Top 10 Movie Assassins

WhatCulture! chronicle the 10 best hitmen in cinema history…

Stuart Cummins

Contributor

With this week’s release of Horrible Bosses on Blu-ray and DVD, WhatCulture! were challenged with chronicling the 10 best hitmen in cinema history… Why, you might ask? Well, read on to discover all!

When your boss is a complete ass, what’s the most logical step to take? Quit, I hear you say… Well, no, actually…because quitting is not an option apparently. At least not to the characters of hit comedy Horrible Bosses. No, these guys answer to the age-old problem of a psychotic, nymphomaniac or just plain tool of a boss is to go out and find a hitman! Unfortunately for them, they stumble across Dean ‘Motherfuckah’ Jones (Jamie Foxx), a not so badass, not particularly efficient hitman (in fact, he won’t even perform the hits he’s that shit!).

What they really should have done though was check out one of the 10 characters below… Although, that would have probably made for a very different movie! Read on for what we at WhatCulture! consider the top 10 movie hitmen…and far better investments for the lads than Motherfuckah!

10. Liam Neeson as Dr. Martin Harris in UNKNOWN (2011)


Unknown is an exceptional thriller that combines Hitchcockian atmosphere through tense narrative twists and turns, as well as exciting character development. When Dr Martin Harris wakes up in hospital after a nasty car crash, the last thing he expects to discover is his wife denying his identity and any trace of his existence evaporated. As the plot thickens, fragments of the jigsaw of his existence are formed and slide into place to reveal his true identity as a government hitman. Even before the revelation of his occupation, Harris demonstrates some legendary skills behind the wheel of a car (the chase between him and his villains through the streets of Berlin is one of the best committed to film in recent years), some immense hand to hand combat skills and an over familiarity with firearms: all traits that a decent hitman possesses!

Liam Neeson combines the merciless action hero persona of his Taken character, Bryan Mills, with the intelligence and determination of a government assassin to create an intriguing hitman who you wouldn’t want to cross!

09. John Cusack as Martin Blank in GROSSE POINTE BLANK (1997)

Blank may be a rather contentious choice to feature on this list, but he’s the perfect example of the fine line between comedy and violence. John Cusack’s portrayal of the character is a mixture of witty charm, hilarious action and efficient killings. Even his hits have a comical twist to them – he managed to kill the President of Paraguay with a fork! – and no other hitman can lay claim to the effective handling of one of the messiest school reunions in history. Dealing with ridiculous fights, the disposing of a dead body and bedding Minnie Driver all in one night, Blank proves just how humorously smooth assassins can really be… What makes Blank worthy of charting here is undoubtedly Cusack’s performance. Rather than slipping into the realms of cheesy camp, the actor plays Blank straight, making him one of the funniest but most effective hitmen on film!

08. Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi in DESPERADO (1995)/ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003)

If you think hitmen are awesome then think again. Antonio Banderas’s El Mariachi is a guitar -strumming assassin that exudes deadly Latin charm. Blending old school Western genre atmosphere with the tense overarching styling of an assassin based thriller, Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi trilogy oozes Hispanic sexiness and kick ass action. Banderas creates a truly unforgettable character through his sensual but equally hard-nosed performance as the musical killer. The films remain staples of the subgenre of hitman cinema for their great sense of humour, which helps offset the violence by generating comedy in the more grotesque points.

El Mariachi is probably the most sophisticatedly charming of all the hitmen featured on this list, but by being this way he is also one of the most unexpectedly lethal of them too…making him a justly awesome assassin!

07. Bruce Willis as Mr Goodkat in LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (2006)


Bruce Willis has spent much of his acting life on the right side of the law, so when Lucky Number Slevin came along it was refreshing to find him playing a killer for hire. With more than one hit on the cards at one time, the character is a merciless blend of unemotional, efficient killing and an arrogant charm that demands you call him Mr Goodkat! Willis plays him with his tongue firmly placed within his proverbial cheek, but despite this Goodkat remains a brutally proficient character that’s one of the best hitmen to feature in film history. The film itself is a humorous black comedy of mistaken identity, a sort of twisted screwball comedy that replaces a romantic relationship with those formed between a series of warring characters. Willis relishes in his role as Goodkat and breathes menacing life into one of the strongest, most developed characters within the film. Without Willis and Goodkat Lucky Number Slevin would have had far less luck in the popularity stakes, proving just how great the hitman character really is!

06. Arnold Schwarzenegger as T-800 in THE TERMINATOR (1984)

Perhaps not the most obvious choice for this top 10, but Arnie’s T-800 is a killing machine! The sheer ruthless effectiveness of the cyborg assassin makes the T-800 one of the most unsettling, yet awesome, hitmen characters in film history. The superhuman strength, complete lack of emotion and kick-ass moves make him a hitman not to mess with… The film is a tense blend of action and suspense, as Sarah Conner consistently tries to outmanoeuvre the most sophisticated of futuristic assassins as he relentlessly hunts her down and attempts to dispose of her.

Arnie brings his usual mix of brawn and humour to the role, as well as embodying the techno-muscularity at the heart of the action. The efficient and dispassionate way the T-800 terminates the first two (incorrect) Sarah Conners is both brutal and excitingly entertaining. From the outset we know that the T-800 is one badass hitman!

05. Anne Parillaud as Nikita in LA FEMME NIKITA (1990)

Luc Besson’s exceptional film La Femme Nikita blends assassin action with human drama to create a highly engaging and intriguing movie. Convicted of killing a police officer, drug addict Nikita is (barely) thrown a lifeline by the government to become a contract killer for them, carrying out political murders. Rather than simply being a film about an assassin, La Femme Nikita explores the avenues of political assassinations, governmental emotional blackmail and political brainwashing. Whisked away to top-secret facility, Nikita has all but a trace of her former life erased as she is moulded into a sexy, callous and highly dangerous killer. Salvation comes in the form of a kindly stranger she meets, who knowing nothing of her profession, falls madly in love with her. Throughout the human angle of the narrative Nikita proves she’s one hell of an assassin as she glides through various hits and some mind-blowing action. She’s one chick that no man should mess with…

 

04. Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield in PULP FICTION (1992)

Samuel L. Jackson is generally the essence of cool, so as one would expect, Jules Winnfield is the epitome of hitman awesomeness! Spending his time quoting the Bible after completing hits, Winnfield is a tremendously satirical character that demonstrates the line between religion and ‘political’ killing. Despite writer/director Tarantino’s desire to create a thought-provoking character, Jackson’s smooth portrayal means that Winnfield is simply a likeable and memorable character. Right down to the wet-look curly hairdo and sharp costumes, Winnfield screams slick killer for hire and it is this tongue in cheek characterisation that makes him such a superb movie hitman. Winnfield is a man of mixed up morals – he claims he wouldn’t eat a dog because it has a personality, yet he has no qualms in committing murder for cash! – and this demonstrates the complexity of the assassin character that many films fail to successfully address. Essentially, Winnfield is a far less two-dimensional character than many other movie hitmen and he’s all the more cooler for it!

03. Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)

Although The Bourne Identity finds lead character Jason Bourne in a similar situation to earlier entry Liam Neeson in Unknown, the character was formally Treadstone’s highest- ranking professional killer. On his search for his real identity he demonstrates some of his unique hitman skills and proves to be one hell of a tough cookie. What he lacks in memory he more than makes up for in his abilities to read people and – if needs be – kill them with all manner of objects and assassin skills! The underlying, mysterious spy plot also helps characterise Bourne as a likeable protagonist despite his former profession, as does the inclusion of Marie (played by international film star Franka Potente), who finds herself caught up in Bourne’s ride back to self-discovery. Director Doug Limon also keeps the action especially realistic, helping paint a ruthless and exceptional picture of Bourne and making him one of the coolest movie hitmen ever…

 

02. Tom Cruise as Vincent in COLLATERAL (2004)

Tom Cruise has never been one of my favourite actors and his general typecasting as the hero of the piece has always irritated me. So, his casting as Vincent in thriller Collateral is pure genius. Not only is Cruise’s casting against type one of the best moves in Hollywood history, it also demonstrates how perfect the actor is in a villainous role. Vincent is ruthless, cold-hearted and devilishly cunning, making him one of the most entertaining movie hitmen to ever grace cinema screens. Despite being such a detestable character on paper, there’s something about Vincent’s charm that allows audiences to respect him and possibly even like him. Cruise proves his versatility as an actor here (arguably for the first time ever in my opinion) and gives a performance that outshines any of his previous efforts. In fact, Cruise is so maliciously likeable that viewers may even find themselves rooting for Vincent and not Foxx’s protagonist, Max…

 

01. Jean Reno as Leon in LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994)

There could only be one movie hitman worthy of the top spot and that man is undeniably Renoir’s Leon! In one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking films revolving around a killer for hire, Luc Besson’s Leon is a splendid blend of human drama, action and suspenseful thrills. Leon is a complex character who transcends the typical boundaries of the movie hitman and proves far more multi-dimensional than any of the previous nine entries. What makes Leon stand out amongst the crowd is that he’s essentially a killer with a heart. Although he’s extremely efficient and manages to carry out his work without complication (due to the fact that he doesn’t have family or friends to bog him down) his casual acquaintance with 12-year-old Mathilda gives him a purpose in life. Through his relationship with her, Leon manages to escape the dull existence of a lonely hired gun, as well as becoming the most likeable and memorable of all movie hitmen!

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

 

MITCH LEARY IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993)

 

GHOST DOG IN GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI (1999)

GEORGE CLOONEY IN THE AMERICAN (2010)

HANNA IN HANNA (2011)

So…do you have a favourite we’ve missed? Or do you agree/disagree/just wanna add something? Leave us a comment below, as we’d love to know!