Action-packed movies often feature the same character archetypes: armored warriors, elite soldiers, world-class assassins. But one of the lesser-used character types is the bodyguard.
Most of the time, a bodyguard comes into play when there's an important person that needs to be protected and/or escorted. His duty is to keep an eye on his subject and prevent suspicious individuals from getting near and doing harm.
More recently, movies with bodyguards have been putting spins and twists on the concept, introducing new wrinkles that make the job of a bodyguard that much more chaotic and intense.
From secret service agents to ordinary fellows who find themselves in unusual circumstances, here are our picks for the best bodyguard movies with great characters and greater stories.
11. The Defender (1994)
Directed by Corey Yuen
Starring Jet Li, Christy Chung, Kent Cheng
Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 32m)
Originally titled The Bodyguard From Beijing before release in North America, The Defender stars Jet Li as a professional bodyguard who's tasked with protecting the last surviving witness of a murder case.
John is an expert in martial arts and tactics, but his duty as a bodyguard is made tougher when one of the assassins wants revenge on him for the death of his brother (who was killed in a previous encounter).
While the film tosses in a few comedic scenes throughout the story, The Defender is generally action-packed with gunfights and hand-to-hand combat scenes that showcase Jet Li's badass kung fu skills.
10. Iron Protector (2016)
Directed by Yue Song
Starring Michael Wai-Man Chan, Collin Chou, Baocheng Jiang
Action (1h 33m)
Originally titled Super Bodyguard before release in North America, don't let Iron Protector's equally bland title turn you away.
This Chinese action film creatively blends gangster and kung fu genres, featuring intense and insanely choreographed fight scenes. The title may be weak, but the action-packed scenes make it worthwhile.
Iron Protector centers on the character of Wu-Lin, a martial arts practitioner who wears heavy iron boots. He hails from a rural area but is now out in the city to exact revenge.
While in the city, he works as a bodyguard to Fei-Fei, the daughter of a rich family. As romance builds between the two main characters, Wu-Lin starts taking his duties more seriously.
9. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Directed by James Cameron
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Action, Sci-Fi (2h 17m)
In the first Terminator, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was a cyborg sent from the future to assassinate Sarah Connor. In the sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-800 is sent back again—except this time he's reprogrammed to protect Sarah Connor's son, John.
Unfortunately, they're up against a much more powerful enemy in the T-1000, an advanced cyborg model that's able to shapeshift and turn into liquid metal, which basically makes him indestructible.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the perfect action movie. It has so much heart-pumping action, but it's elevated by so much heart. The character development between the T-800 and John Connor makes this one of the best bodyguard movies of all time.
8. The Sentinel (2006)
Directed by Clark Johnson
Starring Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Kim Basinger
Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 48m)
The Sentinel is a political drama that's laced with intense action and jaw-dropping plot twists. The film follows the story of Agent Pete Garrison (played by Michael Douglas), a Secret Service agent and personal bodyguard to the First Lady of the United States.
The plot mainly revolves around an assassination attempt on the President, which stirs up the Secret Service agency that ensures the safety of the head of state and his family.
But the film also features several subplots—including affairs and personal grudges—that make the overall premise more engaging while building up tension between the various characters.
7. The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017)
Directed by Patrick Hughes
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman
Action, Comedy, Crime (1h 58m)
The Hitman's Bodyguard has an obvious title that makes it clear what you're getting into. And with Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds as the titular hitman and bodyguard, you just know there's going to be tons of humor and snarky fun from start to finish.
The film centers on Michael Bryce (played by Ryan Reynolds), a private bodyguard who's enlisted by his ex-girlfriend Interpol agent to protect Darius Kincaid (played by Samuel L. Jackson), a hitman who agrees to testify against a politician who committed grave crimes.
6. Safe (2012)
Directed by Boaz Yakin
Starring Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon
Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 34m)
Safe follows the story of Luke Wright (played by Jason Statham), an ex-cop who's driven to the brink and nearly takes his own life—until a chance encounter with Mei, a young math prodigy who's hunted by the Russian mafia for the secrets she knows.
But Luke Wright isn't just an ex-cop. He's also a cage fighter with a solid background in hand-to-hand combat, able to come out on top in nearly any fight scene or chase scene.
And to make matters even thicker, the ones hunting the girl under his protection have ties with his own dark past that he can't escape.
5. Man on Fire (2004)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Dakota Fanning
Action, Crime, Drama (2h 26m)
Man on Fire is an underrated Tony Scott film from the 2000s starring Denzel Washington as John Creasy, a former CIA operative who struggles with alcoholism and burnout.
One day, Creasy—who now works as a mercenary—accepts a job to be the bodyguard for a rich man's young daughter, Pita.
However, his bodyguard duty takes a downhill turn when he's caught up in a carefully orchestrated kidnapping plot that ends with Pita taken away, and Creasy does whatever he can to bring her back to safety.
Man on Fire starts with a slow build-up that develops the bond between Creasy and Pita, which serves to make the eventual kidnapping so much more impactful. Creasy isn't just a man doing a job—he's a man on fire who's looking for revenge.
4. Unleashed (2005)
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Starring Jet Li, Bob Hoskins, Morgan Freeman
Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 43m)
Unleashed (also known as Danny the Dog) stars Jet Li as Danny, an extraordinary bodyguard. When his leash is on, he's harmless and vulnerable—but when it's off, he's a vicious killer.
Upon meeting the blind piano tuner Sam and his stepdaughter Victoria, Danny finds a new way to live life as an "unleashed" person who finally has his own freedom.
However, the people from his past won't let him be. His former boss tracks him down and wants him to be the "dog" he was once, which opens up an explosive can of worms.
3. White House Down (2013)
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Action, Drama, Thriller (2h 11m)
White House Down is a political action film starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx with a pretty simple premise: a group of terrorists attack and take over the White House.
Caught in the turmoil is veteran John Cale (played by Channing Tatum), who needs to protect President James Sawyer (played by Jamie Foxx) while searching for his daughter who was separated during the supposedly peaceful tour.
White House Down has its flaws, but the charming chemistry between Tatum and Foxx makes this a fun watch. While it doesn't deviate much from the usual action tropes, it's still highly entertaining!
2. Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Action, Thriller (1h 59m)
You ever see two movies that are basically the exact same with identical premises? Olympus Has Fallen is pretty much the conceptual twin to White House Down, save for a few key differences that make each one stand out for their own reasons.
Olympus Has Fallen centers on Mike Banning (played by Gerard Butler), a former member of the Secret Service who was relieved from his post after a tragic incident resulting in the First Lady's death.
When an aerial attack followed by a ground assault commences on the White House, President Benjamin Asher is taken hostage and it's up to Banning to stop the aggressors before they use America's nuclear weapons to turn the country into an irradiated wasteland.
1. Vantage Point (2008)
Directed by Pete Travis
Starring Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, Matthew Fox
Action, Crime, Drama (1h 30m)
Vantage Point is a highly ambitious movie that's rooted in a pretty simple plot: at a high-profile international event, President Henry Ashton is shot twice by an unseen assassin.
The film then puzzles everything together by showing the event from eight different viewpoints through eight different characters, with each one privy to important details that bring it all together.
One of those characters is Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (played by Dennis Quaid), who was in charge of the President's safety.
While the "multiple vantage points" narrative device isn't novel—it was most famously executed by Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon—Vantage Point presents a suspenseful story as we explore the connections between the characters all the way up to the climax.