In one of our defining videos on The Modern Rogue Youtube channel, Brian and Jason rattled off a list of pop culture heroes our brains go to when we think of a rogue -- a person so cool under pressure, so resourceful in the face of danger, and so equipped with the will to survive, that even a drop of their essence would make any of us in the real world the coolest person within a hundred miles.
But who among those fictional badasses most exhibits the roguish qualities we so admire? Today, we’re going to answer that question with a definitive ranking of the fictional rogues that live and breathe our philosophy. Now, understand that this is just our opinion ... but our opinion is correct, and yours is wrong. And that's a fact.
No, seriously, we realize that we're leaving out a whole buttload of awesome rogues, so feel free to hit us up with your suggestions and your reasoning in the comments or on our Facebook page.
10. Veronica Mars
The odds were always stacked against Veronica Mars (the show). It was a twist on the "plucky teen girl detective" trope, with a main character that was more Dirty Harry than Nancy Drew. It could have been a disaster, but it worked because Veronica was such a cool character.
She’s flippant and snarky in the most satisfying way possible, like a Gilmore Girl, but with more murder solving. She knows exactly how the world sees her, and she uses it to her advantage, throwing everyone off guard with her sharp wit and shrewd observations.
Veronica spends her days in high school and her nights staking out strip clubs and seedy motels with her Nikon D70, stun gun and trusty pitbull, Backup. A lot of female detectives tend to lean toward the femme fatale trope, but Veronica Mars shares more DNA with Buffy The Vampire Slayer than any character in a spy movie.
Except Veronica isn’t a "chosen one". In fact, she’s the opposite, starting off the show in exile from her old group of friends.
Though she performs heroic deeds, Veronica isn’t exactly a hero. She’s a scoundrel at heart and would probably punch you in the neck if you categorized her any other way.
9. James Bond
There are some parts of James Bond that are best kept in the past. Like the racism and sexism found in his movies from 1963 to ... well, almost all of them. But cut away the nasty bits and you’re left with a man who’s unfathomably cool under pressure and never lets his enemies know they have the advantage. That is, if they were lucky enough to have it to begin with.
There are two things that Bond’s adventures as an international superspy prove: 1) He will have sex with pretty much anybody, anytime. 2) He can and will defeat his enemies, regardless of the odds. Neither sounds too impressive on their own, especially when your idea of the character isn’t necessarily based on the movies or books, but on our shared cultural concept of what James Bond is. Of course, he would easily defeat and lay anyone/thing he wanted! But you don’t truly appreciate it until you watch the movies and see how every actor who has ever played him is terribly unequipped to do either of those things.
Up until Daniel Craig's shredded, bodybuilding version of Bond, every actor who played him had no realistic shot at defeating or mating with any of the people they encountered. They all shoot guns like they’re afraid of them backfiring. They all fight with kicks and punches that look like they're swatting at wasps. They kiss women like they learned how from CliffsNotes, 10 minutes before a pop quiz. Somehow, despite all that, the character still comes off as believable. We're pretty sure Larry The Cable Guy could play him, and it would still work.
That's because Bond's actions supersede his appearance. Everything he does is so slick, so charming and so badass that we can overlook the fact that most of the actors who portrayed him look like 6th grade history teachers.
8. Harriet The Spy
Most people think Harriet The Spy originated as a 1996 Nickelodeon movie, but it’s actually based off of a children’s book that was released in 1964. Nickelodeon decided to adapt the book as the first feature film made under the Nickelodeon studios banner. There’s also a 2010 TV movie called Harriet The Spy: Blog Wars that became instantly dated the moment it was made. Please disregard it from Harriet canon.
Even when the content isn’t amazing, Harriet is fierce 100% of the time. She’s crawling around in other people’s houses like a girl in a Japanese horror movie. She’s stacking up furniture to peep in her best friend's window (for spy related reasons -- not the creepy kind). She’s going to therapy and learning how to deal with her emotions, like a boss.
And the gadgets ... oh the gadgets! Is there anyone on earth who doesn’t want a utility belt made out of a car’s seat belt? Sure, that bright yellow coat might not have been the best choice for spying, but Harriet wasn’t trying to blend into the wild. She was hiding in plain sight. She used her status as a poor, helpless little girl to lull people into a sense of security, and then before they know it, BAM! They were spied on. Right in their stupid faces.
Harriet is brave, and she doesn’t take crap from anybody. She faces every kid's biggest nightmare: the ire of every single person in her class. Equal parts scoundrel and lady, Harriet both exacts expert Game Of Thrones style vengeance on her classmates and apologizes for some of her harsher words. She’s tough but not opposed to growth, and she doesn’t need to be gritty and cool to the exclusion of others.
So why does Harriet get a spot above James Bond? Because Bond is a fully-grown, well trained operative. Harriet is an 11 year old kid, mastering the craft 5 years before she can even legally drive. Harriet would kick Bond's ass and be back to school in time for post-lunch recess.
7. Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones has an insatiable curiosity, the fruits of which directly feed his intelligence and ingenuity. His deep respect for the relics of the past provide contemporary people with a tangible link to their history. It qualifies him as a warrior on the front lines in the eternal struggle to remember where we came from.
Oh, and he can kick a Nazi’s ass real good, too.
But no matter how supernatural his adventures, or how incredible his accomplishments, Indy never feels superhuman. Sure, his life may not be a realistic example of what archaeologists and college professors do in their off time, but everything about his personality is grounded in something so recognizably human that his successes become our successes.
We may not all get the chance to melt a Nazi's face off with the Ark of the Covenant, but that's what makes Jones such a badass rogue: he can do that stuff. And since he has such a great connection to the audience, every time he escapes an impossible situation, we escape an impossible situation. That may require shimmying along the underside of a moving truck to punch a Nazi in the face, but hey ... it's all in a day's work for a world class rogue.
6. Lara Croft
Lara Croft has been portrayed in just about every possible medium: video games, comic books, an animated television show, two terrible albums that were only released in France and two movies (with a third on the way). She was even on a postage stamp in France. Apparently the French are really into Lara Croft.
The Tomb Raider franchise (which is the coolest name for a series ever, by the way) wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if they had gone with their original character concept. It was an Indiana Jones rip-off, and the main character’s design was literally Harrison Ford with a mustache.
Lara Croft deserves a better origin story than “was almost Harrison Ford with a mustache”. She’s a true adventure hero, independently wealthy, super smart, and equally good with hand-to-hand combat or ranged weapons. She shoots two guns at once when half the population can’t even master walking and texting at the same time.
She lands pretty hard on the warrior side of the modern rogue formula. The trailer for the second Tomb Raider movie is basically just a series of increasingly larger explosions, mixed with some motorcycle riding on the Great Wall of China.
Her fighting style is a 50/50 mix of head kicks and gunshots. You don’t have to see Lara Croft fight to be intimidated by her, though. She carries herself with an aloof confidence that is almost unsettling to watch. In the movies, you just look at her and know she’s scary. It’s a good thing she only raids tombs on the side of good.
Ignore CBS’s MacGyver reboot ... which shouldn’t be too difficult since you're probably already ignoring it anyway. ABC’s original MacGyver series, starring Richard Dean Anderson, ran from 1985 to 1992. It's the kind of show we would make if a network were brave enough to give us one. Angus MacGyver was an American secret agent whose greatest skill was improvising incredible solutions to problems, using only his wits, scientific know-how and the magical aura of situational absurdity that allowed him to pull off his wizardry.
If MacGyver was before your time and you only know it as a pop cultural reference point, don't worry. We're pretty sure that YouTube was invented solely for the purpose of preserving MacGyver’s greatest hits.
Like when he needed to sneak out of East Berlin at the height of the 1980s Cold War by being thrown into the ocean in a casket that, with the push of a button, transformed into a wooden jet ski.
Or when he constructed a pair of jet packs out of some hacked pressure washers that let him fly out of the cargo bay of an enemy ship.
Or the famous scene from the pilot episode where MacGyver disables a missile ... with a paperclip.
And if you need more evidence of his roguish awesomeness than that, we don't live in the same universe.
4. Agent Peggy Carter
Peggy Carter is one of the most under-appreciated heroes in the Marvel Universe. She’s had her own TV show, which was perfect and critically beloved, even though it only lasted two seasons. Its first season got a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
She's been in both Captain America movies, Age of Ultron, Ant Man, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, and even though she doesn’t appear in Civil War, she’s a part of the plot. Captain America attends her funeral, where a quote from Peggy is read during the eulogy, which ends up shaping the movie from beyond the grave.
Agent Carter does everything that the superheroes do, but without super powers for protection. She’s highly respected in the superhero community as the founder of S.H.I.E.L.D, and a crucial thread in the MCU. She’s a master spy, marksman, tactician and martial artist, having been trained by the British government.
More than any other character, Agent Carter feels like a tribute to all women who had to be the first woman to do ... well, anything. She gets stepped on a lot by her superiors, but she’s never downtrodden. It’s just inherently understood that she’s going to do their jobs better than them and also make them a sandwich, because it’s 1942 and she has a buttload of moxie. She actually has so much moxie that it might qualify as a super power if she got it in a lab accident.
Peggy Carter is mostly on the lady/gentleman side of The Modern Rogue. She’s poised and calm, fighting less with face kicks and more with tactics and strategy. Rather than bust down the door, Agent Carter sneaks in, undetected. When she drinks, she drinks whiskey, and when she fights, it’s always fair and for her country.
3. Han Solo
The way that Hollywood often presents a rogue (in pop cultural terms) is: someone who wants nothing to do with the forces of good, even though they ultimately represent everything that those forces are fighting for. They just want to be a lying, cheating, small-time scoundrel on the side, without all the little goody two-shoes guys making a fuss about it.
That is the niche Han Solo called home. He’s the lovable, ill-mannered scoundrel who doesn’t want to admit there’s a lot more hero in him than villain. He's a softy at his core ... but wrapped around that is a badass space cowboy who steals, swindles, smuggles and fights his way around the galaxy, dodging both the cops and the space mafia to stay alive.
Even when we see him again as an older man in The Force Awakens, Han is still trying to convince himself he’s ill-fit to fight the good fight. Han is a man in control of his own life, with all the trappings and rewards that come with it. He shunned a traditional life of planted roots for one of constant movement, where his rusty old ship is the only place he feels comfortable.
Plus, his best friend is a giant man-dog abomination who can rip your entire arm off, just for fun.
2. Irene Adler
In the lore of Sherlock Holmes, you probably remember three names outside of Sherlock, himself: Doctor Watson, Moriarty, and Irene Adler. Although Adler only appeared in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, A Scandal In Bohemia, she’s been in pretty much every film and television adaptation that’s come along since.
Most of the time, she's portrayed as a love interested for Sherlock Holmes ... but she’s more than that. She’s an intellectual equal to the world’s greatest detective. One of the few people truly respected by Sherlock Holmes, and even fewer who successfully bested him in the novels. On ABC’s Sherlock adaptation, Elementary, they even combined the characters of Irene Adler and Moriarty.
Adler uses her experience as an actress to her advantage. Her knowledge of human psychology is used to read people and bend their intentions to her advantage. She’s also a master of disguise, and in her first story, fools Sherlock Holmes by dressing up as a young man.
Irene Adler is more scoundrel than anything. Sometimes portrayed as a thief, and even once as a terrorist in the BBC adaptation, there’s no greater good that interests her. Everything she does is for the Charitable Foundation for the Betterment of Irene Adler.
Can you really blame her though? Times were tough for women in the 1800s, and if she was sly enough to outsmart the world's best detective, we say, "Get it, girl."
1. Kevin McCallister
Somehow, a child with woefully inept parents has more cunning and survivability than an archaeologist who fights Nazis. Kevin McAllister from Home Alone even trumps MacGyver when it comes to craftiness. Sure, Kevin isn’t disarming bombs with office supplies, but that’s only because he hasn't been given a chance. He’s just a kid. All he can do is protect his home with swinging paint cans, blowtorch tripwires and searing hot door handles.
His intellect works on a higher, more devious level than any other movie or TV hero, and definitely more than some villains. All Goldfinger, the Bond villain, could come up with was a dumb plot to irradiate gold reserves to make his gold more valuable. Kevin once tricked a pair of burglars into thinking his empty house was the site of a rocking, well-attended Christmas party, using nothing but some rope, a few mannequins and a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan. There are plenty of Bond villains with the resources to pull that off, but none of them are smart enough to think of it.
Not only is he able to pull off Rube Goldberg-style traps with frightening precision, he's able to carry on a fully functional adult life, without the hurdles of actual adults holding him back. He doesn't just survive under dangerous circumstances ... he thrives.
Kevin’s parents might be tragic at parenting, but without their lapses in responsibility, Kevin’s latent self-defense creativity might have never sprouted. He could have gone on living a listless life, unaware of his true calling as the billionaire home security mogul he no doubt becomes as an adult.
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