Hitmen and assassins make up some of the most badass characters in all of film. They’re fearless, ruthless killers with different motives and skills that make them truly terrifying foes to be faced with. Sometimes they are the hero, sometimes they are the villain, sometimes they are motivated by greed and their duty and other times they are motivated by evil and disposition. In honor of the new film “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”, I took a look at ten movie hitmen and assassins who I think are the best of the best.
For this list I focused on characters that make a living or are built for doing what they do and are very good at it. These are characters who are considered effective and ruthless professional killers and not necessarily more mild mannered characters capable of taking a life. These characters had to specialize in and benefit from their skills as killers consistently, even if they utilize that skill in their respective films for means other than being on the job. I’m focusing on career or professional killers here, so just because someone can take a life if needed that doesn’t mean they qualify for this list. Also I’m looking at the killers themselves, not necessarily the movies they are in so the quality of their films don’t play a part in their ranking. Finally I did group a few assassins and hitmen together as they are effective as a team and deserved to be a collective rather than individual entries.
Narrowing down this list was hard and since I am including both hitmen and assassins, who are arguably one in the same, in this list I’m bound to leave a few out. Who are your favorite movie hitmen and assassins? Let me know in the comments below. If you’d like to see more hitmen and assassins going at it, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is out this weekend. Look for my review later this week.
10. Ghost Dog, “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”
There are a lot of sword-wielding assassins I considered for this list (and this won’t be the last you see) but this one just stands out as one of the best to ever his the big screen. Forest Whitaker portrays this mob swordsman in the 1999 film that saw the character utilize his skills as a killer to become a lone wolf. Few are as precise and frighteningly effective as Ghost Dog is with a sword, making short work of any of his foes and targets, especially those who have done him wrong. While effective with a firearm as well, Ghost Dog is more of a quiet killer with his deadly samurai-style blade and whether you’re one who double crossed him, or a target he is assigned to kill, you know that blade will be the death of you no matter how hard to try to escape. Silent and confident in his abilities, Ghost Dog is a uniquely talented killer who has practiced his art and performs every execution with style, finesse, and a sense of simplicity that makes it look all too easy.
9. Angel Eyes, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”
A mercenary who is unafraid to kill any target provided to him, Angel Eyes is “the bad” in the title of this classic western film. Angel Eyes is a talented killer who knows his skills and isn’t afraid to use them…on anyone! We see him execute a Confederate solider and then turn around a kill his own employer. A marksman who holds no loyalty, Angel Eyes is a self-serving assassin and hitman you wouldn’t want to anger and the fact that he is such a charming character only helps him as he is easy to trust, but difficult to read, thus his nickname. While he ends up facing the same end as many of those who have starred down his own gun by the end of the film, ironically being betrayed himself for once by the Man With No Name, Angel Eyes earned his place among the assassin greats as a merciless figure of the old west.
8. John and Jane Smith, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”
What happens when two of the most notable assassins of their era unknowingly fall in love, get married, and then are forced to kill each other? This action packed film, that’s what! Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie actually fell in love playing two warring assassins who are unaware of each other’s secret lives as the most accomplished killers of their respective employers. When their employers discover their relationship before they themselves realize anything they are tasked with killing each other, which clues them in on the situation and forces them to work together to protect each other as their individual agencies take matters into their own hands. Separately these two assassins were well known within the film for their prowess and relentless natures. Together they make a literally unstoppable team, capable of taking down two agencies at the same time with only their wits, guns, and training to guide them. These two took the “spy vs. spy” cliché and turned it on its head as they bring out the best in each other as precise and dedicated killers.
7. Harlen Maguire, “Road to Perdition”
A man of few words, Harlen Maguire is a more complex character than his fellow hitmen in this film based on the graphic novel of the same name. Portrayed by Jude Law, Harlen is a man with skill, a straight face, and a secondary talent that allows him to hide in plain site. He is a photographer, and as such has a tendency to photograph his victims after performing a killing. Harlen proves to be relentless, especially in his pursuit of the Sullivans throughout the film, and carries with him a confidence and ego that makes every kill seem easy for him. For Harlen killing is not an accomplishment, or a challenge, but rather a job, and one he does well. In terms of composure and effectiveness, Maguire is top notch. He shows no fear, no remorse, and even when things look tough for him he shows confidence that he will get the job done. He’s not the most flashy assassin on this list, but his simplistic approach to his job and his confidence and determination to take down his mark make him an intriguing addition to this list.
6. Vincent, “Collateral”
Tom Cruise portrayed this ruthless gunman in the 2004 thriller that saw Vincent commandeer a taxi driver and his car in his quest to take down several witnesses and a prosecutor in favor of the accused. Vincent in the definition of a truly heartless contract killer. This is what he lives for and he puts aside any concept of right or wrong when it comes to getting the job done. He was hired to kill and he will kill his targets no matter what he has to do. He’s also not above public killings and taking down those who get in his way. If someone doesn’t benefit him, Vincent dispatches them with ease and moves on toward his main target. However, Vincent’s greatest attribute is also his greatest weakness. His lack of empathy and compassion proves to be his undoing as he is unable to relate to or understand people making him overconfident. Even then however he is completely dedicated to taking down his mark and while he may not always understand the impact of his actions or the people he is charged with killing, Vincent is a fearsome assassin and hitman and one of the best at what he does.
5. The T-800, “The Terminator”
The only non-human assassin on this list, the T-800 has one advantage noone else on this list has, and that is that he is literally programmed for one job…to kill. His target, Sarah Conner, the mother of future resistance leader John Conner, and if there is any entry on this list that defines tenacity and persistence it’s this popular antagonist-turned-hero. In the original “Terminator” film the T-800 was nearly unstoppable. A master of any gun and weapon with the stamina to back up his intimidating physique, the T-800 may be without a heart and soul but he expressed a strange understanding of the mentality of humans which made him an effective killer of anyone and anything that stood in his way. When the T-800 returned as a reprogrammed hero in the second film that tenacity continued as he sought to protect John Conner from an equally destructive, if not more formidable, T-1000 model Terminator. However, it’s the robot’s first appearance that makes him worthy of this list and while he only had one single target, he left many bodies in his wake on his mission and earned his place as one of film’s most destructive and effective hitmen even if his talent was programmed rather than learned.
4. The Bride, “Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2”
There were a few Quentin Tarantino characters I considered for this list, but there’s only one that stood out above the rest. Beatrix Kiddo, otherwise known as The Bride, was the protagonist of Tarantino’s two-part martial arts project, “Kill Bill”, and is the second character on this list whose specialty lies with a sword. A bride done wrong on her wedding day by the same assassins she used to work beside, Kiddo was once a member of the feared Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and was nicknamed Black Mamba. In her quest for vengeance she puts her assassin skills to the ultimate test, taking on her fellow partners in expertly choreographed fight scenes and even destroying 88 assassins at once with only her sword to help her out. A master of martial arts and a ruthless and vengeful figure, there are few that could match the precision and skill of The Bride whether she’s taking down those who betrayed her or a target assigned to her with her team. Even those who know her the best and were familiar with her style never stood a chance in her rampage. The Bride is not only one of cinema’s most popular assassins, she one of the most skilled and finding yourself at the end of her blade would be a quick death for anyone daring enough to do her wrong.
3. Léon, “Léon: The Professional”
Not every assassin is a heartless, violent individual. Some are just people with a certain skill set. Take Léon for example, the centerpiece of a film of the same name with Jean Reno as the leading man. A New York City hermit of sorts, Léon’s life is his trade. He’s a mob-employed assassin who just happens to be good at killing people. He’s not bad, he’s not perfect, but he’s just who he is and he knows it. Léon finds himself in a position of protecting a young girl after cops killed her family, allowing him to take on an ironic hero role as an otherwise stereotypical villain against enemies who would normally play the hero in any other situation he would probably find himself in. Regardless of the situation Léon lives up to the films name as a professional. He’s a marksman with killer instinct and a heart willing to do his job, but also prepared to use his talents for a more noble cause and he proves to be very talented at what he does. He’s a marksman to be feared when he has a purpose. Combine that with his charm and character growth in the film and you have one of the most complex, iconic, and fearsome hitmen in all of cinema.
2. John Wick, the “John Wick” franchise
The newest assassin/hitman on this list, John Wick is a professional for a new generation who redefined what a hitman could be on the big screen. One of the most feared in his world, Wick was so adept at his trade that he performed an act that allowed him to retire, something few were ever able to do, but when circumstances forced him back in the game he showed that he didn’t forget everything he knew about hitting his mark every time. As most hitmen are, Wick is confident, capable, and precise, but he takes these traits to a new level utilizing weapons and his environment in ways seldom seen by even the best killers on screen. Wick knows how to use corners, lighting, and pretty much everything around him to his advantage, which is why he is so feared among his peers. The best part is he even knows what weapons are needed for the job and how to adapt when the situation calls for an unexpected change. However, for everything Wick brings to the table in terms of finesse and effectiveness one particular contract killer stands out above everyone on this list in terms of ruthlessness and notoriety,,,,
1. Anton Chigurh, “No Country For Old Men”
Anton is the best of the best. He embodies everything that makes all the assassins and hitmen on this list so memorable and he does it without a massive body count (at least on screen) as the antagonist in a film considered one of the best of all time. An iconic villain, Chigurh is possibly the most effective and fearsome hitmen to ever hit the big screen. He’s imposing and menacing in stature, personality, and in his choice of how he takes out his victims and he is quick to anger, making him an unpredictable killer. The now famous coin toss scene alone defines Chagurh in a nutshell. He gives a man the chance to save himself through luck alone, but was prepared to kill for something so minor and pointless to his own being. He is a deep, complex, and truly intimidating character if ever their was one and is a hitman who gets the job done every time. He shows no fear, no remorse, and seldom shows mercy making him the greatest hitman Hollywood has ever concocted if it’s not too bold to say.