Stream These 8 Great Performances by William Hurt

The four-time Academy Award nominee William Hurt, who died Sunday at 71, left behind a bulging filmography — over 100 appearances in movies and television in the 45 years between his first (on a two-part episode of “Kojak”) and his last (the in-production series “Pantheon”). In between, he won an Oscar for best actor (for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” a title that is sadly not available to stream), turned up on prestige TV and in character roles and made recurring appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here are a few of the highlights from his extensive career, and where you can stream them:

nineteen eighty one

Hurt’s first big film hit was also his inaugural collaboration with the writer and director Lawrence Kasdan, with whom he would continue to work throughout his ’80s leading man heyday. “Body Heat” is a scorching throwback to the film noir tradition, telling one of the quintessential stories of that period: the rich woman (Kathleen Turner, in an electrifying film debut) who enlists a horny heel (Hurt) to help her bump off her rich husband (Richard Crenna) for the insurance money. The story might have been old hat, but Kasdan took advantage of the looser content restrictions of his era to make the subtext text, crafting pulse-quickening love scenes that take full advantage of Hurt and Turner’s explosive chemistry. Ted Danson and Mickey Rourke also pop up in early roles.

Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.

1983

Kasdan reunited with Hurt for his next directorial effort, an ensemble drama so culturally ubiquitous, its title became generational shorthand. Hurt appears alongside Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, fellow Kasdan favorite Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place and JoBeth Williams as a group of baby boomer college schoolmates who reunite for a weekend away after the suicide of their friend; truths are told, long-buried secrets are revealed, sexual escapades are had and Motown tunes are played. It’s the kind of big, busy movie where actors typically have to make a lot of noise to stick out — but Hurt goes in the opposite direction, playing his impotent, drug-addicted vet character with a kind of quiet, simmering pain that’s impossible to shake.

Stream on Tubi. Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.

1986

Hurt received his second Academy Award nomination for this powerful adaptation of Mark Medoff’s stage play from the director Randa Haines. His role, of a hearing teacher at a school for the deaf who begins a relationship with a fellow employee (an Oscar-winning Marlee Matlin, in her film debut), captures one of the quintessential qualities of Hurt’s persona: bristling intelligence combined with simmering impatience to create an unnervingly explosive personality. He never played easy characters, and would blunt their sympathetic qualities with his own ferocity—but the results, as in this case, were often stunningly affecting. (In her 2010 memoir, Matlin accused Hurt, with whom she had an offscreen relationship, of abuse.)

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1987

Hurt may have had the trickiest acting assignment of his early years in this 1987 Oscar nominee by the writer and director James L. Brooks — which wouldn’t seem to be the case on first glance, as it’s a light romantic comedy. But as Tom Grunick, the up-and-coming network news reporter who’s already being groomed for the anchor seat, Hurt had to both personify all that its idealistic protagonist (Holly Hunter) thought was dangerous, and be charming enough for her to believably fall for him anyway. The actor pulls it off, thanks to a potent combination of aw-shucks charm and on-the-job professionalism; you believe he could do the job he’s doing, you believe she might warm up to him and you still understand why she can’t.

Stream on HBO Max. Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.

1988

Kasdan reunited his “Body Heat” stars Hurt and Turner for this muted but affecting adaptation of the novel by Anne Tyler. It finds its stars in an entirely different mode, as a married couple whose relationship has deteriorated in the wake of their young son’s tragic death. Hurt’s character, a travel writer for people who hate to travel, deals with his grief and depression the way he deals with everything: by shutting it down, bottling it up while he lives a life of barely-contained impatience. Such a role would be a tricky sell for most actors, but Hurt made it something of a specialty, and he excels here at not only making the character empathetic, but showing how the right person (Geena Davis, in an Oscar-winning turn) could break down those walls.

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1990

Hurt was such an intense personality and played hyper-serious characters with such skill that it was easy to underestimate his gifts as a comic actor. And he didn’t have many opportunities to display them, but this pitch-black comedy from Lawrence Kasdan (their final collaboration) was a golden one. Hurt doesn’t appear until nearly midway through this story of a put-upon wife (Tracey Ullman) who decides to kill her philandering husband (Kevin Kline); he and Keanu Reeves are the hit men she’s unfortunate enough to hire, a pair of spaced-out stoners who prove uniquely incompetent at getting the job done. It remains surprising to see Hurt doing a Bill-and-Ted act alongside Ted himself, but they find the right comic rhythm for their ridiculous two-act.

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1995

Hurt appeared in fewer studio leading roles after his 1980s salad days, presumably due to some combination of his “difficult” reputation and his desire to spend more time onstage. But he kept busy with a steady stream of ensemble roles, increasingly in smaller, independent films like this gem from the director Wayne Wang, based on characters and stories by Paul Auster. Hurt plays the Auster avatar of the film, a Brooklyn novelist still mourning the loss of his wife. He plays the role with grace and sensitivity, particularly a heart-wrenching scene in which he unexpectedly stumbles across a photo of his dearly departed; it’s one of the single finest moments of his acting ever captured on film.

Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.

2005

Hurt received his final Academy Award nomination, for best supporting actor, for his brief but thrilling appearance in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel. The crime boss Richie Cusack is the kind of character who gets such a big buildup — his name is whispered in fear for much of the film’s running time — that if Hurt doesn’t deliver in the role, the entire movie falls apart. To put it mildly, he delivers, leaning into both the character’s menace and the ink-black humor of his stylized dialogue. Hurt would continue working, on film, screen and stage, until his death, but he would rarely find a role as suited to his unique gifts as this one.

Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.

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