The newest installment of the never-ending Fast & Furious franchise comes out this week and, like Stallone’s Expendables series, the film is chock-full of badass, heavily ripped, action stars. Vin Diesel is a given, but this edition features the equally bald, jacked, and personality-lite Jason Statham. Add Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for good measure and you have a veritable action-hero fest. Of course, I would argue that it makes sense that the stars of Fast & Furious 7 are action movie heroes. They’re buff, they’re athletic, they’re equal parts indifferent and assertive, and you believe them capable of violence (for only the best reasons). But imagine an action movie populated with unlikely action heroes – the kind of men you may now take for granted as action hero types or perhaps ones that still seem rather off the mark. Many action stars started out as unlikely picks, and some still just make no sense – and here is a list of some of those unlikely and surprising heroes.
6. Chris Pratt
Chris Pratt is on everyone’s mind these days, in large part because the goofy, doughy Andy Dwyer of Parks and Recreation has suddenly morphed into everyone’s goofy action star. He buffed up big time to play Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy and now he’s the raptor-training, dinosaur hunting, games keeper of the newest Jurassic Park sequel. What now seems like a hidden-in-plain-sight opportunity for Pratt was once kind of unthinkable. Sure, he’s got comedic timing and tons of personality – but no one ever needed personality to be an action star, and film editors can fake the timing. Pratt represents a new breed of action star – the goofy, lovable kind that suffers nothing in sexiness or badassery because of it.
5. Michael Keaton
Another comedic actor turned action star, Michael Keaton was an unusual choice to play the Dark Knight back when he was first cast in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Batman. We know now just how capable and canny a choice he was, but critics then could only see the star of movies like Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously, and Beetlejuice. Keaton went on to star in action/thrillers like Desperate Measures, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight, proving to be an edgy and humorous action star. Even his inspired performance in Birdman had a hint of the action hero to it, due especially to his character’s unstable nature and his own performance as an iconic superhero.
4. Tobey Maguire
No one would ever think meek and awkward Tobey Maguire would be an action star before he was cast in Spiderman – and honestly, no one would consider him one afterwards either. But for one brief moment, Maguire was swinging from skyscrapers and battling bad guys like he was born to be a hero. During the casting process, Maguire was under some tough scrutiny. Everyone knew he would make a good Peter Parker – the geeky boy next door – but would be make a good Spiderman? Look up Maguire’s screen test and you’ll be quickly convinced. In fact, I would argue the screen test was some of his best work in the role.
3. Robert Redford
While Redford is undoubtedly manly and rugged, there’s something so soft spoken and bookish about him that he seems more comfortable in a more intellectual role – that of artist, school teacher, or scientist. And it was the incorporation of exactly this aspect of Redford’s personality into his action roles that made him such a compelling action hero. His action roles were a little more cerebral – often centering around an intelligent everyman, usually a specialist in some field, being forced into action by the threat of violence or the need to thwart a dangerous plan or conspiracy. In Sneakers, he plays a legendary hacker, in The Sting he plays a canny con man, and in Three Days of the Condor he plays a CIA researcher. Even when he plays a bad guy in a movie like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he stands aloof, bespectacled, and more of a mastermind than a doer.
2. Liam Neeson
Lets be honest, no one ever thought Liam Neeson would be the big action star he is today, and we’re all still kind of shaking our heads in wonder over the whole thing, even as we line up to see Taken 4 – which I’m not totally convinced isn’t going to be a thing. I think it all started with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and his role as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. After that, the action roles started to trickle in, eventually leading to his breakout action role in Taken (2008). It’s all been one remake or variation of Taken ever since – if not in plot, then at least in style and main character. Have you ever tried distinguishing Unknown from Taken at a glance? Yeah, they’re pretty similar.
1. Joe Don Baker
Joe Don Baker is not an action star. But there was a time when he thought he could pull it off and made what turned out to be the subject of one of the best Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes of all time: Mitchell (1975). Baker is definitely more comfortable in the role of the sleazy, crude, sloppy, and incompetent, usually in a position of authority, and whose job it is to make the hero of the film’s life difficult. Baker takes these character qualities and puts them all into Mitchell – a lazy, insoucient, sloppy cop who bumbles around from one circumstance to another, drinking his nights away, and somehow talking a woman into going to bed with him. Mitchell doesn’t really need an antagonist, because the character spends enough time getting in his own way. The only really compelling thing about Mitchell is how he’s gotten as far in life as he has. Mitchell is an incredibly strange movie that doesn’t really seem to make any sense at all. I would, however, highly recommend seeing the MST3K episode. While Baker was reportedly unhappy about the ribbing he got from the crew of the Satellite of Love, it is a masterpiece of comedic writing and delivery, and will have you yelling “Mitchell” for days.