Father's Day is only a few weeks away, and while most advertisers would have you believing that your dad wants tie tacks, barbecue equipment, and maybe a shaver set, I think it's a safe assumption that your dad actually wants the same explosive, violent mayhem that you crave. You dad is a man, after all. And, as his son, it's your obligation to share in the the ultra-masculine male bonding rituals that have been passed down since time immemorial. You must grunt, perhaps play pool, go bowling, or, if you're both in fine enough shape, play tackle football. Touch football is for wusses.
Then, when you're done sweating out buckets of viscous testosterone all over your personalized jersey, the two of you can head indoors, drink a beer (the crappier the better), and watch a nice manly film together. I know that the bulk of films that are released upon the world deal with the concerns of male characters (and even the female-centric ones seem concerned with the capture of a male), and most of the action blockbusters you'll see will climax with a big violent fight, this does not necessarily mark them as “manly” films. No, manly films go one step beyond. They don't just follow men, but explore a certain kind of man. A tough man. A brave, violent, casually sociopathic, outright ballsy, weapon savvy, beer-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-farting sexual tyrannosaur. All men, to at least some degree, would love to be a combination of James Bond, Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe and Al Bundy.
Women, surely your boyfriends or husbands or brothers or fathers have asked that you sit through a “Guy Movie,”so you know what I'm referring to. There is an entire subgenre of films in the world dedicated to the outright and un-ironic celebration of base masculine fantasy. The ones that reach beyond mere action, and borderline fetishize weapons, muscles, sweat, and physical violence.
To celebrate Father's Day, let's run down ten of the manliest films available. Send everyone else away, put your favorite snacks In front of him, and watch one of these with your father. He'll thank you for it.
Duck, You Sucker a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite (dir. Sergio Leone, 1971)
There is a lawless appeal to the gun-slinging Western hero, an archetypal male hero that dates back to the 19th century. This myth was famously exploited by Italian director Sergio Leone in a series of stylized and oddly-written western films from the 1960s and '70s. It was Leone who made Clint Eastwood into the super-badass that he is with A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and its two famed sequels. Each film followed Clint (named Joe in the first, Monco in the second, and Blondie in the third) as he, with few words and little facial expression, saved towns and sought treasures. And while the gritty, sweaty, horse-riding, gun-slinging heroes are well known across the entire genre, I'd say one of the manliest of the bunch was Leone's relatively obscure Duck, You Sucker starring James Coburn and Rod Steiger. Coburn played an explosives expert. Steiger played an offensive stereotype. Not only do they hurl insults, blow sh*t up, and seduce women, but they ultimately end up fighting in the Mexican revolution. Blood, sweat, grit, gunpowder, and nary a tear. And 157 minutes long. Jus' how we like 'em.
Le Samouraï (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)
No one could do the gentleman criminal quite like Jean-Pierre Melville. In the '50s and '60s, Melville made a series of rather excellent noir films that, for many, codified the genre. His heroes weren't sweaty, tank-top-sporting hard-boiled detectives, but rather well-dressed older gentlemen who would gamble, steal, kill, and approach their crimes and vices with the calm, expert eyes of a genuine connoisseur. They didn't chew on their cigarettes and clang back shots of cheap whiskey, but carefully selected high-quality smokes, and slowly sipped the good stuff. And they dressed well. No Melville hero would be caught dead out of his neatly pressed and completely awesome pinstriped suit and implacable fedora. In Le Samouraï, easily the most cryptic of the Melville noir canon, superstar Alain Delon plays a high-priced and business-minded perfectionist assassin whose life of calming creature comforts and super-male style is interrupted when he is accidentally witnessed committing one of his trademark murders. The film trails his desperate attempts to keep his life as a killer secret from an ever-widening circle of cops and lowlifes. Crime movies don't get too much better.
Pumping Iron (dir. George Butler and Robert Fiore, 1977)
No story. No romances. No guns. No punching. This infamous documentary film is masculinity at its purest: a bunch of muscled bodybuilders lifting heavy things for 85 minutes. The arc traces a group of competing bodybuilders as they work out on Muscle Beach in Venice, CA, all in preparation for bodybuilding competitions. We all want to be able to lift heavy things, and, as these steroid jockeys prove, we can if we're willing to work for it. If you can't work out for 30 minutes a day, you don't deserve a hot date. Most famously, Pumping Iron features a young, pre-movie-star Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the central combatants in the grunting extravaganza. Lou Ferrigno is also in it. It also has a scene of a guy lifting a car. Watching Pumping Iron is partly a way to get the testosterone gland active, but it also serves as a strange, borderline sexual meditation on the power of human muscle and the nature of masculinity. And if you haven't had enough of sweaty muscles, check out Pumping Iron II: The Women (1985). I think the title speaks for itself.
300 (dir. Zack Snyder, 2006)
Why did this film become such a huge hit? Episodes of the Bill & Ted cartoon series were more historically accurate. The look of the film was muddy and inarticulate. It's downright fatuous. It was largely panned by critics upon its release, and some even declared 300 to be the downfall of good taste in movies. But, to the film’s credit, it does celebrate an unbridled masculine ideal that most films are too shy to admit to. The film follows the events of the Battle of Thermopylae which took place in 480 BC, and which famously featured a mere 300 Spartan soldiers fending off thousands of Persian invaders for a good chunka time before 299 of them were killed. The Spartans are all, rather infamously, half-naked, super-ripped fascistic loudmouthed bullies who, by sheer dint of might, kill with impunity, insult the weak, and worship violence. Just the way men like it. King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, in a career-making role) screams orders, wears a careful beard, insults mutants, and is not happy unless he's disemboweling someone with his phallic, blunt short sword. The film was modeled, rather directly, on the comic book panels of Frank Millers equally infamous graphic novel, making for a hypersaturated artificiality, forcing the manliness to the surface. 300 is an abstract examination of film violence that, oddly, we've all seen.
Get Carter (dir. Mike Hodges, 1971)
Carter, as played by the always intense Michael Caine, is another stylish no-nonsense gentleman criminal like the men in the films of Melville, but, unlike Melville's heroes, he is aggressive, mean-spirited, and decidedly sexual. Even though he's a wispy British man in a black coat and turtleneck, Carter oozes a kind of smug menace all his own. He shoots people as a matter of course, but does so with a terrifying devil-may-care attitude. Carter don't give a f*ck. Mike Hodges' famed 1971 crime flick largely pioneered a subgenre of British film often referred to as the Bloke Movie. Bloke Movies (see also: The Italian Job) feature uncaring, smug criminal bastards like Carter, and have a bleak and selfish worldview, implying that the only way to get anything in the modern world is to take it with your masculine force. Get Carter, even if it isn't the first (there's some debate on the matter), is certainly one of the best. Just watch the scene where Carter has phone sex with his girlfriend (Britt Eklund) while making eye contact with his disapproving landlady. It's something to behold.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (dir. George P. Cosmatos, 1985)
The first Rambo film, First Blood (1982), was actually modeled as a war tragedy, depicting the desperation of returning soldiers, and how they are, thanks to PTSD, incapable of leaving behind a violent mindset. Sylvester Stallone played John Rambo, a man pushed too far by the local law, and driven back into combat in a small suburban town. In that film, Rambo was a dark, brooding antihero. First Blood was so popular, however, that Rambo became something of a legend, and fans tended to focus less on the tragedy, and more on Rambo's ability to kick ass. For the first sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II, John was released from prison in order to lead a super-secret mission back into Vietnam to rescue some POWs. And while lip service is played to the stress of a soldier returning to Vietnam, post-PTSD, we know what's really involved here: we want to see Rambo, sans shirt, blowing up some Commie bastards, snarling meanly through the arterial spray. First Blood Part II shoots a lot of bullets and blows a lot up. Screw that meaningful irony of the first. Let's just get to the 'splosions.
The Great Escape (dir. John Sturges, 1963)
There were few action heroes as suave as Steve McQueen. He was not only boyish and playful, but was possessed of a masculinity that few action stars possess today. He made manliness into an art form. And while he starred in his share of awesome flicks, few Steve McQueen vehicles were better than The Great Escape, the famed 1963 epic about a real-life POW escape during WWII, wherein hundreds of Allied troops managed to flee, en masse, from a high-security Nazi prison camp. The Great Escape is perhaps the perfect war movie. In most war movies, honest depictions of combat can be off-putting; it's been said that any accurate war movie is, necessarily, an anti-war movie. And we men can't have anti-war messages lurking around our war films. The Great Escape eschews all problems by showing life away from combat. The Allied forces were allowed to be resourceful and playful, and were required to give all the Nazis a hard time. As they tunnel out, the situation becomes increasingly desperate for these men. Once you start The Great Escape, it's hard to turn off. And check out this cast: aside from McQueen we have Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Garner, and Donald Pleasence in this thing. Oh yeah, and Steve McQueen jumping a motorcycle over stuff.
Predator (dir. John McTiernan, 1987)
Commandos. Big guys. They talk tough. They spit tough. They carry guns bigger than most pieces of furniture. They fire many bullets. They blow up jungle-dwelling criminals. They don't wear sleeves. One makes sex jokes. One shaves his face when he's nervous. One calls himself a sexual tyrannosaurus. They're sweaty and painted. One takes off his shirt and coats himself with mud. Also they fight an invisible killer monster from space. If it bleeds, they can kill it. One of them is Arnold Schwarzenegger. They punch and kick and spit. They shoot. And spit. And then shoot some more. They kill a guy. They don't give a care about skinless guys hanging upside-down. Predator, a rather well regarded action film, is actually more of a satire of masculine tropes than a direct expression of them, but, dammit if it isn't manly. You've probably seen Predator several times, and you probably love it. It's time to crack the Viagara and watch it again. Come on. What are you, a wimp? Never. Shoot it. Shoot a lot. Kpow. Kpow.
The Dirty Dozen (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1967)
Most guys like war films. Indeed, most of the films on this list are about soldiers who kick ass and commit murder. One could say that boys are bred, thanks to war toys and violent cartoons and a general cultural expectation, to be ignorant soldiers when they come of age. One could call this a tragedy. But, whatever the source, and whatever your viewpoint on the matter, many men, to this day, will gladly hunker down in front of a combat-glorifying war picture, and secretly pump their chests. And while there are better war films in the world, few are more badass than Robert Aldrich's ultra-masculine 1967 classic The Dirty Dozen. Dig this premise: Lee Marvin plats an army general during WWII who has to train and wrangle a group of convicted murderers, and lead them in a special secret mission. Killers and cons on the battlefield? That's like a two-for-one deal. That's like learning your ice cream has breasts in it. John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson and Jim Brown round out the cast of badasses. I'm convinced no woman has made it all the way through The Dirty Dozen. The film is more than a punchline from Sleepless in Seattle. It's just a punch. A bloody, bloody punch.
Road House (dir. Rowdy Harrington, 1989)
If you only see one film on this list, make it Road House, one of the cheesiest, butt-kicking-est, throat ripping-est, single most entertaining films ever made. This thing has more shirtless men than a week of Gold's Gym, and more face punches than some boxers' careers. It lives in the beer-soaked backwater bars of Middle America, where the land is ruled by evil gangsters who shake down innocent shopkeepers, and have incessant and loud bikini parties every night. The only line of defense against iniquity is a mullet-sporting Dalton (Patrick Swayze), and his open unwillingness to put up with your bullsh*t. Dalton is a bouncer for a bar called The Double Deuce, but, more than that, he is the moral center for an honorable profession that requires quick wits and quicker fists. I have never gotten in a barfight in my life, and I'm fairly confident that if I did, I would, during the course of the evening, be forced to wear my tongue as a necktie. I would want an avenging angel like Dalton on my side. Every single boy born after 1980 should have a shrine constructed to Road House. It is, quite easily, the manliest film ever made.
Full Disclosure: This article has been sponsored by Fox Home Entertainment.