Pop Culture’s Most Heroic Men

Compiled By Joe Korba

With our annual Men’s Edition coming up, I thought it only appropriate to include a list of the manliest men ever committed to film (or television). I excluded literary heroes like Allan Quartermain, John Carter, and Sherlock Homes for the sake of brevity, even if many of them have starred in movie adaptations. I pulled from my own knowledge of  action films and television as well as picked my cadre of geeky friend’s brains for this list. I hope you guys enjoy, and are inspired by, the testosterone-fueled adventures of these alpha-men.



10. John McClane (portrayed by Bruce Willis. First Appearance Die Hard, 1988)

McClane is the quintessential everyman, who just so happens to possess the physical prowess to defeat an entire skyscraper filled with terrorists, all while quipping hilarious one-liners.

John McClane, a New York Detective who has the worst luck ever, finds himself constantly besieged by violent men with convoluted get-rich-quick schemes. Original Die Hard Villain Hans Gruber says McClane is “just another American who thinks he’s John Wayne.” Au Contraire, Mr Gruber, McClane is, in fact, partial to Roy Rogers; and also a man who takes no crap from terrorists robbing Nakatomi Plaza, Dulles Airport or threatening to blow up New York Public Schools. Welcome to our top-10 list, John McClane.

9. Reggie Bannister (portrayed by Reggie Bannister, First Appearance Phantasm, 1979)

Bannister may not be the best-known horror movie character, but he’s certainly one of the bravest. Reggie goes from unassuming hippie to 4-barrel shotgun wielding, zombie slaying hero.

Reggie, out of sheer loyalty to his friends, defies the insidious ‘Tall Man’ and throws down against inter-dimensional dwarf zombies and floating silver death spheres (you really have to see the movie…), all from an Ice Cream Truck.

8. The Doctor (currently portrayed by Matt Smith, First Appearance Doctor Who, 1963)

Doctor Who is one of the most enduring programs in television history, first airing in 1963. The mysterious Doctor is a time traveling alien who has saved earth (and other planets) from destruction many times over.  Whether facing Cybermen, Daleks, The Master or a plethora of other villains the Time Lord never loses his sense of humor or wonder.

A well-dressed Englishmen in a bow tie might not be the most obvious choice for this list, but The Doctor embodies everything we think of in a hero, and does it with style.

7.Tony Stark (currently portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., First Movie Appearance Iron Man, 2008)

Tony Stark doesn’t need superpowers to be a hero. Through a combination of genius and wealth the millionaire industrialist goes from nihilistic playboy to altruistic superhero after being kidnapped by terrorists.

Stark is the personification of the American Dream, while not a genetically modified super soldier like Captain America, he’s a self-made man who uses his gifts for the good of society.


6. Rooster Cogburn (portrayed by John Wayne (and Jeff Bridges), First Movie Appearance True Grit, 1969)

It’s hard to pick just one John Wayne character for this list. From The Searchers to The Shootist he has been in so many genre defining films. True Grit finds him at his, well, grittiest, and arguably most heroic.

He’s also a one- eyed, hardcore, alcohol-fueled bounty hunter who singlehandedly (well, two-fisting a rifle and revolver while on horseback) takes out the Chaney Gang. So, there’s that.

5. Han Solo (portrayed by Harrison Ford, First Appearance, Star Wars, 1977)

Star Wars creator George Lucas sums up Solo perfectly when he describes him as “a loner who realizes the importance of being part of a group and helping for the common good.”

Solo is an awesome outlaw smuggler with a Wookiee co-pilot and a scheme to get out of any bad situation. He even lands a princess in the end – not too shabby for someone who associates with folks in Mos Eisley, a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

4. Daryl Dixon (portrayed by Norman Reedus, First Television Appearance The Walking Dead, 2010)

Daryl is a southern guy who likes to hunt and is an expert outdoorsman. He begins the series in the shadow of racist, jerk of an older brother, Merle, but soon joins the ‘good guys’ and becomes an invaluable part of the group.

While the protagonist ex-cop, Rick and his group of survivors are arguing about mundane nonsense and occasionally making the most stupid decisions possible, Daryl is in the background as a super-competent right-hand man handily dispatching ‘walkers’ with his trusty crossbow.

Rick may be the leader of the group, but Daryl is most certainly the brains.

3. Ash (portrayed by Bruce Campbell, First Appearance Evil Dead, 1981)

Bruce Campbell’s iconic performance elevates this lowly S-Mart employee (“Shop Smart, Shop S-Mart!”) from cowering and terrified protagonist to the one of the towering icons in the horror genre. Ash starts the film series fighting the evil ‘Deadites’ after accidently releasing the demons by reading the ‘Necronomicon Ex Mortis’ or Book of the Dead in a cabin in the woods, eventually traveling through time to defeat them in the past all while reciting hilarious one-liners and kicking lots of undead tail with his “boomstick.”

He also has a chainsaw attached to his arm after lopping his hand off at the wrist, because it “went bad.” What’s more hardcore than that?

2.  Hulk ‘Hulkamania’ Hogan (portrayed by Terry Bollea, First Appearance World Wrestling Federation, 1983)

The living embodiment of wholesome American values, The Hulkster basically defined the Reagan 80’s for a generation of kids. Eat your veggies, say your prayers and all of that… Hulk was a pop culture icon parents didn’t mind their children emulating. The dude’s theme song was “I am a real American. Fight for the right of every man.” That, my friends, is Patriotism, with a capital P.

1. Fred “Mister” Rogers (portrayed by Fred McFeely Rogers, First Television Appearance Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, 1968)

The sweater wearing archetype of all that is good and right in the world, Mr. Rogers takes the number one spot on our list of Heroic Pop Culture Icons. While this pick does skew the line between fiction and reality, Rogers is awesome enough to transcend those silly boundaries.

Rogers spent his life teaching compassion, tolerance and kindness to generations of kids and fought the good fight for children’s causes and education. He won countless awards over his lifetime, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Smithsonian even displays one of his sweaters as a ‘Treasure of American History.’ Mr. Rogers left the world a better place than he found it, and proved you don’t need to be violent or cocky to be a pop-culture hero. Kudos, Mr. Rogers.


I’d like to thank all of the people who contributed to this list, including Tom Tierney, Stacie Bray, Lauren Null, Norman McKenney, Les Tice, and Katelyn Kaschak. Thanks Guys!


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