Some action movie characters aren’t in it for honor, glory, or their fellow humans. Nay, some are merely after a lucrative paycheck, which is why they turn into mercenaries who sell their combat skills to the highest bidder. Largely unfeeling killing machines, these mercs sometimes get caught up in a good cause without realizing it.
Whether anti-hero or amoral grey, these are the coolest mercenaries in action movie history, by far. Each has enough skills to have earned them a blood-curdling reputation within the criminal underworld. Don’t bother skipping town if one of these characters is ready to punch your clock because it’s already over.
10 Max Rockatansky (The Mad Max Franchise)
Before society went to the dogs, man-of-few-words Max Rockatansky was considered one of the best of the front-line police officers trying hard to keep it together. Unfortunately, the brutal murder of his wife and child at the hands of the sadistic Toecutter drove him over the edge, turning him into “Mad” Max.
Subsequent sequels portrayed Max as a drifter willing to do whatever it took to survive, including odd jobs for the small pockets of surviving humans. Many times these merc-for-hire gigs would end up costing him dearly while giving him a chance to do the right thing at the same time.
9 Sam (Ronin)
Robert De Niro portrayed the mysterious Sam in the underrated Ronin, a former military man now willing to take on jobs around the world for extra cash. He ends up agreeing to a team-up job involving the acquisition of a mysterious briefcase held by foreign nationals.
Sam is beyond experienced in a way that puts him on a level beyond his peers. He analyzes every single situation, sizes up friends and foes, and trusts no one. His ability to sniff out fakers and manipulators helps him survive until he’s double-crossed by the female leader in charge of the op.
8 Miguel Bain (Assassins)
Antonio Banderas brought the cool charisma and style first seen in Desperado to this hit movie also starring Sylvester Stallone. Miguel Bain is a ruthless and cool assassin who stands in direct opposition to Stallone’s character Robert.
Bain is a psychopath who exudes a dark charm that helps hide his evil intentions. He’ll do whatever it takes to get a job done, including rubbing out his fellow assassins. He has both the training, reflexes, and smarts to do it.
7 Barney Ross (The Expendables)
Sylvester Stallone played Barney Ross, the leader of an ultra-elite mercenary group made up of previous ex-military big shots. It was an excuse to launch the Expendables franchise and get as many 80s action stars in one camera shot as possible. Barney was the linchpin that held it all together.
Notoriously stubborn and willing to take on insane risks to accomplish his mission, Barney nevertheless had a sense of honor and integrity about him. His mercenary status wasn’t all about the money, but the meaning behind the job as well.
6 Chance Boudreaux (Hard Target)
Jean-Claude Van Damme played Chance Boudreaux, a down on his luck New Orleans native with some serious combat skills who is hired by a wealthy woman to locate her missing father. He puts his detective skills to use and uncovers an elite criminal group that hunts volunteer humans for sport with the promise of a big cash prize.
Realizing her father was tempted by the offer and killed during a hunt, Chance begins digging too deep. He ends up being hunted by the group, which gives him an opportunity to unleash his deadly skills (and patented spin kick) as the ultimate prey.
5 Léon Montana (The Professional)
Léon gained a reputation as one of New York’s most efficient and talented assassins, and his clean style helped sell his marketability as a reliable contractor. After witnessing his next-door neighbors murdered by an out-of-control DEA agent, he suddenly becomes the guardian of their young orphaned daughter Mathilda.
With nowhere for her to go, Léon takes Mathilda under his wing and begins training her in the killing arts so she can exact revenge on the agent who murdered her family. He’s a merc with a heart of gold, even if his lessons aren’t exactly child-worthy.
4 John Lee (The Replacement Killers)
Chow Yun-Fat hit the Stateside action movie scene in this 1998 hit co-starring Mira Sorvino. Chow played John Lee, one of the most lethal and effective assassins in the entire world who is tasked with murdering the young son of a local police detective. When he refuses, he becomes the mark.
Only Chow Yun-Fat could possibly spin around 360 degrees and mow down bad guys while his red tie drapes perfectly over his arm, and that’s just one example of why he’s one of the coolest mercs in the entire business. What a pity audiences never got a sequel.
3 Frank Martin (The Transporter)
Obsessive-compulsive mercenary Frank Martin (played by action vet Jason Statham) has a few simple rules that his clients must follow. Failure to do so incurs his wrath and a breach of contract. It’s this same set of standards that ends up getting him into so much hot water.
In addition to driving a host of ultra-fast luxury cars, Martin is also a seasoned combat expert that can clobber a small army single-handedly. He’s a guy who thinks quickly on his feet to stay alive, making him the third-coolest on this list.
2 Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill)
Codenamed “the Black Mamba,” Beatrix Kiddo earned her namesake multiple times. As the top-tier assassin in Bill’s group, she was responsible for striking high-value targets around the world for the most elite government and criminal entities.
Her knowledge of martial arts and sword-fighting is considered unparalleled – a fact she demonstrated handsomely when she wiped out the Crazy 88. Those deceived by her sweet girl looks could find themselves missing a limb…or several.
1 John Wick (The John Wick Franchise)
The Baba Yaga known as John Wick is the most ultra-suave and cool mercenary on the list, by far. This is a one-man tactical nuke with enough weapons and combat knowledge to make the Navy S.E.A.L.S. blush, and those who earn his wrath rarely live long enough to regret it.
Wick is the assassin’s assassin, and he’s so far deep in the elite criminal underworld as to know all of their innermost secrets. Though he lives by a code, he has broken it when he believes it is justified. Those who see John Wick walking towards them should cross the street immediately.
NEXT: 10 Underrated Action Thrillers From The 90s
Steven Spielberg’s 5 Best Movies (& 5 Worst), Based On Box Office Performance
About The Author