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I’ll admit a cheat right off the bat here, some of these time-hardened action legends are 55 bang-on, so don’t hold that technicality against me. Sure they might smell like urine and denture cream but this bunch of geriatrics could still pound you into the ground. Many of these actors have had truly amazing careers and clearly they are not inclined to shuffle their way to the nursing home anytime soon.
To prematurely affront myself in anticipation of criticism, former action stars don’t count, nor do those that have retired from acting or those who are dead (as far over 55 as they may be). In honor of the comic book adaptation RED, featuring more than its share of aging ass-kickers, let’s grab our walkers and take a blood-soaked trip down memory lane with the greatest over-the-hill, but not in-the-ground action stars.
Honourable Mentions: Jean Claude Van Damme, Mickey Rourke
10. Samuel L. Jackson (61)
As seen kicking ass in: Pulp Fiction, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, Star Wars” Episode I, II & III, Shaft, The Incredibles
Starring in more than a dozen action films over his extremely fruitful career, Samuel L. Jackson rarely finds himself in the “star” role so to speak, but easily finds ways to become memorable when held against the lead. His first bona fide action debut would come in Die Hard: With a Vengeance in 1995 opposite the quintessential name-taker Bruce Willis. From there, it was all uphill and now
9. Kurt Russell (59)
As seen kicking ass in: Escape from
It seemed after a red-hot ’80s career that Kurt Russell was on his way out of the arena, undone by younger blood and big budget special effects. He had his brushes with success as often as he had failures in the 2000s, bouncing from gritty cop dramas such as Dark Blue to the inspiration sports film Miracle, from Sky High to Poseidon. But after actors like Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone were found unavailable, Quentin Tarantino reminded everyone of just how essential Russell was to the movies at large when he was cast as Stuntman Mike, in one half of the Grindhouse double bill Death Proof. Though it seems as if that winning role did little to boost his standing as a viable badass, Kurt Russell for his character of Snake Plisken alone, easily makes the cut.
8. Clint Eastwood (80)
As seen kicking ass in: Dirty Hairy, Unforgiven, Gran Torino, In the Line of Fire, Every western ever made
At the tender young age of 78, Clint Eastwood debuted his surprise smash hit Gran Torino to the tune of $270 million worldwide in 2008, directing himself as the growling veteran Walt Kowalski to critical acclaim and audience adoration. He hinted that it may be his last foray into acting, but I for one trust we will see him again. This late-career resurgence was merely the icing on Eastwood’s 50-year-long career which saw him embody any number of classic cowboys, secret agents and the forever iconic Dirty Harry Callahan. Eastwood’s acting career has been understandably winding down as of late, though the prolific director still manages to produce Oscar-quality films once a year when most men of his maturity would need a cane just to stand. Not the young sprite he once was, but still capable of making us believe he could knock out some teeth, Clint Eastwood will forever be a film legend in every capacity.
As seen kicking ass in: The “Terminator” Trilogy, True Lies, Total Recall, Predator, Commando
Like Eastwood, Arnold “The Governor” Schwarzenegger is “retired” from acting, but clearly not to the extent that he can’t slip away from his political duties for a cameo in the star-packed The Expendables just this year. Simply put, Schwarzenegger is synonymous with the action genre; he is it and it is him. Even at 56 he returned to his iconic role as the T-800 in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and while fans might not have been unanimously accepting of that James Cameron-less installment, few argued he couldn’t carry himself in the role. Schwarzenegger has hinted on numerous occasions he would like to return to some form of acting when his term as Governor expires and frankly that day can’t come soon enough. You need only remember back to the audience reaction of his digitalized return in Terminator: Salvation to realize that nobody has tired of this action legend.
6. John Travolta (56)
As seen kicking ass in: Faceoff, Swordfish, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, From
When you think John Travolta, likely corny dancing and Olivia Newton John come racing to mind. Secondary to that thought, but certainly close to primary in his long career, is his presence in the action genre. Either as hero or villain, Travolta has been a welcome staple for over a decade. Since his against-type turn in
5. Jackie Chan (56)
As seen kicking ass in: The “Rush Hour” Trilogy, Supercop,
Jackie Chan is by far one of the most impressive inclusions on this list and not just because he has conquered action stardom worldwide. Unlike the Tom Cruises and Nicolas Cages of our time, Chan still performs most of (if not all) his own stunts. Ambivalent to personal injury, he is a true artist even five-and-a-half decades deep. The “Rush Hour” films are the types of stunt-heavy movies you don’t see much anymore, and Chan’s inherent charm and innocent badassery always make him an utter joy to watch on screen. His surprise debut hit Rumble in the Bronx showed North American audiences something delightfully new and since that day, every few years, we are treated again. Jackie Chain is perhaps the purest action star on this list, so let’s hope his body gives him a few more good ones.
4. Harrison Ford (68)
As seen kicking ass in: The “Indiana Jones” Series, Air Force One, The “Star Wars” Trilogy, Blade Runner, Clear and Present Danger
There are so many action legends on this list that it’s truly hurting my brain to discuss them all in one go. Harrison Ford is one of such icons and one of the few that always has been a pure action presence in
3. Denzel Washington (55)
As seen kicking ass in: Man on Fire, American Gangster, Training Day, The Book of Eli, Glory
Even in Oscar-caliber efforts, Denzel Washington can still roll with the baddest of destructive personalities working today. His bold screen presence, coupled with the option of a truly icy demeanor, makes Denzel a force to be reckoned with regardless of the situation. Place him in a pure action setting such as in the now cult-favorite Man on Fire (or any other Tony Scott effort for that matter), and you usually have one of the better action flicks of that year. His more serious but equally (if not more) brutal role in the Oscar-winning Training Day shows he can effortlessly play a true character while still embodying his trademark swagger. While many would not consider him as such, Denzel Washington is by far one of the greatest action icons of the last decade.
2. Bruce Willis (55)
As seen kicking ass in: The “Die Hard” Series, The Fifth Element,
Even though he may not be the draw he once was, you have to give serious props to Bruce Willis for sticking hard to his action movie roots. Unlike a number of actors on this docket, Willis has rarely forayed into anything but shoot-em-ups. He has done dramatic cameos, and sure I guess you could call The Whole Ten Yards comedy, but hey, even that is part action. You can’t blame the man for some poorer efforts as his smile-inducing blend of wry humor and destruction is what made the “Die Hard” series the phenomenon it was (a fifth installment is also on the way). He evokes the everyman even when leaping off buildings and christened the staple of a reluctant action star with the original Die Hard. But even with that juicy niche, Willis rarely phones in a performance — a natural screen presence and still virile at 55.
1. Sylvester Stallone (64)
As seen kicking ass in: The Expendables, The “Rambo” Series, Cliffhanger, The “Rocky” Series, Demolition Man
Of everyone on this list, Sylvester Stallone is the only man actively placing his classic characters (and a few new ones) in the path of danger directing himself in action films and bloodying his body despite rounding on 65. Glancing over this countdown I can’t pick out another (besides perhaps Eastwood) that seems forever eager to possess an action movie mantra. Aside from regularly (and simultaneously) providing us with two action legends in the forms of Rocky and Rambo, he anchored any number of classic ’80s action films not to mention directing countless others over the course of two decades. Stallone has already launched into a sequel to The Expendables in addition to showing interest in a Cliffhanger follow-up. Veiny muscles and a melting face have done little to diminish the legend that is Sylvester Stallone and if I possess even an iota of his spark at that age then I will consider myself lucky. For a legacy of classic action films that continues to grow, Stallone is our number one ass-whooping geezer.