From the 1980s to right now, Kurt Russell has been consistently delivering infamous badass characters to the silver screen ever since he injured out of his side-passion of professional baseball. He was often a one of a kind and sometimes ahead of his time. He’s set trends, defied conventions and gone toe-to-toe with some of the action movie elite.
Through the cult hits of yesteryear and the blockbuster franchises of today, Kurt Russell has given audiences some unforgettable performances as some unstoppable badasses. Here’s our countdown of some of his most badass characters ever.
10 Mr. Nobody (The Fast & Furious Franchise)
Mr. Nobody has been one of the latter day additions to the ever-widening team of Car Avengers. Think of him as an automotive Nick Fury. Nobody really knows anything about Mr. Nobody, because Mr. Nobody doesn’t really exist. He’s a government ghost who shows up where the bad guys are and disappears when they’re dealt with.
Mr. Nobody is the kind of guy who can stare down The Rock, Jason Statham and Vin Diesel all on their worst days and do it with a grin. The guy is afraid of nothing and you can tell that he’s into the entertaining carnage that his agents cause. We’re looking forward to seeing more of him down the road.
9 Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Bone Tomahawk)
The first of several Western characters played by the great actor, Sheriff Hunt has to track down and kill a vicious group of cannibalistic ne'er-do-wells. Hunt is a real man’s-gotta-do-what-a-man’s-gotta-do archetype and nobody could have played him better than Russell. Faced by the most fearsome enemies you could imagine, and the most awful acts you could witness, he never gives up and turns that potential fear right into fighting rage.
So much of what makes Bone Tomahawk difficult to watch isn’t just the grossness of its horror (though it is 100% not for the faint hearted). It’s the emotionality of the actors’ performances that makes you care about the characters put through this grim ordeal. Sheriff Hunt has no time for tears, but you may shed a few for him.
8 Lt. Gabriel Cash (Tango & Cash)
The only cop tough enough to rival Sylvester Stallone’s Ray Tango, Gabriel Cash is a laid back shirt and jeans guy to Tango’s immaculate Armani suits. Sporting a hand cannon bigger than Stallone’s bicep and another gun hidden in the heel of his cowboy boot, Cash is a force to be reckoned with.
The top cop in east L.A., Cash is the kind of guy who gets shot twice before breakfast and complains about his shirt being ruined. Both the characters and the movie are kind of a tongue-in-cheek swansong to the buddy cop action movies of the 80s, and Cash is a true emblem of both Russell’s career and the entire genre at that time.
7 Wyatt Earp (Tombstone)
Russell’s interpretation of the legendary lawman was one for the history books. Tombstone was, in fact, one of three movies about the life and times of Wild West legend Wyatt Earp that came out in the space of a year; confusingly titled Tombstone, Wyatt Earp and Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone.
These were hard times for hard people and Russell fits right in. There’s surprisingly little John Wayne in there from a guy who does such a good impression of him, but that’s for the best. Earp was the real-life character that Wayne pretended to be. Plus, aside from all that, Russell’s own kind of charismatic charm is what made Tombstone the best of all of those movies and the top contemporary representation of Earp.
6 John Ruth (The Hateful Eight)
Yet another Western, this is the one where the John Wayne impression really came in handy. John Ruth (like all of the characters in the movie) isn’t meant to be particularly likeable, but he’s basically a moral center in relation to the messed up events of the story.
Known as ‘The Hangman’, for reasons that are pretty self-explanatory, John Ruth is a notorious and feared lawman in Tarantino’s bloody Western world. Russell got so wrapped in the freight train power of his badass performance, in fact, that he accidentally smashed a nearly-150-year-old guitar to smithereens. You can see it in the final cut of the movie, along with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s genuinely shocked reaction.
5 Todd 3465 (Soldier)
Todd 3465 was trained for every waking moment of his life since birth to be an unforgiving, unfeeling, soldier. When he meets his match against a younger, genetically engineered model however, he’s literally tossed out with the trash. In his new-found home on a planet made of garbage, Todd learns about the important stuff in life – like crying and hugs.
When his replacements show up to his doorstep looking for trouble, though, he doesn’t back down. Todd is basically space Rambo, a one-man killing machine who you never even see coming. Russell only speaks about a hundred words in the whole movie but it’s more than enough to get the point. The man’s a badass on any planet.
4 Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil (Stargate)
Funnily enough, Russell often isn’t even the actor most closely associated with this role. That honor very often goes to the original MacGyver, Richard Dean Anderson, from the ensuing TV show Stargate SG-1. Nonetheless, Russell is still the king.
Colonel O’Neil is brought in to lead a team through the mysterious Stargate of the movie, not knowing where it leads or if there’s any hope of coming back. This doesn’t bother Jack so much as he’s stricken by the accidental death of his young son. On his adventure to save Earth from the godlike beings – who resemble Egyptian deities – at the other end of the Stargate, he gets his mojo back and finds the time to deliver one of the most uniquely badass one-liners of action movie history: “Give my regards to King Tut, a**hole.”
3 Jack Burton (Big Trouble in Little China)
Nobody has ever brought out the badass best in Kurt Russell quite like John Carpenter. The two had a career together that felt like the B-movie version of Scorsese and De Niro. One of their most under-appreciated creations was Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China.
As revisionists have pointed out, Jack Burton is a truly unique character for not only that period in American cinema but the history of cinema altogether. That’s what made Kurt Russell cooler than John Wayne could ever have been. He didn’t need to be right all the time, or take the limelight all the time, to be a badass.
2 Snake Plissken (Escape from New York)
Snake Plissken was born out of Kurt Russell’s and John Carpenter’s mutual disagreement with the maxim that no men are islands. He’s so badass that you have to literally put a bomb in his neck just to convince him to save the president. Snake is the epitome of looking out for numero uno and it’s hard not to agree with his perspective.
His stealth mission skills, ruthless survival instincts and tenacious fighting style made him a legend in the cult movie world. His image is only somewhat marred by the far sillier Escape from L.A., which features a little less badassness and a lot more surfing.
1 MacReady (The Thing)
An unspoiled, immovable slice of badassery. Russell’s third reteaming with John Carpenter may have been the high point of both their careers. MacReady is a man so stubbornly stoic that he’d rather freeze to death than risk defeat for himself and humanity. It’s hard not to respect the heck out of that.
MacReady doesn’t like anybody and he doesn’t trust anybody. Usually those wouldn’t be desirable qualities in an isolated work environment, but throw in a shapeshifting, man-eating alien and all of a sudden he’s not so bad. Even as a human popsicle, the man is more badass than any of us could ever hope of being.