Here is a Top 10 list of my favorite movie badasses. These folks are hardcore invincible types. No animated characters and no superheros. I have eliminated movies where folks are more than just badass. So if there is someone missing from the list that you think should be there, it is either because I haven’t seen the movie, had forgotten about it, or the character is a lot more complicated than being just a badass [i.e. Katsumoto [Ken Watanabe] from The Last Samurai]
10. Tom Powers [James Cagney]:The Public Enemy
James Cagney was one of the first tough guys in film. This particular film, dealing with the criminal mind in the basest of thugs, is still effective in portraying the so-hard-he’ll-break-before-he-bends criminal archetype. Cagney’s Tom Powers is like an old, dry, mud-covered boot.
9. Chingachgook [Russell Means]: Last of the Mohicans
Russell Means has a minor role in this film, for all that he plays Chingachgook, The Last of the Mohicans. Weary but enduring, Chingachgook is like one of those really old mountain pine trees. That is, until his son gets killed. Then he becomes smooth flowing death without batting an eyelash, shocking, brutal and strangely calm. Chingachgook can withstand the pain of being last of an entire nation.
Fronsac, a Frog naturalist recently returned from the Americas, has a buddy named Mani who is a badass himself. But Mani gets wasted. So Fronsac busts out his bowie knives, flaming arrows and martial arts and beats the tar out of a battalion of guys. Then he gets thrown in jail but is freed when he gets poisoned, buried alive and then revived. Then he takes two short swords and fights the big bad evil guy. The wire-fu is awesome and his rage rivals Chingachgook’s but is expressed much more forcefully.
Rocky IV is a badass movie. It doesn’t have much plot or character development. It is a clash of the titans movie. Rocky takes on Drago [Dolph Lundgren] in one of the most punishing fight scene of all time. Rocky, who has been training in Siberia, hauling giant logs up mountains, doing upside-down sit-ups with a bag of rocks tied to his balls, you name it. Then he almost gets wailed on by the Ruskie anyway. He gets brain-damaged but Wins For America™. Bad. Ass.
Now we are in to territory where the names are certainly to be expected. Bruce Lee is still the gold standard for martial arts films. Enter the Dragon is a classic and we all know just how badass he is. Tasting his own blood, wigging out and wailing on his guitar. Yeah buddy.
Toshiro Mifune is probably the most well-known foreign badass. Yojimbo was adapted into Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars which spawned The Good The Bad and the Ugly trilogy. Kuwabatake’s badassness comes purely from selfishness coupled with skill. He doesn’t give a shit about anything and is strong enough to deal with it. You can take nothing from a man who refuses to acknowledge weakness.
Clint Eastwood made his name in spaghetti Westerns. The characters he plays aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and in fact, he is best known for being a Yojimbo clone. But no one ever said that being a badass is a different thing. We all love to see ’em. In High Plains Drifter, Eastwood is such a badass that he doesn’t even have a name, like Kuwabatake, he takes what he wants when he wants and no emotion is betrayed by his squinty eyes. He can shoot the whiskers off a coyote too.
3. The Terminator [Arnold Schwarzenegger]: The Terminator
Hey look! Another stone-cold emotionless killing machine! Well, if you are a badass, you can afford to be cliché. Especially if you are a post-apocalyptic cyborg with an explicit knowledge of how to destroy anything that keeps you from your objective.
I think everyone has seen this movie. Bruce Willis gets the tar beaten out of him from beginning to end. Memorable moments include, broken glass slashed feet, climbing down an elevator shaft and into a ventilation duct, duct-taping a pistol to your back and memorable lines like “Ho Ho Ho, Now I’ve got a machine gun.” and “Yippie-kye-ay Motherfucker.”
Why the hell does Liam Neeson’s Rob Roy sit in the top position? Well. If you effectively faced down an entire bandit group while unarmed, barely escaped hanging and then recapture by crawling into a rotting cow, stopped your own death by seizing and refusing to let go of the sharp blade [while someone tries to tug it from your grasp] that Tim Roth is trying to stab you with, then you cleave Tim Roth in twain with one mighty blow, refuse medical treatment for your own wounds and then walk home. Well, you are one badass swashbuckling motherfucker.