In most genres, a conventionally “good” movie includes a some combination of a compelling story, set of circumstances, conflict, and set of interesting characters. The plot then develops around the characters and situation(s) they’re thrown into. The modern Action Movie genre doesn’t really mess with any of that. Plot lines and character development burn unnecessary calories and distract from explosions, violence, car/train/submarine/aircraft carrier chase scenes, and/or gratuitous nudity. Since the dawn of the golden age of cinema (the 80’s), the Bad Action Flick has held steadfast at the top of the mountain, above all other artistic endeavors. This genre has consistently delivered 10/10 after 10/10 just by duplication of a basic tried and true formula.
One of the fundamental pillars of the genre is the protagonist – the Guy (or Gal), the Hero, the Hunter, the Hunted, the Renegade, the Cop, the Convict, the Cop turned Convict. Out for blood, or vengeance, with has nothing to lose, playing by his own set of rules, shooting first and asking questions later, with no time for back-up. These leading men (or women) have familiar back stories, personas, skills, aversion to sleeves, etc. but to start, they all have one common defining characteristic – an awesome fucking name.
There are five major elements commonly found in strong leading Action Hero movie names. Of the five, every name has to start with the two essentials, then must also check at least one of three other possible boxes. Just like with horsepower, C4, and cleavage – more is always better. Three is passing. Four – you’re cooking with gas (or NOS). Five – you were cooking with gas but you’ve cut and rerouted the gas line, strategically placed a lit zippo in close proximity, and now you’re walking away in slow motion with no look-back or reaction whatsoever as the building explodes.
Horrible sports announcers with little to no capacity for original thought like to use cliches to make themselves sound smart without actually saying anything. One prime example is “you can’t win a game in the first quarter, but you can lose it”. The main character’s name functions similarly – a great one gives only about a 70% chance of the movie being a cinematic masterpiece, but miss on the name, and you might as well stay in the locker room. You can’t win on name alone, but you can definitely lose.
The criteria for creating and evaluating a strong name and several prime examples are laid out below:
- At the risk of oversimplifying, it just has to be memorable.
- It has to sound great coming from a guy with a mustache (police chief, fellow officer, platoon leader, drill sergeant, CIA or FBI agent, guy with a whistle and windbreaker, henchman, drug lord, bounty hunter, etc.).
b. One or more:
- First and last name combined are 4 syllables or less.
- Is a place (proper noun).
- Incorporates a cool-sounding word (usually another noun).
John McClane (Bruce Willis, Die Hard I-III) 1, 2, 3
Memphis Raines (Nick Cage, Gone in 60 Seconds) 1, 2, 3, 4
Stanley Goodspeed (Nick Cage, The Rock) 1, 2, 3, 5
Lincoln Hawk (Sly Stallone, Over the Top) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Boom motherfucker)
Raymond Tango (Sly Stallone, Tango & Cash) 1, 2, 3, 5 *bonus: great name tandem
Gabriel Cash (Kurt Russell, Tango & Cash) 1, 2, 3, 5 *bonus: great name tandem
Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves, Point Break) 1, 2, 3, 4 *bonus: UTAH! GET ME TWO!!
Jack Crews (Swayze, Black Dog) 1, 2, 3, 5 *bonus: long-haul trucker and his last name is Crews. just fuckin brilliant.
Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg, Shooter) 1, 2, 3, 5 *bonus: 3 words, 4 syllables
Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, Escape from NY/LA) 1, 2, 3, 5
John Wick (Keanu Reeves, John Wick I-II) 1, 2, 3, 5
John Tavern (Keanu Reeves, Speed) 1, 2, 3, 5
There are of course exceptions for single named characters such as Blade (Blade I-Trinity), Dalton (Swayze, Road House), and for ensemble casts like the Fast & the Furious (The Franchise) and the Expendables. Besides, Dominic Toretto hits the first two so hard, the system couldn’t handle him coming back for 3-5.
In closing, goddamn it I love Keanu Reeves, Swayze, Nick Cage, Kurt Russell, and Sly Stallone. But mainly Keanu.