BRUCE LEE headlines our list of the ultimate badasses in movie history, proving that a guy needs more than size to leave an impact. Yes, some of the guys on this list had great muscle size, but others had very little. However, every single one of them presented a toughness on the big screen that mirrored who they were in real life. Here, we tip our hats to Bruce Lee and the TOUGHEST HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS of all time.
At only 5’7″ and 135 pounds, Bruce Lee is certainly the smallest guy who made our list of the toughest of the tough, but that didn’t stop him from headlining it. Simply put, he had it all: the shredded physique, the lighting-fast martial arts movements, and the mental fortitude to top it all. Often facing multiple attackers, Lee had no problem conquering his foes and dismantling all of them with his bare hands, making it look easy in the process. He could send a 300-pound bag flying to the ceiling with just one kick and needed only his famous one-inch punch to put any guy on his ass. Lee redefifined strength and toughness— both mental and physical. Moreover, he brought his spiritual ideology on these topics to the mainstream, turning the mind-muscle connection into something people could truly understand. For that reason alone, his legendary status is secure.
1. CHARLES BRONSON
Not only did Bronson’s characters kill countless bad guys in cold-blooded fashion, he also flashed an impressive physique in movies like Hard Times (1975) and House of Wax (1953).
2. JIM BROWN
First of all, Brown dominated the NFL long before the sport was wussified with “targeting” and “helmet to helmet” personal-foul penalties. Then he had ass-kicking roles in action films throughout the 1960s and ’70s, including The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Slaughter (1972).
3. JAMES CAAN
He nabbed a starring role in The Godfather (1972), one of the toughest films of all time. Then, living through Kathy Bates shattering his ankles with a sledgehammer in Misery (1990) took him to another level of toughness. Extra credit: Caan trained regularly at Gold’s Gym Venice for years.
4. VIN DIESEL
The shaved head, the deep voice, the guns busting out of his T-shirts. Every character Diesel plays is an intimidator, particularly those in the Fast & Furious and Riddick franchises. Even as a stockbroker in Boiler Room (2000), he was an imposing force.
5. CLINT EASTWOOD
The older he gets, the grittier he gets. He was a bad man in Dirty Harry (1971), but more recently he unflinchingly took on gang violence in Gran Torino (2008) and played a toughas-nails boxing trainer in Million Dollar Baby (2004).
6. TOM HARDY The youngest guy on
The youngest guy on the list at 38, English actor Hardy was a scary (and yoked) dude in Warrior (2011), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Lean, mean, and rugged, he obviously crushes it in the weight room—our kind of guy.
7. STEVE McQUEEN
He was the consummate “do your own stunts” kind of actor, as he was a car racing and motorcycle enthusiast who often participated in his characters’ chase scenes, including one in The Great Escape (1963). McQueen served in the Marines from 1947–50.
8. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
As if Conan, the Terminator, and Dutch (Predator, 1987) weren’t tough enough, recall Arnold as Ben Richards in The Running Man (1987). Constantly outmanned, he came out alive in hands down the most sinister game show ever.
9. SYLVESTER STALLONE
Does getting mashed to a pulp in a boxing ring by men bigger than you but still finding a way to beat those behemoths by the final bell qualify as tough? Thought so. Rocky Balboa equals tough.
10. THE ROCK
We can all think of scenarios in which the biggest guy isn’t necessarily the toughest. (Think Goliath.) Dwayne Johnson definitely meets both criteria. He’s 6’5″, 250-plus pounds, and kicks ass in every role he takes on.