This week, Vin Diesel brings his bullet-headed antihero Riddick back to movie theater screens, presumably to kick butt and growl a lot, not necessarily in that order. This puts us in mind of other famous cinema badasses, some of which we’ll highlight in today’s Roundtable.
There is one cinema badass to beat them all, and that is Snake Plissken. Played by Kurt Russell, Plissken only appears in two movies, ‘Escape From New York‘ and ‘Escape From L.A.‘, and only one of those is actually good, but it doesn’t matter. Russell makes such an awesome impression as the one-eyed loner that his portrayal rockets him to the top. Plissken is smart and crafty, able to take care of himself in a fight, and highly unpredictable. He’s just as good at a death match as he is at a free-throw contest (seriously), and you never really know his true motivations. His hardened façade may mask someone who actually does give a shit, but at the same time, he’s happy to watch the world burn. Absolutely badass.
To qualify as a real movie badass, I think three qualities should exist. First, the character needs to instill fear in those who come up against him. Second, he needs to buck the system in some way, to be a rebel. Finally – this being the movies after all – he needs to be the source of some great one-liners and dialogue. For me, no one fits the bill better than Harry Callahan, as played by Clint Eastwood in five ‘Dirty Harry‘ films. In the 1970s and 1980s, Callahan was the movie poster boy against a justice system that many Americans felt was failing them. Whether tracking down a serial killer, fighting against police corruption, or standing up for victims’ rights, we always knew that Dirty Harry had our backs.
This one is easy: Sam Gerard. He’s definitely my favorite cinematic force of nature. Harrison Ford was great in ‘The Fugitive‘, but Tommy Lee Jones was even better. Hell, I even enjoy watching the lackluster sequel just to watch Jones reprise his Oscar winning character. And to see him in a chicken suit.
Male: Ash from the ‘Evil Dead‘ movies, played by Bruce “Man-god” Campbell, is the ultimate badass. Starting as a regular schmoe who worked a dead-end retail job, Ash went on to stop the forces of evil at every turn, even having to chainsaw off his own hand and attach that same chainsaw to his arm to continue fighting. And when he got sucked back in time to the Dark Ages in ‘Army of Darkness‘, he battled evil once again and brought two families together, all the while romancing the ladies with smooth one-liners. Ash can defeat zombies, demons, skeletons, and even a version of himself, and always looks good doing it. He’s the ultimate BADASS!
Female: Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from the ‘Alien‘ saga is one of the great victories for women in film. You simply cannot deny her badassness when she finally conquers the queen in ‘Aliens’. I particularly love that she’s a no-frills kinda woman. Not that there are frills to be had in deep space, but she just doesn’t need that stuff. This lady has king-sized balls and is A#1 in my book.
Michael Spike Steinbacher
Action movies with badass heroes or antiheroes aren’t typically my thing. I suppose they make good Saturday morning hangover movies, though. My pick probably wouldn’t be the choice of a lot of other people, but Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) from the superb British gangster/heist movie ‘Sexy Beast‘ could wreak havoc equally with his fists, his words and his weapons. It’s a stunning performance.
M. Enois Duarte
My favorite cinema badass has always been and continues to be none other than Indiana Jones. He’s the tough, resilient, witty, manly archetype of classic Hollywood mixed with the wry cynicism of the modern world, all rolled into one. He’s an intelligent hero unafraid of violence when called for, quickly moving into action for scholarly pursuits. The fact that he’s an academic who becomes the hero of wild action-adventure tales is more than enough to prove his badassery. Even when he’s supposed to be over the hill in search of silly-looking crystal skulls, he’s still cool and ready for battle, upstaging supposedly tough biker kids. His real name may be Henry, but we love him and will always know him as Indy.
When it comes to movie badassery, I focus primarily on the era in and around the 1980s, and no single person was more badass than Arnold Schwarzenegger. From ‘Conan the Barbarian’ to ‘The Terminator’ to ‘Kindergarten Cop’, it’s hard to choose just one prototypical Schwarzenegger character. As Dutch in ‘Predator‘, Arnold faced an otherworldly hunter that easily dispatched both Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Carl Weathers – and he was able to beat it using mud. As Arnold shrugs off the last-ditch self-detonation of the Predator and awaits pick-up on the island where he sits as the lone, enduring survivor, you just know he’s thinking that the movie should have been called ‘Dutch’. Had he come back for the sequels, that would have made a real badass franchise.
Jason Bourne is easily one of the biggest cinematic badasses of all time. The amnesiac assassin (read the books) doesn’t need a firearm to defeat his enemies. No, the guy is capable of killing other assassins with standard household items – a pencil, a magazine, a hand towel. And that’s not all! Bourne’s brawn is backed up a bright mind, one capable of putting together huge pieces of his shrouded past – despite the handicap of amnesia – faster than those trying to catch him. If fact, Bourne’s spy character is so iconic that he completely shattered the silly world of James Bond. All of a sudden, gadgets and goofball henchmen couldn’t cut it anymore, so everything that made James Bond the classic and recognizable character that people fell in love with was stripped away. Bourne was so badass that he kicked James Bond’s ass right out of his own franchise. Ever since Daniel Craig put on the tuxedo, the Bond character has been nothing more than a shell of Bourne. For all of you who love the latest three Bond flicks, be sure to thank Jason Bourne for paving the way.
My first instinct was to go with John McClane here. That just seems so obvious. And yet, so wrong. For you see, as badass as McClane is (or was, prior to the most recent sequel), even he takes second billing to my favorite movie badass, one Mr. Chow Yun-Fat, whose work with John Woo in the ’80s and early ’90s remains the stuff of legend. Although technically he played separate characters in the ‘A Better Tomorrow’ films (even between the first two of those), ‘The Killer‘ and ‘Hard Boiled‘, let’s not kid ourselves; these were all minor variations on the same thing. That’s certainly no problem, of course. When Chow walked on-screen in the first ‘A Better Tomorrow’, wearing his long woolen coat, gritting an unlit matchstick between his teeth, and blazing away with a pistol in each hand, he became an instant action movie icon. This badassery carried straight through to ‘Hard Boiled’, with its still-stunning single-unbroken-take action sequence through the corridors of a hospital under siege. At the height of his collaboration with Woo, Chow Yun-Fat was undeniably the coolest mo-fo on planet Earth, and none has ever topped him in my book.
We’ve barely scratched the surface here. Tell us about your favorite movie badasses in the Comments below.