The next chapter in the John Wick series opens this weekend, and while it’s too soon to call whether Keanu will kill it at the box office, his title character will certainly kill plenty of people onscreen. Assassins are celebrated antiheroes with a long, bloody history in cinema. Here are a few favorites.
When Léon: The Professional came out in 1994, we knew Natalie Portman was going to be a star. In her film debut she stars as Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl caught up in a battle between surprisingly soft-hearted assassin Léon (Jean Reno) and a corrupt cop (Gary Oldman). Another assassin with a warm heart (part of the time) is John Cusack’s Martin Blank from Grosse Pointe Blank (1997). With his chosen profession starting to wear on him, Martin takes a contract back in his titular Michigan hometown coinciding with his 10-year high school reunion. This is fine dark humor with an excellent soundtrack.
On the charming but creepy side, Tom Cruise plays against type as hired killer Vincent in Michael Mann’s underrated 2004 thriller Collateral. Impressed with the driving skills of Los Angeles cabbie Max (Jamie Foxx), Vincent takes him hostage, forcing him to drive from target to target as he fulfills a multi-victim contract. And going full-on creepy with no charm to weigh him down is Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007). With his pageboy haircut and pneumatic bolt gun, Chigurh is about as menacing as you can get. You don’t want this guy playing coin-toss with you.
They say the couple that kills together stays together. (Wait, who says that?) In Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), the beautiful but seemingly normal couple is played by actual beautiful people (and real-life couple as a result of filming) Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. John and Jane Smith are both assassins who have managed to keep their professions hidden from one another, but the drudgery of married life soon ends when they’re hired to kill each other. It’s not the best film, but the chemistry is killer.
Speaking of hitwomen, two of cinema’s most entertaining are Geena Davis’s Charly Baltimore in The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) and Uma Thurman’s Bride in Kill Bill Vol. I (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004). Both are lethal killers who have been out of the game for years: Charly suffers from amnesia and only starts to regain her memory—and deadly skills—after a bump to the head; and The Bride has been in a coma after being shot in the head at the altar. Bad move, Bill.