Top Ten Assassination Movies

Top 10 Assassination Movies

This week we have the Christmas Day release of the new MGM thriller Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise and directed by Bryan Singer in which Tom Cruise is out to assassinate Hitler, and MGM decided they wanted to sponsor a list of my Top Ten Assassination Films in conjunction with the release. How cool is that!?!? However, it wasn't all roses putting the piece together.

When trying to figure out my top ten assassination films I had to quickly look at the list I was putting together and figure out is it a revenge film or an assassination film? For example, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill is a revenge film carried out by an assassin... So it is it an assassination film? I decided - no. Gangs of New York was another one I felt fit into the revenge category and didn't make the list even though I love it.

How about Steven Soderbergh's Traffic? A great film... definitely some assassination going on... but is it, at its core, an assassination film? Again, I decided - no.

I wanted to get one for the romantic in there, but The Bodyguard was more about a stalker than an assassin. Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a bit too cheesy (and not exactly great) and films like Bulworth and Grosse Pointe Blank just missed the list along with Costa Gravas' Z, which is just a bit too dated and Fred Zinnemann's The Day of the Jackal, which I quite frankly just can't stand (too long for too little payoff). Of course, this list is up for plenty of debate and who knows, maybe the December 25 release of Valkyrie would inspire some of you to add that one to your own personal lists.

So, after you have taken a look at my top ten assassination films be sure to add your own list and discuss in the comments below.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Photo: Warner Bros.

As you navigate through this list you will notice a wide range of films from extremely violent to rather reserved, The Assassination of Jesse James is certainly the most reserved of the bunch as this is more of a quiet and reflective film than an all out gunslinger's tale, and quite frankly that's what I love about it. This film is a slow go, and it's not for everyone, but it happens to be one of my favorite over the past few years and is perfectly suited for my list of top assassination films.

The Proposition

Photo: First Look Pictures

In terms of violence The Proposition is the polar opposite of The Assassination of Jesse James as director John Hillcoat tells the story of a man (Guy Pearce) charged with the task of assassinating his brother(Danny Huston) only to save his own skin and the skin of his younger brother(Richard Wilson) who is now in custody. The film is set in the Australian Outback during the 1880s and is wildly savage. Hillcoat directed the upcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" due out in 2009 and I would say this is just about as close to getting a movie in the same vein as McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" that you will ever see on the big screen.

In the Line of Fire

Photo: Columbia Pictures

John Malkovich sells this one for me as it led into a stream of fun Malkovich roles in the later 1990s with the likes of the goofy Con Air, his unforgettable turn as Teddy KGB in Rounders and then the hit-and-miss Being John Malkovich. In this one Malk faces off against Clint Eastwood, an aging Secret Service agent who was part of John F. Kennedy's failed detail. Using mind games and featuring a fantastic lakeside scene as Malk takes out a couple of duck hunters this is just a fun movie all around.

  • ckybltz

    What about Leon the Professional? Or even, to an extent, In Bruges?

  • Brad Brevet

    @ckybltz: I thought about Leon but also think it almost falls into the revenge territory in a weird sort of way. I actually watched it again when putting the list together. As for In Bruges I am still not sure how long that movie will remain a personal favorite. I saw it twice in the theater and once on DVD and it wasn't as enjoyable the third time around... perhaps a slight overkill.

  • joker47

    what about No Country for Old Men? Anton Churgish was a great hitman!

  • Pufferbuzz

    yes i agree, collateral is the best assassination flick i've ever seen.

  • Brad Brevet

    @joker47: Hitman or psycho killer? I thought of NCFOM, but thought Chigurh was basically out for the money and killed everyone in his path to getting it.

  • Dave

    One that I enjoy watching is 1973's "The Day of the Jackal". Even though the assassination is ultimately foiled, the tense build-up more than compensates!

    ... and, in the "I'm really ashamed to say I've seen it" category, I quite like 1995's "Assassins" as a guilty pleasure ...

  • Brad Brevet

    @Dave: I think Day of the Jackal would have been far better had it been about 45 minutes shorter. By the time you get to the end you have almost forgotten why the assassin was ever hired. Ironically enough it won the Oscar for editing... so what the hell do I know? :)

  • jontuesday

    V for Vendetta is one of my top flims, never understood why it gets overlooked. 1962 Manchurian Candidate very good choice would be my number 2. But I must say The Professional would be my number one. He is an assassian and uses that to wipe almost an entire swat team, plus blows himself up to kill Gary Oldman can beat that with a stick......Here's a moive Usual Suspects......Kevin Spacey's character is got a assassian quaility to him or maybe I am looking too much into it lol

  • Dave

    @Brad Brevet: I think that's one of the main points of the movie -- it does take so long for the actual event to happen, yet the Jackal perseveres to the end. Despite his immaculate planning he has come close to being foiled in his mission, but he is the consummate professional and will see it through to the end. One almost admires him for his tenacity -- yet equally so, the "plodding policeman" (who through nothing but solid, steady work manages to foil the plan) is just as tenacious.

    Like I said above, I enjoying watching it on a regular basis :)

  • http://none Anish

    Hey Brad,

    Great choices there! I more or less agree with them. I've yet to see the movie at #10 though. From the reviews it seems to be good. I was just wondering if you've seen Valkyrie. I remember you were originally going to, in one of the versions of your "contenders" list. If you have, will you be posting a review on it anytime soon? And, would it make this list, according to you? Do let me know.


  • GregM

    I love this list. Personally, I'd put Proposition higher (given the relationship of the characters) but I'm just happy to see it on the list. I'd also switch out V for Enemy at the Gates.

    Oh, and I'm with Brad on Terminator over Judgment Day but I still enjoy me some T2 (and parts of T3).

  • GregM

    Oh, wait...
    Confessions of a Dangerous Mind as an honourable mention!

  • Scott

    Awesome list. I usually can find one or two films that I would take off and a few ideas about what I'd put on, but this one seems almost flawless. Excellent inclusion of The Proposition and Collateral. Those are two of my favorite films, but I didn't until now think of them as assassination films.

    In the Line of Fire kicks major ass, by the way.

  • Nathan

    Great list. Even made me queue up a couple on Netflix.

    One that I am curious to find absent is "La Femme Nikita." While not great, it still is a good assassination film that explores a different side of the story.

  • Able

    i'm not suprised it's not on the list but i would like to see mention of ben kingsley's You Kill Me. i finally get to enjoy luke wilson, and there are few things greater than watching the man that played Gahndi play an alcholic hitman that is forced to go into aa so he can get his life on track and kill again.
    honarable mention- the Matador, Assasins, lucky number sleiven (though it is more of a revenge flick)

  • Navot

    What about Ghost dog??? it`s one of the best Assassination Movies ever in my opinion. it maybe slow and weird - but steel great.
    Also - Kill Bill (part 1&2) is in the end kind of Assassination Movie, and its grate.
    I would add to the list "Leon" , and " In Bruges", both of them have to be in the list as well.

  • Ivy

    Still a little disappointed in Grosse Point Blank not making the list. You don't have any other FUNNY assassination films listed. Not sure of who I'd bounce.

    Apocalypse Now belongs in it's own special category. It's been a favorite of mine for years.

  • Aly

    it eally was the best the film of 2004

  • Phil

    No kill bill???

  • Adam


    I was looking at the list, and saw that JFK was number 2. NUMBER 2! I thought to myself, "what's a better assassination flick than JFK?" and the answer I came up with was Collateral, so imagine my surprise when I scroll down and see that Collateral is, in fact, number one. Good work, good list.

  • Justin Casey

    i agree where is no country for old men

  • Brad Brevet

    @Phil: I answered that in my opening paragraphs.

    @Justin Casey: I answered that in the comments already, #5 to be specific.

  • adu

    V for Vendetta would be my number one, followed closely by Collateral at second.

  • David

    Great list although I think THE PARALLAX VIEW should be on there somewhere... not to mention - although it is only one puzzle piece - the remarkable multiple storyline culmination with assassination of NASHVILLE...

  • sc

    very good list, I agree with others, leon the professional should be on there. I really love that the list included V for vendetta, collateral, and the terminator but I feel that both Leon and Boondock Saints (originally revenge, then turned mob assassins) should have made it on there as well.

  • Grant

    i have to say really good list, v for vendetta is one of my personal favorites.
    but i think smoking aces should be in is the assassination movie!
    it may not be the best acted or anything but it is enjoyable and just fucking brutal.

  • Jerzey Jon

    When I first read the title of this article, for some reason I thought of "Taxi Driver".




  • vinny

    road to perdition

  • vinny

    crank...more of a revenge movie, but the whole point of it is that he was supposed to be assassinated

  • jason

    Stripped of it's amazing sci-fi noir surface and metaphysical musings, at it's core I would definitely call BLADE RUNNER an assassination film. I suppose the argument could be made that it's not assassination since the targets aren't human, but whether you call it "retirement" or state mandated murder, Deckard is still someone outside of the law tasked with ending the lives of sentient beings. That fact said beings are man made machines that look, think, feel, and act almost indistinguishably from any other person and the questions that raises as to what it truly means to be human are part of what make it such an wonderful, multi-layered film...and were possibly distracting enough to keep it from being considered for this list.

  • Lyle

    Jason is absolutely right!. How could I forget about Blade Runner. That movie was ahead of it's time and it is still the number 1 sci-fi film of all time. If it wasn't for Blade Runner, there would never have been movies or TV series made like TRON, Star Man, The Terminator, Aliens, I Robot, A.I., Bicentennial Man, The Matrix, Battlestar Galactica Sci-Fi channel version and other great movies.

    Right on Jason! you got my Vote!

  • Chris C.

    Brad, you should see I As In Icarus (1979). It's a French espionage thriller, feeding a lot off of the JFK story. Truly one of the finest assassination films ever.

  • Brad Brevet

    @Chris C.: Just checked Netflix and they don't have it. :( gonna have to dig further.

  • thaddeus radway

    You should develop some kind of sense of taste in film. Collateral was terrible. Tom Cruise cannot act, for his life. Besides, basically anyone who spends time in front of any sort of print and paper would be offended that you didn't even mention Heart of Darkness in your Apocalypse Now rant. It's not even a Hollywood original. It's an adaptation of the book, and owes all the credit too the book. In fact, it would have been better to never adapt it. The book moves faster than the movie, and is more entertaining, and insightful. I can actually say I read the book in less time than I watched the movie, and that's rare.

    Honestly, Heart of Darkness is a classic, not Apocalypse Now. You should of included No Country for Old Men, just for the sake of including a movie worth watching besides The Proposition.

  • Ted Poppyfield

    What about Gladiator? How about The Princess Bride? And remember, assassination does not pertain only to bodily murder, it can also pertain to character, sanity, etc. My dictionary includes "to destroy viciously" as one definition. That opens things up exponentially. The Usual Suspects and The Pink Panter Strikes Again. Inspector Dreyfuss!!

  • ake

    a few more for your consideration:
    > original day of the jackal
    > nikita

  • taz

    I am very pleased to see Collateral at number 1, and for the most part its a very good list. Although Leon the Professional should have not only been on here but in the top 5.

  • mike

    It's so easy to tell your american just from your choices. Collateral at number 1? Come on... and i definitely agree that Blade Runner should be on the list, if not #1.

  • Anonymous

    No network? :/

  • ysl

    No Country for Old Men should've been there... Taxi Driver too altho it wasn't actually an assassination flick...and wat about the Bourne Trilogies? Tht's assassins trying to assassinate Bourne...and one more thing Hitman was pure shit...the guy that suggested that should play the games...its the worst movie from a game..worst than tomb raider, resident evil and all the others put into one

  • PuNk


  • D.c

    Boondock Saints

  • matthew

    What about the 3 BOURNE MOVIES yes he does it to get revenge but whole plot was he was going to assassinate the guy on the boat. Then the assassins coming after him. Those could be count as one but it really does belong on the list.

    Whoever mentioned Blade Runner Bravo!!! only question from me is to assassinate someone do they have to actually be a human? Or can you assassinate things that were created.

  • kevin

    Blood Meridian will actually be adapted into a movie this year as well, directed by Todd Field (Little Children). I am more excited about this than of Hillcoat's The Road. Still, no trailers yet though.

  • JM

    You'll be glad to know that "V for Vendetta" most definitely has its fans. Its following is like "The Shawshank Redemption," to a lesser extent. That is, it didn't have all that great a box office because it took the word of mouth/hype too long to do its work, but once it did its work, the following on DVD was huge... And still is.

    Also, I, too, prefer the first Terminator to the 2nd. However, I find "Terminator 2" amazing in its own right... it's just that the first one is more my type of movie.

  • danucky

    @Pufferbuzz: Collateral was a ridiculous movie, I am more than ok with the rest of the list, but this being no.1....... Like the 1st post had it, what about Leon? A zillion times better than this "no.1".

  • Ira

    Any opinions on Gross Point Blanke? Personally, I expected to see it. (if only for the fact that its a comedy about an assasination). That and the French Film "La Femme Nikita" (not the american version, which was a poor rendition).

  • kranav

    a multiple assassination movie.

  • Jude

    I don't think you understand Terminator. The ending isn't obvious like you put it. Of course John Connor is alive and is able to send Reese back to protect his mom from the Terminator that Skynet sent to kill her. But if they kill her, then he vanishes. What is predictable about that? They could have killed her at any point in time and he would have been gone. So I'm not really sure what logic you are trying to overlook, but I think you should watch this film again and realize that the 1984 part is the PAST, not the present. The FUTURE is the present in this film. So I do hope you now understand how ridiculously wrong your comment was about the predictable ending.

  • jewjiblet09

    @D.c: Yeah. I wanted to see that on the list. But other than thast, I think the list is perfect.

  • mk

    Me? The Bourne series of course!

  • chunu

    Le Samouraï (1967)

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