Assassin Movies

Perhaps it’s weird, but I’ve always loved movies about assassins. My fascination can’t be completely unique, because there is an assassin film genre! Here’s a handy list of some of those films.

This is a work in progress (and will grow over time). I’m sure I’ve missed some, so feel free to suggest others, and I’ll add them to the list. There’s a couple whose names I can’t quite dredge from memory and I’m hoping someone will mention them.

This list is not about the quality but inclusion, so the one rule is that the main character(s) must be the assassin(s) as their primary role. Note that this excludes vigilantes, revenge killers and warriors (for example, the Bronson Death Wish films and the Schwarzenegger films Commando and Collateral Damage are excluded). Note also that this list only includes movies, no television.

Last updated 8/13/2012.

The Mechanic (1972)

Charles Bronson as an assassin working for an organization. Jan-Michael Vincent as his supposed student.

Directed by Michael Winner (who did the first three Death Wish films and the 1978 version of The Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum).

The film ends with, shall we say, a bit of a neat twist.

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

Edward Fox as the freelance assassin that tries to kill France’s Charles de Gaulle. A classic film and one of the best of class! The plot follows the assassin’s careful preparations as well as the police’s attempts to find and stop him. Based on The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

Directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity, A Man For All Seasons).

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Clint Eastwood as the mountain-climbing, art professor (and collector) assassin, Dr. Jonathan Hemlock. George Kennedy as his handler. Based on The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian (Rodney Whitaker, who wrote a sequel, The Loo Sanction).

Directed by Eastwood in his fourth outing as a director; in his very next outing, he directed the classic The Outlaw Josey Wales.

This one is a favorite of mine, and contains some very exciting (and real) mountaineering scenes.

La Femme Nikita [aka Nikita] (1990)

Anne Parillaud as Nikita, a former cop-killing junkie turned French Intelligence assassin. Jean Reno has a short-lived role (literally) as ‘The Cleaner’.

Directed by Luc Besson (directed The Fifth Element and wrote The Transporter).

[See also: The Professional and Colombiana below.]

Point of No Return (1993)

Bridget Fonda as Maggie Hayward, the cop-killing junkie turned assassin by Gabriel Byrne. This is the American version of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita (immediately above). Also has Dermot Mulroney, Anne Bancroft & Harvey Keitel (as ‘The Cleaner’, a role he would somewhat reprise in Pulp Fiction).

Directed by John Badham (WarGames, Short Circuit, Bird on a Wire).

Quite honestly, I like the remake better than the original, although my cinephile friends universally prefer the French one.

The Professional [aka Léon] (1994)

Jean Reno as an expert assassin; Gary Oldman as the corrupt, cocaine-addicted over-the-top killer DEA agent; and Natalie Portman (Star Wars‘ Padmé), in her first film role, as the orphan who forces Reno to teach her his craft.

Directed by Luc Besson. [See also La Femme Nikita above]

This is one of the absolute classics of the genre! A defining film.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

John Travolta & Samuel L. Jackson as assassins working for gangster Ving Rhames. A modern classic with a stellar cast including: Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette & Christopher Walken.

Directed by, one of my favorite directors,  Quentin Tarantino [See also Kill Bill below.]

This film put Tarantino on the map, re-started Travolta’s career and became part of the public consciousness.  Another must-see classic from 1994!  This is one of my favorite films of any genre!

The Specialist (1994)

Sylvester Stallone as the explosives-using assassin, Ray Quick; Sharon Stone as his vengeful client (and eventual love interest), May Munro; James Woods as his former comrade and current nemesis, Ned Trent.

Directed by Luis Llosa (Sniper with Tom Berenger and Billy Zane, Anaconda).

The film was widely trashed by critics and was nominated for a number of Raspberry Awards,  but is an okay watch for fans of Stallone or Stone (or fans of the assassins genre).  Be advised this one may be an anti-winner. It holds a 4% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and only a 33% audience rating.

Kind of a goofy film, but not nearly as goofy as…

Assassins (1995)

Sylvester Stallone (again), as Robert Rath, and Antonio Banderas (Miguel Bain) as rival assassins. Julianne Moore as Electra, Stallone’s target and eventual love interest. Banderas is a delight as the off-the-chain, psychopathic upcoming assassin out to replace Rath.  This film is part of a sub-genre: the assassin who wants out.

Written by Andy & Larry Wachowski (of The Matrix fame, as well as Bound and V for Vendetta).

Directed by Richard Donner (all four Lethal Weapon movies, the first two Superman movies, Scrooged (a personal favorite) and The Omen).

As with The Specialist, the cast and the sheer goofy fun recommend this one to me, although, also as with The Specialist, it was widely panned.  It currently holds a 16% critics rating at Rotten Tomatoes, although the audience rating is 51%.

Beyond Hypothermia [aka Sip si 32 doe] (1996)

Chien-lien Wu as a professional female assassin with no name or memory of her past. Ching-Wan Lau as a noodle vendor and growing love interest who thaws out the chilly (literally: she has a lower than average body temp) assassin.

A fairly obscure film, but worth watching for its unusual treatment of the female assassin theme.

Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

Geena Davis as an amnesia-struck assassin who has become a suburbanite with a child. Samuel Jackson as a down and out detective hired by Davis to find her missing life. Includes Craig Bierko, Brian Cox & David Morse (at his oily, villainy best).

Written by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).

Directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Davis’ husband).

I have a soft spot for Geena Davis, so I like this one a lot. It’s earned a 67/68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

John Cusack as Martin Q. Blank, a professional freelance assassin about to attend his high school reunion. Minnie Driver stars as the past (and current) love interest and Dan Aykroyd as the murderous rival. Also has Jeremy Piven, Alan Arkin & Joan Cusack (as Blank’s secretary).

Directed and written by George Armitage (also The Big Bounce, which is based on an Elmore Leonard book of the same name).

This is a rare bird: a (very good and highly regarded) comedy about an assassin! A must see for any fan of the genre or of John Cusack. It currently holds a 77%/84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also features a very tasty 1980s-based soundtrack.  A must see!

The Jackal (1997)

Bruce Willis as the Jackal in a remake of 1973 Day of the Jackal. Sidney Poitier (call me Mr. Tibbs!) in his last film role as the FBI agent chasing him. Richard Gere as the Irish terrorist brought out of jail to track him.

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones (Doc Hollywood, Rob Roy).

Meh. The original is far superior. Rates only 15%/56% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Replacement Killers (1998)

Chow Yun Fat (in his first American film role) as John Lee, an unwilling assassin for the Chinese Triad. Mira Sorvino costars as a non-romantic love interest (Lee is married), and Michael Rooker is the LA cop who is the target. Also includes the scary Danny Trejo.

Directed by first-time director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun).

Co-produced by action film giant, John Woo, who also choreographed the fight scenes.

Not well-received by critics or audiences (38%/50% on Rotten Tomatoes), which is a bit of a mystery to me, since it’s really a very good Hong Kong-style film.  The action sequences are outstanding.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Forest Whitaker as a zen-loving mob assassin who follows the way of the Samurai.

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers with Bill Murray).

An interesting and tonal film.

The Job (2003)

Daryl Hannah as CJ March, a professional assassin about to leave the profession. The film deals with the conflict between the profession and CJ’s moral values.

Another tonal study that somewhat reminds me of Beyond Hypothermia [see above].

Written and directed by Kenny Golde.

A Good Night to Die (2003)

A film so obscure it has no entry in Wikipedia yet! Stars Michael Rapaport, as August, and Gary Stretch, as Ronnie, an experienced hitman who vouched for friend August. But now August has gotten himself in fatal hot water and Ronnie tries to save him. The cast includes Robin Givens, Ally Sheedy and Deborah Harry (of the band, Blonde).

Directed by independent film maker, Craig Singer (who also lacks a Wikipedia entry; tch, tch, Wikipedia).

I remember enjoying this, but it wasn’t remarkable.

Kill Bill Volume 1 / Volume 2 (2003/2004)

Uma Thurman (Black Mamba) as a former member of a group of snaky assassins led by David Carradine (Snake Charmer). Also stars Lucy Liu (Cottonmouth), Daryl Hannah (California Mountain Snake), Vivica Fox (Copperhead) & Michael Madsen (Sidewinder).

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. [See also Pulp Fiction above.]

As I said, big fan of Tarantino; love this double film!

Collateral (2004)

Tom Cruise (in a rare bad-guy role) as Vincent, a hired killer, and Jamie Foxx as Max Durocher, his unwilling chauffeur (taxi driver). Most of the film consists of Cruise and Foxx; both of whom were nominated for Oscars. Watch for the Jason Statham cameo early in the film. He passes the briefcase to Cruise at the airport.

Directed by Michael Mann (the outstanding Heat as well as Hancock).

Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the title roles as husband and wife who don’t know they are both assassins working for different agencies. Both are given a mission to kill the other. Hilarity ensues; true love endures.

Directed by Doug Liman (directed The Bourne Identity and produced the other two Bourne films; also directed the outstanding Swingers and Fair Game (the 2010 film about Valerie Plame, not the atrocious 1995 one with Cindy Crawford).

Another comedy about assassins! Fun and engaging.

Shadowboxer (2005)

Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as contract assassins and lovers. Also features Stephen Dorff, Vanessa Ferlito and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the new Robin).

Directed by Lee Daniels (produced Monster’s Ball, produced & directed Precious).

A moody and interesting film!

Elektra (2005)

Jennifer Garner as the ninja-trained sai-wielding professional assassin from Marvel comics. It’s a spin-off, and connected with, and even worse than, the Marvel film Daredevil.

Directed by Rob Bowman (X-Files (film & TV), Reign of Fire).

The film was received very poorly by audience, critics and fans of the comic. Rotten Tomatoes gave it only 10%/47% (and I’d call that high; the audience rating is likely the result of Jennifer Garner fanboys).

Unquestionably my least favorite on this list; a total snooze.

Lucky Number Sleven (2006)

This entry might be pushing my definition of assassin movie, since Bruce Willis, as the assassin Mr. Goodkat, isn’t the main character. On the other hand, Willis is a favorite of mine, is an assassin, and the movie is lots of fun, and has a great cast, so it’s earned a spot in my heart and on this list. It stars Josh Hartnett, as Slevin Kelevra, and includes Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Sir Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci and Danny Aiello.

Directed by Paul McGuigan (who is primarily a TV director, but did Push, Wicker Park (which also stars Josh Hartnett) and The Reckoning).

The critics were split on this one, but audiences loved it—a rare case where I’d say that audiences got it more right than the critics did. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 51%/86% rating.

Smokin’ Aces (2006)

An entire cast of assassins converges on a single one-million dollar hit. (Think It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World … with assassins … and directed by Tarantino.) The notable cast includes Ben Affleck (who delightfully gets killed early), Jason Bateman, Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven and Alicia Keys (yes, the musician).

Directed by Joe Carnahan (The A-Team, The Grey).

Not well regarded critically (28% on Rotten Tomatoes), but more so by audiences (64%). Kind of a zany good ride; thumbs up in my book.

Hitman (2007)

Timothy Olyphant as Agent 47, an orphaned child kidnapped and trained by the Organization as an elite assassin. Olga Kurylenko as Nika Boronina, the love interest. The film is based on a video game of the same name.

Directed by Xavier Gens.

Not highly regarded by critics (14% on Rotten Tomatoes), but enjoyed by audiences (61%). Worth seeing for Olyphant’s performance.

You Kill Me (2007)

Ben Kingsley as Frank Falenczyk, an alcoholic Polish mob assassin sent to California to dry out after failing an assignment. Téa Leone as Laurel Pearson, his new love interest. Dennis Farina and Philip Baker Hall add sparkle doing what they do so well, and Luke Wilson and Bill Pullman round out the great cast.

Directed by John Dahl (the unforgettable The Last Seduction and the seductive Unforgettable (both with Linda Fiorentino) as well as Rounders).

The film is was a critical success (78% on Rotten Tomatoes), but not as well received by audiences (59%). The critics are right; it’s a whole new take on the assassin genre and well worth seeing (how can you go wrong with Ben Kingsley and Philip Baker Hall?).

In Bruges (2008)

Colin Farrell as Ray, a newbie assassin, and Brendon Gleeson as Ken, the experienced mentor. Both are on the lam and hiding in Bruges, Belgium, after Ray accidentally has killed a kid during an assignment. Ralph Fiennes is their boss. Thekla Reuten (who later appeared in The American [see below]) has a small role here.

Written and directed by famous Irish playwright, Martin McDonagh.

An award-winning film hugely successful with critics and audiences. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 82%/85% rating, making it one of the best in this list. Another must see film.

The American (2010)

George Clooney as Jack (and Edward), and assassin who wants out.  Violante Placido as Clara, the hooker with the heart of gold. This film is, in many ways, one of the best on this list.

[See my blog article for a review.]

Directed by Anton Corbijn (lots of music videos and many books).

Rotten Tomatoes grants this fine piece of art only a 66%/37% rating, which is a shame, but perhaps understandable. It’s an intellectual and tonal piece and admittedly not a highly accessible film.

The Mechanic (2011)

A remake of the Charles Bronson film from 1972. This one stars Jason Statham in the Bronson role and Ben Foster as the student (the Jan-Michael Vincent role).

Directed by Simon West (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider).

Eh; it’s okay.

Colombiana (2011)

Zoe Saldana as Cataleya, a young girl born into a family associated with the drug kingpins in Bogota, Columbia. She witnesses the murder of both parents, escapes to America and trains to be an assassin bent on avenging her parents.

Directed by Olivier Megaton (various French films, Transporter 3). [And, yes, Megaton is really his (legally adopted) name due to being born exactly 20 years after the bombing of Hiroshima.]

Co-produced and co-written by Luc Besson.  [See Nikita and Léon, above.]

If you like Besson’s work, you should enjoy Colombiana; if not, you likely won’t. As with several entries above, it’s fairly shallow fun and action. Zoe Saldana is worth the viewing.

2 responses to “Assassin Movies

  • Jim Silver

    The Bourne series, all four of them now; a government assassin is a government assassin. Shooter, but so far it’s been the only one of Hunter’s books to be filmed, leaving Bob Lee Swagger with nowhere to go. Literary-wise, he’s unstoppable. Don’t know why more books haven’t been filmed.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks for the contributions!

      I’ve considered the Bourne movie series and may add them. The movies — in contrast to the books — do make it clear he was an assassin, but the movies are all about his attempts to escape a past he barely remembers. Somehow that seems borderline to me. I do like both the movies and books, and I may add the movie (at least the first one) to the list.

      I’m not familiar with the Stephen Hunter books. From the Wiki description of Bob Lee Swagger, he doesn’t sound like he makes the cut as a working assassin. He was a soldier and sniper, but I consider those separate categories. Is the Wiki article misleading? I’ll definitely add Shooter to my list of movies to check out!

      Are you familiar with the Barry Eisler John Rain books? I recently saw Rain Fall recently, and I’ve been trying to decide if it makes the cut. The idea is that the movie should star an active, working assassin. The John Rain books (which I haven’t read) seem to make the cut, but I’m not sure the movie does. It’s more a spy movie for my money (likewise the Bourne movies).

      Thanks, again, for dropping by, reading and commenting! 🙂

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