Aug 9 2012 9:30am

Author Julianne MacLean’s Top 10 Historical Movie Heroes

Married by Midnight by Julianne MacLeanJulianne MacLean writes romances featuring heroes ranging from cowboys to Highlanders to princes, and she has two exciting new releases: the Pembroke Palace novella Married by Midnight (out now) and book 2 in the Royal Trilogy, Princess in Love (available October 30). Such an expert has to have a fantastic list of sources for her heroes, right? So today we’re thrilled to welcome Julianne to share her list of Top 10 Historical Movie Heroes. Thanks, Julianne!

If you’re a lover of historical romance like I am, you probably have a running list in your head of your all-time favorite heroes from the movies. If pressed, you might find it difficult to narrow it down to just ten, not to mention ranking your hotties in order of their awesomeness.  How does one decide such a thing?

Let’s face it, hero worship is subjective, but as a former accountant, I love hard data, so I decided to create my own ranking system.  Feel free to use it yourself to rank your own list of dreamboats and see how they score.

Julianne’s Rating System

On a scale of 1-10, how does Mr. Hero score in the following categories?

A.  Devotion to the Girl

B.  Leadership Abilities (i.e. how strong of an alpha male is he?). Also consider his integrity, intelligence, and soulfulness.

C.  Hotness Factor (utterly subjective on all fronts).

Based on this simple algorithm, here is my personal top ten list:

Damien Lewis as Maj. Richard Winters# 10.  Damien Lewis – Maj. Richard Winters in Band of Brothers

Overall score: 20/30

Mr. Lewis scored a perfect 10 in the heroism, soulfulness, leadership category.  This guy was a shining star. Watch the series and you will fall in love and want to marry him. He lost marks in the devotion to the girl category, but only because it’s a World War II miniseries and there was no girl.  But I simply couldn’t leave him out.  In the subjective hotness category I rate Damien a 10 because I was completely enraptured by his heroic screen presence and I desperately wanted him to make this list. After Band of Brothers, I was compelled to see every one of his performances.

Ioan Gruffud as Horatio Hornblower# 9.  Ioan Gruffuld – Horatio in Horatio Hornblower

Overall score: 21/30

He scored high for intelligence, integrity and leadership abilities, but lost some traction in the alpha male component because he was so youthful and innocent in the opening episodes.  He scored only 4 for devotion to the girl, because he was so committed to his naval duties that he left his wife waving at him from the dock and wasn’t the least bit sorry to be on his way. He gains extra points, however, for the last few rushed minutes of the final episode when he seemed pleased to be a father, but most of his hotness happens on the high seas when we watch him transform from a seasick young boy to the clever, daring, and courageous captain of a British naval ship.

Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon# 8.  Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon in The Tudors

Overall Score: 24/30

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you know I’m a Henry girl. He hits the ball out of the park in the hotness category (scored 12 out of a possible 10, and if you’re not sure why, I recommend Season One, episode four, when he escorts the king’s sister to Portugal, and all sorts of lusty stuff happens on the ship).  Seriously, this man is off the charts, and if this were about hotness alone, he’d be at the top of my list, but as a guest of Heroes & Heartbreakers, I am looking for the perfect hero, so alas, there is more to consider….

 In The Tudors, the character of Charles Brandon was unfaithful to his wife after marriage, so he lost points there.  In the integrity category, he did some dastardly things in a blind duty to his king, so he fell short of the mark, even though I loved how tortured he became afterward. He gets bonus points for the furrowed brow.

Richard Armitage and John Thornton# 7.  Richard Armitage – John Thornton in North and South

Overall score: 24.5/30

This BBC miniseries had me at hello. In the romance department, you’ll notice many parallels with Pride and Prejudice. Thornton is a gruff mill-owner during the industrial revolution in England, while the heroine is the daughter of a country parson who views him as vulgar and uneducated. He never apologizes for his class, and over time proves to her that he has the heart and soul of a true gentleman.  If you haven’t seen this historical series, go now my friend—straight to the video store—and immerse yourself in a beautiful romance. I must warn you, however, that Mr. Armitage can cause a bit of an obsession. Be careful not to become distracted at work.

Liam Neeson as Rob Roy MacGregorTie for #6.  Liam Neeson – Rob Roy MacGregor in Rob Roy

Overall score: 26/30

Highlander alert.  Bonus points awarded for the kilt and accent. He lost a point, however, in the devotion to the girl category because he didn’t listen to his wife’s advice or warnings, and things went very badly for them both because of that. Hotness: 7. In the alpha male/leadership/integrity category, he scores a perfect 10.

Mel Gibson as William WallaceTie for #6. Mel Gibson – William Wallace in Braveheart

Overall score: 26/30

He gets 10/10 for devotion to the girl.  He started a war for her, after all. (Yeah, I know…he was fighting for freedom, not the girl, but he carried her cloth with him until the day he died.) Also gets 10/10 for leadership because he triumphed over the English in what seemed an impossible feat, and yay for the underdog.  In the hotness category, I gave him a 6, but that’s just subjective. I tried to leave his personal life out of it. I liked him in his kilt and I loved him in Mad Max, Gallipoli, and The Patriot.  And I simply loved the film.

Kevin Costner as Lt. John Dunbar#5.  Kevin Costner - Lt. John Dunbar in Dances With Wolves

Overall score – 27/30

I get teary just thinking about this beautiful film.  Mr. Costner gets 10/10 for soulfulness (the message is for peace, not war, and becoming one with nature and respecting our fellow man, even those who are different, which is why this film, in all its quiet moments, outranks Braveheart in my books for the perfect hero).  Soulfulness went a long way for him here, and he scored 8/10 on hotness for that reason. For me, it was hotness of the heart. I didn’t care how buff he was.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson#4.    Leonardo DiCaprio– Jack Dawson in Titanic

Overall score: 28/30

He let Rose have the raft and he died for her. That’s selfless love, people.  And do you remember the scene where he ripped the bench off the floor and used it as a battering ram to break through the gate that was keeping all the lower class passengers trapped down in steerage?  Yup. That was darn heroic.  In the hotness factor, he didn’t get top marks from me only because he was young and clearly I tend to go for more mature looking, dark and broody types.  But again, that’s subjective. My daughter would have given him the #1 spot in a heartbeat, so I put buffness aside again and gave some weight to her opinions here in the hotness category, because she’s my offspring, and I thought it might be proper to give some voice to a slightly younger demographic.

Andy Whitfield as Spartacus#3.  Andy Whitfield – Spartacus in Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Overall score: 30/30

Devotion to the girl – 10/10. Leadership/alpha male qualities 10/10.  Hotness factor 10/10. This miniseries was full of testosterone, sex, blood and gore, and justice for the underdog.  It was gritty and edgy, and Andy Whitfield was a strapping, gorgeous, passionate, compelling and unyielding gladiator.  Sadly this talented actor was taken from us last year when he lost his battle with cancer, which still leaves me deeply saddened for his family and for all the rest of us who lost an incredible talent. Rest in peace, beautiful hero. You will be missed. 

Russell Crowe as Maximus#2 - Russell Crowe – Maximus in Gladiator

Overall score: 30.5/30

He gets 10/10 for devotion to the girl, 10/10 for leadership/alpha male abilities. Remember when he mounted the horse in the coliseum and shouted “Form column!” to the other gladiators and spontaneously led them to victory?  I thought I was going to fall out of my chair with my legs in the air.  As for hotness…ahem.  Extra points for charisma and acting chops. Maybe it’s that deep, quiet, raspy voice. Maybe it’s the big hands or the confident way he carries himself.  Did you see 3:10 to Yuma?  It’s my favorite western of all time.  How about Master and Commander?  There wasn’t any romance in that movie, but who needs a girl when Russell Crowe is shouting “All hands to windward!” on the deck of a British navy ship. The title says it all.  Now I’m feeling a bit wobbly in the knees. He gets an extra half point bonus for those other performances, which snags the number two spot for him in Gladiator.

Gerard Butler as King Leonidas#1:   Gerard Butler – King Leonidas in 300

Overall score: 31/30

In 300, this rugged Scot is buff and bare-chested most of the time. He doesn’t disguise his delicious accent in the film. He has hot sex with his wife. He leads the Spartan army into battle and holds his own until the bitter end, and says things like: “This is where we fight! This is where they die!” When the enemy demands that his army lay down their weapons, he says, “Come and get them!”

He’s courageous and cheeky, has a deep, raunchy, commanding voice, and he looks darn good in that red cape and not much else. When it comes to jaw-dropping alpha-male heroes, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The extra point was awarded on the basis of my obsession with this man after watching Phantom of the Opera. The hot flashes lasted for weeks, and he inspired me to switch historical settings and write a Highlander trilogy.  For that, Gerard Butler earns the number one spot.

The Wild Cards

Villain category: Jason Isaacs in The Patriot

Make Me Laugh Category: Mike Myers in Austen Powers

Most Underrated Hottie: Rufus Sewell in Middlemarch

Classiest Hero: Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice

Now for the Honorable Mention list. Tell me—who did I neglect? Please pipe in here to add your favorites and I’ll probably kick myself for not including them. Or maybe you’ll introduce me to a new obsession. That’s always fun.


Julianne MacLean is a USA Today bestselling author of over 15 historical romances, including The Highlander Trilogy with St. Martin’s Press and her popular Pembroke Palace series with Avon/Harper Collins. She is a three-time RITA finalist, and lives in Nova Scotia with her husband, daughter and puppy-dog, Molly. 

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
Nice list, and what a fun idea with the rating system!

My teen self would have had Jack Dawson at #1, no question, but now, hmm...I really do love Armitage's John Thornton, and I also enjoyed Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. In lesser-known movies there's Michael Schoeffling as Al Carver in Wild Hearts Can't be Broken.

Also, while he wouldn't make my list because of that whole wife-in-the-attic-and-hiding-it-from-Jane thing, I will say I totally understood the Michael Fassbender appeal after I saw him play Mr. Rochester.
2. wsl0612
I disagree with your ratings on Jack/Leo just because I really can't give him hotness points, he's just too baby faced. But I love your wild card mentions! Patriot and Middlemarch both introduced me to those hotties, Jason Isaacs and Rufus Sewell! I had a long-running fantasy about redeeming Jason's evil British character, sigh, he was so much hotter than Mel's Patriot - I know, I know, I'm a very bad American. I'll just have to move to Canada to redeem myself ;-)
3. HelenKola
Brad Pitt. Legends of the Fall.
Devotion to the girl 10/10. Okay, maybe he breaks Julia Ormond's heart, but he's totally devoted to his wife in later half of the film.
Leadership/Alpha Male Qualities 10/10 Passionately anti-war he becomes a war hero anyway, just to protect his little brother. Sigh.
Hotness 11/10 Pitt as an passionate, heroic, loving COWBOY willing to fight and die for his family and love interest. Swoon. (He somehow remains soulful and brooding, even when he's kicking ass, and manages to be even sexier when he cries!) How can you ask for more?
7. Norah Wilson
Wow, Julianne, you did a great job of covering the bases! You Top #3 are completely aligned with mine!

Here are some off-the-wall candidates.

I loved Alan Rickman as Jamie in Truly Madly Deeply (going all the way back to 1990 for that one!). Also loved Ed Harris as Bud Brigman in The Abyss (yikes! even further back - 1989). What they have in common, I think, is the scope of the sacrifice they're prepared to make for the heroine.
8. july
sean bean in the tv series sharpe was a marveloous hero. courageous and ragged gorgeous in his green uniform. christopher lambert in the highlander introduced us to sexy immortals.
Cynthia (Cali) Muir
11. Cali
*LOL* Oh Julianne! You make my day, you really, REALLY do! =D

Just a couple things: I knew when I saw Gerard Butler in your newsletter/announcement I was good! *But* need to do a little extra research on a couple here.

For instance: Gerard Butler as the Phantom In "Phantom of The Opera." I *dare* you to watch that movie and not moan, sigh, or cry! Phantom was his hottest role! EVER!! IMHO! =D And Phantom fills your checklist WAY more than "300." =)

Following that I would list Gerard in "Timeline" or "P.S. I Love You." Swooh! Goosebumps already. (Throw on one of your Renaissance gowns when you turn on "Timeline." And invite me. =D

Richard Armnitage - in full black leather playing 'Guy of Gisborne' in "Robin Hood." Whooo Wheee! *sigh* or 'Lucas North' in "MI-5." Yowza!!

Kevin Sorbo as "Hercules." And he still supports those baby blues and enough muscles to make me drool! Yikes! =D

And how HOW could you forget our vampires??? David Boreanaz as "Angel" and James Marsters as "Spike?"

Well my day is shot! Might as well go grab some of my videos and watch some hunks! *LOL* Thanks for the smiles Julianne! =)

12. SassyT
I agree with Richard Armitage whole heartedly (HOT). I admit I first saw him on BBC America in Robin Hood. He was not a nice man (he killed Marion for goodness' sake). Also, I've been crushing on Henry Cavill ever since he was in The Count of Monte Cristo (yeah, I know he was playing a 16 year old...and he might have actually been 16...I don't I just knew he'd grow up to be a really hot man (can't wait for his turn as Superman). Gerard Butler played Atila the Hun in a t.v. movie (on TNT I think) a long time ago and that is where I fell in love. I lurve He was all greased up (not unlike his turn in 300) and dirty...just the way I like him. Not sure if it's on DVD but it is worth watching just to see him.
Claire Louise Thompson
13. Nefersitra
Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon in the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility. Colonel Brandon is lovely and I'd pay to listen to Alan Rickman reading the phone book. Yum

Also I agree with judy, Sean Bean as Sharpe. Also as Mellors in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Which I watched as an eleven year old on BBC1 and left me with two things - a love of Sean Bean and the idea that dominating men are sexy.

And if we are talking Highlander - please can we mention Adrian Paul (Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod) from the TV show? Methos and Kronos were pretty fine too.

My teen self would probably be all in favour of Will Scarlett from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves - but I think he may actually fail the alpha male and devotion to the girl criteria. Still, he's hot.
14. Sue P
You forgot all the greats: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Steve MacQueen, Cary Grant, Gergory Peck. And then there's: Alex O'Loughlin, Daniel Day Lewis, Colin Firth, Jon Tenney.
15. Julia Phillips Smith
This is the most awesome post ever. We are of the same mind in all categories (except for Henry Cavill, but only because I haven't watched The Tudors yet.)

The only hero I can add is the Russian hottie I've already told you about: Vladimir Korf from Bednaya Nastya (Poor Nastya).
16. Jan the Alan Fan
I have a soft spot for Marcus Gilbert in the '80's movie 'A Hazard of Hearts'. OK, it's based on a Barbara Cartland novel, but it's not that bad. Really. Plus, there's a young Helena Bonham-Carter and Diana Rigg as the no-good mother of the hero. Win!
17. Mselyn46
I love this site. I'm on the older side, so some of your choices were a little young for my tastes, but I thought Liam Neesom amd Mel Gibson were great choices. I might add Sean Connery, even at his age, he is still pretty nice to look at. I also liked the suggestion of Michael Fassbender. I thought he was hot in the X-Men, but then I watched him in Jane Eyre and fell totally in love with him. But there is one no one has mentioned. Tom Sellack. He was hot as Magnum but he is just as hot in Blue Bloods. He plays a no nonsense Police Commisioner whose sons are both policemen and his daughter is an assistant DA. They still all sit down to Sunday dinners, which include his grandchildren and his father. He stands by his values and he fights for all who serve with him, but I think his best feature is that he is still in love with his deceased wife. He looks at other women, but after 2 seasons, so far he is still faithful. My hope is that they bring a new love interest for him, because he deserves it.
18. Milmom
OMG! Agree with it all except that I would choose Clive Owen over Leo any day...Clive is a British...enuf said. Also, Rufus Sewell seems to scate under the radar and is really cool. And lastly, another awesome villain was Alan Rickman as the Sheriff in Robin Hood...he had so much fun with that role.
19. ShellyE
I'll admit to loving Richard Gere in Sommersby....
20. Janet Femmer
Yes -- I agree with you all across the line. Classiest Hero -- I became a Colin Firth fan after seeing that miniseries. Gerard Butler -- I was slow to become a fan -- until I saw Phantom of the Opera and now watch him in everything I can. Jason Isaacs -- loved his eyes and the way he swallowed his drink when the ship blew up in the harbor. Now I understand why I love your characters so much!!!
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