Top Ten Badass Actors In Their Most Badass Roles
With action flicks such as Logan and John Wick 2 roundhouse kicking and clawing their way into theaters these past few weeks, I think it's high time that we here at The Keystone Statement honor the men who have paved the way for stars to inflict and survive such adrenaline intense moments. It's not an every day happening that you have to thwart off a band of ninjas whooping your ass because you took the last Reese's Cup at the Sunoco from a local drug kingpin, well guess what? These badasses below made moments like this possible in your mundane life. So without further pomp and circumstance, The Keystone Statement presents to you (in no particular order) "The Top Ten Badass Actors In Their Most Badass Roles".
Steve McQueen - Henri Charriere in Papillon
McQueen’s mostly recognized for his escaping of Nazi prison camps or damaging the suspension of his olive-green Mustang on the hills of San Francisco, but Papillon gets some bonus points for several reasons.
First, you’re spending a life sentence in 1930s French Guiana for not really MDK’ing a pimp. Then, you spend weeks (or months - it’s been over a decade since I’ve seen this flick) in a dank-ass eight-foot cell with four walls, eating bugs and receiving as much daylight as Nosfaratu. Next, to escape these frogs, you must run through the jungle with the constant fear of being ginsued by a shit-covered booby trap floating in the back of your mind - all while doing this without a toothbrush. There’s also the fact that McQueen had to tolerate Dustin Hoffman and his method acting madness for several weeks. If you’ve ever failed at acting like I have, and had to spend over an hour of rehearsal with an actor who takes themselves way too seriously trying to perfect the role of Mr. Mistoffelees then you’ll understand why McQueen took it upon himself to do the stunt of jumping off that cliff.
Honorable Mentions: Bullitt, The Great Escape, The Hunter
Paul Newman - Lucas Jackson in Cool Hand Luke
The badass roles of Paul Newman covers quite the cinematic plain and was trickier to choose from than many may have expected. The man’s span of movie genres is on Tom Hanks levels of diversity. I could have easily “put the foil on” for his time as player/coach Reggie Dunlop in Slap Shot (Calling Hanarahan’s wife a lesbo and just taking the ice with Olgie Oglethorpe takes a nutsack made of kevlar) or hitched my wagon on his Bolivia trip with him and Robbie Redford in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (arguably my favorite movie of all time), but there’s something about “sticking it to the man” really revs my badassery engines.
“Eat 50 eggs because it’s a nice round number? Yeah, I can do that.”
“Fight the deepest voice in prison because he keeps beating titty jokes into the ground? Fuck it, let’s roll the dice.”
“Escape prison, get my spirit broken on the second, then proceed to mindfuck the entire camp into thinking that my balls have been clipped to only rabbit a third and then die smiling in Strother Martin’s cruiser? Shit’s on, son. Shit’s on.”
Honorable Mentions: Slap Shot, Fort Apache: The Bronx, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
Burt Reynolds - Tom Sharky in Sharky’s Machine
From start to end, this is Burt’s best flick, despite not having Jerry Reed singing it’s theme song. Self-directed, Reynolds plays an Atlanta detective who gets bumped down to vice work after he botches a high-end drug bust, forcing him to deal with the New Jersey Turnpike of crimes and misdemeanors: trippers, trannies and trick pullers. What we get from this is his involvement and love obsession over prostitute in one of his cases, who happens to be servicing a senator running for office. From there, he deals with a foreign crime boss who has a tight stronghold on the ATL and a coke-fueled psychotic hitman (Henry Silva) in his back pocket. It’s chock full of hooker killing if you’re into that sort of thing, ninjas also pop up and Burt may or may not lose an appendage in the process. Plus, the movie starts off with with Randy Crawford’s “Street Life” (see video below), and that’s a real jam of a tune. Some may deem it baby-making worthy, even. I bet Burt did.
Bruce Willis - John McClane in Die Hard
An obvious one for Mr. Willis even though he’s been the pin-up for bad ass flicks. Stopping a terrorist takeover during Christmas time and managing to include the commercialization of the holiday in your killing process is a badass thing of beauty. You not only impressed the dad from Family Matters, but you impressed me, sir. Plus, this is the movie that defined 80s bad guys with beards. You could throw Peck from Ghostbusters as a true trailblazer of the trade (a soulless ginger to boot), but the late Alan Rickman made Americans in the 80s second guess taking every Brit for John Cleese or Dudley Moore.
Honorable Mentions: Pulp Fiction, The Last Boy Scout, 16 Blocks
Clint Eastwood - Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry
This is and was a toughie. Thinking about all the roles Clint has charmed with his “don’t fiddle fuck with me” persona is truly unparalleled. Take Gran Torino for example: for three-fourths of the movie he doesn’t discriminate when it comes to occupancy of his lawn, dropping every ethnic slur about Asians imaginable, and then like a true badass, sees the error of his intolerance and old-dude codgery, goes to redeem himself and gets riddled by bullets because he chose Zippo over a matchbook.
Or Unforgiven. An outlaw way past his sell date, decides to dawn the black hat one more time, despite the struggles of arthritis and old man cough.
There’s all those other spaghetti westerns, too.
But then you have Harry Callahan. A man with a Magnum and an appetite for street vendor hot dogs without ketchup. A man who isn’t afraid to surf on a school bus Teen Wolf style to save a bunch of kids from a maniacal ginger sniper (this write-up was not initially intended to rip on the gingers, but organically, that’s what’s happening. Gingers are bad news, man.) This was the first movie to define Clint for me, and I’d say I was a “lucky punk” for it (That zinger deserves a forearm shiver to the ol’ temple).
Honorable Mentions: Gran Torino, Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Escape From Alcatraz
Sylvester Stallone - Sheriff Freddy Heflin in Cop Land
Ohhh of course I could go with First Blood, any of the several Rocky’s (not V) or his matchstick-chewing, aviator wearing Cobra, but why do I decide to roll with his role as a small-town, middle-aged half deaf police chief? There’s plenty of solid reasons why:
(1) He goes up against a corrupt with power Harvey Keitel and a mustachioed T-1000. Not an easy task.
(2) On his police squad is Janene Garafolo and the scientist who blew himself up in season 1 of The Walking Dead (who also moonlighted as former Penguins prez, Craig Patrick in Miracle). Not exactly an all-star team when you’re going up against The Wolf. This point is further made when T-1000 tells Sly to “not shit in his pants”. Thankfully he doesn’t, but Sly’s shouldering a lot of the heavy pulling, here. Jordan in the late 80’s kinda heavy pulling
(3) He does have two thirds of the Goodfellas in his bank of moral support. DeNiro knows of the police corruption problem, but his hands are tied from an administrative standpoint, and Ray Liotta intentions may or may not be for self gain, but the dude’s there with that strung out stare look, just seconds away from an infamous sudden Scorcese rage-out of blunt-force violence. They’re John Stocktons of assisting in badassness.
(4) As stated before, Stallone’s half deaf in this. Do you know what that can do for your sense of balance? Sure, so can a straight right by a big-ass Russian or Mr. T, but when you get half-deaf in the manner Freddy Heflin did by swimming into a submerged vehicle to pull out a drowning high school sweetheart despite it ruining your career chances of getting on a city police force, then you have to give him some tip of the cap.
(5) This may have nothing to do with the plot at all, but Sly only took $30K for the role, because he wanted it so bad. He also had to gain weight for it. Most call that second part every weekend or poker night, but for the action hero movie type, it’s like giving up the NFL for a season.
(6) The climax of the movie encapsulates everything buck nasty about the underdog, underappreciated Heflin, and he delivers one of the coolest “I got you” lines in any movie I’ve watched, all with no sound surrounding the scene. Must be watched to be appreciated.
(7) Just like Rocky, Sly's rise to stardom is an underdog story, and out of of his acting resume, I'd consider Cop Land to be one of his most underdog roles. All-star cast, sure, but completely under the radar as far as noteworthiness goes? Absolutely.
Al Pacino - Tony Montana in Scarface
So I love Mr. Pacino. So so much. He’s was one of Sidney Lumet’s go-tos when it came to casting and both of the two films he starred in were contenders for his badass badge of approval (Serpico & Dog Day Afternoon), but there’s no argument when it comes to Brian De Palma’s Scarface. The chainsaw in the bathtub? The no “breaking of balls and his word”? The unintentionally humorous visual of that dude walking gut-stabbed through the barrio? The yeo? Montana, as nuts and paranoid as he was, even with his head buried in booger sugar still had a code to stand by - no killing of moms and kids. The role certainly didn’t have as many layers as some of Pacino’s others, but it’s the one that shot him back up to stardom.
Honorable Mentions: The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Heat, Glengarry Glen Ross
Robert DeNiro - Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II
Another tough call. Jimmy The Gent could just have easily been right up there, stomping a mudhole in Billy Bats' skull or freaking the fuck out of Ray Liotta’s trainwreck of a wife, but I have to give it to his throwback of Vito Corleone. See, Vito was smart about things. He worked his way up the mafasio totem pole by offing the biggest dog in the Sicilian yard and then shipped that operation over to the States. He may have gotten mush mouth over his lengthy tenure, but the man set up an empire without dabbling in the drug trade. Aaaand he didn’t get whacked. He just keeled over in a garden playing with his grandkid. Kind of badass way to go considering all those Italian crime vultures looking for the opportunity of clean shot to the dome. And sure, that last part of his story may have been Brando branded, but it all started with Bobby (sort of).
Honorable Mentions: Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Cape Fear (haven’t seen Taxi Driver or The Deer Hunter, so that’s why they’re omitted)
Barry Newman - Kowalski in Vanishing Point
This is the dark horse of the list. Nobody, except for baby boomers, movie snobs or my immediate family may have the slightest idea of who the hell Barry Newman is, but he’s known for playing the title character in the car chase film, Vanishing Point. In it, Newman is only goes by Kowalski, and he’s an ex-cop who’s hired to deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Colorado to Cali. What’s he doing it for? A discount on his drug buy, which seems very plausible considering the kinds of degeneracy that gets done for drugs, fast car delivery can be a less humbling of a route to choose. On his non-law-abiding way, he gets support from a blind DJing Blazing Saddle’s Cleavon Little, a naked chick on a motorcycle and a drifter in the desert. And despite being a former man in blue, the police really don’t like Kowalski’s penchant for speed (the actual physical movement and the drug). So how am I shoe-horning Newman into this list when no one has heard of him? Evey badass movie list needs a cult-classic on it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger - Dutch in Predator
I know Junior is a close shave, but really, can it be anything but Predator? A group of mercenaries go into Central America for what they think is your average guerrilla hostage rescue, which odds are, a hostage rescue for eighties-era special forces would just mean smoking cigars, playing some cards, practicing your manliest forearm handshake, maybe a little harmless grab-ass with one another (towel slaps, I’m thinking), and then capping it off with mowing down bad guys with ridiculously large weaponry. Sounds like a great weekend for a group of testosterone-fueled HGH meatheads. For myself, I’d probably get bullied to the point of clinical depression on the chopper ride over with taunts of being thrown out sky high, but I understand the situation and the circumstances - not my crowd or scene. I’m like the shitty nephew that shows up on The Brady Bunch. Totally out of place.
But this isn’t any normal walk in the Amazon park, so to say. There’s some heat-seeking bug demon man methodically picking apart your crew - all of which are far above the levels of Janene Garapolo and Craig Patrick on the intimidation scale. This dread-headed son of a bitch is blowing up Jesse “The Body” Ventura, literally disarming top golfer Chubbs Peterson before the gator got to him and ripping out the spine of a machete wielding, scary laughing Native American tracker.
Arnold’s solution to this problem is going all Bear Grylls but unlike him, he doesn’t have Shaq, Marshawn Lynch or a camera crew following his ass around. Instead, he opts for covering himself in lots of FernGully bat guano and hitting the rough terrain “cold blooded”. I’ll always be a bigger fan of The Running Man, but to put it above Predator because he fought an opera-singing man covered in icy-sequins would be penny wise, pound foolish.