GREATEST HITS: 7 Older Actors Who Knew What It Meant To Be A Man

This post originally appeared on August 17th but we’re reposting it as part of a series of our Greatest Hits here at List Off.

COLIN: This was my second list and remains one of my favorite things I’ve written for the site. I’ve made a few updates and edits since it was originally published in an attempt to refine it, but my conclusion remains the same: We don’t have enough real men on the screen today, and most leading actors look like supermodels. That is not okay with me.

Every young leading man actor today has a six pack and rippling muscles. The guy who played Spock in the new Star Trek movie has a six pack. Do you think Leonard Nimoy ever once in his life had a six pack? No, I can almost guarantee you that Leonard Nimoy never had a six pack.

For some reason, real men are disappearing from movie screens and we are left with pretty boy actors who have perfectly formulated muscular bodies that have been crafted and carved in a gym. It takes more than muscles to play a man and there was once a time when men did not have to be muscular and pretty to play the main character. Actors used to be tough and vulnerable all at the same time and they fucked girl pussy without ever being a girl pussy. Here are seven manly actors who knew they had to prove it all night, because there’s nothing else that they could do.

Charlton Heston

A few years ago, back when Charlton Heston died there were many who said, “Fuck Charlton Heston, he was the head of the NRA, I’m glad he’s dead.” Fuck those people. It’s is totally possible to be a liberal person while admiring the fact that Charlton Heston was a kick ass actor. It seems rather short-sighted to dismiss an artist because of their personal beliefs or actions. Do you know how many actors are secretly cold hearted conservatives? Lots. Charlton Heston was a man! Who cares if he liked guns? Hunter Thompson loved guns and nobody seems to give him shit about that.

But back to the topic at hand. Do you think Charlton Heston ever went to the gym or ate nothing but boiled chicken? I bet Charlton Heston lived on a diet composed solely of red meat and vagina. He was not the most refined actor, and often times his performances reeked of campy beef, but he had a presence, and he projected an inner strength. He was a man through and through.

Best role: Captain Taylor in the original Planet of the Apes from 1968.
Quote: Captain Taylor: “Imagine me needing someone. Back on Earth I never did. Oh, there were women. Lots of women. Lots of love-making but no love. You see, that was the kind of world we’d made. So I left, because there was no one to hold me there.”

Oliver Reed

It’s quite possible that Oliver Reed has never given a sober performance. There are even rumors that it was only possible to work with him in the morning, because by the end of the day he’d be so drunk he would just go into violent fits. The man was not even in shape. He quite often looked bloated and drunk, and there was almost always a deep sorrow welling up in his eyes even when he was beating the shit out of someone. None of that matters, because Oliver Reed was a consummate bad ass.

Oliver Reed was the type of actor who could stare a man to death just as easily as he could wrestle a bear naked and win. While he never quite reached the level of superstardom like a few of the other actors on this list, Oliver Reed was most definitely a singular presence in cinema. He died in 1999 while filming Gladiator with Russell Crowe after drinking three bottles of Captain Morgan, eight beers, numerous shots of whiskey and cognac and beating five young sailors at arm-wrestling. His bar bill was reportedly near 450 British Pounds.

Best role: Vito Cipriani in Blood in the Streets from 1973.

Quote Oliver Reed:“My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.”

Sean Connery

Does anyone actually not like Sean Connery? To many he is still the finest James Bond, and at the age of 81 he could still probably kick the shit out of any of today’s actors. By all accounts Connery was something of a brute when he was originally cast as Bond and it took a lot of hard work on the part of Dr. No director Terence Young to shape him into the suave motherfucker he became best known for.

Sean Connery has played bastards, rogues, power-mad soldiers, and tender lovers. He has played an Arab three times (The Wind and The Lion, The Next Man, and Highlander) and in none of those movies did he ever speak with anything except his Scottish accent. In fact in Highlander he is playing an Egyptian, pretending to be a Spaniard in a movie that takes place in Scotland!

He’s also one of the few actors to own his baldness. He started noticeably losing his hair around the time he made You Only Live Twice, his fifth film as Bond, and as he entered the seventies he made no attempts to hide his thinning hair and diminishing hairline. He embraced his baldness and pulled it off, like few men are able to.

Best role: James Bond in From Russia with Love.

James Bond: You’re one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen.
Tatiana: Thank you, but I think my mouth is too big.
James Bond: No, it’s the right size… for me, that is.”

William Holden

William Holden started out as a pretty boy actor, but he aged into one of cinema’s gruffest and meanest leading men. Early on in his career, William Holden always played charming, if slightly dickish guy in films like Sunset Boulevard and Sabrina, but towards the end of the decade he found that his star power was fading. He re-emerged in 1968 with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, looking worse for wear but stronger and more confident than ever. His character Pike Bishop was a mean son of a bitch, but he was also very vulnerable and kind of heartbroken.

He wasn’t heartbroken over a woman mind you, he was heartbroken over the fact the world was changing around him and he wasn’t sure how to adapt. He was the kind of guy who convinced himself that he was strong and selfish, but deep down he knows that when things come down to the wire, loyalty to your friends is all that really counts in this world. William Holden’s performance in The Wild Bunch is like an essay in manhood.

William Holden died in the early 80s. Apparently he had been drinking alone and he slipped on a rug, fell and sliced his head open on a table and then bled out all night.

Best role: Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch in 1968.

Quote: Pike: “We’re not gonna get rid of anybody! We’re gonna stick together, just like it used to be! When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal, you’re finished! We’re finished! All of us!”

Warren Oates

There’s a bit of trend on this list where most of these actors have at some point been in a Sam Peckinpah film. Peckinpah seemed to understand what makes a man a man better than anyone and most of his films are essays on the subject. His characters are always tough men, who are not afraid to be vulnerable and full of doubt, but they always persevere even with the world changing around them. Warren Oates was not a handsome man. And he was not a beefcake like the previous entries in this list; he was just an ordinary guy.

But that was not mark against him; in fact it was simply more proof that to play a man in a movie you didn’t need to look like a gladiator. Strength in a man does not come entirely from physicality, there’s just something inside. He was a supporting actor in a number of Peckipah’s early films and played a member of Pike Bishop’s gang in The Wild Bunch. He eventually earned himself a lead role in Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. His character in that is hired to track down and kill Alfredo Garcia, who happens to be a lover of his prostitute girlfriend. Bennie is a sad, depressed and broken man without a lot of options, but when he sets out to do something, there isn’t a goddamn person on this world that can stop him.

Best role: Bennie in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia in 1974.

Quote: Bennie: “I’ve been no place I wanna go back to, that’s for damn sure.”

Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson is a weird looking man, with a very distinct way of speaking. By the usual standards it’s kind of a miracle he became a leading man at all. Nowadays a guy looking like Charles Bronson would have to settle for playing a villainous henchman, or the hero’s buddy (think John C. Reilly), despite his obvious talent. But none of that stopped him and he became a leading man in his own right.

Starting out with great supporting turns in films like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen, and later making a career out of playing violent and vengeful characters in Death Wish and its four sequels, Bronson’s greatest role was as Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West. He didn’t say much in that film, and he didn’t have to. He let his eyes do the talking, and when he did speak it was like poetry. Bronson has never really got enough credit for what he accomplished in his roles. His performance as Harmonica is a powerful one and its part of what makes Once Upon a Time in the West one of the best films ever made. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. It’s amazing.

Best role: Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968

Frank: Morton once told me I could never be like him. Now I understand why. Wouldn’t have
bothered him, knowing you were around somewhere alive.
Harmonica: So, you found out you’re not a businessman after all.
Frank: Just a man.
Harmonica: An ancient race. Other Mortons will be along, and they’ll kill it off.
Frank: The future don’t matter to us. Nothing matters now – not the land, not the money, not the
woman. I came here to see you. ‘Cause I know that now, you’ll tell me what you’re after.
Harmonica: …Only at the point of dyin’.”

Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart is another actor who should not have been a leading man if going by traditional rules. He wasn’t particularly handsome, and he was kind of short, but he projected a strength that made him one of Hollywood’s classic actors. Bogart got his start playing henchmen in gangster pictures and made his first splash as leading man in The Maltese Falcon directed by John Huston. In that film he was a smooth, wise talking, devil may care detective who didn’t take shit from anybody. Watching him in that it becomes no surprise why he is so beloved.

But the role that he will always be remembered for and should be remembered for is his portrayal of Rick Blaine in Casablanca. At first Rick seems like the same kind of wise talking, devil may care character as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, but as the film progresses it becomes more apparent that his bravado is just a smoke screen that he uses to hide the fact that he is an incredibly heartbroken and lonely man, who has not been able to get over the girl who left him at the train station in Paris. Casablanca is a film that has action, adventure, Nazis and beautiful women, but what’s really about is Rick finding closure so that he can move on and be the heroic, idealistic man he used to be. It’s a magnificent performance in a masterpiece of a film.

Best role: Rick Blaine in Casablanca

Rick: “But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”


These seven actors were real men. None of them looked like they spent 36 hours at the gym every week, nor were any of them traditionally handsome, save for Sean Connery and William Holden early in their careers. They were strong, yet vulnerable, the kind of men Bruce Springsteen wrote amazing songs about.

Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town

If that doesn’t sum up what it means to be a man, what does?


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Categories: Greatest Hits

Author:Colin Holmes

I love movies. I love watching them and I love writing about them. My taste ranges from Jean Pierre Melville to Jean Claude Van Damme and everything in between as long as it isn’t mediocre. I’ll take a crazy failure of a movie over a middle of the road one any day. I'm an American currently living abroad in Oz and am relishing how my accent makes me sound like a cowboy to everyone I meet here.

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