In today's atmosphere of course correction, it's likely that previously machismo stars like the legendary Charles Bronson would have no place in today's Hollywood. Bronson once represented the pinnacle of an action star. He was a man of few words, and rarely ever bothered to add any great acting nuance to his performances, and yet was still once the highest paid actor in the world.
What set him apart from posers, though, was his harrowing early life, and the fact that he served in WWII, even earning a Purple Heart; aspects of his life that ultimately made him the real deal as an action hero. While his particular brand of stardom may not find much favor with today's often highly politicized standards in the entertainment industry, Bronson did prove on many occasions that he could pull out acclaim-worthy performances too. Love him, or hate him, these are Charles Bronson's best films according to Rotten Tomatoes.
20 The Marrying Kind - 63%
The 1952 comedy-drama film, The Marrying Kind was the ninth major film Bronson appeared in back in the '50s. Still very much a supporting actor back then, the film followed a married couple who appear before a judge seeking a divorce. Rather than simply granting it, the judge asks them to recount their marriage story, hoping it may stir up memories of what made them fall in love in the first place.
The story itself made for a tragic tale and displayed how a marriage can break down because of things like distrust and jealousy. However, these same things are typically present in all relationships, even those that make it; so this couple may yet still have a chance at reconciliation. Although Bronson does appear in it, he played a small, uncredited part in the film.
19 Battle of the Bulge - 63%
This film was a sweeping but ultimately wildly inaccurate telling of the famous WWII Ardennes Counteroffensive, better known by the movie's title, The Battle of the Bulge. While the actual battle lasted months, the film version condensed it into a three-hour epic, widescreen movie; taking large creative liberties in the process.
Stuffing as many battle scenes and important events into the film as it could, the movie made for a great standalone film but was panned heavily for its inaccuracies that were used to maximize the cinematic experience. Bronson played Major Wolenski, a US Army officer involved in some of the battles depicted by the film.
18 Apache - 64%
A great western from the '50s, Apache was directed by Robert Aldrich and starred Burt Lancaster and the stunning Jean Peters. Based on a novel from 1936, the film was a groundbreaking one for Westerns since it departed from the era's usually negative and bigoted portrayals of Native Americans.
This one followed the adventures of an Apache named Massai (Lancaster), who is the sole survivor of the tribe's warriors after Geronimo's surrender. Arrested and sent away on a train, he plots a daring escape to go and find his lover, a beautiful woman named Nalinle (Peters). Bronson played the role of the famous Apache figure, Hondo, in the film. Although widely praised in its own time, the film found less favor with modern reviewers who bemoaned its whitewashing.
17 This Property Is Condemned - 64%
A 1966 film with a screenplay co-written by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Sydney Pollack, This Property Is Condemned, provided a rare dramatic appearance for Charles Bronson. He played one of its main characters named J.J. Nichols, who is one of the men taken in by the arrival of a beautiful woman named Alva.
The story tells the sweeping tale of Alva's effect on all the people she encounters after she arrives in town for the first time. A great story, it's retold by Alva's sister to a young boy she meets along the railway tracks.
16 Death Wish - 66%
The seminal movie that Charles Bronson is remembered for, Death Wish has since gone on to become a cult favorite of action buffs. Until this film, Bronson was better known and more popular in Europe than in his own country. However, the movie's memorably violent style made Bronson an icon on American screens too. The fact that he was 52 at the time underscored how late his watershed moment arrived.
However, he would go on to cement his newfangled image in the States as an action star by leaning into the image of him created by the film. In it,Bronson played Paul, an architect whose wife and daughter are brutally attacked by muggers, leaving his wife dead. He winds up going on a vigilante-style revenge spree, luring criminals and then killing them.
Bronson later starred in four sequels, though none were as successful as the first. In 2018, a remake of the classic film was made starring Bruce Willis.
15 Breakheart Pass - 67%
In 1975, while Bronson was best known for action films, over the years he had built up a great reputation for his appearances in great Western ones too. Heartbreak Pass saw him play the lead as a supposed prisoner being escorted aboard a train headed to an outpost community for the army.
En route, people aboard the train start dying. While Bronson's character is a natural suspect, it soon emerges that his real identity is actually Agent Deakin, an under Secret Service Agent sent to investigate the supposed diphtheria outbreak at the outpost really being a front for a conspiracy to overthrow the area.
14 Crime Wave - 70%
A gritty film noir from 1954, Crime Wave followed a pair of convicts who escape from San Quentin. After committing a robbery that leaves a police officer dead, they are pursued by a relentless detective. His inquiries lead him to believe that an ex-con named Steve Lacey may be harboring fugitives at his house, despite now living a respectable life.
Bronson plays another convict named Ben Hastings who shows up at Steve's place for refuge. While Steve is usually unwilling to allow these kinds of men in his place, Hastings and his partner impose themselves. The film has been hailed as a noir gem, earning it acclaim for its subversive style and gritty performances.
13 The Indian Runner - 74%
Back in 1991, Sean Penn made his directorial debut with The Indian Runner. The film was based on a Bruce Springsteen song and starred David Morse and Viggo Mortensen as its leads. Unfortunately, by this point, Charles Bronson's career had come full circle. After his peak in the '70s and early '80s, as a leading man, by the '90s, his image as a bankable action star had begun to diminish while he aged out of favor as one.
Again largely settling for supporting roles, this one saw Bronson play Mr. Roberts, the two lead characters' father. The film, set in 1960s Nebraska, followed a conscientious farmer who struggles with his conscience after a run-in with a criminal causes him to kill the man in self-defense.
Legendary movie critic, Roger Ebert, was especially impressed by Bronson's performance in the film, which he felt proved that the aging actor always had far more acting depth than his famous action movies suggested.
"Charles Bronson plays the boys' father. It is a performance of quiet, sure power. After his recent string of brainless revenge thrillers, I wondered if Bronson had sort of given up on acting, and was just going through the motions. Here he is so good it is impossible to think of another actor one would have preferred in his place."
12 Rider on the Rain - 80%
During the '70s, Charles Bronson found a lot of success working on European-made films where he felt his talents were better appreciated. The French-made action-thriller, Rider on the Rain was one of them. In it, Bronson played a mysterious man named Dobbs. However, the main character was a married woman named Mellie. When Mellie is stalked and raped in her own house, she breaks free and manages to kill her captor, later secretly disposing of the body.
She soon meets Dobbs, an American who seems to know what happened and is interested in knowing where she dumped the body. Caught between the law and her own guilt, Mellie winds up uncovering a conspiratorial web, also learning along the way that Dobbs isn't who he seems to be either.
11 Vera Cruz - 81%
Vera Cruz was a western starring Robert Aldrich, Gray Cooper, and Burt Lancaster. Another great spaghetti western of the time, films like these went a long way in advancing Bronson's career on screen while he was still a supporting actor.
This one dealt with an ex-Confederate soldier who travels south seeking work as a mercenary.
He winds up with a gang who are recruited to escort a Countess carrying a hefty sum of gold coins to the city of Veracruz. Alliances are formed as the men hatch a plan to steal the gold for themselves, but surrounding circumstances throw in plenty of complications. Bronson played a supporting character known as Pittsburgh in the film, which went on to become a huge commercial hit and was later regarded as one of the most influential films of the '50s.
10 The Dirty Dozen - 81%
Charles Bronson often had a knack for appearing in films that would go on to smash at the box office. In the legendary film, The Dirty Dozen, he again appeared in a great war movie. This one was directed by his previous co-star, Robert Aldrich, and was adapted from a book of the same name.
Bronson was among many other real-life veterans cast in the film. He played Joseph Wladislawand the film revolved around a secret mission to train the US Army's worst convicts as elite commandos. This film went on to be influential as a pop culture trope, also used in films like The Suicide Squad. The Dirty Dozen itself went on to be nominated for four Oscars, winning the award for Best Sound Effects.
9 Mr. Majestyk - 82%
By 1974, Charles Bronson was a full-blown star in his own right. Far from needing to play second fiddle to anyone now, he had found his niche in Hollywood as a leading man in gritty action films. In a film typical of his style called Mr. Majestyk, Bronson played a Vietnam vet turned melon farmer in rural Colorado.
Although trying to live a quiet life, he's approached by a local gangster who attempts to rope him into a protection racket. Facing financial pressure, he resists and winds up in jail on assault charges. There he meets a mob hitman and finds himself caught up in a dangerous situation that brings out his former training in spectacular style.
8 Pat and Mike - 85%
This 1952 romantic comedy starred the iconic Katharine Hepburn as Pat Pemberton, a star athlete who struggles with anxiety whenever her domineering fiancé is around. Pat and Mike earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Ahead of its time, the film now takes on a lot more significance for its portrayal of a brilliant woman being held back by a man who wants her to quit her career, so she can marry him.
Bronson played a supporting character named Hank Tasling, though he was still being credited by his real name, Charles Buchinski back then. The film was a great indication of how rampant chauvinism was back then but also proved a great stepping stone for Bronson by starring alongside the likes of Hepburn and other screen legends like Spencer Tracy.
7 The Magnificent Seven - 89%
The original 1960 version of the famed western, The Magnificent Seven was itself a remake of a Japanese film called Seven Samurai. However, the US version went on to be hailed as one of the greatest westerns ever and has since spurned its own remakes and spin-offs. It was also one of the films that signaled a turnaround in the acting fortunes of Charles Bronson.
A huge critical and commercial hit, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score. It told the classic tale of a band of villagers who are tired of being persecuted by bandits. Seeking help, they pay a group of men to help them fight back. Bronson played one of the seven, an Irish-Mexican named Bernardo O'Reilly.
6 House of Wax - 93%
In the early '50s, Charles Bronson was still an up-and-coming actor who usually had to settle for smaller, supporting roles in films. However, he made up for this by working incredibly hard at that time. For instance, between 1952 and 1954, he appeared in 18 films and acted in an average of six films a year. In House of Wax, he played Igor, the classical stock character who sometimes appears as Frankenstein's assistant.
In this one, Igor was an assistant to Professor Henry Jarrod, a disfigured sculptor in the mystery horror film that featured a grotesquely brilliant hook. What visitors to Jarrod's recently destroyed House of Wax don't realize, is that his new wax figures are now actual dead people he murdered and turned into attractions by coating their corpses in wax.
5 Hard Times - 93%
In 1975, Bronson played a man named Chaney in the critically acclaimed film, Hard Times. Chaney is a man who witnesses a bare-knuckle street fight, then bets a man nicknamed "Speed" (James Coburn) that he can beat the winner. After easily proving this, he is taken under the Speed's wing as they travel into the shadowy world of illegal street fighting.
Chaney is gritty and consistently wins his fights but Speed causes more trouble for them along the way since he's a gambling addict who blows their money before he can repay loan sharks. Although Bronson played his character perfectly, he was far from the first choice, the casting director believing he was too old at the time. However, Bronson's physique for his age and his rough persona in reality quickly won everyone over as the character.
4 The Great Escape - 94%
Another smash hit film, this one was once the highest-grossing film of 1963. The Great Escape saw Steve McQueen take the lead in a film that revolved around a group of POWs captured by Germans during the Third Reich. After the men are moved to a new camp, their leaders begin plotting escape plans.
What follows is a harrowing film that chronicles the highs and lows as the men repeatedly try out their evolving plans to break out. Bronson played a man known as Flight Lieutenant Danny Welinski, also known as the "Tunnel King." He earns that name since he's previously dug 17 tunnels in other camps, despite struggling with severe claustrophobia.
3 Once Upon a Time in the West - 96%
By 1968, Charles Bronson was quickly becoming one of the biggest stars around. Having already been in some great Western films by then, Once Upon a Time in the West became his standout role in the genre. An epic, Italian spaghetti western, Bronson was offered the role of "Harmonica" after Clint Eastwood passed on the film.
It portrayed an ensemble of great characters and the complications that arose from a piece of land that is water-rich and located along a railroad route. A massive critical success, the movie went on to consistently be ranked as one of the greatest films of all time. Its huge cult following has even seen the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese often cite it as a major influence on their own work.
2 You're in the Navy Now - 100%
Only the second film he had appeared in, You're in the Navy Now saw Bronson in another early supporting role. This one came in a 1951 war drama led by Gary Cooper. A film ahead of its time, this one revolved around a newly commissioned naval officer as he learns that his inclusion aboard an experimental vessel is due to his civilian background as an engineer.
The ship is stacked with other civilian and newly promoted officers whose lack of seamanship soon leads to complications. While the few real navy men on board become disquieted by this fact, the mismatched crew tries their best to run a successful trial, but their inexperience proves their inclusion wasn't by chance.
1 Jubal - 100%
Charles Bronson had a long and highly celebrated career that lasted a staggering 49 years and saw him appear in well over 50 movies in that time. The last of these came in the 1999 TV film, Family of Cops 3, before his health took a turn. Four years later, Bronson passed away at the age of 81 after battling a myriad of health complications that ultimately led to him suffering respiratory failure.
However, before all this, way back in 1956, Bronson was already earning a solid reputation as an actor when he appeared in the gritty, adult western, Jubal. While he played a supporting role in the film as a character named Reb, the movie was an immediate critical hit.
It dealt with a cowboy who enters a small town seeking work but causes a stir when the wife of the man who offers him some takes a liking to him. While no one knew it back then, there was a future screen icon among them as Bronson would go on to prove through his long and majestic career after it.