The typical war movie is usually about soldiers that fight to uphold democracy and justice in the face of tyranny and focuses on the themes of honor and duty to country. Last Memorial Day in honor of all fallen soldiers we put together a 50 Furious War Film List which contained a nice selection of our favorite WWII, Korean Conflict and Vietnam movies.
FC’s Sebastian previously covered another subgenre of war cinema with his furious: 10 Special Forces films list which looked at divisions of the military such as Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, BOPE etc who are called on to perform the most stealthy, dangerous kinds of “behind enemy lines” tasks….
….On the outer limits there is a seedier subgenre which features rogue characters who go on secret missions not out of loyalty to country but for other, more personal reasons. They are often called soldiers of fortune. Or you may know them by their most well known title: Mercenary. These highly skilled, underground operatives take part in armed conflicts often based on their monetary compensation rather than orders. They are a certain type of intriguing militaristic character that are simply perfect for action-adventures on the big screen. Of course they are also indeed some of the most furious, mad as hell dudes.
In tribute to all the cinematic anti-heroes who have given their lives for a personal bank account filled with loot, here’s 10 of our most favorite mercenary subgenre films!
The Seven Samurai (1954, Dir: Akira Kurosawa) The Year is 1587: A small Japanese village comes under attack by a group of roving bandits. To protect their way of life, the wayward townsfolk hire a small band of disallusioned ronin (masterless samurai) to help them defend themselves. The warriors not only need to battle their foes but they must get along together. This film was one of the first of what we now know as the modern action movie. It was later remade by John Sturges as a Western called The Magnificent Seven (1963). Both films became a basic blueprint for the kinds of “band of outlaw hero” stories that would become so popular in cinema from the late 60s to today. Kurosawa was brilliant at conveying universal emotions through melodrama, sidesplitting humor and intense action and this film in particular has remained as potent and entertaining as it was when it was made. WATCH TRAILER – BUY BLU RAY
The Professionals (1966, Dir: Richard Brooks) During the Mexican Revolution, a group of professional mercenaries including weapons specialist Henry “Rico” Farda (Lee Marvin), explosives expert Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), horse wrangler Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan) and a scout (Woody Strode) are hired by a wealthy Texas rancher, J.W. Grant (Ralph Bellamy) to bring his kidnapped wife Maria (Claudia Cardinale) back from the clutches of a revolutionary turned renegade named Jesus Raza (Jack Palance). The film was sort of a precursor to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) and dealt with many of the same themes of honor and loyalty within an outlaw faction. It’s also a spectacular Western adventure in the tradition of John Ford’s The Searchers. WATCH TRAILER – BUY BLU RAY
Dark of the Sun (1968, Dir: Jack Cardiff) Based around the real life Congo Crisis of the 1960s which was occurring when the film was made, Rod Taylor plays Bruce Curry a merc who is hired by President Ubi (Calvin Lockhart) to rescue European residents of an isolated town which is being attacked by Simbas deep in the jungles of Africa. This is actually a front for what Curry is really being paid for: retrieve a cache of priceless diamonds from a mine’s company vault. Along with his friend Ruffo (Jim Brown) and an ex-Nazi named Heinlein (Peter Carsten) the men set off on a train and encounter a myriad of obstacles which causes a disruption within their outfit. Director Jack Cardiff who had been the cinematographer on many of Powell-Pressburger’s most revered films, brought such a visual exuberance to the tale which made it stand out from other films of its kind. It was later rediscovered/championed by Writer-Director Quentin Tarantino who showed it at his film festival in the 90s. Since then, its gone on to have a new appreciation as a cult classic adventure movie. WATCH TRAILER – BUY DVD
The Wild Geese (1978, Dir: Andrew V. McLaglen) A British officer turned mercenary, Col. Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton) is hired by a merchant banker (Stewart Granger) to rescue an imprisoned former leader Julius Limbani (Winston Nthsona) from impending death when he is to be killed by a dictator who overthrew him. Faulkner puts together a special team of veteran operatives (including Richard Harris and Roger Moore) to help him with the mission. The only trouble is these guys aren’t as spry as they used to be, most are older men, who are out of shape. They all must train to get their bearings for the dangerous adventure into the tribal land of Africa. Widely considered to be one of the best mercenary subgenre films. Featuring a memorable theme song by Joan Armatrading. WATCH TRAILER – BUY DVD
The Dogs of War (1980, Dir: John Irvin) James Shannon (Christopher Walken) a soldier for hire, takes a job to help overthrow the Republic of Zangaro (fictional) so his wealthy employer can get his hands on a platinum deposit. Shannon then enlists the help of his fellow mercenaries to help stage the armed coup. The group plan their mode of attack but are being surveilled and must keep anyone from finding out about their mission before it is executed. A superb performance from Walken who plays Shannon as a no nonsense, ice cold operative, which was really a total 360 from the sensitive Vietnam soldier he played in The Deer Hunter (1978). WATCH TRAILER – BUY DVD
Uncommon Valor (1983, Dir: Ted Kotcheff) Kotcheff followed up his classic First Blood (1982) with this story of another Vietnam veteran named Col. Jason Rhodes (Gene Hackman) who is convinced his son Frank, an MIA soldier is still alive in Southeast Asia. Rhodes goes to the government for help but is turned away so he hires a group of vets from the war (Reb Brown, Fred Ward Ward, Randall “Tex” Cobb, Tim Thomerson, Harold Sylvester), some that knew Frank to train and put together a special ops rescue mission to fly into Laos and infiltrate the camp where he thinks Frank is being held. The men all have personal troubles due to the war, making them a ragtag bunch of misfits and an obsessive young rookie soldier (Patrick Swayze) who wants to control things just causes more grief. Through their comraderie and determination they’re finally able to overcome their weaknesses and perform the dangerous mission. This is definitely one of the best films from the 80s Vietnam action movie era. WATCH TRAILER – BUY DVD
Flesh + Blood (1985, Dir: Paul Verhoeven) In 1501, a gang of pirates are hired by an Italian ruler named Arnolofini (Fernando Hilbeck) to take back his city after a coup ensues while he is absent. The group are promised 24 hours of looting in return for their work. The plan succeeds and the occupiers are killed but Arnolfini begins to fear that the mercenaries may plunder everything with noone to keep them under control. He enlists one of his army commanders Hawkwood (Jack Thompson) to stop the hordes. Following this, his second in command, Martin (Rutger Hauer) leaves the army and starts his own band of renegades made up of the leftover mercenaries who then turn to a life of of brigandage. This film has become a cult classic for its portrayal of a certain kind of medieval anarchy (complete with gangrapes) and Verhoeven, who seems to revel in onscreen carnal delights, is at his most decadent best here. WATCH TRAILER - BUY DVD
Ronin (1998, Dir: John Frankenheimer) A group of professional mercs are hired by an IRA member (Natascha McElhone) to retrieve a mysterious briefcase from a armed convoy in France. Deidre is soon informed by her protege Seamus (Jonathan Pryce) that Russian gangsters are also out to get the case. The plan goes through but when one of their own (Stellan Skarsgaard), decides to steal the case for himself, the film kicks into even higher gear and two of the men Vincent (Jean Reno) and Sam (Robert DeNiro) team up to pursue the thief. Featuring one of the greatest car chases in film which was shot on the streets of Nice, Paris. WATCH TRAILER – BUY BLU RAY
Rambo (2008, Dir: Sylvester Stallone) Stallone used a real crisis in Burma as the backdrop for his continuing story of Vietnam war hero turned criminal, then exile John Rambo. When a group of missionaries arrive at Rambo’s snake selling business and inquire about getting a ferry to their destination to help a village targeted by a terrorist Burmese army, Rambo turns them away. After some persuasion by the female leader, he finally accepts the offer but troubles arise when pirates attack his boat. Rambo, being a very moody guy, kills all the pirates and burns their bodies. Needless to say, the peaceful travelers are put off by this act of repugnant violence. The missionaries then decide to part ways with Rambo, but when they arrive to help the villagers they’re attacked by the Burmese Tatmadaw soldiers. The solemn Rambo is then asked by a preacher to lead a group of mercs with bad attitudes into the village to get the innocent out of harms way. Fans were happy to know Stallone increased the level of onscreen graphic violence in this film tenfold compared to his earlier Rambo movies. It was also more realistic aesthetically speaking. WATCH TRAILER – BUY BLU RAY
The Expendables (2010, Dir: Sylvester Stallone) As noted above, Sylvester Stallone is no rookie when it comes to movies about war or mercenaries. When he decided to direct an all new action-adventure project, he got furious and enlisted a who’s who of the most badass action stars of the day. The cast included: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren and Mickey Rourke. The story revolves around soldier for hire, Barney Ross (Stallone) who is hired by a mysterious man named “Mr Church” (Bruce Willis) to help overthrow a dictator named General Garza (David Zayas) who holds power in the country of Vilena. Ross and his men also have to battle with an evil ex-CIA officer James Monroe (Eric Roberts) who helps keep Garza in power by spreading fear amongst the civilians. Unlike the Rambo series, Stallone injected a healthy dose of tongue in cheek humor into the story making it a bit more human and his character Barney much closer to his real personality. While the plot is relatively simple, the colorful cast made it a refreshing, fun and entertaining modern action-adventure film. A sequel co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme and other 80s action greats is now in production. WATCH TRAILER – BUY BLU RAY
The Losers (1970, Dir: Jack Starrett) This is one of the coolest exploitation subgenre mixers that combined the biker and men on a mission film. A group of Vietnam vets (William Smith, Adam Roarke, Paul Koslo, Houston Savage and Gene Cornelius) turned chopper gang are recruited by the US Armed Forces to go on a special behind the enemy lines mission in Cambodia to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent from the Red Chinese Army. The group of rowdy rebels customize a bunch of motorcycles with machine guns and other weaponry and break into the prison camp. Director Jack Starrett was inspired by Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and for the movie’s biggest action sequence he shot a truly kickass slow-motion spectacle of high flying motorcycles, explosions and all out violence. READ FULL REVIEW