Film & TV

Six Action Heroes Ripe For Movie Treatments (With Casting Suggestions)

BY Mark Jackson TIMESeptember 27, 2021 PRINT

Here are six action heroes ripe for movie treatments (with casting suggestions from yours truly) from engrossing action-thriller book series, who have been low-hanging fruit for the film-making industry for years now, but who, for some reason haven’t been turned into movies yet. So this is more of a book-series review of, as one of Ebenezer Scrooge’s spirits of Christmas might say, Books for movies that have not yet been, but shall be.

I’m talking about riveting page-turners. I’m talking about, you need to be careful when picking up one of these books before bedtime, because when you put it down it’ll be 4:00 a.m. and you’ll be a zombie at work all the next day.  Trust me, I know. And I’m talking about—not just one or two out the 11, or 23-book series is good, and the rest are so-so, but all of them are can’t-put-it-down excellent. This is around 60 books we’re talking about, all of which are riveting, every one of which I’ve read. That’s about five years worth of New York subway-reading.

I’m tempted to say this is a guy-reading list, featuring as the books do, combat, military jargon, spycraft, excellent fisticuffs, ridiculously accurate sniping, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, all manner of cool weaponry, and so forth, but I have female friends who love these books too, due to the fact that they all feature spectacular, dangerous, manly-man heroes.

Actually, the first two authors have had one book of their respective series turned into movies: Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character was played by Tom Cruise (and also Jai Courtney) in “Jack Reacher,” and Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger was played by Mark Wahlberg in “Shooter.”

However, there are 12 books about Bob Lee Swagger, not to mention 3 books about Bob’s dad, Earl, who’s a movie franchise all to himself, and even Bob’s dad’s dad, Charles, is good for at least one movie. Oh, and Bob’s got a kid, Ray, an FBI agent—bunch of movies right there.

1. Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher is the lead character/protagonist in the series by British author Jim Grant, writing under the pseudonym of Lee Child.

The books follow the larger-than-life, 6 foot 5 inch Reacher, an ex military-cop-turned-drifter, whose adventures occur in the pit-stops of his restless roaming back and forth across America. When people in distress wander across his path, he gets involved in their world for a bit, solves their problems, and then hits the road again.

He’s a genius-level detective, a fearless brawler with years of street-fighting experience, and a competition-level sniper. He’s got various idiosyncrasies, such as carrying only a toothbrush, subsisting mainly on black coffee, and when his clothes get dirty, he can’t be bothered with laundromats—he chucks them in the trash and buys a new set.

Typical man-who-could-use-a-wife stuff, except Reacher’s reached that stage in life when men become like older bull whales. The thing scientists discovered about bull whales is that later in life they eventually get sick and tired of the pod, of the cows and calves, and split off to happily swim the seven seas all by themselves, in peace and quiet, for the rest of their lives. That’s Reacher.

Six action heroes ripe For movie treatments (with casting suggestions)
The 6 foot 5 inch, blond Lee Child attends the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards at The Grosvenor House Hotel, on Oct. 24, 2013 in London, England. Talk about living life vicariously through your written characters. (Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Most die-hard fans of the books were outraged at the casting of the 5 foot 9 inch, brown-haired Tom Cruise. This is clearly the role of a lifetime that 6 foot 5 blonde Dolph Lundgren missed out on; Lundgren’s too old now. Tom Cruise, however, being the severely underrated actor he is, turned in a raise-your-eyebrows, tilt-your-head,  shrug-your-shoulders, push-your-lips-out, turn your palms upward, and nod-in-admittance-you-were-wrong, performance.

There are a whopping 25 books in this series, with another one on the way.

2. Bob Lee Swagger

Bob Lee Swagger’s a grizzled Vietnam War veteran, a mythic sniper with a confirmed-kill count of over 300 (and thought to be much higher), who’s quicker on the draw than the Sundance Kid. These book are basically author and gun enthusiast Stephen Hunter’s catering to the Southern states, Appalachia, and Ozark Mountain gun and military culture. Many of the novels are also steeped heavily in nostalgia regarding the more gothic aspects of the Jim Crow and Antebellum eras, to put it delicately.

Swagger’s basically a Scots-Irish (probably) Southern, military, guns-and-ammo, deer-hunting, and NASCAR type of guy, crossed with a Clint Eastwood-esque, silent, high plains drifter demeanor. The novels could pretty much be called shameless gun-porn—not that there’s anything wrong with gun porn because it’s not actually porn. But even if that were a valid objection to the content, when he’s on his game, the excellence of Hunter’s writing cannot be denied.

Mark Wahlberg played him well. Keep him in the role, although look-wise, Robert Patrick of “Terminator 2” fame, is closer to Swagger’s description in the books. There are 12 books in this series. 

3. Earl Swagger

Bob’s dad Earl’s got three books: “Hot Springs,” “Pale Horse Coming,” and “Havana.” Bass-voiced quick-draw artist and ex-marine-turned-highway patrol officer Earl might have been played by ex-marines-turned-actors Scott Glen or Lee Marvin, and is even more Clint Eastwood than his son Bob.

I haven’t read the Charles Swagger books. If someone has, and can recommend them, please put a note in the comment section.

4. Court Gentry

A superstar in the world of mercenaries and assassins and known as “The Gray Man,” Courtland Gentry, his real name, is  the greatest assassin and sniper of all time. He’s an antihero in that he likes blowing people away, but the only jobs he’ll take on are of killing bad people.

Gentry’s a hardcore former juvie recruited by the CIA from a detention center; his mentor and team leader, Zack Hightower, is an ex-SEAL. CIA black-ops teams operate in the shadows, and, as it’s described, Zack and Court are part of an even more exclusive team that operate in the shadows of the shadows cast by the black-ops teams.

Then, Court messes up (for three long books he can’t figure out what he did wrong), and the CIA want him dead. They can’t catch him though. The writing is riveting. Taylor Kitsch would make a good Court Gentry. There are 11 books in the Gray Man series, with a 12th, entitled “Sierra Six,” coming out on Feb. 15, 2022, by author Mark Greaney.

Six action heroes ripe For movie treatments (with casting suggestions)
Actor Taylor Kitsch on Oct. 23, 2014 in New York City. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images/GQ)

5. Gil Shannon

Gil Shannon is (what else?) an ex-U.S. Navy SEAL and world-class sniper. He’s the hero of Scott McEwen’s “Sniper Elite” series, and he galivants about the globe, blatantly ignoring military and presidential orders, doing heroic deeds very violently.

He’s often in the company of his even more violent buddy, the ex-Green Beret, ex-Delta Force operator, Captain Daniel Crosswhite, an incorrigible handsome devil/bad-boy with a killer grin, hilarious sense of humor, and a terrible temper.

Author McEwen arrived at the character of Gil Shannon by interviewing a bunch of SEALS and hearing stories about a legendary SEAL, who’d been shot 27 times in a fire fight, stayed in the fight, and lived to tell the tale. Turns out, a former SEAL  has recently come forward with a memoir entitled “Perfectly Wounded” (apparently all those bullets passed through muscle without hitting bones). The blurb on Amazon reads: “The incredible true story of former Navy SEAL Mike Day, who survived being shot twenty-seven times while deployed in Iraq.” Hmmm! … I wonder if it’s the same guy…

Six action heroes ripe For movie treatments (with casting suggestions)
Actor Michael Fassbender on Jan. 10, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave,” “Steve Jobs”) would make a good Gil. Former Army ranger-turned-Diet Coke-model Lucky Vanous would have made a good Daniel Crosswhite.

  There are 4 books in the “Sniper Elite” series.

6. John Rain

Barry Eisler’s books are about an ex spec-ops CIA assassin whose job is to make hits look like accidents. They are also seriously engrossing reads, but the character of John Rain, unlike Court Gentry, while palatable for a while, ultimately becomes a bit creepy. Rain’s buddy Dox is a … take a wild guess … ex-marine sniper.

These books will most definitely get made into movies once Hollywood gets a hold of them. Scriptwriters will clean him up a bit, and he’ll be good to go. Rain’s part Asian, so maybe Keanu Reeves will play Rain—Keanu’s a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese, which becomes more apparent as he gets older. He’s also on a roll of playing assassins.

There are 15 books in which Rain appears. 

Six action heroes ripe For movie treatments (with casting suggestions)
Actor Keanu Reeves  on Oct. 7, 2015 in Hollywood, Calif. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Here a Sniper, There a Sniper

Six action heroes ripe For movie treatments (with casting suggestions)
Members of the German Bundeswehr’s 371st Armored Infantry Battalion (Panzergredanadierbataillon 371) stand in camouflage with sniper rifles during a media event at the battalion’s base on March 10, 2015 in Marienberg, Germany. The 371st is among units that will participate in the new NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), an ultra-fast reaction force that will be able to deploy within a five-day period. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Notice a common denominator here? Here a sniper, there a sniper, everywhere a sniper, sniper. This is mostly what men want to read about in books and see in the movies these days, it would seem. This trend is explained in the following article entitled: “Popcorn and Inspiration: Why Movies About Reformed Assassins Are So Popular.”

I’ll be following up this review with one about five more action heroes: James Reece, Kolt Raynor, Pike Logan, Scot Harvath, and Mitch Rapp. That’s roughly another 60 books. Five more years of New York subway reading. Have you ridden the New York subway? You wanna have good reading material to survive in the Big Apple.

And by the way, this reading spree all started with reading non-fiction books about American special operations warfare; specifically all the books written by former Navy SEAL-turn-CIA-operative Dick Couch, and others like “In Search of the Warrior Spirit” by Richard Strozzi-Heckler, about teaching Aikido and meditation to the Green Berets.

The warrior community fascinates me because, while they’re in the business of killing, the modern trainings that they undergo and the skills they acquire are transferable in very practical ways to spiritual endeavors. In fact, it’s been said that during this period of time, when things are crazy in the world, and no one is sure about the future anymore—that everyone is involved in some form of spiritual pursuit, whether they’re aware it or not.

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
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