The 10 Greatest Movie Hitmen of All Time

September 7th, 2010 by Arik Shtern

Hitman is quite a problematic profession: the people you try to kill usually try to resist, the hours might be a bit unconventional, you get no health benefits or pension and of course it is morally ambiguous (some would even say immoral). Nonetheless, it is a very popular profession in movies… A hitman protagonist shoots well (pun intended) – a protagonist who is a maintenance worker, not so much…

The American came out this week, starring George Clooney as a hitman. That’s a good enough reason for us to nominate the 10 all-time best hitman movies:

10. The world cup of killersBranded to Kill (1967)

In this surreal and offbeat film directed by Seijun Suzuki, Jo Shishido stars as a hitman who’s ranked third in the assassins’ guild and is forced to kill his way to the number 1 spot. The lead actor is as weird as the movie he stars in (he had his cheeks enhanced to make his appearance more memorable and unique). A stylish movie from the 60s with special effects that were groundbreaking at the time might seem ridiculous today. Indeed, the effects here look dated and unconvincing. But weird stays weird. And this has always been one weird movie!

9. The retiring killer – The Mechanic (1972)

A remake for this movie is coming out soon, starring Jason Statham. The original lead was Charles Bronson (the best “worst actor” of all time), who starred as an aging “mechanic” (that is, a hired killer) on the verge of retirement. So as not to leave a void behind, he takes on a young apprentice. However, the mechanic finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place when he’s hired to kill the apprentice’s father…

8. The scientologist killer – Collateral (2004)

Vincent (Tom Cruise) is a professional hitman who’s reserved a cab for the night with a whole shopping list of future victims he needs to visit. As the night moves forward, the body count rises… This is a fascinatingly stylish thriller – and the second best movie that takes place mostly inside a cab.

7. The killer couple – Prizzi’s Honor (1985)

In this black comedy, a hitman falls for a woman who turns out to be in the same business as he is. The romance hits a snag when “The Boss” hires each to eliminate the other. Sadly, this was the second to last movie John Huston ever made.

6. The silly hair killer – No Country For Old Men (2007)

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is one of the most amoral, evil psychopaths the big screen has ever seen… Sporting an absurd haircut and brandishing a pressurized weapon that’s used to murder cattle, he pursues his mission to track down every man who stumbled upon $2 million belonging to the mafia… only to return the money to its rightful owners.

5. The suicidal killer – In Bruges (2008)

Irish hitmen Ken and Ray find themselves in the tourist town of Bruges, Belgium, after a shooting went awry back home. Their only directive is to stay grounded and wait for further orders from crime boss, Harry. This brilliant, dark-humored movie is the first that Martin McDonagh directed and wrote.

4. The female killer – La Femme Nikita (1990)

A beautiful junkie, condemned to death for the murder of a policeman, is given a chance to live as a secret political assassin controlled by the government. Her lonely existence is warmed when she falls in love with a gentle, humorous man who knows nothing of her bizarre and mysterious life.

3. The quiet killer – Le Samourai (1967)

A stoical professional assassin is witnessed leaving the scene of a nightclub “hit” by a barroom pianist… and soon discovers he’s being set up for something worse than jail. This new wave noir from Jean-Pierre Melville was the tough-guy darling of the “Cahiers du Cinema” crowd and is considered one of the fathers of the hitman genre. No doubt it inspired movies such as The Mechanic, The Killer, Ghost Dog and Vengeance.

2. The milk-loving killer – Leon (1994)

Leon is a precise, calculating hitman: a professional with no family or friends. However, he casually befriends Mathilda, a 12 year-old neighbor whose entire family was wiped out by crooked DEA agents. The girl pleads with Leon to teach her how to be a “cleaner” and avenge her family’s death. Leon agrees… all the while keeping her healthy by giving her a lot of milk.

1. The hip hop loving samurai killer – Ghost Dog (1999)

Ghost Dog is a silent modern-day warrior who lives in a rooftop shack. He spends his days breeding pigeons and playing chess in the park with his best friend Raymond, a French-speaking ice-cream man. At night he goes to work as a hitman, performing his tasks stealthily and invisibly, abiding by the code of the samurai… In my opinion this is Jim Jarmusch’s best movie – and one of the best movies ever made.

Who’s your favorite movie hitman?

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