TOPLIST – We didn’t like David Fincher’s The Killer that much, so we’ve put together our top ten best assassin movies that we’re very happy with and recommend to you – whether you liked Fincher’s movie or not. After all, there’s something ruthless, elegant, and exciting about the ethically ambivalent assassin, which has always made them an appealing character in movie history, one we root for despite the fact that they’re the real killers.
A favorite character in fast-paced action films, slower, minimalist crime films, and film noirs alike, the assassin is pithy, charismatic, yet cold and ruthless. For the most part, they are fallen angels of death, ruthless in their murderous calling, and although killing is a business for most of them, they often have their own code of ethics to which they adhere almost compulsively.
Hollywood and the European film industry have long made such films with big-name stars, and in the last decade the genre seems to have taken off again, with action stars like Keanu Reeves, Jason Statham, and Matt Damon breathing new life into this provocative style of storytelling. The recent Netflix release of David Fincher’s The Killer, starring Michael Fassbender, is one such movie, only we didn’t think it did so well (and we were expecting a new classic from Fincher), so we’ve compiled a list of some of the really good hitman movies that never missed the mark.
The 2008 action thriller Wanted features an impressive cast of Hollywood stars, including James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and action star Angelina Jolie. The movie tells the story of a frustrated accountant, Wesley Gibson, who discovers he is the son of a professional assassin and decides to join the secret society. Wanted is based on the comic book of the same name, and Timur Bekmambetov was tapped to direct because of his unique and distinctive visual style.
He said of the movie, “It’s a comedy, a tragedy, a drama, a melodrama. Every scene changes genre, that’s why our movie is different”. Angelina Jolie’s character Fox is a professional assassin and a prominent member of the secret society that helps Wesley become an assassin. Wanted was praised for its stylish action sequences and fast pacing and grossed more than $340 million worldwide.
Big Guns (Tony Arzenta) (1973)
In this sparkling Italian-French noir, Alain Delon shines as Tony Arzenta, a respected Mafia hit man whose world is shattered when his attempted retirement turns tragic when his wife and child are killed in a car bomb aimed at him. Set against the backdrop of Europe’s shadowy underworld, the film follows Arzenta’s vengeful journey, marked by spectacular shootouts and an unstoppable quest for justice.
With a keen eye for suspense and style, director Duccio Tessari directs “Tony Arenta,” a gripping tale of revenge and morality that showcases Delon’s intense performance and compassion for the complex moral character. The film’s rich European locations add a unique flavor to the story and enhance the raw realism of the narrative. Despite the predictability of the genre, the film stands out for its dynamic action sequences and Delon’s commanding presence, securing its place as a memorable and compelling piece of the assassin genre.
Leon: The Professional (1994)
Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in Léon the Professional (1994), Gaumont Buena Vista International. On the rough streets of New York City, an unexpected friendship blossoms in Léon the Professional. An experienced hit man feels a bond with an orphaned only child, the victim of a hit man. Luc Besson creates a story that oscillates between innocence and the dark world of assassins.
The relationship between Leon and Mathilda, punctuated by action-packed training scenes, contrasts with Jean Reno’s stern appearance and Natalie Portman’s young brilliance and genius in her first role. This movie brings a rarely seen spiritual depth to the assassin genre, making it more than the usual hitman movie.
In Bruges (2008)
Picturesque Bruges offers sanctuary to two assassins after a botched job in London. The two find solace in this medieval Belgian city. But the usual crime story is mixed with dark humor to create a gripping blend of intensity and lightness.
Breathtaking canals and ancient buildings provide the backdrop for heart-stopping scenes. Most notably, the breathtaking Tower Battle is set against the backdrop of the city’s myriad unique encounters, highlighting Bruges as both a haven and a battlefield. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the film showcases a wide range of acting, masterfully balancing comic elements with darker undertones to create characters that are both imperfect and deeply human.
La Femme Nikita (1990)
Nikita, directed by Luc Besson, tells the story of a young woman’s troubled conversion. This tempestuous character faces a stark choice: serve as a state assassin or spend the rest of her life in prison, convicted of murder. Even as he begins his transformation from a criminal with a drug problem to a covert professional, his dark past casts a shadow over the movie, creating suspenseful moments that keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
Unforgettable scenes, such as the restaurant shootout, highlight the film’s superb craftsmanship, combining suspense with raw brutality. As the director of La Femme Nikita, Luc Besson shows how to create spectacular, breathtaking, adrenaline-pumping cinematic experiences. Anne Parillaud’s convincing performance as the troubled Nikita elevates the film’s significance and sets the stage for female assassins in future Hitman films.
The Road to Perdition (2002)
In the dark shadow of the Great Depression, a tale of revenge unfolds in The Road to Perdition. Caught up in the politics of the Mafia, Tom Hanks enters a world where revenge and kinship are intertwined. With vengeance in mind, he and his son set out to confront and kill the mob boss responsible for the murder of their family.
The nuanced portrayal of the father-son relationship is compelling and shows the lengths people will go to for their families. More than just a mafia drama, the film emphasizes the importance of family ties in the outlaw world, all set against the spectacular historical backdrop of the early 1930s.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Written and directed by renowned directing duo Joel and Ethan Coen, the 2007 neo-western crime thriller No Country for an Old Man is the intertwining story of three main characters. A Vietnam War veteran and hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad and over two million dollars; a ruthless and merciless hit man is hired to recover the stolen money, and the local sheriff investigates.
Based on the dark novel by Cormac McCarthy, the film stars Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem as the emotionless, ruthless assassin, winning the Academy Award, Golden Globe and British Academy Film Awards for his stunning performance. The assassin, Anton Chigurh, is almost evil incarnate.
Action legend Tom Cruise said goodbye to the good guy when he took on the role of deadly assassin in Michael Mann’s 2004 neo-noir action thriller Collateral. As the cold-blooded assassin Vincent, he forces a Los Angeles cab driver (Jamie Foxx) to carry out a series of murders. The film’s screenwriter, Stuart Beattie, was inspired by a Sydney taxi driver’s journey home, wondering what would happen if a homicidal maniac were lurking in the back seat and what a driver would do.
In preparation for the role, Cruise secretly worked as a FedEx courier to see if he could go unnoticed by his customers. Collateral was a huge critical and commercial success, with both Cruise and Foxx receiving praise for their performances; Foxx was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for his impressive performance. The thriller gave both actors a chance to show a different side of themselves and showcase their outstanding talents in their roles.
Kill Bill 1 (2003)
Master of stylish violence Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed the 2003 martial arts spectacle Kill Bill 1, starring Uma Thurman as the Bride, who vows revenge on a group of assassins and their leader after they try to kill her and her unborn child. She eventually finds herself in Tokyo, where she faces off against the Yakuza. The impressive supporting cast includes David Carradine, Lucy Liu and Vivica A. Fox. Kill Bill was inspired by the grindhouse films shown in low-budget American theaters in the 1970s, such as samurai films and spaghetti westerns.
According to the visionary director, the hardest part of making a martial arts movie was “taking you to another place as a filmmaker and putting you in the company of the great action directors. Kill Bill 1 dominated at the box office, with critics praising Tarantino’s technique, action sequences and innate storytelling talent. The sequel, Kill Bill 2, was released the following year to similar success.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Oscar-winning dynamic actor Matt Damon stars in the 2002 action thriller The Bourne Identity as Jason Bourne, an amnesiac who tries to discover his identity while being hunted by assassins. Bourne discovers that he has extraordinary skills in combat, self-defense and language, and slowly begins to realize that he is an American military spy and CIA assassin.
For the role, Damon wanted to do the stunt work himself and underwent three months of extensive training in stunt work, weapons, boxing and eskrima (or arnis, a form of fencing). The actor was initially skeptical about the film’s financial prospects and was unemployed for six months before being cast, but his doubts were soon dispelled. The Bourne Identity became a critical and commercial success and launched the Jason Bourne franchise, which eventually led to four highly profitable sequels.
In Denis Villeneuve’s gritty 2015 action thriller Sicario, an idealistic FBI agent is recruited by a government task force to take down the leader of a ruthless and powerful Mexican drug cartel. Emily Blunt plays Special Agent Kate Macer, who teams up with undercover CIA operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (the stunning Benicio del Toro), a former Mexican prosecutor turned assassin.
The border drama’s title, Sicario, is itself the Spanish equivalent of the word “assassin,” and the script was written by Taylor Sheridan as the first installment of his neo-western trilogy exploring “modern crime on the American frontier.” Sicario – The Assassin was in the running for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and received accolades for its gripping screenplay, cinematography, direction, and performances by Blunt and del Toro. The sequel, Sicario: The Mercenary, was released in 2018, and a third sequel is in the works.
The Killer (1989)
Widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential action films of all time, John Woo’s 1989 Hong Kong action-thriller The Killer stars Chow Yun-fat as an experienced but jaded hitman who takes on one last job to pay for the medical treatment of a kindly nightclub singer. Guilt-ridden over accidentally damaging the young woman’s eyesight, Ah Jong sets out to make amends, but his noble deed is complicated when he attracts the attention of other deadly assassins and a ruthless police detective.
Woo wanted to make a movie about morality and friendship, telling the story of two men with different moral compasses who come together for the greater good; he saw the thriller as a “romantic poem” and wanted to explore whether there was anything in common between the two men. The Killer has been highly acclaimed by film scholars, critics and audiences alike, and has had a significant impact on the Asian and Western film industries.
John Wick (2014)
Keanu Reeves, a legend since The Matrix, stars in the 2014 neo-noir action thriller John Wick, which follows the story of a former hitman forced back into the underworld he left behind after his classic car is stolen and his beloved dog is killed. Speaking about the character, Reeves once said, “When we first see him, he’s grieving for his lost wife. But it turns out he was living in two worlds: one where he was a happily married man and one where he was a hit man. He’s tried to forget his past, but he feels lost without his wife.
For the highly successful action film, Reeves spent four months studying judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Japanese ju-jitsu, and showcased his skills in impressive fight sequences that thrilled audiences. The actor’s brilliant performance and the financial success of John Wick made the film a popular and prolific franchise, with John Wick: Chapter 4 dominating the box office since its release on March 24, 2023.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
The always entertaining and charismatic John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson famously teamed up as hitmen Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 black comedy crime masterpiece Pulp Fiction. The critically acclaimed film focuses on the lives of two mob hit men while weaving in three other threads that tell the stories of a boxer, a gangster and his wife, and a couple who rob a restaurant.
Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and was a huge critical success, considered by many to be a cultural landmark with a major impact on the film world and media. The black comedy was included in critics’ lists of the best films ever made. Entertainment Weekly described it as “Tarantino’s dialogue is dense, almost lawyerly, full of humor and sharp turns of phrase that bring more life and dynamism to the action scenes than most directors. Travolta and Jackson both received Academy Award nominations for their memorable performances.
The Samurai (1967)
Alain Delon plays a stoic and meticulous hit man who, after being double-crossed by his employers, must outwit both dangerous criminals and the police in the 1967 neo-noir crime thriller The Samurai. Jean-Pierre Melville directed and wrote the gripping screenplay for the film, and wrote the role specifically for Delon; the French film icon frequently collaborated with Melville, and the director and his favorite actor achieved great success on several occasions with their joint projects.
The Samurai has had a huge impact on the film industry and many creative minds, with the aforementioned Hong Kong thriller The Killer taking direct inspiration from its plot, as well as other acclaimed films such as The American, Drive, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. The film currently has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and made Empire’s list of the “100 Best Movies in the World” (as well as being my perennial personal favorite).
-Gergely Herpai BadSector-