Where are the action hero names of old?

Shoot_lWhy did Clive Owen’s gun-fetish flick Shoot ‘Em Up (pictured) make a paltry $5.5 million in its opening weekend? How did the tease of "OWEN AND GIAMATTI, TOGETHER AT LAST!" fail to prove an undeniable lure? Was it the fact that 80 minutes of gunfire would seem overindulgent even to Ted Nugent?

I have a theory: It was because of Owen’s character’s name, Smith. Smith is an apple, not an action hero. A badass needs a name with hair on its back. The action stars of the ’80s and ’90s knew how to do it right, wielding names like Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis, The Fifth Element), Mac McKussic (Mel Gibson, Tequila Sunrise), and Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger, The End of Days). These were names that were just one step away from being Ballsy McTestes.

Where are the he-mannish, two-fisted action names of today? Will Smith is supposed to be our biggest modern action star, but in I, Robot, his name was Del Spooner. Spooner? When you need someone to blast away robots, you don’t want somebody who likes to spoon, you want someone who likes to knife! And Shia LaBeouf in Transformers? Sam Witwicky. That’s not an ass-kicker, that’s a hobbit.

Sylvester Stallone had Ray Tango, Schwarzenegger had Jericho Cane:all you’d have to see is their driver’s licenses, and you’d know theyalso had a license to blow things up real good. There was a machopoetry to those names, so much so that they inspired me to write someverse of my own. Please enjoy my Action Hero Poetry.


Kit Latura, Ray Quick, Ray Tango
John Spartan, Lincoln Hawk, Joe Tanto
Frank Leone, Nick Martinelli,
Deke DaSilva, Marion Cobretti
Rocky Balboa, Judge Dredd, John Rambo.


John Matrix, the Eraser, Jericho Cane
Dutch Schaefer, Mr. Freeze, and Douglas Quaid
John Kimble, Harry Tasker, and Conan
And Danko, with the first name of Ivan

I’ve got one more dedicated to Jean-Claude Van Damme on my blog for good measure. How about you, PopWatch poet laureates? Anyone got a Mel Gibson sonnet?


Comments (25 total) Add your comment
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  • Jael

    No sonnets, but I know some people with great action hero names, and I always ask them how saving the world is going. They’re Jake Boots and David Power.

  • Jill

    I always liked the name Casey Ryback; Steven Seagal’s character in both Under Seige movies.

  • marykate


  • Catherine

    John McClane!

  • Ceballos

    Good point about the weak action names out there today.
    I mean, even the women (hello, Ellen Ripley!) had more badass names back in the day.

  • Ames

    What about ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan? Even without the “Dirty” that name could cut glass.

  • Vicky

    Wasn’t the Witwicky name from the cartoon? I think they were just staying true to that for Transformers.

  • Derek

    Funny article, bad theory. Despite critics saying that Shoot ‘Em Up was made for action fans, I think it’s just the opposite. The film seems to be made by what film snobs think action movies are like – with it’s oh-so-ironic 80 minutes of gunfire. Action movie fans (of the sort that appreciate EW’s own list of top 50 action movies) should find this movie just too silly for it’s own good.

  • hutchy

    C’mon EW, your slackin here!! We all know the manliest movie of all time, a movie so manly that the main character doesn’t even need a second word in his name. When your main character’s name is just Dalton, his manly sidekick is named Wade Garrett, and the director is named Rowdy Herrington, you end up with the modern classic known as Roadhouse.

  • mtank30

    Best action hero name ever? SNAKE PLISSKEN!

  • GeeMoney

    Some of your best action stars in movies have the simplest names… Sarah Connor (T1 and T2), Quaid (Total Recall), Jason Bourne and not to mention, James Bond. I think that the allure is that just because you don’t have a bad ass name doesn’t mean that you can’t kick some ass.
    And Ellen Ripley? Very generic.

  • Joe C

    I’m with MTank; Snake Plisskin rules, to this day!

  • Darby

    Hey Josh – Just so you know, the first name of the Mel Gibson charactor McKussic in Tequila Sunrise is actually named Dale. Much wussier sounding if you ask me. (Mac was his nickname…)

  • Hutchy

    Yep, this thread is over, Snake Plissken is indeed the best action hero name of all time, and arguably the best action hero character.

  • Henry

    Hahaha. Smith is the guy’s name? Maybe it’s a subtle jab at the new James Bond franchise for not picking Owen as the new 007. If you think about it, James Bond is a pretty generic name that doesn’t exactly inspire images of gung-ho action heroes.
    I always thought it was funny that Scwarzenegger’s character’s name in one of his first gung-ho action thrillers, Commando, was John Matrix. Really sounds like a computer hacker’s alias, right? Commando’s an underrated movie, too.

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