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13 Most Badass Assassins from Film and Television8

By Chris Littler

All assassins are by default badass. Don’t take us the wrong way – we’re not saying it’s cool to kill people for a living. We’d never say that. All we’re saying is, when a man or woman gives up on their 9-5 life and journeys silencer-first into the seedy underworld of contract killing, he or she has become a genuinely interesting person, which, to us, is badass.

To further illustrate the point, imagine meeting someone who murders people for a living at a bar. Imagine all the wonderful stories he would have: that time he chased a mark through the congested streets of Vienna, blowing a woman’s head off in front of a jam-packed merry-go-round, going toe-to-toe with an evenly-matched assassin of the opposite sex and then falling in love over knife wounds. It’d almost be worth the inevitable moment when you realize that this seemingly innocuous bar conversation was just a set-up, and your Long Island Ice Tea has more poison in it than the Three Mile kind.

Fiction is filled with colorful hired-killers. These are people that we root for even though we know they’d kill us if the price was right. Take introverted hit man Frank, the protagonist of the dramatic action series No Clean Break. When he’s hired to assassinate the woman he loves, he makes himself the mark and sets into motion a chain of events that leaves a long trail of bodies to clean up. Ladies love a man that will kill for love.

We love to fear them, and we’d love to meet them. Here are 13 assassins that put the bad in badass.

No Clean Break – Episode 1

1. Martin Blank – Grosse Pointe Blank

Martin Blank (John Cusack) is a hitman having a mid-life crisis. He doesn’t enjoy his work any more and doesn’t know what to do about the Grocer (a rival hit man who has aims to cartelize the business). He receives an invitation to his 10-year high school reunion and, despite initial protests, is convinced by his psychiatrist and secretary to go, where he falls back in love with the girl he abandoned to pursue his homicidal interests. Blank is the perfect start to our badass assassin list because he’s one of the most well-rounded in the bunch. He’s badass because he doesn’t let his job define him. But he’s a human being with hopes and aspirations who just so happens to make a living killing other human beings who have hopes and aspirations.

2. Leon – Leon: The Professional

It’s really a miracle that Leon (Jean Reno) doesn’t come across as a despicable character. Not only does he murder a lot of people, including a bunch of cops that were just doing their jobs (and a handful of the dirty kind), but he takes in an over sexualized young girl named Matilda, who he teaches how to kill people. Normally that’d be two strikes too many against a character, but Leon pulls it off by being a wide-eyed innocent. He takes in Matilda because he knows it’s the right thing to do, and events only spiral out of control because Matilda makes them so. Leon eventually does what every badass must do to achieve immortality: give his life for a noble cause.

3. John Casey – Chuck

John Casey (Adam Baldwin) is a one-man war machine trained in espionage and hand-to-hand combat. That’s what makes his undercover position as a salesman at the Buy More so depressing to watch. Here’s a man who knows how to do one thing well: break people in half unapologetically. When Buy More employee Chuck Bartowski (Zach Levi) downloads the Intersect into is brain, Casey is the NSA’s agent on the inside. Little could Casey know how long and deep this undercover mission would be, but it’s proving to be the biggest of his life.

4. Jason Bourne – The Bourne Identity

We can all relate to someone who doesn’t know who they are. Not that we’re a nation of amnesiacs. We are just constantly in search of our true purpose. Turns out David Webb, a.k.a. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), was meant to be a certified killing machine. After a mission goes wrong, Bourne is shot in the back and wakes up with his memory gone. With the help of a young woman he takes hostage, Bourne eventually realizes who he is and gets to work trying to escape his former life. There’s nothing more endearing than a man trying to make up for lost time – while discovering he had almost superhuman combat skills.

5. Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) sees himself as an agent of fate, the walking embodiment of all that must come to pass. He lets a coin toss decide the fate of many of his victims, and we’re never quite sure if he’s actually playing by his own twisted set of rules or not. What makes Chigurh so captivating to watch is that he seems to take a sick joy from a joyless profession. Only in the end is he slapped out of his walking coma and acts out of a desperation that is, finally, chillingly human.

6. The Jackal – The Day of the Jackal

From the point we meet the Jackal (Edward Fox) to the moment his casket is lowered in a grave, we learn next to nothing about who he is. That ambiguity makes him one of the most interesting characters committed to the screen. All we know is that he does his job well. He’s been hired to take out Charles du Gaulle for the glory of France. Each moment we’re with him, we learn a little more about how he plans on going about this plot but never where he got so damn good at doing it. We hang on his every word (of which there are few). In the end, the man who we thought he might be walks in the door and asks what people are doing in his house, confirming our assumptions that we’re never going to know who the Jackal really is. All we can be sure of is this: it’s definitely not Bruce Willis.

7. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson – The Wire

Master of Horror Stephen King called Snoop (Felicia Pearson) the “most terrifying female villain ever to appear in a television series.” Rightfully so, as Snoop is one cold-hearted killer. She’s the muscle for the Stanfield organization, killing as many people as she has to to get people to understand that Marlo means business. She seems to have little to no problem with ending the lives of people she’s never met. She knows that a good soldier never questions her leader. At one point well into the series, Snoop grows tired of concealing her crimes and steals the security badge off a guard she’s killed. It’s a chilling moment of boastfulness in a woman who clearly has no idea there’s difference between right and wrong. I guess even assassins need a little variety in their work.

8. Jules and Vincent – Pulp Fiction

Samuel L. Jackson has been in over two-hundred movies and will probably be in two-hundred more over the next decade, but I have a hard time believing he’ll ever have a scene with more power than when he delivers his biblical speech to Frank Whaley before shooting him dead in Pulp Fiction. Of Marcellus Wallace’s two soldiers (that we know of), Jules (Jackson) is clearly the powerhouse here. Vincent (John Travolta) is more meek and thoughtful and pays dearly for his lack of professionalism. But together, they balance each other out. The comfort level between these two guys who kill people together is astonishing. They’re perfectly cool with talking about whatever – foot rubs, hamburgers, pigs.

9. T-800 – The Terminator

There have been a lot of terminators over the years, but we still think the original is the most badass. You can have the T-1000 and his reflective gooey body or his pale, too-beautiful-to- function-as-an-assassin imitation, the T-X. We’ll take the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the one from the original programmed to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to the future leader of the resistance. We love how obvious he looks and how poorly he is at speaking English. He’s the human that robots would design, thinking they know what human beings are like.

10. Nina Myers – 24

As viewers, we spent the first 22 hours of 24 warming up to and falling in love with tough as nails CTU Agent Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke). Then she went and did a bad thing, and we fell even harder. Sure, we liked Jack’s wife and think she definitely deserved to live, but the fact that Nina Myers is so cold and heartless made something inside us snap. We wanted more, and thankfully were given it. Over the course of the next two seasons, Nina popped in and out of the storyline, dancing around a vengeful Jack just long enough to piss him off and narrowly make it out alive. We loved her, we hated her, and we were sad to see her go, even though we knew that’s the way it had to go down.

11. Ah Jong/Jeffery – The Killer

Ah Jong (Chow Yun Fat) is a Hong Kong assassin with a heart of gold. On a mission to kill a Triad leader, he mistakenly damages the eyes of a young nightclub singer. Wracked with guilt, Ah Jong decides to take on one last mission to pay to repair her eyes. Of course, this turns out to be the mission that spirals out of control, and Ah Jong gets himself in deep with the leader of the Triad and an all-too-capable police detective. We’re rooting for Ah Jong the entire time because he lives his life with honor, even in a world that rarely – if ever – seems to reward it.

12. Bill – Kill Bill

Bill (David Carradine) deserves to die. This we know for sure. He shot Beatrix Kiddo, aka The Bride, aka Black Mamba, on her wedding day, while she was with child. He’s a horrible man, and the last thing we ever expected was to warm up to the guy in the final moments of the second film, Kill Bill Volume 2. Normally, in the climactic battle between good and evil, good is at its most good and evil at its most evil. In Kill Bill, the sides are a little muddied. Beatrix has done some horrible things to get where she is, and Bill has done some good things to make up for the mistake he’s made. In the end, it’s the Bride who comes out on top. We have to salute a man who bravely takes the six steps needed to die from the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

WATCH: David Carradine in one of the last projects of his career – action series NO CLEAN BREAK

13. Nikita – La Femme Nikita (TV)

Unlike the Nikita from the original Luc Besson film, the 1990’s television series Nikita is about an innocent girl, framed by the government, who is trained to do their dirty work for them. Nikita does her best to maintain her moral integrity, despite her work. She doesn’t like what she does, but the company asserts that if she doesn’t, not only will she be “cancelled,” but innocent people may die. The more and more horrible things Section One did, the harder it got for Nikita to earn back her humanity. We couldn’t help but put ourselves in her place, and the result was a character we could root for.

No Clean Break – Episode 2

No Clean Break – Episode 3

Watch more episodes of the dramatic action series NO CLEAN BREAK

Chris Littler lives in Hollywood. He has a degree in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, one of the most prestigious writing programs in America, which he totally plans to hang on the wall when he has a Study. Chris currently covers video games at UGO.com when he’s not performing improv at iO, and is currently writing a one-hour TV pilot with his friend Wes. Like everyone else you know, he has an album available to purchase on iTunes and has lots of things to say on his blog: chrislittler[dot]com.

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Must Reads 8/27/2014