Out of the maelstrom of cinematic excellence come five warriors of masculine, testicular greatness. Prophets of awe-inspiring coolness, bravery and determination. Exemplars and icons all. Brace yourself for the day of reckoning, for it is now. Bow your brow to the ground and pray to your maker that your britches remain clean as you glance upon the visage of these manly giants. Without further ado and with further whiskey, let us examine the top 5 cinematic bad asses of all time:
5. Shaft... Damn straight! - Shaft
Who the black private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks? That's right, it's Shaft. With a hot dog in one hand and a white woman in the other, Shaft takes great pleasure in sticking it to the man (and, in different terms, to every woman in town). Combining the best of 70's blaxploitation with the classic tropes of classic private-eye flicks, Shaft is cooler than a phlegmatic penguin (damn straight!). Great wardrobe, great hair, cool under pressure and ready to do the right thing, Shaft is the everyman hero who dishes out justice with style and flair, all to a very groovy Isaac Hayes soundtrack.
4. John McClane - Die Hard
His wardrobe mainly consists of Cosby sweaters. He's losing his hair. He's kind of an asshole. Both his marriage and his whiskey are on the rocks. He smokes Marlboro's like they're going out of style and he really digs those sequent shirts. John McClane, just a regular guy who's in the wrong place at the wrong time. But when put into extreme circumstances our true self arises. We realize what's truly important. And John McClane knows what he's willing to fight for and die for. His fear is palbable, he is only a thinning hairline away from a certain death, he is dirty, broken, beaten and bloodied. But he will not give up. And sometimes bravery, courage and determination are worth a lot more than huge muscles or tons of explosives. Which is why I would put John McClane up against any of the Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Van Damme/Seagal clones any day. In fact, he could take them all on at once, as long as he had a pack of smokes, a .45 and a pair of shoes. Nah, forget the shoes. The gun and the smokes is all he needs.
3. Roddy Piper - They Live
This is a tough, cruel world we live in. The American dream where an honest man wearing flannel can make a good life doing hard work is long gone, decimated by the filth of capitalism and consumerism. Classical values of family, tradition and determination have been replaced by superficiality, greed and decadence. Walk into a stockbroking firm or a bank, peek your head into a boutique shop or a fashion store, feast your eyes upon the mind-numbing, brain sucking frivolity of television. What do you see? The status quo? Or horrible, monstrous aliens who have come to destroy us, bit by bit, making us so complacent, sedate and slothful that they don't even need to subjugate us with fear or tyranny? Thank God we have people like the Rowdy Roddy Piper, donning his sunglasses and seeing through the superficiality into the dark heart of reality. And there is only one proper response to that reality: To kick ass and chew bubblegum. And he's all out of gum.
2. Snake Plissken - Escapes from New York and L.A.
The anti-hero is beyond time and place, just as representative of bad-assery, wisdom and justice in the American West as he is in the post-apocalyptic future. Snake Plissken rides a motorcycle instead of a horse but he is nonetheless the spiritual heir to the Man With No Name. He even gets screwed over by Lee Van Cleef, just like the cinematic bad-asses of yore. But unlike the Man Who Lacks an Alias, Snake still believes in something. This is why he has to be forced at gunpoint (or, more appropriately, at the point of a needle filled with a slow-acting poison) to do the bidding of government bureaucrats, corrupt politicians and crooked cops. But at the end of the day, Snake always comes out on top, leaving the bonds of stifling cultural conformity for the great beyond. And then, as his final hurrah, Snake shuts off the computers, the ipods, the TVs, with one push of a button, forcing us to either reclaim our sanity or descend completely into the madness which we have created for ourselves. With great hair, a mighty beard and a cyclopic vision by which he sees the dirt and grime of our society, Snake Plissken is the apotheosis of the rebel bad ass.
1. John T. Chance - Rio Bravo
The Duke. A slouched hat. A rifle on his shoulder. Taking a long, languid drag of a cigarette. The man and the image are one with the great genre of the American Western. Yet never was there a hero and a bad-ass who better represents the ideal of the American frontier than John T. Chance. He is just as hard and stoic as the toughest of the great Western heroes, but more humane, older, wiser, mellower, like a good bourbon that has a nice bite to it when it enters your mouth but goes down soft and smooth. John T. Chance faces insurmountable odds, a gang of hired killers, holed up in his small jail with only an old cripple, a young gunslinger and a drunk by his side. Yet he refuses the help of the townspeople, not wanting anyone to get hurt. This is his fight, his duty, and he accepts them with a calm and a determination that has an almost Zen-like quality to it. In this acceptance he is a happy man, at ease with himself and his place in the universe, comfortable with the fact that he has chosen the right path in life, though it is a hard and difficult one. If he has to die then let it be like this, among friends, fighting for what is right, a smoke in hand and his rifle on his shoulder. And should things work out, slim chance as that may be, there is a beautiful woman waiting for him at the old saloon. Unlike a lot of bad asses John T. Chance is just as much at home in a gunfight as he is sitting on his porch, watching the sun go down, sipping on some fine Tequila with his woman.
And there you have it. The roundup is complete. Pour yourself a drink, light 'em if you got 'em, and chime in with your own set of bad asses in the comments section.