Top 10 Movie Heroes From Unlikely Professions

With the superheroes of Marvel and DC battling it out for box office supremacy, the movie hero has never been so obviously a part of 21st century popular culture. But many of Hollywood’s most iconic achievements – and Tinseltown’s biggest commercial successes – are founded upon heroic figures who emerge from unlikely places.

Movie Heroes From Unlikely Professions - Top 10 FilmsIn this top 10 I look at the unwitting movie hero, someone who rises to the saviour of the good guys despite not having Arnie’s muscles, James Bond’s license to kill, Iron Man’s suit, or Superman’s superpowers.

Take away the might of military training and an infantry backing you up, the scale of the police force, and, indeed, Thor’s hammer, Top 10 Movie Heroes from Unlikely Professions looks at noble endeavour by unassuming men and women whose day-to-day nine-to-five is routinely mundane in comparison to their life-saving superhero counterparts (of both the magical and public service kind).

On this day they get their time in the limelight and enjoy (or endure) a day they will never forget.

10. Tom – Architect (David Strathairn in The River Wild – Hanson, 1994)

Movie Heroes From Unlikely Professions - Top 10 FilmsTaking nothing away from Meryl Streep’s tough-chick performance as wife and mother Gail in Curtis Hanson’s pulse-racing white water thriller The River Wild, its her mild-mannered architect husband Tom (David Strathairn) who goes from 70-hour working week to unwitting hero. When Kevin Bacon’s badass bank robber sets upon his family, pacifist Tom becomes the third-wheel in Gail’s attempts to save the family. But after being seemingly killed in an escape attempt, the architect concocts a cunning plan to get his family back.

9. Seymour Krelborn – Florist (Rick Moranis in Little Shop of Horrors – Oz, 1986)

Little Shop of Horrors, Frank Oz, Rick Moranis, Musical Film, Top 10 FilmsFrank Oz’s fun rock-musical sees mild-mannered florist Seymour become the unwitting hero of the New York City slums after his vampiric killer plant Audrey II’s insatiable appetite for human flesh threatens more than just those close to him.

8. Solomon – Handyman (Ernie Hudson in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – Hanson, 1992)

Movie Heroes From Unlikely Professions - Top 10 FilmsIn Curtis Hanson’s domestic drama, the family unit is devastatingly threatened when the disconcertingly po-faced Rebecca De Mornay becomes the nanny-with-a terrible-secret for the innocuously ordinary Bartels. The picture postcard middle class ideal is disrupted when the nanny’s real motives emerge leading to Lennie Small-type Solomon, the family’s nice-but-dim handyman, coming to the rescue of the children when the shit hits the fan.

7. Annie Porter – Office Staff (Sandra Bullock in Speed – de Bont, 1994)

Driving Movies - Top 10 FilmsAnnie Porter’s job is never explicitly mentioned in Jan de Bont’s Speed but she does allude to missing her car after her license was revoked for speeding. Thus, she must catch the bus to get to work. If anyone’s nine-to-five is interrupted perhaps Annie’s adventurous diversion from the norm is the worst of the lot. Great for action fans though. Jan de Bont’s high concept peddle-to-the-metal blockbuster never fails to entertain with its simple premise: a bus must stay above 50-miles-per-hour to prevent a secreted bomb on board going off. Sandra Bullock is great as the unwitting secondary hero who takes on the challenge of driving the bus while, of course, falling in love with Keanu Reeves’ cop Jack Traven.

6. The Tramp – Glazier (Charlie Chaplin in The Kid – 1921, Chapin)

Movie Heroes From Unlikely Professions - Top 10 FilmsThe Tramp, a downtrodden hero who became an icon of both early silent cinema and Charlie Chaplin’s oeuvre, is the saviour and unofficial adoptive father of an orphaned baby in this 1921 classic. A poignant and funny film, The Kid remains an important part of film history given that it is recognised as one of the earliest examples of combining slapstick comedy with touching drama.

5. Allen Bauer – Fruit & Vegetable Wholesaler (Tom Hanks in Splash – 1984, Howard)

Movie Heroes From Unlikely Professions - Top 10 FilmsThe delightful talent of Tom Hanks becomes the saviour of the mermaid he falls in love with in this comic heart-warmer from crowd-pleasing director Ron Howard. Hanks, in the early part of his comedy-dominated 1980s career, is the likable hero nobody believes when he tells them mermaids exist off the coast of New York. They soon believe him when one turns up on his doorstep and he has to return her to the ocean before unscrupulous government scientists start prodding her with needles.

4. Roger Thornhill – Advertising Executive (Cary Grant in North by Northwest – 1959, Hitchcock)

north-by-northwestA case of mistaken identity sees ad executive Roger Thornhill land in hot water when he is kidnapped by a mysterious criminal group who wrongly believe he’s getting in the way of them smuggling government secrets out of the country. Hitchcock’s “wronged man” motif has rarely been this exhilarating or fun, and the brilliant Cary Grant takes to the challenge with sophisticated “suited and booted” glee.

3. Bud Brigman – Foreman of experimental deep sea observatory (Ed Harris in The Abyss – Cameron, 1989)

Movie Heroes From Unlikely Professions - Top 10 FilmsThe stakes are a little higher than normal for Bud Brigman who becomes the unwitting hero of mankind when his deep sea observatory discovers alien lifeforms in an ocean crevice. James Cameron’s terrific film features a brilliant power struggle between two opposing groups of people trapped in unforgiving surroundings at the bottom of the sea, the dramatic tension increasing just as the heat rises in the sweaty confines of our characters’ underwater prison. Depending on which version of the film you see (the longer one is more effective), the ending alternates slightly. However, the film sees a hero emerge out of Bud’s willingness to open his mind. If nothing else, The Abyss is worth seeing for its brilliant production design and underwater photography. For me, it’s one of James Cameron’s best movies.

2. Ripley – Space Freighter Warrant Officer (Sigourney Weaver in Alien – Scott, 1979)

Movie Heroes From Unlikely Professions - Top 10 FilmsWhen Alien was initially in development its hero wasn’t always a woman. However, the enduring success of the film makes it difficult to imagine anyone but a heroine at its core. It’s even harder to think of Sigourney Weaver as anything but a powerhouse movie hero. Ridley Scott’s ace science-fiction horror is a terrifying thrill ride thanks to its claustrophobic spacecraft-based setting and the largely unseen monster lurking in its dark and dirty corners. But it’s elevated by its exemplary cast and the emergence of its unlikely hero (not the Captain, or the second in command, or one of the cocky engineers, or, perhaps most importantly, a man). Weaver made Ripley not only a hero we could get behind but an example of how female characters can dominate the screen just as much as their male counterparts.

1. Indiana Jones – Archaeologist (Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark et al – Spielberg, 1981-)

Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark,Across a group of films, some great, some not-so great, the college professor and part-time adventurer Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, has saved more lives than the average superhero. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, his first and best cinematic outing, he endures being beaten up, buried alive and dragged across desert roads by motor vehicle in a desperate attempt to prevent the Nazis from acquiring a power far greater than any atomic bomb. Oh, and he gets the girl too.

Written and Compiled by Dan Stephens

Over to you: what are the best movie heroes from unlikely professions films?

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Callum Reply

    Gotta love Sandra Bullock in Speed – a hero and a gorgeous one too!

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      Dan Reply

      Her performance is underrated in many ways – she’s a very quirky, funny heroine and that’s often forgotten behind Reeves, Hopper and the film’s execution of its brilliant premise.

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        Callum Reply

        Always been a big fan of the film but felt like it should have ended with a showdown somehow based on the bus rather than an extended ending versus Hopper.

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          CineGirl Reply

          Nah… The big showdown is great but I agree the film is better when it’s on the bus.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Nice job Dan. I laughed out loud reading a few of these, especially the Indiana Jones one. Really original idea for a top ten as well. The Splash one is excellent, I never really thought about it that way. Thanks for an awesome read.

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      Dan Reply

      Thanks Dan!

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    CineGirl Reply

    Great idea for a top 10. Love that mention of David Strathairn in The River Wild because he’s such a weedy character and you think he can’t hold his own but he comes good in the end. I suppose you could say the same for Solomon… But I haven’t seen The Hand That Rocks The Cradle in years.

    Favourite films from this list… Speed, Alien and Indiana Jones of course!

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      Dan Reply

      Thanks CineGirl – it’s always nice to give the unsung hero a chance in the limelight! 😉

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        CineGirl Reply

        Unsung heroes are the best kind of heroes! 😉

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    Tom Reply

    Some classics on here!

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Fantastic list Dan
    Only one vital miss – John McLean from Die Hard!!

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