HOLLYWOOD HARD BASTARDS:
A YEAR-LONG MOVIE MISSION
by Gary Anderson
They’re unkillable, unstoppable, unflappable and irresistible. They’re the masters of the outrageous, racking up unfeasibly high body counts, smirking in the face of danger, always ready with a sly quip or a blistering pun, right before they blow the shit out of absolutely everything. Charismatic, stoic and determined, these Spartans never give up, overcoming unbelievable odds and despicable villains to save the day. They’re cinema’s greatest warriors, titans who walk among us, proving time and time again that no problem, however big or small, can’t be solved without a hearty fistful of dynamic, pulse-quickening, edge-of-your-seat violence.
They’re the Schwarzeneggers, the Van Dammes, the Stallones. They’re living legends. They’re Hollywood’s Hardest Bastards.
But who is the hardest action hero of them all? Which of Hollywood’s toughest, most grizzled wisecracking bullet-dodgers is more insanely badass than all the rest? The Expendables brought many of the action greats together, but as a team. How much more fun would that movie have been if it was one big testosterone-filled battle royale that finally revealed which gung-ho He-Man is the mightiest of the bunch?
This will be my quest. Using my own dodgy, quasi-scientific criteria, from January 1st 2013 I will be watching and analysing at least one film each day from the back catalogue of Hollywood’s ten toughest hombres in order to determine, once and for all, by the law of averages, who is the greatest living ass-kicker of them all. Never mind which star has made the most films, earned the most money or won the most awards. This isn’t about artful mise-en-scene or stirring cinematography. This is about determining, film-for-film, which rock-hard chiselled champion stands head and shoulders above the rest. Every morning for one whole year, I will pick one film at random from the Celebrations Tub of Death to chronicle and rate each Hard Bastard’s performance according to my own carefully considered set of criteria.
This mission will not just involve watching the classics of the action genre, like Die Hard, Predator or First Blood, though I will be watching those too. That would be far too easy. No, in order to be completely fair, this undertaking must also encompass each star’s cinematic turkeys, their risible direct-to-video obscurities, and the early career oddities. The only material ruled out for selection will include TV shows, made-for-TV movies, cameos and uncredited appearances and the vast majority of appearances in children’s films. However, if the Hard Bastard has starred in a film where butt has been kicked or baddies have been blown to smithereens, you can rest assured it will be included here.
THE HARD BASTARDS
So, who are our contenders? It was tough to decide (sorry Snipes), but after much careful deliberation, here, in no particular order, are the Toughest Ten, each of whom have accrued a significant body of legendary, bone-snapping action movie work:
Arnold Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947, near Graz, Austria. With an almost unpronounceable surname and a thick Austrian accent, who would have ever believed that a brash, quick talking bodybuilder from a small European village would become one of Hollywood's biggest stars, marry into the prestigious Kennedy family, amass a fortune via shrewd investments and one day become the Governor of California? A distinguished Hard Bastard.
Born in Peekskill, NY on January 3, 1956, Mel Gibson moved to Australia during his youth and went on to pursue a film career. After appearing in the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon series, Gibson eventually directed and starred in the Academy Award-winning Braveheart and directed The Passion of the Christ. Outside of his work, Gibson has been accused of homophobia, anti-semitism, racism and misogyny. A mad Hard Bastard.
Born on May 31, 1930 in San Francisco, California, Clint Eastwood got his big break starring on the TV western Rawhide. He then became immensely popular as a tough guy via a string of Sergio Leone movie westerns and the Dirty Harry franchise. In recent years, Eastwood has directed many films, including the Academy Award-winning projects Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Changeling. An old school Hard Bastard.
Born Walter Bruce Willison on March 19, 1955, in West Germany, Bruce Willis's career was launched when he played wisecracking David Addison on TV's Moonlighting opposite Cybill Shepherd. In the summer of 1988, Die Hard, an action-packed flick that cast Willis as the muscle-pumping hero, hit movie screens with a bang, and his status as a bona fide movie star was minted. A cocky Hard Bastard.
English born, Syndenham, London raised, Statham is the second son of a dancer and a lounge singer. Although he had artistic talent running through his veins, he instead focused on his athletic abilities at the high dive. His diving abilities were so impressive that he joined the British Olympic team in 1988 in Seoul, Korea. After 10 years in the National Diving Squad, a talent agent led him to the modeling industry. Broke into acting in such an unconventional way, Jason Statham has really found his path in the film industry through his work in action pictures like The Transporter and soared to be one of the most popular actors of the genre by the 21st century. The young upstart Hard Bastard.
He's an action superstar surrounded by controversy and crime. Steven Fredric Seagal was born on 10 April 1952 in Lansing, Michigan where he lived until he was five years old. Seagal started his martial arts training at the age of seven, travelling to Japan at the age of 17, where he taught English and perfected his martial arts skills, paving the way for him to work his way into the movie industry. He skyrocketed to fame in 1988 with an action-packed debut in Above the Law, but long before then, he was known to martial arts insiders as the first Caucasian to open his own aikido dojo in Japan. Also an accomplished and celebrated musician. A cultured Hard Bastard.
JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME
Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg, better known to movie audiences as JCVD, ‘The Muscles from Brussels,’ is a Belgian martial artist, actor, and director best known for his martial arts action films. After studying martial arts intensively from the age of ten, Van Damme achieved national success in Belgium as a martial artist and bodybuilder. He emigrated to the United States in 1982 to pursue a career in film, and achieved success with Bloodsport. His martial arts assets, highlighted by his ability to deliver a kick to an opponent's head during a leaping 360-degree turn, and his good looks led to starring roles in higher budgeted movies like Cyborg, A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave, and Universal Soldier. Most recently seen hamming it up in dodgy beer commercials. A roundhouse-kicking Hard Bastard.
A graduate in chemistry from Washington State University, chemical engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia in 1982, Lundgren holds a rank of 3rd dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate and was European champion in 1980 and 1981. While in Sydney, he became a bodyguard for Jamaican singer Grace Jones and began a relationship with her. They moved together to New York City, where after a short stint as a model and bouncer at the Manhattan nightclub The Limelight, Jones got him a small debut role in the James Bond film A View to a Kill. Lundgren's breakthrough came when he starred in Rocky IV in 1985 as the imposing Russian boxer Ivan Drago. Since then, he has starred in more than 40 movies, almost all of them in the action genre. So hard, masked burglars abandoned a robbery after discovering the home they had targeted was his. Smart thieves, and a smart Hard Bastard.
Born on March 10, 1940, Chuck Norris started studying martial arts in Korea in the 1950s. He was serving in the U.S. Air Force at the time. When he returned home, Norris soon opened his karate studio. He switched to movies in the 1970s, appearing with Bruce Lee in Return of the Dragon. Norris became a popular action-film star in the 1980s, and starred in his own television series in the 1990s. Chuck Norris doesn’t call the wrong number. You answer the wrong phone. A legendary Hard Bastard.
Born on July 6, 1946, in New York City, Sylvester Stallone is one of the most popular Hollywood action stars of all time, playing such iconic characters as John Rambo and Rocky Balboa. Stallone got his start writing and starring in Rocky, going on to become one of Hollywood's highest paid actors, usually playing monosyllabic, anti-society, underdog heroes and also known for his machismo. Stallone is an American actor, screenwriter, film director, filmmaker and occasional painter. While Stallone has attempted to extend his range into film comedies and drama, his real box office success continues in action films. The underdog Hard Bastard.
The big question is, how have these ten titans managed to endure? What qualities have ensured that these are the guys who immediately spring to mind when we think of bullet-riddled, high-octane, skull-cracking movie mayhem?
Rated out of ten, the first of five criteria of judgement for considering a Hard Bastard’s kickass credentials will be INDESTRUCTIBILITY. A true hero dominates, consistently overcoming unbelievable odds. Men fear, respect and obey them and women want them, as they are so damn tough as to appear nigh-on unkillable, battling on, despite life-threatening injury, through storms of bullets, in the name of truth, justice or good old-fashioned survival. A real action star displays a superhuman, tenacious bouncebackability that sets him apart from the pack. Put simply, he cannot be stopped.
Our heroes will also be judged on the impressiveness of their COMBAT SKILLS. Far from being simple bruisers, these hardmen dispatch their prey with grace confidence and a sleekness that turns killing into a gorgeous, balletic art-form. The Hard Bastard does everything with style and force, but when he’s on his game, there is nothing forced about it. Be it by kung fu, household implements or just a bloody big gun, extra points will be awarded for any bloodshed that involves a healthy dose of aesthetically pleasing, expertly choreographed imaginative creativity.
Also important is a Hard Bastard’s ATTITUDE – his view on life and the set of values that he embodies. True heroes display courage, commitment and honour, cutting a swathe through red tape and bureaucratic bullshit to do what’s right, no matter how difficult it may be. More often than not these hardy hotshots do all this with a smile on their face and a killer wisecrack on the tip of their tongue, exuding an inner and outer strength that lets the bad guys know exactly who the baddest cat in the room is. Of course, there will be extra points for pitch-perfect puns and effortless success with the ladies.
The fourth important quality for consideration in this battle of badassery is that which makes the hero truly memorable: his sheer OUTRAGEOUSNESS. These warriors stand out in history because, with a little movie magic, their actions often verge, quite brilliantly, on the sheer ridiculous. Whether they’re displaying a MacGuyver-like resourcefulness for getting themselves out of difficult scrapes, or pulling off insane, death-defying stunts, these guys consistently prove that they are capable of far more than mere mortals. From leaping from great heights to taking out helicopters with speeding automobiles, these Hard Bastards leave their mark, casually doing the sorts of things we can only dream of, the kind of insane, inspiring action that makes you leap from your seat and punch the air with a hearty ‘HELL YEAH!’ These guys blow stuff up in the most spectacular ways, assuring their immortality, and suffice to say, points will be awarded for inspired ludicrousness.
Finally, each hard-boiled hero will be judged on the scale of their cinematic BODYCOUNT. Plain and simple, a true action star gains his stripes by offing a whole heap of bad guys and I will be counting each and every kill in every movie. Points will be awarded appropriately, determined by kills-per-minute in relation to the standard set by Stallone in Rambo (2008) with 87 kills in 92 minutes(!) It’s science, folks.
So, there you have it. I am about to embark on what I hope will be an exciting, entertaining, enlightening and life-changing journey. It’s going to be one hell of a year and God knows how I am going to manage to squeeze in an action flick every single day (I just got engaged – uh oh!) but it’s going to be fun finding out! Of course much of my findings will be purely subjective, but by this time next year, I will hope to prove, once and for all, who is the toughest hardest bastard in the universe.
Yippie Ki Yay, movie-lovers!