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Val Kilmer's 12 Greatest Films, Ranked

With news of a "Willow" sequel and the push for the release of the extended "Batman Forever," we agree with the masses…"more Val Kilmer." Like…right now.

By Chuck Walton

Key art from "Real Genius"

© TriStar/courtesy Everett Collection

With recent news of a "Willow" sequel and the push for the release of the extended "Batman Forever," we agree with the masses…"more Val Kilmer." Like…right now. Kilmer greatness ahead with his 12 best films, ranked.

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    True Romance

    © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

    While Val Kilmer has only a small role in this truly underrated classic directed by "Top Gun's" Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino, it's a doozy of a character. Kilmer's the ghost of Elvis Presley, who motivates Christian Slater's Clarence Worley to grab life by the throat, take out the dirtbag pimping out Clarence's new girlfriend/wife Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and high tail it to Hollywood – to sell the dirtbag's suitcase of coke, and maybe live life happily ever after? It's Tarantino, so, maybe not…but Kilmer's Elvis reigns supreme.

    True Romance

    Action / 1993 / R

    Synopsis: A comic-book nerd and Elvis fanatic Clarence (Christian Slater) and a prostitute named Alabama (Patricia Arquette) fall in love. Clarence breaks the news to her pimp and ends up killing him. He grabs a suitcase of cocaine on his way out thinking it is Alabama's clothing. The two hit the road for California hoping to sell the cocaine, but the mob is soon after them.

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    Thunderheart

    © TriStar Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

    Val Kilmer stars as an FBI agent sent to investigate a series of murders on an Indian reservation in this little-seen, but quite-amazing drama-thriller from director Michael Apted, who's also known for the acclaimed "Up" documentaries, which follow a group of people every 7 years throughout their lives. This one also has a realistic gritty feel to it, and while Kilmer looks slick as an FBI agent, the fact that he is part Cherokee (and his character in the film is part Native American) only adds to the stakes.

    Thunderheart

    Mystery / 1992 / R

    Synopsis: When a series of murders stuns a small Native American reservation, the FBI sends in agent Ray Levoi (Val Kilmer) to investigate. While Ray is relatively inexperienced, he is one quarter Sioux, and the FBI hopes that will make it easier for them to gather information from the locals. While the reservation police officer (Graham Greene) views the agent as an outsider, the tribal elder (Chief Ted Thin Elk) believes him to be the reincarnated spirit of Thunderheart, a Native American hero.

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    Spartan

    © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

    Kilmer returns to government agent mode in this thriller from writer-director David Mamet. He's a top Secret Service officer who's assigned to recover the President's kidnapped daughter, and uncovers an elaborate cover-up involving traffickers and other dark, icky stuff. Here, he's the seasoned vet version of his "Thunderheart" character. He's completely believable, able to handle himself in action and other tough spots, always conveying a calm presence and a quiet intelligence. You don't want to mess with him. You do want to see what he'll do next.

    Spartan

    Thriller / 2004 / R

    Synopsis: When the president's daughter, Laura Newton (Kristen Bell), is kidnapped by a human trafficking ring, high-ranking Secret Service agent Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) takes on the case. With the assistance of his protégé, Curtis (Derek Luke), Robert begins investigating, but the operation is called off when Laura is reported dead. However, Robert and Curtis, who have discovered evidence to the contrary, continue their search, and soon find evidence of an elaborate government cover-up.

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    The Salton Sea

    © Warner Brothers. Courtesy Everett Collection

    This mystery-noir casts an excellent Kilmer as a former trumpet player who's descended into the drug underworld after the murder of his wife. Kilmer's great as a druggie, but he's able to depict other things going on underneath the surface of his character's down-and-out appearance. All is not what it seems as Kilmer acts as an informant to two corrupt cops and plays out the situations with them and a thuggish, disfigured dealer named Pooh Bear (the always great Vincent D'Onofrio).

    The Salton Sea

    Crime Drama / 2002 / R

    Synopsis: After the murder of his beloved wife, a man (Val Kilmer) in search of redemption is set adrift in a world where nothing is as it seems. On his journey, he befriends slacker Jimmy "The Finn" (Peter Sarsgaard), becomes involved in rescuing his neighbor Colette (Deborah Kara Unger) from her own demons, and gets entangled in a web of deceit full of unexpected twists and turns.

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    Top Secret!

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    Val's debut movie role occurred in "Top Secret!," a spoof spy comedy set in WW-II, from the makers of "Airplane!" Kilmer plays Nick Rivers, an American rock star recruited by the resistance for a dangerous mission in East Germany. Besides showing off his chops as a fine singer and convincing teen pin-up, Kilmer also proves his comic timing's on point. He can play it straight or funny and look good doing it.

    Top Secret!

    Comedy / 1984 / PG

    Synopsis: Popular and dashing American singer Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) travels to East Germany to perform in a music festival. When he loses his heart to the gorgeous Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge), he finds himself caught up in an underground resistance movement. Rivers joins forces with Agent Cedric (Omar Sharif) and Flammond to attempt the rescue of her father, Dr. Paul (Michael Gough), from the Germans, who have captured the scientist in hopes of coercing him into building a new naval mine.

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    Batman Forever

    © Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

    The calls for releasing the late director Joel Schumacher's extended version of "Batman Forever" are warranted. We hear it's longer, darker and makes the truncated version a lot more comprehensible. Plus, there's more Kilmer. And as Kilmer mega fans, that makes us very happy. He was always a suave, debonair and believable Bruce Wayne. And we prefer his Batman voice over the growly emoting of Christian Bale – though he was great, too.

    Batman Forever

    Action / 1995 / PG-13

    Synopsis: Batman (Val Kilmer) faces off against two foes: the schizophrenic, horribly scarred former District Attorney Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), and the Riddler (Jim Carrey), a disgruntled ex-Wayne Enterprises inventor seeking revenge against his former employer by unleashing his brain-sucking weapon on Gotham City's residents. As the caped crusader also deals with tortured memories of his parents' murder, he has a new romance, with psychologist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman).

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    Willow

    © MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

    The "Willow" sequel is coming to Disney+, and Warwick Davis returns as hero Willow Ufgood! We're super pleased to hear the news, although we're somewhat sad that his accompanying hero, Val Kilmer's "you are great" swordsman Madmartigan, won't be returning. Given Kilmer's current health, we understand. But filmgoers should return to the original to be reminded. Val is an incredible action-adventure leading man.

    Willow

    Fantasy / 1988 / PG

    Synopsis: Enter the world of "Willow." Journey to the far corners of your imagination, to a land of myth and magic, where dream and reality live side by side ... to a place that never existed, a time that never was. It is a world where a young man named Willow lives out an adventure that explodes beyond the boundaries of his own hopes and fears.

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    Top Gun

    © Paramount / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Kilmer's iconic fighter jet pilot "Iceman" is the perfect counterpoint to Tom Cruise's hyper-caffeinated "Maverick." No one's as cool as "Ice." Cruise may burn up the atmosphere as the lead guy. But it's Kilmer's imposing, statuesque Iceman that gets him there. As Anthony Edwards' Goose, attests, "It's the way he flies, ice cold. Get bored, do something stupid, and he's got you."

    Top Gun

    Action / 1986 / PG

    Synopsis: The Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School is where the best of the best train to refine their elite flying skills. When hotshot fighter pilot Maverick (Tom Cruise) is sent to the school, his reckless attitude and cocky demeanor put him at odds with the other pilots, especially the cool and collected Iceman (Val Kilmer). But Maverick isn't only competing to be the top fighter pilot, he's also fighting for the attention of his beautiful flight instructor, Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis).

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    Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

    © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

    It takes a lot to stand up and be noticed alongside Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. But Val Kilmer makes it look easy in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" as detective "Gay" Perry, reluctantly accepting his role as mentor to Downey Jr.'s constantly flummoxed Harry Lockhart. The odd couple's bickering, while investigating a Hollywood murder, is a constant source of amusement.

    Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

    Mystery / 2005 / R

    Synopsis: Two-bit crook Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) stumbles into an audition for a mystery film while on the run from the cops. Winning the part, he lands in Hollywood, where he's flung into a tangled, murderous conspiracy with his childhood sweetheart, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan), and hard-boiled private eye Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer). This deadpan, affectionate parody of film noir tropes is named for film critic Pauline Kael's influential 1968 collection of film reviews and essays.

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    The Doors

    © TriStar Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

    Val Kilmer not only plays Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's hedonistic epic. He's possessed by him. The two are literally one and the same. Stone uses Kilmer's voice and Morrison's own and blends them together on classic "Doors" tunes, and the whole project comes off as a drug-induced dream and nightmare which probably approximates being at a Doors concert at their peak. It's a performance that should have earned an Oscar, but no matter – it's a Jim Morrison performance that won't ever be equaled.

    The Doors

    Music / 1991 / R

    Synopsis: After a psychedelic experience in the California desert, Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer), lead singer of The Doors, and his bandmates begin performing in Los Angeles and quickly become a sensation. However, when Jim begins ditching his musical responsibilities and his girlfriend, Pamela (Meg Ryan), in favor of his dangerous addictions and the affections of the seductive, occult-obsessed Patricia (Kathleen Quinlan), the band starts to worry about their leader.

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    Heat

    © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

    Val gets third billing in Michael Mann's "Heat" since Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, as opposing cop and bank robber, are the main attractions. But as De Niro's right-hand lieutenant, Kilmer smolders with authentic menace and believable humanity. He's a flawed husband and father who's crazy about his wife and child, and is 100% loyal to De Niro. He also has mad gun skills, as evidenced in "Heat's" top-of-the-genre action sequences.

    Heat

    Crime Drama / 1995 / R

    Synopsis: Master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is trying to control the rogue actions of one of his men, while also planning one last big heist before retiring. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Hanna (Al Pacino) attempts to track down McCauley as he deals with the chaos in his own life, including the infidelity of his wife (Diane Venora) and the mental health of his stepdaughter (Natalie Portman). McCauley and Hanna discover a mutual respect, even as they try to thwart each other's plans.

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    Real Genius

    © TriStar/courtesy Everett Collection

    The real Val Kilmer, or at least the one we most like, is fully embodied in his college senior and resident genius Chris Knight. The 1985 classic teen comedy has endless Val quotables ("I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, I drank what?"), and deserves a thousand viewings. It's especially great to see the future Iceman, melted down here, affectionately mentoring his young protégé Mitch. Kilmer's quips are classic, but you remember how he's a relatable human being just looking to do the right thing and have some fun with his friends.

    Real Genius

    Comedy / 1985 / PG

    Synopsis: When science whiz Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret) arrives at Pacific Tech as a freshman, he's paired up with genius senior Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) to work on a laser project. Mitch initially doesn't care for Knight's slacker attitude, but is eventually won over, and their friendship allows them to make new progress on the laser project. It's only when the boys learn that the government intends to use the laser as a weapon that they start to question what they've actually been working for.

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