Who are the undisputed Kings of Cool? We take a look at the coolest actors to grace the silver screen…
Some stars are pretty good at what they do. Maybe it’s hard work and in the case of being a tough guy, that means hours at the gym. Then there are gifts that just come naturally, like the sultry charisma of the best femme fatales. Another natural blessing is the gift of being cool. Sure it can take some skill to cultivate and work to maintain, but if you don’t have that magnetism to hold the attention of a room, you probably never will. So who are the Kings of Cool? It’s time to take a dive into so much cool that you might just get frostbite…
How do you exude coolness and piss charisma when your nickname is Bogey? You’ll have to ask Humphrey Bogart (by spirit medium). Bogart made a name for himself playing no-nonsense and often flawed anti-heroes who were smarter than everyone else in the room. Bogey wasn’t blessed with poster boy looks but his rugged gravitas and demeanour created screen magic in classics like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.
Smoking is not cool kids, except when Bogart did it and his biggest strength always seemed to lie in films revolving around the law, either as a Private Detective (he’s played Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe) or a gangster. Bogart had a very distinct movie persona, rarely straying from it. I suppose if you embody cool like few else, why would you shift out of that natural comfort zone? He delivered lines in his inimitable way and was probably helped by it being an era when dialogue was great.
You might want to argue that being synonymous with playing Samurais gives you a natural advantage in cool school. However, although Toshiro Mifune is arguably cinema’s most iconic samurai, he could have been cinema’s most iconic milkman and still been one of the coolest muthas ever. Mifune sweats cool and probably made those within a 10-mile radius inherently cooler.
In Seven Samurai he plays a complex character who at times also acts as comic relief, and yet when it all comes down to the nitty-gritty of heroic bloodshed, he still steps out to the forefront of the film as the coolest cat on screen. That badassness is even more prominent in films like The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Mifune’s charisma was nearly unmatched and beyond his Samurai work he’s also exceptionally cool in every one of his Kurosawa collaborations, including procedurals like Stray Dog and High and Low. Mifune also found himself in an international cool mofo Western, Red Sun starring alongside Charles Bronson and Alain Delon.
Speaking of Delon. Being all enigmatic, French and loving trench coats; It’s a recipe for cool and Alain Delon baked it to perfection. Delon was cool no matter what he made but much like Kurosawa to Mifune, Jean-Pierre Melville just seemed to “get” Delon better than anyone. In the 60s and 70s there were so many exceptionally cool Euro Thrillers being made, and Melville made them in a way which oozed gallic cool, in no small part thanks to Delon.
Le Circle Rouge is superb, but perhaps the most iconic and influential team-up between Melville and Delon was in Le Samourai which effectively inspired innumerable Hollywood riffs (The Driver, Thief, The Transporter) and even set the stall for entire careers (Nic Winding Refn, John Woo). Not to sound like a kid in the 90s but it’s insanely cool. Delon did the brooding quiet cool thing long before Ryan Gosling was even a glint in his daddy’s eye.
When it comes to your favourite Bond, many people have a different favourite based on any number of factors but if you’re going to select your favourite based on how cool the actor playing JB was, then the only logical answer is Sean Connery. Sean Connery could make a character as ridiculously costumed as his character in Zardoz, seem cool. He could swagger in like a strutting peacock in Highlander and still be the coolest thing in (a very cool) film. Even in his latter career, Connery still managed to play white-haired old tough nuts brimming with his trademark nonchalant coolness. The Rock is great because Connery’s sheer cool charisma is a perfect counterpoint to the neurotic mania of Nic Cage’s Stanley Goodspeed.
“Winnersh go home and fuck the prom queen.” As for Connery as Bond, well it may have been the theme tune to a Roger Moore (who is definitely the second coolest MF to play Bond) film, but nobody does it better (than Sean). The thing Connery had on top of the badass and coolness was a real tough guy intensity.
No one has crooked grinned, ladies man cool like Harrison Ford. The easy grin and boyish charm felt completely natural and whether in a Galaxy Far Far Away, whipping Nazi scum or Blade Running replicants, Ford is the most enduring and magnetic movie star of his era. Even into his 80s, Harrison Ford is still just about as cool as they come. Might he be the coolest living actor around?
Ford’s gift for sardonic humour combined well with that natural ruggedness, always making him such an appealing hero. It takes a level of cool to pull off as many iconic characters as Ford did. Who the hell else could be Rick Deckard, Indiana Jones AND Han Solo? It was also understandable too, that only a person capable of displaying comparable levels of cool could play his father, so naturally Sean Connery plays Indiana Jones’ father in The Last Crusade.
Sometimes your level of cool can be judged by how you drive a Mustang, handle a shotgun, or maybe perhaps handle a motorcycle. On all counts, Steve McQueen is so electrifyingly cool he could power a continent just by giving a wink.
The stoic assuredness was one thing but then it was perfectly complimented by those steely blue eyes. McQueen showed plenty of his sizzling charisma in films ranging from The Blob, Bullitt, The Getaway, The Great Escape and The Thomas Crown Affair. The most perfect encapsulation of his coolness lies in Bullitt’s iconic car chase.
Something happened to Brad Pitt after 40. Before that, he was the classic movie pretty boy, albeit with a high level of acting skill to go with being almost disgustingly good-looking. His roles also didn’t necessarily lend themselves to being labelled as cool though. At least not until Tyler Durden.
After 40, Pitt just gained a bit more ruggedness and every layer of cragginess since just seems to make him even cooler. Pitt has managed to maintain an old-school Hollywood cool that is rare in the new generations of movie stars because most of them have to wear spandex and prance in front of a green screen. Pitt might be 60 now but that newfound ruggedness and character that is now etched on his face is still perfectly complimented by his boyish charm.
Whether a romantic lead, a shady politician, a comic book villain, an undercover cop, a gangster, or a lovelorn working shmoe, Tony Leung is never less than ice cool. There’s a very distinct kind of Tony Leung cool that he carries that feels so unique too.
Leung can play still almost better than anyone. He’s just cool without even having to try but it’s such an enigmatic cool that we’re always lured closer and closer before he dances away and retains his mystery. Leung’s ability to skip between such varying roles and genres while maintaining his patented cool makes him one of the great screen presences of his generation.
George Clooney went from B movie star to heartthrob TV Doctor. The charisma and good looks definitely suggested he was bound for a return to movies and probably at a higher level than Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
That big step up came with something unexpected, a return to B picture creature feature but with just a bit more subversion and the benefit of a script co-written by Quentin Tarantino. From Dusk Till Dawn saw Clooney as a criminal on the lam who ends up in a bar full of vampires. Clooney was intense, powder keg and fiery. These explosions where Seth loses his rag and is otherwise cool as a cucumber, just made Clooney even more compelling. He was surprisingly, shockingly cool. No one expected that level of badass from a TV heartthrob. His work since has only reinforced how effortlessly cool he is.
Denzel Washington has always been cool. He can be in a sizzling powerful drama and exude cool. He can even make morally obtuse antiheroes or straight-up villains come across as cool.
Here’s the thing, like most on this list, Denzel has that magnetism. If there’s a camera rolling and he walks into the frame, he immediately owns it, even if he’s in a scene full of people. For his immense talents, there are times when it feels like Denzel is coasting in third gear, and yet it never feels like a phone-in job because he’s never less than the coolest actor in any given film.
Here’s a question. Is Keanu Reeves cooler because he’s the most popular man on the planet? Reeves has had an interesting persona through the years. His younger days in the business saw him jump between some interesting and iconic roles, as well as some divisive misfires (like his questionable accents in Dracula and Much Ado About Nothing).
His rise to prominence in the action genre has certainly contributed to his cool factor, beginning in particular with Speed. Reeves plays a cocksure cop who prefers action over inaction but is cool as all hell in that film. Reeves had already done the action thing in Point Break, but Johnny Utah kind of pales in coolness to Patrick Swayze’s, Bodhi.
Much like Pitt, a few more lines and a bit of ruggedness have upped Reeves’ coolness. Beyond being John Wick, Reeves just feels inherently cool by being the most unquestionably stand-up guy in the business.
Who is the King of Cool? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…