The 40 Toughest Movie Characters

The 40 Toughest Movie Characters
Movie, Fictional character, Games,

Michael Stillwell

There are a lot of ways to define toughness—from physicality and swagger to mental fortitude and strength of character—but as a film fan, you tend to know toughness when you see it. It’s the way the character is framed, the way the music swells, or the sheer odds the movie places in the protagonist’s way.

As such, some of the toughest men and women in film history are also some of the most beloved and heroic. Still others are shrewd, vengeful, and shockingly villainous. Whatever side they’re on, the iconic folks on this list are all unrelentingly feisty—but one character trumps the rest in terms of toughness. Click through to find out who.

*Warning: Some entries contain heavy spoilers.

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40. Forrest Bondurant (Lawless)

You could probably populate this list with just Tom Hardy characters. In Legend, he played twin gangsters who tore up London. In Bronson, his take on the titular serial killer was appropriately terrifying. Hell, even Bane in The Dark Knight Rises broke Batman’s back and nearly detonated a nuke in Gotham City.

But Forrest Bondurant, in 2012’s criminally underseen bootlegging thriller Lawless, remains Hardy’s most badass character. Known for being “invincible,” he survives a slit throat and multiple gun shots (as well as a fall through some thin ice), and deals with the perpetrators of crimes against him in 10 times as brutal fashion.

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39. Frank Lucas (American Gangster)

Like Hardy, Denzel Washington is an actor who could own a lot of real estate on a list like this, but none of his characters is as brazenly violent and intimidating as Lucas. In American Gangster, he executes a cheeky Idris Elba on a busy New York street in broad daylight, only to calmly take back his seat at a diner and finish his coffee.

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38. Adonis Creed (Creed)

Rocky Balboa is tough, but his protege, played by Michael B. Jordan, encompasses everything the word means in spades. He’s cut. He fights like a champion against stronger and faster competition. And he knows what fighting might cost him, yet he gets in the ring anyway.

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37. Vasquez (Aliens)

“Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?”

“No, have you?”

While Jenette Goldstein’s character didn’t survive her company’s mission on LV-426 in James Cameron’s epic action-horror sequel, no one can deny that this five-foot-two-inch firecracker slayed her fellow marines with words as well as she did a hostile hive of xenomorphs with her heavy artillery.

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36. Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas)

Like Tony Soprano or Vito Corleone, Joe Pesci’s ice-cold gangster from Goodfellas proves toughness doesn’t require six-pack abs or 18-inch biceps. Tommy might not beat any of his fellow wise guys in feats of strength or a foot race, but tell the guy he’s funny or forget to bring him his drink, and you might not make it out alive.

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35. James Bond

He’s more suave and sophisticated than brutish, but you have to be gritty to survive 24 world-saving missions over a half-century in the field, right? The Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan iterations of Bond don’t register much on the toughness scale, but Sean Connery and especially Daniel Craig (who literally laughed, naked, in the face of torturers) more than make up the difference.

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34. Alejandro Gillick (Sicario)

Benicio del Toro’s bloodthirsty assassin is out for revenge for the murder of his wife and daughter in this tense 2015 border thriller. He doesn’t ask questions, opting to kill from the shadows first, but if you do happen to get the jump on him (as someone does in the film’s 2018 sequel), make sure you finish the job and that he doesn’t walk away from the encounter with a bullet hole through his cheek. It won’t end well.

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33. Marv (Sin City)

Mickey Rourke plays this tough guy with a face that looks like it’s been tenderized like a steak. In Robert Rodriguez’s hyper-stylized noir, he goes after, and brutally kills, a cabal of cannibal priests who are responsible for the death of his prostitute girlfriend. After he confesses to the murders, he’s sentenced to death himself and takes multiple shocks on the electric chair before finally going down for the long goodnight.

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32. Rooster Cogburn (True Grit)

Jeff Bridges played Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 True Grit remake with classic whiskey-soaked Jeff Bridges wit. But in the original (a film for which John Wayne won his only Oscar), Cogburn is a one-eyed fat man with all the sufficient resolve of a film with this title and not much patience for anyone doing wrong by his charge, Mattie Ross.

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31. Chuck Noland (Cast Away)

Tom Hanks sort of feels like a surrogate dad whenever he’s on screen, and in Cast Away, he’s playing a FedEx executive—not a profession that makes this list more than once.

But what he does after his plane goes down on a totally deserted island is a portrait of physical and mental toughness. He removes his own diseased tooth, spears fish, engineers a raft for his escape, and most notably, says goodbye to his beloved volleyball, Wilson.

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30. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Avatar)

Stephen Lang plays the bad guy in James Cameron’s 2009 space war film with relish. He’s a man who looks, talks, and carries himself like he always has a cigar in his mouth. Quaritch takes actual joy in destroying the resources of Pandora, and nobody on any planet can rival him when it comes to operating gigantic robot gunners.

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29. Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

We’re not supposed to talk about this movie, but Brad Pitt’s character is a portrait of anarchy. He’s a guy who loves violence and relishes in it. It’s his art. And while Pitt is famous for eating a lot in most of his movies, he’s as fit as any human has ever been in this one.

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28. Luke Hobbs (The Fast and the Furious Series)

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been a collegiate football player, wrestling champion, and scorpion king, but in his most famous film role, he plays a government agent who flexes his way out of an arm cast, falls like a champ out of a multi-story building, and takes out a drone with an ambulance.

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27. Mulan

There’s nothing harder than going to war, unless you’re volunteering to do so to stop your elderly father from having to serve. That’s Mulan, and while she wouldn’t win a fist fight with some of the others on this list (she’s animated, for one), she’s cunning enough to almost single-handedly destroy her country’s invading enemies.

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26. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)

The Hunger Games is a bloody, horrifying competition in which teenagers murder one another until their numbers are whittled down from 24 to one. In its 75-year history, only one person from District 12 wins this competition … until Katniss shows up and does it twice.

Her weapon of choice is a bow and arrow, and after the Games, she uses it to lead the entire continent in a war against the oppressive Capital and its vindictive President Snow.

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25. Mallory Kane (Haywire)

About six people saw Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 action thriller starring MMA fighter Gina Carano, but those who did were rewarded with some incredibly choreographed and brutal fight scenes in which she kills Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, and Michael Fassbender (with Antonio Banderas ready for his reckoning in the film’s final shot).

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24. Ethan Hunt (The Mission: Impossible Series)

Tom Cruise’s biggest enemy in this six-film, 25-year-old franchise is gravity, and Cruise is undefeated. He’s climbed the world’s tallest tower (with magnetic gloves!), skydived through a lightning storm, clung to the side of a flying plane, and climbed a rock face without any equipment.

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23. Alex Honnold (Free Solo)

The only “character” from a non-fiction film on this list, Honnold also climbed a rock face without equipment. The difference between him and Ethan Hunt is that he does it for real. Like, for real for real. Definitely tough. Also kind of crazy.

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22. Han Solo

While he softened up a bit in his brief appearance in The Force Awakens, and we won’t speak of the guy’s ridiculous origin story, Han 1.0 was a total badass. He says “I know,” when his girl says she loves him. He basically saves the galaxy by dropping into Luke’s fight against the Death Star. And he shoots first! He definitely shoots first.

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21. Indiana Jones

Another Harrison Ford character who rather famously shoots first. While he loses his cool a little around snakes, he stays very cool when Nazi faces are melting all around him. He’s also the only person in human history to have survived an unscheduled, non-surgical heart removal and a nuclear blast in a refrigerator, and it seems unlikely anyone else will ever match him there.

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20. Dr. Ryan Stone (Gravity)

The opening title card of Alfonso Cuaron’s 2013 space survival flick tells us, “At 600 km above planet Earth, the temperature fluctuates between +258 and -148 degrees Fahrenheit. There is nothing to carry sound. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible.”

Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Stone, who isn’t even supposed to be up there, survives not only the decimation of her space shuttle, but also a fire-extinguisher-propelled float between space stations, a massive fire, the death of her only companion, and an unplanned and uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. She’s about as resilient as they come.

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19. Hugh Glass (The Revenant)

A bear attack in the wild 1823 countryside should be enough to kill a man, but not when it’s Leonardo DiCaprio. He tends to his own wounds and vengefully tracks his enemies across the wilderness—falling off a cliff and camping out in a horse carcass along the way.

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18. Morpheus (The Matrix)

If you forget the subpar sequels, in which he’s unforgivably sidelined, Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus is the absolute star of The Matrix. Yes, Neo is a God-like figure, and Trinity kicks some major ass, but they all do it because Morpheus tells them to. They succeed at jumping across buildings, shooting up skyscrapers, and fending off dreaded agents because their leader sets a tough-as-nails example for them to follow.

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17. Bryan Mills (The Taken Series)

He has a very particular set of skills. You should hope he doesn’t have to use them on you. If he does, you probably won’t live to tell anyone about it.

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16. Black Widow (The Avengers Series)

There are a lot of tough guys and gals in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Scarlett Johansson’s Natalia Romanova is one of the few who kicks serious ass without any actual superpowers. Just give the girl a gun (or don’t!) and watch her take down anyone or anything in her path.

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15. Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises

Viggo Mortensen’s character in David Cronenberg’s 2007 thriller is a classic “cleaner” type. He drives his boss around. He makes some coffee. He dumps some bodies. But when he gets a little too deep into some bad stuff, he’s confronted by some fellow baddies at a bathhouse. No matter. He dispatches them with hooks while totally nude.

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14. Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men)

Javier Bardem won an Oscar in 2008 for playing the coin-tossing, cattle-gun-carrying villain in this instant Coen Brothers classic. As tough as his kills are, his grisliest moment is when he walks away from a car wreck with an elbow bone jutting out of his skin.

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13. Jason Bourne (The Bourne Series)

Matt Damon’s most famous movie role is as this simultaneously brainwashed and amnestic super-agent who’s always the fastest, strongest guy in a room. What makes Bourne particularly lethal is not just his cold demeanor, but also the fact that he can, and will, fight (and probably kill) you with anything, including a magazine, a toaster, a pen, and some vodka.

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12. The Driver (Drive)

Ryan Gosling’s character in this brutally bloody 2011 thriller doesn’t even get a name, but he does get a hammer (and an amazing scorpion racing jacket), and that’s really all he needs to do his work.

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11. John Rambo (The Rambo Series)

Urban Dictionary defines “going rambo” as “the act of taking on unsurmountable odds, suicidely participating in bloody rampage, becoming a one man army or destroying anything that moves.” Honestly, that might be underselling it.

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