Since the beginning of recorded history, beardsmen have always played pivotal roles in storytelling, ranging from tales told around the campfire to the pages of the bible, but in no medium are beards used to define a character quite like they are in film. Villains, the devout, vagabonds, criminals, war heroes, and outlaws have all been played by beardsmen onscreen, often times relying on their hairy faces as crucial parts of their onscreen identities and as one of the most helpful ways to completely envelop themselves in a character.
Although there are countless incredible film performances by beardsmen through the film ages (here’s looking at you, Hans Gruber), there are certain characters and their accompanying movies that have had significant impact on both men’s style and the perception of facial hair in our culture. No longer are beards relegated to homeless men and wizards (although there’s no shortage of the latter with the rise of fantasy in contemporary pop culture), now men of all ages and professions may present their man manes with pride.
Dim the lights and roll film, here are the 10 must see movies for beardsmen:
1. The Big Lebowski
I know what you’re thinking, Jeff Bridges’ definitive roll in The Big Lebowski as “The Dude” didn’t actually include a beard (just a burley goatee), but in terms of actors and movies that epitomize the free-spirited lifestyle and sense of adventure that we associate with beards, The Big Lebowski truly stands above the rest. Cool under pressure, enjoying the finer things in life (such as an early afternoon White Russian), and defining his personal style with that special rug that really pulled the room together, The Dude encouraged beardsmen to kick back and enjoy some Creedence and really, isn’t that what the bearded life is really all about?
2. Lone Survivor
Three words for you: guns, beards, and brotherhood. In a nutshell, those are the three themes that drive Peter Berg’s 2013 film Lone Survivor, the true story of a Navy SEAL mission gone horribly wrong in Afghanistan. Soldiers sent to the Middle East have been growing beards for years in order to blend in more with the locals, but over the course of this heart wrenching film, as they continue to be hunted on foot by the Taliban, the grit, dirt, and blood that takes over each of these character’s faces is elevated by the presence of their tactically grown beards, which not only encourages you to want to be a better beardsmen, but more so to just be a better man.
3. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
Now a look replicated a thousand times over by young men around the world, the protagonist of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’s signature combination of beanie and beard has been adopted by a generation as the go-to for looking effortlessly cool and nonchalant. However, beyond the obvious contributions to modern style, the film itself tackles a number of things that affect beardsmen on a regular basis: love, fatherhood, and battling both your critics and a man-eating jaguar shark at the same time.
In 1973, the times were changing. Gone were the swingin’ sixties, the summer of love, hippies, and “free love,” and what was left? A whole bunch of hairy guys and an increasingly grim look through film at the derailed position of the United States. Serpico, one of Al Pacino’s best performances from the time when Al Pacino used to actually give great performances, details the career of police officer Frank Serpico, a cop who goes undercover to expose corruption in his own unit. All the while, we get to see Serpico evolve from clean faced rookie to scruffy officer to mustachioed investigator to handlebar’d detective to finally full-grizzly’d exposer of the truth. Looking back at the film, it might be up for debate regarding who gave the best performance: Pacino or his facial hair.
5. Cast Away
Anytime a guy goes a few weeks (or really months) these days without a haircut and a shave, someone always asks the inevitable question, “Wow, did you and Wilson finally get off that island?” Tom Hank’s portrayal of a man whose plane crashes at sea and is subsequently marooned on an island in Cast Away represents everything that you hope you could be if you were under those same circumstances and ended up looking like that. The fishing abilities, the resourcefulness, and the determination to simply survive are all things a beardsmen aims to instill on a daily basis, even if he’s simply working in his office or preparing dinner for friends. Regardless, the next time someone makes a Cast Away comment regarding your physical appearance, don’t take it as insult – whoever said it probably wishes that they could simply look as ready to survive a cataclysmic accident as you do.
Before he was Batman (good lord, we’re going to be saying that soon), Ben Affleck was simply making Oscar-winning movies about top-secret CIA missions in 1970's Iran, all while rocking an absolutely impeccably groomed beard. Argo is a time capsule, giving those of us not around in the 1970's a firsthand look at how the world was truly just as messed up then as it is now, but it also champions intelligence above violence, a concept that cannot be preached enough in this day and age. Regardless of how you feel about Affleck, this smart, entertaining, and well-crafted film can help us understand some of the most complicated issues facing our world today, along with celebrating the classic style of yesteryear.
7. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
For those of you out there who like to keep your beards on the trimmer side, look no further than the master at the peak of his game: Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. The guy that every girl wanted and every guy wanted to be, Eastwood’s character in the film has the fastest hand in the west and probably did more for promoting the smoking of cigarellos than just about anyone else in history (note – smoking’s bad for you). However, his stern look of confidence mixed with absolute “I don’t give a fuck”-ness is enough to put The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly on just about any film list for men, but the fact that he does all of this while looking more rugged than anyone knew what to do with is why he’s found his way to ours.
8. Almost Famous
Every generation has movies that help them understand what it means to be a “guy.” Not quite a fully-matured adult man, but most certainly past the post-college dude phase, the place where you’re past trying to be someone you think you should be and instead being the person that you’re supposed to be. For males of a certain age, Almost Famous is that movie. Obviously the film, which is based on director Cameron Crowe’s time spent covering Poco, The Allman Brothers, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd for Rolling Stone in the 1970's, is incredible for any number of reasons, but as a time capsule for what made 1970's rock and roll so incredible, nothing beats it. Sure, there are a number of great beards in the movie (Hey, Red Dog!), but Almost Famous is about more than the best era for facial hair in American history, it’s about guys coming to terms with their potential and celebrating the moment. Oh, and the chicks are great.
9. Away We Go
Unlike the rest of the movies on this list, Away We Go isn’t about guys doing guy stuff with other guys and then fighting about it or having to pull off the seemingly impossible to save the day (although to some, becoming a father might fit under that latter option). The story of a pregnant couple caught in the whirlwind of doubt surrounding their future parenthood, their sense of purpose, and their level of maturity, Away We Go tackles the contemporary topics of modern beardsmen-hood that might seem small to an outsider, but are truly massive to the individual. Also, this movie includes one of the most alarming opening scenes of all time (warning – do not watch this movie with any of the following: in-laws, possibly your own parents, or anyone who blushes when a sexual comment is made) and that in itself should be enough for you to take it for a spin.
Oh that’s right folks, this list would not be complete without King Leonidas giving each and everyone of you a proper geography lesson via the bottom of his sandal-clad foot. Does 300 provide us with any real life lessons or teach us anything completely factual about Greek history? Well, not really, but sometimes you just need to watch some mannequin-esque warrior bros kick a couple hours worth of ass. The script is pretty mediocre and the character development is seemingly non-existent, but damn it if you don’t want to take on the world after watching the brave 300 Spartans battle the Spanish guy from Love, Actually dressed as a giant that obviously wasn’t hugged enough as a child. Will you feel smarter afterward? No. Inspired to take on the day? Well, maybe, but you will, without a doubt, be entertained and sometimes, that’s all we really want from the movies.