This was a difficult list to put together. There are so many good action movies and movies with superb plots throughout the history of film, but these few films are golden in a unique way. This selection showcases some of the best screen entertainment depicting men who are righteous and brave, men who turn from their wrongdoing, men’s physical, mental, and spiritual strengths, and the sacrifices which truly great men make in order to benefit their fellow man.
1) – The Return of the King (2003)
The third and final film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King is a very moving cinematic tale on more levels than one. It is the epic climax in that War for the Ring which involves hobbits, dwarves, ents, goblins, orcs, wolves, horses, elves, men, and other inhabitants of Middle-earth. It is in this final installment that Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor, takes courage, hides in the shadows no longer, and begins to lead his people to victory.
In a land with so many diverse races, he shines through as a genuine man with both faults and strengths. Aragorn is a character who possesses humility mixed with a fear of succumbing to the Dark power of the Ring to which his royal line was bound. Yet, to save his world (and his true love) he risks it, taking his rightful place as king and leader.
2) – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Walter Mitty is a man to whom many people can relate; his life has had its fair share of sorrow and stress. His dad passed away at an early age, and from there on out his whole life was dramatically altered. From his first job (at Papa John’s) and onward, he never stopped to take a break in life. Later in his life, the years seem to catch up with him. Perhaps it is his midlife crisis. He has never been married, never even had a good relationship with a significant other.
He spends many of his moments at his current job and on his own time doing what he calls “zoning out,” dramatically and often romantically daydreaming for awkwardly long periods of time. As you can imagine, with Ben Stiller playing Mitty the movie has quite a few comedic sequences. For the majority of the film, Walter finds himself traveling to desolate and dangerous sectors of the globe in search of a friend who he assumes will be able to give him a necessary photo negative. He goes through so much, leaping out of his comfort zone and the norm, and in the end, he finds that everything he was searching for was located right where he had started.
3) – Jurassic Park (1993)
Another classic, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was a pretty daring project in and of itself. Among the largish number of main characters, the paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant is the principal male role which shows heroic bravery as well as a transformation for the better. Grant is a man who is very much engrossed and passionate about his work.
He lives and breathes dinosaur bones, and when he has the chance to see living dinosaurs he is breathtaken. What adds to his character is the fact that he isn’t overly fond of children. Ironically, he is stuck with two young kids for the greater part of the film. Though he acts a little like a child himself early on when confronted by the boy Tim, he eventually shows himself to be a real man, protecting and watching out for Tim and his sister Lex.
4) – The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
This particular film features a cast made up of pretty well-known actors. The Ghost and the Darkness is based off a true story and a book which describes the bizarre and horrific attacks of two man-eating lions in the African country of Tsavo. Starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas, the highlight performance of the film comes from the historical figure John Patterson (Kilmer). Patterson has to leave his dear wife (who is pregnant) and go to Africa assigned with the task of building a bridge. Through the whole ordeal of dealing with the cunning male lions which account for dozens of deaths, Patterson is often thinking of his wife and future child.
5) – The Patriot (2000)
One of the war and vengeance films starring Mel Gibson, The Patriot vividly unwinds the tale of a man who has been put through a world of pain. Benjamin Martin is a widower with seven children; he is already a veteran with a great deal of combat experience, and he ends up becoming entangled in the fighting of the American War for Independence against Great Britain. Like a real man, he has emotions. He utterly breaks down upon the second death of one of his sons. Though a smart military leader, Benjamin Martin has a dark past linked with his previous actions in wartime. He himself admits to his sins and eventually is repentant.
6) – The Ten Commandments (1956)
Often pictured as being somewhat of a macho character, Charleton Heston stars in this epic major motion picture as the Old Testament figure Moses. (This was not the only faith-based film role Heston would have for he also portrayed John the Baptist and Juda Ben-Hur.) Though a hero and a leader, Moses was definitely human. We can clearly see this. He struggles to accept what he knows to be true, and the truth changes his way of thinking.
After killing a man (a slave driver), Moses flees Egypt, long his only known abode, in fear. He goes into the desert where he meets a woman, falls in love with her, and marries her. In this classic Hollywood rendition of the story, upon Moses’ return to Egypt, he is confronted by a woman of royalty whose company he had enjoyed prior to his flight and marriage. The Egyptian queen begins hitting on Moses and asks him if his wife is as beautiful as she is with all her fancy makeup. He simply responds that all beauty is not outside the body, but that there is beauty inside too. Moses has just stated he does not consider his wife as an object.
7) – The Hunt for the Red October (1990)
Starring the renowned Sean Connery, The Hunt for the Red October involves espionage, secrecy, danger, mistrust, and loyalty. The rest of the cast includes notable actors such as Alec Baldwin, Sam Neill, and James Earl Jones. Connery portrays the commander of a silent and very elusive submarine of the Soviet Union who is taking the sub into American waters in the hope of defecting to the U.S. The submarine captain shows raw courage in trying to follow through with his plan to have a better life in the land of the free.
8) – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Steve Rogers, better known to millions of fans as the patriotic idol Captain America, is a practically fearless soldier. And as seen in this first installment of the Captain America trilogy, the young, scrawny Rogers had the makings of one heck of a soldier. One of his biggest pet peeves is disobedience; he is very much for following orders. He is compassionate, and he never lets his newly earned strength go to his head. In his own eyes, Captain America isn’t a superhero; he’s just a kid from Brooklyn.
9) – The Great Escape (1963)
Featuring an entirely male cast, The Great Escape is about a number of prisoners breaking out of a Nazi prisoner of war camp during WWII. The soldiers do not waste a moment in idleness while cooped up in the prison camp barracks. Some are tunneling their way to freedom (the other side of the fence). Meanwhile, others are trying to keep the Nazis’ minds occupied on other incidents. Eventually, a fair amount of prisoners escape under cover of night.
Some are captured and returned; others, being considered a nuisance, are executed. And some escape the Nazis entirely. Personally, one man’s heroism stands out among most. The character Ashley-Pitt (played by David McCallum), though not a team leader, is still the main character. In a final escape attempt, he makes a run for it, distracting the Nazis from his two friends who are also trying to escape, buying them time to board a train.
10) – Sully (2016)
Though maybe not as potent a character as most of the others mentioned here, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is a man who has an important yet stressful job. He is a commercial “cabbie” of the skies, an airplane pilot. After he decides to take an emergency landing on the Hudson River, thus saving all the passengers of the flight, Sully becomes a big figure in the news. A group of his superiors remain skeptical about his actions.
But through all this unbelievable stress, Sully remains fairly calm. He is a man who values the lives of his passengers, thinks quickly, and is unwavering in his convictions and decisions. And it turns out that what he did was practically the only possible way to save all his passengers.
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