Icons of Action

February 12, 2015

The Best Action Heroes of All Time: 40-31

Now we enter the all important top 50 and as they say in movies, shit is about to get real.

Contributions for the following action heroes include Bob Hughes, Daniel Rodriguez, Lee Golden, Don Burnell, Milos Misic. Stef Loisios, Sean Korsgaard and me.

Thanks for all the contributors; your help has been greatly appreciated.

In case you’ve missed it so far, check out 70-6160-51 and 50-41.


40. Pvt. Adrien Dufourquet

Movie: That Man From Rio

Actor: Jean-Paul Belmondo

Most people in North America (excluding perhaps the province of Quebec) would probably know Jean-Paul Belmondo as that guy from “Breathless” (1960), Jean-Paul Godard’s swoony valentine to youthful ardor and Hollywood swagger.

But to many French (and French-Canadians), he’s that man from Rio, and more: a jaunty, witty, combative, humorously outfoxed and yet winningly glib and sometimes-hapless action hero with a sense of daring and an awareness of danger. Kind of like a pro-Indiana Jones in a Nouvelle Vague sort of way. That is to say, ironic and self-aware, but also effortlessly glamorous. And short. You know, French.

“That Man from Rio,” from 1964, was actually a big international success, and nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay. Philippe de Broca, who made six films with Belmondo, and was behind such interesting movies as “The Devil by the Tail” and “King of Hearts,” crafted an adventure thriller that mocked the emerging James Bond style of movie and also anticipated English-language flicks that combine humor and action with winks at the audience.

Belmondo plays Pvt. Adrien Dufourquet, an airman on leave to visit his girlfriend in Paris (the girlfriend is played by the wonderful Françoise Dorléac, the sister of Catherine Deneuve – Dorléac died tragically young in a car accident at the age of 26). The girlfriend is abducted, a precious Amazon statue is stolen, the action turns to Rio and mayhem ensues. Order is restored, of course, but only after a lot of comic Warner Bros.-type mishaps (chases, crashes, explosions, fistfights). And a lot of carnage.

Belmondo was an action hero who seemed to make derring-do offhand – something he had to do because he had no other choice. He was a trained actor, but also an actor who’d had a brief career as a boxer – and his pugilistic grace shows. His acting was more varied than you’d expect from someone who had his biggest commercial successes in comic adventures – he appeared in “Stavisky,'” a classic by Alan Resnais, and teamed up in two Jean-Pierre Melville movies, “Leon Morin, Priest” and “The Fingerman.”

But for a lot of French cinephiles, and for those who like French cinema in general (and not just the arty stuff), “That Man from Rio,” and Belmondo’s performance (and his physicality – he did most of his own stunts) are what make him the New Wave’s action hero.


Author: Bob Hughes


39. Cameron Poe

Movie: Con Air

Actor: Nicolas Cage

This will always be my personal favourite Nicolas Cage film along with The Rock and Face/Off. Cameron Poe is an Army Ranger on his way home to his pregnant wife Tricia; while dancing at the bar, some local drunken hicks come over and ruin everything. When one of the men won’t take no for an answer Cameron gets in a fight and kills him.

He is sent to prison for several years and is finally released on parole. He’s excited to finally see his daughter Casey and his wife Tricia again. He just has to get on the plane with a bunch of criminals… what could go wrong? Actually… everything. When the plane is taken over by Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom and his posse of crazed convicts insane action scenes occur.

While Cameron tries to keep his sick friend Baby-O safe from harm, he does whatever he can to survive. Poe has such great lines as “I’m gonna save the fuckin day! And “I’m gonna show you God does exist!”

I don’t think anything will ever top “Put the Bunny Back in the Box” which is fabulously absurd. The movie revels in its own silliness and really is more of a comedy than a serious action movie.

The battle at the boneyard is the action highlight of the film with Poe indeed saving the day.

Although he cries maybe more than a man should, Poe still has the white wife beater, mullet and attitude to take out all the bad guys and guarantee him as one of the all-time great action heroes.


Author: Eoin Friel


38. John Wick

Movie: John Wick

Actor: Keanu Reeves

In “John Wick”, Keanu Reeves returns once again to the action genre to play another Badass, arguably even more kick-ass than Neo (he had “superpowers” there, so it’s not fair!). The film, which is a revenge action-thriller, follows his search for vengeance after mobsters stole his car and killed his dog.

John Wick is definitely the “youngest” character in this list. As the protagonist of the recent film of same name, he has had little time to prove himself and he got maximum approval of action fans everywhere. He has insane skills as a combatant, both with firearms and hand to hand combat. He is relentless and cold blooded to a point he really looks like the monster they named him after inside the mob, “Baba Yaga”, which means Boogeyman.

Although he is an excellent fighter, his weapon of choice is the handgun. His precision firing a weapon is remarkable, and he doesn’t believe in second chances, he always finishes his opponents with headshots. He displays fantastic aiming skills from long and short distances, constantly firing his weapon at point-blank.

John Wick constantly makes his “Baba Yaga” name worthy, by killing some people in stealth mode. There’s a particular scene where he just abducts a man and all we can see is a door moving where he once stood.

He moves swiftly and kills without mercy every single bad guy he comes across. During another notable scene, which is part of the Night Club sequence, he stabs a man in the neck while holding his body against a wall and the whole time he looks deeply into the man’s eyes, almost as if Wick was draining his soul.

Hopefully we are going to see more of John Wick and the fantastic and original universe the film is set in. The action genre needs more Keanu Reeves!


Author: Daniel Rodriguez



37. Jason Bourne

Movie: The Bourne Trilogy

Actor: Matt Damon

I have to admit that I have never been a fan of these movies; I can never tell them apart but there’s no denying their cultural impact. Matt Damon surprised the world as a believable action star but they also managed the task of making action movies that appeal to people who don’t normally like the genre (weirdoes).

Jason Bourne is the protagonist from a series of novels by Robert Ludlum and the subsequent film adaptations that were huge box office hits. Bourne has a troubled past which he spends the first movie trying to remember; his real name is in fact David Webb and Bourne is just one of his many aliases. He aborted an assassination on an exiled African leader named Nykwana Wombosi and is shot in the back by Wombosi… how’s that for gratitude?

This begins his spiral into badassery as he is discovered floating in the ocean by a kindly group of fishermen who nurse him back to health. Alas, Jason has amnesia and has no recollection of who he was beforehand. When the government find out that he is still alive they send out various agents and sleepers to take him out.

The story has many twists and turns involving a program called Treadstone which Bourne is determined to get to the bottom of. We find out that Bourne has a particular set of skills and is trained to fight and kill; he can even use a magazine as a weapon. One of the reasons people really liked The Bourne Identity was its basis in reality. Before a car chase Bourne would look at a map to find their way out of the city rather than just driving blindly, which was a nice little detail.

Matt Damon would play the role 3 times in The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. He said he wouldn’t come back for a fourth movie unless Paul Greengrass was involved.

A spin-off called The Bourne Legacy was released starring Jeremy Renner but was poorly received by critics and audiences. There has been talk lately of Mat Damon returning to the role which has fans really excited; whether Greengrass will return has still to be 100% confirmed.


Author: Eoin Friel



36. Ip Man

Movie: Ip Man 1 & 2

Actor: Donnie Yen

Nowadays Donne Yen is as big of a name in Hong Kong as Jet Li or Jackie Chan, some say even bigger, but it wasn’t always the case.

Yen was around for a long time but his major recognition came with Kill Zone and more internationally with his portrayal of Ip Man. After Ip Man everybody on the planet knew who Donne Yen was and are now looking forward to his new projects.

Ip Man is a fictionalized story about Bruce Lee’s teacher, yet the first movie does the smart thing and ignores Bruce Lee and focuses on Ip Man’s life around the Japanese occupation and the horrors that the Chinese endured.

People who know their Donnie Yen, know that he usually played cocky guys in his movies, while with Ip Man he plays him as a humble family man who has great martial arts skill, but he is a true martial artist as he uses his skill only to defend and only when it is most necessary.

So there is a clear distinction between Ip Man’s approach and all the other martial artists in both Ip Man movies. In a way the character of Ip Man is a metaphor for martial arts themselves. You train to better yourself not to oppress others and try to win the fight by avoiding the fight, but when the fight comes knocking on your door you’ll bring the pain in a spectacular fashion, just like Ip Man.


Author: Milos Misic


 35. Lt. Nikolai Rachenko

Movie: Red Scorpion

Actor: Dolph Lundgren

Lt. Nikolai Rachenko is a soviet made killing machine. Taught to stalk. Trained to kill. Programmed to destroy…

He is sent to an African country where Soviet and Cuban forces are trying to enforce their misery on others. His superiors wanted the best man for the job. They thought that they controlled him. But they were wrong. Dead wrong!

Why? Because Nikolai Rachenko is not just another regular commie machine. When he realizes, after a series of events, that he is not fighting the good fight he turns against his creators…

He stops playing by their rules and he becomes the worst nightmare of the commie regime: An unstoppable force of freedom and punishment who unleashes havoc against it…

And when I say havoc, I mean the kind of havoc that you love to see in a one man army flick.

In the words of M. Emmet Walsh: Fuckin A’ Lt. Nikolai, fuckin A’…


Author: Stef Loisios


 34. Frank Martin

Movies: The Transporter Trilogy

Actor: Jason Statham

The Transporter is a very important action movie because it came out at a time when no one was really making them, shortly after 9/11. Then Luc Besson came along and gave us essentially his version of James Bond.

Jason Statham had only been in a handful of movies and no one suspected that he was going to be the next great action hero.

Statham was born to play the role of Frank Martin; a mysterious Transporter who is a professional freelance courier/driver for hire.

Martin is a man of few words but when he does speak, it’s usually to recite his 4 rules:

“Never change the deal”

“No names”

“Never open the package”

“Never make a promise you can’t keep”

These are really more guidelines than rules as one of the key themes of all of the movies is that Frank ALWAYS breaks his own rules.

Frank has expertise with explosives, surveillance, hand-to-hand combat and driving. Emphasis is given particularly to his skills as an accomplished driver. He often engages in hand-to-hand combat, having to improvise using unconventional weapons such as hoses against his opponents. Martin is also an accomplished sharpshooter. Usually his shirt will come off during a fight scene just to maintain the audience of female fans.

Frank Martin wears a uniform consisting of a black suit, white shirt, and a black tie. He also puts great emphasis on precise timing and punctuality. This is usually helped by his penchant for very nice cars.

In each movie he has a different model:

1999 BMW 735i E38 and Mercedes-Benz W140 in The Transporter;

2004 Audi A8 6.0 W12 in Transporter 2;

2008 Audi A8 6.0 W12 in Transporter 3;

So if you are looking to get a package delivered, best to use UPS as Frank can’t deliver anything without getting into a heap of trouble.


Author: Eoin Friel


 33. John Shaft

Movie: The Shaft Series

Star: Richard Roundtree

Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man? Shaft, the man introduced by that smooth Isaac Hayes theme song and the series of films that immortalized him, was a private detective whose adventures paved new ways in Hollywood and gave us one of the coolest cats ever to be called an action hero.

John Shaft is a tough-as-nails, uncompromising private detective whose quick wits and quicker trigger finger has seen him crack many cases that would crush lesser men. Even with the cops breathing down his neck, and everyone from the Italian mafia to the Black Panthers gunning for his back, Shaft always gets his man, and the ladies. A devil in the bedroom, an avenging angel on the street, and one of the coolest cats to ever grace the action genre.

Shaft’s biggest impact however, was the trends sparked by both the movie and the character. Putting aside that it breathed new life in the old film noir gumshoe detective archetypes, was one of the seminal work of the Blaxploitation subgenre; launching a dozen imitators from Coffy to Black Belt Jones, and becoming a cultural milestone in the process. Where most action heroes are content to make a few thrills, Shaft made history.

Hotter than Bond, cooler than Bullitt, you’ll see this cat Shaft is a bad mother. Can ya dig it?


Author: Sean Korsgaard



 32. The Man with no Name 

Movie: The Dollars Trilogy

Actor: Clint Eastwood

There are few people more badass than Clint Eastwood, that’s just a stone cold fact and the best proof of that is in the classic “Dollars” trilogy directed by Sergio Leone and starring Eastwood as the mysterious Man with No Name.

We know little about him and yet Eastwood’s easy swagger makes him immediately likeable and cool. I love how he even goes to bed with a cigar hanging from his mouth… because that’s just what badasses do.  Don’t ever laugh at his mule though as he won’t take to kindly to it.

“I don’t think it’s nice, you laughin’. You see, my mule don’t like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you’re laughin’ at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you’re going to, I might convince him that you really didn’t mean it.”

This is one of the best moments of A Fistful of Dollars which is personally my favourite of the trilogy; I know the majority of people prefer The Good, the Bad and The Ugly but the first movie is frankly shorter and better paced.

A Fistful of Dollars was a Western version of the classic Yojimbo where our mysterious stranger plays two sides against each other.

The music in all three movies is so iconic, it’s widely regarded as some of the greatest film music in history.

Although never credited with a full name he has been known as Joe, Blondie and Manco.

In 2008 there was a spin-off comic book series featuring the character called The Man with No Name: The Good, The Bad, and The Uglier.


Author: Eoin Friel



 31. Conan the Barbarian

Movie: Conan the Barbarian & Conan the Destroyer

Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryus, there was an age undreamed-of. And unto this Conan the Cimmerian, last of his people, slave, gladiator and mercenary, set forth to avenge his people, and eventually become a king by his own hand.

Based off of the old pulp stories of Robert E. Howard, it takes a larger-than-life hero to deserve a Basil Poledouris score and narration from Mako, and Conan certainly measures up to the challenge. Just as you’d expect from any tales of high adventure, even a hero like Conan can seem small against a backdrop of weathered landscapes and ancient ruins, a band of misfits at his side, and foes from the snake cult of Thulsa Doom to the followers of the Dreaming God at his back. Yet by hook or by crook and with a blade in hand, Conan carves a place for himself in the world.

Unusual among action heroes for the sword-and-sorcery setting, Conan has always been a unique staple of the genre for the pulpy stories, violent action and introducing the world to action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger and director John Milius. But there is a deeper appeal as well, one core to the action genre that the fantasy genre seems to have forgotten in favor of Tolkien-style epics, that primal pulp appeal. Guts, glory and grand adventure – what more could one desire?

Author: Sean Korsgaard

Tomorrow we count down 30-21!

About the Author

Eoin Friel
Eoin Friel

I grew up watching JCVD, Sly and Arnold destroy bad guys, blow things up and spew one-liners like it’s a fashion statement. Action is everything I go to the movies for and the reason I came up with this site is to share my love for the genre with everyone.



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