Top 10 tough guys who went soft

Ten TV and movie hard-men who were forced to 'do a Fonzie' and stop all that naughty mucking about with guns and knives...

Michael Ironside passing out xmas cheer in V: The Series. His agent has never been found.

In Irvin Kirshner’s under-rated Robocop 2, Murphy is radically reprogrammed by politically-correct OCP to be a kid-loving, tree-hugging, yoghurt-weaving shadow of his former self, and it takes plugging himself into 20,000 volts to shake out the volumes of crap directives from his robo-noggin and re-emerge tough again. Alas, sometimes they don’t come back…

10: Nelson Muntz (Nancy Cartwright)The Simpsons (USTV 1989 – ?) Am I on my own in saying that I never really wanted to understand Nelson Muntz, or know that he bullies Bart Simpson & Co. because his mum’s a hard-drinking slut in the shanty-town end of Springfield? I don’t think his dalliances with finer feelings or his search for love have had any effect on his derisory trademock “Ha-ha”, but it was risky. The trouble with Nelson and any other long-term TV tough-guy is that we eventually have to go ‘deeper’. No we don’t.

9: The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger)Terminator 2 (1991) When the ultimate killing machine learns the ‘thumbs up’ signal that hallmarks all kids’ TV in T2, I could feel the MPAA being paid off for Robert Patrick’s nasty mouth/blade kill and the other graphic elements in the film. Looking back, the sentimentalism of Terminator 2 is a high price to pay for the great action, though Arnie’s reprisal of the role in T3 was to find him in a more suitably glacial mood.

8: Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz)Hill Street Blues (US TV 1981-87) Effectively Captain Furillo’s attack dog, Belker was known for his unusual restraint-technique of jumping on livelier suspects and biting them like an indefatigable terrier. Ridiculed by his colleagues, Belker would sit in Hill St. precinct in a fume of cigar smoke and misanthropy until the next chewable victim came along.

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About three series in, the excitement of a hit show had faded to the ennui of formula for the writers, who fatally went looking for ‘development’ in a great set of existing characters. Belker was to be a casualty of this. By the later series, he had done a ‘Fonzie’, and considerably cleaned up his act…

7: Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson)Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Even though Mad Max 2 (1982) is supposedly a sci-fi action film, Mel Gibson’s disaffected ‘road warrior’ is one of the greatest heartless spaghetti western characters ever put on screen. Ruthless, unsentimental and pragmatic to the point of psychopathy, Max is a classic tough guy in the very best old-school sense.

Then, in Thunderdome, he meets a bunch of orphaned kids at a plane wreck who, like lost goslings, think that he is the airline pilot who swore to protect them before he disappeared. Our Max decides to take them under his wing to a better life. [Vomit]

6: Spike – a.k.a. William “the Bloody” (James Marsters)Buffy The Vampire Slayer (US TV 1997-2003) I don’t mind that the clearly-insane and rampantly murderous London-born vampire was to prove a mess of mixed-up feelings, severely in need of a shrink for his oedipal complex and many other issues. The problem was when he stopped being the enemy and ‘joined the team’, coercion or not. After entering the series with the excellent Juliet Landau as a freeform undead Vicious/Spungen combo, it was sad to see Marsters reduced to eccentric comic relief, even if he was very funny.

5: Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler)Happy Days (US TV 1974-84) The coolest dude on TV, capable of communicating many things only with the letter ‘A’ at his disposal, gradually turned into a preachy-teachy, politically-correct, shark-jumping satire of himself over the ten-year run of the hit retro show. Eventually Fonzie became such an utter pussy that you wanted to leave him a bowl of milk at night. We love Winkler at Den Of Geek, and we understand it was just a gig and that The Show Must Go On, but my God, it went on and on and on, in every way…

4: Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood)Magnum Force (1973) Having mown his way through a whole bunch of bad guys and a shelf’s worth of rulebooks in the acclaimed Dirty Harry (1971), Inspector Callahan is forced to casually reverse the vigilante message that proved unnervingly popular in Harry. Though vigilantism was to prove sexy again in later Harry sequels, Peter Hyams’ The Star Chamber (which features Magnum Force’s Hal Holbrook in a virtually identical role)and the likes of the Death Wish series, Magnum Force comes across as an apology for all that torturing in football fields, as Harry squares off against a bunch of trigger-happy wannabe cops who are cleaning up the streets Callahan-style – with rough and swift justice.

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Clint a pussy? Nah. But he was on a bit of a leash for this one.

3: The Alien (Tom Woodruff)Alien3 (1992) Protesting that caging such a primal beast reduced the potency of Giger’s feral creation in David Fincher’s take on the Alien legend, they cut out the imprisonment sequence, rendering most of the film senseless (check out the Quadrilogy edition for a restored version that makes Alien 3 a credible entry in the series again).

What they let slip through was the fact that the Alien will no longer attack the defenceless Ripley, sensing that she is ‘pregnant’ with an alien larvae herself. This film had a lot of trouble maintaining suspense after Ripley’s death became inevitable, and to make the Alien itself uninterested in killing Weaver was perhaps the fatal blow. It remains a film far too easily-dismissed, though.

2: Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel)The Chronicles Of Riddick (2004) In David Twohy’s Pitch Black (2000) Vin Diesel enjoys perhaps his only credible role to date as the unmoving/unmovable space-psychopath who must join with the ‘normals’ to escape the horrific darkness-loving creatures that decimate all other life on the planet that our heroes have crash-landed on. The Riddick role seems to have drawn inspiration both from Hannibal Lecter and also Steve Buscemi’s ‘Garland Greene’ character in Con Air, but is none the worse for that.

What it is the worse for is being reincarnated as a Seven Samurai-style hired gun in 2004’s The Chronicles Of Riddick, where Pitch Black’s cult success lets Twohy unwisely loose on a larger budget. The idea of a character so dark engaging emotionally with a besieged community is akin to casting a Rottweiller as Lassie. Chronicles has more problems than just Riddick’s radical personality reboot, but that certainly is a big problem by itself…

1: Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside)‘V: The Series’ ( US TV 1985) Possibly the only really good thing added to the ‘V’ universe after it was sequestered from creator Kenneth Johnson, Ham Tyler was a leather-jacketed hard man of VERY few words, played with perfect iciness by the legendary Michael Ironside. His quips were few, of good quality and you believed that he would mow you down with his Uzi in an instant if you crossed him. Amidst the low-budget awfulness of ‘V: The Series’, Tyler remained compelling viewing.

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Then came the ‘Christmas episode’ (ep 9, ‘Reflections in Terror’). Ham has his heart melted by a cute little girl – the sickly-sweet kind John Carpenter joyously blew away in Assault On Precinct 13 – and to celebrate her return to safety at episode’s end, Ironside is dressed up by the producers in a Santa Claus costume and hands out presents to the kids (Michael Ironside attempting a warm smile is one of TV’s scariest experiences). You may think some of the others in this list are more famous and deserve the number 1 slot, but even Riddick never had to go through this…