Movie heroes hold a special place in the hearts of movie fans of all ages. A compelling hero can make an otherwise mediocre movie watchable because we can identify with the hero’s struggles. A good movie can propel a hero to icon status – a good guy or gal who we want to watch over and over as they deal justice to all comers.
Movie heroes come from many genres including westerns, science fiction and fantasy. The memorable movie heroes are larger than life characters who need bold backdrops to inhabit. Our iconic heroes can be found tracking serial killers, battling Nazis and being menaced by witches. Even with larger-than-life qualities like bravery and and steely determination, we can see parts of ourselves in our beloved heroes and imagine joining them on their quests. They struggle bravely with countless hardships and obstacles thrown in their path until our heroes complete a harrowing journey that turns them into icons.
10. Dirty Harry
Cop movies have been a staple in Hollywood almost since the beginning, but Clint Eastwood’s Inspector Harry Callahan was one of the new breed of cop. The Joe Friday straight arrow mold was breaking down and the culture was ready for an edgier hero and the 1971 release of “Dirty Harry” hit a nerve with moviegoers. Inspector Callahan hunts a vicious serial killer named calling himself Scorpio through the streets of San Francisco. This villain was inspired by the real-life Zodiac killer and Dirty Harry is willing to push the envelope to catch him and is accused of torturing the killer to get him to reveal the location of one of his victims. Police officers and civilians alike share a similar fantasy of “doing whatever it takes” to catch vicious criminals without too much concern about their civil rights. Clint Eastwood’s understated toughness and lines like “make my day” resonate with audiences who enjoyed four sequels and propelled Dirty Harry to icon status.
9. Ellen Ripley
“In space no one can hear you scream,” was a memorable tag line foreshadowing the horrific monster in the 1979 hit “Alien.” Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, was an officer on the cargo ship Nostromo when it encountered the alien of the title. Ripley followed in the footsteps of other strong female characters like Wonder Woman and Princess Leia, but Weaver brought her own brand of intelligence and steely resolve to Ripley that gave the character the chops to take on one of the baddest aliens in movie history and win. Ridley battled aliens in three sequels including the 1986 blockbuster “Aliens,” written and directed by James Cameron. In each of the sequels Ripley displays the same qualities that made her a survivor in “Alien.” There are rumors Weaver might reprise her iconic role in another, as yet untitled, sequel.
8. Dorothy Gale
Dorothy was the creation of author L. Frank Baum who wrote a series of fantastical children’s books beginning with “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900. seventy-six years after it premiered the musical film adaptation, “The Wizard of Oz,” still plays regularly on television. There are many reasons for the film’s enduring appeal to both children and adults, but one of the biggest reasons is Dorothy Gale played by Judy Garland. Garland’s Dorothy embodies a midwestern pluck with equal parts innocence and grit that audiences have found irresistible. With her trusty dog Toto at her heels and the Tin Man, Scare Crow and Cowardly Lion at her side Dorothy confronts nasty flying monkeys and Wicked Witch of the West. With the help of Toto she even succeeds in outing the mysterious Wizard of Oz as charlatan desperate to escape as Dorothy. Dorothy remains true to herself and her friends and is sent home with a quick click of her ruby slippers and into movie history.
7. Ethan Edwards
Legendary actor John Wayne stands tall in movie history, with his larger-than-life personae, often eclipsing the characters he played. The imposing Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards of “The Searchers” is an exception. The 1956 western is a study in obsession and perseverance as Ethan spends ten years tracking the Comanches who kidnapped his niece, Debbie. Wayne plays the complex character expertly, finding just the right balance of anti-hero and hero to make the audience wonder just what Ethan is capable of. We watch Ethan relentlessly close in on his prey and realize Debbie, raised by indians, is in his crosshairs as much as her captors. Ultimately, however, Ethan allows his humanity to triumph and is redeemed when he brings Debbie home – and in the process becomes an iconic western hero.
6. Conan the Barbarian
When Conan was asked by his former master what is best in life he didn’t mince words: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women.” This is the kind of directness that has defined the muscular warrior since he first appeared in Weird Tales Magazine in 1932. Robert E. Howard created a popular character that filled the pages of fantasy magazines and books, but it took a champion bodybuilder turned actor to make Conan a movie icon. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a couple of small roles before getting cast as the hulking Cimmerian who would inspire a decade of sword and sorcery movies in Hollywood. “Conan the Barbarian” was a big hit in 1982 and was followed up by “Conan the Destroyer” in 1984. A second equal was canceled and there wasn’t another Conan movie until Jason Momoa took on the role with the disappointing 2011 “Conan the Barbarian.” The idea of another Conan sequel with Arnold has been making the rounds in Hollywood. A crown, a white beard – “Conan the King” anyone?
5. James Bond
Every movie lover knows the line “Bond, James Bond,” whether spoken by Sean Connery, or the current Bond, Daniel Craig. When “Dr. No” hit theaters in 1962 Sean Connery’s 007 was the epitome of the suave man of action, equally comfortable discussing wine and dispatching henchmen with his Walter PPK. More than 50 years after the first Bond movie the latest one called “SPECTRE” is set to be released in theaters this November. For decades MI-6 agent James Bond has embodied the trappings of mens’ fantasies: pursuing beautiful women, speeding through exotic lands in awesome cars and displaying an almost pathological self-confidence. The super agent has evolved over time, but his toughness and flair remain and promise to keep him in the hearts of fans for decades to come.
4. Indiana Jones
Dr. Henry Jones, professor of archeology and “obtainer of rare things” trades his glasses and tweed jacket for a fedora and whip to embark on some of the most exhilarating adventures in movie history. “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” released in 1981, acquainted a new generation of fans with the cliffhanger serial style of filmmaking. These adventure stories were popular in the first half of the 20th century, but died away as television started to siphon away young audiences. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg consciously transported us back to a simpler era when villains had jagged scars and the hero kissed the girl at the end. Harrison Ford inhabited India Jones as the “every man” with leading man looks who managed to survive perilous adventures with his cocky smirk and his fedora intact. With 4 movies already in the can, Disney may be looking to reboot the iconic archeologist’s tales with a new cast.
3. Luke Skywalker
When I saw “Star Wars” for the first time I was still young enough to almost believe the marvelous sights I saw on screen were real. I remember wishing it was real, that I could find myself fighting the evil Empire in a galaxy far, far away. Han Solo was cool, but I identified with Luke, the naive farm boy longing to embrace his destiny among the stars. Mentored about the ways of the Force by the aging jedi knight Obiwan Kenobi, Luke took his “first step into a larger world.” But Luke’s journey took on new meaning when he was sent to train with Yoda, the last surviving jedi. Luke’s destiny was to defeat his father, a former jedi who was seduced by the dark side of the Force and became Darth Vader. In true icon fashion, Luke confronts Darth Vader in “Return of the Jedi” and in the process becomes a man and a jedi – like his father before him.
2. Captain James T. Kirk
Since 1968 Captain Kirk has led the intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise on countless adventures on television, in novels and in movies. Few characters have been as identified with the actor who played them as Captain Kirk is with William Shatner. It is telling that J.J. Abrams and the other creators rebooting the beloved Star Trek franchise were able to pivot successfully to Chris Pine. With Pine in the chair “Star Trek” was released in 2009 and followed up in 2013 with “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” With qualities like bravery, integrity and compassion Captain Kirk is the archetypal heroic leader. Kirk is surrounded by capable colleagues like Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the beautiful Lt. Uhura and of course, Mr. Spock. With Kirk seated in the Captain’s chair, the crew will continue to warp through the cosmos seeking out excitement and adventure.
The original comic book superhero debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938 and since then the Man of Steel has leaped tall buildings in a single bound in the pages of comic books, television and starting in 1978 – the big screen. “Superman: The Movie,” starring Christopher Reeves as sole survivor of the planet Krypton. The movie was a huge success and the franchise produced 3 sequels of decreasing quality. Superman lived on in television with series “Lois and Clark” which ran from 1993 to 1997. Then “Smallville” from 2001 to 2011, focusing on Clark Kent’s teenage years. Regardless of the incarnation, Superman has always faced supervisions equal to his iconic status including Lex Luther, General Zod and Doomsday. The son of Jor-El returned to the big screen in 2006 with the passable “Superman Returns.” But fans and critics were much more pleased with the 2013 “Man of Steel,” with Henry Cavill in the title role.