Why So Tough: Details remain classified concerning Lee’s time in crack commando squad, the Special Operations Executive, save for the fact that Churchill’s brief to them was to “set Europe ablaze” during WW2.
Safe to say he was pretty tough, then.
How It Translates Onscreen: If ever you’ve seen one of Lee’s brooding Hammer Horror performances, you’ll know just how intimidating a presence he can be.
Why So Tough: The man best known as Scotty proved himself handy with more than just a phaser back in WW2, where he was a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery.
His first combat assignment was none other than the D-Day landings at Normandy, where Doohan personally did for two Nazi snipers, lead his men through a minefield and took six machine gun bullets for his troubles.
How It Translates Onscreen: Scotty got into his fair share of scrapes during his time on the enterprise, although his greatest battle was with that forever overheating warp core…
Why So Tough: Marvin began establishing his credentials from an early age, hunting pumas for kicks in the Florida everglades.
He went on to become a sniper in the US Marine Corps, before earning the Purple Heart, having sustained injuries from a machine gun.
Yes, he was shot with a machine gun, and then went on to become a Hollywood star.
Not bad, is it?
How It Translates Onscreen: Even when performing a musical routine in Paint Your Wagon , Marvin was the embodiment of manliness.
No mean feat when belting out a showtune…
Why So Tough: Trejo was a promising amateur boxer, and had considered following it as a professional career, only to fall in with the wrong crowd and spend much of his early life in and out of prison.
Not that that thwarted his ambitions entirely… he became Pennsylvania state prison champion in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions.
Now that’s tough.
How It Translates Onscreen: Trejo has based his entire career upon his tough-guy reputation.
If there is a role going for a Mexican heavy, you can be sure Trejo will have been considered for it.
Samuel L. Jackson
Why So Tough: In his younger years, Jackson was a militant member of the Black Power movement, who was a firm advocate of violent protest after the murder of Martin Luther King.
Such was his involvement in the movement, that the FBI went as far as to investigate he and his family.
How It Translates Onscreen: If you’ve seen the righteous fury with which Jackson delivers his Pulp Fiction speech, you can begin to imagine how scary he would be with some real fire in his belly.
Why So Tough: A Nordic God of a man, it should come as no surprise to learn that Lundgren served as a kind of cross between a ranger and a marine in a special unit of the Swedish armed forces.
He also achieved black belt status in the Kyokushin discipline of karate, winning the European Championships in 1980 and 1981.
Not a man to be trifled with.
How It Translates Onscreen: His turn as Ivan Drago crams all that badassery into one well-chiselled package.
Apollo Creed never stood a chance.
Why So Tough: Connery was something of a unit as a younger man, famously placing third in 1950’s Mr. Universe competition.
Those muscles weren’t just for show, however. Connery also has a spell in the armed forces, spending a three-year stint in the British Navy before he became a Hollywood star.
How It Translates Onscreen: His James Bond may have been a smooth-talking ladies man, but there was never any questioning his credentials as a badass…
Why So Tough: As befits someone who spendt a mid-career stint as a semi-professional boxer, Mitchum was brought up tough.
In fact, he was arrested for vagrancy at just fourteen years of age during the Great Depression, and forced to join a chain gang. Not for long, mind.
As soon as his manacles were loosened, Mitchum made a run for it and won back his freedom.
How It Translates Onscreen: A towering, menacing presence, Mitchum’s raw physicality and booming voice made for a profitable career playing both hard-boiled heroes and unhinged villains.
Why So Tough: Having grown up with the abusive stepfather he described as “a prime son of a bitch”, McQueen was a tough kid, finding himself in trouble with the law at the age of just twelve.
However, he would channel that aggression into a glittering career in the Marines.
One particularly heroic episode saw McQueen save the lives of five other men as he pulled them from a tank seconds before it went crashing through the Arctic ice.
How It Translates Onscreen: A man’s man, equally handy with his fists as he was with a pithy one-liner.
One of the most convincing Hollywood heroes in living memory.
Why So Tough: The star of 44 titles in a glittering movie career, Audie Murphy is known first and foremost as the most decorated soldier in US military history.
His most famous triumph? Holding off a platoon of German soldiers single-handedly, with only his tank’s machine gun for company.
We should add that the tank was on fire at the time…
How It Translates Onscreen: Hollywood had the bright idea that the best candidate to play a dashing, wildly heroic military man would be somebody who had already lived the part.
Needless to say, Murphy was never less than convincing.