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A Brief History of UK Action Heroes, from Bond to Butler

A Brief History of UK Action Heroes, from Bond to Butler: FilmDistrict

FilmDistrict

Once Gerard Butler saved the White House in the surprise 2013 hit Olympus Has Fallen, it was only a matter of time before he was asked back for a sequel — but where would he go next? The title for Part 2 says it all: London Has Fallen. And based on what I saw in the trailer, it sure looks like that title is meant to be taken literally. So with that in mind, let’s take an appreciate look back at some of the most memorable action heroes who hail from the United Kingdom.


Sean Connery as James Bond in Dr. No (1962)
Everybody has their favorite Bond… but nobody is cooler than Connery. (Apologies to Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig.) For those who crave some non-Bond-age Connery action, you can’t go wrong with flicks like Highlander (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and, of course, The Rock (1996).


Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966), and Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
He doesn’t even have a name in Len Deighton’s spy novels, but this bad-ass secret agent goes by the name Harry Palmer in this mid-‘60s espionage trilogy. While these films were produced by the James Bond production team, Harry Palmer is more or less the diametric opposite of the much suaver and fancier James Bond—although no less effective in his various pursuits of justice. Caine would return to play the character in a pair of TV movies called Bullet to Beijing (1995) and Midnight in St. Petersburg (1996).


Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday (1980)
Can a gangster qualify as an action hero? Sure, provided he’s the lesser of two evils, fighting off IRA bombers, and played by the wonderfully cool Bob Hoskins. Poor old Harold is simply trying to keep his neighborhood safe from external threats—if only to maintain his proper place in the pecking order of the London underworld.


Vinnie Jones as Big Chris in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Maybe this big lug doesn’t qualify as a hero either, but he kind of stole the whole movie and became an unlikely movie star at the same time. So we’ll call him an anti-hero in this one… and a villainous bastard in just about every film he’s ever done.


Jason Statham as Frank Martin in The Transporter (2002) Transporter 2 (2005), Transporter 3 (2008)
Stratham is the UK’s answer to a 1980s-era action star, and that’s meant as a big compliment. Even in his weaker movies Statham displays a rough, tongue-in-cheek charm. Frank Martin might be Statham’s most iconic character to date, but he brings a lot of amiable tough-guy energy to The Italian Job (2003), Crank (2006), Death Race (2008), The Expendables (2010), and even the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy (2015).


Gerard Butler as King Leonidas in 300 (2006)
While it’s not exactly the deepest or most densely plotted action epic out there, there’s no denying that 300 packs a lot of stylish mayhem into its frame—or that Butler pretty much kicks all sorts of ass in the flick. To appreciate more of Mr. Butler’s mayhem, check out the underrated Reign of Fire (2002), the certifiably insane Gamer (2009), or the smoothly effective Olympus Has Fallen (2003).


Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in Taken (2008), Taken 2 (2012), Taken 3 (2014)
OK, so the sequels aren’t so hot, but don’t blame Neeson for that. The guy is a highly compelling action hero in even the flimsiest of movies. How many actors can claim to have played a Jedi (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), a Greek god (Clash of the Titans), a magical lion (The Chronicles of Narnia), and the leader of The A-Team?


John Boyega as Moses in Attack the Block (2011)
He’s presently kicking interstellar ass as one of the new heroes in the Star Wars universe, but Boyega’s breakout was this UK genre film, in which he kicks a whole different kind of interstellar ass. The young Mr. Boyega radiates affable authority and widescreen charm, and he’s also quite adept at keeping himself (and his mates) one step ahead of some ravenous interstellar invaders.


Scott Adkins as John in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)
The Universal Soldier timeline is more than a little confusing, but you don’t need to deal with the whole franchise to enjoy this wildly kinetic action film; you’ll get exhausted just watching its lengthy and elaborate brawl sequences. Mr. Adkins keeps busy on low-budget sequels like Undisputed 3 (2010), Green Street 3 (2013) and Jarhead 3 (2015), and you can catch him in Hollywood productions like Zero Dark Thirty (2012), The Expendables 2 (2012), and Marvel’s upcoming Dr. Strange movie.


Tom Hardy as Mad Max in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he’s a remarkably handy ally to have around if you’re on a road trip across a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Hardy is the epitome of the “strong, silent type” in most of his action-heavy films, but he takes that approach to a whole new level opposite the amazing Charlize Theron. In a movie filled with so much visual excess, Hardy’s performance underlines the point that sometimes less is more.


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