New Movies – Rambo & 9 Other Action Movies With Reluctant Heroes
Reluctant heroes are a staple of action cinema. It’s easier to root for someone who didn’t even want to be there in the first place because at least the non-reluctant hero is endangering their life for a cause they believe in.
John Rambo is a prime example of a reluctant hero. In First Blood, he reluctantly takes on the corrupt law enforcement in the ironically named Washington town of Hope. In First Blood Part II, he reluctantly returns to Vietnam to liberate some American P.O.W.s who got left behind.
And in 2008’s Rambo, he reluctantly takes some activists up a hostile river to the heart of the Burmese militia’s oppressive rule, then reluctantly takes on the entire militia by himself when they get captured.
10 John Rambo – Rambo (2008)
Of all the sequels to First Blood, 2008’s Rambo is arguably the one that best recaptures the bleak tone of David Morrell’s source material. It touches on a real political issue — swapping out indifference to Vietnam War veterans for the Saffron Revolution in Burma — and sheds a light on serious themes through a violent action story.
This one is certainly a lot more violent than First Blood. At one point, it held the record for the highest body count in movie history and each on-screen death is more gruesome than the last. But the violence serves a purpose — to highlight the brutality of the regime it depicts.
9 Sarah Connor – The Terminator (1984)
Sarah Connor is a hardened badass by the time Terminator 2 picks up, but she’s introduced as an everywoman in the first movie. Kyle Reese is more than willing to strand himself in the past to save the future, but the call to action is suddenly thrust upon Sarah. She’s a waitress whose biggest problem is dating and she suddenly finds out that there’s a killer cyborg after her and the fate of humanity is in her hands.
The greatness of Linda Hamilton’s performance as Sarah is that she played the everywoman in The Terminator and the badass in T2 equally convincingly.
8 William Munny – Unforgiven (1992)
Westerns are the original action movies. Modern Hollywood action movies either have their roots in classic westerns or classic action movies by directors like John Woo who were inspired by classic westerns. Clint Eastwood bid the western genre farewell with Unforgiven, and he couldn’t have given a finer swansong.
In telling the story of ex-gunslinger William Munny’s return to action, Unforgiven both deconstructs the western’s myths and celebrates them.
7 Neo – The Matrix (1999)
The Wachowskis essentially remade Ghost in the Shell in live-action form when they made The Matrix, but it’s so beautifully designed and executed — and imbued with all kinds of other influences, like Hong Kong action cinema, William Gibson, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — that it still feels entirely original.
Keanu Reeves stars as office drone and computer hacker Thomas Anderson who is shocked to discover that his entire life has been an elaborate simulation and that he’s actually a superpowered prophet named Neo — the world’s only hope for survival.
6 The Driver – Drive (2011)
Labeling Drive as an “action movie” is what led to the controversy surrounding its marketing campaign. There’s a car chase, a shootout, and a couple of hard-hitting fight scenes in this movie — there’s enough action for it to be an action movie. Nicolas Winding Refn’s sharp direction ensures that the limited action is much more thrilling than the average Hollywood fare with wall-to-wall uninspired action.
Ryan Gosling’s brooding man-of-few-words lead, the Driver, is reluctant to do everything: get close to his neighbor, take a risky job with her ex-con husband, fend off bounty hunters in a motel room, take on a dangerous crime syndicate — but, at every turn, he’s left with no choice.
5 Han Solo – Star Wars (1977)
In the original 1977 Star Wars movie, bright-eyed young farm boy Luke Skywalker jumps at the opportunity to follow Ben Kenobi into outer space to help the Rebel Alliance take on the Empire. Their escort across the galaxy, however, isn’t so eager to do the right thing. Throughout the movie, Han Solo continually looks out for himself and only cares about his paycheck.
But then, in the eleventh hour, he and Chewie reluctantly return in the Falcon during the Death Star trench run to shoot the TIE fighters off Luke’s tail and give him a fighting chance of blowing it up.
4 Max – Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
The Mad Max franchise became the series of grungy post-apocalyptic actioners it is today with its second installment, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, in which Max has become a lone drifter making his way across a decimated wasteland.
He just wants to keep to himself and stay alive. When some good people running an oil refinery need him to protect them, he’s reluctant to help out, but ends up doing what’s right.
3 Logan – Logan (2017)
Most superheroes fall into the “reluctant hero” category, but the grizzled, aging, Old Man Logan-inspired Wolverine in Hugh Jackman’s final outing as the clawed mutant is especially reluctant —particularly in getting close to his cloned daughter, Laura, because everyone he gets close to eventually dies.
Heavily influenced by Shane, Logan ultimately carries the message that it’s impossible to outrun the past as Wolvie returns to action for one last spectacular bout of heroism to ensure the survival of the next generation of mutants.
2 Ellen Ripley – Aliens (1986)
After narrowly escaping the xenomorph’s wrath aboard the Nostromo and drifting through space for what felt like a few weeks but was actually decades, Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is discovered by some fellow humans and asked to go on a mission to a planet that’s infested with xenomorphs.
Audiences already saw the hardships Ripley went through to kill just one xenomorph in the first Alien movie; she doesn’t exactly jump at the chance to go running straight into their hive. But since she’s the only one who’s encountered the aliens before, she agrees to go along — and gets a lot more than she bargained for.
1 John McClane – Die Hard (1988)
At the beginning of Die Hard, wisecracking New York cop John McClane is expecting to have an awkward evening at his estranged wife’s office Christmas party. When terrorists burst in blasting machine guns, John flees the scene with bare feet.
Initially, John just wants to inform the local authorities and get them down to Nakatomi Plaza to deal with it, but thanks to the intricacy of the terrorists’ plans and the ineptness of Agents Johnson and Johnson, McClane ends up having to take them down himself.
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New Movies – Rambo & 9 Other Action Movies With Reluctant Heroes
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