There are plenty of badasses in movie history, but only six can be the baddest assest of all. What makes a badass should be self-evident, but for this here list I’m going to boil it down to three criteria: 1) Ability to overcome obstacles using guile and cunning as well as force, 2) durability in the face of overwhelming odds, 3) SACK! The swagger to laugh, or smirk, at whatever situation presents itself. There are plenty of characters that I’ve left off the list by simple fact that they are hot heads, so guys like Indiana Jones or Martin Riggs are suitably awesome, but lose their cool too often to be considered for this list. Get it? Let us begin.
VI – Walker in POINT BLANK (1967)
One of the many adaptations of Richard Stark’s novel “The Hunter,” in which a man is imprisoned and his money stolen by his so-called friends. He wants his money, no more, no less. As far as single-minded characters go, Walker is probably the best. Played by the rock solid Lee Marvin in his gruff and sturdy prime as evidenced by the scene in which Angie Dickinson beats on him as hard as she possibly can and he not only doesn’t get hurt, he doesn’t even move. Walker is the kind of character we know will kill us if we get in his way. The scene most exemplifying his badassery comes when he calmly dangles, then drops, his former friend Mal Reese off of a balcony, then just as icily leaves the scene of the crime before anyone notices.
V – Sanjuro in YOJIMBO (1961)
A masterless samurai walks into a gang-ravaged town with nothing but a sword and a sneer and leaves with a pile of bodies behind him. Toshiro Mifune, in a role that would be his calling card, displays subtlety and nuance behind his cold-ass glare and solemn face. “Yojimbo,” one of Akira Kurosawa’s very best, is one of the first movies to depict the hero getting the snot beaten out of him only to pick himself up, dust himself off, and kill every last fucker he’s ever seen. In an iconic, and famously ripped off, scene Sanjuro slices two guys to death and hacked the arm off another, then calmly walks to the cooper and says, “Two coffins. No, maybe three.”
IV – John McClane in DIE HARD (1988)
This is the role that took Bruce Willis from comedy tv actor to full-on action god. John McClane embodies wrong place at the wrong time, but where some characters might just stay quiet and let the proper authorities handle it, he dives in head first and pretty much single-handedly kills every terrorist-cum-thief in Nakatomi Plaza. He also pioneered the Jack Bauer trope of fighting back a man-cry during a particularly heavy and dire situation. His crowning achievement, of course, comes when he coined the immortal phrase “Yippee-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker,” which he has said in all four films. For a moment that is specifically “Die Hard 1,” though, we turn to the scene in which he jumps of a roof, barefoot, his feet cut up with glass, tethered by a fire hose and slams full boor into a plexi-glass window, which he then shoots and falls into. Talk about risking life and limb.
III – Jules Winnfield in PULP FICTION (1994)
In Quentin Tarantino’s canon of badassery at all costs, Jules, played by the monstrously awesome Samuel L. Jackson, is his crowning glory. For not being in the movie quite as much as John Travolta or Bruce Willis, Jackson is easily the most memorable part of the whole shebang. From his bravura show of force at the beginning of the film to his quiet realization of the value of life at the end, Jules easily takes the biggest journey. Basically the only character in the movie to come out more or less unscathed, his transformation is the lynch pin holding all the others together. His piece de resistance comes during the ending diner heist where he ponders the futility of life, death, and his role in them while spouting bible verses and participating in one of the zig-zaggiest Mexican standoffs in all of filmdom. He’s trying real hard to be the shepherd.
II – James Bond in any James Bond movie
There are few literary characters in the last 100 years that have as famous a surname as Bond. The name immediately evokes cool. Ian Fleming envisioned his super spy as nothing more than a paper-pusher who kills, a government stooge with a gun. Little did he know that his blunt instrument would become one of the most popular and enduring figures in Western culture, appearing (officially) in 22 films between 1962 and 2008. Bond is always there to foil some evil, and often ridiculous, plot to destroy or hold ransom the entire population of Earth and he always does it with a twinkle in his eye, a shit-eating grin, and the ability to bed anything with a vagina. It’s almost impossible to nail down (pardon the pun) just one of the many great Bond moments over the years, but one of my favorites has to be in “From Russia With Love,” (1963) when he has a shootout with a helicopter and comes out the victor. After shooting it down with a small sniper rifle, and the ensuing glorious explosion, Bond merely quips, “I’d say one of their aircraft is missing.”
I – The Man With No Name in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966)
Sure, I may be a little biased given the film is my number one favorite of all time, but it’s hard to argue with Clint Eastwood’s gravitas in the badass department. What makes TMWNN so different is that he’s a trickster character who is truly only in it for the money and is always scheming for the best position to get it. His skills as a gunman are unmatched, but it’s his brain that gets him out of most situations in this film. He always makes sure he has the upper hand, even when it looks like a surefire demise. This is the third film to feature Clint as this character and though he has the fewest lines of the three leads, he makes the most of them. Every line he utters is memorable, as is every gunshot. The entire movie builds to his ultimate ascension to badass royalty, culminating in the greatest showdown in Western movie history and one of the best lines ever: “There are two types of people in this world, my friend: those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.” He’s not a very nice guy, but there’s definitely a reason he’s called “The Good.”
And there you have it. Go rent some movies and enjoy some badassitute.
Images: EON/Sony, Miramax, MGM, 20th Century Fox, Toho, United Artists