Who’s tougher? Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis. Find out in part three of our countdown of the Top 40 Man Movies of the past 40 years.
19. Training Day (2001)
Denzel Washington seems to live and breathe integrity, which made him even more effective as one of cinema’s most evil bastards in this grim thriller. He won the Oscar for playing LAPD detective Alonzo Harris, who spends a day showing Ethan Hawke’s new guy the ropes, which means schooling him in the art of murderous corruption. More baddie cop than buddy cop movie, it’s a gritty, incredibly tense piece of work from director Antoine Fuqua, who’s doing the upcoming remake of The Magnificent Seven, and writer David Ayer, who’s behind the DC comic book adaptation Suicide Squad.
18. Sideways (2004)
Paul Giamatti should’ve won the Oscar for his superb portrait of depressed writer and wine snob Miles, who’s touring the vineyards of California with his seemingly happy-go-lucky mate Jack (Thomas Haden Church). Brilliant, funny and heartbreaking, it’s a spot-on depiction of mid-life man-angst—and a great piss-take of wine wankery. That said, the oft-quoted line “I am not drinking any fucking merlot!” probably didn’t endear it to some vintners.
17. The Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The 1984 original The Terminator was brilliant as a low-budget, hard-edged sci-fi thriller. But James Cameron’s awesome time-twisting sequel can’t be beat for suspense, action, cutting-edge effects and affectionate laughs at the expense of its leading man. Casting Arnie Schwarzenegger as a good Terminator was a stroke of genius. Same goes for rebooting Linda Hamilton as a kick-arse heroine to rival Ripley from Alien. Don’t bother with the mess that was last year’s Terminator Genisys: just rewatch T2.
16. First Blood (1982)
Despite the enjoyable cartoon insanity of later franchise instalments, this action thriller was as much a serious drama as it was a cracking revenge flick. Sylvester Stallone’s numbed, mumbling presence totally suits traumatised Vietnam vet John Rambo, who just wants to be left alone but who’s prodded to furious violence after stupid and sadistic abuse by a Washington State sheriff’s department. Fun fact: First Blood’s director, Canadian Ted Kotcheff, also directed the freaky-deaky 1971 Aussie outback thriller Wake In Fright, which has similar themes about small-town hostility to outsiders.
15. Pulp Fiction (1994)
While it’s beloved by gents and ladies, there’s plenty in Quentin Tarantino’s second film to qualify it as a man-movie par excellence. For starters: the double-act of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as hit-men Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield. Then there’s Bruce Willis as Butch the boxer, Harvey Keitel as crime-scene cleaner The Wolf, Ving Rhames as baddest mofo crime boss Marsellus Wallace and, of course, Christopher Walken as man-with-the-watch-in-his-ass Captain Koons.
14. Scarface (1983)
“Say hello to my little friend!” roars Al Pacino’s coked-up Miami kingpin Tony Montana in the climax to Brian De Palma’s blood-soaked modern remake of the 1932 gangster classic. That the “little friend” is a grenade fired from a launcher mounted on an M-16 makes it one of the most balls-out moments of movie violence ever. Scarface is a tour-de-force of Pacino intensity, with him relishing Oliver Stone’s script about the corrupting influence of the American dream—a theme he’d revisit in Wall Street.
13. Die Hard (1988)
John McTiernan—who also directed Predator—outdid himself with Die Hard as the perfect vehicle for Bruce Willis’s cocky brand of wisecracking action. He’s John McClane, NYC cop, who’s trapped in an LA office tower after it’s seemingly taken over by a gang of Euro terrorists on Christmas Eve. While Willis will forever be associated with the role, he was actually the third choice. That’s because the script was based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 book Nothing Lasts Forever, the sequel to his 1966 novel The Detective, which had been made into a 1968 film with Frank Sinatra. That meants that 20th Century Fox had to contractually offer Ol’ Blue Eyes — then 62 years old — the role of McClane. When he said no, they turned to Arnold Schwarzenegger. But he said no and rest is history-ki yay!
12. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Simple fact: men love WWII movies. Another simple fact: men find it frustrating that WWII’s big bad Adolf Hitler escaped allied justice. Simple solution: Quentin Tarantino rewrites history to give us a more satisfying finale. His titular team of Nazi hunters, led by Brad Pitt’s face-carving, scalp-taking US Army First Lieutenant Aldo Raine, mount an assassination mission against the Fuhrer, tracked by Christoph Waltz’s charmingly vicious Gestapo Colonel Hans Landa. Ripe with the writer-director’s trademark lengthy monologues, fist-clenching suspense, sudden brutal violence and perfect musical choices (David Bowie’s “Cat People” is a soundtrack highlight) this has a strong claim to being Tarantino’s finest flick. But is it his best man-movie?
11. Raging Bull (1980)
Based on boxer Jake LaMotta’s memoir, this Martin Scorsese-Robert De Niro collaboration is the feel-bad counterpart to Rocky Balboa’s feel-good triumphs. Shot in stunning B&W, it’s a crunching portrayal of the sweet science, with Scorsese keeping the camera in the ring so we can’t escape the violent impacts. De Niro famously went through hell to play LaMotta, packing on fighter’s muscle before letting himself balloon by 31kg to embody the champ in later life. But it’s his depiction of LaMotta’s deeply dysfunctional masculinity that won him the Oscar and elevated Raging Bull to the status of modern masterpiece.
Click here for part one –
and here for part two –