Are Tough Heroes Disappearing?

July 18th, 2011 by Uri

Yesterday was James Cagney’s birthday, one of cinema’s archetypical 20th century tough heroes, and today we celebrate 21st century tough guy Vin Diesel’s birthday, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to examine our beloved rough and tumble heroes. The question at hand; have they gotten better or worse?

Since Cagney and his peers played by the 1930s rule book, we’ll have to compare today’s tough guys to the gang who most resembles them: the 1970s and 1980s tough guys. Let the machismo match up begin.

Receding Hairline Heroes

Just because you’re losing your hair doesn’t mean you’re losing the ability to wield a gun and look menacing, as exemplified by this duo:

Bruce Willis In Last Man Standing

Although better known for his roles as tough law enforcers, Mr. Willis also played some less official hard hitting people, like in this period piece about a gang war in Texas, which is (yet another) remake to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.

Jason Statham / Crank

Probably the most grimacing Briton working today, Statham specializes in portraying an assortment of fast moving hooligans whose main trait (aside from creeping baldness) is their obsessive need for speed.

Winner: Statham
Bruce Willis should stick to law enforcement and leave freelancing hairless tough guyness to the growling cockney.

Deadly Creature Beating Heroes

Some heroes aren’t satisfied by defeating mere mortals so they find themselves confronting various monsters.

Arnold Schwarzenegger In The Predator

Leading a Special Forces team to the South American jungle is tough enough, but facing an evil alien who kills your friends one by one requires some real special noxious skills.

The Rock In Doom

Sometimes, when the deadly creatures don’t arrive on earth to cause chaos and mayhem, our hard nosed heroes have to go to another planet to fight them. Such is the case of The Rock in this computer game based sci-fi action film.

Winner: Schwarzenegger
Not only did he have much better one-liners (a must for any hard nosed hero) his film was also critically acclaimed, not a small feat for a representative of this sort of film.

Oscar Winning Heroes

Tough heroes don’t usually get recognized by awards that don’t have “Spike TV” at the beginning of their name. There are however some exceptions to this rule.

Clint Eastwood In Gran Torino

Being tough isn’t something you lose with age. Just look at Clint Eastwood as the elderly anti hero who takes on a Detroit gang.

Matt Damon In The Bourne Identity

Remembering who you are or how you got here isn’t necessary for a tough hero so long as you remember how to make a fist. Just look at Matt Damon in this fast pace saga of a secret agent who suffers from memory loss.

Winner: Eastwood
A career spent perfecting the tough guy nuances trumps a trilogy about an amnesiac spy.

Randomly Mustachioed Heroes

Regarded as a symbol of masculinity in some cultures, a mustache can sometimes be used as a heroism enhancing device.

Charles Bronson In Mr. Majestyk

Mr. Bronson’s vigilantism didn’t start with the Death Wish films; it was preceded by this tale of a farmer pushed to action against gangsters threatening him and his workers.

Clive Owen In Shoot ‘Em Up

Although not the guy with facial hair in this film (that would be Paul Giamatti) Clive Owen jumps into his own violence spree as a lone wolf on the run in this humorous action film by Michael Davis.

Winner: Bronson
Tough guys are better when they have social awareness.

Partnering Heroes

Even tough heroes need a little help from their friends from time to time.

Sylvester Stallone In The Expendables

Rounding up a dream team of old school tough guys Sylvester Stallone sets his sights on overthrowing the corrupt ruler of a fabricated South American country, just like the good old days.

Vin Diesel In A Man Apart

Even the toughest DEA agent can’t take on an entire drug cartel, so recruiting your buddies as partners against crime looks like a logical move. And, adhering to this logic, explosions ensue.

Winner: Stallone
Making all these hardnosed mercenaries follow you on a heroic mission must be worth something.

In conclusion, not only do today’s tough heroes lose decidedly to their predecessors, their ranks aren’t being strengthened by any new worthy talent. I mean, Jake Gyllenhaal? Seriously? No wonder Stallone is now working on a sequel to The Expendables, and Schwarzenegger announced that “he’s back!”…

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