There’s no shortage of action heroes in Hollywood, but great "inaction" heroes — those who can carry their own stories without having to be conventional protagonists — not so much. These are the slackers, the big planners, the goofballs, and even the just plain lazy dudes who would rather hang out and chill with their buds than go off and save the world.
Regardless, there’s something compelling, even extraordinary, about these inaction heroes. They make us laugh at their quips and missteps — and they also always seem to come through when it counts. In the history of cinema, these are our picks for the all-time inaction heroes.
Bill and Ted, from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Bill and Ted might be the most excellent inaction heroes of all-time, simply because they can literally go anywhere with their phone booth-shaped time machine. Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter), and his lifelong buddy, Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves), have been partying across time and space since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in 1989. The duo reunited for Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1991, then again, two decades later, in 2020’s Bill and Ted Face the Music.
Things have a way of falling into place for Bill and Ted. They may not understand everything happening to them, but the duo have demonstrated an ability to strategically use time travel to escape whenever they’re cornered by villains. Filming those sequences could be grueling, but the experience of making the trilogy created a real bond between Winter and Reeves.
“The experiences of making the films were very joyful,” Winter told Yahoo Entertainment in 2020. “They were hard films to make, but they were a lot of fun. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of physicality, a lot of interplay with me and Keanu. So I think that informed my life in a certain way. The experiences themselves of being these guys and making the films.”
Ferris Bueller, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller was never a man of action. In fact, he goes down in cinematic history as an iconic slacker. But he was a very clever planner in John Hughes’s seminal ’80s comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Ferris always knew what he wanted and how to manipulate everyone so that he and his friends, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) and Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), could skip out of class for an unforgettable day during their senior year of high school.
Behind the scenes, the biggest problem came during one of Ferris’s few action moments. As Broderick once recounted to Yahoo Entertainment, the moment came towards the end of the film, when Ferris had to run back home.
“I had destroyed my knee while I was doing a scene while I was running through [a] yard,” Broderick explained. “I had twisted it and it was, like, swollen, so I couldn’t do all the choreography that we had worked on” for a climactic musical number at at Chicago’s annual Von Steuben Day Parade. Instead, the hobbled Broderick was positioned on a float, where he was filmed twisting and singing.
Broderick also recalled that Hughes gave him a lot of freedom to come up with Ferris’s monologues at the beginning and the end of the film.
“[The scenes] when [Ferris is] getting ready or at the end of the movie, when I’m alone talking to camera, were really fun because John Hughes would sort of make stuff up and I would make stuff up and we would have the freedom to try anything,” said Broderick. “And [Hughes] said, ‘You’re an interesting actor because you’re best when you’re alone,’ ... which I hope isn’t true.”
Scott Pilgrim, from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim might be the only slacker who can go from inaction to action on short notice. In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the title character wasn’t particularly motivated to do anything with his life until he met Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But, to win Ramona’s heart, he had to face all seven of her evil exes in video game-style battles.
Cera, Chris Evans and almost the entire cast of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World have reunited for Netflix’s new animated series Scott Pilgrim Takes Off. The new Scott Pilgrim show retells the events of the original graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley.
Jay and Silent Bob, from Clerks
Created by Kevin Smith for his breakout film, Clerks, and going on to appear in the filmmakers subsequent offerings, Jay and Silent Bob are the kings of inaction heroes. Good luck getting them to do anything beyond hanging out. The only time that Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) have ever really stepped up as heroes for the greater good was in the movie Dogma. Ultimately, though, they qualify as quintessential inaction heroes of misadventure thanks to such films as Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.
Mewes and Smith’s real-life friendship comes through on the big screen, and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot was inspired in part by their personal journeys.
“The story kind of wrote itself because [Mewes] was a dad in real life, and it was so amusing to see him being this incredible dad,” Smith told Rotten Tomatoes in 2021. “He relates to the kid like I’ve never seen an adult relate to their own child. It might be because even though he’s 45 and she’s four, they’re emotionally on the same wave or whatever, but it’s a really warm, wonderful relationship, and I was like, ‘I’m going to do that for the movie.’ So I stole his real life and put it in the flick.”
Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China
Big Trouble in Little China’s Jack Burton may look like a traditional action hero — thanks in part to star Kurt Russell having already established himself in films like The Thing — but if you watch Jack closely in this movie, he’s pretty terrible at being the hero. "Inaction" is a suitable word to describe the decisions of a guy who was ready to cut and run the second that the magically empowered warriors called the Three Storms showed up. And as far as Jack was concerned, it was never really personal for him until the bad guys stole his big rig truck, the Pork Chop Express.
Perhaps some of Jack’s ineptitude for action was due to behind-the-scenes necessity. During production, Russell came down with a bad case of the flu. But he didn’t hold up production or wait to get better before shooting his scenes.
“I really got sick on that one. You can hear it in the movie. You can hear me working on it,” Russell told Yahoo Entertainment in 2014. “There are those days. But we had to get it shot and get it done. Those days it’s [like], ‘Time to go to work, get it done.’”
Yet in the end, ol’ Jack Burton does strike the final blow against Big Trouble’s main villain, David Lo Pan (James Hong). Maybe Jack’s not so bad at action after all.