Walter Hill is, like Jonathan Demme, one of those unsung American auteurs who has contributed greatly to the popular culture but rarely gets the attention or recognition that he rightfully deserves. Hill has been instrumental in a number of key cultural touchstones in decades past – everything from the Alien franchise to HBO’s Tales from the Crypt series – and remains active and creative (his last film was The Assignment, released theatrically in 2017), even if his output isn’t as regular or mainstream.
What’s remarkable about Hill is that almost from the get-go, he had cultivated what a “Walter Hill film” meant. It was unselfconscious and seemingly effortless process, but his style and his thematic interests are so specific and so deeply saturated into each project that from the beginning of his career, you knew what you’d be in for if you chose to watch one of his movies.
And it’s worth noting that Hill had just as much impact on the small screen. His pilot for Dog and Cat, a thriller he had created for ABC that starred a young Kim Basinger, was said to have inspired Shane Black when he wrote Lethal Weapon. Besides Tales from the Crypt, Hill tried to jump-start a number of tangentially related shows including the underappreciated sci-fi spin-off Perversions of Science (Hill directed the terrific first episode). He directed the first episode of Deadwood (and won an Emmy for it) but, despite a producer credit, left after the first episode because of disagreements with creator David Milch. And he had some of the best success in the later part of his career with the AMC miniseries Broken Trail, which won the Emmy for best miniseries and awards for both actors (Thomas Hayden Church and Robert Duvall). I also highly recommend his comic book Triggerman if you need any more Walter Hill-y goodness.
Buckle-up for a list full of tough guys, sassy broads, and a whole lot of punches thrown. Best accompanied by any one of Ry Cooder’s slide-guitar-filled soundtracks.