Don’t Mess With Texans: 28 Badass Movie Characters from the Lone Star State

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Cowboys, final girls, a lovable old dog, and more, ranked.

Everything is bigger in Texas, and everyone is more badass. That’s why you don’t mess with the Lone Star State, as the famous slogan goes. To honor the reputation, I’ve ranked heroes and antiheroes from the movies who were tough in some awesome way. There are 28, because Texas was the 28th state to join the US (although, like a badass, it rebelled and temporarily left statehood soon after). And no, they’re not all John Wayne characters.

28. Davey Osborne

From: Cloak & Dagger (1984)
Played by: Henry Thomas
What makes him a badass: After Davey winds up in possession of a video game holding hidden US military secrets, the 11-year-old San Antonio resident must elude and then take down an undercover spy ring with some help from his best friend, his father, and an imaginary companion who looks like his father.
Most badass moment: He shoots and presumably kills a spy when cornered on the River Walk.
Buy Cloak & Dagger on Amazon

27. Rose Cooper

From: Hot Pursuit (2015)
Played by: Reese Witherspoon
What makes her a badass: Possibly overcompensating for her size, Cooper is the most intense cop on the San Antonio police force, and that’s often a problem, but while escorting a federal witness she turns her extreme earnestness into a strength as she takes down a drug cartel. Here’s some relevant trivia: Hot Pursuit was originally titled Don’t Mess With Texas.
Most badass moment: She takes a bullet and then kills the cartel kingpin.
Buy Hot Pursuit on Amazon (or watch free with Prime membership)

26. Cheryl

From: The Good Girl (2002)
Played by: Zooey Deschanel
What makes her a badass: Back when Zooey Deschanel was still really cool in a darker fashion, she played the sardonic type perfectly. She steals every scene she’s in as Jennifer Aniston’s small-town Texas co-worker at the Retail Rodeo who does not give a fuck what she says directly to customers or over the store’s loudspeaker. Today the part would obviously be played by Aubrey Plaza and not as entertainingly.
Most badass moment: She tells customers to go fuck themselves.
Buy The Good Girl on Amazon

25. Peter Gibbons

From: Office Space (1999)
Played by: Ron Livingston
What makes him a badass: Another Jennifer Aniston pal who DGAF, Peter becomes fed up with his job and finds a way to rebel where he not only doesn’t get fired but he also figures out how to secretly steal from the clearly but not officially Texas-based company while doing nothing. Reminiscent of Melville’s Bartleby, he is a more lackadaisical kind of badass than most on this list, because he can be.
Most badass moment: He tells efficiency consultants interviewing him about his job that he just doesn’t care anymore.
Buy Office Space on Amazon

24. Darla Marks

From: Dazed and Confused (1993)
Played by: Parker Posey
What makes her a badass: This Austin suburbs teen is a total bitch, but she doesn’t care because she gets off on it. When she yells “air raid!” you better get on the ground, or you’ll feel more heat than bacon in a frying pan. Or so we’re left to imagine happens to any freshman who defies her. O’Bannion may be the one with “Badass” painted on his paddle, but Darla is surely the bigger threat in town.
Most badass moment: “What are you looking at? Wipe that face off your head, bitch.”
Buy Dazed and Confused on Amazon

23. Max Fischer

From: Rushmore (1998)
Played by: Jason Schwartzman
What makes him a badass: He’s the ultimate overachiever, he wrote a hit play, he saved Latin, and when you cross him, he comes back at you with bees. This 15-year-old kid from the Houston area is an immature sort of badass, but between being seen taken off in handcuffs through the halls of his high school to putting on a Vietnam War-set stage production using actual explosives, he knows how to look like a legendary renegade.
Most badass moment: Since he’s all about appearances, it’s when he makes his action-packed introduction during the Vietnam play via faux helicopter.
Buy Rushmore on Amazon

22. Bliss Cavendar

From: Whip It (2009)
Played by: Ellen Page
What makes her a badass: Roller derby turns any woman into a badass, or showcases that trait if they already are one. But then there a ton of badasses in the Austin-based Whip It, each with their punny faux-frightening nicknames (Bliss winds up going by “Babe Ruthless”). This one in particular also has to deal with domineering family drama, cheating boyfriend drama, and the desire for her to be a pageant queen, basically all the teen girl trappings and then some.
Most badass moment: Instead of her derby action, it’s when she burns her boyfriend’s jacket.
Buy Whip It on Amazon

21. Haley Graham

From: Stick It (2006)
Played by: Missy Peregrym
What makes her a badass: She’s basically the gymnast version of Whip It’s Bliss, yet even more of a rebel from the start. And the Plano-based teen is forced back into her sport by a judge after she gets into trouble with the law one too many times (she would have preferred the “Texas Military Academy”). If only she also had to fight some bad guys while performing on the pommel horse, she’d have one of the top slots on this list.
Most badass moment: Any and every time she dominates the screen while sharing it with Jeff Bridges, because he’s typically the most badass person in any movie he’s in.
Buy Stick It on Amazon

20. Ian Malcolm

From: Jurassic Park (1993) and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Played by: Jeff Goldblum
What makes him a badass: The University of Texas math professor (he’s probably not a Texas native) is an expert on Chaos Theory, which is badass in a nerdy way, but he also survives two trips to islands filled with dinosaurs, the second time in more of a leader/hero role, and then helps his girlfriend save San Diego from a mainland T.rex attack.
Most badass moment: He saves his girlfriend from certain death by grabbing onto her (well, onto a bag that she also grabs onto) just in the nick of time as a glass window she’s standing on shatters.
Buy Jurassic Park on Amazon

19. Nasa Springer

From: Call Her Savage (1932)
Played by: Clara Bow
What makes her a badass: Certainly not her partial Native-American heritage, although that’s what the pre-Code drama with its dated ideas about race hint at. The Texas-born Nasa is just a wild and often angry young woman because she deserves to be, especially in response to patriarchal conditions and other pains she has to suffer in her life.
Most badass moment: She overpowers an attempted rapist by smashing a footstool over his head.
Buy Call Her Savage on Amazon

18. The Lone Ranger

From: The Lone Ranger (1938), The Lone Ranger Rides Again (1939), The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1952), The Lone Ranger Rides Again (1955), The Lone Ranger (1956), The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958), The Return of the Lone Ranger (1961), The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981), The Lone Ranger (2003), and The Lone Ranger (2013)
Played by: Billy Bletcher, Robert Livingston, Clayton Moore, Tex Hill, Klinton Spilsbury, James Keach, Marc Gilpin, Chad Michael Murray, and Armie Hammer
What makes him a badass: Mostly his enduring badass iconography at this point, but that’s because John Reid, aka the Lone Ranger, is also one of the classic American superheroes, a masked man going after the evildoers who murdered his fellow Rangers, including his brother, with help from a sidekick. He’s usually depicted rather chastely but that doesn’t mean he’s someone you want to mess with.
Most badass moment: Whenever he iconically rears his horse Silver.
Buy The Lone Ranger on Amazon

17. Sheriff Buddy Deeds

From: Lone Star (1996)
Played by: Matthew McConaughey
What makes him a badass: Like the Lone Ranger, this Rio County sheriff is more good-ass than badass, but he’s still the latter for being so much of the former and standing up to his awful predecessor while serving as his deputy. Deeds is a legend, an ideal Texan in many minds, but he wasn’t quite as squeaky clean as his reputation might have younger folks, including his own son, believing.
Most badass moment: He gets “eyeball to eyeball” with his boss, the sheriff, after refusing to pick up bribes and threats the man with his gun.”
Buy Lone Star on Amazon

16. “T-Bone Waitress”

From: Hell or High Water (2016)
Played by: Margaret Bowman
What makes her a badass: In her one scene laying down the law of her West Texas restaurant and its lack of variety, she upstages every other badass in the movie, from Ben Foster’s loose-cannon bank robber and Chris Pine’s more morally minded criminal to Jeff Bridges’s hard-exterior Texas Ranger and his partner. She’s probably also killed a man or two in her life, maybe that guy who ordered fish. “What don’t you want?” To mess with her.
Most badass moment: She only needs the one.
Buy Hell or High Water on Amazon

15. Quincey P. Morris

From: Count Dracula (1970) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Played by: Jack Taylor and Billy Campbell
What makes him a badass: This rich Texan living in London is typically a forgotten hero of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” being the one to actually kill the iconic vampire with his bowie knife after he himself has been mortally wounded. Yet he’s very rarely been a part of the story in movie form. He finally shows up in Count Dracula, where he and Jonathan Harker share the deed, different from the novel, then another 22 years later, Francis Ford Coppola’s film gives Morris the spotlight he’s meant for.
Most badass moment: He stabs Dracula in the heart in a last act of heroism before falling to his own death.
Buy Bram Stoker’s Dracula on Amazon

14. Old Yeller

From: Old Yeller (1957)
Played by: Spike
What makes him badass: Whether it’s stealing meat or hens when he’s not supposed to or not stealing meat when he’s being taunted to, this 19th century canine from Texas is smartly defiant. He also fights off all sizes of animals, though he also contracts rabies from a wolf, rendering him just plain bad in his sick rage. He goes out with dignity, though, as any Western hero should.
Most badass moment: He battles a bear.
Buy Old Yeller on Amazon

13. Jorge “Poncho” Ramirez

From: Predator (1987)
Played by: Richard Chaves
What makes him a badass: Basically it’s just the grenade launcher he’s armed with in an almost-admitted act of compensation. The Houston-born explosives expert has of the most destructive weapons among his fellow mercenaries and manages to survive the longest, of those who eventually die, when the team is hunted by a camouflaging alien during a mission in Central America.
Most badass moment: When he and the others pretty much flatten the jungle with their artillery.
Buy Predator on Amazon

12. Sally/Erin Hardesty

From: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974/2003)
Played by: Marilyn Burns/Jessica Biel
What makes her a badass: As one of the original “final girls,” the presumably Texas-based Sally Hardesty is badass for jumping through numerous windows to avoid death by Leatherface and his chainsaw through to the end credits. In the remake, the renamed Erin Hardesty is even more badass in that she’s not always just running from danger. She also dismembers Leatherface and runs over the evil local sheriff with his own car.
Most badass moment: She hacks Leatherface’s chainsaw-wielding arm off with a meat cleaver.
Buy The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Amazon (or watch free with Prime membership)

11. Sheriff John T. Chance

From: Rio Bravo (1959)
Played by: John Wayne
What makes him a badass: As a Presidio County sheriff guarding over a prisoner along with a gang of misfit sidekicks, Wayne is lighter and more reserved (nuanced, maybe) than we see in some of his other best movies. But Wayne can’t not be badass, and he’s still got the stance and the dialogue to hold up his 20-year status as the king of the Western here. He’s Chance, Chance is him, and he can’t not be the biggest thing on screen even when part of an ensemble. All he has to do is enter a place and close the door behind him to startle a whole room of men.
Most badass moment: He cold cocks a guy with the barrel of his gun and acts like it was nothing, claiming he’s not actually going to “hurt” him.
Buy Rio Bravo on Amazon

10. Edna Spalding

From: Places in the Heart (1984)
Played by: Sally Field
What makes her a badass: Not every badass needs to be a physical fighter or athlete or even at least look like he or she could take on a bear or a Jeff Bridges. Spalding is a badass because she won’t give up in her efforts to keep her Waxahachie farm and home from being sold nor her struggle to keep her family together and afloat.
Most badass moment: She successfully negotiates an above-market price for her cotton after leading a swift, first-of-the-season harvest.
Buy Places in the Heart on Amazon

9. Pecos Bill

From: Melody Time (1948)
Played by: n/a
What makes him a badass: He’s Pecos Bill, legend of tall tales, and while he can be represented rather goofily because American myths are treated as silly stories, and his portrayal by Patrick Swayze in Tall Tale doesn’t help at all, he’s still the larger-than-life hero of the Wild West, more than even any John Wayne character. Disney’s cartoon of Pecos Bill, a segment of Melody Time, shows him raised by coyotes, lassoing a raincloud from California to cure a Texas drought (and fill the Gulf of Mexico), and other ridiculous but undeniably badass things.
Most badass moment: He rides a tornado and lights his cigarette with a bolt of lightning.
Buy Melody Time on Amazon

8. Louise Sawyer

From: Thelma & Louise (1991)
Played by: Susan Sarandon
What makes her a badass: A feminist hero, she kills a man who was attempting to rape her friend Thelma, and then the two women go on the run together. Later she shoots at a tanker truck until it explodes because its driver was making lewd gestures at the duo. All we know of her roots is that she herself was raped in Texas years ago, so we presume she’s from the Lone Star State originally.
Most badass moment: Rather than surrender, she drives Thelma and herself off a cliff to their deaths.
Buy Thelma & Louise on Amazon

7. Ethan Edwards

From: The Searchers (1956)
Played by: John Wayne
What makes him a badass: “That’ll be the day,” he famously declares when death is wished upon him. He fought in the Civil War and in the Mexican revolutionary war and will fight a personal war against the Comanche as he searches for his niece and avenges their murdered family. He’d even kill the girl if he has to, to keep her from a preferred life with her Native-American captors. And then he’ll move on to the next battle. He’s not necessarily the most tolerant of men, but there’s no room for nice guys at the top of this list.
Most badass moment: Maybe this is more ruthless than badass, but he shoots a dead Comanche’s eyes out to keep him from the spirit land.
Buy The Searchers on Amazon

6. Thomas Dunson

From: Red River (1948)
Played by: John Wayne
What makes him a badass: Arguably providing Wayne with his most complex and best-acted role, Dunson is a Texas rancher who ambitiously decides to drive his cattle to Missouri when times are tough, and things only get tougher along the way. But he overcomes it all through his relentlessness and his brutality as a boss and adoptive father. He’s hardly a good guy, even less so than Ethan Edwards, but ultimately he’s no villain, either.
Most badass moment: He claims a plot of land as his own, and when that claim is challenged by the supposed actual owners, he uses history and his gun to prove previous claims are worthless.
Buy Red River on Amazon

5. Anton Chigurh

From: No Country for Old Men (2007)
Played by: Javier Bardem
What makes him a badass: He’s probably not technically a Texan, though he could very well have risen up from beneath the state for all we know, a form of the Devil incarnate (or an archangel from above). Or he’s just the scariest hitman ever put on the screen, with his preferred weapon of bolt pistol and one of the most distinctly unbecoming hairdos of any villain ever.
Most badass moment: He just gets up and walks away from a car accident that has left him with one of his bones sticking out of his arm.
Buy No Country for Old Men on Amazon

4. Machete Cortez

From: Spy Kids (2001), Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003), Grindhouse (2007), Machete (2010), Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011), and Machete Kills (2013)
Played by: Danny Trejo
What makes him a badass: He don’t text. Also he’s so badass that he can appear in PG- and R-rated movies interchangeably, though you’ll obviously see a more violent version in the latter. And this ex-Federal from Mexico, now based in Texas, can be extremely violent, whether he’s hacking, stabbing, or decapitating with his namesake tool or firing upon a crowd of bad guys with a weaponized motorcycle. He even kills people in space.
Most badass moment: He pulls out a guy’s intestines and then uses it as a rope to escape out a window.
Buy Machete on Amazon

3. Cherry Darling

From: Planet Terror (2007)
Played by: Rose McGowan
What makes her a badass: She has a working assault rifle with grenade launcher attachment as a prosthetic leg after her real limb is torn off by zombies. And before the gun, she has her missing appendage replaced with a wooden table leg, which also proves as useful as a weapon as it did a walking aid. And before all that, she starts out as a cool ex-go-go dancer and just keeps getting cooler and more badass as she continues to survive the zombie apocalypse, even ultimately giving birth to a child in the midst of it.
Most badass moment: She flies through the air, propelled by an explosion, fires a grenade upon a group of soldiers as she lands, then takes out most of the others as she spins around on her ass.
Buy Planet Terror on Amazon

2. J.J. McQuade

From: Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
Played by: Chuck Norris
What makes him a badass: Norris was the greatest bridge between 1980s action hero, complete with martial arts skills, and classic Western cowboy, here playing his most badass Texas Ranger role before his popular TV series celebrating the long-running law enforcement profession. “Lone Wolf” isn’t just his nickname because he’s a fearsome loner, either, as he also has one wolf as a pet. He punches and kicks his way through life, maintaining one of the most macho movie personas of all time. Yet he’s still a good guy, so he’ll rescue a bad guy from a fiery crash even if he’s just been in a fight with him while hanging on the hood of a car.
Most badass moment: Beaten and weak and buried alive inside his truck, he cracks open a beer, pours it over himself, and manages to drive himself out of the dirt and the bad guys still left at the scene.
Buy Lone Wolf McQuade on Amazon

1. Billie Jean Davy

From: The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Played by: Helen Slater
What makes her a badass: She’s invincible, or so her theme song implies. Having a theme song by Pat Benatar means you’re a pretty badass woman, as does a look inspired by Joan of Arc. But both of those are superficial accessories to a character who won’t back down from her demand that a chauvinist shop owner pay what she and her brother are owed for a stolen scooter. “Fair is fair,” she says, and she becomes a hero to young people, particularly women, all over Southeast Texas. It takes a certain sort of badass to spark a movement the way she does over a matter of $608.
Most badass moment: In the end, she gets the money but throws it back in the man’s face while inadvertently setting fire, literally, to her own image and the following that she has sparked.
Buy The Legend of Billie Jean on Amazon

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.