I love westerns. Love them. But unfortunately, I honestly don’t see any new westerns coming out that’ll totally upend and reinvent the genre, thus establishing a new character that could trump any of the following ten. That’s not to say that the western genre is stagnant, or recycling material, but it’s a genre that has clearly peaked, and is in its twilight years, where most modern movies are looking back at its respective genre, rather than looking forward. New great westerns are still being made, they’re just not nearly as popular as they once were, and as such, innovation is mostly being left by the wayside. I suppose you could count Django Unchained as innovation, but I’m still very skeptical on my opinion of that film, a skepticism I’m sure isn’t shared by my colleagues here at Grizzly Bomb.
Also, there may be one obvious, glaring omission from this list, that fans of the western genre will notice. That is the exclusion of any characters played by John Wayne. This IS NOT, a sign of disrespect towards John Wayne, it’s simply a matter of the fact that EVERY character by John Wayne is a badass, and he’s kind of above listing. You’d need your own whole list just for John Wayne characters, because he’d just dominate this whole thing. Besides, that would be the hardest list to make ever.
Well, without further adieu, here are:
TOP TEN WESTERN BADASSES OF ALL TIME
#10.) Al Swearengen (Deadwood)
I never said this had to be limited to movies, so here’s the first pick, straight from one of my favorite HBO shows: Deadwood. Over the course of 3 seasons, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) showed himself to be a full-fledged jack of all trades in the fledgling town of Deadwood. The man knows when the shit’s gonna go down, and is right there picking up the spoils from both sides. Nothing goes by him, and he’s nobody’s fool. Dude is crafty as hell, and isn’t above scrubbing some bloodstains to rake in more cash for himself.
In all honesty, Al Swearengen is one of the 3 kinds of characters I would want to be in a western, (the other two being The Lone Wanderer, and The Hero Who Saves The Day). He’s the dude who owns his own saloon, doesn’t take any guff, and is respected as well as feared. He’s always ready with a quick comeback, and a brand new cuss word you’ve never heard of before. This guy is the reason I started watching Deadwood, until the plot carried me along on its own. If you like westerns at all, or are just a fan of a good drama, you’re depriving yourself by not watching Deadwood. Watch it and within 2 episodes you’ll understand why this guy is on the list .
#9.) John Mallory (Duck, You Sucker)
A badass Irishman if there ever was a badass Irishman. James Coburn, (Jebus rest his soul), plays a revolutionary that could kick the living crap out of Che. More so, blow him the hell up, since his forte isn’t fighting or shooting, it’s just tossing large sticks of explosives and nitroglycerin around the place, and yelling “DUCK YOU SUCKER!”, which was the original title of the movie in international market, since Sergio Leone thought that was a common American phrase for some strange reason.
As for John himself, he teams up with a lowly Mexican bandit, and tricks an entire town into thinking the bandit is some amazing hero. He then again tricks an ENTIRE TOWN INTO A REVOLUTION against the overbearing evil Mexican government. While it may not be factually or historically accurate, it doesn’t stop him from being a completely badass dynamite throwing mofo. Also, he has a great…
He has the best death I’ve seen in a western. It ends with him being shot in the gut, and slowly bleeding out, so instead of dying like a little wuss, he BLOWS HIMSELF UP, RAINING SHARDS OF SHRAPNEL AND BURNING ROCKS ON EVERYONE, thus saving the day for the newly tricked/rallied revolutionaries.
Any dude who has as much resolve and bold-faced tenacity as John Mallory, as well his completely strange love triangle/subplot, (which I won’t go into or spoil for you because holy hell is it weird and awesome), he stands out in the Western Hall of Fame as a true badass, and a hell of a revolutionary (sorry) character.
#8.) Nobody (My Name is Nobody)
I first saw My Name is Nobody on Encore Westerns (great channel btw), and the character of Nobody (Terence Hill) struck me as particularly badass. The movie opens with him, literally clubbing fish to death with a giant stick. If that doesn’t ring huge goddamn bells of badassness for you, then you’re beyond salvation. Regardless, Nobody is badass for 3 specific reasons.
#1, He can touch his shoulder, his gun, and then his shoulder, 3 times before you get the IDEA to reach for your gun.
#2, He will walk right up to you, pull your guns out of your holsters, and slap you around faster than you are able to even reach your guns in the first place.
and #3, if all else fails, he’ll find some way to trick you into fighting the Wild Bunch. And then you’re dead.
#7.) Boss (Open Range)
First and foremost, with a name like Boss, you just GOTTA get some credit. Everything he does is LITERALLY like a Boss. Only the most badass people in the world get called Boss. For proof play Metal Gear Solid 1 through 3. Anyhow, even though this list is a mostly Spaghetti western dominated, we can’t overlook the American made badasses as well.
Even though Open Range was directed by Kevin Costner, the movie is still great. It’s a tad long, some would say it’s drawn out, but the violence, and the plot, and the story ring so true. You want a story about people, revenge, and human drama, with characters to care about, this movie has it. Did I mention the realism? This is how the wild west was fought. It was tough, it was hot, it was dirty, and reloading was a bitch. You took cover, you aimed carefully, and you knew that every bullet you shot was just a few more seconds that you spent not dying. Nobody ever lined up and finished a gunfight with a single shot. You missed, or got plugged yourself, and you took cover, and had a long, bloody shoot out.
I could also describe how the acting is perfect, and the cinematography was amazing, but it’s Boss’ character that sells the movie. The day before he goes into battle, he prepares by buying a piece of chocolate, and a fat cigar. Dude is older than 60, and still can hold out in a firefight against the bad guys, and he does it while taunting his enemies the whole way through. If Boss ain’t a badass, then I just don’t know who is.
#6.) The Gunslinger (Westworld)
First and foremost, Westworld is a badass movie. You just don’t get enough sci-fi westerns, and the fact that this movie is being remade, leaves me with mixed emotions. Yul Brenners’ character is irreplaceable, and while the execution in the film is a bit flawed, and the concept is so novel and unique, it could totally work for a modern audience.
Sure for the first 30 minutes of the movie he’s a lame-o robot who can’t draw his gun if his life depended on it, but the second that his circuits fuse and he goes totally insane, he begins the badass, unstoppable murdering. James Brolin eats it in cold blood, and then The Gunslinger relentlessly stalks Richard Benjamin for the rest of the film.
I could mention about how this was the original grandaddy of Jurassic Park, and The Terminator, or how Micheal Crichton is kind of hack, but I’d rather stick to why the Gunslinger is badass. First of all, the dude is nearly unstoppable. It takes all kinds of crap to kill him, and even then you’re still worrying if he’s just gonna get back up and kill you. Not to mention he has thermal vision, so he can follow your footsteps anywhere, and sure, sure… you can TRY to hide behind a torch or something, and fool him, but he’ll just get you anyway, and if you don’t have some acid or something, to hinder him, you’re screwed.
Besides, the fact that Yul Brenner plays him with about only 2 or 3 lines of dialogue, and still manages to come off as a terrifying, menacing bastard, is really impressive. If it wasn’t for the Gunslinger, you wouldn’t have The Terminator or Jurassic Park franchises at all. Although how good that is could be debated, I think we can all agree that Terminator 2 is awesome, and worth the lousy Jurassic Park and Terminator Sequels. Plus, look at his eyes man!
So, that’s the first 5 in the list, as we wind down, you’ll start to see some more you may recognize, and some others you may not, but rest assured, that they’ll all definitely be badass.