The characteristic that separates an action hero from an imitator is not the breadth of their arm, nor the calibre of their hand cannon. No, it is the deadpan silver tongue – a skill with which a hero is simply born.
It’s just as essential for an action star to have an arsenal of bon mots and witty ripostes at their disposal as it is to have a thorough knowledge of the most painful ways in which to punch people in the groin - any hero worth their salt must be a consummate wit as well as an invincible walking weapon who has somehow learned how to never need a poo.
Whether it be a droll final word delivered to a foe the instant before ending them, or a humorous witticism uttered just afterwards to no one in particular, the action star zinger is, quite simply, a must. Wasting goons without uttering something dry is amateurish, wasteful and, well, mean. There, we said it.
To illustrate the zinger’s pivotal role in the dishing out of vigilante justice, here are 18 of the very best.
He always did have an inflated opinion of himself.
The inflatory circumstances befitting this particular one-liner would be quite rare in the lives of you or us, yet James Bond apparently inflates evil doctors so often he has a line ready to pop at a moment’s notice. He is a professional, after all.
GET OFF MY PLANE!
Occasionally a film’s entire reason d’etre is to simply facilitate a character’s uttering of the same line that was probably used to pitch the movie in the first place. In this case, it's no bad thing.
Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.
Ash is a one-man production line of quotable brilliance, and his comment here – uttered after stuffing a shotgun under the nose of his dastardly doppelganger –needed to be something special. Luckily, it was.
Welcome to Earth.
Excellent quippage from the biggest of Willies, here. Succinct perfection.
Hi Bob! [Shoots Bob.] Bye Bob!
Charlie Sheen’s diminutive brother doesn’t need tiger blood to achieve awesomeness – an expert deployment of the ‘Hello [insert goon name] / Goodbye [insert goon name]’ technique is all he needs.
I also do circumcisions.
To strike fear into the black heart of a foe, alluding to trimming his manhood with a sword will do the trick quite nicely, particularly if you’re a swordsman who happens to be blind.
Considerdadadivorce [Consider that a divorce]
Nobody delivers a one-liner like The Austrian Oak – odd, considering his rudimentary grasp of the English Language – and this one, after offing his beautiful yet psychotic missus, is pure class.
You’re a disease, and I’m the cure.
Chewstick? Check. Affected snarl? Check. Sunglasses, even though it isn’t even remotely fucking sunny? Double-check.
Another entry from Harrison Ford, whose sleeves-up approach to ne’er-do-wells on public transport puts the passive-aggressive misanthropy of our bus drivers to shame.
It’s just been revoked.
The recipient of this corker didn’t even get to enjoy its prescience, partly because he was stood quite far away, but mostly because he was dead. Nevertheless, it had to be said.
The second of three entries for The Governator (this entire list could feasibly contain nothing but Ahh-nuld’s best work). This time he skewers a feckless chump who tries to get the drop on him. Error.
How do you like your ribs?
Before we get to the succulent meat of the one-liner in this clip there’s a two-minute, context-giving preamble, but as it might be the finest two minutes of anything recorded by anyone ever, it’s here for you to enjoy.
I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I’m all outta bubblegum.
Rowdy clearly thought this up in the car on the way over, as its excellence is simply too great to have been coined on the fly, but he delivers it perfectly.
If every one of us were even a tenth as cool as Connery is in this clip the economy would collapse overnight as we’d all be far too busy having rigorous, fantastic sex with each other to bother with work. As it is, Bond has all the sex, and we just have whatever’s left over.
I’m gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent. To the blood bank.
A non-ironic version of Brick Tamland’s ‘toilet store’ dig in Anchorman sees Seagal nonsensically threaten someone who isn’t even within earshot. Thank God he didn’t go with 'sperm bank'.
Let off some steam, Bennett.
The final entry for the big man, and perhaps his finest. Beautiful, cheesy poetry.
Yippee kai-yay, motherfucker.
This had the potential to sound quite, quite stupid, and yet Willis makes it sound impossibly cool.
I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?
The king, of course, is Clint Eastwood, and this line just beats "Go ahead punk, make my day" due to its controlled, sphincter-loosening malice. It’s not a line as such – more a small, terrifying speech – but its fame, delivery and content makes it the very best of a damn fine bunch. Mr Eastwood – we salute you.