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Classic Ten – Unlikely Heroes

You can’t walk five feet in Hollywood without tripping over a screenplay about an underdog making good in the end, but some born losers have a lot more to transcend than others. In honor of heroes month on AMC we compare ten of the least likely heroes ever to barely triumph, as well as their near-superhuman accomplishments. Suddenly makes your burden seem a little lighter, doesn’t it?

amigos2.jpg10. The Three Amigos, Three Amigos (1986)
Folks like these are the reason people say “Never meet your heroes.” This trio of lily-livered actors (Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short) quails when a Mexican village calls upon them to perform feats of bravery that they’d normally hand over to their stunt-doubles. Filling the shoes of their onscreen personas requires courage, selflessness, and a little magical help from an invisible swordsman, but even once all those options fall through, they still manage to save the day — and squeak into the last spot on this list.

goonies.JPG9. Chunk and Sloth, The Goonies (1985)
Considered expendable by their respective cohorts, chubby Chunk (Jeff Cohen) and mirror-cracking Sloth (John Matuszak) find in each other the ultimate partners in crime, swooping in Superman-style to save the other Goonies from being forced to walk the plank of the pirate ship Inferno. Hopefully their friends learned not to judge books by their covers, but it doesn’t really matter — with their newfound self-confidence, Chunk and Sloth seem destined for success. Sheer nostalgia boosts this duo a notch above the three amigos above.

shaun.JPG8. Shaun, Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Roaming corpses conspire to rob this appliance salesman of his life and his brains before he’s even had a chance to do anything meaningful with either. The zombie apocalypse serves as the ultimate self-help experience for Shaun (Simon Pegg), who finds his calling as a survivalist and leads his friends and family to safety. A rallying manifesto for aimless everyday joes worldwide — your bat-wielding and video-gaming experience just might wind up saving your life one day.

frodo.JPG7. Frodo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings (2001)
In a world where elephants are literally the size of dinosaurs, what chance does a 4-foot, jig-dancing halfling stand against the forces of evil? Tolkien’s Middle Earth (as envisioned by director Peter Jackson) is rocky, slimy, and cold — and really no place to go barefoot. Nevertheless, Frodo (Elijah Wood) forsakes both footwear and the protection of his taller and tougher companions, desperate to save them (and himself) from the tiny gold ring that enslaves all who touch it. 


6. The Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters (1984)
These hard-bitten economic times may be emboldening people to follow their dreams, but even back in ’84 a paranormal extermination franchise was risky business. Leave it to Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis to reclaim the term “working class heroes” for occultism! In addition to showdowns with skeptics and the EPA, these four everyday guys cross the streams to save New York from hellhounds and Sumerian demigods. Maybe by the time Ghostbusters 3 comes out, the crew will be driving a Prius.


5. Shrek, Shrek (2001)
After three feature films (and a fourth on its way) and a Broadway musical under his straining belt, even haters have to admit that this flatulent and ill-tempered ogre has proven his mettle as a hero for the masses. Shrek (with Mike Myers providing the oft-imitated Scottish burr) is a true individual, using his brawn and his wits to deflect all manner of mythical hazards, while remaining curmudgeonly to the core. All those scenes with that obnoxious donkey sidekick (Eddie Murphy) shut this one out from a better spot in the ranking.


4. Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump (1994)
Not particularly bright, agile or ambitious, the Candide-esque Gump (Tom Hanks) would be a goner several times over if it wasn’t for pure luck guiding him to the right place at the right time. From boyhood on he inspires everyone he meets, from Alabama farm country to the wilds of Vietnam, where he shows true valor on the battlefield by rescuing his platoon-mates during a raid. Gump’s story presents a rare hero indeed — one truly oblivious to the impact his good deeds have on others — a quality that earns him his high spot on the list.


3. Hancock, Hancock (2008)
Fighting crime all day would drive any hero to drink, but Hancock (Will Smith) is disgraceful public nuisance with a chip on his shoulder that not even superhuman strength can shake loose. Redemption of such a callow character will require more than just a good PR campaign — fortunately the movie (co-written by Breaking Bad scribe Vince Gilligan) doesn’t let this repentant soul off the hook so easily. When Hancock finally wins the public over, it’s thanks to his hard work and genuine good-guy derring do.


2. Edward, Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Breaking the spell of suburban conformity one asymmetrical hair-do and ice sculpture at a time, Edward (Johnny Depp) also defends his lady love and her little brother from the chaotic violence of former Breakfast Clubber Anthony Michael Hall. Not bad for a soft-spoken clockwork wallflower in bondage gear! Just one of director Tim Burton’s many creations to redefine the term “hero,” Edward proves that beautiful things can come in nightmarish packages. He’s almost deserving of number-one status, but not when you consider…


1. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A little girl, a living sack of straw, a rusted out automaton, and a whimpering wannabe lion: This is the team sent to rescue a country from the clutches of a murderous witch? It’s a miracle they ever made it to the Emerald City at all! Regardless, they save the day thanks to their combined brains, heart, courage, and… whatever it is that Dorothy brings to the table. This classic adaptation of Frank L. Baum’s fiction has been inspiring unlikely would-be heroes and dreamers for decades, and still holds up marvelously to this day.

Who’s your favorite unlikely hero in movies? Vote here.
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