Veteran actors who can follow the Tom Cruise/Liam Neeson action hero path

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Between last week’s Liam Neeson release Run All Night marking one of the final times that Neeson will play an action hero and yesterday’s debut of Tom Cruise defying age in the new Mission: Impossible trailer, I got to thinking about who could take their places going forward. Obviously, Neeson is almost done and Cruise won’t be kicking ass forever, so there must be an heir apparent or two out there, right? Well, no one who is out and out gunning for that gig, but there’s plenty of middle aged actors who have at least dipped their toes in the water. As such, I came up with a list of actors who could certainly take the mantle from these two, perhaps even pushing this sub genre of action to a slightly new level. It’s mostly a list in good fun, but there’s certainly some truths contained within. Hey, maybe in a few years I’ll have been proven prescient about a couple of career arcs!

Below you’ll see the ten gentlemen I’ve selected, listed alphabetically:

Javier Bardem – Most people acknowledge that Bardem can do just about anything, including turning in a couple of terrific villain turns, so why not an action hero? One of those turns is especially iconic (No Country for Old Men) and he even has a part in the recently released action flick The Gunmen, so he’s orbiting that action hero planet in a big way. I think he’d do a great job too.

Kenneth Branagh – Here’s another actor who has tried out the villainous role, but Branagh seems tailor made to perhaps play a veteran spy. He’s firmly entrenched in his directing career, which makes this a long shot, but anything is possible. Maybe he could be given his own franchise to headline both in front of and behind the camera? That might do the trick.

Kevin Costner – For a while Costner was an action hero, of course, but those days have passed him by. If he were to return, it’d be as a second generation hero, which certainly has an appeal. There’s a risk of having this feel like someone who fell out of The Expendables, but Costner has played around in the action genre recently, with last year’s 3 Days to Kill (which had the aforementioned Branagh as the bad guy) as one example. I hope he sticks with it, in addition to his strong dramatic work of late.

John Cusack – Honestly, Cusack has been trolling around in second class B movie action flicks for a while now, but he deserves better. He easily could be getting some of Neeson’s roles. Something like Grand Piano has showcased him as a villain (a theme here, I’m noticing), so he’s no action virgin. Mostly, I just want Cusack in higher profile films again.

Idris Elba – Doesn’t the thought of Elba kicking a whole lot of ass just thrill you? He’s been second banana in a few of these sorts of movies, but never a true full blown lead on the big screen, saving the day. I know there’s a movement to make him the next James Bond, but if he doesn’t wind up playing 007, some other type of action franchise should really be in his future.

Colin Firth – Kingsman: The Secret Service introduced us to Firth as a badass, so I hope he takes that baton and runs with it. He did such a great job with that film, I truly think he’s potentially become Neeson’s heir apparent, if he wants it. That part remains to be seen, but with an Academy Away already under his belt, he certainly has nothing to prove. Firth can have all the fun he wants, either in Kimgsman sequels or elsewhere.

Frank Grillo – Perhaps my most likely choice, Grillo only needs one huge hit to be our next action hero. He’s been in smaller fare like The Purge: Anarchy as a lead, but he’s yet to really get his chance to shine on a bigger stage. He’s not the traditional Cruise/Neeson pick, but he’d certainly be a great action lead. He’s one of the safer bets on this list.

Michael Keaton – He nearly won an Oscar last year, so why not a move towards action for Keaton? As he reaches a new stage in his career, it could be cool to see him again beat up the bad guys, only in a slightly new way. I’m not sure how realistic this one is, but I know I’d sure like for it to happen.

Sean Penn – Last week Penn tried this role on for size with The Gunman, so as much as he claims to not want to be the next Neeson, he at least was willing to consider the possibility. The lack of interest in that film might have put the kibosh on the whole thing, but if not, he’s already got a head start…

Vince Vaughn – Finally, Vaughn represents someone in need of a career transformation. It might happen with the second season of True Detective, but a gritty John Wick type action flick could really launch Vaughn back into the spotlight in a big way. Another long shot, but hey…I’d love to see it happen for him.

Keep an eye out in the years to come in order to see if any of these guys take this path going forward!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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