John. John John John. According to the internet it comes from Hebrew and means “God is gracious”, so why’s it such a tough guy name? Well, it’s because in the 1980s, movie scriptwriters met up and after a fourteen day conclave declared John was to be the badass name of the decade. But which is the best badass John?
John McClane is certainly a good choice. For many this name might sound more like the ageing, chip-vending Obama vanquishee of 2008, but the readers of this blog will know it only as Bruce Willis’s defining role in the Die Hard films. John McClane proved his tough guy credentials in A Good Day to Live Free or Die Harder With a Vengeance showing that he’s not just a proper hard bastard, he’s a proper hard bastard with a taste for sequels.
Who is the man who would risk his neck for his brother man? Shaft. You’re damn right. The original John Shaft (played by Richard Rowntree) was cool, but he wasn’t a badass tough guy like his nephew, also called John Shaft, played by Samuel L Jackson. “What’s my name?” shouts Shaft, as he punches his name into someone’s memory.
He won’t be forgetting that in a hurry. Put aside its phallic connotations and the name “Shaft” is actually pretty badass, especially when you consider that’s what Samuel L Jackson’s character will drop you down if you forget his name again.
Like Shaft, Rambo is a surname that’s impossible to hear without thinking of the character. Most people probably forget that his first name is John, although they could probably have a good guess. He is a badass after all. Is Rambo a real surname? Who knows? The important thing is when John Rambo is in town, he means business.
While Rambo may be tougher, our next badass John, also played by Sly, has a tougher name. John Spartan, from Demolition Man.
Demolition Man is a terrible film, and it’s not helped by this stupidly named John. “Spartan” might have worked in the right context, like for a pet with a short life expectancy, but coupled with the ludicrous fact that characters in the film call each other by their first and last names all the time, “John Spartan” gets wearing on the ears. It’s still a great tough guy name though.
At the screenwriters’ conclave of 1980, James Cameron was present, at which point he was planning the future of humanity for decades to come. In 1984 the future leader of the resistance would be born, possibly the toughest guy ever. What should his name be? John, of course. Obviously John Connor didn’t actually become a fully-fledged onscreen badass until 2008’s Terminator Salvation, when Christian Bale made sure he was the no-nonsense tough guy of our imaginations, securing a place in the pantheon of action movie Johns.
There’s one badass actor who’s been overlooked so far, and it is, of course, Mr Schwarzenegger. Arnie has played three Johns in his career, Kindergarten Cop’s John Kimble, Eraser’s John Kruger, and Commando’s John Matrix, who takes the crown of best named John. While Kruger combines the badassery of John with the serial killery of Krueger, Matrix still takes first place. Even before Lawrence Fishburne donned pince-nez glasses to fight bad guys, the word “matrix” was cool. Less overtly ridiculous than John Spartan, “Matrix” is tough without overdoing it, which is more than can be said for the rest of the film.
Can you think of any action movie Johns missed from the list?