Action stars jump off tall buildings, thwart evil villains and star in epic franchises like Death Wish or American Ninja. Some actors aren’t quite ready for the limelight of exploding buildings but when they are they accept the call of adventure with impeccable aplomb. Here are just a few shining examples.
1) Batman, Michael Keaton
Before Bamtan Keaton was known for movies like Night Shift, Clean and Sober and Beetlejuice. The physicality and intensity Keaton brought to those films translated incredibly well to the role of Batman in unexpected ways. Keaton deftly shifts from brooding to deranged without missing a beat. His ability to change from Bruce Wayne to Batman harkens to his confidence in going from Gung Ho to Beetlejuice. Roles like Betelgeuse also educated Keaton on how to act under layers of makeup. That talent worked well when Keaton had to scare bad guys in his Batman outfit using nothing but his eyes and his chin.
Matt Damon had done a lot since Good Will Hunting like Rounders, Dogma and The Legend of Bagger Vance but none of it came close to an action movie. All that changed with The Bourne Identity. Damon gave Jason Bourne qualities could have only come from Damon’s acting talents. Bourne wasn’t just a mindless killing machine he was wonderfully enigmatic while slowly developing a confident, strong-willed soul. All of the growth that happens on screen comes from Damon’s innate ability to imbue characters with drive and genuine humanity. He also handles the action with impeccable confidence. Damon is an actor willing to accept any challenge and it shows in roles like Jason Bourne.
Reeves’ career was developing at breakneck speed after Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and a lot of small roles and forgettable movies no one remembers. His excellent adventure would have made him a one-hit wonder but Point Break made him a star. Reeves brought all the charisma and energy any actor could ever hope for to the role. He’d been honing these skills in several movies but here in Point Break he revealed himself to the world, a beautiful peacock strutting his feathers. His line delivery, a calling card down the road, only became more apparent in this film. Point Break blessed the world back in 1991 and it only continues to bless the world every day.
In 1975 Kurt Russell starred in a Disney comedy called The Strongest Man in the World. Six years later he put on an eye patch and became Snake Plissken. Plissken has become one of the most iconic and mimicked heroes in all of cinema. All the details that made that character can be traced back to Russell. His Clint Eastwood voice, the eye-patch all of it points back to Russell. Plissken is an immovable object of the highest order. Nothing fazes him and nothing ever gets in his way. Russell found a new gear with this role. His performance was an effort to escape the Disney films and move into the adult-oriented films Russell was longing to make.
5) Top Gun, Tom Cruise
Today Tom Cruise is a household name like Michael Jordan or Jay-Z but in 1986 his biggest hit aside from Risky Business was The Outsiders. Yes, this is the stage of Cruise’s career he was in back in the early 1980s. If Risky Business put him in the stratosphere then Top Gun landed him on the moon. Top Gun amplified Cruise’s charm, bravado and willingness to do anything for the audience. Top Gun was the perfect showcase for Tom Cruise would become. Much like how Escape from New York fit Kurt Russell Top Gun was the perfect vehicle for Cruise. Interestingly though he wouldn’t fully embrace action movies again until Mission: Impossible in 1996.
Thee are just a few blue collar actors who used their abilities to transform themselves into high kicking, one liner delivering heroes the likes of which this unsuspecting world never saw coming. Who’s the next lucky actor who might someday become an action star? Who knows but we’ll find out soon enough.