September 2, 2010

MRQE Rewind: Cinema's 30 Best Assassin Movies

In The American, George Clooney plays an assassin who seeks a more quiet and peaceful life while working on his last assignment. This is the latest in a sub-genre that blends the worlds of mobsters, hired guns, and professional killers; and so with The American in theaters, we aim our sights on cinema's most elite professional killers -- the 30 Best Assassin Movies. From deadly hitmen like Anton Chigurh, or bickering killers Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, to the more professional Léon and Jason Bourne; these are the best hired guns Hollywood has to offer. Below we highlight the top five, but head on over to MRQE to check out the full list -- just be sure to watch your back when you do!

5. Blow Out (1981)
MRQE Metric: 84

Brian De Palma's 1981 thriller finds John Travolta getting caught up in what appears to be a possible assassination of a Presidential hopeful. Jack Terry (Travolta), a movie sound effects technician heads to a park in Philly to record some sound effects for post-production on a film. Terry sees a car drive into a lake, and rushes to help, discovering a young woman and a dead man in the car. The man, he soon finds out is the governor, the woman is a prostitute, and Terry is now caught in the middle of an assassination attempt that is quickly being covered up. As Jeremy Heilman of writes, "As one of the director’s finest achievements, Blow Out proves that great movie fun and great movies are not mutually exclusive."

Of course, Travolta will make a second appearance on this list.

The Blow Out:
Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at

4. No Country for Old Men (2007)
MRQE Metric: 87

Based on Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel of the same name, the Coen Brother's No Country for Old Men contains one of cinema's most evil assassins: Javier Bardem's unsympathetic Anton Chigurh. With a captive bolt pistol, Chigurh does his dirty deeds as hunts down Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), seeking the satchel Moss recovered from a drug deal gone wrong--the satchel contains $2 million, and a transponder that follows Moss's every move. The role earned Bardem an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and the film went on to receive eight Oscar nominations, winning four, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. 

Call It.

3. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
MRQE Metric: 89

Cold War fears, and a deck of cards, come together in this this political thriller by John Frankenheimer about a Communist conspiracy to assassinate a prominent, right-wing political leader by means of brainwashing his son. Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), and his platoon, are captured by the Soviets during the Korean War, and are sent to Manchuria. Once there, the communists brainwash the platoon into believing that Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) saved their lives in combat, and is deserving of the Medal of Honor for his supposed bravery. As Marco, and some of the soldiers soon have nightmares about Shaw's next move to kill, more gets revealed about the powerful people behind Shaw's conditioning. The Manchurian Candidate remains as one of Roger Ebert's "Great Movies," and was later remade in 2004 with Denzel Washington. Despite popular belief, Frank Sinatra did not suppress distribution of the film following the Kennedy assassination.

The Nightmare:
Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at

2. Taxi Driver (1976)
MRQE Metric: 91

Martin Scorsese's iconic movie, Taxi Driver, can be interpreted in many ways, but what the film boils down to, is the last will of a lonely, depressed man. In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a former Marine, battles paranoia and depression, and becomes attached to a woman only known as Betsy (Cybill Shepherd)--a woman who volunteers at the local campaign office of Sen. Charles Palantine. Bickle stalks Betsy for a while before gaining the nerve to walk into the office under the pretense of volunteering, but he just wants her. After their date goes sour, so too does Bickle's wits. His thoughts, fears, and frustrations culminates at a public rally, where he, sporting a mohawk, attempts to assassinate Palantine. De Niro's performance landed him an Oscar, and the film went on to win Best Picture. The film also has the unfortunate consequence of inspiring a real assassination attempt, when in 1981 John Hinckley, Jr. admited that his obsession over Jodie Foster in the film led to him his assassination attempting on Ronald Reagan.

Travis Volunteers:
Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
MRQE Metric: 92

They may bicker about hamburgers, but for hired guns, you can't find a duo of more unflinching killers than Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson); even if they might repent for their sins afterward. Quentin Tarantino's non-linear story of small-time crooks and a mysterious briefcase was inspired in part by 1964's Italian horror anthology Black Sabbath, and Tarantino's desire to present a film with three distinct yet intersecting story lines. As for Jules and Vincent, you best remember your Bible verses before they "strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger."


There's more than just these top five. Head on over to MRQE to catch all the hired guns, and professional killers that made the list!


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