They say that good things come in small packages. While a heaping helping of porn stars (and your girlfriend, despite her constant reassurance) would likely disagree with you there, it’s often very true. As these guys prove, when it comes to being a total badass, size really doesn’t matter.
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By Jeff Kelly
10. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)
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Now I know what you’re thinking: “Luke Skywalker, that whiny little punk? Badass?” At first glance, sure, the 5’9” Luke Skywalker may seem like a bit of a sissy. The feathered blonde hair, the nasally voice with which he so eloquently (and frequently) complains doesn’t exactly scream “badass.” Of course, while you were thinking that, Luke just used the Force to make you repeatedly punch yourself in the face for your insolence.
After all, we’re talking about a dude who brought balance to the Force and toppled the evil Galactic Empire. Luke was certainly not one to be trifled with. To make his accomplishments more impressive, he did so while also being forced to shop for clothes in the Junior Jedi section. Hell, even Leia commented on his lack of stature when he was rescuing her (the ungrateful bitch). I hope I’m not the only one who finds it sadly ironic that the same guy who saved the galaxy isn’t allowed to ride Space Mountain.
9. Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner)
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Whether he was seducing green women or fighting men in awkward rubber suits, James Kirk put the “pimp” in “outer space,” a feat even more impressive when you realize that outer space doesn’t contain the word pimp. The 5’9” sexual dynamo only took his time away from interspecies boinking to kick some alien ass and frustrate Spock, probably by mocking him for not being cool enough to take his pointy ears and the ring to Mordor.
The bottom line is that Kirk never met an alien he couldn’t seduce and/or pummel (and, on occasion, probably both at the same time), and no modern day incarnations can ever hope to step to the plate and truly take the reins from the one and only Shat. And whenever they try (I’m looking at you, Chris Pine), we all know he’ll just sit down those young wannabes, swagger up to his Betamax, pop in an old tape of Star Trek, and beam them up a can of kickass. Of course, he’ll probably need a booster seat to see the television, but still.
8. The King of Cool (Steve McQueen)
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From The Great Escape to The Magnificent Seven to Bullitt, I dare you to try to find someone as cool as Steve McQueen. After all, he didn’t earn the nickname of the King of Cool based on his love of air conditioning. In The Great Escape he told the Nazis to shove it, in The Magnificent Seven he told a bunch of Mexican bandits to shove it, and in Bullitt he told every other car chase in movie history to shove it when he (and his stunt driver) took part in a car chase that, just by watching it, will make you more of a man, even if you’re a woman.
And it wasn’t just his onscreen persona that qualified the 5’9” McQueen for badass status. He reached such dizzying heights of fame and badassery that Charles Manson made him the #1 target on the Manson family hit list. While filming The Getaway, he proved to be such a pimp that he managed to swoop in and steal co-star Ali McGraw away from her producer husband, and in his spare time he tore up the racetracks in his best effort to bring that chase from Bullitt to reality. There’s a solid chance that he was riding around in Matchbox cars, but that’s neither here nor there.
7. The Muscles from Brussels (Jean Claude Van Damme)
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Belgium is famous for precisely two things: waffles and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Aside from being a stupendous ass-kicker who has been known to dress up in full hockey gear and make a game--and life--saving stop, the 5’9” artist known as JCVD would actually be lucky to see over the top of his country’s famously decadent breakfast food.
Despite his sterling acting resume and undeniable talent (when will those Academy snobs finally come to its senses and reward him for Best Roundhouse Kick to the Head?), amazingly Van Damme began as an actual, bona fide karate champion. He posted an 18-2 professional record before moving on to a higher calling in the world of film, but that might be in part because he was small enough to blend in and compete in the under-12 division.
6. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis)
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There are very few detectives in the history of television who have stomped as much ass, often needlessly and just to prove he had giant balls, as Vic Mackey on The Shield. During his career as both a Strike Force leader and as a member of the LAPD, Mackey relentlessly beat up suspects and actually went as far as murdering three people, including one member of his own squad. Somehow I can’t imagine Andy Taylor doing the same to Barney Fife, as tempted as he may have been.
Of course, the bald, scowling, ass-kicking Mackey is played by Michael Chiklis, of Fantastic Four infamy, who claims to be around 5’8”. Of course anyone who saw him on Fox’s NFL pregame show last year saw that Michael Strahan and the gang could have just as easily picked him up and used him as the football in their demonstrations, but that doesn’t change the fact that Vic Mackey is further proof that even the shortest, baldest, pudgiest guys around can and will exert extreme police brutality. Er, all in the name of justice, of course.
5. Mad Max (Mel Gibson)
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Now here’s a badass we can relate to. After seeking vengeance against a group of psychopathic bandits who killed his wife and son and stole his gas, a 5’9” Australian policeman sets out on a mission of pure, unadulterated bloodlust. And seriously, who can blame him with the price of gas these days? Oh, and that whole “you killed my wife and son, you dirty sons of bitches” part probably irked him a bit as well.
Over the span of three movies, Mad Max kicked the hell out of the entirety of the apocalyptic wasteland even after he’d already exacted revenge on those who stole his gas and killed his family. Eventually, when he went Beyond Thunderdome, he pulled his best Ike Turner impression by taking Tina Turner and her heavily-insured legs down a peg or two. Probably because the lower pegs were the only ones he could actually reach.
4. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell)
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First, he escaped from New York. Then, he escaped from LA. And you have to admit, it takes a pretty big badass to land a glider on the top of a skyscraper despite having only one eye, and thus, the depth perception of a sofa. Seriously, how many men are big enough badasses to rescue the president, only to turn around and screw him over in the face of the American public?
And even with his gloriously fluffy and flowing mane of hair, Snake Plissken barely scraped 5’9”. Did that stop him from putting foot to ass when the government decided not once, but twice, to force him into what looked to be surefire suicide missions (especially considering, you know, they implanted him with a device that would actually kill him)? Hell no. You’d think that they might have learned their lesson the first time they tried to screw over ol’ Snake, but both times they left gaping holes in their plans, and both times Snake was short enough to scoot on through them unscathed.
3. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland)
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You know what they say: if they just listened to Jack Bauer, the show would be called 12. Jack has saved the day more than all of the G.I. Joes combined, an amazing feat considering he’s generously listed at 5’9”, and an especially amazing feat when you factor in the way that no matter how many times he singlehandedly foils grand terrorist schemes to blow up a city, people still don’t listen to and/or trust him. He also really, really hates it when you don’t tell him who you work for.
Whether he’s torturing a suspect with a lamp (yes, he’s actually done this on the show) or coming back from the dead (multiple times), or just pulling off the amazing feat of going an entire day without pissing or taking a dump, there is no denying that Jack Bauer is one of the greatest badasses in the history of television. We can only hope that somehow, some way Fox and FX will come to their senses and we’ll see that long-awaited crossover with The Shield. And if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see Jack take on Vic Mackey in what would surely be the greatest midget wrestling match since Napoleon fought an Ewok.
2. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone)
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There might not be another person, fictional or otherwise, whose very name carries with it such immense connotations of badassery than Rambo. Hell, even the name sounds like something very, very bad is about to happen to you if you cross the dude. And in the ’80’s, a whole lot of bad guys found that out the hard way when they pissed off the barely 5’9” Vietnam vet, who might actually be 5’9” if he takes a long enough break from kicking ass to stand on the toes of his bloodied combat boots.
Whether he was stomping the local police when they tried to chase him out of town for basically being unkempt, or being unleashed on Vietnamese POW camps to rescue his captured brethren, the words “outnumbered” and “bad odds” don’t mean much to Rambo, probably in part because based on his vocabulary, which consists mainly of “AARRRGH” and “UUUUUGHH”, I have to assume he doesn’t know what those words mean. But if you ever hear one of his guttural cries, odds are you’re about to be the new home for about 500 bullets. After all, in Rambo’s world anything worth doing (or killing) is worth doing (or, again, killing) excessively.
1. The Dragon (Bruce Lee)
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If you don’t know why Bruce Lee is the most iconic badass of all time, then let me be the first to welcome you to Earth, and I hope you come in peace. If you don’t, well, unfortunately The Dragon is no longer here to protect us, but if you go ahead and slap in a copy of Enter the Dragon, you’ll quickly learn why he would have kicked the ever-loving hell out of all your alien asses, even measuring in at just 5’7”.
During the course of his illustrious martial arts and film career, Bruce Lee fought and defeated fools ranging from Chuck Norris to Chuck Norris’ beard, and he even took down Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in one of the most disproportionate matchups in history. Away from the big screen, he also trained Steve McQueen in martial arts, along with McQueen’s son Chad. Chad would later go on to play Dutch in the Karate Kid, and lose a match against Daniel LaRusso. I often have to remind myself that the film is purely fictional, because it’s a well documented fact that no man ever trained by The Dragon could ever lose a fight. Well, unless maybe he was fighting Bruce Lee, but in that case I’m pretty sure the planet would explode. Out of awesomeness.