How Liam Neeson Became Hollywood’s Newest Bankable Badass

Entertainment / Movies

How Liam Neeson Became Hollywood’s Newest Bankable Badass

By: Dave Odegard 86

Over the weekend, something kind of interesting happened.  It took place in movie theaters around the country, from New York to California, in major chain multiplexes and small screen cinemas.  You probably maybe even participated in it by buying tickets to see a movie.  You see last weekend, The Grey, which was released on Friday and stars Liam Neeson, finished number one at the box office, raking in an estimated $20 million for its opening.  It officially marked Liam Neeson’s full ascent to Hollywood badass.

Set in the frozen tundra of Alaska, The Grey is about a group plane crash survivors (led by Neeson) who must fight for survival against a pack of wolves.  Yes, wolves.  Seriously, how intense is that concept?  And it currently has a 78% freshness on the movie review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.

Cinephiles and Neeson aficionados will know that with this latest venture, Neeson now has near perfect streak of actions movies scoring big at the box office — Clash Of The Titans in 2010 and Unknown in 2011 — in the past few years (We’ll ignore the A-Team, since everyone else did).  It’s actually quite the career rival for the man who made a name for himself playing period-piece biopics (Michael Collins, Kinsey, Rob Roy).  It’s also a bit surprising given Neeson’s age.  He’ll turn 60 in June, which puts him a good 20-30 years older than most of his action film counter-parts.

And while it’s true that a lot of Hollywood’s heroes from the 1980’s who are now the same age as Neeson have founded something of an “elder action hero club” (Stallone’s the Expendables and it’s upcoming sequel being the most prominent example), Neeson was never an original member.  So despite his age and relative recent foray into action, Neeson has developed the most important aspect of a Hollywood action star – box office draw.

Most moviegoers will associate Neeson’s transition into badassery with 2008’s Taken.  The film features Neeson as a retired government operative whose daughter is kidnapped while on a trip to Paris, forcing him to use his secret agent skills to rescue her.  Reviews by critics were mixed, but the film did well with audiences.  Neeson approached the role with the right sort of frantic determination coupled with a honed training fighting style that perfectly filled the gap after Matt Damon left the Jason Bourne franchise in 2007.  And for the past four years, Neeson’s added the lead in action thrillers to his veritable wheelhouse.  Even inspiring some to claim that he’d usurped the Internet’s favorite badass, Chuck Norris.

But if one looks back on Neeson’s nearly 30-year career, they’ll see that he’s frequently played with some iteration of a badass in one way or another.   It’s almost a given with his combination of height and gravelly voice.  Neeson’s played an Appalachian mountain man seeking revenge against Chicago mobsters for the murder of his brother (Next of Kin), a Jedi master (Star Wars Episode 1), and Batman’s mentor/enemy (Batman Begins).   He even played his own superhero in the criminally forgotten Darkman (directed by future Spider-man auteur Sam Rami).  But most of these roles were not the leading man variety – putting Neeson in either a supporting or mentoring role to the lead. (Darkman was too sensitive and whiney a hero to catch on with audiences).

Also, what is a movie badass? Gunplay and butt-kicking fisticuffs aside, isn’t it to sternly stand and fight against an overwhelming (and usually) immoral opponent?  So by that reasoning, wouldn’t Neeson’s most well known leading role, that of Oskar Schindler, the womanizing German businessman who saved over 1,100 Jewish workers from the Nazis during World War II count as a badass?

The truth is, that Liam Neeson has always been a badass.  He’s just now finally found a balance from his years of experience and innate badass qualities to create an enjoyable and understated type of action hero that connects with audiences.

And don’t expect Neeson to let up with his badass roles in the foreseeable future.  He’s currently shooting a sequel to Taken and it looks like Joe Carnahan, who directed The Grey and The A-Team, will be remaking the 70’s violent vigilante classic Death Wish, so everyone is just waiting for the announcement that Neeson will take on a role made famous by Charles Bronson—in essence picking up the torch of Hollywood badass royalty.

[Pic via Screengrab from The Grey trailer]

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