William Hurt, who passed away on March 13 at the age of 71, left behind a hell of an acting legacy. An imperfect man, Hurt was a remarkable performer, equally adept at drama and comedy, and possessed an eye for interesting roles and offbeat film, television, and theater projects.
He was as likely to turn up in an indie film that hardly anyone saw, but that he loved making, as he was to appear in a Disney / Marvel blockbuster. Hurt was at the peak of his craft in the mid-1980s, when he earned three straight Oscar nominations in the Best Actor category, for Kiss of the Spider Woman, Children of a Lesser Godand Broadcast News. He won for Kiss of the Spider Womanand earned a fourth nomination, in the Best Supporting Actor category, nearly two decades later, for A History of Violence. As a tribute, here are our picks for William Hurt’s essential flicks, plus, where to stream them.
Hurt seemed to specialize in playing brilliant, emotionally aloof characters, and he was perfect in James L. Brooks’ comedy-drama, Broadcast News. It would be easy to get lost or overshadowed in a starry cast that includes Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, Joan Cusack, and Jack Nicholson, but Hurt stands out by humanizing (almost) an ambitious and ethically challenged TV news anchor.
Broadcast News is streaming on HBO Max.
AI: Artificial Intelligence
By the 2000s, Hurt had made the shift from leading man to supporting actor, called upon to lend projects name recognition and dramatic heft. Steven Spielberg took on the sci-fi drama AI following the death of his friend, iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who’d originally planned to adapt the Brian Aldiss short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long. Hurt appears as Allen Hobby, a professor who creates David (Haley Joel Osment), a Mecha child with the capacity to think, feel, and love. In one key scene, Hobby sells others on the idea of such a Mecha, and in another, beautifully played by Hurt and Osment, Hobby tries to assure David that he is the “real boy” he aspires to be.
AI is streaming for free, with commercials, on IMDB TV.
The Big Chill
Hurt and writer-director Lawrence Kasdan broke out together in 1981 with the sexy, noir thriller Body Heatthen teamed again for The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist. The best of the three is The Big Chill, an ensemble drama about a group of old college friends (Hurt, Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, Meg Tilly, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, and JoBeth Williams) who reunite after the death of one of their own (that’s famously Kevin Costner as the corpse). The group members were once 1960s idealists, but now time has passed and reality has struck. Hurt’s character, Nick Carlton, a psychologist, is the most disaffected. A real jerk, he’s angry, volatile, and deals some drugs that get the rest of the gang sharing their true feelings.
The Big Chill is streaming on Tubi.
The MCU Films
Big films often cast great actors to provide gravitas, and the folks behind the Marvel superhero comic-book adaptations have mastered the art of it, recruiting the likes of Jeff Bridges, Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ben Kingsley, etc. for key roles. Hurt was one of the first, playing General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross – an uncompromising, humorless man who does bad deeds out of patriotism and with an eye toward the greater good – in 2008’s The Incredible Hulkand reprising the role in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgameand most recently, Black Widow. Ross’s actions resulted in the creation of the Hulk and Abomination, and later, as US Secretary of State, it was his proposed Sokovia Accords that caused the epic Avengers split.
Most of the MCU films are streaming on Disney +.
A History of Violence
Hurt earned his fourth and final Oscar nomination for his stellar, disturbing work in director David Cronenberg’s 2005 film adaptation of A History of Violence, a graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Viggo Mortensen stars as a diner owner whose small-town life forever changes when he kills two would-be robbers in self-defense, which makes him a local hero and attracts the attention of some powerful mobsters, including Richie Cusack, played by Hurt. He’s on-screen for barely 10 minutes, but his presence looms over the entire affair, and Hurt’s last scene in the (spoiler ahead) denouement, is mesmerizing.
A History of Violence is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.