run-ins with both corrupt cops and the Mafia, as well as all sorts of side effects attributed to general greed. It was met with middling reviews which may have contributed to its virtual obscurity today — Variety critic Leonard Klady wrote that "'Homegrown' is serious, funny, sinister, sexy, silly and a lot more. But it isn't particularly good in any one of those departments." While the movie never goes for big emotions or major set pieces, there is something special about getting to watch Azaria and Thornton work their comedic chops alongside one another. "Homegrown" may be a hidden gem, but its cast and odd tone make it ripe for cult classic rediscovery.

25. The Ice Harvest

2005's comedic caper "The Ice Harvest" is a lot of things at once. It's a Christmas movie. It's a John Cusack vehicle, playing on the star's unique charm. It's directed by the late '80s comedy legend Harold Ramis. And it's a lights-out showcase of Thornton's ability to play a supporting role like no one else can.

"The Ice Harvest" depicts an attempt by Charlie (Cusack) to make off with $2.2 million in mob money. The only snare? His partner in crime, a pornographer named Vic played with elegant sleaze by Thornton, is most definitely out to double-cross him. The movie unfolds over the course of a single night as Charlie and Vic wait out a snowstorm that closes the local roads. As the night progresses, it becomes clear that no one is trustworthy and things get fairly convoluted. However, Ramis' steady hand behind the camera makes sure the movie never gets too bogged down by its own twists and turns, an endeavor aided by the film's most entertaining element — Cusack and Thornton's chemistry as they play off one another

While "The Ice Harvest" may not be the highest high of Thornton's career, it's certainly worth seeking out.

24. Pushing Tin

Six years before "The Ice Harvest," Thornton and John Cusack teamed up for "Pushing Tin," which took the high-concept romantic comedy to new heights. Cusack plays Nick "The Zone" Falzone, a New York TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) worker who's renown for his cool demeanor and confidence in his work. However, when Thornton's fellow air traffic controller, Russell Bell, transfers to New York, Nick feels threatened and begins to spin out of control. The men's relationship is strained even further when Nick sleeps with Russell's wife (Angelia Jolie). Both stars shine, but Thornton in particular brings a muted confidence to his role that makes Russell an absolute wild card. 

The movie's '90s silliness may test modern audiences — as the story unfolds, for example, the two men bravely land planes in the face of a bomb threat, carry out affairs with each other's spouses, and reconcile their differences by standing in a jet stream of a commercial airliner as it takes off. Cusack and Thornton's palpable rivalry is the only reason "Pushing Tin" doesn't move beyond the ridiculous into the unwatchable, which really says a lot about the strength of the two leads. In the end, Thornton and Cusack ground the story and manage to bring it down for an entertaining landing.

23. Bad News Bears

"Bad News Bears," a 2005 remake of the classic 1976 Walter Matthau vehicle, is a hilarious sports comedy directed by Richard Linklater, best known for movies like "Dazed and Confused" and "Boyhood." Thornton steps into Matthau's sizable shoes as Morris Buttermaker, a washed up alcoholic ex-pitcher who's coerced back into baseball when a local mom hires him to coach her son's struggling little league team. What follows is a hilarious romp about a band of misfits and their exceptionally crude coach.

"Bad News Bears" is a showcase of Thornton's one-of-a-kind charisma (try to imagine any other popular actor from the mid-2000s playing a drunk who's mean to children) and it's a real credit to his onscreen presence that audiences can enjoy him repeatedly beaming children with baseballs during batting practice. Of course, this being a sports movie, Buttermaker eventually warms up to the kids and everybody learns a lesson or two. But like most Linklater movies, "Bad News Bears" doesn't care about its destination so much as the fun it can have along the way.

22. The Judge

In 2014's "The Judge," lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to his small town to attend his mother's funeral. While there, Palmer ends up defending his estranged father, a successful Judge played by Robert Duvall, in a hit and run case. While the movie is a pretty standard legal drama/family film, its stacked cast elevates the material. Downey Jr. is almost never not good, and Duvall is a living legend with a filmography that reads like a highlight reel of American cinema, but Thornton also does his part, bringing his singular style to Dwight Dickham, the prosecutor trying to put Duvall behind bars.

"The Judge" plays like a mish-mash of movies from a different era — its focus on human relationships as opposed to world-ending events makes it some what of a rarity for a studio film these days. While its emotional core could be read as hokey, wonderful performances from players like Thornton keep it grounded in reality.

21. Parkland

In 2013, 50 years after one of the most tragic days in American history, "Parkland” attempted to recreate the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, following the journeys of various characters before and after the assassination as they bounce off one another and collide in interesting ways. The movie features an incredible cast including Zac Efron, Jackie Earl Haley, Jeremy Strong as Lee Harvey Oswald, and Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder, the man who infamously captured JFK's death on camera.

While the movie received middling reviews for its lack of cohesion, it's noteworthy for attempting to show some of the lesser known narratives surrounding JFK's death. For example, Thornton portrays Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels as he attempts to obtain the "Zapruder film" from its owner. While similar films like Oliver Stone's epic "JFK" attempt to distill how Kennedy's death instilled institutional distrust in a generation of Americans, "Parkland," spends its time mining moments from the immediate aftermath of the president's death. It might not be the deepest take on the subject, but the interplay between veteran character actors like Thorton and Giamatti make it worth the watch

20. The Astronaut Farmer

"The Astronaut Farmer" is a movie for dreamers. The 2006 drama stars Thornton as Charles Farmer, a man who was discharged from the Air Force before ever getting the opportunity to go to space, and who ultimately decides to make his own rocket and send himself up to the stars. Today, "The Astronaut Farmer" plays like something of a quaint fable — in a world where billionaire's can launch themselves into space no questions asked, a movie about a farmer who risks foreclosure on his land and the wrath of the United States government to fulfill his dream seems like a modern day tall tale.

This vibe is also driven home by Thornton's performance as protagonist Charles Farmer, whose muted courage and warmth turns him into a Johnny Appleseed-esque figure (if Johnny Appleseed also happened to be a rocket scientist). The film also contains some smart commentary on the nature of publicity. Some critics weren't kind to "The Astronaut Farmer" upon its release, but it takes its crazy premise just seriously enough to make viewers question what they would be willing to risk to follow their own dreams.

19. Love Actually

"Love Actually" is the Rosetta Stone of modern romantic comedies, playing like a road map of every trope, gag, bit, character, and situation that's been touched on in the genre before or since. It features dozens of characters, multiple storylines, and solid performances from beloved actors like the late great Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. It also features Thornton as a very, very sleazy President of the United States.

In fact, while visiting the United Kingdom's Prime Minister in London, Thornton's advances on a Downing Street junior staffer are so uncouth, it causes the Prime Minister to rethink the UK's entire geopolitical relationship with the U.S. Yes, that's seriously a plot point in a romantic comedy, and yes, it works in the context of the film. The reason moments like these — and "Love Actually" as a whole — work so well is because the cast is clearly leaning into the movie's manic energy. Anyone could riff on the idea of an inappropriate U.S. president, but Thornton makes an entire meal out of his brief screen time. To whoever made that particular casting decision: we love it, actually.

18. Bandits

The buddy criminal genre is almost always a good time, and 2001's "Bandits" is no exception. This wild romp of a film follows two bank robbers (played by Thornton and Bruce Willis), their spree of heists across the United States, and their love triangle with a hostage (Cate Blanchett). While the movie could've wound up playing like a cheap new millennium rift on all-time classic "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," director Sam Levinson breathes originality into the story by framing it within a fictional true crime reality show.

Unlike many of Levinson's other films, "Bandits” isn't aiming for artistry or leaving the audience with a message — its only goal is fun. And "Bandits" is a great time. The leads have a strong rapport and Thornton steals the show as a neurotic robber with a phobia of antique furniture. Levinson also mines strong comedic moments from the gang's run-ins with various bank managers. While the plot can dip into the nonsensical — especially during the movie's convoluted third act — the audience will come to hope their time with the Sleepover Bandits never ends. 

17. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

2016's "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" — based on Kim Barker's 2011 memoir, "The Taliban Shuffle" — is a dramedy starring Tina Fey as war journalist Kim Baker in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. The film follows Kim's exploits and her personal journey as she begins to question the ethics of her job. Fey is joined by great actors like Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, and Alfred Molina, while Thornton's role in the film as Marine Brigadier General Hollanek is fairly limited. However, he makes the most out of his screen time with wry line readings and a grudging respect for Kim that develops over the course of the film. Fey herself carries the meat of the movie's comedic moments with her natural timing and moments of endearing self-depreciation.

All of this equates to a "M*A*S*H*"-style comedy with a lot more sex plugged into the script for good measure. Anyone looking for a no-frills depiction of life as a war journalist may be a bit disappointed by "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot," which is primarily a comedic vehicle for Fey, but in the end, it's absolutely worth checking out for Fey and/or Thornton fans everywhere.

16. U Turn

"U Turn" is an incredibly dark movie with an ending so miserable it's a wonder it ever got greenlit. However, cast Sean Penn as the lead and Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez, and Powers Boothe in supporting roles, add a script from Academy Award winner John Ridley, and put Oliver Stone in the director's chair, and suddenly a movie like "U Turn" looks incredibly worthwhile — if odd. Based on Ridley's novel "Stray Dogs," "U Turn" follows the misadventures of violent drifter Bobby Cougar (Penn), who's stranded in Superior, Arizona, when his car breaks down and approached with a murderous proposal from an incestuous married couple. What happens after his acceptance is a series of events so bleak they become hard to stomach.

Thornton pops up in some small scenes as the crazy mechanic Bobby hires to fix his car, but he's nigh-unrecognizable under some extra weight and heavy make-up. "Nigh-unrecognizable" is also a good way to describe "U Turn's" plot. However, Stone's unique directorial style makes the film an engaging exercise in maintaining dread and gives Thornton an opportunity to show off his manic range in an early role. "U Turn" is absolutely worth seeing for the anyone with a taste for arthouse movies — and a strong stomach.

15. Floundering

Indie darling "Floundering" is from a bygone era (1994) when people directed movies about the general malaise of being in your early 20s while also being unemployed (see also Richard Linklater's "Slacker" and Noah Baumbach's "Kicking and Screaming"). Set in '90s Los Angeles, the movie's plot is fairly thin, but that's kind of the point. It follows John "Boyz," played by James LeGros, as he tries to make ends meet, get his life in order, and has a series of real and imagined conversations with various characters.

Variety critic Leonard Klady praised the film for maintaining "a raw energy and sense of fun that's infectious." The movie also contains loads of cameos from the likes of Lisa Zane, Ethan Hawke, John Cusack, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, rock star Dave Navarro, and of course, Thornton, who appears as a gun clerk when John stops into a firearms store. His screen time is short, but Thornton makes the most of it, adding another shade to the tapestry of colorful characters that make the film a success. For anyone looking to take a time capsule back to the mid '90s, look no further than "Floundering."

14. Dead Man

Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" is a real oddity, starring Johnny Depp as accountant William Blake as he traverses across the Old West. True to Jarmusch's unique style, the movie is quiet, rambling, and not always dead set on letting the audience know exactly what it's about. Also true to Jarmusch's unique style, the movie is often beautiful, hilarious, and the kind of strange that leaves audiences wanting more.

Jarmusch lined "Dead Man" with bizarre cameos — any movie that boasts both Hollywood legend Robert Mitchum (in his final role) and punk rock icon Iggy Pop, who plays a cross-dressing fur trader named Sally, is absolutely worth seeing. Thornton even gets to share the screen with Iggy as the mountain man Big George Drakoulias, a guest in Sally's camp, and in case anyone needed more proof of just how strange this movie is, the pair discuss Roman Emperor Nero's mass executions of Christians and the fact that whiskey gives Big George indigestion, all while Thornton rocks an epic 19th century fur coat. Seriously. 

13. Tombstone

The all-time classic and endlessly quotable "Tombstone" is a dramatized retelling of famous law man Wyatt Earp's exploits in the town of Tombstone, Arizona. While the movie is not entirely accurate, it is a wildly entertaining romp featuring Kurt Russell as the famous sheriff, Val Kilmer as his best friend, Doc Holliday, and Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton as the other Earp brothers. "Tombstone" is excellent not only because of its cast, but also because every member of that cast knows exactly what type of movie they're in. No line reading is too over the top, no fake mustache is too big, and no action scene is too ludicrous. Everybody, from Kilmer to Michael Biehn's villainous Johnny Ringo, is firing on all cylinders.

In an early career role, Thornton gets a bit part as local stooge Johnny Tyler, mostly acting drunk, scared, or malicious. To his credit, he plays a violent moron pretty well. While it's not the biggest part, Thornton makes a strong impression, and it's a good showcase for the actor he'd become. Anyone looking for a movie made with '80s energy and '90s stars should feel free to saddle up the ponies, hit the trail to the nearest streaming service, and enjoy the show that is "Tombstone."

12. Intolerable Cruelty

The intolerably underrated "Intolerable Cruelty" is certainly not the Coen Brothers' most renowned film, but with a cast that includes George Clooney, Catherine Zeta Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Richard Jenkins, and Thornton, it's definitely worth checking out. George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a wealthy and powerful divorce attorney who created the "Massey prenup," an ironclad legal document designed to deter any party in a marriage from leaving by putting the majority of their wealth at risk.

Naturally, Miles falls for a woman who eventually wants a divorce, and all sorts of shenanigans ensue to ensure Miles keeps his fortune. Only the Coen Brothers could make a love story about the legal strings that come with tying the knot — their offbeat humor and quirky characters pull the depressing subject matter just far enough away from real life for the movie to remain entertaining. As for Thornton, he appears as an oil baron named Howard D. Doyle who requests a "Massey prenup" before his wedding. It's a solid Thornton performance that mixes snake oil confidence with a tinge of love struck reverence for his bride-to-be. For Thornton and Coen completists alike, "Intolerable Cruelty" is worth checking out.

11. Bad Santa

Unexpected mega-hit "Bad Santa" is a comedy about two thieves (Thornton and Tony Cox) who gig as Santa and a helper elf in malls during the holiday season, positions that allow them easy access to vaults and cash registers stuffed with holiday shopping cash. The catch is that Thornton's Santa is a foul-mouthed drunk who hates himself and everybody else. Because he's such a misanthrope, his antics as the big man with the bag of toys consistently puts the thieves' operation at risk. He also spends a lot of his screen time swearing at children — and it's hilarious.

Thornton walks away with the movie in a role only he could pull off. Each interaction with a child visiting Santa is funnier than the last, and no sacred holiday tradition is spared the ire of his drunken wrath. His interactions with mall security chief Gin, played by the late comedy legend Bernie Mac, are also gifts that keep on giving. The critics agreed — Roger Ebert lavished praise on the film in his review, writing "I liked it because it makes no compromises and takes no prisoners. And because it is funny." Anyone who hasn't seen this gem shouldn't wait until the holiday season to let "Bad Santa" steal their heart.

10. Chrystal

The Thornton top ten kicks off with a serious dramatic turn — 2004's "Chrystal" is a slow-burning Southern melodrama that plays like a Tennessee Williams tragedy had a baby with an indie art film. The movie depicts the slow reconnection between a long-estranged husband and wife. The wife, Chrystal (Lisa Blount) is permanently injured due to a car crash caused by her husband, Joe(Thornton). After a long stint in prison, Joe returns to the family farm, where Chrystal slowly lets him back into her life.

There's a subplot involving a shady drug dealer who's pressuring Joe for work, and there's more tragedy in Chrystal and Joe's backstory than meets the eye, but giving any more away would ruin the brilliance of the movie. "Chrystal" wears its classic Southern tragedy inspirations on its sleeves, which makes its ability to live up to those influences all the more impressive. Much of this is due to the performances from the two leads. Thornton plays down Joe's desperation for forgiveness and keeps his usual mannerisms subdued under pain the audience can feel. Blount, meanwhile, never lets Chrystal's grief turn into a hammy performance. While "Chrystal" is by no means a light watch, it is most certainly a good one.

9. The Man Who Wasn't There

Black-and-white beauty "The Man Who Wasn't There" is the Coen Brothers' love letter to 1940s noir, a masterclass in using editing and pacing to force an audience into a particular character's perspective. It's a treatise on the meaninglessness of life (probably), and features an astonishing performance by Thornton as Ed Crane.

Ed isn't like other noir protagonists. He's not a private investigator, or an ex-cop, or a clerk caught up in his firm's dirty dealings — he's a barber at his brother-in-law's barber shop. But like many Coen Brothers characters, the events that befall Ed seem both predestined and random at the same time. Thornton leans into the absurdity by playing Ed as a man who isn't responsible for any of the outcomes of his life — he's a bit slow to catch on to the situations he's placed in and seems ready to accept whatever life doles out next. This being a Coen Brothers' film, life doesn't deal Ed too many pleasantries.

It's hard to say much more about the plot without giving away any of the film's surprises, but it's easy to say you should watch the "Man Who Wasn't There" as quickly as possible.

8. Primary Colors

1998's "Primary Colors" is a dramedy about the perils of the modern American political campaign. It follows a young idealist named Henry Burton, played by Adrian Lester, who joins the presidential campaign of Southern Democratic Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta). As the campaign rolls on, Henry grows disillusioned by Stanton's philandering and backed-handed political tactics — reviewers pointed out that the fictional Stanton campaign mirrored the real-life Bill Clinton campaigns from the 1990s. While the movie is a fascinating look under the hood of a political machine, it's also worth noting that some of the its dialogue and jokes regarding sex and race have not aged well.

Thornton plays campaign strategist Richard Jemmons, a fast-talking political maverick with a Southern drawl who's likely sketched from Clinton strategist James Carville. Thornton delivers in the role, essentially spending the movie commentating on the current state of the campaign and the dilemmas it faces. Overall, "Primary Colors" offers an interesting window into a world most of us only see in bits and pieces on the news.

7. Friday Night Lights

Movies and football are as institutional to American popular culture as apple pie. So it's no surprise that a marvelous combination of the two like "Friday Night Lights" is such a well-regarded hit. The movie's unflinching look at a single season of high school football even inspired the wildly popular TV series of the same name — both the film and the series take inspiration from the 1990 book "Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream" by H.G. Bissinger. Like the book, the film follows the Permian Panthers' run to the state championship; Thornton plays real-life head coach Gary Gaines. His performance is brilliant and blends a somewhat detached paternal love for his players with the knowing responsibility that his decisions impact not only the team, but the town itself.

"Friday Night Lights" also deftly avoids a lot of the pitfalls of the stereotypical sports movie due to its grounding in real world events. Even though the championship game boils down to a single play, there's no guarantee the team favored by the audience is going to pull out the big win. Director Peter Berg leverages this tension to masterful effect, making the audience feel every beat of the practice drills and every big hit throughout the season. For anyone who missed the film that inspired the TV phenomenon, "Friday Night Lights" is an absolute touchdown for football and movie fans alike.

6. Monster's Ball

Sometimes the best pieces of art tug at our heartstrings by diving into the worst parts of what it means to be human. One such work is "Monster's Ball," which steers straight into the lives of some very spiteful characters as a means of digging into the muck of the human condition. It tells the story of Thornton's Hank Grotowski and Halle Berry's Leticia Musgrove — two people who have no reason to fall in love besides the comfort they give each other through tragedy. In the end, the film depicts the ability of two humans to find solace with one another over their mutual grief for lost loved ones. Nothing in the world of "Monster's Ball" is simple and characters behave in ways that mirror real life complexity.

Both performers are excellent in their respective roles, and Berry received an Oscar for her performance, the first (and so far, the only) Best Actress victory given to a Black woman. While the movie is renowned as an all-time great drama, it's worth noting that "Monster's Ball" is a very arduous viewing experience. It bluntly depicts issues surrounding racism, toxic masculinity, and abuse, and doesn't shy away from showing the devastating consequences on screen. This serious subject matter contributes to the film's scenes of intense catharsis and fleeting moments of understanding between different characters. It's brilliant, and likely not something most will view more than once.

5. Daddy and Them

The Southern-fried comedy from 2001, "Daddy and Them," is a Thornton trifecta — he wrote and directed the movie and stars as its male lead, Claude Montgomery. The story revolves around the trials and tribulations of a young couple from Arkansas as they try to keep their relationship afloat through a series of familial mishaps and personal missteps. "Daddy and Them" has good laughs and genuine warmth, and best of all, it plays like Thornton's love letter to the American South.

The film is stacked with Southern stars, including Andy Griffith, Jim Varney (so famous for playing Ernest P. Worrell in ad spots that the character spun out into a movie franchise), and Walton Goggins. Ben Affleck, Laura Dern, and Jamie Lee Curtis round out the cast, which also features an appearance from late country music legend John Prine. While it's not necessarily a perfect movie, its depiction of the importance of family is nothing to wag a finger at. "Daddy and Them" is a great time and an absolute must-watch.

4. The Apostle

1997's "The Apostle" offers an interesting depiction of faith being tested when a small-town preacher kills his wife's adulterous lover in a fit of rage. Luckily for audiences everywhere, the preacher at the center of this occasionally bleak tale is played by Robert Duvall, who also wrote and directed the film. Duvall brings the disgraced preacher to life and makes his frequent conversations with God play like brilliant monologues in an epic stage drama.

Thornton appears in what's basically a single scene as a racist construction worker bent on wreaking havoc at a church picnic. It's by no means his biggest part, but Thornton plays brilliantly off of Duvall as the preacher tries to convince him to see the light, and audience members looking for a shared moment between all-time scene-stealing supporting actors Duvall and Thornton get their wish. Like all movies with a message, "The Apostle" isn't always fun and isn't for everybody, but anyone interested in Duvall delivering not just a performance, but an indie movie for the ages, should listen to "The Apostle's" sermon.

3. A Simple Plan

"A Simple Plan" is a neo-noir based on the 1993 novel of the same name, and stars Thornton and Bill Paxton as two brothers — Jacob and Hank Mitchell — who discover $4.4 million in the wreckage of a plane crash deep in the Minnesota woods. Naturally, nothing good comes of the brothers' decision to keep the money, and their lives quickly take a turn for the tragic.

It's incredible to see director Sam Raimi, known for his loud and kinetic style in movies like "Evil Dead" and the original "Spider Man" series, tell a complex story like " A Simple Plan" in such a subdued way. He just lets the actors do the work on camera, and it pays off. Thornton, in particular, brings a ton of nuance to the neuro-divergent Jacob — Raimi catches every subtle flex of the actor's abilities, and Thornton's performance winds up becoming the soul of the movie. The rest of the players are strong as well, especially Paxton and Bridget Fonda, who plays Hank's wife — by the end of the film, her performance feels like a glorious audition for the part of Lady Macbeth. Fans of Midwest neo-noir rejoice: This is the movie for you.

2. One False Move

1992's "One False Move" is the movie that put Thornton on the map — not only does he play one of the film's villains, he also co-wrote its screenplay. This double act is no small feat considering just how good the movie really is. "One False Move," charts a collision course between an Arkansas sheriff, played by Bill Paxton, and three murderous criminals from Los Angeles on their way towards his small town.

While it may sound like straightforward fare, Thornton and co-writer Tom Epperson turn the situation into a character study about Paxton's hero, Dale Dixon. Dixon is all swagger, excitedt for the opportunity to partake in what he calls "real police work," but as the body count rises, he begins to question if he's ready for what's coming. As one of three murderers, Thornton delivers a terrifying performance — his Ray Malcolm is essentially a shark in a human suit, and his film-opening murder spree presents him and his companions as real-life boogeymen. "One False Move" may not be anyone's idea of uplifting, but it's a long-lost gem that's worth seeking out right away.

1. Sling Blade

If "One False Move" put Thornton on the map, "Sling Blade" made him a star. Thornton plays Karl Childers, an intellectually handicapped man who killed his mother years before and is now re-entering his home town after being released from a state psychiatric institution. In 1996, "Sling Blade" took audiences by storm — its popularity and critical praise was a huge achievement for Thornton, who also wrote and directed the film, having previously written the short film "Sling Blade" is based on.

Given the current movie landscape, in which box office domination belongs to major franchises and superhero movies, it may be hard to understand just how impressive it is to make a box office hit out of small-budget drama about rural America. But "Sling Blade," with its masterful central performance from Thornton (who won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay) pulled it off. There's something quietly charming about "Sling Blade," mostly due to the way Thornton plays the protagonist. Karl may not be all there, but his enormous sense of right, wrong, and guilt enables him to get the characters he encounters to reveal their true selves. By time the ending rolls around, viewers will find themselves running through a completely earned emotional gauntlet.

Some folks might call it a sling blade, but we call it the best Billy Bob Thornton movie of all time.