Contributors include Jason Pluscec, Ed Friel, Alex MacPherson, Lee Golden, Joey Corpora and me.
Thanks to all who contributed!
Movies: The Machete Series
Actor: Danny Trejo
You just F-cked with the wrong Mexican!
Danny Trejo has been in the business for a long time. He has starred in countless action films as an extra (check Death Wish 4 for a very short appearance) or a supporting role. He has paid his dues a hundred times over.
After appearing as uncle Machete in the Spy Kids films, Robert Rodriguez finally gave Danny his own feature film, Machete. In that one film alone Trejo solidified the character as one of the coolest action heroes of all time. Machete Kills (the arguably better sequel) just sealed the deal.
Machete kills (that’s what he does) all the bad guys and gets the girls. He is the toughest son of bitch you’ll ever meet. He improvises (using a guy’s intestines as a rope), he can use his fists, his knives and of course his machete.
Machete is the only person to defeat Steven Seagal and Mel Gibson! He has his catch phrases “Machete don’t text”, and his own theme song! Danny Trejo’s personality has made Machete one of the top action icons of this generation.
They call him Machete, the man the myth the legend; he’ll live on for all time!
Author: Jason Pluscec
59. El Mariachi
Movie: Desperado/Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Actor: Antonio Banderas
Antonio Banderas has everything you could want from a 90’s action hero in Robert Rodriguez’s 1995 action flick Desperado; he’s a long-haired lady-killer (and bad guy killer) with a guitar case full of guns.
In the first movie the villains killed his lady love and shot his hand, ensuring he’d never play guitar again. Now he’s back for revenge. During one of the coolest shootouts in cinema, El Mariachi takes out an entire gang of thugs at a bar with his fancy gunplay.
It’s like a ballet of bullets! But the best is yet to come… in the grand finale of the film, he leads a band of mariachis against the bad guys – but these aren’t your average guitar players. The mariachis are actually a band of gunslingers that use everything from machine-gun guitars to guitar case bazookas. With a track record like that, I think this gunslinging mariachi has solidified his spot on the list of the Top Action Heroes!
Author: Joey Corpora
58. Joe Hallenbeck
Movies: The Last Boy Scout
Actor: Bruce Willis
To me this is Bruce’s best character after John McClane and my second favourite movie of his.
I don’t think anyone is cooler than Bruce in this movie. He’s a disheveled, chain-smoking, borderline alcoholic who sleeps in his car and (possibly) f**ks squirrels to death by accident.
After punching a Senator (who had it coming), disgraced Secret Service agent Joe Hallenbeck becomes a Private Detective and becomes filled with self-loathing. Because of this self-induced exile even his wife begins to lose respect for him and she sleeps with his best friend. Joe is so far gone that he barely even cares and this just angers his wife even more. She basically did it just to try and get a reaction out of him… it didn’t work.
Anyway, he teams up with a former quarterback Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) who is also disgraced. They begin to investigate the murder of Jimmy’s girlfriend (Halle Berry) and it leads them to corruption in the NFL. What transpires is some of the best buddy banter of all time. Shane Black’s script is one of the all-time greats and practically everything Hallenbeck says is hilarious/cool.
Needless to say Jimmy and Joe find out who the real villains are and save the day, but not without the bodycount piling up faster than the one-liners.
I miss Bruce Willis playing cool guys; stop being sad Bruce and play guys like this again.
Author: Eoin Friel
57. Jack Traven
Actor: Keanu Reeves
Pop Quiz Hot Shot! Those words would become legend very quickly when in 1994 a little movie called Speed came along and showed us that Point Break wasn’t just a fluke; Keanu Reeves really had the chops to be an action star.
Speed is in my top ten favourite movies of all time and it has such a simple concept; a bus has a bomb on it, if it goes above 50 the bomb is active. If the bus then goes under 50 MPH it explodes. Simple but utterly effective; we need a real hero to root for and Jack Traven was it.
He wasn’t especially bright but he thought with his gut and would use his instincts in order to survive and make sure the other bus passengers survived their ordeal at the hands of Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper); an ex-cop who has basically gone mad with greed.
We feel no sympathy for Payne as he’s just a good old fashioned “Boo! Hiss!” villain and we can’t wait to watch him get his comeuppance.
Jack never cowers in the face of adversity and leaps to and from moving vehicles and even goes under the bus as he desperately tries to defuse the bomb.
Payne loves to remind Traven that he is smarter than him but as you find out at the end of the film, Jack’s height really becomes an advantage.
Keanu didn’t return for the sequel which was wise as it ended up being pretty terrible. He would go on to star in some movie called The Matrix; yeah, I’ve never heard of it either.
Author: Eoin Friel
“I expect you to stay outta my way!”
This is Nick Nolte’s best ever role in my opinion; this was before he had the gravelly voice and Jack Benteen is an unbelievably cool “stone age cowboy”.
He’s a cop in a small town which has a big problem; the military are trying to carry out a robbery… but why? The story is unpredictable and this is a movie that everyone should have in their collection.
Nolte’s “Don’t give a shit” attitude makes Benteen a man you’d much rather have on your side. Directed by Walter Hill, this is an underrated classic of a film with a stellar cast and excellent performances.
You’ve got Powers Boothe doing what he does best as the villain but he’s not a moustache twirling bad guy. In Extreme Prejudice he plays Cash Bailey, Benteen’s childhood friend so you immediately have this conflict which adds more drama to the story.
Water Hill is a man’s man director and this is definitely one of the manliest movies you’ll ever see.
Author: Eoin Friel
55. King Leonidas
Actor: Gerard Butler
I am sure that the Greeks were somewhat bemused when they saw the film 300 for the first time. King Leonidas, the legendary Spartan monarch, played by a Scotsman? And yet, the casting was just perfect. I recall Gerard Butler saying on one of the late night shows, that when he was preparing for the role, he wanted to depict Leonidas like a Scottish warrior. The Scots have a history of being tough, effective soldiers, and Butler wanted to bring that intensity to this role.
There can be no doubt that he succeeded. 300 grossed over $450 million worldwide, and it established the careers of director Zack Snyder and the film’s front man. Gerard Butler’s performance is not subtle by any means, but it does etch itself into the memory. Leonidas is fierce, brutal and uncompromising, and yet Butler brings a certain nobility to the character.
This film depicts the early life of King Leonidas and the run up to the Battle of Thermopylae, where the small group of 300 Spartan soldiers meet the numerically superior army of the “God-king” of Persia, Xerxes (played with charismatic gusto by Rodrigo Santoro). Snyder’s visual style seeks to emulate the look of the original 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. The film is visceral, brutal and bloody, and Butler’s fearsome performance only adds to the no-holds-barred atmosphere.
Butler’s lines in this movie have become part of popular culture, featuring in memes across the internet. When he roars “THIS IS SPARTA!” you had better get out of the way. This guy does not mess around.
And let’s face it, when he exhorts his loyal men to be fierce and fearless in battle: “Tonight, we dine in Hell!” it is probably an excellent idea to make your evening dinner reservations elsewhere…
Author: Ed Friel
54. Dominic Toretto
Movie: The Fast & Furious Series
Actor: Vin Diesel
Whether you like The Fast & Furious franchise or not, it’s difficult to deny its impact on modern audiences. It really made Vin Diesel a household name and his character Dominic Toretto is more than just a one-dimensional car thief. He’s a car racer, a fugitive and a family man who values nothing more than loyalty.
From the time we first meet Toretto in 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious”, he became a fan favourite. He was a big, muscle bound figure who was great at fixing cars, and even better at racing them.
For every time he has done something illegal in the films, such as underground racing, or stealing property, it is hard to hate a man who sticks up for his family, and makes sure they say grace before a meal. He shows a tough exterior, but has his head and priorities always in the right spot.
He even earns the respect on one time cop turned fugitive Brian O’Connor. At one point in the Fast and Furious franchise, he was a cop out to take down Toretto and his gang, but became fond of him, and even respected the kind of man he truly was. When push came to shove though, he kicked ass when it counted. Toretto is an Icon of Action after all!
When it comes to protecting the ones he loved, he was a man you never messed with. In Fast Five, he gets into an all-out street brawl with a U.S Marshall, and holds his own throughout. He fought like his life was on the line, and it was! His whole family’s future was in his hands, and he was not letting anyone take his family away from him… not even Agent Hobbs.
He didn’t even turn his back on the woman he loves, who was playing against him in Fast and Furious 6, and even shot him. Most men would learn the easy lesson, and walk the hell away from a woman who is trying to take your life, but for Toretto, the easy path is never the path he chooses. He fought to get back the love of his life and save his family from prosecution. I can’t wait to see what he does in Furious 7 which hits theatres this year.
Author: Eoin Friel/Alex MacPherson
While we await the verdict on the releases of several upcoming films featuring action star Mark Dacascos, perhaps one performance will continue to live-on in action movie history with a formula that undeniably serves fans of martial arts action cinema something worthy to hold onto. For this, we look to his memorable role in the 1995 action classic, Drive.
From a revised script by Scott Phillips, the film takes off in San Francisco with our lead, Dacascos starring as Toby Wong, riding as a stowaway on a cargo ship that arrives on the West Coast as per his escape from the Red Chinese and the notorious Leung Corporation who have sent assassins to immobilize him and retrieve their property. The catch? Well, that property just so happens to be a prototypical biotechnological enhancer surgically installed around his heart, pumping enough consistent adrenaline to essentially turning him into a one-man army, and Wong is in town to get it removed as soon as possible. With two bounty hunters hot on his tail, Wong coerces down-on-his-luck musician, Malik Brody (Kadeem Hardison) to drive him to Los Angeles in exchange for half of Wong’s $5 million dollar payment for the device. Soon enough, their newly-formed uneasy alliance unites them on a mission that becomes much more about money, and with the help of a motel manager’s colorful and quirky daughter, the two finally arrange a rendezvous with an ally that can help transport Wong safely to remove the device from chest. However, the relentless Leung Corporation has unleashed a final assault, in an epic finale that will ultimately determine whose heart is the strongest.
Directed by Guyver: Dark Hero helmer Steve Wang, the film came just a few years after Dacascos hit it big in Hollywood with the 1993 Capoeira-enfused American martial arts thriller, Only the Strong. Drive became a major film festival hit in Montreal and in Japan in the late 90’s, hitting high notes among audiences with offers from two studios to release the film theatrically before being undercut by studio interference and politics that ultimately killed the film’s potential before Wang knew it. The aftermath, resulting in a disproving alternative version, has since kept Wang from directing much of anything in the year since, even though it was once rumored back in 2010 that he and Dacascos would reunite for a 3D-caliber marital arts actioner that never saw the light of day. Be that as it may, Drive is still a classic that remains popular to this very day, staging high-impact fight choreography by action auteur Sakamoto Koichi with sequences attributed to some of the biggest gags ever applied in Jackie Chan movie history.
More to the point, you can’t have a successful action movie without a lead character to care about, so while the butchered home release of the film stays linear with a straightforward story that keeps the pacing of the film’s action short enough for the dialogue to exist throughout, the Hong Kong Legends/Medusa release on DVD in the UK not only revives the film’s original score and a few deleted scenes, but also restores key aspects of the character development between Wong and Brody, sustaining much of the film’s overall substance from start to finish. Dacascos turns in an electrifying screen fighting performance as Wong, serving him well as one of the best leading action stars Hong Kong never had in addition to his chemistry and comedic timing with Hardison, actor J.P. Ferguson and late actress Brittany Murphy.
The script never gets boring, suited with perfectly-timed gags and performances by Hardison and Murphy that will have you smiling from ear to ear, with Dacascos, in the role of Wong, exhibiting his own charm as well; The script provides a lot for Dacascos to work with, revealing him as more than a killer soldier and instead showing us a man with a personality relatable in almost every way, cultivated in a love for American cars, music, beer and even movies. It’s a layer of Wong’s character that certainly called for an extended stay via what should have been a sequel and I absolutely loved the prospects of seeing Dacascos, Hardison and Murphy possibly working together again soon afterward. And it’s sad that this never happened.
Drive was one of those films I ended up finding out about through word of mouth, and it took long enough for my local video store to gain copies of it on VHS before I would ever finally see it for myself in 2001. By far, despite studio malfeasance poorly misguided distribution, Drive is one of the best martial arts action movies ever put on film. Hell, I loved it so much that I bought every single VHS copy my local video store had for ten bucks a pop (giving two away) before becoming a DVD junkie and buying a copy of the studio-cut DVD from my local Suncoast outlet in Manhattan before finding out there was an extended director’s cut on bootleg which I mistook for a proper print – something I later rectified by becoming a customer at the now defunct website, HKFlix.com, where I bought not one, but two PAL coded discs from HKL/Medusa (the first one got scratched and became unrepairable despite my best efforts).
So…yeah, that’s how much I loved Wang’s movie and vision, and want so much for him and Dacascos, and Hardison if possible, to get as much of the band back together for one last hoorah in a film that could top the cult greatness achieved Drive: The Director’s Cut. It may be difficult in our current film climate, but there’s no question about it. The genre is still here and there is an audience that may lay dormant and waiting for these people to come back to the fray once more, provided the right producers and investors come along to make it happen in a way that doesn’t echo past grievances.
P.S. – If you can still find a copy of the UK version on PAL with the commentary by Wang, Dacascos, Hardison and Sakamoto, I highly advise you go purchase it. The commentary alone is chock-filled with hair jokes, food, ad-lib humor and wonderful factoids about the film that you would be delighted to hear. It’s pure gold!
Author: Lee Golden
Ting isn’t so much an iconic character, but it’s what Tony Jaa brought to him that makes him truly stand out. Tony Jaa was pretty much unknown before the release of Ong-Bak but he is one martial arts star that was worth getting excited for.
His fighting skills are second to none and when it was advertised that there was no CG, no stuntman and no wires, action fans took notice as this as something rare in this day and age. Tony has been trained in Muay Thai since childhood and he wanted to bring Muay Thai to mainstream audiences so that was how Ong-Bak came to be. The story was straightforward; it involved Ting who lived in a small village called Ban Nong Pradu where they have an ancient Buddha statue named Ong-Bak. When thieves from Bangkok decapitate the statue and steal the head, Ting takes matters into his own hands and will stop at nothing to get it back.
His sheer determination to succeed and amazing athleticism is what propels Ting to succeed and overcome every obstacle. What ensues are some of the greatest martial arts scenes you’ll ever see with Jaa rightly compared to the likes of Jet Li.
Jaa would return in two inferior prequels which bore little resemblance to the first film, despite having some impressive fight scenes. The fights in Ong-Bak were choreographed by Panna Rittikrai, who was also Tony Jaa’s mentor and sadly passed away in July last year. He would create kinetic action the likes of which we hadn’t seen before.
Tony Jaa has a busy year ahead with Furious 7 and Skin Trade coming soon.
Author: Eoin Friel
51. Luc Deveraux
Movie: Universal Soldier Series
Actor: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Luc Deveraux is dead; he was killed by his Sergeant, Andrew Scott, played by Dolph Lundgren. But Luc wasn’t meant to stay dead for long. Both he and Scott were reanimated by the US Government as part of the Universal Soldier program; designed to be the ultimate soldiers who will follow orders no matter what. But wouldn’t you know it, things don’t go as planned and both Luc and Andrew start to remember who they once were and their battle begins anew.
Andrew Scott still thinks he is fighting in the Vietnam War and will stop at nothing to find the “traitor” Luc.
As Luc begins to remember who he was, he teams up with a reporter as they try to find out more, while searching for his family.
Eventually Andrew Scott goes completely bonkers and turns up at Luc’s house, holding his family hostage. The two men have a titanic battle culminating in one of the best bad guy deaths in movies history: “You’re discharged Sarge.”
In Universal Soldier: The Return, Luc is forced to fight against an evil computer which sounds suspiciously like Michael Jai White. All sorts of nonsense happens before JCVD faces off against Michael Jai White giving us the only really memorable scene in the movie. Luc is now just a normal guy with no questions about his humanity; he just runs a new kind of Uni Sol program and it’s frankly not very good.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration came out of nowhere and floored everyone as John Hyams took the series in a fresh new direction. Luc has practically lost his humanity and is almost animalistic, jumping on people for no reason at all and beating them half to death. He is sent in to rescue a Politician’s kids who have been kidnapped by Militants and have also got a new card up their sleeve: a re-animated Andrew Scott. Dolph returns and after some of the best fight scenes in years, the movie climaxes with another epic battle between Luc and Scott. Luc stabs Andrew in the head with a pipe and then shoots him in the face with a shotgun. They all live happily ever…
Or not, as the case may be; Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning starts afresh and isn’t really connected to the last movie aside from the cast. At first I though that this time Luc was the bad guy, finding all of the Universal Soldiers and trying to free their minds from Government control. Apparently it’s actually Scott Adkins character John who is the real villain of the piece. JCVD has an amazing fight with Scott at the end of the film so essentially the bad guy wins?
This movie arguably has the best fights of the series but was a little too hardcore for some viewers (and plain weird). At the end John kills Luc and that is where Deveraux’s story truly ends… for now.
Author: Eoin Friel
Tomorrow we countdown 50-41!