With Red about to hit theaters this weekend, I thought I’d take a look at a few other notable older movie characters who happen to be badasses. I decided to limit this list to humans only, so sorry there’s no Yoda here. But there is a Jedi.
Harry Doyle and Archie Long from Tough Guys (1986, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas). “Well, what do you want to do now, Archie? Steal another empty armored truck? Maybe start a collection?” The ’80s version of Red was this pairing of Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster as two old criminals released from prison for hijacking a train and now have to adjust to modern day lifestyle after being locked up for 30 years. Meanwhile Eli Wallach plays a hit man with an old contract out on them, but he is damn near blind and can barely see his quarry.
Badassitude Level: They hijack the same train they got arrested for and continue driving it even when they run out of tracks.
Frank Corvin, Hawk Hawkins, Jerry O’Neill and Tank Sullivan from Space Cowboys (2000, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner). “Have you noticed how everybody seems to be dead lately?” And then there’s the “oughts” version of putting together a cast of aging badasses, with Eastwood directing and starring as a former Air Force pilot brought out of retirement when an old Soviet communications satellite is about to crash due to its decaying orbit. And naturally Eastwood won’t go without his old team. Like Tough Guys, it’s not the greatest of movies — the fun comes simply from watching these legendary actors play off each other.
Badassitude Level: One of the guys ends up dead on the surface of the moon — and that was his plan.
Captain John Patrick Mason from The Rock (1996, Sean Connery). “I’m fed up saving your ass. I’m amazed you ever got past puberty.” Connery was 66 when he starred in what is arguably Michael Bay’s only good movie, in which he plays an ex-MI6 agent illegally imprisoned by the U.S. government for stealing microfilm that would make conspiracy buffs drop a load, temporarily released to assist a hostage crisis on Alcatraz island perpetrated by a group of rogue Marines.
Badassitude Level: The only guy in the room who actually broke out of Alcatraz plus he snaps necks real good.
Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (1984, Pat Morita). “Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?” At only 52 years old at the time of his movie, Morita is the youngest actor on this list, but he and his character are so beloved I just couldn’t leave him off. Miyagi begins instructing young Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) in the ways of karate by having him paint his house and wax his car — and the moment where Daniel figures out how it all relates to karate is still pretty awesome. Morita received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (losing to Haing S. Ngor for The Killing Fields).
Badassitude Level: Takes on five spry Cobra Kai students and defeats them without even breaking a sweat.
Ma Boggs from Every Which Way But Loose (1978, Ruth Gordon). “Hospitable my ass! Get off my porch!” Clint Eastwood plays bare-knuckled fighter Philo, whose best pal Orville’s mother is a shotgun-weilding, foul-mouthed fireball played with gusto by the amazing Ruth Gordon at the age of 82, sprouting beautiful and constant strings of profanity.
Badassitude Level: Fights off an entire motorcycle gang with a shotgun.
Harry Brown from Harry Brown (2009, Michael Caine). “You failed to maintain your weapon, Son. ” At age 76, Caine plays a Royal Marine veteran who decides to do something about the rising crime in his London neighborhood once his friend is murdered by a local drugged out youth gang. Caine delivers a standout performance in this gritty character-driven story.
Badassitude Level: Stabs a mugger in the chest with his own knife — while drunk.
John Rambo from Rambo (2008, Sylvester Stallone). “Fuck the world.” At age 61, Stallone directed and starred in the fourth Rambo film, in which he takes on a brutal Burmese military regime who has captured and imprisoned a group of missionaries who were trying to bring help to the troubled region.
Badassitude Level: Racks up what’s got to be a triple-digit body count in the final reel.
Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars (1977, Alec Guinness). “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” Guinness was 63 when he played the old Tatooine hermit who turns out to be a Jedi Knight and begins to teach young Luke Skywalker the ways of The Force. And that threat about being more powerful dead turns out to be the real shit.
Badassitude Level: A bar confrontation results in someone’s severed arm lying on the floor.
Walt Kowalski from Gran Torino (2008, Clint Eastwood). “Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have fucked with? That’s me.” Clint Eastwood directed and starred at age 78, an impressive feat — not to mention the fact that he’s made two films since then (the second one Hereafter is due later this month). In his self-proclaimed final acting role, Eastwood plays one of the greatest characters of his career — a cranky, racist old Korean War veteran, recently widowed, slowly beginning to get fed up with the street gangs and the rising crime in his neighborhood.
Badassitude Level: Takes “get off my lawn” to a different magnitude.
Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003, Ian McKellen). “You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udûn! Go back to the shadow. You shall not pass!” At age 62, McKellen took on the role of the preeminent wizard of fantasy literature in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece. Gandalf’s wizard duel versus Saruman (the equally badass Christopher Lee at age 79) is a standout, as is his confrontation with the Balrog. And when magic won’t do, McKellen’s Gandalf is not opposed to knocking dudes out cold with his staff.
Badassitude Level: Falls into an abyss and lives.
And lastly, an honorable mention to Bob Barker from Happy Gilmore (1996), who at age 73 kicked Adam Sandler’s ass real good.