The Top 10 Testosterone Movies of All Time: Take Three
by Ron Harris
Note: This is the third installment of our Top Ten T-Movies series. TC and Chris gave their opinions the first two times around (issues #24 and #135). This time we leave it up to Ron Harris to round off the trilogy.
Man Movies 101
Before I get into my personal choices for the top ten T-movies of all time, I feel compelled to explain that there are few matters of taste so individual as one's favorite films. To me, a great T-movie makes me feel alive, energized, full of piss and vinegar and damn proud to be the owner of a penis.
Some of my choices are rather violent in nature. Early man was a violent animal — killing, raping, and taking what he wanted. It was survival of the fittest, and the baddest motherfuckers came out on top. Flash forward to the present day, where civilization has tamed us to the point where we fear even defending ourselves against an attacker lest we get slapped with a lawsuit. Deep inside, we're all still warriors, yearning to assert our manhood via physical means. For the vast majority of us, though, there will never be the chance to prove ourselves on the field of battle or to defend our families and villages from rampaging hordes.
My top ten T-movies all take me to that place where a man is a man. A man stands up to injustice, a man doesn't back down from insurmountable odds, and a man doesn't let society define him. Most of all, he lives by his own rules. For those of us who live in a world where our entire lives are rigidly defined, structured, and scheduled, T-movies are the ultimate fantasy and escape. None of these movies is about a guy who drives kids around in a minivan and shops at Old Navy.
You'll all have your own choices, which is why I anticipate ensuing letters in Reader Mail demanding to know how I could possibly overlook this or that film, or outrage that one or more of my choices had no business being included. Just remember, I studied film for four years in college, so my opinion counts the most! After all, I was forced to watch Citizen Kane about a hundred times.
All sarcasm aside, here are my top ten picks, in no particular order.
Arnold Schwarzenegger had done a few movies prior to this 1982 science fiction classic, even the first Conan, but this was the role that put him on the map. Arnold is the T-100, a cybernetic organism sent back in time to 1980's Los Angeles to kill Sarah Connor before she can ever give birth to her son John, who will lead the war against the machines who are soon to take over the earth.
From the second Arnie's seven-time Mr. Olympia body emerges from a ball of lightning in an alley to steal some clothes from loitering punk rockers, the Terminator is the focus of our rapt attention. It's hard to imagine anyone but Arnold pulling off the role as the unfeeling, unstoppable cyborg assassin (even though, surprisingly, the original idea was for Arnold to play John Connor — the good guy). He takes out an entire police station and survives hundreds of gunshots, car crashes, and explosions. Hell, this thing is so tough it even removes its own eyeball and puts on a cool pair of shades to cover up the glowing red robot eye!
We want Reese and Sarah to kill the T-100, but we can't get enough of him either. This was vintage Arnold, before he decided to tone down his muscles, keep his shirt on, and try to be funny instead of just a big, bad mutha. The movie itself is chock full of action and the pace is relentless. I'll always remember The Terminator as the first movie I saw that went by so fast I thought it was less than an hour long. And even though Pumping Iron inspired millions to lift weights, I doubt this movie was far behind.
"I'll be back."
"Fuck you, asshole."
"Phased plasma rifle, 40-watt range."
"That Terminator is out there! It can't be bargained with, it can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."
"You're terminated, fucker!"
There's always been something romantic (in the warrior-poet sense of the word) and deeply meaningful about war, and this is perhaps the greatest war movie ever made.
Apocalypse Now isn't so much a war movie as it is a film chronicling one man's descent into darkness and insanity, discovering that the line between what's deemed sane and that which is labeled crazy is fuzzy at best.
By the time we meet Willard (Martin Sheen), he's already been hardened by his assignment as one of the CIA's top assassins working in Vietnam. His final assignment is to find Colonel William Kurtz in his Cambodian jungle fortress and "terminate with extreme prejudice." Kurtz is believed to be insane and his methods barbaric and "unsound," as his mixed rogue army of U.S. deserters and jungle tribesmen fight the North Vietnamese on their own terms, taking no orders from Army brass.
As Willard makes his way up the treacherous river into Cambodia, he comes to see the irony in his orders. Kurtz may hang the bodies of his slain enemies from trees and build mountains of their severed heads, but what makes him any worse than an Army General who sits in a comfortable room and orders villages full of innocent women and children burned to the ground hundreds of miles away?
The ultimate irony is that Kurtz had been expecting him, and actually wanted to leave his life of murder in the name of capitalism over communism. The film starts with the Door's "The End," and finishes with it as well with Willard hacking Kurtz to death as the natives outside his palace slaughter a cow (and yes, animals were harmed in the making of this film it's all real). Willard emerges bearing the bloody weapon, and the natives bow down to their new king just before an air strike burns the village to a crisp.
The true test of whether a movie deserves to be a T-movie is whether men get it and women don't. I've met dozens of fellow male fans of this film, but I've yet to find a woman who thought it was anything special. Actually, I'm sure there are exceptions, but I don't know too many women who've even seen this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece. Movies about the horrors of war seem to strike a chord in we men, perhaps because it's the way so many of us have died over the centuries and it's the ultimate proving ground for courage.
"You're an errand boy sent by grocery clerks."
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like. . .victory."
"These boys could drop fire on children, but they were not allowed to write 'fuck' on their airplanes because it was obscene."
"In Vietnam, they would cut you in half with a machine gun and give you a Band-aide."
"Charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500."
"Did you know that 'if' is the middle word of life?"
"Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared."
From Dusk 'Til Dawn
"Not that stupid vampire movie!" you may be groaning, but hear me out. George Clooney is Seth Gekko, a bank robber who has eluded the Texas Rangers after a prison break with his brother Richie (Quentin Tarantino, who's much better as a director than an actor).
After kidnapping a minister's family and using their RV to sneak across the Mexican border, they hide out in a rough biker bar called the Titty Twister. Soon after, the doors are locked and all the hot dancing chicks and bar staff turn into bloodthirsty vampires. Seth, a man who lives by his own code of honor as a thief, becomes good's best hope in this fight against pure evil.
Seth Gekko is one tough bastard, standing up against ridiculous odds and determined not to let the vamps get him or his new friends. We watch him go from a man who seems to care only about himself and his needs to a defender of the innocent. The best part is that no matter how crazy the action gets, he never once loses his cool or his sarcastic
"fuck you" attitude. This may have been a forgettable B-movie, but Seth Gekko deserves a spot in the cinematic T-man hall of fame. All of the following lines are his.
"I don't want to hear any of that shit about 'I don't believe in vampires" cuz I don't believe in vampires."
"Do you want to live through this?"
"I'm gonna finish this bottle right here and then I'm gonna bust it over his melon fucking head."
"Now, is my shit together or is my shit together?"
"Fight now, cry later!"
"All right vampire killers, let's kill some fucking vampires."
"Your best better get a hell of a lot fucking better, or you're gonna feel a hell of a lot fucking worse."
"Psychos don't explode when sunlight hits them, I don't give a fuck how crazy they are."
How many of us have ever dreamed of rising to the occasion if only we were given the chance? Rocky Balboa gets that chance when heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed picks an unknown fighter to be his opponent in a big Fourth of July, 1976 title match.
Until this point, the Italian Stallion was a two-bit hoodlum living in squalor with no ambition or self-respect. The challenge of the big fight brings out the best that was dormant in Rocky, and with the guidance of trainer Mickey, he transforms himself from a bum to a legitimate threat that can't be knocked out. We all love movies where the underdog wins in the end. Though Rocky doesn't nab the title that first time, he's nonetheless a champion for going the distance with the best fighter in the world and emerging as an equal.
All of you in my age bracket (I'm 32) probably still get tingles when you hear the theme song ("Gonna Fly Now") that played during Rocky's training scenes. Even in the inferior sequels, that music was the perfect backdrop as Rocky ran his ass off, pumped iron, did sit-ups as an assistant punched his abs with every rep, and generally went far beyond the pain tolerance of any normal man.
It was clear that he was determined to win, and he believed that only by enduring the most punishing training possible would he be satisfied with his preparation. I was only seven when I saw this, but for a few weeks I was running everywhere and doing push-ups and sit-ups at every opportunity. For those of us who became bodybuilders, Rocky became a metaphor for struggling to change our bodies against the odds of resistant genetics. Rocky's message is to never, ever give up on your goal no matter how impossible or troublesome it may be to reach, and that's a fundamental part of being a T-man.
"You talk about your prime, Mick. What about my prime? At least you had a prime."
"You stop this fight, I'll kill you."
"You know, the mornin' after a fight, you're nothin' but a large wound, ya know? Sometimes I got pains all over me. I feel like callin' a taxi to take me from the bedroom to the bathroom, you know what I mean?"
"You're gonna eat thunder and shit lightning!"
"Yo Adrian! I did it!"
A Clockwork Orange
Are some men so intrinsically evil that they deserve to be rendered incapable of violence? And does society have the right to do so? This is the crux of A Clockwork Orange, a movie about a man who has the T sucked right out of him in a radical new medical procedure that's designed to be the ultimate in criminal reform.
Teenage Alex spends his nights terrorizing a futuristic London (which looks quite outdated now, as the film was made in 1970). After drinking mescaline-laced milk at the local milk bar, he and his hoodlum friends fight with rival gangs, beat helpless transients to a pulp, and perpetrate vicious home invasion robberies featuring rape and torture. When the law finally catches up to our young antihero, it seems he's destined to spend his life in prison.
The opportunity arises for him to take part in a medical experiment that tempts him with early release. The "Ludovico Technique" consists of the administration of a drug followed by forced viewing of endless atrocities on a movie theater screen, all set to his beloved Beethoven's Fifth (no, not the stupid movie about the Saint Bernard!) Following this, any attempt to engage in an act of sex or violence results in incapacitating nausea.
Alex is subsequently released from prison, but finds himself at the mercy of those who he had wronged as they exact their revenge on the helpless lad one by one. After watching the pathetic former bad-ass pay for his crimes over a series of sadistic beatings, he finally hurls himself out of a third-floor window after being locked up and forced to listen to the Fifth at full volume. Upon awaking in a hospital bed in a full-body cast, we discover that the State has restored his freedom of choice somehow, and Alex is back to his original, evil self.
From the opening shot of Alex's sneering face, wearing a single false eyelash as he sits in the milk bar before his night of wanton violence begins, to the closing daydream he has of savagely copulating in front of a huge crowd of onlookers, we can't help but sympathize with Alex. Though he's not a role model by any means, his behavior is a powerful rebellion against the sanitized socialist government he lives under. His violence is an expression of individuality, a refusal to conform to the rules others passively accept.
It's a morality tale, an odd one where we find that taking away freedom of choice is the worst crime of all. It's particularly relevant today when boys are being scolded for demonstrating such typically "masculine" behavior as playing with toy guns or roughhousing. In the end, even though we know Alex will just go back to his former ways, the return of his free will is a triumph.
"Come get one in the yarbles, if ya have any yarbles, that is."
"What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolence."
"Oh yes, I was cured, alright."
Three men, a rickety old boat, and a 25-foot long, three-ton eating machine. When the good townsfolk of Amity Island start becoming dinner entrees to a ravenous rogue Great White shark, it's up to this unlikely trio to reclaim the beaches for humankind's summer pleasure and end the feeding frenzy.
At first, it's easy to mistake the salty sea dog Quint, captain of the boat and WWII combat veteran, for the real T-man here. But Quint is really just a mercenary, out for the reward money and the glory of tagging the big, bad fish that's managed to terrorize his island. It's Chief Martin Brody, a man mortally afraid of the water who casts his apprehensions aside to rid Amity of this mindless, murdering beast.
With no experience either as a sailor or a hunter of sharks, ostensibly there was no justifiable reason for him to even embark on the voyage. But as a true T-man, Brody felt it his duty as the Chief of Police and a father to do whatever he could to rid his beaches of this marauding carnivore. In the end, it comes down to just Brody and the beast, good and evil, in a final showdown as the boat sinks down into the shark's watery domain.
Steeling his concentration for just one chance to take the creature down, he single-handedly ends the ordeal with one well-placed rifle shot into an oxygen tank lodged between its jaws. "Smile, you sonofabitch!" Boom!
I saw this movie for the first time at a drive-in during the summer of 1975, and the whoops and cheers coming from the cars all across the lot that humid night were something I'll never forget. My other favorite quote from Jaws was when Brody got his first glimpse of the shark and announced to Quint and Hooper, "We're gonna need a bigger boat."
"This was no boating accident!"
"You go in the cage. Cage goes in the water. Shark's in the water."
We've always been fascinated with gangsters like Al Capone and John Gotti, rulers of an underworld where life is lived under their own unique rules and code of ethics. Tony Montana, as played by Al Pacino, is perhaps the ultimate gangster.
Tony arrives in Miami as one of thousands of Marielitos, criminals and undesirables dumped on America by Fidel Castro. Seeing America as the land of opportunity, Tony ruthlessly raises himself from a small-time thug to the king of an enormous cocaine empire in no time. Besides his admirable abundance of ambition (though admittedly on the wrong side of the law), Tony is a T-man because he refuses to take shit from anybody. When his boss tries to have him killed, Tony turns the tables by killing his would-be assassins, killing his boss, and taking the boss's beautiful girl (Michelle Pfieffer) for his wife. Tony Montana fears no man and does whatever he desires, even though imprisonment and murder are constant threats.
One of the most memorable scenes in film is the final gun battle, when the Columbian drug lord's private army attacks Tony's mansion, taking out everyone but Tony himself. Hopped up on cocaine and absorbing bullet after bullet from the invaders as if they were mosquito bites, Tony brazenly makes his final stand, hopelessly outnumbered, but talking shit to the very end. The motto he lived his final days by was "The world is yours," and Tony Montana truly believed it.
For all of us who ever dreamed of taking the world by the balls and demanding a kingdom of our own, Scarface was a classic.
"This city is like one big pussy, just waiting to be fucked."
"All I got in this world is my word and my balls, and I don't break 'em for nobody."
"You gonna take me? You gonna need a whole army to take me!"
"Say hello to my little friend!"
"I bury those cock-a-roaches."
"I'm Tony Montana. You fuck wit me, you fucking wit da best!"
"You're all a bunch of fucking assholes, you know why? You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be! You need people like me so you can point your fucking fingers and say, look, there goes the bad guy."
Before the Rambo movies went big-budget and Sylvester Stallone was more concerned about how his pecs looked on-screen than whether or not the script sucked, there was First Blood.
John Rambo is a wandering ghost, a displaced Vietnam war veteran with no home or family other than the men he served with in the Green Berets. A peaceful, humble man, he's merely trying to pass through a town quietly when local law enforcement decides to make his life a living hell for no reason other than his long hair and disheveled appearance.
After escaping their jail, he heads to the hills where he gives the local cops a taste of combat, setting deadly booby traps and incapacitating them one by one when they refuse to leave him be. The National Guard is called in, and the innocent Rambo is hunted down like one of the FBI's ten most wanted. While eluding them, he endures such horrors as having to crawl though an underground tunnel full of hungry rats, and an agonizing fall off a cliff where a tree breaks his fall but the branches break his ribs and deliver deep puncture wounds.
But since Rambo is just about the toughest bastard you could ever hope to find, none of his pursuers are able to catch him. In the end his frustration and rage come pouring out in a hail of M-60 fire upon the town that did him wrong before his former commander hauls him off to jail.
John Rambo stood for all of us who ever felt unfairly persecuted or singled out for not fitting into the societal norm. All he wanted was to be loved by the country he had fought and risked death for, but instead he is reviled and punished by an ungrateful civilian world.
"Nothing is over! You don't just turn it off!"
"You don't seem to want to accept who you are dealing with. You are dealing with a man who is an expert with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man who's been trained to ignore pain, to ignore weather, to live off the land and eat things that would make a billygoat puke."
"They drew first blood, not me."
"Let it go now or I'll give you a war you won't believe."
Tyler Durden as portrayed by Brad Pitt is the alter ego of sedate Edward Norton, who wears a suit to his boring job as an insurance claims adjuster and is counting the seconds until his bland existence trudges to its end. His life is without inspiration, meaning, and certainly T-deficient.
All that changes when he "meets" Tyler, a suave, charismatic mystery man that soon turns out to live life by an entirely different set of rules. In short, Durden thumbs his nose at the patterns of society by living in a condemned house, shunning personal hygiene, and founding a fight club, an after-hours weekly meeting where men test their manhood in brutal bare-knuckled brawls.
No other film of our generation has so eloquently raised the question of what price we've paid in our souls as men by becoming civilized and domesticated in a world where it's become somehow wrong to exhibit traditionally masculine traits. In essence, this film became a philosophical statement for men to ponder as we headed into the new millenium.
Tyler wasn't trying to get men to pummel each other. He was trying to open their eyes to how meaningless their lives had truly become and urge them to free themselves of the chains modern society had confined them with. In many ways, this is the definitive movie for the men of Generation X.
"This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time."
"How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?"
"Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives."
"We are a generation raised by women. I'm wondering if another woman is the answer."
"You are not your job. You are not how much you have in the bank. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis."
"The things you own end up owning you."
"We were raised on television to believe that we'd all be millionaires, movie gods, rock stars, but we won't. And we're starting to figure that out."
Enter the Dragon
How many of us used to idolize Bruce Lee, the unbeatable fighting machine who proved that even a little guy could kick major ass? Even bodybuilders like Dorian Yates and Mike Christian looked up to him long before they knew who Arnold was.
Watching this man fight on screen was a pure adrenaline rush. Unlike Jet Li and Jackie Chan, Bruce didn't have his fight scenes enhanced by digital effects and advanced editing techniques. What you saw was all Bruce the blinding speed, the incredible power that snapped out of every punch and kick, the total lack of fear in his eyes.
Enter the Dragon was his last and best film, the one that secured his legend in our hearts forever. Even the hokey acting on the part of the supporting cast couldn't dim the glory of Bruce's perfection in this movie. The first big fight scene, where a shirtless Lee, his wiry, ripped physique looking like coiled steel, takes on an entire army of Mr. Han's henchmen at once with only a pair of escrima sticks, is a blinding fast ballet of perfectly executed blows.
This one film launched the martial arts craze of the 1970's and was responsible for millions of men and women getting involved in the ancient fighting arts. Without this film, there would have been no movies with Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan, or any other of his would-be successors.
The plot of the film itself is fairly ludicrous. Lee is sent by British Intelligence to infiltrate the isolated island fortress of Mr. Han, who's assembling a private army of martial artists that will serve as the muscle to his criminal enterprise. Wouldn't it have made a lot more sense to just have some thugs with machine guns?
Lee and his co-stars are lured there for a martial arts tournament, but Lee is also out for revenge for his sister, who committed hari-kari rather than be raped by Han's top thug. Bruce does get to take the jerk out in a match, and we're also introduced in this film to "The Chinese Hercules," Bolo Yeung, whose development at that time (1973) certainly wouldn't have been out of place competing against Arnold and Lou Ferrigno.
Enter the Dragon remains to most martial-arts aficionados the best film of this genre ever made, and I think most T-men have probably seen it at least ten times.
"You might call it the art of fighting without fighting."
"You have offended my family and the Shaolin Temple."
"Kick me. What was that? An exhibition? We need emotional content, now do it again. I said emotional content, not anger! It's like a finger pointing to the moon. (smack) Don't concentrate on the finger or you miss all the heavenly glory."
The Best of the Rest
For the record, all of these just missed my top ten and many could've been included:
Pulp Fiction (the scene where Bruce Willis saves Ving Rhames from the rapist hillbillies is brilliant)
Conan the Barbarian
Natural Born Killers
The Deer Hunter
The Wild Bunch
My T gets to flowing just thinking about these flicks! Time to go lift!
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