This may not have been the best idea. I realize a list of best male movie characters is maybe pushing some readers away.
So why go through with it? Not sure, really. Stubbornness. Maybe.
But once we get past the correctness of the situation, there are quite a few characters to choose from. Lots of action heroes.
As a list, this one’s very vague actually. You can put Han Solo here, or a Humphrey Bogart character or even a Woody Allen character. It’s all very subjective.
So since I’m writing this list, it’ll be all action heroes and stuff. Because I’m going all-in on this ill-advised topic. Testosterone baby.
Here are some great merch related to the best male movie characters in action movies:
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No other movie character quite captures testosterone-driven heroes like Detective John McClane. And then they drove the character of a cliff in the recent movies.
But he did well enough in his first 3, maybe 4, movies to warrant a high standing in the pantheon of let’s-figure-out-how-to-kill-baddies-as-we-go heroes.
Die Hard 1 had McClane traveling from NY to LA to meet his estranged wife at her workplace Christmas party. Needless to say, sh&t goes down.
German terrorists take over the building and the only one who can take them on is a badass, wisecracking NYPD detective.
It is still the reason why I watch movies with Bruce Willis. Not Sixth Sense or Fifth Element, but Die Hard.
It gave us an iconic hero and an iconic villain. But due to certain writing decisions, only one could make it to the sequel Die Hard 2.
In the sequel, he happens to be waiting for his wife at the Dulles International Airport in Washington.
He also just happens to have to fight former US special forces to make sure his wife has a safe landing. It is the weaker of the original trilogy. It may be even leans a bit too much towards replicating the awesomeness of the first.
It is watchable purely because of the sheer star power of Bruce Willis and not much else.
Die Hard 3 is a return to form for the franchise as the action elements are balanced with a good thriller and an instantly iconic baddie played and voiced by Jeremy Irons.
His character is very similar to 1’s Hans Gruber in that they get great lines, are British actors, and do the villainous drawl very well.
Adding to the star power is a bespectacled Samuel L Jackson as your regular locksmith-who-accompanies-cops-against-terrorist-plots.
He provides a great foil for McClane and more importantly, can match Willis’s star power. Aa sidekick character that was lacking in 1.
It’s all very cheesy and campy and over-dramatic, but it works.
Die Hard 4 was a late addition to the party. A modernization of an old franchise. And it did what most such attempts do. Make it about apocalyptic cyber-hacks.
How does an old-school badass take on the technical wizardry of the modern world? He gets a mumbling tech-savvy sidekick played by Justin Long.
A bit of 24-level side-plot involving his daughter is added in for good measure. But it’s still a fun watch.
We get to see a very resourceful, very indestructible cop go up against well-groomed dickwads behind a computer.
It wasn’t a classic, but we get to enjoy John McClane chewing through armies of baddies in a variety of locations.
And then they went ahead and buried the franchise with a 5th entry. A movie so terrible and dull that you start hating modern Hollywood practices. Correction: They’ve always done it, they just have way more franchises they can wreck in a year.
For some reason, Jai Courtney (good dome?) is cast as his son who is also a badass. Because nothing that comes from McClane is anything less than badass.
It’s a stupid movie with a couple of good action scenes, like one with a Russian attack chopper.
But Courtney’s attempt at matching Willis’s star power and mannerisms fail horribly and the script doesn’t exactly help.
But all things considered, one of the great action franchises with a memorable lead driving the action.
Man with No Name
Testosterone is not the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about the Man with no name. But awesomeness is.
The Westerns have a draw quite unique to them. Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood use this unique setting that Westerns provide, and gives us one of the most memorable movie characters.
First seen in A Fistful of Dollars, The Man has a cigarillo, a poncho, an iconic hat, and very quick hands.
Likelier to shoot you in the face than engage in conversation, he gets points for mystique in every scene.
In A Fistful, he plays the two families of San Miguel against each other for his own benefit. He is a very cool customer and seems to hold all the cards in every interaction.
It’s not a particularly believable character, being a badass force for justice and all, but who cares when coolness oozes through every scene.
He returns in For a Few Dollars More. This time with a baddie that can match the intensity of the Man. He is also joined by Lee van Cleef as a fellow bounty hunter.
This movie has quite a few twists and turns and temporary alliances and fast-changing loyalties that end in a pretty good gunfight.
But this gunfight could not compare with the climactic piece of the next entry. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The epic Western that started a sub-genre.
The one that catapulted Clint Eastwood into mega-stardom. A movie so epic, it is the standard by which other contenders for epic movies are measured by. Well this, Star Wars and The Godfather.
Together, these three movies form a hallowed trilogy for an all-time great hero.
The best portrayal of an adventurer-professor in mainstream culture had to be on the list. Also, Harrison Ford.
Across 3 of the best movies from the Spielberg roster and 1 bang-average effort, Indy has established himself as the world’s favorite fictional adventurer.
Exploring (vandalizing) ruins in Peru, Egypt, Nepal, China, India (Kali Maa) and Hatay, romancing women who may or may not be affiliated to Nazis, reconnecting with his indifferent James Bond of a father, breaking down racial stereotypes, and dodging death-traps with the dexterity of a seasoned video-gamer are some of the things Indy likes to do.
And any great action hero must have a signature look. A fedora, a whip, a leather pouch and a gun was usually taken from one of his many unfortunate victims is what you’d associate with Dr. Jones.
Then there is the thundering right-hook he unloads, usually after getting beaten to a good-looking pulp.
The original trilogy follows most of the same story beats, but it works very well. If you haven’t already, check out Indy’s adventures. I wouldn’t recommend bingeing though.
The formula does become quite obvious when you do that. Space it out a bit.
Raiders of the Ark won the Academy Award for best visual effects back in 1982. But the traps do look a bit hokey now. But the ride’s so good, you won’t even care.
I have to be honest. Not a fan. He’s an obligatory addition. Outside of some of the actors playing Bond, and some side characters and villains, these admittedly blockbuster hits are kinda terrible.
Here’s the thing though. Every generation has one or two Bond movies that stick in their heads. Casino Royale was mine. Easily the best film in this 24-movie strong franchise.
I liked Die Another Day but that was more because of my age while watching it. I sort of like GoldenEye. Because, Famke Janssen.
But these movies do not age well for the most part. It’s kinda why I never bothered watching too many of the old ones. I sat through the Brosnan Bonds.
I understand the draw of Sean Connery as the MI6 agent. I reject Roger Moore’s acting.
I’m not even sure why he’s on, to be honest. But I felt pressured because it was male movie characters and action movies. My hands are tied.
The romance is usually quite weird. Like spy speed-dating. That is the reason why Casino Royale was such a breath of fresh air. But then they move on to whatever the hell is going on between Bond and Lea Seydoux’s character.
I liked Die Another Day’s ornithological sex-talk more than the romance they were pushing in Spectre (what a crap movie).
But the action’s usually good and there’s at least one scene in every Bond movie that you’ll remember. I’ll never forget Brosnan adjusting his tie while submerged underwater.
Daniel Craig Bond obviously took a leaf from the Bourne movies. Oh, Bourne! I like Bourne!
Familiar ground. Badass hero. Good actor. Good story. Greengrass editing that has since been used by lesser directors for mixed results.
This one really reset what was expected of big-budget Hollywood action movies. Especially the super-spy genre. It almost single-handedly put James Bond through an identity crisis. Get it?!
Here was a relatable super-spy. Who kicks ass in gloriously choreographed combat at least 3 times in a movie. And takes out civilians in gloriously filmed chases sequences at least twice.
Sure the Renner movie was aimless and the latest one, intelligently named Jason Bourne, marked the end of the franchise as good cinema.
But the original trilogy was the most exhilarating, engaging action movies of its time.
The protagonist is a man who has no memory of his previous life. Only that he can find guns in a roadside diner, run flat out in the cold for miles, take the steps while driving a car, and out-Equalize The Equalizer.
The movies were based on a series of Robert Ludlum books. I don’t know much about how faithful the adaptation was, but they got most of the character choices right.
Get him involved with a civilian who provides the audience an anchor when Bourne does his Taekwondo rally-car bullsh&t. Humanize him with a romance and by showing his remorse when he finds out who he is.
Perfectly spaced hand-to-hand fight sequences that are so well-choreographed, even Matt Damon could do them. Alright, that was unnecessarily mean.
And an overarching story that meant there was a reason for all the mayhem he caused with fists, elbows, knees, front bumpers, and everything you could find in an office.
John Powell did the Original Score for the first three. It is perfect for the action we’re watching.
Oh and one or more stone-faced killers of similar skill-level to provide some resistance. And fast-walking sequences while talking on an earpiece. Yeah, that’s the stuff.
The Equalizer (Denzel Washington) gets a shout-out for sort-of kinda giving a similar experience minus thrilling story and super-fast camera cuts.
Bringing the general testosterone level way down is the hero of the Back to the Future franchise. It’s not a traditional action movie franchise.
It does have fun action. But here’s the thing. I was born in the 90s. I started watching Hollywood movies in the 2000s.
So almost all the action properties before that time were watched without the hype and let’s say a crowd experience.
So I didn’t get excited about much of the action movies. The Matrix was probably the first I watched close to when the hype was huge.
Anything before that was received indifferently from my part. Except for the Terminator (who is a humanoid robot so doesn’t count) and Arnold in Predator.
I get the excitement for Star Wars and Han Solo and Luke, but only when I consciously give the movies and characters a historical context. Because I’ve seen so many versions and rip-offs of these characters that I can never quite experience them fully.
But Marty McFly is an exception. I remember watching those movies and getting a kick straight away. I didn’t have to tell myself it was made in the 80s. I didn’t have to justify the special effects.
Even the cheesy line delivery was pitch-perfect for someone watching it in the 2000s.
That’s the reason why I’m including Marty McFly on the list, even though I consider it more sci-fi adventure than action.
The first is the strongest, but the whole trilogy is such a tight, perfect package that it’s worth rewatching over and over again.
In fact, it is the one franchise I’m glad has not been remade or sequelled (Now that a new Matrix movie has been announced) and I hope it remains so.
Mr. "My-name-is-Neo" Anderson
Though I’m terrified about what they’ll do to the Matrix franchise, two things give me solace.
It’s never a bad thing when Keanu is on the screen. And the franchise is already screwed. Reloaded and Revolutions took care of that.
The Matrix is the one out-and-out perfect movie of the bunch. Reloaded was cool without too much in the way of plot. Revolutions was plain weird and about the human spirit or some crap.
But the first, oh the first. Everything was perfect. It was 1999. Everyone and their cousin were in IT, and the work was usually sh&t.
So the stage was set for the perfect escapist fantasy. As a pre-teen, discussions by older kids used to be about The Matrix and Kill Bill.
In The Matrix, bored, under-appreciated IT professional is kidnapped by AI overlords and is then rescued by the coolest older-brother figure, learns Kung-fu, hooks up with a badass woman in leather, dodges bullets, stops bullets and so on.
It was lightning in a bottle. And somehow the star was the premise. All reality was a lie. We are hooked up to a system in a post-apocalyptic world, for the sole purpose of powering the machines that wiped us out.
Keanu Reeves as the leading man was perfect. But if you were to look at just his line delivery, he was objectively horrible.
But we are so in love with him as Neo, that we’ve in our minds, bent his performance to be perfect for Neo.
The people behind costume design get props for making what is cheap sh%t look ridiculously cool.
Hold on, gotta go watch the movie again. The best action movies have that effect. You could watch it every month for eternity.
The lines were wooden and the delivery from some of the actors saved it from being outright crap.
It introduced us to the awesomeness of Hugo Weaving and Carrie-Anne Moss and reintroduced us to the awesomeness of Keanu and Laurence Fishburne. Lightning.
And action scenes even your mother could love. My mom actually watched Reloaded with me in the theatre. It was weird.
Every single one can be recalled on command with the music playing in your head. It is that good. Terminator 2 is another one with action scenes that good and memorable.
Also, The Matrix inspired Saints Row IV. Extra props.
Reloaded was more action than story and it felt a bit aimless. The action was the only saving grace, and you have to remember it was 2003, even though there was way too much bad CGI.
Revolutions was well, you know, made in 2003. It ended the story of Neo and Agent Smith. Or so we thought before John Wick reminded Hollywood that there is money to be made.
But the Matrix Trilogy is equal parts sci-fi, equal parts action, equal parts movie history.
The shades. I forgot about the shades. They were great. The only thing that got better in the sequels.
Plus the movie posters. They are to die for.
That should do the list for now. Obviously it’s very subjective and I would be very surprised if anyone agreed more than disagreed with these 7.
But I hope I got most of the things you liked about the 7 characters I did mention. Outside of linking Amazon products, the primary objective is remembering, and maybe reliving, the experience of watching a movie.
Let me know your candidates, and I may end up adding them to the list. And changing the number in the title. I’m not married to the idea of just 7 great male movie characters.