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7 Movies That Show You The Masculine Ideal

We're not talking about The Notebook.

by
John Hawkins

Bio

March 13, 2013 - 7:00 am

Action movies are just as American as motherhood, apple pie, and capitalism. Movies like Unforgiven, Gladiator, Rooster Cogburn, Conan, Dirty Harry, Die Hard, The Dark Knight, High Noon, Man on Fire, Red Dawn, Tombstone, and True Grit speak to men in a primal language that transcends the story line on the screen. Men like these films because they capture qualities we’d like to think we have ourselves. We like the idea of being billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and fighting crime in our spare time, pointing a gun at a punk and asking him if he feels lucky, or responding to the question, “What is best in life?” with To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women! While there are dozens of deserving action movies, there are seven that are particularly good at revealing parts of the male psyche.

1) First Blood

John Rambo is a damaged character. His fighting in Vietnam left him with mental problems, made him ill-equipped to fit into society, and led to him ultimately having a difficult and lonely existence. However, there are two things about him that make the character click with men. The first is this:

Teasle: Are you telling me that 200 men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?
Trautman: You send that many, don’t forget one thing.
Teasle: What?
Trautman: A good supply of body bags.

Rambo doesn’t pick the fight, but when he is backed up against a wall, he is a one-man army. This theme is repeated over and over in action movies because it’s something men aspire to all the way down in their souls.

The other, more subtle thing that makes Rambo appealing is that he shares a grievance that most men have on some level or another: his sacrifices are largely unappreciated. He went through hell to do what had to be done, paid a terrible price for it, saw his suffering shrugged off by men unfit to say his name, and was left holding the bag. There are millions of men who feel the exact same way. They’ve provided, they’ve struggled, they’ve done things they didn’t want to do for other people, and, ultimately, they found that it wasn’t valued. That makes it easy to relate to a character like Rambo, even if you’re not planning to shoot at anybody with a machine gun.

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2) Spider-Man

Most men wouldn’t have Spider-Man on this list, but it’s a unique movie in some ways. Here you have an ordinary guy who gains great power and learns the hard way that “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Peter Parker is a good, decent man who cracks jokes while he risks his life to help people who will never know his name. In the interim, he pines to get the girl, struggles to make ends meet, and worries about his family. In other words, Peter Parker is the ordinary man who is a superhero in his spare time, as compared to someone like Superman, who’s more a superhero whose ordinary existence is just a cover for being Superman. Additionally, Peter Parker cuts to the core of what life should be for men: doing what you can to help people and reach your full potential, while still trying to keep from drowning in the flood of day-to-day worries that are always coming at you.

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3) Taken

Retired CIA agent Bryan Mills is highly trained, clever, decisive, and extremely lethal. Mills still pines for his ex-wife, who shoved him to the side for a man who could buy and sell him a dozen times over. Even though his wife’s new husband is extremely wealthy and seems like a nice, helpful guy, you always feel like Mills is just the better man. The center of Mills’ life is his daughter, and when his ex-wife and her new husband laugh off his concern about letting their teenage daughter roam around Europe without adult supervision, “daddy” is the one who is willing and able to get his daughter back. It isn’t just a great action flick; it is a movie about a long suffering father being proven right, proven capable, and proven to be the better man.

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4) Braveheart

This one starts out with a common theme in action movies, “a revenge-based love story.” In these cases, the man’s love interest usually dies, he goes on a killing spree in revenge, and, ideally, reluctantly has sex with other hot women to soothe the pain. Ultimately what makes this such a great movie isn’t so much that Wallace gets revenge on his enemies, is a skilled fighter, or is an inspirational leader of men — although all those things help — it is that he ends up fighting for a worthy principle bigger than himself. He doesn’t become an outlaw to get rich or risk his life to impress women; he ultimately lives, fights, and dies to bring freedom to his people. That desire to be an important part of something bigger than yourself lies somewhere in the heart of every man, even if he’s been so beaten down by life that it seems dormant.

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5) Fight Club

This is a weird film about a terroristic cult full of strange characters with mental disorders, but it resonates. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably heard at least part of the rules.

1st RULE: You do not talk about FIGHT CLUB.

2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about FIGHT CLUB.

3rd RULE: If someone says “stop” or goes limp, taps out the fight is over.

4th RULE: Only two guys to a fight.

5th RULE: One fight at a time.

6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.

7th RULE: Fights will go on as long as they have to.

8th RULE: If this is your first night at FIGHT CLUB, you HAVE to fight.

Why does this movie stick with men? Because aggression in males is every bit as intrinsic as wanting to look pretty is to women, and this movie lets ordinary guys fantasize about how they could spar. As someone who has sparred, I can tell you that once you get over the fear of getting hit, sex is the only thing that feels better than having your fist crash into another man’s face. In that moment, you’re fully alive and asserting your power in a dominant fashion, and it is glorious. Unfortunately, if you start getting into street fights, you can get seriously injured, hurt someone else, end up in jail or be sued. So, as a practical matter, you really can’t do it. But fantasizing about a Fight Club-style clash has a powerful appeal.

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6) Rocky Balboa

Life is such a difficult, competitive business that, on some level, even most successful people tend to feel like underdogs fighting a nearly impossible battle against the odds. That’s why an underdog like Rocky who always won against the odds with superior training, will, and heart had such appeal. In the sixth movie in the series, Rocky has retired. His wife has passed on and his relationship with his son is strained, but he has a decent life. He has money, he runs a restaurant, and he has a good heart. But he starts to realize it’s not enough for him just to live in the past when he thinks, he hopes, he dreams that there’s a little bit of what made him special still inside of him. That’s what the movie is really all about: Rocky making sure he doesn’t turn into the embodiment of that Abraham Maslow quote, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”

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7) 300

The movie is beautiful, has magnificent action, and has a compelling story that features a few manly Spartans against a limitless army of Persian slaves and their effeminate “God-king.” The excellent back story of Leonidas’ wife trying to save him from a sleazy politician, the fight for freedom, and the sheer coolness of chest-kicking a mouthy Persian messenger into a pit because he forgets he is talking to the world’s most badass warrior people are epic as well. But what really makes the movie sing are three little words.

Glory. Duty. Honor.

You don’t hear those words said very often these days, but they have a deep and abiding meaning to men. Men crave the fame that comes from glory, the self-respect that comes from duty, and the pride that comes from being honorable. Some men have given up on living with honor, fulfilling their duties, or seeking glory because it’s too difficult or too hard to live by in the modern world, but those words will always have a great power with men.

John Hawkins is a professional writer who runs Right Wing News and Linkiest. He's also the co-owner of the The Looking Spoon. Additionally, he does weekly appearances on the #1 in its market Jaz McKay show, writes a weekly column for Townhall and PJ Media, does YouTube videos, and his work has also been published at the Washington Examiner, The Hill, and at Human Events. He's also the blogosphere's premier interviewer and has interviewed conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Mark Levin, Victor Davis Hanson, Mark Steyn, G. Gordon Liddy, Dick Morris, Karl Rove, Michael Steele, Milton Friedman, Jonah Goldberg, Jim DeMint, Walter Williams, Robert Novak, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, & Michelle Malkin among others. Moreover, John Hawkins' work has been linked and discussed in numerous publications and on TV and radio shows including ABC News, BusinessWeek, C-Span, The Chicago Tribune, CNN, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Editor & Publisher, Fox News, Hannity and Colmes, The Laura Ingraham Show, Minneapolis Star Tribune, MSNBC, National Journal, National Post, Newsmax, Newsweek, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Rush Limbaugh Show, The Tammy Bruce Show, Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Washington Post, Salt Lake Tribune, Scarborough Country, U.S. News & World Report, and Human Events, where he had a weekly column. Right Wing News has been studied by college classes and even inspired an urban legend that was covered at Snopes. Last but not least, John Hawkins also founded and led the Rightroots group, a grassroots effort that collected almost $300,000 for Republican candidates in the last 3 months of the 2006 election cycle. In 2008, he consulted for Duncan Hunter's presidential campaign and was on the board of Slatecard, which raised more than $600,000 for Republican candidates in the 2008 election cycle. In 2011, he helped found Raising Red, although he left the organization the same year and went on to become one of the co-founders of Not Mitt Romney.com.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
The real American Hero works hard, takes responsibility, helps his neighbors and his friends. The real American Hero is an active father, dependable in all that he sets his mind to, implacable in his determination to do what is right, serving a good cause if called to and possible paying the ultimate price, one he is well aware of. The sight of him gladdens the hearts of his friends and sends a shiver down the spine of his foes. He is not Superman and he knows that and that is what makes him great.

I don't know of any movies that portray all of that but that's Ok. I got to see it many many times in my father and my grandfather.

I see that occasionally around me today but by and large we are a lesser breed. We have been indoctrinated to be a docile, a more pliable subject for those who covet power, for those who believe that we the people are too deficient to have freedom and the responsibility that our forefathers wielded as a right.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Greetings:

Me, I'm only guessing, but has anyone ever mention the name "John Wayne" to you ???
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Fight Club? Seriously? The only movie less masculine than that is "Heathers". Chest-thumping pseudo-masculinity, machismo, is not the same thing as masculine.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (68)
All Comments   (68)
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I would include almost any WWII era British dramatic movie. DAMBUSTERS is a classic and endorsed by UK historian Andrew Roberts. Anything with David Niven or Kenneth More. It's a quiet and undemonstrative sort of masculinity that you still occasionally see coming from Britain. 1940s Cary Grant should be included here. Patrick McGoohan was a babyboomer era example. Didn't care for Rocky or Rambo to be honest. Does anyone recall the Mel Gibson film THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE (title?) about a disfigured man who mentors a young boy and is accused of the worst crime that people can imagine. A very fine example of masculinity under attack. And condemned of course by leftist critics. Jude Law can be masculine but not very often. Something has definitely happened to men on the screen since the 1990s. At some point they'll try to make an action heror or antihero out of Justin Bieber. You heard it here first...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would add "signing a 30 year mortgage" to the short list of things a man is allowed to cry over.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1. The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven. If you had to pick one movie, this is it. Every form of masculine value there is.

2. Breathless (Godard's version) On one level, it's manly noir, and on the other, it's the interplay of real crime and idealized crime. Women always get us in the end, too.

3. Casablanca. The world-weary yet virtuous man.

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Beats out Star Wars for the idealized male adventurer.

5. Godzilla. Preferably one of the campier ones. Male wish fulfillment at a primal level. Who doesn't want to destroy Tokyo while saving it at the same time from other monsters?

6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Male humor of a certain kind. Silly, wordplay based, endlessly quotable.

7. Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, The invisible Man-all Universal monster movies. This is different from Godzilla in that all of them show the tragic side of manhood. Man as estranged creature, hideous thing, hunted, strong but with cursed strength. The male values and attributes twisted into dark things, and the only end is death.

I'd add more westerns, but I don't like that genre much.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would suggest Tombstone, a manly morality play much better than the history it sort of resembles.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How about Courageous from Sherwood Films? Definitely should be a top exemplar.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Gee, John. I can't believe you overlooked "A Clockwork Orange" with all its healthy life-lessons about loyalty to friends and following your own conscience.
These choices are ones that an overgrown adolescent would make. How about "To Kill A Mockingbird"? Or "The Old Man And The Sea"? Or "Captains Coutrageous"?
Gee, John.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hi! What about Secondhand Lions? I LOVE that movie and I think it's a great story of two older men showing a boy what it means to be a man. It also shows why it's so important for men to be involved in raising children....
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One of the best movies ever!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here's my list of all time favorite male-oriented movies: John Wayne - They Were Expendable, The Quiet Man, The Searchers; Humphrey Bogart - Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Caine Mutiny; Charlton Heston - Ben Hur, Planet of the Apes, Will Penny; Steve McQueen - The Great Escape, Bullitt, Papillon; Clint Eastwood - High Plains Drifter, Dirty Harry, Unforgiven; Robert Duvall - Apocalypse Now, Lonesome Dove, Open Range; Mel Gibson - The Road Warrior, Braveheart, They Were Soldiers
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I mostly like your choices, except I have a problem - Wayne and Bogart are just SO before my time! I also can just barely emotionally connect w/Heston and McQueen.

For Eastwood, I wasn't so keen on Unforgiven, but really liked the way he handled duty and relations w/the women in "Pale Rider" and "The Outlaw Josie Wales". For Gibson, I think that first "Roadwarrior" was a little odd (and Mel so adolescent). I'd prefer (for duty and love) "The Passion of the Christ" and (for fatherhood and love of country) "The Patriot". I think it's a little odd to leave out Schwarzenegger - while his "Conan" may have been a little extreme, I like the way he behaved towards kids (and bad guys) in "Kindergarten Cop", for his strength and unstoppability in "Terminator", and his duty and self-sacrifice in T2. Another favourite actor of mine is Liam Neeson - whether it is his strong but supportive attitude towards women in "Nell", his honour, toughness, and devotion to family in "Rob Roy", or his lethal devotion to family in the two "Taken" films, the world would be a better place w/more men like these.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The real American Hero works hard, takes responsibility, helps his neighbors and his friends. The real American Hero is an active father, dependable in all that he sets his mind to, implacable in his determination to do what is right, serving a good cause if called to and possible paying the ultimate price, one he is well aware of. The sight of him gladdens the hearts of his friends and sends a shiver down the spine of his foes. He is not Superman and he knows that and that is what makes him great.

I don't know of any movies that portray all of that but that's Ok. I got to see it many many times in my father and my grandfather.

I see that occasionally around me today but by and large we are a lesser breed. We have been indoctrinated to be a docile, a more pliable subject for those who covet power, for those who believe that we the people are too deficient to have freedom and the responsibility that our forefathers wielded as a right.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Some of your picks are ok, but many of these movies are beloved by the homosexual community for the over-the-top, pretty boy, sweaty, muscle bound gay iconography they portray. We don't need that. I think a few more Westerns are in order, John Wayne anyone? I like "Road Warrior" as suggested by ddcan and Fritz.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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