Geeks are, by our very nature, highly opinionated people. So, why not let our opinions do something fun? As such, the Geeks decided to see who was, among a group of sixteen, the best movie action hero.
First off, I gave myself a series of rules in picking my sixteen heroes.
- The hero must have appeared in a minimum of three movies. Multiple actors could play the role, but one actor had to be well known for the part.
- Each hero is essentially a normal human. No superpowers of any kind. A hero that uses gadgets was OK, but only if the hero was not known primarily for said gadgets (meaning no Iron Man types).
- Each hero is, if not a solo act, then at least someone who could act as a solo act (so, no Lethal Weapon types).
- Only one representative per cinematic universe when applicable.
- Outright fantasy settings were out, so nobody from Middle Earth or Camelot were eligible.
- If we want to assume these were fights, they didn’t have to be one of lethal force.
From there, I set the 16 up in thematically appropriate pairs and asked the other Geeks (Jenny, Jimmy, Ryan, Watson, Halbrook and Jonathan) to vote their favorites in a tournament style voting process. I decided I would only vote in the event a tiebreaker was needed.
And so, without further ado, here’s how round one went down.
Spies. Government operatives who work behind the scenes, keeping their homelands safe from enemies foreign and domestic, often without said enemies knowing said agent was actually there. The ideal movie spy is a smooth operator who can get the information needed and then take down the bad guy and save everyone else the trouble.
On Bond: James Bond is the longest running movie hero on this list. Yes, there is a character or two that has been around longer, but in terms of the big screen, the longest running is Bond. James Bond. The smooth British spy with a license to kill, Bond has been charming the ladies and the audience for decades, and has had enough actors playing him that a “who’s the best Bond” argument isn’t unheard of.
On Jack Ryan: As spies go, Jack Ryan is probably closer to the real thing. He’s as much an analyst as he is a field agent, and that could theoretically make him smarter than Bond. Bond lets people tell him what’s happening. Ryan figures it out on his own.
Bond took this one in a walk. He’s the most iconic spy at the movies easily, and while we may argue over who the best Bond is, has anyone ever argued over who the best Jack Ryan at the movies is? Side note: I really should watch that Amazon series at some point. Watson loved it, and he notoriously hates TV.
The men and women of law enforcement protect honest citizens on the mean streets of the big city, but there’s always some firebrand who does things his own way, much to the consternation of the suits above him. These are the cops who aren’t all that afraid to use lethal force, even if it means a lot of paperwork later.
On John McClane: John McClane gets increasingly unkillable in every movie since he first appeared in everybody’s favorite unconventional Christmas movie. He’s an analog guy in a digital world who keeps finding thieves pretending to be terrorists.
On Dirty Harry: Harry Calahan isn’t a good cop. He’s a reactionary cop in a town (San Francisco) that lets its more sensitive types run things. But when Harry brings out his .357 magnum and asks a perp if he feels lucky, well, sometimes you may need a cop like that. It probably also speaks volumes that no one has tried to do a remake of this character, especially since the very old Clint Eastwood isn’t going back to that role any time soon.
Again, we saw the Geeks all go one way and vote for John McClane. Granted, it’s been a number of years since we saw a new Dirty Harry movie, and arguably both McClane and Harry became more cartoon versions of the original character with each movie, but maybe it all comes down to who has the better catch phrase. Ho ho ho.
Sometimes a good hero is known as much for what he does behind the wheel as anything else. Give these guys a fast car and let ’em loose. And if they can handle themselves outside the vehicle, so much the better.
On Dom: What started off as something of a Point Break rip-off has somehow evolved into the craziest car-based franchise in movie history. And at the center of it all, growling about family the whole time, is Dom Toretto, a guy who went from stealing VCRs to saving the world in a span of eight movies. Can it be done in car? If so, Dom can do it.
On Max: Does anyone in any of these movies call the character “Mad Max”? I don’t know off-hand, but it takes a real hard-ass to survive in the post-apocalyptic desert that is Max’s domain. Regardless of whether or not you even know Max’s last name, one thing is certain: in any Mad Max movie, you are gonna see some impressive car stunts.
I honestly thought this one would be closer. True, some of these pairings seem to point in fairly obvious directions, but after doing a Fast and Furious rewatch with Jimmy and Ryan, I figured there would be a couple votes for Dom, but just about everybody went with Max except for Ryan.
These heroes are people who went through some awful trauma and came out of it tougher. They may not be the friendliest of folks, but they came out of awful circumstances as survivors who could sling it back harder against anyone dumb enough to try and stand in their way.
On Rambo: Rambo may be the most unlikely franchise star around. His first movie was almost his only one where John Rambo comes to a small town, a Vietnam vet with really bad PTSD, and goes on a rampage when locals, led by a jackass police chief, hound him until he snaps. The original story did end in Rambo’s death, but the studio opted to let him live, leading to Rambo perhaps becoming the face of 80s action movies, the guy who couldn’t really leave Vietnam no matter where he ended up. He’s the man who put the war in “Cold War”.
On Sarah Connor: If John Rambo is the male face of the action hero, then Sarah Connor is the female face. Indestructible cyborgs from the future wanting to kill her? No problem. She’s a survivor. She may not look like much of a fighter in her first movie, but by the time the second one rolls around, she’s tougher than nails and doesn’t bat an eyelash when liquid metal killing machines show up.
This one was a bit closer with the final vote determining either an outright winner or a tie, but it went to Rambo. I was a bit surprised noted Terminator superfan Jimmy went with Rambo, but Rambo is the face of the 80s action hero no matter how you slice it.
Old School Cool
Some heroes are just classics, throwbacks to an earlier era. There’s a timeless quality to these heroes, and yet they belong squarely to one particular era, never to be completely copied by anyone.
On Indy: Sure, they may have named the dog Indiana, but the adventurer archaeologist finds the mythical artifacts of days past before less savory types (usually Nazis) find them first. The charismatic college professor brings back the secrets of the ancient world while qualifying for tenure. Give the man a whip and a few seconds, and he’ll get out of any situation while never losing his trademark hat.
On Shaft: Who’s the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Shaft! You’re damn right. OK, John Shaft may be best known for his theme song these days instead of his movies, but Richard Roundtree played Shaft in three different movies in the 70s, and while Shaft has returned to the big screen (including one later this year), Roundtree is still there as the original Shaft with subsequent Shafts being the next generation of Harlem badasses. Even if you’ve never seen a Shaft movie, John Shaft is an icon.
Shaft may be an icon, and Watson did vote for him, but let’s face it: most of Shaft’s movies came out before most if not all of the Geeks were old enough to go to elementary school. Indiana Jones had this one.
The New Kids
OK, so both of these guys are played by actors in their 50s who seem to defy natural aging and who also do as many of their own stunts as they can, but these are the new kids on the block, newer action icons who have made an impression in their unique styles and ways of dealing with bad situations.
On John Wick: John Wick can kill anyone with anything. If stupid punks had just left him and his puppy alone, they’d still be alive. Instead, the demon came out of retirement, and now no one can really put that genie back in the bottle. Smart move, Theon.
On Ethan Hunt: If John Wick is the unstoppable force of the criminal underworld, then Ethan Hunt of the IMF is perhaps his good guy opposite number. He’s been betrayed by his own government and forced to ditch his wife so many times, it’s a wonder he’s still a good guy. But he is, and if Tom Cruise doesn’t kill himself filming one of these movies, we’ll probably be enjoying these for years to come.
It was John Wick by a unanimous vote. It wasn’t even close. Ethan Hunt’s adventures are cool and all, but he doesn’t really have much of a distinct personality compared to John Wick. Personality goes a long way.
Superheroes are all the rage these days. So, let’s have some non-powered superheroes tossed into the mix and see what happens.
On Batman: He’s Batman. If you’re on this site, you know who Batman is. He may not be the first superhero, but he is the best known these days. Like Bond, we can argue who the best Batman is. And like any good hero, he’ll always be there to save the day…or more accurately, night.
On Black Widow: There had to be an MCU representative, and most of them had superpowers or used technology to simulate superpowers. Heck, I didn’t think I could even use Captain America because of the Super Solider Serum. But Black Widow? She’s dangerous, can usually save herself, and has to get by without any help from science or engineering. One of the biggest mysteries of the MCU is why she never got a solo movie for so long.
Batman had this one, though Jenny did cast a vote for Black Widow. Would the result have been the same if it were Bruce Wayne vs. Steve Rogers? That’s a question for another day.
The Last Standing
Sometimes a hero stands out, overcoming huge odds, and becomes the Last One Standing. These are heroes who rise to a challenge, even if they are the only ones who get out.
On Ripley: Ripley, a character originally written to be either male or female depending on the casting, was always intended to be the last person standing in the original Alien. But then Sigourney Weaver walked in to audition, and thus Ripley was truly born, gaining the first name “Ellen”. Xenomorphs can’t bring this woman down. She’s the prototype for the Last Girl.
On Katniss: Katniss is the Last Girl for the Reality TV age. She doesn’t just have to beat the blatant challenges of the Hunger Games, but she also has to charm the audience into liking her along the way. Neither necessarily comes naturally to her, but she’s a survivor, she can learn, and she won’t let people use her for their own purposes for very long. Viva la Mockingjay!
This was another one that could have gone into a tie depending on the final vote, but experience trumps youth as Ripley surpassed Katniss on a 4-2 vote. Maybe it’s because Ripley never had to worry about her style team.
How They Voted
AKA Tom tries to figure out how to make a table.
|Voter||James Bond vs Jack Ryan||John McClane vs Dirty Harry||Dom Toretto vs Mad Max||Rambo vs Sarah Connor||Batman vs Black Widow||Ripley vs Katniss||Indiana Jones|
vs John Shaft
|John Wick vs Ethan Hunt|
|Total||6-0 Bond||6-0 McClane||5-1 Mad Max||4-2 Rambo||5-1 Batman||4-2 Ripley||5-1 Indiana Jones||6-0 John Wick|
So, how will Round Two turn out? Check back here soon!