From delivery man to cult film star, Iko Uwais’s career has been one of the much larger bright spots of the past decade or so for martial arts action cinema. Fans have poured in droves to see him at work since breaking out in the 2009 film, Merantau, which also solidly contributed much to the resurgence of the Indonesian action film industry in the last ten years. For this, we were eventually granted with a delightful reapproach by action auteur Gareth Evans for a script that found its way to a rewritten draft for a character that would ultimately emerge as one of the most electrifying protagonists in action movie history, Rama in the 2011 contained crime epic, Seruban Maut, a.k.a. The Raid, and by all means, the recognition and value here stand for much more than just entertainment appeal.
In the film, Rama is a rookie member of a tactical unit unwittingly caught at the center of a conspiracy that would ultimately put themselves in danger, outnumbered and cut off from any and all outside help as they fight their way through bullets, blades and fire in a Jakarta crime boss’s 30-story tennament building. From this, the story of the saga progresses onward with the immediate involvement of Rama as he looks to reconnect with his estranged brother, Andi, played by Donny Alamsyah, and The Raid soon evolves from a crime story to an intrinsic, two-movie character thriller that focuses on family, loyalty and one man’s search for ultimate justice beyond the law. Moreover, the two films most notably convey Rama through the underlying central theme of his life as a family man: a practicing Muslim, which undoubtedly sets the stage for confliction and inner-turmoil for a man whose career has been nothing short of a rip-roaring trial-by-fire, with no choice but adhere to his natural, most violent instincts in order to live.
By no means is Rama a violent man, although knows where he stands in the career he’s chosen. Between both films, the last thing he expected was to have to endure another dangerous mission that could endanger him, his wife and son and other good cops, as well as further diminish his chances at a normal life. And so with every last breath and every injury he suffers, he kicks, punches, chops, slashes, bashes and mutilates his way through the odds with methodical fervor and will, and the faith he stands by in the hopes that he will live to tell the tale.
Rama’s fortitude as a one man army doesn’t come without a price. He’s not superhuman and he knows he could die at any moment, but his faith plays a huge role in his character development aside from his formidable fighting skills, which is also beneficial in an age where bigoted, racist minds in the real world like to try and dominate the conversation on Muslims and violent extremism. Mind you, Rama probably isn’t the only heroic character among those that share his faith in other films, but there’s an undeniable connotation here that serves him well, further highlit in part by the etymology his name bares in the roots of Hinduism.
Without a doubt, Evans himself has formulated an invaluable action hero that cinephiles can truly root for. He fights for his fellow man, he fights for justice, and like any action hero, he fights for love. And for all this, I don’t mind waiting another two or three years to see how it the trilogy finally unfolds.
Author: Lee Golden
9. Dutch Schaefer
Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
No list of great action heroes can ever be considered legitimate without the mention of Major Dutch Schaefer. Played by arguably the greatest action movie star of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dutch could be considered one of the greatest action heroes of all time, I mean the dude lifts up a truck, kills tons of guys with guns and knives, and commands a group of macho special force ops guys. That’s right, he’s the alpha male of a group of alpha males. And if that’s not enough he not only uses his muscles, but also his brains and kills the galaxy’s ultimate hunter with a bunch of traps he puts together out of trees and ropes (eat your heart out Kevin McCallister). Did I mention before he kills the hunter, who was a giant alien that shoots lasers, has giant metal claws and can turn invisible, Dutch fights him mano-a-mano with his bare freakin’ hands? Combine all that testosterone fuelled awesomeness with some of the most memorable lines in movie history like “Get to the choppa!”, “Knock knock”, “Stick around” and the iconic and insanely badass “If it bleeds we can kill it!” you get one hell of an action movie hero.
Author: Sean C.W. Korsgaard
8. Harry Callahan
Movie: The Dirty Harry Series
Actor: Clint Eastwood
Arguably the greatest movie cop of all time, without him there would be no John McClane, Cobra or the other iconic action heroes. Dirty Harry likes to play by his own rules and really has a problem with authority and bureaucrats. We can all relate to that.
He’s the kind of guy who shoots first and asks questions later and at the time of release he caused quite a bit of controversy for easily offended critics.
He pretty much invented the bad ass one-liner but they were never cheesy, just cool. Eastwood played the character to perfection, making him tough and likable which is a not an easy job considering some of the stuff he does. His weapon of choice is the Magnum 44 which can apparently blow your head clean off.
Like vigilante Pauk Kersey he doesn’t want to tolerate criminals and just wants them gone… one way or another.
For me Dirty Harry is Clint Eastwood’s best character and it’s no wonder he returned to play him another 4 times.
Author: Eoin Friel
7. Ellen Ripley
Movie: The Alien Saga
Actor: Sigourney Weaver
It’s a shame that there aren’t that many iconic female action characters but aside from Sarah Connor from The Terminator, no one comes close to the awesomeness of Ellen Ripley. Played to perfection by Sigourney Weaver, Ripley is the ultimate tough girl but also a maternal figure. In the first Alien movie, she and her crewmates are terrorized by a creature with a thirst for human flesh. It’s just a killing machine without a conscience. What is so great about the first Alien is that you are convinced that the hero will actually be Tom Skerritt. When he dies half way through the movie, you’re like “What?” and then the real protagonist is revealed.
The slow burn tension becomes unbearable and you really worry if Ripley will survive this ordeal. She eventually blows the alien out of an airlock into the depths of space and lives happily ever after… or does she?
Alas for poor Ripley this is only the beginning of her nightmare. When she wakes up from hyper sleep many years later she agrees (for some reason) to go with a group of marines to rescue some Colonists. What ensues is a bloodbath where several of the marines are killed by not only one alien but hundreds. She befriends a young girl called Newt who has survived for weeks after her family has been killed by these frankly awful creatures. Ripley essentially becomes her new mommy and will literally walk into Hell to rescue her at the end. Aliens is actually my favourite of the series as it has more action than the others, but the first is just as good for different reasons.
The same cannot be said for part 3 which I actually hate more than Part 4. Ripley has her head shaved and ends up on a prison planet and the film is really just unpleasant from beginning to end with some of the worst visual effects of the series. Of course the biggest shock was that Ripley actually dies at the end of this movie which to this day has scarred me for life.
But wait, what’s this? Ripley has been cloned 200 years later and has come back as a half human, half alien thing? Well that’s bollocks! But at least it does have some awesome gore and I do actually have a lot of fun with the movie. Ripley is quite different and rather than just wanting to wipe the aliens out, she feels like one of them and the film then goes extremely bizarre as we bear witness to the Newborn. Ripley decides he’s ugly as shit and blows him out of an airlock for good measure too.
So that in a nutshell is the life of Ellen Ripley, one of the greatest action heroines who lived and died… only to live again fighting aliens.
Author: Eoin Friel
5. The Terminator
Movie: The Terminator Series
Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Terminator T-800 model – In the distant future of 2004, the government activated an AI program called Skynet to manage our defense network, and if science fiction has taught you anything, you know the first thing it did was turn on humanity, use nuclear weapons to wipe out most of civilization, and to wipe out the remaining human resistance, created robotic soldiers dubbed Terminators. In a last ditch effort to defeat the resistance, it began sending Terminators back in time to kill resistance leader John Conner.
In one of the greatest heel-face turns in all of fiction, starting in Terminator 2, some of the T-800 models have been reprogrammed to protect John Carter and humanity, rather than destroy them. Already programmed to learn and adapt to its surroundings, with access to full databases on combat and weaponry, the T-800 is as lethal as you’d expect something called a Terminator to be. In terms of weapons, the T-800 typically favors big guns ranging from shotguns to full miniguns, and can aim with such precision marksmanship as to be as capable of leaving no casualties as it is at piling body counts.
Once turned against its fellow machines, the T-800 proved just as capable of destroying other Terminators as it is at killing people, ranging from the virtually indestructible T-1000 to the anti-Terminator unit the T-X. Whether you’re running from him or hiding behind him, there is very little that can stand in the way of the Terminator – something that has myself and many others chomping at the bit to see them back in action this summer for.
Author: Eoin Friel
4. Indiana Jones
Movies: The Indiana Jones Series
Actor: Harrison Ford
Indiana Jones – I’m not even going to be coy with the introductions, you and I both know you started humming the theme song as soon as you read his name.
Inspired by the heroes of adventure serials of the 20s and 30s, the action heroes of their own day, Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes, action hero or otherwise, ever to grace the silver screen. Clad in the now iconic combination of khakis, leather jacket and a fedora, and usually armed with nothing but his trusty bullwhip and his even trustier wits, no obstacle can keep archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones from his destination, whether it be booby trapped temples or the entirety of Nazi Berlin.
Despite his roguish reputation, his chasing down of mystical artifacts and enemies ranging from Thuggee cultists to Nazi Gestapo agents, a large part of the charm of Indiana Jones is his everyman appeal, in that he’s a relatively normal person who finds himself caught in the middle of these schemes and plots, and gets to live the quintessential action hero fantasy – beat the bad guys, save the world, get the girl, and have an adventure while doing it.
Author: Sean C.W. Korsgaard
3. James Bond
Movies: The James Bond Series
Actor: Sean Connery/Roger Moore/Timothy Dalton/Daniel Craig/George Lazenby/Pierce Brosnan
Created by author Ian Fleming in 1953, James Bond’s first appearance was in Casino Royale, which of course got made into a proper film in 2006. Fleming based his fictional creation on a number of individuals he came across during his time in the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II, admitting that Bond “was a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war”.
The first actor to play the character was Barry Nelson in 1954 and it wasn’t until 1962 that the greatest Bond of them all would be played by Sean Connery in Dr. No. It remains one of my very favourite Bond movies and Connery’s introduction is the stuff of legend. Nobody smokes cooler than Connery’s Bond (except maybe John McClane) and as much as I like the other guys that have played him, nobody does it better ( ho ho). Bond has also been played (in official movies) by Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Each actor has brought their own interpretation of the character which has appealed to each generation of modern cinema audiences. The character will change according to the times and although we may not always agree with some of the changes, the debate is all part of the fun.
Bond is really the original action hero and that fact that he lasted over 50 years is an amazing feat in itself. So, why do we all love Bond so much? I think it’s because he’s a fantasy figure for both men and women. It’s the old cliche, guys wanna be him and women wanna sleep with him. He dresses well, he’s suave, sophisticated and is just an interesting and cool guy. Real life is so unremittingly tedious that we all love the escape to this glamorous world of fast cars, beautiful women and exciting action.
With the 25th Bond movie “Skyfall” coming up in the next few weeks, anticipation is at an all time high (ho ho again). It looks like 007 will be reporting for duty for many years to come.
2. John McClane
Movies: The Die Hard Series
Actor: Bruce Willis
On Christmas Eve 1988, John McClane visited his estranged wife at her workplace at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. What he wasn’t expecting was that “exceptional thief” Hans Gruber also planned on visiting the same Plaza. His agenda? To steal $640 million in bearer bonds and take the employees, including Holly, hostage, posing as terrorists to draw attention away from the theft.
Alas poor Hans, he underestimates the baddassery of one John McClane who single-handedly kicks the ass of all of Hans’ buddies, climaxing in Gruber taking flying lessons… without wings.
So what is it about McClane that makes him such an icon of action cinema? It’s quite simple: He’s human. He’s the everyman that we all can relate to; he’s got family problems, he smokes, he drinks and he’s even afraid of flying.
While the 80’s gave us classic characters like Rambo; they were invincible heroes, kinda like what we have today with superheroes. McClane bleeds, he cries and he feels like a real person. If you believe a person can and will get hurt, then you can empathise; so when McClane’s feet are bleeding, we damn well feel it with him.
Even in the most dire of situations McClane has a one-liner or put-down for the bad guys who just never stand a chance against this everyday badass.
John McClane changed the action genre and paved the way for the 90’s era of action heroes, who were vulnerable and believable; a new era of action movies had arrived. Soon we’d get Die Hard on a boat (Under Siege), Die Hard on a Mountain (Cliffhanger) and many, many more.
Die Hard also spawned 3 sequels (with a fourth being filmed as we speak). Admittedly in the sequels he does become more superhuman as the stunts become more outlandish, but that’s part of the charm. McClane’s banter with Zeus in Die Hard with a Vengeance is some of the best writing in action history, proving that Die Hard only really works when it’s done by John McTiernan.
As we’ve discussed a billion times before; in the fourth movie, McClane is less interesting and more jaded. He’s lost that spark; he isn’t hung-over, he isn’t smoking and the dialogue just wasn’t as sharp. Sure some of the action scenes were fun, but it just didn’t feel like Die Hard.
I know people say they like to see that McClane has changed but that’s not the McClane audiences fell in love with and I just wasn’t as interested. This was Bruce Willis on autopilot which he’d been on for the past 10 years; thankfully he’s back on top with a ton of new actioners coming soon.
Next year McClane will make a return to the big screen in the terribly titled “A Good Day to Die Hard” where he and his wayward son battle against some Russkies. We shall see if it remains the watered down McClane from Part 4 or the REAL John McClane; either way audiences are still hungry for more McClane, which proves that even now he’s a true icon that will never die.
Author: Eoin Friel
1. John Rambo
Movies: The Rambo Saga
Actor: Sylvester Stallone
Of course John Rambo would be number 1; unlike John McClane he hasn’t been soiled by shit sequels. All the Rambo movies are awesome. That’s just science. Rambo was created by David Morell in the 1972 novel First Blood; Morrell said that in choosing the name Rambo he was inspired by “the sound of force” in the name of Rambo apples, which he encountered in Pennsylvania.
In late 1969, John Rambo was deployed to Vietnam where he was captured by North Vietnamese forces near the Chinese-Vietnamese border. He was held at a POW camp, where he and other American POWs were repeatedly tortured.
Rambo escaped captivity in May 1972, but upon his return to the United States, Rambo discovered that many American civilians hated the returning soldiers from Vietnam.
He, along with other returning soldiers, was subject to humiliation by anti-war protestors who spat at them and hurled insults when they came home. His experiences in Vietnam and back home resulted in an extreme case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
His training would be put to good use when he would visit a small town run by Sheriff Teasle who thinks Rambo is a drifter there to cause trouble. A battle of wits ensues and the bodycount quickly rises.
In the novel, the story ends in a very different fashion from the movie. A rather unlikable, smart ass Rambo is hunted by Sheriff Teasle after killing several local residents of a small town. Teasle and Rambo shoot each other and they both die, so no franchise there then.
That was similar to the original ending to the Sylvester Stallone starring movie First Blood, where he gets his friend Colonel Trautman to put him out of his misery. After various test screenings, audiences wanted Rambo to live and it just worked so much better.
In the movie, Rambo is a much more sympathetic character than in the novel, played to perfection by Sylvester Stallone.
What makes him an icon? Rambo was the ultimate One Man Army; at least he was in the sequels. In the first movie he’s just an ex-green beret who is pushed too far by a small town Sheriff.
This is a formula that would be used in countless 80’s action movies like Commando, where one man has to face impossible odds but eventually succeeds by blowing a lot of shit up. The fact that we got a sequel in 2008 that still made the character relevant for modern audiences shows how iconic he is and like John McClane, as soon as you say his name everyone knows who it is.
A lot of people misinterpret the Rambo movies as “God Bless America” style propaganda where it’s America the Superpower kicking ass.
This is of course bollocks, as anyone with half a brain knows the story is about how America mistreated its Vietnam Veterans. Being spat on at the airport after returning from war isn’t exactly saying “God Bless America” to me. Rambo himself says in the second movie “What do I want? I want our country to love us, the way we love it!”
Rambo would return for 3 sequels; First Blood: Part 2, Rambo III and Rambo. Part 2 is arguably my favourite of the series as I love the whole one man army scenario and Jerry Goldsmith’s bombastic score is the stuff of legend, especially the track “Escape from Torture”. Although lighter in tone than the first movie, it still deals with Rambo’s isolation from America and focuses on him rescuing POWs in Vietnam. He is not only trying to rescue these fellow vets but also trying to conquer his own demons.
In the third movie, which is quite underrated, the tone is once again lighter than the first movie but it still has enough action to be a worthy addition to the franchise.
Unfortunately, by the time the animated TV Series came out “Rambo and the Forces of Freedom”, the character had now become a joke and really was all about America kicking ass, completely missing the point of the original character.
The book was written at a time when America was still recovering from the Vietnam War and the story really brought the plight of the vets to the fore.
The most recent sequel, 2008’s Rambo is arguably the best sequel as it returns Rambo to the roots of the character, he comes full circle and realizes that he was a born killing machine. It’s what he knows and when he’s pushed… killing’s as easy as breathing.
It showed the harsh realities of life in Burma and didn’t skimp on brutality; it didn’t glorify the violence but really showed the awfulness of war. After the climatic gun battle in Burma, Rambo eventually returns back home as we see him walking down the driveway marked “R. Rambo”. Has he come home for good or will he go back to do what he does best?
So there we have it – 70 iconic action heroes from past to present; I’m not entirely convinced about some of the order as feelings change over time so in your mind you can rearrange them to what you would like. Thanks to all who contributed.