With the release of the big, muscly Conan The Barbarian this week, we thought we’d take a mosey back through some of the most insanely testosterone-filled movies in cinema history. These are the films that would punch your lights out soon as look at you, then seduce your sister will puffing on a cheroot and carrying a mini-gun in the other hand. These are man’s films, and they will make every man in the land (with the possible exception of The Rock) feel a tiny bit inadequate. Welcome to macho movies…
*The director: John McTiernan
**Macho men*: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall
There are few films that swim as deep in testosterone as Predator. The opening salvo in John McTiernan’s can-do-no-wrong period, this sci-fi action film builds up the tension expertly, periodically leavening the suspense with lots and lots of bullets. The cast – permanently grimy and sweatier than a Turkish sauna – quite literally bulge from uniforms that cannot contain their biceps. And the biceps are the least of their manliness. Mac (Ventura) blasts a misleadingly named minigun usually found bolted to a helicopter; scout Billy (Landham) carves his own chest as he prepares to face his nemesis; leader Dutch (Schwarzenegger) ends up going mano-a-high-explosive with the dreadlocked alien beastie. At one point, on the flimsiest of provocations, they lay waste to a swathe of ancient rainforest in a storm of high-calibre bullets. Seriously: Do. Not. Mess.
*Macho line:* “I ain’t got time to bleed.” (Blain)
*Can bench press:* A goddamn sexual Tyrannosaurus
*The director: Justin Lin
**Macho men:* **Vin Diesel, The Rock, Paul Walker, Tyrese, Ludacris
This franchise has sometimes walked the line of homoeroticism (2 Fast 2 Furious, we’re looking at you), but in this, the fifth and best of the lot, the dial is turned firmly to “macho”. That’s down to two things: more ridiculous stunts and car chases than ever, and the presence of the mighty Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a worthy antagonist for Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto. As US Diplomatic Security Service Agent Luke Hobbs, he’s sweatier than even the Predator commandos, and makes even Arnie look a bit weedy. Director Justin Lin recently told Empire that the epic Diesel Vs Rock fight “was originally three times as long. It had its own three-act structure, with character motivations for every move.” Frankly, it still feels as though it does even in shorter form. Just feel all that brawn sizzle.
*Macho line:* “We talkin’ or we racin’?” (Dominic Toretto)
*Can bench press: Two Dodge Chargers and *the safe they’re dragging behind
*The directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
**Macho men*: Jason Statham, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam, Jose Pablo Cantillo
In terms of sheer demented carnage, this is the pinnacle of the modern action movie, the crazed bar that’s so high, there is no bar anymore. The adventures of hitman Chev Chelios (a never-better Statham), poisoned with “some Chinese shit” before the film starts and left to find an antidote during the short time that remains him, might be same old, same old, but for one wrinkle. Chelios’ particular poison can only be fended off by keeping his adrenaline levels high, causing him to start fights, steal cars, snort cocaine, perform bike stunts and co-opt his girlfriend into public sex in order to keep that buzz going. It’s an outlandish, bizarre film that could only have come from the minds of Neveldine and Taylor, possibly the least inhibited and most alpha-male directors working today. Much of it would be offensive if it weren’t so profoundly aware of its own ridiculousness. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll gasp at the sheer ballsiness of it all.
*Macho line:* “I’m the Terminator.” (Chev Chelios)
*Could bench press:* A motorbike ridden by a man in a hospital gown.
*The director: Kathryn Bigelow
**Macho men*: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, John C McGinley, James LeGros
How can a film, directed by an Oscar-winning woman during the touchy-feely '90s and featuring Ted “Theodore” Logan and him from that film your girlfriend loves, possibly be macho? Well, maybe because Point Break is all about the adrenaline rush; the love of danger and livin’ on the edge, as Aerosmith so memorably put it. Consider Keanu’s increasingly combative attitude to his boss (“I caught my first tube today. Sir.”), or Bodhi’s batshit approach to bank robbery (“Little hand says it’s time to rock and roll.”). If nothing else, this could earn its place on the list for the brilliant foot chase between Keanu’s cop and Bodhi’s robber, finishing as Reeves’ Johnny Utah fires his gun in the air and goes “aaaah” (as another action movie described it). And hell, as the only major Western film with the balls to make a Buddhist the bad guy, this deserves a spot.
*Macho line:* “100% pure adrenaline!” (Bodhi)
*Could bench press:* A vanload of bank-robbing surfers. Dude.
*The director: Tony Scott
**Macho men*: Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, Matt Craven, George Dzundza
Submarines are inherently manly places, what with women generally not being allowed to serve on them (until recently anyway). But some submarine movies are more macho than others, and this one just pips the likes of Das Boot because it features a clash of the titans as Captain Gene Hackman faces off against cautious Executive Officer Denzel Washington. While The Hunt For Red October centred on an intellectual puzzle and an act of daring, this one’s a pure pissing contest, with undisputed champ Hackman facing a pretender to his throne in Washington’s new Navy man. Admittedly, there’s a blip of machismo here when they digress to talk comics for a moment (macho men rarely geek out), but we’re willing to overlook it amid all the nuclear weaponry.
*Macho line:* “All I ask is that you keep up with me. If you can't, then that strange sensation you'll be feeling in the seat of your pants will be my boot in your ass!” (Captain Ramsay)
*Could bench press:* A couple of torpedos.
*The director: Rowdy Herrington
**Macho men*: Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara, Marshall R. Teague
Another film starring the Dirty Dancing guy? Actually yes. This is the one where Patrick Swayze hangs out with paragon-of-manliness Sam Elliott (anyone who can carry off that moustache is pretty gosh-darn manly if you ask us) and then rips a guy’s throat out with his bare hands. This is also the one where he starts off doing tai chi and faffing about some country house with Kelly Lynch, and ends up going postal on a world of ne’er-do-wells. Also, he rips a guy’s throat out with his bare hands. Dalton may claim that “nobody wins a fight”, but frankly most people would say the winner is the guy who ripped the other guy’s throat out. His “My way or the highway” line is closer to the brawny, macho truth than his professed peace-loving persona.
Macho line: “Pain don’t hurt.” (Dalton)
Could bench press: An entire bar full of rednecks.
*The director: Mark L. Lester
**Macho men*: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, Bill Duke, David Patrick Kelly
While Predator is, by some distance, the better movie, Commando is so ludicrously macho that it earns Arnie a second place on this list. After all, this is where he gets most of his cheesiest kiss-off lines (“Let off some steam, Bennett”) and where he shows least consideration for such niceties as realism or character development. Arrayed against a team of pumped-up rapscallions, Arnie will stop at nothing and balk at no bad pun in his quest to recover his daughter from her kidnappers and, incidentally, prevent a corrupt dictator from regaining his country. Yes: this is a man so tough that he can single-handedly enact regime change. Take that, NATO.
*Macho line:* “I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I'm very hungry!”
*Could bench press:* A platoon of Green Berets.
*The director: Peter MacDonald
**Macho men*: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Kurtwood Smith, Marc de Jonge, Spiros Focas
Rocky may have the plaudits, the underdog story and the character development, but Rambo – and in particular this most ludicrous of Rambo instalments – has the brawn, and a story that has inspired a million rip-offs. There Rambo is, stick-fighting by night and building a Buddhist temple by day, when his old CO turns up to ask for his help running Stinger missiles to the embattled Afghans during the Soviet invasion. Rambo refuses – because, as only macho men can, he has foresworn violence – but immediately changes his mind when Trautman is captured by the baddies. Cue cliff-scaling, helicopter-flying, Molotov-cocktail-lobbing, and a game of chicken between a tank and a chopper. No film has ever been more ‘80s.
*Macho line: “God would have mercy. He *won’t.” (Colonel Trautman)
*Could bench-press:* A T-72.
*The director: John Huston
**Macho men*: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow, Pele, Bobby Moore
Real men, it is regularly suggested, love football as much as they hate Nazis. So men who play football as a means of confronting Nazis must be seriously masculine individuals. But you know what’s even masculine-ier? Deciding not to enact your escape plan at the half-time break (oranges are for losers!) because you want to stay and beat the Nazi scum into the ground – even though, by staying, you risk the plan failing and/or execution. That takes some seriously brass cojones. Based on the true story of the Dynamo Kiev team who played their Nazi overlords and (largely) died in work camps for their troubles, this may have a more feelgood ending and an unconvincing effort by Stallone to get to grips with the beautiful game, but it’s a veritable paean to macho.
*Macho line:* “But we can win this!” (Doug Clure)
*Could bench press:* A squad of Nazi prison guards.
*The director: Sam Peckinpah
**Macho men*: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson
If you gave Red Dead Redemption the sort of drugs he took in Jacob’s Ladder, the result would look a bit like The Wild Bunch. Sam Peckinpah was probably the most macho director in history, able to drink even John Huston under the table (we reckon) and a purveyor of then-shocking levels of violence and butch recklessness. The film opens with a lengthy scene of bloody carnage and even the quiet moments, with grizzled men grunting around campfires, ooze testosterone. And then there’s the ending, a hailstorm of bullets sheeting across the screen and leaving, well, not much. This is a bleak, brooding view of manhood, but maybe the most powerful of the lot.
*Macho line:* “If they move, kill ‘em.” (Pike Bishop)
*Could bench press:* Gyms are for wimps. These guys pump shotguns not iron.
The director: Aaron Norris
*Macho men:* Chuck Norris, Billy Drago, John P. Ryan, Richard Jaeckel, Paul Perri
You didn’t really think we were going to get through this list without Chuck Norris delivering at least one roundhouse kick to the head, did you? Honestly. This one has it all: unnecessary plot complications, quests for vengeance by both good and bad guys, hostage rescue, helicopters, gun battles and all the rest. And at the centre of it, standing like an oak tree who occasionally breaks out the martial arts, is Chuck himself. We can’t help thinking that deciding to call it “The Colombian Connection” rather undermines the effort of setting most of the action in the fictional country of San Carlos, but no-one ever said that “macho” and “logical” were synonymous. Quite the opposite, judging by most of these movies.
*Macho line:* “See, you ain't nothing but a chickenshit pussy asshole who lives on the misery and suffering of others. And when it comes for you, you'll be crying like a baby.” (Colonel Scott McCoy)
*Could bench press: Most of Columbia. Sorry, we mean San Carlos*.
The director: Ted Post
Macho men: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Mitchell Ryan, David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich, Felton Perry
Clint Eastwood is sufficiently manly that his entire filmography could be included here (okay, maybe not The Bridges Of Madison County, but even Paint Your Wagons sees him being pretty masculine) but we’ve chosen one of his Dirty Harry outings because, well, you have to admire a man who earned the nickname “Dirty” and who carries “the most powerful handgun in the world". This second outing for the San Francisco cop sees him take on plane hijackers, corrupt cops, gangsters and – worst of all – a bleeding-heart boss who’s never fired a gun in the line of duty. Can you imagine. It also sees him chowing down on a dripping burger while an old buddy talks him through grisly crime scenes of days gone by, which sums up his central appeal: total unflappability.
Macho line: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” (‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan)
Could bench press: Do you have the balls to ask him to bench press something?
*The director: Zack Snyder
**Macho men*: Gerard Butler, Michael Fassbender, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Tom Wisdom
Once upon a time, 300 Spartans and a handful of allies really did hold a narrow pass against an army of (at least) a quarter of a million Persians for three vital days. They really were the paragons of invincibility that others on this list only pretend to be, and so the cast of movie adaptation 300 (and director Zack Snyder) had to dig deep and put up with a training regime of surpassing toughness to prove themselves worthy of their roles (and fit into those leather pants). Most of the coolest lines here come from the historical record: when told that the Persian arrows will “block out the sun”, the Spartans really did vow to “fight in the shade”; when told to throw down their arms, the reply really was “Come and get them”. For all the snark about homoeroticism (just ‘cause they’re buff and nearly naked) we can’t help thinking that most of their accusers are jealous. Take one look, and you’ll believe these three centuries could hold back an empire.
*Macho line:* “Tonight we dine in HELL!” (Leonidas)
*Could bench-press:* The entire Persian army.
*The director: Joseph Zito
**Macho men*: Dolph Lundgren, M. Emmet Walsh, Al White, T.P.McKenna
Let’s be fair: in the Cold War, there were manly men on both sides. And there were none more manly than Dolph Lundgren who, despite being Swedish, embodied the Soviet ideal onscreen through most of the 1980s. And why not? As we can confirm from his visit to Empire, he’s roughly the size of Belgium and still looks like he could beat Rocky in a punch up. This rather cheesey ‘80s effort sees him as a Russian agent who decides to switch sides and fight against his own forces, after which he pretty much single-handedly wins freedom and democracy for an entire nation and thereby earns a place on this list. Bonus point for surviving torture and emerging with nothing but excess rage too.
Macho line: “This is such a small space... and this is such a very big grenade!” (Colonel Zayas)
*Could bench press:* A Mi-24 Hind
*The director: Simon West
**Macho men*: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo, Nick Chinlund, Mykelti Williamson
This film has its cake and eats it: it’s simultaneously an insanely macho film and a piss-take of same (see also: Fast Five). After all, who casts Nicolas Cage as your hardman hero and John Malkovich as principal antagonist without at least nodding to the ridiculousness of the situation? Who makes Steve Buscemi the scariest member of the cast? Who thought Cameron Poe’s hair was a good idea? Even the brawny face-offs are a trifle insane: the “Put the bunny back in the box” ultimatum is merely one example of the script going so macho it’s mental. Whichever way you look at it, there are sufficient explosions, crashes, killings, punches and gun battles in this to satisfy. The hero even walks away from a fireball, as all macho men must eventually do.
*Macho line:* “What do you think I'm gonna do? I'm gonna save the fuckin' day!” (Cameron Poe)
*Could bench press:* A lot of bunnies, in a lot of boxes.