When people think of the best guy movies, they typically mention anything with a physically strong male lead, some guns or explosions, and of course, the sexy love interest that just swoons when the man saves the day. But what about the guy movies that try something different, that proposes a different set of rules for men than those traditional masculinity pushes on them?
Thankfully filmmakers are transforming how to write men in their films: once relegated to gendered stereotypes of big and strong, or small and wimpy, screenwriters are developing male characters that are more accurate to what the 21st-century man’s life experience is.
Gone are the days that young men watched the silver screen only to see representations of playboys, sociopaths, and creeps. Instead, male characters are getting the diverse characteristics men have needed for decades. We’ve seen characters, Andy, in The 40-Year Old Virgin tackle real issues like becoming a step-father, and exploring the difficulty of communication in what most would consider a “men’s comedy.” Judd Apatow managed to create a complex character that felt both genuine and hilarious at the same time, and more writers are starting to follow his lead.
That means not getting rid of the action, suspense, or comedy men are looking for; instead, screenwriters are writing to help guide a new generation of men into the best people they can be. Here are five of the best guys movies featuring positive masculinity.
Avengers: Endgame – for guys who love action.
My love for this film cannot be understated. Before the movie’s release, two things happened: Rachel and I got a puppy, and we decided to binge-watch all of the Marvel movies and shows. One definitely came before the other. But while watching the entire Marvel Studios catalog, I realized just how well-developed some of the male characters were. Most noticeably, Captain America.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers obviously doesn’t display physical strength right away. Instead, his power comes from spirit and heart. For young men, it’s important to see characters on screen that don’t just use their physical strength to solve problems. As his individual films continue on, Rogers displays the benefits of close male friendship, even if that friend is using a machine gun to try and shoot you down. Or was the cause of your other best friend’s parents murder. Nonetheless, Captain America should be a hero every man looks up to.
This leads us to Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of 10 years of storylines that had Marvel fans old and young walking out the theater in tears. At the beginning of the film, eerie shots of empty New York City streets and arenas set the scene as we cut to Rogers sitting in a support group for those who have lost loved ones in “The Snap.” While his presence is reassuring to the audience, there’s still this moment where we have to acknowledge that we are watching one of the most muscular superheroes in comic book history emotionally struggle with the massive loss of life. It’s a moment of quiet reflection that isn’t found in superhero movies.
In an interview with Men’s Journal, Chris Evans describes how the character of Captain America affected his life: “When you’re playing a character for a long time, you start to see the parallels between what the character’s going through and what you’re going through, you start to look at your own conflicts and circumstances through the eyes of someone who might handle it better than you would.” That would explain why on film and in real-life, Evans has become symbolic of American masculinity. A fit dude who loves to have fun but is also emotionally available and courteous. Who can complain?
Throw in the emotional growth of Tony Stark, Thor, and even The Hulk, and you have some of the best examples of positive masculinity on the big screen. What makes this movie so good is that it’s that for those who have watched the entire Marvel series, those viewers get to watch these characters grow from flat action stars to complex, well-developed heroes. And through those transformations, heroism isn’t limited to your physical abilities, but also your emotional strength.
I Love You, Man – for guys who love to laugh.
No modern film does a better job depicting the difficulties of making friends as an adult like I Love You, Man. I’ve written a ton about male friendship. I know personally how hard it is to build bonds with other dudes in your thirties, so this film has taken on an entirely different meaning as I’ve grown up. Moments like when Paul Rudd‘s character, Peter, walks in on his future wife, talking about his lack of friendship felt more authentic than how most movies depict male friendship.
The film centers around Peter Klaven, a successful real estate agent, and his upcoming nuptials to Zooey (played by Rashida Jones). While planning the wedding, Zooey asks Peter, who might he choose as his best man only for both to realize that Peter is suffering from a lack of male friendship. This leads to the ultimate question: how do you make friends as a grown adult? We get to watch Peter navigate his way through the difficulty of planning man-dates until he meets Sydney, his perfect male-other half.
What I love about this movie is how healthy all of the relationships are. First, the relationship between Peter and Zooey. In the trailer, Peter tells Zooey, “The truth is I’ve been a girlfriend guy, but out of all of those girls, you’re the only one who’s wanted me to have my own life.” Far too often, we see women portrayed as controlling over who their husbands hang out with. Still, in I Love You, Man, Zooey actually understands that for Peter to live his healthiest life, he cannot rely just on Zooey. It’s incredible to see something like this play out in a movie.
The other reason why this is a must-watch is how well the screenwriters, and actors portrayed the difficulty of making friends as an adult. It’s hard to build bonds when you’re in your thirties, and this film is more relatable to guys than one would think. Part of that is because it’s still hard for guys to talk about loneliness and a lack of friendship. Rudd in an interview with Film School Rejects says that when it comes to his real-life friends, “I think that most of my friends for my entire life, we’ve been able to wear our hearts on our sleeves a little bit and might not be considered macho bullshit alpha male stuff.” By illustrating that emotional vulnerability amongst men, movies like I Love You, Man highlight one of the biggest problems, men face today: solitude.
Don Jon – for guys who love a little romance.
A Chevrolet Chevelle SS? Check. Scarlett Johanson? Check. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch? Check. Don Jon has everything the best guy movies could want, and then some. The story of the film revolves around Jon Mortello and his relationships with his family, girlfriend, and porn. While Jon only cares about a few things, everything changes the moment he meets Barbara (played by Scarlett Johanson), his perfect woman. Or so he thought. Don Jon is a romantic comedy targeted to guys and asks men to think deeper about their relationships between their partners, traditional romantic comedies, and the pornography they consume.
What makes Don Jon one of the best guy movies, is how well it frames modern relationships. The idea that romantic comedies are real is problematic but just as problematic and unrealistic as what you’d find in porn. This film is the first time I’ve ever seen this comparison is made explicitly that romantic comedies can be just as much a deal-killer in relationships as porn. Modern relationships are complicated, with social media and sex being readily accessible at the click of a button. Don Jon attempts to reframe all of this by Jon’s transformation from a porn/sex-obsessed muscle-man, into one who is seeking human connection.
Director and lead Joseph Gordon Levitt describes the film’s central relationship as “They sort of have these unrealistic expectations for what life can be, based on these two-dimensional images that they’ve gotten from the different kinds of media that they consume… then it also leads to a bit of a coming-of-age story — that the protagonist eventually begins to, sort of, break out of this mold and start actually connecting with people, rather than just comparing them to what he’s used to seeing on screen.”
I should note, I don’t think porn is a bad thing. Not at all. But Don Jon really highlights how dangerous it is to your relationships if you take what you see in the movies too seriously (goes for you The Notebook). Guy movies should rope you in and make you think about what it means to be a man. Jon Mortello really makes us think about what it means to be a man in a relationship in the digital age.
Lord of the Rings (any of them) – for guys who love adventure.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I dislike the Lord of the Rings movies. For a film all about walking, it sure does take a while to get from one destination to the next. But, I cannot ignore how Tolkien’s masterpiece is a fantastic example of a guy movie displaying positive masculinity.
At the core of the story is Frodo and Sam, two hobbits tasked with one of the greatest adventures of all-time: trying to prevent Sauron from rising by throwing the Ring into a giant volcano. Listen, I know “Ringers,” that’s my own nickname for Lord of the Ring fans, are going to get on my case about the intricacies of the books and films, but just let me have this one. For once, I’m not being super critical of the movies.
In fact, I believe that Jackson and Tolkien did a tremendous job displaying positive masculinity throughout the entire franchise. Starting with Frodo and Sam, both characters are not afraid to show vulnerability and love to each other. Because this is a fantasy novel, there is no fear in their characters displaying physical signs of affection. They hug, they kiss, they cry. As a young man, it’s hard to not see this movie and desire a friendship like the one displayed between Frodo and Sam.
While listening to the audio commentary of The Fellowship of the Ring, Astin says, “Ian brought the book over to me right before we shot it and said, ‘Now look here, it says that Sam runs over and holds Frodo’s hand.'” For fans of the book, it’s a nice Easter egg. Still, it also symbolizes something far more important in the world of Lord of the Rings, the desire for physical connection in friendship. These moments of physical tenderness reveal a truth that teenagers and men are often afraid to admit: physical connection is essential to deeper friendships amongst men. Because they are so fearful of being called a homosexual, heterosexual men will purposefully push away close male friendships, thus leaving them alone. But if more men learn from the displays of affection in Lord of the Rings, then we would be on a path to healthier masculinity.
The Lego Movie – for our little guys.
The Lego Movie isn’t just a great kids movie, but it’s one of the best guy movies displaying positive masculinity. While I had a more emotional reaction to the film’s spiritual successor, The Lego Batman Movie, this movie and its followup do a tremendous job of showing the dangers of masculinity.
The film follows Emmet, voiced by Chris Pratt, on a journey to save his beloved city of Bricksburg. Of course, this is all just an illusion to the real story: a young boy wants to play with his dad’s (played by Will Ferrell) Legos only to be told no over and over again. It’s a story about being holding onto your youthful optimism while also being forced to grow up. But the male characters in the franchise are pushed continuously to confront their own masculinity and what it means to be a man (in the Lego universe).
A prime example is Lego Batman, who’s broody “I can do anything” personality directly correlates to traditional male gender norms. The conclusion to Batman’s story doesn’t occur until Lego Batman. Still, Emmet’s growth as a character is meant to show the difference between stagnation and personal development. A 21st-century man is supposed to acknowledge his flaws and work to improve them instead of doubling down on the masculine tropes that got him into the problem in the first place.
The idea of what makes a guy movie is evolving: once relegated to one-note action films, male actors are allowed to test their acting skills against the backdrop of 21st-century masculinity.
What are some of the best guy movies that you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments below.
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