The ten most killer movie assassins of all time

Why is the assassin such an enduring archetype?

Audiences seem to have an endless appetite for watching the adventures of people whose job is to kill for money, particularly when they start to wrestle with issues of conscience. How many movies at this point have started from the notion of the professional killer who’s got “just one more job to do”?

When the HitFix movie team decided to put together a gallery of their favorite assassins in honor of tomorrow’s release of “Three Days To Kill,” the new Kevin Costner film, the biggest problem seemed to be narrowing everything down to the list of their very favorites. There are so many of these characters that have become icons that we could probably end up doing two or three of these galleries without running out.

I love the range of tones that are represented here. Talk about a genre that covers a lot of different ground. How can you put “Kill Bill,” “No Country For Old Men,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” and “In Bruges” in the same genre? They are only loosely similar in the broadest of terms, and maybe that’s the key to the ongoing popularity of the archetype. Once you establish that someone’s a professional killer, you can tell almost any kind of story with any kind of tone. You can be absurd. You can go ultra dark. You can make a movie that is pure action or purely contemplative. Look at how John Woo’s “The Killer” draws inspiration from Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouri,” but how they end up being about as different as films can be in execution.

Actors must love being able to play characters like this. You’re basically playing a character without subtext, someone whose every action leaves a mark on the world, and wrestling with a moral awakening is great dramatic fodder to dig into for a performer. Dig in and then let us know… did we pick your favorites here, or do you feel like putting out a contract on us after you read the list?

“Three Days To Kill” opens tomorrow.