When Danny Glover uttered the famous exasperated catchphrase “I'm getting too old for this s---!” in 1987's Lethal Weapon, he was 41. Now that doesn't seem very old at all. Since then, Hollywood has churned out action-movie heroes who are well into their 50s, 60s and 70s. Like a fine wine, these rock ‘em-sock ‘em characters just seem to get better with age. In honor of Honest Thief (Oct. 16), the latest knuckle-buster from 68-year-old Liam Neeson, we came up with 15 movies featuring heroes who've already received their AARP cards in the mail.
The grownup hero: Liam Neeson
Before this nail-biting payback thriller would usher in an unexpected new chapter to his already brilliant career, Neeson was the sort of leading man you'd turn to for a prestige period drama like Schindler's List or Michael Collins. This is the movie that changed all of that (quickly followed by a couple of Taken sequels and vigilante punch ‘em ups like Non-Stop and The Commuter). Who knew he had it in him? Taken works like gangbusters because the action sequences are both white-knuckle tense and bone-crunchingly brutal. And because we buy the Irish actor (then 56) as a father with “a particular set of skills” who'll do anything to get his daughter back from the gang of Eastern European goons who've kidnapped her. This is where the unlikely second act of Neeson's career began.
The Equalizer (2014)
The grownup hero: Denzel Washington
Okay, this isn't necessarily the film that Denzel Washington will be remembered for. After all, his résumé is stacked with Oscar-caliber performances. But there's something about the pulpy hard-boiledness of this underappreciated neo-noir that really works. A 59-year-old Washington plays a haunted figure who tries to put his shadowy past behind him and lead a quiet life until some violent Russian gangsters won't let that happen. If The Equalizer starred anyone else, it probably wouldn't work — and it certainly wouldn't be memorable. But Washington gives every scene a doomed sense of grace.
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (2019)
The grownup heroes: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry
Like Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves is another actor who seems to be not only defying the laws of aging but actively thumbing his nose at them. While The Matrix made him a bankable A-list action star, it's the wildly inventive and balletically violent John Wick films that have kept him there. In this third chapter of the franchise, the 54-year-old Reeves teams up with the 52-year-old Halle Berry to fend off a globe-spanning legion of assassins who want the bounty on Wick's head. Needless to say, they all end up in a bloody heap by the time the end credits roll.
Jackie Brown (1997)
The grownup star: Pam Grier
Quentin Tarantino is famous for resurrecting the careers of actors and actresses whose stars have dimmed a little (see John Travolta in Pulp Fiction). And in this twisty, twilight action caper, he reminds us what a poignant screen presence Pam Grier is with the right material. The fierce and fiercely independent heroine of so many ‘70s Blaxploitation classics is heartbreaking at age 48 as a snake-bitten flight attendant who gets mixed up with some very bad crooks — who she, of course, manages to outwit. She makes you feel her character's dead-end dreams and steely determination in every single frame.
The Old Man & the Gun (2018)
The grownup heroes: Robert Redford, Danny Glover
When this beautifully told and sadly under-seen drama came out, Robert Redford said that it would be his final film as an actor. If that ends up being the case, he couldn't have chosen a better project with which to ride off into the sunset. Based on a true story, Redford (then 82) plays a career thief who busts out of prison and keeps doing what he was born to do: rob banks as politely as possible with his pal played by Danny Glover (then 72, still not too old for this). A romantic spark with Sissy Spacek (then 68) almost leads him to give up his thieving ways, but he is who he is. The Old Man & the Gun is a beautifully elegiac film full of sly humor and narrow escapes from Johnny Law. It's a rare gem worth discovering.
Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The grownup hero: Samuel L. Jackson
Revenge of the Sith is easily the best of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. Faint praise, maybe. But it succeeds mainly because it's the chapter in which Anakin went over to the Dark Side and began his harrowing descent into Darth Vader. Yet it also contains another moment that Samuel L. Jackson fans won't forget anytime soon. Namely, when the then-56-year-old actor's Jedi alter ego Mace Windu battles the villainous Palpatine with his snazzy purple light saber. Since then, Jackson has continued to keep his hand in the action genre thanks to his recurring role as Nick Fury in the Marvel films.
Going in Style (1979)
The grownup heroes: George Burns, Art Carney, Lee Strasberg
This is the granddaddy of grey-haired action movies. Literally. George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg play three bored retirees who decide to spice up their golden years by robbing a bank. They don't need the money all that much, but they need something in their lives more exciting than feeding pigeons from a park bench. All three leads are hilarious (and occasionally heartstring-pulling), especially Burns (then 82) as the Geritol gang's ringleader. Carney (then 61) gets the lion's share of the punchlines and Strasberg (then 78) handles the pathos. Skip the so-so 2017 remake with Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman and go with the top-shelf original instead.
The grownup heroes: Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman
Yes, Bruce Willis is the top-billed star of this peppy, very watchable thriller about a retired group of black-ops CIA agents (RED stands for “retired, extremely dangerous") who have to band back together when a deadly conspiracy threatens to land them all on the obits page. But despite him and the additional presence of Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich, it's Dame Helen Mirren (then 65) who really steals the picture as Victoria Winslow — a former wet-work specialist who proves to be as wily as her male partners (if not wilier). And if you think the prospect of hearing Mirren say the word “wet-work” in her proper British accent isn't worth the price of a rental alone, you'd be wrong.
Space Cowboys (2000)
The grownup heroes: Clint Eastwood, James Garner, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones
Eastwood, already an action immortal in 1993's In the Line of Fire, this time tosses some self-deprecating comedy about aging into the mix. Clint is a retired NASA engineer called back into action when a Russian satellite veers off course. Problem is, the technology on the thing is so ancient that only he and his original team can save the day — by going into space! Enter James Garner (then 72), Donald Sutherland (then 65), and the relative spring chicken Tommy Lee Jones (then 53). Space Cowboys is a bit like a Grumpy Old Men version of Apollo 13, but there's also a nice message tucked into all the action about the need for analog knowledge in a digital world.
The grownup heroes: Judi Dench (and also Daniel Craig) OK, Daniel Craig was only 43 when this, his third 007 installment, came out. But one of the reasons why Skyfall remains the best Bond film he's made to date is that it moves his wise spymaster, M, from behind her desk and into the field. That's right, this is the film where Dame Judi Dench gets to show off her action-star chops! For an actress with a well-earned rep for her turns in Masterpiece Theatre projects and art-house Oscar bait, Dench (then 77) proves to be surprisingly resourceful in a scrape and fleet on her feet when the bullets start flying.
The Foreigner (2017)
The grownup hero: Jackie Chan
Hong Kong martial-arts icon Jackie Chan is like a cross between Bruce Lee and Fred Astaire (with a pinch of Buster Keaton thrown in). He's also an old-school daredevil who does all of his own stunts. But even in his 60s, he refuses to slow down. Exhibit A: this international thriller about a hopeless father out for revenge after his daughter is killed by IRA terrorists. The 63-year-old Chan still moves with lethal, lightning speed in his knuckle-scraping fight scenes, but the added years also give his character added notes of melancholy and desperation.
The grownup heroes: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro
When Michael Mann's cat-and-mouse masterpiece about an obsessive cop and the master thief who pushes that obsession to the breaking point came out, most of the press was about its climactic tete-a-tete between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The two icons had both starred in The Godfather Part II, but they'd never shared the screen together. The wait, it turns out, was worth it. This is one of the greatest movies of the ‘90s, hands down. And both Pacino (then 55) and De Niro (then 52) seem to bring a lifetime's worth of experience to their characters’ psyches. The biggest crime with Heat, bigger than any that occurs on screen actually, is that it didn't win all of the Oscars that year.
The Expendables (2010)
The grownup heroes: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
The Expendables’ whole raison d'être is as an action movie showcase for over-the-hill tough guys who still know how to throw down in the heat of battle. Sylvester Stallone (then 64) heads up a team of bad-to-the-bone mercenaries on a mission that goes wrong in more ways than you can possibly count. Among the film's laundry list of still-fit macho men are Dolph Lundgren (then 52), Mickey Rourke (then 57), Bruce Willis (then 55), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (then 63). It's goofy and gratuitous, but if you came of age in the red-meat action heyday of the ‘80s, it will put a huge smile on your face.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
The grownup heroes: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Twenty-eight years after Linda Hamilton showed off her ripped biceps and thousand-yard stare as the locked-and-loaded heroine of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, she returned to the franchise that helped establish her career. At 62, Hamilton proved that she was still a fleet and fearsome action star, teaming up with Arnold Schwarzenegger again to prevent the end of the world as we know it. The plot is an advanced course in time-travel pretzel logic, but it's Hamilton's world-weary humanity that makes you care about what's happening on screen as much as you do.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018)
The grownup hero: Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise may be one of Hollywood's highest paid movie stars, but who could begrudge the guy his millions considering that he literally risks his life with every ridiculous, top-this Mission: Impossible stunt? In the latest (and best) Ethan Hunt sequel, Cruise (then 56) jumped from one rooftop to another on a broken foot in his quest for a syndicate of plutonium-stealing bad guys and action-movie perfection. The film's high-speed, high-danger set pieces are pure cinematic adrenaline. As he approaches his 60s, it's clear that no one does these kinds of shoot-the-works spectacles better than Cruise.