When it comes to the world of movies, the bad guys get all the best lines. They are the ones that the audience finds most interesting—after all, isn’t there just something a little bit mysterious and cool about the guy wearing the black hat, eyes to the ground, an air of unpredictability swirling all around?
With that said, we here at Film Slate Magazine thought it was high time that the good guys got some recognition as well. Because no matter how cool you are, how many hugs you didn’t receive from your mommy, in the end good trumps evil. It’s just the way it goes. So without further ado, here are the top ten good guys in cinema history
10. Rocky Balboa – Over the course of 30 years, Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion reflected America’s evolution more than any other big screen character. Okay, that’s not necessarily true, but think about it. From the gritty, post-Watergate 1970s, through the Capitalism vs. Communism 1980s, into the nostalgia laden, reboot happy 2000s, who was always there for you in your time of need? That’s right. Rocky Balboa. He took on any challenge, and even if he didn’t always win the fight, he won your heart.
9. Josey Wales – As Westerns took a decidedly darker turn in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Clint Eastwood was the perfect man to sit in the saddle. While most of his roles in the genre would fit the bill (and let’s not forget Dirty Harry, the iconic loner policeman that Eastwood inhabited for 20 plus years), it was that hard as nails outlaw, Josey Wales, who perfectly blended the “I don’t give a f**k” façade with the “I really do give a f**k” soul. Wales protected everybody that joined his motley crew, and especially showed humanity towards American Indians, which wasn’t exactly de rigueur at the time. All that while he wreaked his revenge on everybody and everything that ever wronged him. Not bad.
8. Ellen Ripley – So you’re going up against an unknown, sinister alien force which may strike from almost anywhere within your spaceship. A remorseless killing space machine. And in the sequels, you’re also facing off against the corporation that initially hired you—that doesn’t mind if a few people die, as long as they get the results they want. It was fortuitous casting that Sigourney Weaver would play Ripley; there’s never a false note as we watch her evolve, trying to remain dignified in a seemingly never ending, undignified battle
7. Frank Bullitt – There may have been rogue, play by their own rules cops before Frank Bullitt, but with Steve McQueen tearing through the streets of San Francisco, looking oh so cool and laconic in his turtleneck/shoulder holster combo, he set the template for the next 40 years. While the movie “Bullitt” itself is a somewhat confusing jumble, punctuated by the greatest car chase in cinematic history, McQueen struts through that Northern California scenery with a gritty grace that’s never been matched.
6. John McClane – While in later sequels he would be reduced to a wisecracking, one dimensional cartoon supercop, Bruce Willis nailed it with the first “Die Hard.” Willis’ fish out of water, lone cop against an army of terrorists would define the action thriller genre for the next two decades. Sure, McClane cracked wise in the original, but Willis also played it fairly straight, and you would often get the sense of desperation and pathos that he was trying to play. “Die Hard” offered the right balance of mayhem, over the top fun, a diabolical villain to boot (something that every good guy needs to play against), and in the end, the good guy gets the girl—what more could you want?
5. Han Solo – Not that you have to pick one, but to be fair, Indiana Jones was also in the running. But if you think about it, this is where Harrison Ford’s mystique really began, and what’s Indy, really? Just Han Solo without a spaceship and a Wookiee by his side. Ford imbues Solo with just the right amount of self-righteous, loveable arrogance; but all the while you know he’s handy with a blaster and the Millennium Falcon may not look like much but she’ll get the job done.
4. James Bond – The cinematic version of Ian Fleming’s notorious spy has been righting wrongs and fighting evil since 1962. Sean Connery gave Bond life (even if the author himself was less than pleased with the big screen version at first). George Lazenby had his one shot. Roger Moore, all snarky charm and flippant asides took Bond through the 1970s and 1980s, where Timothy Dalton picked up. In retrospect, Dalton was serviceable, if ultimately forgettable. Pierce Brosnan re-energized the franchise and was a nice cross between Connery and Moore—the physicality and toughness of the former mixed in with the wit and charm of the latter. Daniel Craig has most recently flown the banner, and his Bond is much closer to Fleming’s literary ideal: brooding, brutish, and the ultimate killing machine. The movies themselves have also gotten a makeover, as Cold War espionage and gadgets have given way to more intense action.
3. Will Kane – Gary Cooper made a living playing the strong, silent type, but it was never with so much gravitas as in “High Noon.” On the surface, it’s your classic “one man against a whole gang” Western set-up. Dig a little deeper, and it’s a commentary on the Red Scare which was still going on in America at the time of this film’s release. But you would trust Cooper’s upright Kane no matter what, whether it was facing off against a gang of killers, or giving testimony in front of Congress. That steely eyed confidence could get you out of any scrape.
2. Superman – No, it’s not your tortured Man of Steel, as played by Henry Cavill in the recent reboot, or your torturous (to watch) attempt by Brandon Routh. It’s not even the costume stuffing camp from George Reeves. Superman was best captured by Christopher Reeve. Reeve played it fairly straight to the comic book: mawkish and nerdy as Clark Kent, cool, reserved, and imperious as Superman. While you didn’t believe that a man could fly (still, not bad effects for 1978), you did believe that Superman, as played by Reeve, was the real deal.
1. John Wayne – Alright, so technically we’re naming the top ten characters, but the Duke played essentially the same role in every movie he ever made. He played cowboys, cops, pilots, oilmen, firefighters…the list of upright, self-made men goes on and on. You weren’t getting a lot of range with Wayne, but you were going to have fun watching him bellow and punch his way across whatever landscape he chose to stampede through. As he grew older and craggier, it was even more fun to watch him play some of these big-hearted lugs with more of a wink and a nudge. But the sense of justice and morality was always there, along with a good right cross.