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Snarf's Magnificent Seven: Greatest Action Heroes

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I was listening to a conversation where a bunch of morons (aka, people that are not me) were arguing about the greatest movie action heroes. And I thought to myself, “Snarf, c’mon now. This is stupid. Why would a bunch of grown-azz adults be arguing about movie action heroes ...... when only the great Snarf know the indubitably true answers!”

So today I have decided to come up with my own, indisputable list of the TOP SEVEN ACTION HEROES. The following, as the product of both my inarguable logic and the power of maths, cannot be reasonably disputed. However, in order to winnow down the list from uncountably infinite to SEVEN, I had to come up with some rules. So before we begin the list ... RULES!

1. This is movies ... only. Lucas from Banshee is awesome, but only, you know, TV awesome. Lots of things can be TV awesome - but movie awesome requires the ability to look amazing when you’re 40 feet tall, walking away slowly from an explosion. Ted Danson is TV awesome; Keanu Reeves is movie awesome; Nic Cage is LIFE AWESOME.

2. American movies. This is absolutely, positively, necessary. First, because I am quite sure that no matter what, I would probably miss some amazing Mongolian star. Second, because if we expand our horizons, we immediately run into the issue of putting in everything from Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) to Jackie Chan (Police Story, Drunken Master) to Iko Uwais (Raid) to Jet Li (Swordsman) to Donnie Yen (Ip Man) etc. The director or star doesn’t have to be American, but it has to be a Hollywood movie.

3. No superheroes. Action movies ... look, they don’t operate by normal physics. No one takes a bullet (or many bullets) and keeps on going like a real action hero. But NO ACTUAL SUPER POWERS. This one is for you, Thor. In addition, think of this as precluding all Superhero movies, even if your power is being really, really rich, Batman.

3a. Humans only. I’m so sorry but ... no Terminator. We can’t allow robots to take our human jobs.

3b. No vampires. I agree with the great Jesse Thorn- we can't allow vampires to take our human jobs.

4. Franchise! There must be at least TWO movies. There are a lot of iconic action movies; but to truly transcend the genre, you have to have a sequel. As a general rule, you will be judged by the best movie in the series.... but there has to be a series. If you weren't cool enough that the studio was compelled to make another, then you don't count.

5. It has to be an action franchise. This is the “Sorry Sigourney” rule. Aliens is one of my all-time favorite action movies; but the rest of the franchise isn’t an action franchise. Think about it- Alien is a haunted house movie - in space. Alien3 is a slasher movie - in space. And Alien Resurrection is a crap movie - in space. It’s not an action franchise.

5a. That said, action movies don’t have to be set in the present (although they often are). Nor are they devoid of other elements; most action movies have a (throw-away) romantic subplot. It is a cliche for action stars to have a quip or some repartee- but that doesn’t make them a comedy. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, "I know action movies when I see them, because YEE HAW!"

6. The Highlander Rule. If an actor has more than iconic role, they only get one spot. John Wick or Neo, Keanu? The Transporter or Chev, Jason? There can be only one.

So, with those rules in place, following are the TOP SEVEN ACTION HEROES.

By the way, the list isn’t in order, except for number 1. John Wick, man. Don't mess with John Wick. John Wick isn't an action hero. He's the one you send to kill the other action heroes.

1. John Wick. (Keanu “Woah” Reeves)

Franchise: John Wick

Best Movie: All of them

Worst Movie: Does not compute

Reason: John Wick is the sound of eternal awesomeness, forever. John Wick is what would happen if Face/Off was Nic Cage playing identical twins who had to switch faces and kill each other. John Wick is the sound of a knife being slowly pushed into an eyeball.


2. John McClane. (Bruce “Moonlighting” Willis)

Franchise: Die Hard

Best Movie: Die Hard

Worst Movie: Die Hard IV (Justin Long is a hacker!) wasn’t good, but it was Citizen Mother Truckin’ Kane compared to Die Hard V (A Good Day to Die Hard, which I swear to god was the name of a parody XXX movie).

Reason: Say what you will about Bruce Willis (Jerky McJerkface) or his current politics (they suck), but after a decade of Stallone and Ah-nold, John McClane was a revelation. He hurt. He bled. He kinda sucked. But he just kept on, keepin’ on.


3. Chev Chelios. (Jason “He was dead, but he got better” Statham)

Franchise: Crank

Best Movie: Crank 2

Worst Movie: None.

Reason: The Crank series is an acquired taste, however, and I say this with what little sincerity I can muster, the Crank series is to the 2000s what Repo Man was to the 1980s; a capturing of a certain zeitgeist via film that otherwise escaped mainstream attention.

Also? Jason Statham finds the living head of someone he thought he killed, and then punts it.


4. Riggs. (Jesus H. Christ)

Franchise: Lethal Weapon

Best Movie: Lethal Weapon 2

Worst Movie: Lethal Weapon 4. A movie that squandered the amazing talents of Jet Lit, and somehow forgot all the things that made the series good. But hey- people got paid, right?

Reason: Look, I’m not happy about putting Mel Gibson on this list. But between Riggs and Mad Max (original franchise), you kind of have to have Gibson on this list. Here’s hoping that Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road) gets a sequel and replaces him! On a more serious note, I'd prefer to have the original Mad Max franchise, but only the third one is really a Hollywood film- the first two, which are great, are more Australian.


5. Ethan Hunt. (Tom “Xenu” Cruise)

Franchise: Mission Impossible

Best Movie: MI:6 (Fallout) (the first one is also an acceptable answer)

Worst Movie: They’re all good, but MI:2 is ... well, director John Woo seems to have lost his fastball in that one.

Reason: So, here’s the thing. Most action stars have a certain ... something ... about them. You can’t define it, you don’t know what it is ... yet it is there. Tom Cruise? Has there ever been a thirstier star? He wants it so bad, you can feel it. He isn’t effortless, and doesn’t pretend to be. HE WILL EARN YOUR RESPECT, since he will never have have your love. Is MI great? Eh, yet there it is, six movies in, still raking in the dough, still using the masks, and guess what? The most recent movie is probably the best.

You will never like Tom Cruise. But you will watch him. Or he will hunt you down and personally tell you about how he injured himself doing his own stunts.


6. Conan. (Arnold “I’ll be back” Schwarzenegger)

Franchise: Conan

Best Movie: Conan the Barbarian

Worst Movie: Conan the Destroyer

Reason: How can you have a list like this without Ah-nold? Ah-nold practically was the definition of action hero. But the question is, which role? Many of his iconic roles (Predator, Running Man, Commando, Total Recall, True Lies) aren’t franchises, or didn't spawn franchises featuring him. His best role (Pumping Iron) he plays himself. Same with his second-best role (Hercules in NY). The Terminator franchise is disqualified because we don’t let robots take out jobs. That's how Skynet wins.

And yet- Conan isn’t some default win. If you close your eyes, and picture Conan, what do you see? That’s right. ARNOLD. Heck, if you think of a barbarian, it’s Arnold all the way. Arnold literally defined a role, and the image of Conan and Arnold go together like arbitrary rules and my lists.


7. Rambo. (Sylvester “Yo, Adrian!” Stallone)

Franchise: Rambo

Best Movie: Rambo, First Blood (I)

Worst Movie: Rambo III. Because that was the last movie. THAT WAS THE LAST MOVIE. There was no movie in 2019. None.

Reason: Eh. The Rocky series is better, but isn’t an action movie franchise. I’m somewhat torn on this, but am placing this here because the movies registered so highly in the zeitgeist of the 80s and Stallone was always a quintessential action hero back when it truly meant something. If you ever want to have severe whiplash that perfectly explains the change in the Reagan years, watch the first Rambo (a thoughtful and meditative exploration of the horrors of coming back from Vietnam) back-to-back with the the second Rambo (AMERICA, EFF YEAH!).

And that’s it! The inaugural class of seven. So, what do you think? Would this be the same list you came up with? If you have any substitutions, using the rules listed, feel free to comment but also INCLUDE WHO YOU WOULD REMOVE!

At some point in the future, I’ll expand this to an even ten. But that point is not now. Standards matter.

Finally, those who were considered but did not make it for REASONS include:

Matt Damon (Bourne is awesome and would be there if I listed eight, but ...
1627570963982.jpeg


Sigourney Weaver (Alien not an action franchise)

Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones? Mmmmm... definitely top 10, but top ... 7?)

JCVD (Universal Soldier almost made the cut)

Uma Thurman (The Bride/Beatrix Kiddo ... I debated this one forever, but Kill Bill is one movie, split into two parts.)

Liam Neeson (Taken + Key & Peele)

Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde 2 or Furiosa sequel?)

Chuck Norris (The MIA series wasn’t that big; he was better in Dodgeball)

Jackie Chan (Rush Hour is a comedy, and it would be sad to award him for this given how much better his non-Hollywood movies are... Police Story!)

Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor .... tough cut, but did almost nothing in the first movie, wasn’t present in the third, had only voice-over in the fourth, was re-cast in the fifth, and only really kicked major butt in the second and sixth)

Nic Cage (I lost my hand! I lost my bride! Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride!)

Carrie-Ann Moss (Trinity from the Matrix? So good, but unfortunately not the star of the franchise)

Will Smith (Bad Boys, if nothing else ... but going blue puts him on a waiting list. Sorry, but Aladdin has consequences, even if Wild Wild West doesn’t)

The Rock/Vin Diesel (eh .... no great franchise associations .... NO ... not that one, this is not the Olive Garden, and you are not family)

EDITS-
Kurt Russell (So many great movies, and Escape from New York almost qualifies, but the sequel ... mmmm) (suggested by payn)


So what do you think? No, not you Matt Damon.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Wow, you are totally on the mark about the Die Hard movies.

Id go a little old school and get Snake Pliskin in there myself.

Oof. Should have put Kurt Russell in the honorables.

But does the awesomeness of New York overcome the meh-ness of LA?
 

payn

Legend
Oof. Should have put Kurt Russell in the honorables.

But does the awesomeness of New York overcome the meh-ness of LA?
Yeah I was thinking about that. I'm getting stuck on great action hero characters instead of great action hero movies. Guys like Riddick, Ash Williams, and Snake Pliskin.

Speaking of action heroes, they need to bring back Remo Williams. Fred Ward should be the handler.
 

Ryujin

Legend
A few more:

Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) - "Trancers" franchise. You've just got to like a guy named "Deth."

The Stranger (Clint Eastwood) - "High Plains Drifter", "Pale Rider", etc.. He's played essentially the same character in at least a half dozen movies.

Carl Kolchak - "The Night Stalker", "The Night Strangler", and the TV series "Kolchak; The Night Stalker." He's a bumbler and not the most heroic figure, but he constantly puts himself in mortal danger for the truth.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
But, but Snarf....where are my British action heroes?! I don't like your objective standards and criteria, and will publish my own list posthaste!
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
James Bond
John McClane (until #3)
Indiana Jones
Ethan Hunt
James T. Kirk
John Rambo

Sometimes actors are amongst the best action stars (Arnie, Stallone etc.) but they are spread out across a crapload of action heroes. And some of the best action movies (Star Wars) has a bunch of people, but they're more an ensemble cast.

Honourable mention:

The Terminator
John Wick
Jason Bourne
Dominic TorettoLuke Hobbs
Martin Riggs
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
James Bond

I really did go back and forth on this one.

James Bond is the Western action franchise. But James Bond is also associated with so many different actors, and it's hard to disentangle the various eras.

So I didn't. ¯\(ツ)
 

payn

Legend
Indiana Jones (Harrison "no ticket!" Ford)

Franchise, Indiana Jones (Star Wars, Patriot Games prerequisites)

Best Movie: Raiders. Solidified him as a leading man and an all time action hero great.
Worst Movie: IJ4; crystal skull. God, what a turd of a movie...

Reason: The suave book nerd who can take a punch. What is more American than traveling around the world uninvited, trespassing old ruins, and poaching precious cultural artifacts because "THEY BELONG IN A MUSEUM!"? Ford is the total package. He hits all the notes of seriousness, goofiness, and sarcasm. He does all the action hero roles. The globe trotting professor, the smuggling nerf herder, the reluctant action spook, etc...

Snake Pliskin (Kurt "Yeah. You and everybody else." Russel)

Best Movie: Escape from New York
Worst Movie: Escape from L.A.

Reason: Nobody is more all American than Kurt Russel. A slew of great action flicks on his resume that helped define the 80's. Snake Pliskin gave an action paint job to the post apocalypse flick and did it in America's most iconic cities. He's not the most built star, or the best looking, but he manages to be above average across the board. Also, the guy looks amazing like time cant touch him.

Philo Beddoe (Clint "the squint" Eastwood)

Franchise: Every Which Way

Best Movie: Every Which Way but Loose
Worst Movie: Any Which Way you Can

Reason: Clint is a cool ass customer, so I had to cheat to get him in here. The man with No Name trilogy is nothing short of amazing, yet an Italian film. Able to say a ton without saying much at all. Ushered in a whole new era of Westerns that stomped all over the John Wayne template of good guys wearing white and are always morally right, bad guys in black and always morally wrong, plus Native Americans who get mowed down by the hundreds. In Any Which Way but Loose Clint stars as a bare knuckle boxer with a pet Orangutan named Clyde who can strip a car on command. How many other action hero stars can make that claim? None.

Neil Shaw (Wesley "always bet on black" Snipes)

Best Movie: The Art of War
Worst Movie: The Art of War II (direct to video, did anyone see this?)

Reason: Ok, so I had to cheat again. Wesley is bad ass and has a good enough resume to make an action hero list. I thought about cheating on Blade, I mean hes a comic book character not a super hero, also a dhampire not a vampire, but lets stick to the rules anyways. Wesley has done it all, sports, crime, action hero/villain. As Shaw, Snipes shows off his covert skills as he uncovers international espionage and looks dope doing it. Guy is a true fitness role model.

Alice. (Milla "multipass" Jovovich)

Best Movie: Resident Evil
Worst Movie: Resident Evil 2+ (How many are there now?)

Reason: Ok, still cheating. Resident Evil just may be the first (horror) action franchise with a female lead. Milla kicks ass and looks good doing it. Her roles as LeeLou and Alice show she can hang with the boys when it comes to action flick franchises.

Lynne Jacobs (Angela "bad ass" Bassett)

Franchise: ...Has Fallen

Best Movie: ?
Worst Movie: ??

Reason: Is it cheating if they are not the lead role? These rules make it nearly impossible to get anyone but white dudes on it. Who cares? Angela Bassett has the best hard look in the industry. Any action flick is improved when Angela Basset sets the spike like the pro she is. Looking good even at 60!

Ash Williams (Bruce "heil to the king" Campbell)

Franchise: Evil Dead (lets face it, EDII and Army of Darkness not exactly horror films...)

Best Movie: Evil Dead II
Worst Movie: None

Reason: B movie stars need love too. Bruce is an underrated star when it comes to his action sequences. The Evil Dead series is entirely innovative. One of few films the lead is on their own for 45 min fighting themselves as an evil spirit. Even launched a so-so television series with an incredible pilot. Its BC, thats as good as it gets.

Dishonorable mention: (Payn's sizzling take of the week)
John Wick is not an action franchise. Its a murder porn series. Speaking of porn, the average skin flick has a more intricate and interesting plot than anything the John Wick franchise has to offer. Maybe better action too ;)
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So from your list-

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford)- no argument. If it was more than 7, he'd make it.
Snake Pliskin (Kurt Russell)- definitely top 15.
Philo Bleddoe (Clint Eastwood)- Mad props for the deep cut! Also, what was up with the 70s/early 80s chimp stuff? BJ and the Bear? Um ... yeah, that wasn't a good title.
Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell)- Give me some sugar baby! But ... not qualified as an action movie. First one is straight-up horror. Last one is horror/comedy.

Art of War and ... has fallen?

NO.

Do not sully the action franchise with these entries when so many deserving people are left in the cold. Nic Cage's 90s output looks aghast.

Dishonorable mention: (Payn's sizzling take of the week)

John Wick is not an action franchise. Its a murder porn series. Speaking of porn, the average skin flick has a more intricate and interesting plot than anything the John Wick franchise has to offer. Maybe better action too ;)

No you didn't!

Here- I'll let the man himself ask ...

tenor.gif


crossing the streams

You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I Feel Lucky?'
Well, do ya, punk? Saying that about John Wick, the most powerful assassin and the baddest of the bad in the world, who would kill you with a library book or a pencil, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?
 

Ryujin

Legend
You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I Feel Lucky?'
Well, do ya, punk? Saying that about John Wick, the most powerful assassin and the baddest of the bad in the world, who would kill you with a library book or a pencil, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?
Riddick:

 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist

I mean ... if you've ever seen Vin Diesel in real life, you just can't take him seriously as an action star.

I once saw an interview when Vin was talking about how he looked up to Tom Cruise. "How awesome," I thought at the time, "he admires the acting and career of Tom Cruise."

Only later did the creeping horror sink in ... no. He meant he physically looked up to him.

;)
 


I'd say that if we're talking Arnold, I have no complaints about Conan the Barbarian getting listed. Conan the Barbarian is probably my favorite film of all time. It casts a long shadow of pop culture, and it was one of the two performances that made Arnold a star. But if we're disqualifying movies with super powers, Conan, containing shapeshifting, hypnotism, resurrection, ghosts/demons, would have to also be disqualified.

Instead, I'd have to go with John Matrix from Commando. It has some of Arnold's best one-liners, has classic action, and is soaked in the 80s. The more flippant attitude is what edges out Ben Richards and The Running Man (though I'd account that one the better movie).

Heck, I'd happily fill a top ten list with at least half of the entries belonging to Schwarzenegger (as an aside, he has a mailing list that goes out once a month that is well worth subscribing to).

Indiana Jones has to be on a top-ten western action heroes list, because he is the two-fisted distillation of so many classic pulp heroes and tropes.

Additionally, I'm going to include the following, which break one or more of the rules:

Ellen Ripley
Coffy
Imperator Furiosa
 

Ryujin

Legend
Instead, I'd have to go with John Matrix from Commando. It has some of Arnold's best one-liners, has classic action, and is soaked in the 80s. The more flippant attitude is what edges out Ben Richards and The Running Man (though I'd account that one the better movie).

I would call this quite probably the single best one-liner of all the '80s action movies (@2:00).

 

embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
"Blondie" (Clint Eastwood)

Franchise: The Man With No Name Trilogy

Best Movie: All of them
Worst Movie: None

Reason: Because Sergio Leone defined a genre. Because an Italian western that adapted a Japanese samurai movie is arguably the genre's high point. Because of Ennio Goddamn Morricone's inimitable and eternal score. And because the greatest showdown in all of movie history took place in a stone circle in a cemetery.

There are two kinds of people, my friends: those with loaded guns and those who dig. Clint Eastwood doesn't dig.
 


Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
So there's definitely a "no superhero" rule, but what about people who are clearly augmented humans? Alice from the Resident Evil Franchise qualifies. Neo too, technically; by the end of their respective franchises they're basically Goku, who is often listed on similar power tiers as Superman.

Immortality is also a question; does The Highlander qualify? The Old Guard is getting a sequel, so Charlize is finally get herself a franchise, but...

I also think the Franchise rule is a little weak. Sometimes films don't need sequels. Some characters are made worse by their sequels. Snake Pliskin, looking at you. Also: Conan.

BTW, The Rock's franchise is the Jumanji sequels. Speaking of movies that neither needed nor wanted a follow-up... (talking about the second one, Welcome to the Jungle was sick)

I also think being genre snobby is a bad choice. Action-comedies and action-horror movies are still action movies.

Also setting aside the "single character per actor" rule, the definitive list:

  1. Snake Pliskin
  2. Jack Burton
  3. Colonel Jack O'Neill
  4. R.J. MacReady
  5. Captain Ron
  6. Wyatt Earp (Tombstone)
  7. Lt. Gabriel "Gabe" Cash
Honorable Mention: Santa Claus (the one that f***s)
 



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