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The hit squad: Sean Penn thriller The Gunman and five other hitman movies


With action-thriller The Gunman, it’s Sean Penn’s turn to reinvent himself on the big screen. One of our most respected screen actors, this two-time Academy Award winner has never headlined an action movie before, but he now returns to our screens as former assassin Jim Terrier, who's forced to go on the run across Europe from his murderous employers.

So to mark the release of The Gunman on 20th March, we've taken aim at the movie archives and come up with five of our favourite hitman/assassin movies.

The Day of the Jackal (1973) 

Based on Frederick Forsyth’s dad-favourite novel, this riveting drama follows the Jackal (he was lucky he wasn’t nicknamed ‘the Hamster’) on the move from England to Paris, as he readies himself to knock off French President Charles de Gaulle. A slow-burn, meticulously detailed classic, it spawned a loose remake, The Jackal, in 1997 starring Richard Gere and Bruce Willis.

Leon (1994) 

Luc Besson’s cult fave stars Jean Reno as a mob hitman who takes a 12-year-old girl (Natalie Portman) under his wing after her parents are murdered. Leon proved a controversial film in 1994, with its portrayal of a young girl being trained up in the ways of assassination, but at its heart it’s a warm study of the relationship between an emotionally wounded child and her unconventional guardian.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) 

A blackly comic variant on the standard hitman movie, this 1997 cult classic features John Cusack in one of his greatest roles. Cusack plays Martin Blank who returns to his dreary American hometown for a high school reunion. Thing is, he’s also an assassin, which presents a problem when foul-mouthed rival Dan Aykroyd turns up. The fight scene scored to The Beat’s ska classic 'Mirror in the Bathroom' is especially memorable.

The Bourne Identity (2002) 

Though it had already been adapted for telly in 1988 (with former Dr. Kildare pin-up Richard Chamberlain as the titular Jason Bourne), it wasn’t until 2002 that Robert Ludlum’s amnesiac hitman finally caught the public’s imagination, when Matt Damon took over assassination duties. The movie spawned two direct sequels, as well as a spin-off movie in The Bourne Legacy. The fifth Bourne film is due in 2016.

Collateral (2004) 

Tom Cruise? As a hitman? With silverhair? If can buy the idea of the silver-locked Cruister as cold-blooded contract killer Vincent, then welcome to Collateral, Michael Mann’s super-slick drama that won co-star Jamie Foxx an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actor. Cruise is terrific and genuinely chilling in the role and the movie went on to gross $217.8 million worldwide.