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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 Action-Horror Heroes

October 25, 2016 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
arnold schwarzenegger predator

Top 8 Action-Horror Heroes

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

We have two more weeks left in Horror Month at 8 Ball Headquarters and this week, we’re taking a look at one of the horror’s hybrid subgenres. Action-horror sometimes gets a bad rap because it can be surprisingly difficult to find that balance between the two genres, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they’re surprisingly similar. One of the most important parts of action-horror is having a good hero. Where most horror tends to focus on the villain to the detriment of the good guy, a strong central protagonist is essential here and can lift an okay action-horror film into something great. This week we’re going to look at the best heroes of the subgenre.

Caveat: The biggest qualifier here is narrowing the definition of action-horror. Many people consider it in a sort of all-encompassing way, considering any horror film that has any action elements at all to count from Evil Dead II to Dawn of the Dead. I prefer a narrower definition in which the action and horror elements are more balanced with each other. A true action-horror film should draw from the power fantasy elements of an action film (with requisite action scenes) and the supernatural or other conventions of the horror genre. It’s a fuzzy line and there will probably be some debate over whether particular films qualified or not. In terms of ranking, I considered the character in terms of their importance to the genre, the actor or actress’ performance, how well they fit the mold of action-horror and how well-written they are (as well as, of course, personal preference).

Just Missing The Cut

• Cherry (Planet Terror)
• John Finnegan (Deep Rising)
• Sgt. Harry G. Wells (Dog Soldiers)
• Lucian (Underworld franchise)
• Leo Barnes (The Purge: Anarchy & The Purge: Election Year)

#8: Seth Gecko (From Dusk Till Dawn)

First up on our list is one of the characters who helped make From Dusk Till Dawn an action-horror film worthy of a franchise. The Robert Rodriguez-directed vampire film was only a modest box office success at the time of its release but it struck a chord in many fans, particularly after it was found on home video. Much of the cast gives admirable performances but without a doubt the coolest cat was George Clooney as Seth Gecko. The ruthless-but-reasonable half of the bank-robbing Gecko brothers had no qualms about killing anyone if he needed to, but also didn’t feel he needed to all that often — at least, until he crosses the border into Mexico with his brother and a carjacked family and came across a bar where the patrons and staff turned to vampires after the sun went down. Clooney was firmly in his element here and helped anchor the film, blasting vampires while deadpanning his way through the ludicrous but incredibly entertaining script. When things turn south inside the Titty Twister and he finds himself surrounded by hideous vampires intent on ripping him to pieces, he doesn’t take time denying what he’s seen or panicking. He just accepts what it is and rallies the group to try and fend off the hordes of undead. Clooney plays the role with the kind of ease and cool that he’s become known for throughout his career; it’s still one of his best to date and Seth Gecko instantly became the most recognizable (and in many ways, best) part of this fun franchise.

#7: Blade (Blade franchise)

If I’m being honest here (and I am), the Blade franchise isn’t one of my favorites. There are some fun moments here or there and I dig Guillermo Del Toro’s second film in the franchise, but the first leans toward being funny in all the wrong ways at times and Blade Trinity is just an all-around disaster. But you can’t deny that Wesley Snipes is pretty perfectly-cast as the titular bad ass. The Marvel Comics-based character wades his way through legions of the undead and Snipes embodies the role in just about every way, the occasional overdone line delivery aside. Blade is also helped by the quality of his villains; whatever you may think of their films, Deacon Frost, Jared Nomak, the Reapers and the Bloodpack are all formidable adversaries and legitimate threats for Blade and his teams, forcing the Daywalker to consistently up his game. It’s Snipes’ pure cool and ability to make play it straight throughout that sells him. He also works great as the foil to his wittier enemies and aides. Blade is one character I wouldn’t mind seeing hop retroactively into the MCU somehow and as an action-horror hero, his credibility is undeniable.

#6: John Nada (They Live)

Don’t mess with John Nada. There was a bit of debate back and forth for me as to whether Nada should qualify for this list, because I tend to think of They Live as more of a straight sci-fi conspiracy thriller than an action-horror film. But when you combine the creepy look of the alien ruling class and John Carpenter’s horror sensibilities with Roddy Piper’s general toughness, it’s hard to deny that he fits. Piper joined the annals of action hero history with this role, playing a drifter who becomes aware of a giant conspiracy involving the subjugation of the human race. The film wasn’t quite the major success Universal may have hoped but its cult following has shown how it stands the test of time. Piper’s fight with Keith David is a thing of legend and his “chew bubblegum and kick ass” quote is almost universally recognized as an all-time great line. They Live became a hugely influential film and John Nada is one of the main reasons for that.

#5: Selene (Underworld franchise)

There are a lot of great action-horror franchises (and a lot of bad ones), but Underworld just happens to be the first one I think. A big, big part of that is Selene. Kate Beckinsale’s Death Dealer is a fantastic character who kills her way through this cheesy but thoroughly-enjoyable film series. Over the course of three out of four films in the series (with a fifth on the way), Selene has proven herself to be one of the most combat-capable badasses out there. I mean, forget the fact that she’s a vampire and has all the immortality and power that comes with that. While that helps make her a badass, it’s her cool demeanor and skill as a hunter which puts her high on this list. She has an indomitable will; throughout the course of the series she encounters a staggering level of revelations which would shatter weaker minds from the fact that her maker slaughtered her family to waking up to find out she has a daughter but her lover is gone (plus several other revelations in-between). And each time she deals with each stunner and pushes forward unbowed. She doesn’t crack a lot of witticisms and she doesn’t show “sass” because she doesn’t need to; Beckinsale projects her inner strength and cuts a swath through whatever gets in her way. She nailed this role with ease and made Selene one of my favorite vampire characters put on film yet.

#4: Jack Crow (John Carpenter’s Vampires)

Jack Crow is an absolute bad-ass among action-horror heroes. Played by the inimitable James Woods, the Catholic church-sanctioned hunter rises above a few problems in the script for John Carpenter’s Vampires to easily be the best thing about the movie. Jack doesn’t have it easy, but that actually helps make him more respected as a vampire-hunting hero. He doesn’t have all the awesome weapons or legions of soldiers; he has a ragtag band of killers and some few tools to track and kill the undead. That means he must rely more on himself to fight against the encroaching darkness, something we learn he’s quite capable of through the course of the film. Woods absolutely nails the role; he’s always been a classic hard-boiled type and he puts those skills to great use as he hunts down the master vampire Valek for killing off his very capable team of vampire slayers without breaking a sweat. Crow finds himself against the ropes on more than one occasion and yet every single time he throws himself back into the fight, eventually coming up a winner. Persistence is a big bonus when you’re fighting the eternal and that gives him the edge over some that are lower on this list.

#3: Alice (Resident Evil franchise)

Milla Jovovich is no stranger to the action genre; she’s handled it in everything from sci-fi (The Fifth Element) and period work (The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc) to action-thrillers (A Perfect Getaway) and more. Her most unforgettable character though has clearly been in action-horror though, playing the protagonist in Paul W.S. Anderson’s adaptation of the Resident Evil franchise. There are things that you can criticize about this franchise, to be fair; the last two films have been increasingly poor and you can even take issue with the way certain game characters have been short-changed (see: Wong, Ada). But Milla has always been a bright spot within the franchise and she’s done consistently great work with the character. As Anderson has progressed the franchise it’s moved its way through different action and horror elements: the zombies (of course), the dungeon crawl that is the Hive, the post-apocalyptic setting of the third film and so on. But it’s always kept that balance between action and horror quite effectively and Alice makes the franchise entertaining at times when there’s no way that it should be and she consistently establishes chemistry with her co-stars. Seeing the progression of Alice is one of the few joys of the last couple of films and whatever your opinion or mine about the films’ current direction, it will be a sad day for action when Alice stops kicking and shooting at last in the next one.

#2: Dutch (Predator)

Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t dip his toes into the horror genre very often, and that’s probably for the best. The action legend is much more comfortable as a hero than a villain and he’s too imposing to appear legitimately threatened by a horror-type character as a rule. But when you find the right bad guy to face him, it can work. Case in point: Predator. John McTiernan’s sci-fi action-horror allowed Schwarzenegger to play the role he knows best and still make it feel natural that he and his team of special forces men are being systematically stalked and killed. Predator is one of the true great action-horror films; McTiernan managed to take a straight action film and throw the slasher element in it for something unique and it’s anchored by Dutch, who is an indomitable presence up against an even bigger threat in the titular alien hunter. Dutch’s chemistry with the rest of the team is real and once it’s just down to him and the predator, he fights back in a pretty epic battle of giants. Dutch is one for the ages, no doubt.

#1: Ripley (Alien franchise)

No offense to any of the other heroes on this list, but this was a complete no-brainer for me. No one character has done more in terms of action-horror roles than Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise. She’s just about got it all; even before she’s a badass who can fire an M41A pulse rifle, she has the characteristics needed to get her there. While the first film isn’t really action-horror (instead being a sci-fi slasher of sorts), every film that has followed absolutely fits within the mold. Ripley is confident and able to take charge when she needs to be, but she’s never an emotionless shell of a human being. In Aliens she shows that not only is she just as tough as all the Colonial Marines, she is also capable of looking out for little Newt like a mother would. Like many of the best action heroines, she is a strong woman without needing to bury her maternal instincts. Her strength comes from her gender, not in spite of it. Maneuvering her way through the armies of Gigeresque monstrosities, Ripley remains the absolute highest bar of action-horror heroes in my book.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.