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The 25 Best Movies About Contract Killers and Assassins

24 July 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Shane Scott-Travis

leon-the-professional

Sometimes with certain movies it can be more fun to root for the bad guys or to identify with antiheroes who behave in morally questionable ways.

Wish fulfillment escapism of this nature is pretty normal, most people’s nine-to-five is seldom as exciting as, say, being paid a king’s ransom to “kill the president of Paraguay with a fork.”

It’s no wonder that films featuring contract killers, hitmen, and assassins make for a delightful distraction, albeit a bloody one, and that the ones that stand out, transcend the action or thriller genre they exist in and become something more.

The list that follows earmarks the very best films of this variety but be warned: danger and excitement awaits, but at what terrible cost?

 

25. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

GROSSE POINTE BLANK, John Cusack, 1997

This breezy black comedy from George Armitage posits Martin Blank (John Cusack), a depressed hitman who goes home for his ten-year high-school reunion as an opportunity to lift his spirits, see an old flame (Minnie Driver), and rub out a bad guy while he’s at it. The results are engaging, decidedly droll, literally dead pan, and laugh-out-loud.

Particularly memorable is Alan Arkin’s turn as Dr. Oatman, Martin’s psychiatrist, who is more than a little stressed to regularly hold space for a mass murderer, suggesting to his patient: “Don’t kill anybody for a few days. See what it feels like.” A fun comedy and a good cool down for all the other intense films on this list.

 

24. Looper (2012)

Looper

Rian Johnson made his first sci-fi actioner with this time travelling crime thriller Looper. An all-star cast including Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Bruce Willis populate the film, which establishes that time travel is invented in 2074 but is immediately outlawed though is still used illegally by a crime syndicate.

These bad guys send people they want dead into the past where they are executed by the eponymous “loopers” –– hitmen who are in on the machinations of time travel. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is such a looper who encounters an older version of himself (Willis) and from there the shit and the fan are fatefully assigned.

As convoluted as Looper occasionally finds itself, it is nevertheless a fist-pumping white knuckler with heaps of atmosphere and excitement, offering up many new wrinkles in the time-travel subgenre, complete with clever twists, dazzling temporal tricks, and a surprise finish.

Inventive and pulpy, Looper is a fascinating slice of speculative fiction that surely led to Johnson’s director chair for Star Wars: Episode VIII.

 

23. In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges

“Bruges is a shithole,” is the comic maxim in Martin McDonagh’s pitch black comedy In Bruges. An offbeat caper that focusses on two London-based Irish hitmen, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell), a perpetual misunderstood pair hiding out in the medieval town of Bruges after some mucky business went sour back home.

McDonagh’s sometimes savage sensibilities as a storyteller makes for a volatile mix of existential humor, Machiavellian tragedy, and an abundance of hilariously deployed f-bombs.

All signs indicate that In Bruges is amassing an appreciative cult following, and it certainly has a fair share of quotable quips (“You can’t sell horse tranquilizers to a midget!”), eccentric characters, and exciting set pieces. In Bruges is an impressive film you’d be sorry to miss.

 

22. Collateral (2004)

collateral

Michael Mann is a master visualist and sensualist and his Los Angeles-set crime thriller Collateral takes his recurring theme of men at work under incredible pressure to its extreme. Buoyed by stylishly grainy nocturnal exteriors –– expertly lensed on high-definition digital by Dion Beebe –– Mann’s artistic ambition is tempered only by his layered visual language, at once subdued yet prominent, making for a top notch noir thriller.

Tom Cruise plays against type as Vincent, a hitman who hires a taxi for the evening driven by Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx). And while there’s an influx of clichés and some far-fetched contrivance to propel the story forward, it’s all forgivable considering the solid performances, emotive atmosphere, solid action set pieces, and Mann’s inventive and breathless direction. Collateral is worth the cost.

 

21. Hanna (2011)

Hanna

Saoirse Ronan followed up her breakout performance in Atonement with the titular role of Hanna, Joe Wright’s fast-paced action-fantasy hybrid. As Hanna Heller, Ronan is a bright young lass raised in the wilds of northern Finland by her father, Erik (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA operative who has been training his daughter to be a badass assassin.

Throw in a scenery-chewin’ Cate Blanchett as one Marissa Wiegler, a senior CIA agent/super villain and a pulse-pounding OST from the Chemical Brothers and the resulting revenge thriller packs one heck of a wallop.

While Hanna has some similarities to the Bourne-franchise it still succeeds as a stylish actioner, and its often preposterous plotline is believable due to Ronan’s spirited turn as a 16-year-old assassin wrapped up in a Technicolor nightmare. The cool blue visuals add to the excitement in what adds up to a slickly stylized popcorn picture.

 

20. Kill Bill (2003)

Kill Bill

Sure, Quentin Tarantino’s super violent genre pastiche lifts its plot completely from François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1968), but this two-part revenge epic following Uma Thurman’s the Bride (aka Beatrix Kiddo, aka Black Mamba) is an exercise in over-the-top excess, ultra-violence, and fist-pumping fun.

Fun? Well, the gleeful nihilism with which the Bride, a former assassin, seeks bloody revenge on those who wronged her at the altar, is a wildly inventive and relentless affair. Sure, some of the ensuing mayhem is off-putting, but the fight choreography, endless pop culture references, action set pieces, and revenge fantasy role play is hard to resist.

Admittedly adolescent, OTT, and affectionate to all the schlock it celebrates, Kill Bill warrants wide appeal to all but the squeamish and the prudes. For everyone else, this is Tarantino at his most reinvigorating, teeth-gnashing, and samurai sword swingin’.

As Budd (Michael Madsen, with all the charm of a rattlesnake) remarks, “That woman deserves her revenge and we deserve to die.” And die they do.

 

19. Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977)

Golgo 13 Assignment Kowloon (1977)

Reprising his role as the peerless assassin Golgo 13, martial arts legend Sonny Chiba is a force of nature in this wild, wicked, action-packed Manga adaptation from director Yukio Noda.

Chiba is in familiar territory here –– this is the second time he played the Taiko Saita manga character, after Golgo 13 (1973) –– revisiting the calculating, cold killer for hire routine he does so well. Here he’s on the side of a US drug syndicate out to take down Hong Kong’s underworld kingpin and no rogue cop (Etsuko Shihomi) will get in his way.

Arguably, Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon may have limited appeal to mainstream Western audiences who may find that it plays out like a Bond film on a low budget, but Chiba’s performance and martial arts mastery is the real draw here (but also note if you want to see Chiba’s finest work, 1974’s The Street Fighter is where to go).

The script is pretty inconsequential, the action scenes are the main draw and the score from Harumi Ibe is pretty amazing, too. If you need a HK crime fix with surplus action and all the ingredients of a 70s cultural artifact, this is time well spent.

 

18. The Killers (1964)

The Killers (1964)

When the steely-eyed professional killer named Lee (Clu Gulager) matter-of-factly flips aside his jacket to show his gun, it’s one of those cinematic moments you never shake.

Don Siegel’s The Killers is the second films to be adapted from Ernest Hemingway’s pulpy short story of the same name (Robert Siodmak made an earlier version in 1946 with Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster), and it’s an enjoyable cult classic featuring star turns from the aforementioned Gulager, lead hitman Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, and Ronald Reagan (in his last role before going into politics).

A neo-noir with familiar shades of robbery, betrayal, and machismo, it’s a great ensemble piece with allure and B-movie charm. The mounting tension and simmering violence of The Killers seems to anticipate Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971), and while the trajectory of the antiheroes in this film may be easy to anticipate, it’s a devilish delight to watch their undoing.

 

 

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  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    A mostly fine list, marred by the absence of Bangkok Dangerous (1999). That, or maybe even Fulltime Killer could take the place of Looper.

    • D Train

      Bangkok Dangerous? Are you serious? Nic Cage is awful in that cliche-riddled bomb! It’s not better than any film on this list, my friend. It has some B-movie charm but all told, it’s not very good. 🙂

      • Spike Bowden

        He’s probably talking about the original version, not the Cage remake

      • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

        I’ve not seen the Cage film, but the original I thought rather good.

  • OMG, I loved John Wick, it was sooooo full of absurd 🙂

    • Jacquelinerjerry

      <<o. ★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★✫★:::::::!!be751p:….,…

  • Lars Franssen

    Thanks for putting some of my favourite films on this list! You are right on the mark with some and hit the target dead centre with the rest. 🙂

  • D Train

    Nice list! Glad to see Le Samurai in the top spot!!!

    • D Lame

      Im drunk again
      Exscuse the hiccup
      The redneck originator
      Rollin in my pick up
      Truck jacked up with the 4 gold shocks
      And where i come from
      Mud flaps come in stock

      People kid rock it
      Up and down the block
      And the hens all flock to the coup
      With the cock
      You wanna rock with me baby
      Row it down to the swamp
      Dock your boat
      We’ll do the hillbilly stomp
      We’ll do the hillbilly stomp

      I like stuckies, truckers and big mesh hats
      I like large round women in loundromats
      I like to wander jack
      Like a backwoods thug
      And watch the moonshine through
      The bottom of a jug
      Huggin and kissin, with my vision all blurry
      Siftin through this world of worry
      Hurry up with love
      Please God bless
      I dont do drugs anymore
      Or any less
      Ididnt start this mess on this planet
      Stop lookin at me like a bandit
      Ivebeen chillin
      Down at the swamp
      With the folks that want
      To do the hillbilly stomp
      Do it
      We’ll do the hillbilly stomp

      Now people wanna know how to do this dance
      Lift your legs in the air like you wet your pants
      Plant your hands on the top of your butt
      And stomp around the woods
      Like your all fucked up
      Circle up the trucks
      Fire up the brush
      Utuck your shirt
      Were gonna kick some dust
      Dont two plus two it
      Or three plus three it
      Four by four to a place thats scenic
      Heat it up like some hot ham hocks cookin
      And hop to the spot where
      Where the cops arent lookin
      Bring your whole flock
      Down to the stomp
      And we can rock all night doing
      The hillbilly stomp
      Do it
      The hillbilly stomp
      The hillbilly stomp

  • Steven Wray

    great list, but I’d put Memory of a Killer (De zaak Alzheimer) over several listed, especially John Wick.

  • Andre Troesch

    Ken Takakura starred in Golgo 13 (1973) not Sonny Chiba

  • David Pollison

    Two movies from 1972 that are seriously missing THE MECHANIC starring Charles Bronson and THE OUTSIDE MAN starring Jean-Louis Trit

  • Ted Wolf

    I read through this list thinking “where is Le Samourai, it’s got to be on here.” Numero uno baby! May I add there as an absurd piece of fluff from the 1960’s called The Assassination Bureau which I thought was fun.

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    Gross Pointe Blank is an all time favorite of mine, and I’m glad to see it on the list.

  • Refat Siddique Pial

    u did mistake my boy not including Aki’s gem ” I Hired a Contract Killer’.