When approximately 70 percent of the Man Panelists cited “The Fifth Element” in our recent Valentine’s Day Man Panel, Amelia asked me what the deal was. “I have never even seen that movie,” she said, “but it must be a dude requirement.” Growing up with three brothers, I knew that it is in fact a dude requirement, and this got me thinking about other movies men obsess about. I surveyed my guy friends to flesh out a top 10 list and asked them to explain the appeal of each film. And now, without further ado, here’s our field guide to guy movies…
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris
The Plot: When a group of rogue Marines take over Alcatraz island and aim chemical missiles at San Francisco, the only way to foil their plan is to sneak into Alcatraz and disarm them. And the only way to sneak into Alcatraz is to have a convict who once broke out of Alcatraz lead a group of Navy Seals inside.
Why Guys Love It: This movie has everything awesome: car chases, chemical warfare, prison breaks, sex, face melting, military infighting, and some of the most memorable lines ever uttered on film, including a creative homage to Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Unlike many action movies — SPOILER ALERT! — this movie kills off the burly heroes early and leaves the lab rat and the elderly convict to save the day. Guys can’t resist a great underdog story.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman
The Plot: A group of East German terrorists get more than they bargained for when an off-duty NYPD cop happens to be at the Christmas party they take hostage.
Why Guys Love It: It’s an everyman thing: Bruce Willis’ character didn’t set out to be a hero, he’s not super buff, he’s kind of rough around the edges. He’s an ordinary guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances, but when it’s time to kick ass, he does. The whole movie takes place in one building, which means the action is self-contained, and if that wasn’t enough, the holiday setting makes it a delightful Christmas classic on par with “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
The Fifth Element
Starring: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker
The Plot: A giant fireball named “Mr. Shadow” — which is the manifestation of all evil — is hurtling toward Earth and the only way to stop it is to arrange the four elements in a temple in Egypt, with the fifth element, love, placed in the center. Bruce Willis plays a former super soldier and current cab driver who becomes embroiled in the situation when a scantily clad supreme being falls through the roof of his flying taxi and maybe you should just look it up.
Why Guys Love It: “Die Hard” showed us that there’s something really magical about seeing a wisecracking New Yorker take on international bad guys; “The Fifth Element” takes this idea up a notch, putting Bruce Willis in a different color tank top and pitting him against intergalactic evils. It was also one of the only PG-13 movies of its time to feature bare breasts, which made it a huge hit with prepubescent boys of the mid-90s. In addition to Milla Jovovich’s boobs, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Zorg is equally arousing.
Starring: Arnold Schwartzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura
The Plot: The hunters become the hunted when a group of elite commandos on a mission in the jungles of Guatemala start getting killed off by an alien creature known as “the predator.”
Why Guys Love It: “Predator” is pure testosterone in movie form, from the opening shot of bulging biceps to the quintessentially manly line “I ain’t got time to bleed!”
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe
The Plot: A dark, honest portrayal of the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of a morally conflicted young recruit.
Why Guys Love It: “Platoon” is so overwhelming, overstimulating, and depressing that simply watching it start to finish is a test of endurance, and all the men who have lived through it are battle-hardened comrades who can reminisce about its atrocities from the safety and comfort of the corner bar. Basically, “Platoon” is the basis for thousands of male friendships.
The Mad Max Trilogy
Starring: Mel Gibson
The Plot: I’ll let IMDB handle this one: “In a dystopic future Australia, a vicious biker gang murder a cop’s family and make his fight with them personal.” Basically Mel Gibson silently wanders around with a shotgun looking for revenge and taking breaks to eat dog food. This general plot plays out over three separate films.
Why Guys Love It: Men love apocalyptic movies because it allows them to imagine their own reactions to a complete societal breakdown. Would they go mad? Would they take care of the weak? Would they be a badass antihero like Mad Max? And more importantly, would they look as good in leather?
The Plot: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix
The Plot: Emperor Commodus sums up the film perfectly with this line: “The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor. Striking story!”
Why Guys Love It: This is a classic revenge story on an epic scale. If the powerful score and bloody fight scenes don’t get your blood pumping, there’s the rich historical context and Russell Crowe’s sculpted thighs peeking out from under a skirt. In the words of Maximus, “Are you not entertained?!”
Starring: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter
The Plot: A depressed and isolated office worker meets a sleek and charming soap salesman and together they create a secret society known as “Fight Club,” where men vent their aggression by beating each other.
Why Guys Love It: “Fight Club” might seem like a classic guy movie that glorifies violence, but it’s actually a complicated exploration of consumerism, mental illness, Western society, and most of all, what it means to be a man. Some guys love this movie for the gory fight scenes, others love it for the existential questions it poses. And if neither of those things interest you, Brad Pitt’s abs in this movie are truly a wonder to behold.
Empire Strikes Back
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
The Plot: In the fifth movie of the Star Wars series, a rebel base on the planet Hoth is discovered and destroyed, Luke goes to Dagoba to learn The Force from Master Yoda, and the rest of the gang is on the run from Imperial Star Destroyers.
Why Guys Love It: Whereas the other Star Wars films include cutesy touches like Ewoks and Gungans, ESB is dark stuff: every battle is lost, Han Solo (previously an untouchable hero) gets frozen in carbonite and sold off, Luke gets his hand cut off and finds out who his deadbeat dad is (and it’s not good news). This movie is everything a Star Wars movie should be, namely an intricate and tragic outer space opera.
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell
The Plot: San Diego’s local news station is a raunchy boys’ club until the first female anchor shows up and the leader of the boys’ club falls in love with her.
Why Guys Love It: “Anchorman” ushered in a new wave of self-referential, surrealist comedies that defined the sense of humor of a generation. In short, men love “Anchorman” because it taught them how to be funny. Plus it’s infinitely quotable, from “Scotchy scotch scotch!” to “I love lamp.”