Val Kilmer: His 12 Greatest Films, Ranked

With the release on Amazon Prime this weekend of the acclaimed Val Kilmer biopic, called simply "Val," we pay tribute with his best dozen films ever.

Chuck Walton

By Chuck Walton

Key art from "Real Genius"

© TriStar/courtesy Everett Collection

The critically acclaimed (94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) biopic "Val," about actor/filmmaker/artist Val Kilmer, debuted at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and arrives on Amazon Prime this weekend. It's also still playing in limited theatrical release. Be sure to watch it (trailer below). Then watch more Kilmer greatness with his 12 best films, also ranked below.

  • 12True Romance
    Key art from "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 Poster

    True Romance

    Action / 1993 / R

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  • 11Thunderheart
    Sarah Brave and Val Kilmer in "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 Poster

    Thunderheart

    Mystery / 1992 / R

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  • 10Spartan
    Val Kilmer in "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 Poster

    Spartan

    Thriller / 2004 / R

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  • 9The Salton Sea
    Val Kilmer in "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 Poster

    The Salton Sea

    Crime Drama / 2002 / R

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  • 8Top Secret!
    Val Kilmer in "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! Poster

    Top Secret!

    Comedy / 1984 / PG

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  • 7Batman Forever
    Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman in "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 Poster

    Batman Forever

    Action / 1995 / PG-13

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  • 6Willow
    Val Kilmer in "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 Poster

    Willow

    Fantasy / 1988 / PG

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  • 5Top Gun
    Val Kilmer in "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 Poster

    Top Gun

    Action / 1986 / PG

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  • 4Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
    Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr in "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 Poster

    Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

    Mystery / 2005 / R

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  • 3The Doors
    Val Kilmer in "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 Poster

    The Doors

    Biography / 1991 / R

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  • 2Heat
    Val Kilmer in "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 Poster

    Heat

    Crime Drama / 1995 / R

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  • 1Real Genius
    Val Kilmer in "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 Poster

    Real Genius

    Comedy / 1985 / PG

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About the Author

Chuck Walton

Chuck Walton

Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.

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