A “manly” movie is a bit different than your standard action film or drama. It’s a movie that celebrates the awesomeness of the male in all his glory, a fantastic example of why guys love being what they are. Often, the wilder, the better, with plenty of carnage being welcomed.
It can also be a movie with a little less gore that just celebrates the coolness of guys and how they can be. The “masculine idea” is pushed to the fore nicely, emphasizing the bonds of brothers, real or foster. Sure, shoot-outs and fist-fights are cool but some of the best manly films are just reminders of how men can have feelings as well, they just express them a lot differently.
There have been so many out there that weeding it down to just a few seems impossible. But here we are presenting twenty films that celebrate how it is to be a man today.
20 The Godfather
It’s one of the greatest movies ever made but it’s often overlooked how manly it is. After all, the focus is on the sons of a mob boss who have different views of how to handle things. Al Pacino and James Caan are both feisty and tough in their breakout roles. Marlon Brando turned in an Oscar-winning performance as Don Corleone as the movie emphasizes how family (both real and mobster) is important to any man and how it’s often keeping up appearances as being tough that helps you survive.
Whether it’s Sonny beating an abusing husband down or Michael calmly ordering a massacre of rivals, the movie shows how the quiet guys can be the most dangerous, which is something many can greatly enjoy amid a true classic of movies.
19 Rocky IV
The entire boxing series may qualify but the fourth film pushes the manly factor the most. Rocky Balboa is mostly retired as champion when Ivan Drago comes to the U.S. to push the superiority of Soviet boxers. Wanting back in the spotlight, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) challenges Drago but is killed in the fight.
Rocky sets out to avenge his rival-turned-friend by taking on Ivan in Moscow on Christmas Day. The training montage is a true masterpiece as we see Ivan training in a high-tech lab while a bearded Rocky chops down trees, pulls carts and climbs a snowy mountain. The fight is brutal and bloody with both guys in fantastic shape, Rocky winning not just the battle but the hearts of the Soviet people. It wears Regan-era patriotism on its sleeve but Stallone pulls it all off for a package that reminds you how Rocky set the tone for many a manly character to be featured on film.
18 The Delta Force
Gleefully cheesy, the movie has the manly quotient well-handled thanks to the teaming of Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin in his final role. It first plays as a hostage drama as terrorists take over a plane of passengers.Norris and Marvin are the leaders of the Delta Force unit who are sent to rescue them, going on wild battles that are basically the ultimate American dream of our guys taking on the evil terrorists.
The highlight has to be Norris driving along on a motorcycle that shoots missiles from both front and back, flying over gates as Alan Silversti’s terrific score plays in the background. A nice showcase of the ass-kicker Norris can be and Marvin going out as tough as he lived for a nice throwback to an era where movies weren’t afraid to get wild.
17 Escape From New York
If any character deserved a multi-film franchise, Snake Plisskin fits the bill. In John Carpenter’s 1981 hit, Kurt Russell plays the eyepatch-wearing rebel in a dystopian U.S. where New York has been transformed into a full-scale prison. When the President’s plane goes down, Snake is sent on the suicide mission to save him, battling the various bandits, crooks, gang lords and others, refusing to back down to anyone and just coming off so damn cooler than everyone else around him.
Grousing, chewing on a cigar and kicking ass left and right, Snake dominates it all as the ultimate anti-hero, a guy who would be a monster except everyone around him is even worse. A shame he didn’t get more than one lame sequel as Russell gave us a bad-ass for the ages who any man can look up to.
16 Fast Five
The entire Fast & the Furious franchise certainly qualifies for this list as from the start, the bromance/rivalry of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker forged the backbone of the racing films. But the fifth movie is really when the series took off as the duo are in Rio and decide to rob a local drug lord’s bank. They gather together the various supporting players from the previous films to pull the plan off, only to face a tough U.S. Marshal played by Dwayne Johnson.
The chase of the two forces is well done, culminating in a knock-down, drag-out fight between Diesel and Johnson that fills the screen with testosterone. Of course, they have to join forces for the wild finale, amping up the action to insane heights but coming off wonderfully. It set the tone for the even wilder sequels but the bond between Diesel and Walker manages to ground it all, making Walker's premature death all the more saddening.
15 The Raid: Redemption
The international smash hit is basically one long fight scene and holy damn, is it awesome. A platoon of cops go to a building to arrest a drug lord only to realize too late the entire damn building is on the villain’s side. It starts with gun fights before going fist to fist and it’s a glorious barrage of brawling, fighting, martial arts, guys slammed through doors and walls, down stairs and floors, everything within sight turned into a weapon.
Iko Uwais dominates as Rama, the cop who’s a one-man fighting machine. The crooks give as good as they get with their own brutal style as things escalate more and more, brief breaks letting you catch your breath before it goes into another fight. The sequel is longer and amped up but the first film is still better for its sheer pace, leaving you gasping as hard as any of the guys in the fights amid action that puts most Hollywood flicks to shame.
14 The Towering Inferno
The best of all the 1970s disaster movies, Irwin Allen’s hit focuses on that most manly of jobs, firefighting. Paul Newman is the architect of the tallest building in the world, unaware that the owners have cut costs by eliminating the safety features he installed. Thus, when a small fire breaks out, it soon grows into a full-fledged conflagration that puts hundreds of party guests at risk.
13 The Warriors
“Warriors….Come out and plaaaaaaaay!” This 1979 cult classic imagines a massive gathering of New York City gangs as the charismatic Cyrus brings them together into one massive army. He’s shot and the blame falls on the Warriors, who must then fight their way across New York to their home turf of Coney Island. The look back at a dirty, ugly and gritty NYC is gripping as the Warriors go from one area to another, soon brawling it out with just about every other gang from an all-female one to guys dressed up as ballplayers.
The cast is good as the chase continues, the bond of the gang remaining strong as they work together to survive. It all comes down to the climactic battle for survival. A standout of its time to show a whole gang of bad-asses fighting for survival, it’s hard to get manlier than that.
12 Dirty Harry
The first is still the best. In one of his most iconic roles, Clint Eastwood is Harry Callahan, a rule-breaking San Francisco cop on the hunt for a serial killer, not caring whose toes he steps on to get the job done. Few scenes are as manly and awesome as Eastwood’s now infamous “Do I feel lucky?” speech, gritting out every word as his steely gaze terrifies even before he goes into action.
He hates the press, his bosses but most of all, he hates crime, so God help you if you break the law in his view. The final chase with the killer is thrilling as Eastwood dominates every moment of screen time, setting the mold for every “maverick cop” character in movies to follow. Few have done so with the sheer style Harry did and in this movie and its sequels, Eastwood more than made our day.
11 Road House
Some cite this as one of those “so bad it’s good” films but it still works thanks to Patrick Swayze. As James Dalton, he’s the bouncer of a local club in a small Missouri town, a fun guy with great fighting skills. Swayze's not afraid to show off his shirtless body, and the film indulges him with various fight scenes.
They’re more big brawls but Swayze still comes off a true bad-ass at times like when he rips a guy’s throat out with his bare hands. It culminates in a bloody battle in the rain that is crazy as hell but still comes off as a fun ride. Roadhouse is a true guilty pleasure with Swayze being the essence of what so many male viewers wanted to be.
You can argue the merits of this as an Oscar-winning Best Picture but you can't its toughness. What’s manlier than gladiators, after all? In his Oscar-winning performance, Russell Crowe is a Roman general who opens the picture leading his soldiers to a terrific victory in the woods. When the new Emperor has his family killed, Maximus is sold to slavery as a gladiator but rises high with his killing skills, set on a quest to avenge his family.
Crowe eats the screen alive as this man who looks deadly as hell even when he’s speaking softly, and that rubs off on the rest of the film. Ridley Scott’s direction emphasizes the wild action and battles from one on one fights to full scale army clashes while pushing the often homoerotic touches of the gladiator world. It all comes together in a movie that shines on multiple levels and, to answer Maximus’ question mid-way through, yes, we were entertained.
An obvious choice, of course. Ignoring the poor sequel, the first movie doesn’t hold back adapting Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the historic battle as 300 Spartans face 10,000 Persians, a conflict legendary in the annals of manly moments in history. Gerald Butler blows you away as their king, bellowing his lines - “Tonight... We dine... IN HELL!” - and leading the lightly-garbed soldiers in brutal battles shot on green screen with blood flying everywhere.
We get wild touches of the prince Xerxes and it’s not hard to see the homoerotic touches of all these buff guys running around in loincloths but the sheer never-say-die attitude of the Spartans wins you over as you root for them against all odds and how, even in defeat, they achieve victory and leave you proud of how far the studly male can go.
8 Hard Boiled
“Give a man a gun and he’s a superman. Give him two and he’s God.” So goes the mantra for this, no doubt the all-time greatest action film by the man who helped reinvent the genre, director John Woo. In his best part, Chow Yun-Fat is Tequila, a toothpick-chewing Hong Kong cop who finds himself tracking a ruthless gang only to find one of their number is an undercover cop himself.
What follows is a ballet of violence as only Woo can direct: shootouts in garages, a café and more with Tequila blasting away with dual pistols, slow-motion shots and that Woo trademark of two guys holding guns on each other close-up. It’s topped by the incredible twenty-minute gun battle finale, which includes a stunning single-camera take of the two cops going floor by floor blowing away bad guys. It’s the best showcase for Woo’s talents, a great bond of the male leads and just so damn amazing to watch unfold as a standard for the action genre.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and Richard Chaves. Any movie with those four together is automatically manly as hell as they’re part of a special forces team sent on a jungle mission. The scene where they take on an entire camp of rebels is excellent, with Ventura getting one of the greatest one-liners in movie history: “I ain’t got time to bleed.”
It’s great already but then we get the real plot of the team being tracked by an alien hunter who cuts them down, leading to a great fight with Weathers and then the epic finale of a mud-covered, shirtless Arnie going mano a mano with the Predator. A terrific mix of action and sci-fi, it kicked off a franchise but it still stands on its own thanks to the sheer testosterone on full display.
6 Die Hard
We’ve become so used to this movie becoming a trope that it’s easy to forget just how amazing it works. In the role that made him a true star, Bruce Willis is John McClane, the New York cop visiting his estranged wife in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve when their office building is taken over by a gang who appear to be terrorists but really are thieves on a special plan. Alan Rickman set the tone for movie baddies to follow as the suave but deadly Hans Gruber, but it’s Willis’ movie all the way.
He bleeds, he goes around without shoes, he’s out of his league in fights but he never gives up, always quick on his feet and able to keep up with this gang, whittling them down one by one. Throw in his great bromance with the cop (Reginald VelJohnson) he talks to on walkie-talkie and his love for his wife, and McClane is truly one of the best action heroes around. From the great one-liners to the fantastic explosions, it truly upped the ante for all action movies to follow but the first still remains the best.
5 The Dirty Dozen
One of the first movies to explore how the Allies could be just as nasty as the Nazis, the plot is well known by now. Lee Marvin is the colonel assigned to take a unit of soldiers convicted of everything from robbery to sexual assault to murder and train them for a secret mission. The group is a fantastic gang of ass-kickers who pretty much hate each other’s guts. Marvin lets them hate him more as they’re soon whipped into shape for the mission, which is to bomb a mansion full of Nazi officers and their wives and mistresses, a pretty dark move.
It’s terrific seeing these guys work together, still not liking each other but bonding as a unit amid fights and arguments. The final mission is a bloodbath with multiple casualties and fantastic action. It stands as one of the best WWII movies ever made and a terrific gathering of some bad-ass actors in one bold adventure.
4 Rambo: First Blood Part II
An icon of the ‘80s, it’s one of Sylvester Stallone’s finest efforts. While First Blood was a bit low-key, Rambo just amps it up as the Vietnam veteran travels to rescue some POWs, only to get betrayed and left behind. Naturally, he doesn’t take it well as he breaks out of the prison camp and proceeds to take on the entire Vietnamese army with a helicopter, various machine guns and just sheer attitude.
Stallone throws himself into things wonderfully, blasting down baddies as he howls away, the ultimate movie soldier - “What you call Hell, he calls home” - and driving the patriotism on full blast. It helped transform him into a cultural phenomenon and still ranks high on any list of movies to push the male hero to the ultimate level.
The perfect summation of ‘80s action movies, it may well be the ultimate Arnie film. He plays John Matrix, who goes on a quest to rescue his kidnapped daughter (a young Alyssa Milano) that involves wiping out what appears half of South America. Arnie is in full bloom here, muscled as hell and an unstoppable machine of destruction from a mall fight to the scene of him invading an island base and single-handedly wiping out roughly a hundred guys - seriously, count it out.
It’s also home to the best one-liners you can imagine - “Remember when I promised to kill you last? I lied.” - and a terrific whacky musical score. Altogether, it’s the movie that comes to mind when Arnie is mentioned and is still awesome three decades later.
2 Fight Club
Let’s break the second rule and talk about this movie. Really, you can’t get more “manly” than shirtless guys gathering together in underground places to beat the living hell out of each other. Brad Pitt has one of his best roles ever as the leader of this bunch while Edward Norton is great showing the nebbish office drone who finds his inner warrior.
The movie famous for its great plot twist and how it takes on the idea of battling against a conforming society but the brawling still stands out and highlights the message championing how guys should indulge in, not hide, their primal urges to get ahead.
1 Rio Bravo
Come on, who else but John Wayne could top a list of the “manliest” pictures ever? While there are slews to pick from, this 1959 Western really amps up the manly quotient pretty high. Wayne is the sheriff of a small town who holds a noted outlaw in his jail just as the guy’s gang comes to town. They demand Wayne give the outlaw up and when he refuses, give him a day to change his mind or they start shooting. The only ones on Wayne’s side are his constantly drunk deputy (Dean Martin), an aged veteran (Walter Brennan) and a cocky young gunslinger (Ricky Nelson) against a small army. With Angie Dickinson as the mysterious woman around, the small group have to work together against this threat.
Wayne is in classic cowboy form here, rough and tough, fast with a gun and wish his fists but also caring as he helps Martin overcome his drinking and teaching the kid how to grow up and handle a real fight. It comes down to a showdown expertly directed by Howard Hawks and one of the best Westerns of all time as the Duke dominates as the male idea every movie star since has tried to match…and almost none has.