Skip to main content

30 Toughest Movie Actors

Chuck Norris

Why So Tough: Quite aside from his well-documented ability to slam a revolving door, Norris joined the US Air Force as an Air Policeman (even his job title sounds badass) and was stationed at Osan air base in South Korea.

It was there that began to study the martial art of Tangsudo, in which he attained a black belt.

So yeah, quite tough really.

How It Translates Onscreen: You might not suspect it from his softly spoken demeanour, but Norris has played quite a few tough guys in his time.

Have you not heard the stories?

Clark Gable

Why So Tough: MGM were understandably unwilling to put one of their biggest stars in the line of fire, but Clark Gable still joined up to the US Army Air Corps in 1942, and was heavily involved in WW2.

He flew five combat missions during the war, with his aircraft sustaining heavy damage on one of those, and shrapnel narrowly missing his head.

Unphased, he was eventually promoted to major and requested further combat assignments.

They never materialised, but his courage couldn’t be questioned.

How It Translates Onscreen: A dashing leading man with an unending capacity for making his audience swoon… of course he was a pilot in real life!

Ernest Borgnine

Why So Tough: Many Hollywood stars of a certain age can claim to have spent some time in the military, but Ernest Borgnine made a proper career out of it, spending ten years in the Navy, reaching the rank of gunner’s mate 1st class in the process.

His time in service was studded with decorations, and he continued to support the Navy for the rest of his Hollywood career. A man of considerable grit.

How It Translates Onscreen:
His career began playing hard-bitten villains, and perhaps his most famous role came in The Wild Bunch .

He certainly didn’t let his tough-guy status go to waste!

Sean Bean

Why So Tough: A proud Yorkshireman and general man’s man, Sean Bean has never been one to to back down from a fight.

So when Bean engaged a fellow drinker in a quick bout of fisticuffs after hearing his date for the evening insulted, he was only too happy to carry on with the evening after giving the guy a good pasting.

And even when said aggressor returned with a broken bottle and stabbed him in the arm with it, Bean simply got himself patched up and returned to his date.

Hard as nails.

How It Translates Onscreen: Into bouts of bearded gruffness, usually accompanied by some kind of broadsword and a big old cloak.

Patrick Dempsey

Why So Tough: While P-Demp might not look like a badass, there is clearly a caged warrior just waiting to break loose.

Earlier this year the star was witness to a horrible car accident in which one vehicle flipped over, trapping a teenage boy inside.

Rather than wait for help, Dempsey proceeded to grab a crowbar and smash the car door off its hinges, before rescuing the stricken teen.

Presumably he followed this up by ripping his shirt off and howling at the moon…

How It Translates Onscreen:
It usually comes across as vaguely irritating smugness, but happily, we now know better.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Why So Tough: With his humorous accent and wandering hands, it’s easy to view Arnie as a figure of fun and forget the sheer physicality of the man.

However, it can’t be ignored that young Arnold was drafted into the Austrian army at 18 years of age, only to go AWOL to compete in a bodybuilding contest.

He ended up in jail for his troubles, but came out the other side and won Mr. Universe two years later.

Mental resilience, and muscles to spare…

How It Translates Onscreen: His onscreen persona is pretty much indistinguishable from his offscreen one.

Big, funny and vaguely terrifying.

James Stewart

Why So Tough: Stewart was already a Hollywood star when he joined the US Air Force, but he worked hard with MGM’s in-house physio Don Loomis in order to put on the required muscle to pass the minimum weight requirement.

Once enlisted, the studio had attempted to put plans in place to keep him out of danger, but Stewart was having none of it, piloting the lead B-24 bomber on a number of missions deep within Nazi-occupied Europe.

How It Translates Onscreen:
Stewart’s on-screen presence was all about wry humour and reluctant heroism.

Off-screen, he was a far more willing participant.

Dennis Farina

Why So Tough: Before he got his big break on the silver screen, Farina spent nearly twenty years working as an officer in the Chicago Police Department, primarily in the burglary division.

He was also involved in some notable skirmishes, such as the rioting that occurred at the 1968 Democratic Convention, where Farina was one of the key officers on duty.

How It Translates Onscreen: Whether playing cops or crims, Farina exudes a charisma and authority appropriate to a man of his experience.

Tyrone Power

Why So Tough: It’s perhaps appropriate that the owner of one of the most badass names in Hollywood history should have a glittering military career to match.

Power joined the Marine Corps in 1942, and as an already proficient pilot, was soon given his wings.

Highly decorated, he notably flew cargo and airlifted wounded marines to and from the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

How It Translates Onscreen: Power was more of a matinee idol than a tough guy, but you can still detect a certain steeliness behind the eyes…

Mel Brooks

Why So Tough: Brooks joined the US army at just seventeen years of age and served during World War 2 as a combat engineer.

His primary responsibility was the defusing of land mines in order to ensure safe passage for the advancing Allied forces, but he also liked to indulge in some Nazi-baiting too.

Having endured a glut of Axis propaganda blasted out across the battlefield, Brooks responded by setting up his own speakers, and playing the hits of famed Jewish singer, Al Jolson. Pow!

How It Translates Onscreen: It doesn’t really, as Brooks was better known for his humour than his grit.

That said, the aforementioned Jolson prank certainly rings true…

George is GR's resident movie news person, based out of London. He understands that all men must die, but he'd rather not think about it.