There are few things as cool as a bounty hunter. Going purely on the basis of movies and television, it's the ideal gig when you lack the commitment to be a cop (even a loose cannon cop) and you don't want the ruthless immorality of the bloody stuff. Of course, cinema's bounty hunters run the gamut from Gerard Butler's mellow Milo in The Bounty Hunter to the ruthless killers of Sergio Leone, so the boundaries between "hitman" and "hunter" are often blurred.
But the difference between an assassin and a bounty hunter isn't financial (assassins are often guns for hire), but one of publicity. If you kill people for a living, you have to basically live off the grid. Bounty hunters have to surface, and provide proof that they've brought their quarry in, dead or alive ... or they don't get paid. They willingly wear their profession on their sleeve. That takes guts, and it's no wonder that they tend to stand out in any cast of characters.
So in honor of The Bounty Hunter, here are seven of my favorite hunters of humanity. Butler's Milo Boyd might want to rent all of these films and study them closely, especially in regards to fashion. No bounty hunter worth his or her grit would be caught dead in that short-sleeved plaid shirt. The whole point of being one is to live outside of society, so why would you choose to dress like your average Target ad?
1. The Man With No Name (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)
If you wind up with a bounty on your head in Sergio Leone's west, you might as well give up and dig your own grave because this man is coming after you. He's not going to bother bringing you in alive unless you can convince him you can make it worth his while. Tuco managed to string him along for a few faux-hangings in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly but he eventually gave that up in favor of just bringing them in by the rotting wagonload in A Few Dollars More.
2. Boba Fett (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)
I know the Cult of Boba Fett will be upset that he's #2, but as he borrows the silence and the serape from #1, it just has to be this way. It doesn't make him any less cool, though. His icy retort to Darth Vader ("He's no good to me dead.") ranks as one of the ballsiest moments of the entire trilogy. Even Vader was impressed, as evidenced by the fact that he didn't just force choke Mr. Fett and make his life a little easier. Though Boba Fett ranks high in the universe, he's not so above it all that he can't give credit where it's due, and his silent nod to "Boushh" the Bounty Hunter is an awesome moment. They would have made a great team.
3. Jack Walsh (Midnight Run)
He may not be as cool and unflappable as Boba Fett or Mr. Anonymous, but Walsh is far more indefatigable. Whereas the other two will ultimately just shoot you to be rid of the noise, Walsh is going to bring you in alive. You'll be tired, hungry, half-drowned, beat up, and infinitely poorer, but you'll get to jail. But he does have a heart and you might be able to work on its tender heartstrings.
4. Leonard Smalls (Raising Arizona)
Leonard Smalls has no heartstrings to tug on. He kills small animals just for fun. He's willing to sell little Nathan Jr. on the black market. I don't think even Boba Fett would be that cold. But cruelty has a way of coming full circle, and Smalls ends up defeated by the "little things" he was especially hard on.
5. Domino Harvey (Domino)
Buried within Domino is a really bad-ass chick who can kick down doors and is comfortable with heavy weaponry. Unfortunately, Tony Scott's movie took the mescaline route and garbled it all up. Keira Knightley got a few good punches in though, and earns a spot on the list by holding her own with the likes of Mickey Rourke and by looking cool doing it. There's something delightfully perverse about a poutingly pretty bounty hunter and one who can save a few bullets with a lapdance.
6. The Operative (Serenity)
Some might consider The Operative an assassin, but as his name implies, he's not really one thing or another. That's why I can safely categorize him as a bounty hunter. His job is to bring in River Tam alive, though he's permitted to do so "by any means neccessary," which includes the freedom to kill anyone associated with her. He's also sanctioned by The Alliance, but not in any official and recognized capacity. His reward isn't gold, but a creepy dream of a "world without sin." Like Leonard Smalls, he's a force of pure evil, but far more terrifying because it's covered with such a calm and civilized veneer. He could make every man and woman on this list shiver with two words: "I do."
7. Tommy Nowak (Pink Cadillac)
I suspect Pink Cadillac was far more of an inspiration on The Bounty Hunter than any other film on this list. Just look at the car Butler's bounty man is driving! Sure, Tommy Nowak may not have as much steel as Jack Walsh or his six-shooting ancestor, but he favors trickery over weaponry -- which cuts down on all those bloody bystanders. If he was going to apprehend his ex wife, he would go to the effort of putting on a fake mustache and a wig instead of loudly announcing it to all the passersby before attempting to wrangle her into a car. And that's why he'd succeed in actually taking her to jail.