film Patrick Swayze's 10 Most Memorable Films

Ariel Abbas
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Patrick Swayze went out fighting on September 14th, 2009 after an extended bout with pancreatic cancer. That rare kind of movie star, both a lover and a fighter, taught a generation of men and women to love and kick ass in equal measure. To quote Dalton, "Pain don't hurt," but losing a loved one and a mentor causes that rare kind of anguish that even the world's most efficient bouncer couldn't take lying down. Since his fans can neither rip out cancer's larynx nor stand up to its snobbery in the Catskills, the best we can do is remember Swayze's cinematic accomplishments, both good and, let's be fair, not quite so very good at all, really. Here is our humble tribute.

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For the iconic role of Johnny Castle, Patrick Swayze beat out both Val Kilmer (which might have been pretty good) and Billy Zane (which would have irreparably damaged the time-space continuum). But over 20 years and one of the most-rented movies of all time later, it’s abundantly clear that the filmmakers behind one of the most cherished (and only kinda cheesy) romances of all time made the right choice. Swayze’s unique blend of thinking man’s machismo and lithe, baby-faced approachability made Castle one of the most attractive characters in film history. If any film is still going to be a mainstay at pre-teen slumber parties in a hundred years, it’s Dirty Dancing, and Patrick Swayze will be making your great-granddaughters swoon.

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Ghost


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Screw Johnny Castle, do you have any idea how many people were considered for Sam Wheat ahead of Patrick Swayze? Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Al Pacino, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Nicholas Cage, Mickey Rourke, Chevy Chase and Alec Baldwin, just to name a few, and most of them probably still wake up in a cold sweat most nights, freaking out about what a mistake they made. Like Sam Wheat, Swayze was cut down before his time, and Swayze’s other romantic classic (the one boyfriends can enjoy too, because of the awesome subway ghost – the late Vincent Schiavelli – and the badass comeuppance of Tony Goldwyn) may get the biggest post-mortem boost in popularity as a result (which is kind of creepy if you think about it). One of the other most-rented movies of all time, Ghost sometimes gets a bad rap because of the oft-parodied Righteous Bros. spinning wheel scene, not to mention Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar (Swayze got her the part, incidentally), but it’s still a touching and creative love story that audiences just keep falling in love with.

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…But the men liked him too! Swayze’s weirdest creation was easily Dalton, a mysterious martial arts philosopher who exists in a strange alternate universe in which bouncers can become world famous celebrities. It may be inaccurate to say that Road House has aged poorly, because even in the 1980’s it was a curio – monster trucks, Tai Chi, "I used to f*** guys like you in prison!" being used as a villainous taunt – but no one who has seen it is ever likely to forget the experience. While Stallone and Schwarzenegger spent the 1980’s shooting first and then not asking questions because talking would be for little girls, Swayze used his best action movie to promote the credo, "Just be nice." And if that didn’t work, THEN he’d rip out your larynx.

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"Patrick Swayze has just robbed this bank, and Keanu Reeves is chasin' him through peoples' gardens, and then he goes to shoot Swayze but he can't because he loves him SO much and he's firin' his gun up in the air and he's like 'ahhh!'" That’s exactly what it’s like. Swayze’s career took a downward turn after Point Break, and in retrospect it’s easy to see why – no other character captures Swayze’s appeal better than Bodhi, the enlightened surfer bank robber who successfully romances (in a very manly, heterosexual way) the very FBI agent sent to destroy him. Afterwards, every character could only be a step down for the superstar. Oh yeah, and how many "In Memoriam" montages do you think are going to end with Bodhi surfing into that tidal wave?

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After Point Break, Swayze’s last bonafide box office success was To Wong Foo, a lovable cross-dressing road trip comedy with a curiously long title that came out suspiciously soon after the Oscar winning Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, another lovable cross-dressing road trip comedy with a curiously long title. To Wong Foo’s marketing campaign emphasized the unlikely casting of "Men’s Men" like Swayze and Wesley Snipes as drag queens, and to their credit they, along with a then-practically unknown John Lequizamo, pulled out all the stops and never winked at the audience. The role was a particularly meaningful one to Swayze, who earned the role after performing a monologue about being bullied growing up as a male ballet student in Texas.

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"WOLVERINES!!!" The wildly implausible Cold War relic that is Red Dawn never worked because audiences believed that Communists were going to successfully invade America. Well, some did, but the real reason why Red Dawn endures is because of the powerful performances by a young Brat Pack-ish cast as carefree children reacting believably, and heroically, as their charmed lives are altered forever by the realities of war. C. Thomas Howell may have the juiciest part, but Swayze is a powder keg of conflicted charisma as the boy who finds himself becoming a guerilla leader not because he’s ready for the responsibility, but because no one else wants the job.

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Swayze’s last great role, as a charismatic motivational speaker with a horrifying secret, never gave him the Pulp Fiction-style career boost it should have. Darko bombed in theaters despite positive reviews, and even the film’s diehard fans are more likely to quote Mary McDonnell than they are to quote Patrick Swayze, but the man deserved credit for taking a role that played to his strengths and then revealed unbelievable moral weakness. Beloved but misunderstood, the role of Jim Cunningham may be Swayze’s last great contribution to cinema, and since Donnie Darko currently resides in IMDB’s list of the 250 most popular movies ever made, it’s clear that it won't be forgotten any time soon.

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Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders plays like a "Who’s Who" of 1980’s breakout stars, with Swayze joined by Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon and Diane Lane. Swayze was one of the few actors who weren’t age appropriate for their rebellious teenaged roles, but even at 30 his youthful looks and acting talent were more than convincing. The film wasn't much of a financial success and doesn’t rank as highly as Apocalypse Now or The Godfather series amongst Coppola’s finest achievements, but the film was the first to shoot Patrick Swayze’s star upwards and has gained an even larger audience in the decades since its release.

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