When I was a kid I thought that Kurt Russell was the coolest guy in the world. He was tough, mean, trashy, funny, and even kicked demon ass in Big Trouble in Little China. And yeah, he was Snake Plissken. But outside of the John Carpenter films, he didn't do much for me.
At the same time I hated Patrick Swayze. Of course, this is the time that Dirty Dancing had taken over the world: from an omnipresent soundtrack, to the fact that every girl in my high school was obsessed with it. Heck, I had a girlfriend that used to come home and watch it on VHS every day during lunch break. And through it all I couldn't help but watch the movie and think that Swayze was such a pussy, if you'll pardon my 17-year-old vernacular.
Over the years, my positions have changed, and it seems like I am constantly see-sawing back and forth between these two cheesy American actors. But why them in particular? Well, despite each starring in some of my favorite all time bad movies (Big Trouble in Little China and Road House, to be specific), I have also come to realize that Russell and Swayze are like the dark and light versions of the same male macho fantasy. And so, I decided, in good manly fashion, to pit them against each other in a no-holds-barred career grudge match. You may be a sensitive Swayze type or smart-ass Russell wanna-be, but either way, the parallels will astound you.
Competition rounds after the jump!
ROUND ONE - Debut
Movie debut in It Happened at the World's Fair - kicks Elvis in the shins.
Started as a dancer with "Disney On Parade" (as Prince Charming) after studying ballet. Underwear model.
Winner: Russell. Hard to top debuting with Elvis.
ROUND TWO - Rise
Signed by Walt Disney himself to star in films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Barefoot Executive (about a chimp who runs a TV station), and Superdad. He whores for Disney a bit more in this clip where he visits the opening of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion along with Donny Osmond.
Hit Broadway in Grease, then his movie debut in roller skating comedy Skatetown USA with Scott Baio, the Unknown Comic, and some tiny 70's shorts.
Winner: Russell. A franchise unto himself before he even hit puberty.
ROUND THREE - Breakthrough
Broke out of child actor status by playing Elvis for TV movie directed by John Carpenter.
High profile role in Coppola's teen drama The Outsiders. Unfortunately upstaged by Ralph Macchio and C. Thomas Howell, and Matt Dillon, and...
Winner: Russell. From kicking the King to playing the King - that's quite a career boost.
ROUND FOUR - Those early 80s
Sleazy but loveable used car salesman in 'the Porky's of car sales', Used Cars.
Kicks ass in Red Dawn, the a wonderfully unPC anti-commie scare flick.
Winner: Swayze. John Milius trumps Robert Zemeckis for sheer bravada any day.
ROUND FIVE - Action Jacksons
String of crazy action hits with Carpenter include Escape From NY, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China.
One, two, three ass-kickin' roles: Road House, Next of Kin, Point Break.
Winner: Tie! All six of these films remain utterly enjoyable.
Oooey, gooey lover in Ghost. Better acting than Demi and more tolerable than Whoopi. The ladies go crazy.
Winner: Swayze. I never want to see the dang film again but it was, what, the biggest romantic hit of all time or something? And this from one of the Zucker Brothers? Now, that's a feat.
ROUND SEVEN - Miscast
Poorly matched with Stalone in buddy comedy Tango and Cash (in a role turned down by Swayze).
Black Dog proves that Swayze can't play a trucker at all.
Winner: Russell. Swayze dropped the ball on that one, because Tango became a hit... and an overused comedy punchline.
ROUND EIGHT - Kitsch and Camp
Kitsch. In 3000 Miles to Graceland he practically destroys his pro-Elvis past by playing one of a pair of criminal Elvis impersonators (along side Kevin Costner).
Camp. Dons drag for To Wong Fu... Not a great flick, but hey, he's in drag!
Winner: Swayze. Russell has done the Elvis thing before, and much better, but Swayze actually looks pretty good all dressed up. You know, in a Charles Busch sort of way.
Father Hood - as an ex-con dad opposite unknown Halle Berry and even more precocious kids.
Winner: Tie. How either of these films made it past the pitch meeting is one of life's great mysteries.
ROUND TEN - Comeback Role
Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Crazy stunt man with killer car.
Donnie Darko. Motivational speaker and pedophile.
Winner: Swayze. Tarantino can fart out a "classic", but the sheer originality of Darko was a breath of fresh air. Plus, Swayze finally explores his creepy side...and makes hilarious fake infomercials.
ROUND ELEVEN - Missed Opportunities
Escape From LA. Everybody wanted to see this film...until they saw this film. Might blame that on Russell, since he tried his hand as co-writting the script.
Tried to go Western as Pecos Bill in Disney's Tall Tale. Nobody fell for it.
Winner: Russell. At least we were really excited to see it that first time.
ROUND TWELVE - Stretching those skillz
Does serious drama in Silkwood, Backdraft and Tombstone, showing that he can stretch beyond the action/comedy genre. Unfortunately he is completely upstaged by much better actors in every film.
In 50s/80s juggernaut Dirty Dancing he acts, dances, is a master of the put-down ("Just put your little pickle on the plate, college boy", "Nobody puts baby in a corner!), and he sings! "She's Like the Wind" tops the pop charts.
Winner: Swayze. Man, for a year or so that guy was just un-fucking-stoppable.
ROUND THIRTEEN - Real tough guys
Does his own stunts and driving - even in Death Proof.
While flying his single engine plane solo, crash landed his plane in the desert and hitchhiked to a telephone on his own. And still did his own sky diving in Point Break.
Winner: Swayze. Though Werner Herzog could whoop them both.
ROUND FOURTEEN - Personal beliefs
NRA member and best man at Ted Nugent's wedding. Doesn't really subscribe to any religious belief.
Religious fluctuations moved from Roman Catholic to Baptist to Buddhist and finally Scientologist, before setting on agnostic (for the moment). Also a recovering alcoholic.
Winner: Really depends on your politics.
THE OVERALL WINNAH = ???
Swayze has the looks the ladies love, the moves the men envy, and the action star charisma to knock you out of your seat. Heck, you could tell that even Ben Gazzara had a little crush on him during Road House. Russell has that all American swagger down, can give off an easy average-guy feel, and his work with John Carpenter is nothing short of classic. And he does do a mean Elvis.
But who is superior? I myself will not open that can of worms... I like to think of them as brothers, actually. Russell is like the lazy one, swilling beer and making quips on the couch as his spacey brother Swayze is out back doing his tai chi to a crowd of ladies.
For Kurt fans:
For Swayze fans: