THE COOLEST CHARACTERS IN CINEMA HISTORY
The word ‘cool’ has a multitude of meanings and covers all manner of occasions. It’s one of those rare terms that transcends the generational divide.
‘Are we cool?’ ‘Be cool’. ‘Stay cool’. ‘That’s cool’. ‘Cool customer’. And so on. But in cinema, the meaning is fairly constant. A ‘cool’ character has an instantly discernible yet intangible set of qualities.
You want to BE this character. They probably acted as a hero to you and helped navigate the choppy waters of adolescence. Sometimes you look back to these people in times of mature uncertainty and reflection.
There is the sad moment when you realise and accept, somewhat reluctantly, that you might never equal their exploits. It’s at once liberating and devastating, but an essential rite of psychological passage in itself.
What really makes a movie character ‘cool’? It’s a formula one cannot quite articulate or replicate. There are pervasive qualities, nonetheless. A blend of confidence, skill, charm, authority (established or budding) and ability. Distinctive turns of phrase and lifestyle habits. Deadly serious or frequently funny: they get the job done in the end. Movie star looks and distinctive presence seal the deal.
They are not always successful; sometimes siding with or leading from the underdog team. Yet they are never ‘losers’. Either professionally distinguished or laid back mavericks; the epitome of devil may care detachment or models of ruthless precision. Tendency towards being loners, they sometimes adopt a sidekick, side with a team or run a family /company.
Women adore them (yes I am focusing on the guys here: women get their own series!); despite the beauty in question frequently settling on a life with some inferior man. Her reluctant rejection of our hero simply serves to remind us of quite how amazing our ‘Mr. Cool’ truly is.
Their fate consoles us in our own romantic losses (‘perhaps she still thinks of me, despite being married now?; ‘maybe she simply could not handle my coolness and aura of danger?’ etc). It also leaves a hanging thread with which our hero can either seduce his next muse or brood away the lonely nights until a sequel reunites him with the lost love. But some cool characters are so amazing they never even mention romantic interests. Optional extra.
They are perhaps cut from similar cloth to their opponents and may even begin the story with some reluctance to do the decent thing. Questionable ethics at best and downright criminal escapades at worst; the occasional cold blooded murder is not beyond their lexicon.
A moral compass is present somewhere, yet requires fine tuning. They either enforce law or break it, but always on their own somewhat maverick terms; at odds with the system they ultimately defend or confront.
We vicariously live their exploits and impose our own experiences onto theirs. They’re the edgy Uncle or big brother /mentor figure we perhaps had and lost or lacked and wish we’d met. Their style is inimitable yet instantly recognisable. The films and franchises they inhabit would be the poorer for their absence or would simply cease to exist.
They have charisma in spades, lighting up the screen whenever they appear and dimming it as they depart. The music dances to their tune.
Timeless. Tireless. Badass. Brilliant. Unbeatable. It’s a non-exhaustive list (like the characters themselves, the piece perhaps invites a sequel or three).
In no particular order as they are first among equals: the canon of cool. Here we go!
Rick Blaine (Casablanca; Humphrey Bogart)
Hilts ‘The Cooler King’ (The Great Escape; Steve McQueen)
JJ Gittes (Chinatown; Jack Nicholson)
Han Solo (Star Wars series; Harrison Ford)
Michael Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy; Al Pacino)
James Bond (Every Bond movie; Sean Connery to Daniel Craig: 1962-present)
‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky (Mad Max series; Mel Gibson and Tom Hardy)
‘Captain’ Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean; Johnny Depp)
Dr. Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones (Indiana Jones series; Harrison Ford)
John McClane (Die Hard; Bruce Willis)
Tony Stark (Iron Man and Avengers series; Robert Downey Jr)
Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry series; Clint Eastwood)
Neil McCauley (Heat; Robert DeNiro)
Sam Gerard (The Fugitive / US Marshals; Tommy Lee Jones)
Thomas Crown (The Thomas Crown Affair; Steve McQueen and Pierce Brosnan)
Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill (Guardians of the Galaxy; Chris Pratt)
Logan / ‘Wolverine’ (X Men series; Hugh Jackman)
Garfield the Cat (Garfield and Garfield 2; Bill Murray)
Ok that’s enough for now.
Stay Cool, Dear Readers.