What the Hell Happened to Kurt Russell?

Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell has had an extremely long career.  So long that a lot of audiences probably don’t remember his career as a child actor.  Russell started making TV appearances in the late 1950s through the 60s.  In the 70s, he became the top star at Disney.  In the 80s, Russell and director John Carpenter created iconic anti-heroes.  Russell continued to work in various dramas throughout his career.  And yet, over the course of his long career, he never quite reached A-list status.

What the hell happened?

Let me state up front that Russell had the kind of career most actors would kill for.  He has worked steadily for decades without ever being pigeon-holed to a certain genre.  Even in his 60s, the guy is still working in some pretty high-profile movies.  So this article isn’t about a career implosion like some others in the series.  The question here is why Russell wasn’t bigger.  Why didn’t he achieve the same level of stardom as some of his co-stars?

russell - child actor

Kurt Russell – Child Actor

Russell’s father, Bing Russell, was a character actor who appeared on several TV shows in the 50’s.  He introduced his son to acting as a child.  They frequently worked on the same projects.  Bing had a guest role on the Western, Sugarfoot which lead to a recurring role for Kurt.

Wait!  Sugarfoot was real?

As a fan of Arrested Development, I know Sugarfoot from an episode in which Jason Bateman tried to win favor by pretending to remember the show’s theme song.  I always assumed that Sugarfoot was a funny-sounding name made up for the show.  But no, it’s real.  Russell played the role of “Boy” on the pilot episode.  In case you ever need to sing the theme song to impress Dick Van Patten, here it is:

Kurt Russell - Dennis the Menace - 1962

Kurt Russell – Dennis the Menace – 1962

In 1962, Russell appeared as one of the neighbor kids in an episode of the popular sitcom, Dennis the Menace.

Kurt Russell - It Happened at the World's Fair - 1963

Kurt Russell – It Happened at the World’s Fair – 1963

Russell made his movie debut with an uncredited role opposite Elvis Presley in the 1963 movie, It Happened at the World’s Fair.  As we’ll see later, Presley is a significant figure in Russell’s career.  Here’s a clip of a young Russell kicking the King in the shin:

russell - man from uncle

Kurt Russell – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – 1964

In 1964, Russell made guest appearances on several popular TV shows.  Here he is with Robert Vaughn on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Russell - The Fugitive

Kurt Russell – The Fugitive – 1964 – 1966

Russell also played Lt. Phillip Gerard’s son on the adventure series, The Fugitive.

Russell - Guns of Diablo

Kurt Russell – Guns of Diablo – 1965

Russell appeared in several Westerns including Gunsmoke and The Virginian.  He starred in the short-lived Western series, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters.  The final episode of the show was then expanded and adapted into a movie called The Guns of Diablo (pictured above with Charles Bronson).

russell - gilligan's island

Kurt Russell – Gilligan’s Island – 1965

In 1965, Russell guest starred on Gilligan’s Island.  He played “Jungle Boy”.

russell - daniel boone

Kurt Russell – Daniel Boone – 1965 – 1969

Russell also appeared in five episodes of the Walt Disney hit show, Daniel Boone.

russell - lost in space

Kurt Russell – Lost in Space – 1966

Russell appeared in so many TV shows in the mid-60s that I am cherry-picking here.  Otherwise, this article would go on for days.  Here he is in a 1966 episode of Lost in Space.

Next: The Disney Decade


Posted on August 3, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 200 Comments.

  1. Kurt career also reminds me of kevin bacons. After footloose kevin bacon seemed destined for. Not to diminish his great career but similar to kurt he didnt quite reach a list.He appeared in lots of hit but he was never reason they where hits. Even though his career is going very strong he is now a character actor.He had up and downs in terms of hits and misses .He would be interesting article.


  2. I heard different reasons he did following. One reasons is he lost money in bernie madolf scam is he wasnt getting offers he liked. Bacon career issnt bad. He is not desperate attempt to appear in hits. His career ended up like wthh actors kurt russell ,colin farell, and jude law. WHich means his career didnt match the media hype around him. Kevin was expected to be a huge star after footloose but constant flops derailed that. His career was in a slump but the success of jfk made him relize that he can get better part is he is not the leading man. From then he made a transition to character actor in memorable movies getting second sometimes lower billing to bigger stars .Heres his quote on the matter “The only way I was going to be able to work on ‘A’ projects with really ‘A’ directors was if I wasn’t the guy who was starring”, he confided to The New York Times writer Trip Gabriel. “You can’t afford to set up a $40 million movie if you don’t have your star.”[17]. The following is cancelled i dont see him reaching a list soon . HE has part in Black mass so hes not in danger of not getting good parts. Liam neeson became a list at late age but not sure i see bacon doing it. However given his interesting resume hes perfect candidate for the role.


  3. tango and cash was not box office hit. It made 63 mill off 55 mill budget back then it was considered a modest it now its box office taking would be just ok. several websites describe it as modest. A few of kurt box office hit back then would considered modest today. In Kurt case the movies where bigger then him. HiS name wasn’t marketed alot. still great career few child stats that translated into adult roles. His career combination of kevin bacon and dennis quaid Hollywood thought they destined for bigger career it didnt quit happen. However these actors have been working for over 3 decades and continue to work . That’s accomplishment a lot .


  4. Category: Hidden Treasures Created on Tuesday, 10 July 2012 10:21 Written by George Rother

    It’s not very often that a romantic comedy featuring a real life couple actually works, I submit as evidence the following examples- Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in The Marrying Man, Madonna and Sean Penn in Shanghai Surprise, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in Gigli and even though it’s not a rom-com, I’d have to include Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut on this list. Of course, there’s always an exception to the rules and I can think of no greater exception than the delightful 1987 comedy Overboard starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. I LOVE this movie! It hit theaters around Christmas 1987 and got lost in the shuffle as audiences flocked to see Three Men and a Baby and Throw Momma from the Train instead. I have a list of actors of which I’m particularly fond and both actors rank fairly high on that list. Hawn possesses a special gift for comedy, her charm and appeal have carried many funny movies over the years over the threshold of mediocrity ….. Private Benjamin, Protocol, Wildcats, Housesitter, just to name a few. Russell can do anything, he’s one of those actors who easily fits into any role he plays, he’s equally great in all genres. He can do comedy (Used Cars), drama (Silkwood), action (Escape from New York), horror (The Thing) and sci-fi (Stargate) ….. it doesn’t matter, he always delivers a great performance. Their real life chemistry extends to the big screen as well and that’s a lot of why Overboard works so well. Incidentally, this is actually their second movie together, they also co-starred in the 1984 comedy/drama Swing Shift, that’s where they first got together as a couple.

    Hawn plays spoiled and abrasive heiress Joanna Stayton, a horrible woman who’s the very personification of the term “bitch”. She lives an idle and empty life with her bored husband Grant (Herrmann, The Lost Boys) and has nothing better to do than make the lives of everybody around her miserable. Their yacht has to dock in Elk Cove, Oregon (a typical redneck town) for repairs and Joanna hires local carpenter Dean Profitt (Russell) to build her a new closet. She sees him as a cretin and treats him horribly, refusing to pay him because she’s not satisfied with his work. He made the unpardonable error of building the closet out of oak and everybody knows that closets should always be made of cedar. After an argument, she pushes him overboard and throws his tools in after him. Later that night, Joanna falls overboard while searching for the wedding ring that she left out on the deck earlier in the day. She’s rescued by a garbage scow and ends up in a local hospital suffering from amnesia (always a convenient plot device, yes?). Grant shows up, but denies knowing her and abandons her, leaving the harried hospital staff to listen to her endless complaining and bitching. Dean sees her picture on the local news and comes up with a brilliant plan to get the money she owes him for his labor and tools. He shows up at the hospital claiming that she’s his wife Annie who was hunting for oysters at night when an accident happened. After he proves that she’s his wife (he points out the unique birthmark on her rear end), the doctors are only too happy (and relieved) to release her from the hospital. Dean takes her back to his rundown home where he manages to convince her that she’s his wife and the mother of his four unruly sons. He immediately puts her to work taking care of the house and the children while he sits back and enjoys the show. Naturally, Joanna/Annie and Dean fall in love with each other and he’s torn over whether to come clean with the truth or not.

    The funny part of Overboard is watching this socialite get her hands dirty doing things that only servants should do. Joanna/Annie cooks, cleans, does laundry in a wash tub and takes care of the kids. That last one is a real job all by herself, these kids are rotten! The youngest talks like Pee Wee Herman at all times. The eldest (age 13) is obsessed with pornography. They terrorize their teacher and everybody else with their practical jokes. Dean just laughs off their deeds as he’s not much more than a big kid himself. He involves his boys in the scheme by having them give their “mother” a really hard time, but eventually they start to care about her and see this woman as their real mother. The situations in Overboard are fairly predictable, especially since everybody knows that “movie amnesia” is always temporary. The movie plays a bit like a sitcom, but it works nonetheless and a lot of the credit goes to the two leading actors. However, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention director Garry Marshall (The Flamingo Kid, Pretty Woman), the guy has a real knack for comedy and making something special from the most hackneyed of premises. I should also point out three great supporting performances- Roddy McDowall (Fright Night) as Joanna’s long-suffering butler, Katherine Helmond (Soap) as Joanna’s equally horrible mother and Mike Hagerty (Wayne’s World) as Dean’s supportive best friend. There’s a lot of positive energy flowing through Overboard as well a great deal of wit and warmth. It’s a sweet little movie and a great choice for a romantic evening in front of the TV. Excuse me for resorting to a cliche, but watch this one with somebody you love.


  5. I think kurt career didnt really bigger heights because producers didnt really know where to place him. He had some action hits but wasnt an action star had some comedy hits but not comedy star same with dramatic. He tried his hand in alot of type genre in order not be typecast. Proved his range but didnt make a draw. As to Leabu older comments he had 100 million dollar hits befre just only vanillia sky made that much in usa he made a bunch that made that much world wide..Stargate executive decision backdradt all made over 100 mill in worldwide. I think like kurts films he has a cult status himself. Actors cna have cult status. Fans discovered his after their release. A list or not hes been working for years . He was in a box ofice hit fast and furious no doubt hateful eight will be a hit. I would say hes doing more then ok. Its rare for a actor who starred out child star not to drop off face off earth. Hes child stars who had adult carer.


  6. Its not necessary a bad thing sometimes actors just dont pick right films that make money. Kurt has had a very successful career not being a list is not indication on actors talent. things turn out that way. I dont think kurt wanted to go for trADitonal leading man roles i think he wanted to challenge himself.


  7. Were Walt Disney’s Last Written Words Really “Kurt Russell”?

    MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The last thing Walt Disney wrote before dying was “Kurt Russell.”

    As the saying goes, there are only two constants in life, death and taxes. The former is something that society as a whole (and popular culture specifically) has always been fascinated with. Pretty much any hour of the day you can find some programming on television that is either about someone being murdered, someone escaping death or life after death. So it is only natural, then, that the last words of famous people are greatly scrutinized. After all, we have always given greater meaning to the ends of novels and films, so why not something even more important, the end of someone’s actual life? Heck, Orson Welles’ classic film Citizen Kane revolves around the last words of its title subject. Like that film’s mysterious “Rosebud,” the more attention that you give a subject the more likely that false or misleading stories will pop up about the topic. Like whether W.C. Fields’ tombstone really reads, “Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia” (I’ve addressed that one before here). Or today’s legend – was the last thing Walt Disney wrote before he died really “Kurt Russell”?

    Let’s find out!

    The origin of this particular legend comes from a pretty compelling source, Kurt Russell himself. As you may or may not know, Russell was a child actor whose career began in the late 1950s (in 1963, he even starred in a short-lived TV adventure series called The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters). In 1966, he did a Disney film called Follow Me, Boys! alongside Fred MacMurray about a Boy Scout troop.

    That film was the last Disney production that Walt Disney had direct involvement in before he died from lung cancer in 1966. Disney himself reportedly suggested that Russell be signed to a long-term contract with the company. Whether that is true or not, Russell was, in fact, signed to a long-term deal and he ended up making ten films in total for Disney, including the smash hit The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes which spawned two sequels (I am partial to The Barefoot Executive, myself, where Russell plays a young TV programmer who discovers that a pet chimpanzee can correctly predict what people will want to watch on television).

    As the legend goes, right before Disney died, the last thing he wrote was “Kurt Russell,” presumably as Disney was working on movie plans (he kept working as long as he possibly could). The actor confirmed the story on Jimmy Kimmel Live a few years back, noting “It’s true. I don’t know what to make of that. I was taken into his office one time after he died and I was shown that.”

    However, in confirming the legend, Russell actually serves to likely disprove it. The brilliant Disney historian Jim Korkis investigated this story a little while back and discovered that while Russell correctly recalls being brought to Disney’s office after Disney’s death to see something, the key thing to remember is that Disney’s office has remained, in essence, a shrine to the man. It still looks exactly like it did when he left it in 1966 (it has just been transported from California to a Disney theme park in Florida). However, when he left it it was over a month before he actually died. Disney needed surgery performed on his lungs in November of 1966. He went to the Studio to do some work before then entering the hospital for surgery at the beginning of the month. He was released after two weeks to spend Thanksgiving with his family in Palm Springs. While there, Disney collapsed and was brought back to St. Joseph’s Hospital, which is where he spent the rest of his life, dying on December 15, 1966.

    In Disney’s office, there is indeed a piece of paper (I believe they’re all photocopies by now and not the originals) discussing future TV projects and on it, Walt Disney has, indeed, written in red some ideas about a TV movie Disney was working on at the time and he did write “Kurt Russell” down (well, actually, he wrote “Kirt Russell,” but I think you get the idea), likely considering him for a role in the film (or a sequel to the film).

    Years later, Disney’s son-in-law Ron Miller recalled to Korkis that he did show Russell this memo after Disney’s death. The paper with Disney’s notes is still there on his desk to this day.

    So yes, Russell was, in fact, on Disney’s mind the last time that Disney was working at his studio office. There were other papers there (including plans for Disney World, which had yet to be built), so it is hard to say what was the last thing he worked on at the office, but it is certainly possible that the Russell note was the last thing he worked on in his office (well, there is a note below the Russell one, but you know what I mean). However, since all of that work was over a month before he died, it is next to impossible that it was actually the last thing he wrote before he died.

    The legend is…

    STATUS: False


    • The Best New Movie You’ve Never Heard Of

      There’s something seriously wrong with our cinematic distribution system when dreck like The Last Witch Hunter and Jem and the Holograms comes out on more than 5,000 screens combined (and bombs), and gems like Meadowland and Bone Tomahawk receive only token theatrical releases simultaneous with Video on Demand availability. What’s that, you say? You haven’t heard of Meadowland and Bone Tomahawk? For my review of the former, click here. And for the latter, read on.

      I recently did a Screen Actors Guild Foundation Q&A with the great character actor Richard Jenkins (click here to view it), and intrigued by the title, I asked him about Bone Tomahawk. “Oh, I think that’s going to be something,” he told me. And it is something—something wildly original and thrilling. I suppose you could say it’s derivative of Tarantino (or, more accurately, Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn), John Carpenter and John Ford, but hey, there are a lot worse directors from which one could crib. It’s a horror Western mashup that hits its target with pinpoint precision.

      Kurt Russell, fusing his work in previous films as disparate as Big Trouble in Little China, Tombstone and Death Proof, stars as Frank Hunt (great name), the sheriff of an Old West town ironically named Bright Hope. After a drifter (David Arquette, well-cast) disappears from his jail cell along with the local deputy (Evan Jonigkeit) and the wife (Banshee‘s Lili Simmons) of a hobbled foreman (Patrick Wilson), Hunt heads out with a posse. Accompanied by the limping husband, his back-up deputy (the aforementioned Jenkins, eerily channeling Gabby Hayes) and an Indian-killing racist dandy (Matthew Fox, the only actor in the cast who seems utterly lost), Hunt tracks down a tribe of cannibalistic troglodytes, and that’s when it really starts to get gory.

      For the first 90 of its 132 minutes, Bone Tomahawk plays like a fairly straight-shooting Western: The Searchers enlivened by Pulp Fiction-al dialogue (Jenkins and Russell’s banter about how to read a book in a bathtub without getting it wet rivals John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s classic “Royale with Cheese” scene). The resurrection of such seemingly abandoned Hollywood cult figures as Sean Young, Michael Pare and James Tolkan only adds to the Tarantino-esque feel.

      But once the hunting party encounters the cave-dwelling killers, first-time director S. Craig Zahler (whose only previous writing credit was 2011’s Asylum Blackout, which I must now see immediately) gives the film a terrifying frisson all its own. Be warned: The violence is graphic, beyond even what we see on a weekly basis on The Walking Dead. (Scalping is just the beginning.) But because Zahler has spent so much time letting us get to know the characters—this is a film with an admirably measured pace, and one that’s not afraid to let silence speak for itself—you actually care about whether they become human meals.

      Zahler is a talent to watch, and to listen to; in addition to writing and directing the film, he also co-wrote its stirring score, including an old-fashioned Western theme song, “Four Doomed Men Rode Out.” The fact that Bone Tomahawk is not readily available for the vast majority of Americans to see on a movie-theater screen—well, that’s a bone that truly sticks in my throat.


  8. Kurt Russell on the Big Trouble In Little China remake


    • Well, maybe the remake will do better at the Box Office. As Russell & Carpenter talked about in the DVD commentary for the film (one of my favorite tracks of that type), audiences got the wrong idea about the original due to marketing, especially on who the actual hero of the film is supposed to be (surely not the pompous and goofy Jack Burton:-). It took a long time for the original to find its audience. I mean, I was hooked automatically, since it was aired on HBO in the 1980’s, but other people weren’t operating with my mind’s eye (well, I hope they weren’t).


  9. The term I meant for Jessica Lange is hysterical. I mean this in a good way.


  10. Lebeu you think Kevin Bacon will have article in there eventually. Hes good actor but after huge success of Footloose he was thought to be a huge star but it didn’t happen. He however bounced back in 90s with a successful career as character actor.


  11. Kurt Russell eyed to play Chris Pratt’s father in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”


    • His performances that “sucked” really weren’t all that bad. Soldier? That was a fairly good movie and he was really good in it. I still think the biggest hole in his CV is no “heavyweight” hit, like say Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump or Castaway. He’s had endless near-great outings, but even Snake Plisskin doesn’t quite get there.

      If I can I see everything he’s in because he’s always good and he also seems to be a good guy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that’s about right, that Kurt Russell has never been in a transcendent or heavyweight film, just in many very good films. I still think that sounds like a good career to have. Solid, steady, reliable.


  12. GOing back to Quaid him and Kurt have same career both have been around for years but for most part they are hit and miss at the box office.they both had some films that bombed in box office but retained cult classic years later. right stuff, enemy mine inner space and big easy all either did decent business or just flopped but is remembered years later deemed classics. Kurt may have been close to a list then quaid. The problem is for kurt the movie was always bigger then him. The marketing never depended on his star power. Stargate made lots of money but his face is not even on poster.


  13. WatchMojo’s Top 10 Kurt Russell Performances


  14. Kurt had a great career how many child actors transcend to an adult career. I call that a win.


  15. The real reason Kurt isn’t a bigger star: he’s not that nice of a guy and he is not a good actor. In every western he’s ever done, he apes John Wayne. He’s currently on the big screen in “Hateful 8” and, despite it’s comedic overtones, Russell is unintentionally funny against heavyweights like Samuel L. Jackson. Kurt Russell got his early roles because of his good luck and good looks… but he can’t act. His “breakout” roles in “Used Cars”, and the John Carpenter films were truly awful, although he did some good work in that superhero comedy, in “Silkwookd” and the Herb Brooks flick. I also think his “conservative values” and whiny politics may have played a role in not getting better parts. Not that he’s gray listed, but that directors don’t want to work with a prima donna who plays the victim card and who simply shows up and reads lines.


    • I don’t think many people here would argue that Russell was some sort of Olivier or early day DeNiro, but the facts are that he does have an appeal on screen that has kept him working for more than 50 years. Yeah, he’s been in the public eye since before the Super Bowl was a thing.

      I think you’ll also find that whether or not his performances are genius level, he’s appeared in some movies that fans and critics like a lot. If you’re pretending that The Thing, for example, is not an excellent horror film, then you’ll find you’ve lost any credibility.

      Your comment starts to sound like sour grapes or a personal grudge.


      • Agreed. When you say the humor in Hateful 8 was unintentional, you have automatically lost me. I don’t doubt Russell’s politics cost him a job here or there along the way. I’m sure there are people he rubbed the wrong way who would say he wasn’t all that nice. But I have yet to hear of anyone claim that Russell was anything but a pro when working. Most child actors who stay in the business as long as Russell has have developed a work ethic that puts the rest of the industry to shame. He’s not my favorite actor, but Gern Blanston clearly isn’t being objective.


    • Personally, I really like “Used Cars” (the ones that run anyway). I feel Russell’s character had an innocent sleazy charm about him, and Gerrit Graham was a riot (his character really knew how to shoot down those high prices).


  16. Kury Russell \has not got the recognition he deserves simply bcos he does not market himself too much or stay in the news for all the wrong reasons.

    He simply does his job & leaves it to the producers/publicists to do their job.

    He surely deserved an Oscar for “the thing” or “Miracle” but was not even nominated.

    Many non actors like stallone have received Oscar nominations, we can easily guess how unworthy the Oscars have become.

    Also, he looks more like the guy next door rather than a super hero & this may have gone against him.


  17. Kurt Russell smashed a 150-year-old guitar in “The Hateful Eight” & its museum is really mad


  18. After Halloween, John Carpenter chased Elvis’ shadow

    Elvis has a unique place in Carpenter’s career. It was one of two TV movies he made around the pivotal moment of Halloween, the other being Someone’s Watching Me!, a thriller produced for NBC that starred Adrienne Barbeau, who married Carpenter soon after. Elvis marked the first time that Carpenter worked with Kurt Russell, the former child star and minor league baseball player who was cast as Presley. They would go on to make four more films together: Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China, and Escape From L.A., all of which star Russell as a variation on the tough-as-nails pulp hero. Besides being his longest film (150 minutes without commercials), Elvis represents Carpenter’s only attempt at straightforward drama, and is often characterized a work-for-hire project that the director took on because he, like so many of his generation, had grown up on Elvis. Even then, it often seems to be on the verge of turning into a horror film.


  19. Retrospective / Review: Escape from New York (1981)


  20. Good Bad Flicks: Soldier (1998)


  21. At least Kurt still manages to get work unlike his woman:

    This beloved 70’s and 80’s star worked in some movies in the 90’s and still has A+ list name recognition and some popular offspring. The reason she stopped working in movies was not retirement so much as no directors ever wanting to work with her if she was cast because she always had final cut in her movies during the 90’s so they all ended up being bombs.

    Goldie Hawn


  22. ‘I said the wrong things to the right people!’: Kurt Russell reflects on breaking Hollywood’s rules as he lands GQ cover at age 65


  23. What’s the point of this? Obviously, nothing happened to Kurt Russell. He is still making movies and is still a popular actor.
    And it wasn’t The Thing that erased his Disney stigma, it was Escape From New York.


    • I think in most cases the “What The Hell Happened?” aspect isn’t meant to be taken literally, and in the end the articles are a rundown of the subject’s career. In Kurt Russell’s case, the question actually was “How come Kurt Russell never became Box Office gold?” (the answer: many times he chose offbeat projects, or material that he was interested in). Personally, I think Kurt Russell has had a great career (as I believe other contributors and posters on this site do), so it’s nothing like that, it was just examination and opinion.


      • Exactly.

        Sometimes the series title is more applicable than others. In Kurt Russell’s case it was less a matter of him disappearing than why wasn’t he bigger? Also, he hasn’t helped by having a late career resurgence since the article was originally written. I wouldn’t write a WTHH article about Russell today.


    • Based on your comments, I’m going to assume you’re new to the series. If you read more of the articles, you’ll see that it is largely a career retrospective. As gluserty pointed out, the question of WTHH can be interpreted different ways. In the case of Russell, we’re looking into why he never made it on to the A-list when for at least a decade he seemed like he was ready to break out as a major movie star.

      I’m puzzled by the last sentence. I read through the entries on The Thing and Escape and there’s no mention of Disney with regards to The Thing. But under Escape I wrote:

      The studio wanted to cast Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones in the lead role. Carpenter rejected Bronson on the basis that he was too old. He wanted to cast an actor who wouldn’t challenge his authority on the set. So he pushed for Russell who was eager to shed his lightweight Disney image.

      I would argue that Russell spent several years trying to reinvent himself after his Disney roles. That process started with Elvis and carried through his collaborations with Carpenter. Escape was definitely a big piece of that, but it started before he played Snake Plissken.


    • Or maybe Used Cars.


  24. kurt career is similar to dennis quaid both had a bunch of cult classics under their belt. They both tried tackled a bunch of different genres never really found their niche. I would say kurt had more lead hits then quaid.


  25. its ironic the studio wanted to cast tommy lee jones in lead role becuase he was never bankable either back then or now he was a charactor actor. kurt problem is all his hits the movie where bigger then him.


    • That’s the key right there, that the big films were bigger than Russell himself. I don’t think that’s an indictment against him, but it was just how it was.


  26. 7 Films That Eerily Predicted Future Roles

    Kurt Russell – It Happened At The World’s Fair/Elvis/3000 Miles To Graceland

    Kurt Russell’s career has had a few weird crossovers with Elvis. He made his film debut with It Happened At The World’s Fair, playing a young boy paid by Elvis to kick him hard in the shin, so he can win sympathy from his love interest.

    Around sixteen years later young Kurt was cast as Elvis in the John Carpenter TV movie of the same name, and his flawless impression of The King soon lead to more movie roles. Then in 1994 he provided the voice for Elvis in Forrest Gump, where it’s “hilariously” revealed Forrest inspired Elvis’ signature hip-swinging dance.

    The final connection is forgotten heist movie 3000 Miles To Graceland, where Russell and Kevin Costner plays thieves who rob a casino during an Elvis convention. The film has several nods to his screen debut, with his character getting kicked in the shin by a young boy, and signing an album copy of It Happened At World’s Fair for some Elvis fans.

    It’s also revealed his character is the illegitimate son of Elvis himself, because why the hell not?


  27. Overboard Remake Planned With Anna Faris In Lead Role

    The ’80s comedy Overboard, starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, is being remade with comic actor Anna Faris in the lead role.


    • Good choice of female lead, although honestly I’ve never seen “Overboard” all the way through. I don’t know, it just never grabbed me, which is weird, because I love the films of 1987, but no, I’d rather watch “Gardens of Stone” than “Overboard”. I question the chance of the remake though; it could be another “Vacation”.


  28. Actors who succeeded after flops?

    Post by A Dilapidated Catamaran! on 8 hours ago
    Kurt Russell had a string of flops through the ’80s, to the point where even he thought he was box office poison. The Thing, The Mean Season, Big Trouble in Little China, The Best of Times, The Winter People, and Tango & Cash all either bombed or severely underperformed at the box office.

    The ’90s were a lot better for him, though he still had some notable flops, in Captain Ron, Escape from L.A., and Soldier.


  29. Why Kurt Russell Is Still a One-of-a-Kind Movie Star

    The most idiosyncratic action hero of the ’80s and ’90s is experiencing a late-career renaissance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the Fast & Furious movies.


    At certain points in his life, Kurt Russell just stops making movies. Few actors possess obvious self-awareness about their own changing place in the industry, but Russell has always been someone who takes a hint. After breaking into Hollywood in 1979 by playing Elvis Presley in the TV movie Elvis, he spent two decades as one of the industry’s most charming leading men. But after the action epic Soldier flopped in 1998, he vanished for three years, returning in 2001 to play middle-aged characters for smaller-budget movies like Miracle, Dark Blue, and Death Proof. Then, in 2007, he disappeared again. Bored of acting, he wanted to open a vineyard.

    We are now in the third Russell renaissance. Starting with Furious 7 (2015), he’s returned to the cocky, ultra-charismatic persona that defined him as a younger actor, taking roles in the kind of big-budget Hollywood schlock he avoided for most of the 2000s, and embracing his status as an elder statesman of action filmmaking. It’s been one of the most fruitful periods of his career, even when he’s popping up in tentpole sequels. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the latest episode of the Marvel Cinematic Universe out Friday, he fittingly plays a comic-book version of a movie star: a celestial alien being.

    His character in Guardians 2 is a “living planet” named Ego; a charismatic, god-like creature with a greying pompadour as bouffant as it was in Russell’s ’80s heyday. But he might as well be a celebrity, waltzing into the carefully balanced Marvel world and throwing it gleefully out of whack. It’s the same role he plays in the Fast & Furious franchise, where his “Mr. Nobody,” an anonymous government agent working for some mysterious organization, serves as a walking deus ex machina, allowing Vin Diesel’s gearheaded band of misfits to travel around the world in various absurd vehicles.

    Unsurprisingly, Russell is terrific in Guardians 2, imbuing the film with the same jolt of energy he gave the Fast & Furious movies. Even more interesting, though, is the clash of eras he represents—to see him interact with the Guardians hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who is Ego’s son, is to see someone from an entirely star-driven era do on-screen battle with someone from the current more brand-focused one. Pratt is an A-list actor, but mostly because of the major titles he’s worked on (The Lego Movie, Marvel films, Jurassic World). It’s as if Kurt Russell is visiting him from a time before global brands even existed in Hollywood, as an ambassador for his own one-of-a-kind, more character-focused screen presence.

    Russell was a journeyman actor starting in the early ’60s (his teenage years). When John Carpenter cast him as the lead of his sci-fi dystopia Escape From New York (1981), the film’s backers considered Russell not tough enough for the role of renegade super-soldier Snake Plissken. He eventually bulked up and suggested Plissken wear an eye patch. And yet Plissken is one of cinema’s most iconic antiheroes not because of his look, but because of how Russell keeps him grounded amid Escape From New York’s futuristic chaos. Russell had been considered to play Han Solo a few years earlier in Star Wars, but lost the part to Harrison Ford—with Snake, he gave a glimpse of the harder-edged performance he could have offered.

    Russell’s greatest collaborations are all with Carpenter, who, like him, eschewed much of the tedious formula of expensive Hollywood action movies. The Thing (1982) is a jarringly violent cross of horror and sci-fi that never risks a wink at the audience, even when spider-limbed aliens are wreaking bloody havoc onscreen. Russell’s bearded MacReady is an ordinary Joe and marquee superhero wrapped into one, letting the movie’s scares play to the back of the theater while he reminds viewers this chaos is happening to real people.

    Unlike so many of his ’80s action counterparts (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood), Russell was happy to play second fiddle (as he did to Meryl Streep in Mike Nichols’s real-life drama Silkwood). Even better, he was glad to be in on the joke, as he is in his third collaboration with Carpenter, Big Trouble in Little China (1986). That throwback piece of adventure filmmaking stars Russell’s square-jawed hero Jack Burton, who thinks he’s the center of the story, but keeps causing more harm rather than saving the day (the real protagonist is his buddy Wang Chi, played by Dennis Dun).

    Often, Russell’s movies wouldn’t hit as squarely at the box office as the more generic offerings of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, who churned out sequels to their biggest hits while also making stand-alone action movies (like Cobra or Commando) that obeyed a very simple “cool hero beats up the bad guys” formula. His collaborations with his eventual wife Goldie Hawn (Swing Shift, Overboard) showed how easily his charismatic persona could translate to comedy. In the ’90s, he focused on more ensemble-heavy pictures like Stargate, Backdraft, and Executive Decision, but quickly tapped out of the leading-man business after Carpenter’s attempt to revive Plissken with Escape From L.A. (1996) bombed with critics and audiences.

    Kurt Russell is never himself, yet he always is.

    Since then, Russell seemed to take only sporadic interest in making movies at all, and he really did go all in on founding a high-end winery. When Quentin Tarantino cast him as the villain of his faux-grindhouse flick Death Proof (2007), it seemed like the start of the kind of career revival Tarantino pioneered with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Instead, Russell didn’t appear in another major theatrical release until Furious 7. What changed? Distractions aside, it seems that Russell simply waited until he got the itch to act again. It also seems, at least from the wide-ranging, fascinating interview he gave to Bill Simmons’ podcast, that he could bow out again just as quickly.

    Until then, moviegoers are experiencing a joyous revival. As Mr. Nobody, Ego, the hard-bitten “Mr. Jimmy” in Deepwater Horizon, and “The Hangman” John Ruth in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Russell has been consistently extraordinary, commanding the screen with the same easygoing, grounded presence that made him so special in the first place. The best way to describe Russell’s work is that it never seems like he’s trying to be a movie star, even when reading Tarantino dialogue or zapping energy bolts at the Guardians of the Galaxy. Anything he does seems wholly natural, no matter how heightened his trappings.

    It’s the kind of invaluable skill many current movie stars could stand to learn from. Ben Affleck is not a bad actor, but when he’s Bruce Wayne in Batman v. Superman, you can’t help but think that Affleck is playing some version of himself—offering some meta-commentary on his own tabloid life (the same goes for stars like Brad Pitt or even latter-day Tom Cruise). Others, like the various “Chrises” (Pratt, Evans, Pine, Hemsworth) are defined by the iconic roles that made them famous. When Evans speaks out on a real-life issue, people practically treat him as if he is Captain America.

    Russell is never himself, yet he always is—he’s got a persona and a certain indefinable swagger, but even his silliest roles are fully realized creations, from an actual nobody to a literal planet. At some point, he’ll certainly tire of these new, carefully managed mega-sequels and retreat back to his winery. For now, Hollywood’s all the better with him back on board.


    • Nice to see another unabashed Russell fan, like me. Still, how does Used Cars not even get mentioned?


    • I became aware of Kurt Russell’s self-awareness during the DVD commentary of “Big Trouble in Little China” (a film I have constantly referenced on this site), as he mentions “Soldier”, and says to John Carpenter something along the lines that it was during filming he came to the realization that he was getting too old for action pictures (I heard that “Soldier” was a rough shoot all around anyway). Seems to me that Russell knows when to say when, so I think that’s cool.


  30. Stargate (1994) Retrospective / Review


  31. Welcome to the Basement: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)


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