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In the real world, contract killing is far from the most ethical profession. But in the movies? It’s a common plot device that acts as the driving force for many adrenaline-pumping action movies and thrillers.

Assassins and hitmen are given special missions to eliminate specific targets, no questions asked. They may seem cold or even psychotic, but they are still fundamentally people with desires, stories, and relationships.

And while we’d never be friends with an assassin or hitman in real life, they often end up being characters we can root for. Here are our picks for the best movies featuring assassins and hitmen.

An assassin coming to his high school reunion is like mixing oil with water, but in this dark comedy, they mix well.

Gros Pointe Virgin features John Cusack as assassin Martin Blank, who visits his hometown of Grosse Pointe to complete a mission. Luckily, his high school reunion takes place there, so he has the perfect cover.

Beneath his sly charm and dry humor, Cusack brings a kind of wit that draws us in even as we watch this assassin jump from murder scenes to reunion antics. The resulting dark humor is a strangely welcome source of relief.

14. Hana (2011)

In HanaSaoirse Ronan plays a young assassin raised by her father (Eric Bana) in the desert under difficult and stealthy circumstances.

When father and daughter become the targets of a CIA operation led by Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), Hanna quickly prepares for what she has been conditioned and trained for.

Hana deviates from the usual assassin thriller formula by using a fairy tale model: the father prepares his child against evil and the child defeats said evil. Here, director Joe Wright pulls no punches in the grain and violence. Cold and smooth, Hana really kills.

The CIA has always been a favorite subject for films about assassins trying to uncover flaws in the system. Sicario highlights this in Roger Deakins’ goal. The thriller follows FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she joins a task force to take down a powerful Mexican drug cartel.

Slow tension, heavy action and sharp cinematography define this thriller from Denis Villeneuve. But the highlight is his study of the character of the assassin Gillick (Benicio del Toro), who runs through a compelling arc that disturbs the mind.

If you are looking for a thriller satire based on an Ernest Hemingway story, The killers is for you.

This noir crime film follows two professional killers – Charlie (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) – who, after a botched mission, attempt to deduce the identity of the mastermind who recruited them.

There is actually an older version of The killers which was released in 1946, but this one brings out the best of Lee Marvin and his gritty persona that works so well here. Dry witty bits and hitman satire never detract from Marvin’s committed performance and action.

The Thick headed The franchise took us on a long journey that involved tracking down the exploits of amnesiac agent Jason Bourne. Whereas The Bourne Ultimatum gave us the most intense action of the series, The Bourne Identity had the most compelling characterization for Bourne.

In this first film, Bourne – who wakes up and can’t remember who he is – discovers his connection to a past CIA operation, which causes panic in the organization as Bourne tracks them down.

Matt Damon makes a great first impression as a runaway assassin. Pair that with slow action, a chill atmosphere, and reliable support from Franka Potente, and you’ve got a solid start for a sharp spy franchise.

In Collateral, Tom Cruise had a rare opportunity to play the antagonist – and in a Michael Mann thriller, no less. It follows taxi driver Max (Jamie Foxx) who is coerced by his hitman passenger Vincent (Cruise) into taking him to several locations, where he inevitably guns down his targets.

Beneath the streetlights and chilly LA tone, we get a slow, tense thriller as we watch Cruise push the boundaries of his character in the most nerve-wracking way. Via Mann’s staging and Rubell’s editing, Collateral become an unforgettable thriller with no escape.

Directed by acclaimed genre master Rian Johnson, looper blends two conceptual genres into one stunning action thriller. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a present-day hitman tasked with eliminating victims who are sent back in time from the future.

But one day, his older self (Bruce Willis) appears before him, causing him to stall and wrestle with the moral dilemma.

The young-meets-older-self trope is particular for a time-travel thriller, but Johnson adds several genre-bending layers to the story. The action sequences are crisp, the characters are thrilling, and the final twist changes everything.

From renowned writer Martin McDonagh came In Bruggea dark comedy of errors about two hitmen – Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) – who hide out in the eponymous Belgian town and are increasingly at odds with their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes).

As you’d expect from McDonagh, who can find humor and absurdity in the most tragic of situations, the script here is excellent and the exchanges between Ray and Ken about morality and murder are sharp. With such brilliance, In Brugge is simply exceptional.

The professional (internationally called Leon: the professional) follows a hitman named Leon (Jean Reno) who lets twelve-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) stay with him after her family is killed by corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman).

The two form a bond and Mathilda learns the ropes from Leon. While several scenes focus on Leon’s missions and his pursuit of the relentless Stansfield, the heart of the film is his relationship with Mathilda

Quentin Tarantino is a connoisseur of hitman characters in movies, from reservoir dogs at Django Unchainedbut he first struck gold with pulp Fictionin which nearly every character could be a hitman hidden in plain sight wandering the sunny streets of Los Angeles.

The film focuses on Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), two assassins tasked with recovering a mysterious suitcase. While Vega is cold and nonchalant, Winnfield is extremely passionate about the freedom of his position. Both end up being iconic hitman characters.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith may not have the sharpest script, the sleekest action, or the best legacy. So why are we including it and ranking it so high? Because it set a standard for spy movies carried by two charismatic protagonists.

John and Jane Smith are an estranged married couple who miss their upper-class lifestyle. More than that, unbeknownst to each other, they both lead secret double lives as assassins for competing agencies.

One day, the truth comes to light when they are both tasked with killing each other. Sporadic action and thrills, complemented by exquisite chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The woman Nikita follows the eponymous teenage criminal (Anne Parillaud) who has been sent to prison for the murder of police officers but is hired by the government as a professional assassin. When a special mission goes awry, Nikita goes on the run to find the real perpetrator.

While this action flick lacks confidence as a cold-hearted thriller, it finds its rhythm in the titular assassin. Nikita, for all her flaws, is a cool, relentless assassin who paved the way for more female-centric assassin movies, remakes, and TV spinoffs.

Prior to his Hollywood revival, Keanu Reeves had his share of thrillers in which he played conflicted agents and cold-blooded assassins. So John Wick arrived in 2014 and brought him back to stardom.

Nobody really expected him to take off like he did, but John Wick nailed everything you’d expect from an assassin thriller: an active protagonist, a well-rounded cast, impressive action settings, and an intriguing universe of underground assassins operating within a secret society.

Another Quentin Tarantino film here, showing he’s never done with assassin-centric stories. Of all, both Kill Bill films stand out as his best, with Volume 1 having an advantage due to its much greater involvement of various assassin figures.

What makes that Kill Bill saga so compelling is the bloody journey of the Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) as she overcomes many obstacles with nothing but her fierce determination and her katana, all for her personal mission of revenge against her former team of assassins .

Like her code name, she strikes her enemies hard with a relentless, remorseless venom that leaves them in her wake and in Volume 1we witness the murders and the most unforgettable moments of the Black Mamba.

Nowadays, There is no country for old people by the Coen brothers remains the greatest of the films about assassins and hitmen. Why? Because it does not sugarcoat, glorify or exalt the profession.

On the contrary, There is no country for old people takes this very aspect of genre escapism and turns it into the cruellest element of its story.

Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, There is no country for old people follows a Vietnam War veteran (Josh Brolin) found by hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), prompting a local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) to investigate the case.

With brilliant direction by the Coens, this thriller leaves no room for comfort, and that’s mostly down to Bardem’s performance, who elevates this fictional hitman into a living, breathing nightmare. The film is a neo-western in which no one wins but the nastiness and cynicism of Chigurh.