What makes a tough guy? Muscles and beefcake? Well, maybe, but they don’t guarantee the intelligence to outwit the enemy, or the charm to sweep people off their feet. Brains? Well, not on their own, when going toe-to-toe with the henchmen. Keeping a stiff upper lip maybe? Ah, but what’s tougher, the guy who feels no emotion, or the guy who feels rough and gets the job done anyway?
Truth to tell, there’s no magical single attribute that makes a character tough. It’s actually a complex formula. But nobody came here to work out the recipe for a tough guy, just to get a rundown on TV’s top ten tough guys.
World’s greatest detective, protector of Gotham, ass-kicker of the world’s super-villains, and alter-ego of a billionaire who can afford all sorts of wonderful toys to play with when out cleaning up the city. He studied and trained for years to become the perfect crime-fighting machine. So why is he only number ten? The animated Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, easily gets the character into the top ten, but… The massive drag-factor of the decidedly non-tough Adam West version keeps the Bat in the basement instead of the belfry.
9. DUNCAN MACLEOD (Highlander)
He’s the traditional tall dark and handsome type, with expertise in swordplay and Hung Gar, and 400 years of experience in battling all manner of evil folks. He even has charm, and a source of angst, having seen all his mortal friends die over the years. Having served in various militaries, he’s one of the good guys, cares about people, and will go literally medieval on anyone who threatens friends and family. He’s also not that easy to get rid of. Of course it’s easy enough to act tough when there are so few circumstances under which you can actually get killed.
8. COLONEL JOHN “HANNIBAL” SMITH (The A Team)
This is a guy who, when supposedly on the run, takes up a new life as a private military contractor who regularly demolishes large chunks of California on behalf of ordinary members of the public. And on his day off, he’s a stuntman. All of which makes for a good score in the toughness stakes, but Hannibal gets on the list by virtue of taking all these dangers not just in his stride, but with gusto. It’s not exactly a game to him, but he definitely has fun with it.
7. CHRISTOPHER CHANCE (Human Target)
Chance is pretty much TV’s equivalent of Jason Bourne. Well, actually there was a Jason Bourne on TV, played by Richard Chamberlain, but he was more the angsty heartthrob than a tough guy. Actually, like Bourne in the books versus Bourne in the movies, there are two versions of Chance. The original comics character, and the 90s TV version, became a human target by taking the place of the person he was guarding. The current Chance, like the movie Bourne, uses his ability to blend in and be anonymous – by means of charm and smarts – to watch over his charges, and has the mixed fighting skills to take care of them. As the closest TV character to Bourne, he makes the grade.
6. BENJAMIN SISKO (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Not many of the Trek characters are really what we’d call tough guys even if they have strength of character and physical prowess, but Sisko is the one exception. He has it all: drive, passion, military experience and ability, conscience, sympathy… This is a guy who gets the job done, even if by unpleasant means, and is even willing to take on the omnipotent Q in a bareknuckle boxing match. But this is a thinking tough guy, who actually works to live with the things he does. And that’s toughness.
5. RICHARD SHARPE
A relation of Boromir, obviously, brawled and womanised across Napoleonic Europe, winning every major battle single-handed, looking after all the men in his unit, and even putting up with being cuckolded by Wesley from Angel. He may not be a character in a qualifying genre, but is so tough that he manages to gatecrash the list anyway.
4. RUPERT GILES (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
A former hellraiser (literally!) called Ripper, this is the guy who posed as a librarian in order to train a supernatural slayer in everything, responded to the murder of his lover with both vengeance and understanding, killed an innocent man in cold blood ‘just in case’ he might get possessed again by an evil that had already been destroyed, and then faced down the goddess-level of power that was Dark Willow.
3. BRIGADIER ALASTAIR GORDON LETHBRIDGE-STEWART (Dr Who)
Military leader of an understaffed and underfunded force that got into fights with different horrific alien invaders on a weekly basis throughout the 1970s. Even after having retired to become a Maths teacher, he still came back as an OAP in uniform to tell a planet-eating demon to “get off my world.”
2. DCI GENE HUNT (Life On Mars, Ashes To Ashes)
Oh, come on, does the Gene Genie even need an explanation? The ultimate rough and tough copper bringing non-PC justice to the bad guys, yet paradoxically lovable and totally incorruptible. At first glance he seems like a misogynistic boor, and yet he’s surprisingly personable underneath, perhaps because he’s very literally on the side of the angels.
1. BILL ADAMA (Battlestar Galactica)
Adama is the safest pair of hands the last remnants of humanity could be in. He has to be tough, to face up to political machinations, appalling moral choices, physical dangers, betrayal, assassination, and being tasked with looking after an endangered race in a decaying set of vehicles. If you’re looking for a guy with 100% discipline, honour, sense of duty, military ability, and a deep understanding of people, this is your guy.
See Syfy's very own tough guy, Christopher Chance in Human Target Season 2.