It began in The Bronze Age, with blacksmiths who were the first to forge swords from pieces of copper. Today we know the pure silver they grafted to their hilts were made for swordsmen who strove to look stylish as hell as they drove their blades into an enemy. Staying alive was everything, but appearances mattered too.
Hollywood's known this since the dawn of swashbuckling. Everybody still loves a sword-swinging dynamo -- especially one who sports well-groomed facial hair. To inform the next generation of sword fighters, and to give us an excuse to watch our favorite heroes in action, we're humbly ranking the greatest displays of mustachioed swordsmanship in pop-culture history.
But first, let's run through the rules that guided us on our quest. We limited ourselves to only one great swordsman for any given movie, show, or franchise, and to just one qualifying role per actor. We also ruled out animated fare (sorry, Puss in Boots). And we deducted serious points for half-baked mustaches -- you will not find chin straps on this list, we promise. En garde!
50. Gallain (aka The White Ghost), Outcast
Outcast flopped spectacularly; the 2015 movie failed to make back even a fifth of its budget worldwide and never even received a theatrical release in North America. But don't blame Nicolas Cage for that! The man gave it his all, and whoever OK'ed him shouting the line, "I am the White Ghost!" deserves a Nobel Prize.
49. Scott James, The Octagon
Yes, Chuck Norris makes the list. Here, his solitary mustache -- not the full-bearded bloom Norris is better known for -- takes center stage. So does his ass-kicking. A sequence where he single-handedly takes down a crew of ninjas culminates a showdown where he, sword in hand, faces a ninja armed with two daggers.
48. Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
In the final chapter of blockbuster series, a battle-weary, stubbled nerd rips the legendary Sword of Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat and slices through the Dark Lord Voldemort's pet snake, annihilating a chunk of his soul. Neville’s untrained, he’s unsure, and he only has a tiny trace of a five-o'clock shadow. Basically, he represents every aspiring mustachioed swordsman.
47. John Carter, John Carter
There is nothing sadder than Sad Tim Riggins except possibly Sad Tim Riggins Who Left Texas for Mars. John Carter gets points for having a sword, growing hair above his lip, and classic pulp swagger.
46. Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, Highlander
Thirty years ago, Sean Connery spent a spring playing an immortal swordsman with a Scottish accent and the hands-down most Spanish name ever wielded by someone so obviously not a Spaniard.
45. King Leonidas, 300
300's influence cannot be ignored. Leonidas was Zack Snyder in diamond form, a chaotic, violent argument for (against?) manhood. Whether that argument is nuanced or not is up for debate, but Leonidas's skill and facial hair are up to snuff.
44. John Peter McAllister, The Master
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly star Lee Van Cleef had no business whatsoever playing a white-washed ninja master in this weird, single-season TV series, but the '80s gave it to us anyway. The fight scenes still a blast even if Van Cleef's stunt double did all the work.
43. Kai, 47 Ronin
What, you don't want Ted, John Wick, and Neo on your team? The movie might be a slog, but as long as Keanu doesn't shave, his sword-wielding skills deserve a place here.
42. Maseo Yamashiro, Arrow
For most of his time on Arrow, Maseo frustrated his teammates more than he helped, waffling back and forth between good guy and bad guy and often committing the more-egregious sin of doing so in a boring way. But his final, cinematically shot duel with Akio, his wife, made up for all of that, riffing on the best of samurai movie history.
41. Crixus, Spartacus
Sitting through a single hour of Spartacus might earn you a double B.A. in Pornographic Studies. That doesn't change the fact that Manu Bennett is addictive to watch. His role here -- upgraded with authority and a full-blooming beard by Spartacus's final season -- made this Australian's bones in North America.
40. Cole, The White Ninja, Enter the Ninja
In 1981, Django star Franco Nero played a newly minted, middle-aged, mustachioed ninja with a knack for destruction. No wonder Quentin Tarantino’s obsessed.
39. Sgt. Frank Troy, Far From the Madding Crowd
Terence Stamp’s character's dangerous and iconic sword demonstration in the earthwork in Maiden Castle, Dorset actually came from pure messing around after-hours with photographer (and soon to be Don’t Look Now director) Nicolas Roeg. Sgt. Troy is pretty awful throughout, but his arrogant showmanship remains an important slice of film history.
38. The Cairo Swordsman, Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Cairo Swordsman is funnier than he is dangerous, but that doesn't exclude actor Terry Richards from the list. "When two stunt men go at it, they make it look real," he told Red Carpet News in 2012. For Raiders, he described practicing with that massive sword for weeks to prepare for an epic whip-and-scimitar showdown. When Harrison Ford got dysentery, Steven Spielberg cut down the scene. What remains is still awe-inspiring.
37. Neville Sinclair, The Rocketeer
Timothy Dalton's Neville Sinclair is the handsy Nazi hell-bent on world domination masquerading as debonair English actor. A weirdly meta role based on Old Hollywood's legendary "Errol Flynn was a secret Nazi" rumors, Sinclair gave Dalton wiggle room to swashbuckle while chewing scenery, to spectacular results.
36. Edward Lionheart, Theater of Blood
Vincent Price treasured Shakespeare, and in this 1973 cult-classic horror adaptation, he plays a Bard-obsessed actor who hunts down critics who gave him crap reviews. It's the Birdman of its time, but wittier and maybe even more characterized. A duel scene includes a high-octane romp in a gymnasium that makes use of jumps, trampoline back-flips, and climbing rope. Especially incredible if you imagine Price doing the stunts.
35. Capt. James Flint, Black Sails
Starz's Black Sails is high-impact drama you're not watching, and at its core is the tumult beneath Captain Flint's bald skull. "It seems like he doesn't care, but actually deep inside he is a strategist," actor Toby Stephens told TV Guide of his character this season. "He has a greater aim, which is his macro-revenge on England." Wait until you see him with a sword.
34. Hector, Troy
Troy is a Greek tragedy, so you know everyone’s doomed, but the one death that really hurts is Eric Bana's. Hector brought passion -- and knife skills -- to an otherwise overblown epic.
33. Lord Wolfingham, The Sea Hawk
The other Golden Age swashbucklers may have been better fencers than Henry Daniell, but that didn't stop him from bringing it in The Sea Hawk, specifically in this exquisitely blocked and framed duel with Errol Flynn. Their shadows carry as much weight as their swords.
32. Curtis Jackson, American Ninja 3
'80s B-movie staple Steve James passed away in 1993, but his charisma and his sweet facial hair live on in the endlessly entertaining films he made. In the American Ninja, he played Curtis Jackson, a powerful black martial artist with attitude.
31. Hundred Eyes, Marco Polo
Hundred Eyes, a blind swordsman and martial arts master, is easily the best part of Marco Polo, so much so that one wise YouTube commenter wrote, "Fuck marco [sic], make a series about 100 eyes." Netflix obliged them by releasing a special about Hundred Eyes which is more exciting than any episode in Marco Polo's first season.
30. Saladin, Kingdom of Heaven
Ghassan Massoud, the actor Ridley Scott cast to play historic Syrian military commander Saladin, is one of this flawed Crusades epic’s shining lights. His complex, merciful portrayal of a Muslim leader sent a message in a genre normally dominated by white Christians.
29. Nomad, Steel Dawn
Patrick Swayze made two movies in 1987: Dirty Dancing and this insane, post-apocalyptic take on Shane. Steel Dawn opens with Swayze doing headstands, flipping, and lunging across sand dunes. He later swings a star-shaped sword all the way to victory. Decide for yourself which one you’d rather watch right now.
28. Temüjin/Genghis Khan, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan
While we’d love to make room for Tadanobu Asano's steely-eyed performance in 2003’s Zatoichi remake, we have to praise his turn as the greatest tribal warlord the world's ever known. An epic massacre through history, Mongol is filled with the sort of blood, guts, political drama, and sweeping landscapes that shows like Game of Thrones aspire to every week. Much of the film revolves around Asano's Temüjin finding his code of honor, by end of the film proving he is capable of both great slaughter as well as a commitment to his promises.
27. Jack Sparrow, the Pirates of the Caribbean series
Johnny Depp is the modern Hollywood pirate: rakish, ruthless, magically fortunate, skilled with a blade, transfixed in the sight of treasure, and a consummate clown. That last element of his personality is his most essential, if only because the series would fall off the edge of the world without him.
26. Maximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator
In an interview filled with no less than 38 F-bombs, Russell Crowe explained his acting approach to GQ's Chris Heath in 2005: "I want [the audience] to absolutely know that if I've done it, there's some really good fucking reasons; there's something special about it." That something special lives in Gladiator, even if the the sword-and-sandal genre resurgence it attempted has since fizzled.
25. Jiang Ah-sheng/Renfeng, Reign of Assassins
Michelle Yeoh may be the hero of this John Woo wuxia film, but her on-screen husband, played by South Korean actor Jung Woo-sung, is its wild card. Woo-sung plays a tormented swordmaster in disguise, and the scene where he reveals his chops is the only one on this list where a hero sharpens his sword in front of his would-be killers before completely owning them.
24. Zorro, The Mark of Zorro
Tyrone Power -- and stunt double Albert Cavens, son of the film's expert sword master Fred Cavens -- created the ultimate Zorro, and the rapid clanging of rapiers in the film's climactic duel between Power and Basil Rathbone prove it. Power's pencil mustache is also the trimmest and most elegant of the Zorro bunch. Antonio Banderas peeling his off in 1998's The Mask of Zorro was one of the most blasphemous moments in modern cinema.
23. Sandokan, Sandokan
Massive scimitar + massive beard + kickass '70s theme song = folk hero who needs an official streaming release, stat. Indian actor Kabir Bedi portrayed Sandokan, a Bornean prince-turned-pirate dubbed "Tiger of Malaysia," in an enduring TV miniseries -- which is also impossible to find legally. Know anyone at Netflix who wants to see Sandokan sword fight a tiger?
22. Sir Robin of Locksley, The Adventures of Robin Hood
The vibrant and prevailing Robin Hood movie highlights the twinkle of both flashing steel and Errol Flynn's eye. As Roger Ebert put it, "What made [Flynn] a star was his light-hearted exuberance, the good cheer with which he embodies a role like Robin Hood."
21. King Arthur, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Laugh all you want: the Black Knight fight scene makes Monty Python's the only King Arthur we're interested in talking about -- no matter how many oddly dreamy photo shoots starring Charlie Hunnam come out. "Victory is mine!"
20. Machete, Machete
Machete's first line of English dialogue in Machete is, "This is the boss," as he shows his partner his machete. What follows is two hours of Danny Trejo-led, B-movie mayhem ahead that must be seen.
19. Blade, the Blade Series
"Has the comic-book movie reached the end of the line?" is the now-laughable sentence the New York Daily News used to lead its 1998 review of the first, blood-soaked Blade film. Ha. Paving the way for a new era of heroes, Blade ends with a batshit fight scene in which our mustachioed black swordsman furiously filets the regenerating villain and ends him by roundhouse-kicking an exploding anti-vampire serum into his skull.
18. Fang Kang, The One-Armed Swordsman
Fang Kang is a young man who loses an arm and gains a curving goatee. Being limbless taught him patience; in one scene of this 1967 Shaw Bros. movies, Fang After encounters a gang of goons, removes a lock of a henchmen's hair, sits down at a restaurant table, orders wine, taunts their fear by tapping his massive sword on the table, catches a jug of wine when they toss it to him, takes a drink, and stops a dagger in midair with the cup before he then begins to beat the crap out of them. Wait until you see him with a sword.
17. Syrio Forel, Game of Thrones
If the theories are to be believed (and, really, when have they ever been wrong?), hold out hype for Syrio Forel to return to Thrones. Arya Stark's "water dancing" master taught the girl everything he knew -- which was a ton. We last saw him facing off against the villainous Meryn Trant, which proved Forel had style even in unwinnable situations.
16. Hattori Hanzō, Kill Bill
Sonny Chiba requires no introduction, and Quentin Tarantino doesn't give him one in Kill Bill. Americans unfamiliar with Chiba classics like G.I. Samurai, Legend of the Eight Samurai, Shadow Warriors, and of course the incomparable Street Fighter see Hattori Hanzō as an oddly boisterous sushi shop owner. Seasoned sword see Tarantino's play; Hattori Hanzō is a "descent" of Chiba's character in Shadow Warriors, and a mustachioed master who will empower the Bride with a weapon and a visual sword 'stache of her own to kill Bill. His brief sword play in the movie wields a lifetime of skill.
15. Hanshirō Tsugumo, Harakiri
The difference between Tatsuya Nakadai character and all other movie samurai? Real swords. "I used real swords a number of times, but most extensively in Harakiri," he said in a recent interview. "We had what's called a tateshi [swordplay choreographer] who taught us how to use the swords and duel. With Harakiri, our tateshi was the top kendo fighter in Japan. I got a thorough education in how to use a real sword." It shows.
14. Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings series
Come for the hobbits, stay for the scruffy, reluctant hero, Aragorn. Viggo Mortensen lost multiple teeth and more while working his ass off with the swordmaster who trained Darth Vader, to the point where director Peter Jackson began referring to him and the gang as the "walking wounded." There are some impressive mustaches and duels in Mortensen's 2006 Spanish epic Alatriste, but Rings is the blade-wielding performance we'll remember him for. Where is the Oscar for Best Mustachioed Swordsman?
13. Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Star Wars prequels
Skill, wisdom, patience -- despite being a young and (relatively) inexperienced Jedi in the prequel series, Obi-Wan Kenobi possessed all three skills, and stood out as the most capable character in the lightsaber-heavy series. He also trained the whiniest padawan of all time into the cruelest, hardest villain in the galaxy, then later, trained the whiny boy who would later defeat the cruelest, hardest villain in the galaxy.
12. Kambei, Seven Samurai
Of all seven of Akira Kurosawa' samurai, Kambei held the most conviction. He's like the Ned Stark of his time, spouting off lines like "The hard times have only just begun" with all the pragmatism of a man experienced in conflict. His sword is less weapon than instrument or tool, serving the world rather than an individual. Deep? Deep.
11. Zatoichi, The original Zatoichi series
All blind swordsmen live in the shadow of Zatoichi, the sightless masseur with a talent for ending those who harm the downtrodden. Deadlier (and more prolific) than James Bond, Zatoichi hides a sword in his cane and swings it with a fast, reverse-grip style that has since been nicknamed after him. His villains never fathom that a blind guy’s about to kick their ass, even after 26 films where he does just that. You can watch them all on Hulu, and they're the perfect introduction to the jidaigeki genre.
10. The Duke of Arnoldo, The Black Pirate
Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. showed the whole world what was possible for a swashbuckler, i.e., actual athleticism. His Black Pirate is an early classic of the genre, a leaping, slashing, live-wire hero. Fairbanks never saw the same success in the talkies, but the damage his films did on the American box office ushered in decades of swashbucklers to come.
9. Ghost Dog, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
It may be a modern crime movie, but the main character is a sword-swinging samurai in heart and mind. Jim Jarmusch, who wrote the film for Forest Whitaker, once remarked, "The scene when [Forest] works out with swords on the roof, that was something I wanted him to do, but I thought that he'd have to train to do that. But he already knew that stuff, and his way of using the guns as an extension of his body, in a way you'd use a sword in martial arts, came from him… He brought a lot of beautiful things to the film." When you finish Ghost Dog's final scene, you'll believe it.
8. Gabriel Feraud, The Duellists
The place: Napoleonic Wars. The set-up: two French rivals face-off in a series of sword fights. The mustache: Harvey Keitel's. The Duellists is full of brilliantly choreographed dueling scenes and naturalistic cinematography. But we really can't emphasize Keitel's hair enough. All films should strive for such poetry.
7. Rob Roy MacGregor, Rob Roy
Liam Neeson's Rob Roy MacGregor is the dashing, kilt-wearing, broadsword-swinging Scot you want in your corner. Overseen by master sword-fighting choreographer Bill Hobbs, the final climactic fight between Neeson and Tim Roth's English villain is a masterpiece. Neeson went on to play several other hairy swordsmen in his epic career, but talk about a particular set of skills -- Rob Roy is where his highland heroism shines brightest.
6. Dolmuchi/Dolchi, Kundo: Age of the Rampant
If you want to know what Django Unchained would look like if it took place in 19th-century Korea, Kundo is the bloody revenge slasher for you. Through five acts we follow the tale of Robin Hood-like outlaws as they wage bloody war against oppressive noblemen and corrupt politicians. When the hardheaded butcher Dolmuchi crosses paths with them, he transforms into the vengeful, hacking, slashing, trash-talking knife-wielder known as Dolchi, and it is glorious.
5. Ogami Ittō, the Lone Wolf and Cub series
I know. It's barely a stubble. Barely. My answer to that is a single number: 150. That's how many lives Tomisaburo Wakayama's Ogami Ittō personally ends in the the sixth entry of this classic samurai film series alone -- still holding the record for most movie slayings by a single character. For context, Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell runs at just 83 minutes, which brings his rate to 1.8 bodies/minute, and the next-highest character on the list is Clive Owen's Bugs Bunny–based protagonist from Shoot 'Em Up -- a film entirely made to make fun of stupidly high body-count action movies. We can forgive Ittō's whiskers.
4. Capt. Levasseur, Captain Blood
Basil Rathbone played the yin to Errol Flynn's yang on two occasions, and with Flynn taking The Adventures of Robin Hood, Rathbone's turn in Captain Blood puts him on the list (and -- controversy -- above his adversary!). Where Flynn played the sanguine, affable rake in Captain Blood, Rathbone the wild-eyed lothario -- and the two go at it. Rathbone was a true fencer, whereas Flynn could actually make a staged swordfight more dangerous due to his inexperience. Acting shmacting. Captain Blood is pure (pirate) gold.
3. Rochefort, The Three Musketeers
The movie's eponymous mustachioed swordsmen earned heroic fame, but the best blade of the bunch was always the villainous Rochefort, played by the late, incomparably great, Christopher Lee. A veteran of more sword fights in the movies than probably any actor of his time, he would train the other actors and was never shy about exercising his authority in the name of great cinema. For budding mustachioed swordsmen, here's a video of Christopher Lee teaching you how to sword fight.
2. Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
Six-fingered hands down, the greatest American mustachioed swordsman to ever seek revenge. Mandy Patinkin's unforgettable delivery and repetition of an unforgettable line -- "You killed my father. Prepare to die." -- has everything to do with it, but so does the actor's relentlessness. Cary Elwes recently revealed in his memoir As You Wish that Patinkin spent two months training with Yale fencing coach Henry Harutunian just to have the upperhand on the cast. The skill gave him grace; Montoya (and his peers on this list) processes violence with violence. His sword and the swordsman carry weight.
1. Sanjuro, Yojimbo and Sanjuro
There is no other. Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune were the Scorsese and De Niro of their time and country. Yojimbo, and its sequel Sanjuro, showcase the duo's work perfectly, alternating between expansive wide shots that frame the anti-hero Sanjuro as a terrifying god of death, and more contemplative scenes that show him scratching his beard as he communes with the townspeople. For the samurai action, the clip above say everything you need to know. Moments after this fight, Sanjuro tells a punk, "Go hang yourself." Then he walks away. It's perfect.
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