Last year, AFI posted their acclaimed list “The Greatest Cinematic Heroes and Villains.” Taking great umbrage with their many choices, I decided to sit down and think about it. Who were my Ten Cinematic Heroes? Who were ten people I’d strive to be, or would want to be in a perilous situation? I’m one of those weirdos who really always side with the heroes. Whether it’s an epic science fiction film, or swords and dragon fantasy film, the heroes have always appealed to me. Comics, Video Games, Cartoons, it’s always about the good guys overcoming an obstacle and or villain who wants to take over the world, or just plain ruin their life.
A hero isn’t always made, a hero is often a figure of circumstance, an individual who blossoms from a horrible situation, or someone who just decides they have to do the right thing against everyone else’s frustration. A hero is one who is willing to lay it down and sacrifice just to help someone they love, or possibly someone they’ve never met. They rarely ever get a pat on the back, or a reward, nor is their decision always justified, but they do what’s right, and that’s enough. These are my top 10 Cinematic heroes.
10. Captain John H. Miller
Saving Private Ryan
Why: He suffered from crippling anxiety attacks and a horrific worry disorder that often caused him to tense up in the heat of combat and lose all of his senses. On the front he was a power house of a leader. He was given orders and decided for the good of a family that had just suffered the loss of their many sons that he had to find James Ryan (the last son of the Ryan family) once, and for all. He did it because it was the right thing to do. And of course, he suffered the consequences. Going through the battlefield he lost many of his men to a hail of gun fire and vicious battle conditions. In the opening of “Saving Private Ryan” he’s a man faced with his own nerves, battling his greatest foe, and defying his own mental state, just because he felt a duty to his country to fight on the front line.
And in a miserable barrage of bullets and blood and a hail of dead bodies and detached limbs, he managed to survive long enough to see his mission through to the end. He wanted to make sure that Ryan came home to his family and keep the blood line going, and he saw it through right until the end looking out onto a horrific war where men destroyed each other for their country’s common goals. Not just that but he allowed merciful deaths to his partners on the field, spared the life of a few enemies, and even brought together his distrusting and jaded platoon to engage in this mission with him. It takes a man to fight for what he believes in, but it takes a hero to risk your life just to help someone out. Miller was a truly admirable character of “Saving Private Ryan,” and a wonderful leader.
9. Police Chief Martin Brody
Why: Yet another flawed hero of a sort, Chief Martin Brody had a terrible fear of water, and ironically enough enforced law over a town by the seaside where incidentally they were being ravaged by a man eating vicious shark that began picking off residents left and right. Forced with the decision of embarking on the ocean floor to find the beast, Brody confronted his paralyzing fear with the water to stare down the always moving great white shark in the middle of the ocean on a quickly losing vessel (I guess a bigger boat wasn’t as good an idea as it sounded). Brody is a hero because his reluctance to go out on the water was beaten due to his battle to convince the town mayor that this threat was real and very lethal. In the process, his threats and warnings were ignored and he suffered the bile of town’s residents who not only blamed him for the deaths, but blamed him for not doing enough to protect them.
Take the hard slap he endures after a funeral of a local boy. Brody is the prime example of the hero who is not only ignored by almost everyone when an apparent threat is looming, but he also suffers the wrath of those who blame him for a situation that’s out of his control. So to stop this thing and save face, he risked life and limb and battled the sea creature armed with a rifle, a hell of a great aim, and some pressurized air tanks that Brucie just had to chomp on. Closing one eye, launching a single shot, and growling “Smile you Son of A–” Brody beats the beast, he saves the entire town from the finned scourge and he looks out for his children, which of course was his primary focus. It’s just too bad that bastard came back three more times.
8. Mr. Incredible/Robert “Bob” Parr
Why: Yes, his intentions were selfish, I’ll give you that. Mr. Incredible, a victim of vanity, was a man stuck on his glory days after it was ripped away from him, much like an ex-football player. And he dressed in his old costume and risked certain death getting in major trouble with the law in his pursuit to feel young again, after he’d reflected on a life of marital discord, and troubled children begging for attention. Bob is one who is faced with the fact that his children are special, but has to force them to remain mediocre and hide their gifts. But, once Bob realized that the obnoxious but dangerous “villain” Syndrome was threatening the life of the people he loved, suddenly it all became clear.
It’s all about family, and powers or not, he had to take care of them. And he does after he thinks they’ve died, and seeks vengeance. But once he learns they’re alive, he now has to lead them in a battle with Syndrome and his Omnidroid to protect their city from the equally selfish and self-absorbed fan boy now wielding an indestructible killing machine that has rebelled from its master. The pursuit to protect his family now extends to complete strangers with an inherent xenophobia and helps them to realize that there’s a need for a hero, even if it’s a slightly pudgy balding middle-aged man getting over a mid-life crisis.
7. Obi-Wan Kenobi
Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi
Why: A hero of coincidence and obligation, when we first meet Obi Wan in “Star Wars,” he’s named Ben Kenobi, an old hermit who has lived in seclusion for many years. He’s an old man who can barely walk without collapsing from exhaustion, but he when fate drops on to his doorstep, he discovers that he has to guide one more hero into the struggle of his life. Kenobi is a man forced with many decisions and conflicts. Should he tell Luke about his father? Should he indulge the young boy on finding the source of the message left by the princess?
Will Luke begin as a wide eyed young boy and end up a bitter menace to the Jedi as Anakin Skywalker once was? Leading the perilous journey, Obi-Wan knows his purpose in the circle of the prophecy. He has to sacrifice himself. And this sets the stage for the rise of Luke Skywalker to lead the rebels to defeat the empire, and come to grips with his father’s lust for power and evil. Obi-Wan is that one piece of the puzzle Luke has always lacked: the father, the mentor, and the spiritual guide, and he takes it upon himself to direct him and simply hope for the best after he’s been killed in the heat of battle.
6. Laurie Strode
Why: A hero of circumstance, Laurie Strode was a very forgettable part of Haddonfield. She was a typical teenager who essentially did nothing to spawn any life threatening events beyond smoking marijuana and slightly ignoring the children she was assigned to baby sit. Carpenter never really intended Michael and Laurie to be brother and sister, and before we even knew this outlandish development, Laurie was instead a victim of fate who has to stare down and battle a menace that’s trickled into the town of Haddonfield.
Before the cheesy family dysfunction and curse of Thorn entered the canon, Michael was merely evil trying to corrupt and destroy Laurie Strode. Hinted to be sexually fascinated with his sister in the opening sequence, Michael gains a fascination with Laurie after she fearlessly enters the Myer’s house to deliver a package. This triggers his infatuation and whether she likes it or not, he’s doom and mindless evil manifested who she has to ward off while protecting the children she’s agreed to watch. Laurie is one of the few final girls of the slasher genre who made considerably smart moves in her attempts to evade Michael, and remained victor even in spite of the masked killer getting up to walk again.
5. Henry “Indiana” Walton Jones, Jr.
The Indiana Jones Series
Why: Indiana Jones was never supposed to be the elegant chiseled crusader like James Bond who would get into scuffles and battles and still be able to walk around without a scratch or too many wounds for show for it. Bond was always so much more of a cartoon fantasy. Indiana Jones was instead that every man whose own obsession with ancient culture would turn him into an inadvertent hero who’d stop Nazi tyranny and help out the little man at every turn. He was that typical figure who’d embody normality as a professor and then suddenly become the avenger whenever duty called.
And in every adventure he’d have a wound or a scar that would account for his exploits. He’d be beaten up, stabbed, shot, thrown into doors, and yes, even face off against his one weakness: Snakes. He hates snakes. And yet, when he feels it necessary, he overcomes it just to find the truth and bring it to the right people, while putting an end to menaces who threaten to use history’s best gifts in favor of power easily misused. Jones is the opposite of the serial hero, and yet it’s what makes him one of the most identifiable and relatable cinema heroes of all time.
Night of the Living Dead
Why: Even in spite of the walking dead banging down their doors, even in spite of the perilous situation, even in spite of the state of emergency spreading over the USA like wildfire involving the recently deceased coming back from the dead to feed on the living, Ben simply could not get along with his fellow survivors to grant their survival. Call it war of the races, call it a war of classes, call it a general distrust, but the battle ensuing in the house is what remained the downfall of the small band of survivors, and eventually the world.
Ben was a man who simply had to survive, and in effect had to ensure the survival of the people around him. Ben had the tools, the skills and the strategy to outlive the walking dead, and showed it repeatedly in his knowledge of stopping the walking dead, and the methods of travel that would allow them to escape without being hurt and eaten. A definite statement about the overall fortitude of African American culture in a world still unwilling to fully accept it, Ben was the hero who took it upon himself to gain some control in a situation that made no sense.
3. Superman/Clark Kent
The Superman Series
Why: Superman is the eternal optimist, the being who trusts humanity to trust in themselves, and can only stand to benefit the world in the way of saving those in need. Beyond that, he can only watch and hope for the best. Superman is the being of immense power and a god-like hold on his surroundings, and chooses to use those amazing abilities to help the individual in desperate need. Like every being with power, he could have been easily corrupted as his eternal nemesis Lex Luthor, but instead his superiority serves only as a tool to protect and serve, while he lives as one of us, always in the crowds ready to save the day. Superman is the immigrant given an incredible gift and chose to use it for good, and eventually won out by living as a regular man seeking to make his way in the world and nothing else.
He has every chance to rule over the world, and he has every opportunity to alter the course of human events, but he knows that with great power, comes great responsibility, and his is to simply observe and keep Earth safe from otherworldly menaces. Starting as an avenger against government and corporation corruption defending the blue collared man, and then an avenger against Hitler and his forces of evil, Superman is that symbol of good and potential for greatness in every working man who can simply change the world and those around him through deeds reliant on the individual ability of one person. Superman’s duty is to help mankind through his incredible super powers, but does it take an alien from another world defying gravity to make change for the better? No. Superman proves that by effecting those around him through attitude and action, and he’s not just a cinematic hero, but a hero period.
2. Father Lankester Merrin
Why: In a horrific situation involving many people in a labyrinth of confusion and sheer terror, Father Merrin was the clarity and focus that was needed and sadly wasn’t completely granted. Merrin was a man called on for duty in spite of being wholly unable to battle with evil. As an old man he’d battled the demon Pazusu once in his life, and it left him a battered old man who’d been ready to leave the world in peace. But he was called back and left no choice since the demon was ready for one last battle and baited the old man through the body of a little girl.
Regan was now a vessel of corrupted innocence, and it was up to Merrin to lend some sense of focus and threat in a series of attacks involving a mother incapable of differentiating the monster from her daughter, a young priest incredibly unaware of what power this demon held, and a skeptic detective who would possibly never be sure what had happened in that small apartment house. Merrin offered a hand in the demon’s fate, and could do nothing but try to help, even though the cards had been dealt long before Merrin arrived. Even as he appeared at the doorstep of the MacNeill’s, Pazusu made it clear. It was still extremely powerful and capable of great misdeeds. Merrin was now nothing more than an old man, but an old man equipped with wisdom, tactics, and immense ingenuity. Merrin was a wonderful tool in its destruction who would lend something of a victory in the battle of good and evil portrayed in “The Exorcist.”
1. Juror #8
12 Angry Men
Why: Who knows if the young Hispanic boy stabbed his father to death that fateful night, it’s irrelevant. Juror #8 believes there’s a doubt in the case, and he thinks he owes it to a person whose life is on the line to at least explore the possibility that he’s been framed. He borders on a healthy line of skepticism and idealism and stands up for his belief that race and class have nothing to do with a young man’s ability to murder. And this sets him up for an ordeal of anger, resentment and basic demonizing by a group of strangers who just want to move on with their lives and place a verdict on a crime that, on the surface, seems open and shut. But there’s that instinctive thought in Juror #8 to re-consider the evidence.
There’s something not quite right about what he’d heard and seen in the case, and in spite of pressure to submit to the mob mentality that takes place in the hot, cramped jury room one Summer day, he persists and is able to battle eleven strangers with the strong power of persuasion and prove that there’s a chance they could be sending an innocent man off to prison. Described only as Davis at the end of Miller’s play, Juror #8 is that one solitary voice screaming for justice and fairness in a world where bias, prejudice, and ulterior motives always come in to play to decide the fate of someone accused of a crime. Juror #8 is the one voice asking for unquestioned justice from men still clinging to the notion of racial stereotypes, and he wins out in the end, even though it’s a minute victory that will likely never be recorded in history books. He’s just a simple man who was willing to sacrifice all credibility to stand up for what he thought was fair.