Nov 28 2012 2:30pm

Author Julianne MacLean’s Top 10 Contemporary Movie Heroes

Princess in Love by Julianne MacLeanJulianne MacLean writes romances with many different types of heroes—cowboys to Highlanders to princes. Her most recent release is Princess in Love, the second in Julianne's Royal Trilogy. Earlier this year Julianne shared her list of Top 10 Historical Movie Heroes, and today she's back to list her Top 10 Contemporary Movie Heroes. Thanks, Julianne!

Greetings, readers!  I had so much fun with my recent Top 10 List of Historical Movie Heroes that I wanted to do it again, this time focusing on hotties in contemporary films.  As I began to think about it, however, it became difficult to narrow it down, so I had to set some boundaries.

I decided to leave out superheroes—as hot as they may be—because it just wouldn’t be a fair contest in the alpha male category when Mr. Superhero can rescue a girl out of flying plane, while a mere mortal hottie may fall short in comparison when the plane is going down in flames.  So no Superheroes this time.

I’m also leaving out the action heroes for the same reason, because with today’s digital special effects, they’re pretty much superhuman anyway.  Though I might tackle those categories in a separate blog.

For now, let’s stick with romance and drama. Here are my top ten picks according to my rating system below. All of them made the cut because they have stood the test of time; these are films I have watched over and over. Being a writer, I have to give plenty of credit to the screenwriters who created these magnificent characters for some of my favorite actors.

I hope you’ll share your favorites in the comment section!  I would love to hear from you because I am always certain I’m going to forget a wonderful hero who deserves to be on this list.

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; includes physical attributes+charisma).

Colin Firth# 10.  Colin Firth—Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s  Diary

Overall score: 22/30

Colin Firth is making the list because….well, he’s Colin Firth and he’s romantic hero royalty. He scores well in the hotness category with 9, but loses points in the Leadership/alpha male category because he was too easily led by the fiancée who was all wrong for him. But he pulls it together in the end with that kiss in the snow, right after he buys Bridget a new diary (and doesn’t get his nose all out of joint after reading a few unpleasant things she wrote about him). 

Zak Efron# 9.  Zac Efron—Charlie St. Cloud

Overall score: 23/30

Zac is making my list for a few reasons: he’s incredibly handsome (scored a 10 in the hotness category), he can sing and dance, plus I happen to think he’s a pretty good actor beneath all of that. He has great comic timing (I loved him in 17 Again), but he can also pull off a dramatic role, as we see in Charlie St. Cloud, especially the ambulance scene when he learns his brother has died.

His character lost a few points on my rating scale only because he was slow to give his full devotion to the girl, but when he did, he knocked the ball out of the park for heroism.

Patrick Swayze# 8.  Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing

Overall Score: 24/30

This charismatic film character and Patrick’s standout performance definitely stands the test of time. Patrick scores extra points for both hotness and soulfulness because of his dancing. And he stands up to Baby’s intimidating father and takes care of his friends, so he gains points in the alpha male and integrity category.

John Cusack# 7.  John Cusack—Jonathan Trager in Serendipity

Overall score: 25/30

Makes the list because it’s one of my favorite romance films. I not only love the characters, but the message of this magical love story: when we are meant to be with someone, fate will find a way to make it happen. Mr. Cusack scored 9 for devotion to the girl, because he never gives up and goes to great lengths to find her again, and also for soulfulness, integrity and intelligence. John Cusack remains one of my favorite actors (the eighties classic Say Anything deserves a mention here, too), and I want to know when he’s going to win his Oscar.  Why has he not been nominated multiple times by now?

Eric Bana#6.  Eric Bana—Henry in The Time Traveler’s Wife

Overall score: 26/30

I’ve been a fan of Eric Bana ever since I saw him for the first time in Black Hawk Down. I couldn’t use that film for this list because it was a supporting role, and was definitely not a romance. But he was off the charts in the heroism, alpha male category. So I found another way to get him on this list, by choosing The Time Traveler’s Wife, where he scores very well because of his enduring devotion to the girl. And there might have been a few hundred extra points for hotness and charisma.

Matthew McConaughey#5. Matthew McConaughey—Palmer Joss in Contact

Overall score: 26/30

I couldn’t possibly leave Matthew McConaughey off a top ten list for hot heroes. His flirty charisma always leaves me smiling, and Contact is one of my all-time favorite films. He scored an easy 10 for hotness, and a 9 for soulfulness, spirituality, and intelligence in this role.

Hugh Jackman#4.  Hugh Jackman—Leopold in Kate & Leopold

Overall score: 27/30

Hotness - an easy 10.  The man is a god. When he rides into Central Park, scoops Meg Ryan up onto the back of his horse, and gallops after the purse thief….well, need I say more? And he can sing and dance, too.

#3.  Ethan Hawke—Jesse in Before Sunrise/Before Sunset

Overall score: 27.5/30

I can’t explain it, but I have a very intense thing for Ethan Hawke. I don’t know what it is, but I become inexplicably rattled in the brain whenever I see him on screen. It doesn’t matter what the movie is about. Even a picture of him turns me into a deer in the headlights. I am completely fascinated by him.

Ethan HawkeSo from me, he gets a 10 in the hotness category, but I also think he’s a great actor, and these unique connected films really push my hopeless romantic buttons.  The first is about two young people who meet on a train and connect with each other deeply and intimately during one night in Vienna, and the second film takes place nine years later, when they finally meet again in Paris after all that time apart.  Jesse just can’t stop loving Celine, their soulful connection really floats my boat.

Ryan Gosling#2.  Ryan Gosling—Noah in The Notebook

Overall score – 29/30

I honestly thought Mr. Gosling was going to be number one, and if I was choosing based only on my favorite contemporary romance film, this would take top spot hands down because it has everything I love in a romance.  The music and cinematography are exquisite (the opening credits alone are worth the price of the movie ticket).  It has oodles of angst and heartache along the way, which make the ending that much sweeter.  Noah was as devoted as any romantic hero can be. His lifelong passion and enduring love for Allie still brings tears to my eyes.

Channing Tatum#1.  Channing Tatum—John Tyree in Dear John 

Overall score: 30/30

Devotion to the girl – 10/10. Leadership/alpha male qualities 10/10.  Hotness factor - definitely 10/10 because not only is Channing Tatum incredibly handsome, manly, and charismatic, but he can dance, too.

I chose this film for him because of his character’s personal sacrifice at the end, where he puts the heroine’s happiness above his own and gives her a very special gift, even when he knows it means he will lose her.  He was also kind, loving and devoted to his father, and he served his country with courage and dedication.  When it comes to heroes and heartbreakers, this guy takes the prize.

The Wild Cards

Make Me Laugh and Steal My Heart at the End Category: Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates

Ultra Suave Category: Pierce Brosman inThe Thomas Crown Affair

Ed HarrisMost Underrated Hottie: Ed Harris in The Abyss

Flawed Hottie in a brother/sister role: Chris Pine in People Like Us

Mind-blowing Hottie who needs to do more contemporary romantic roles: Henry Cavill

Humorous Hottie in a category all his own: Hugh Grant in Music and Lyrics, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral

Now for the Honorable Mention list. This is where you tell me who I missed, or who I need to pay closer attention to. Who is your favorite romance hero from the movies? (And let’s stick to the contemporaries.  If you want to talk about historical heroes, I blogged about them here.)


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
I do love Channing, but I think Ryan Gosling might be my #1. Like you said, Noah's devotion sure is something, and, okay, it's true--much as I'm a fan of both leads, Dear John was not a favorite (too sad!).

Thanks for such a fun post!
Alana Rock
2. loonyalana
I'm probably letting my 'freak flag fly' on this... but I have a few that are winners in my book. Although, your choices are nothing to chide, some are downright mind addling, indeed.

I know he's not around anymore, which is a shame, but surely Heath Ledger deserves some love. He has (had really) hotness, he was the bad boy with a heart of gold in 10 Things I Hate About You (although a Shakespeare remake, it does fall into contemporary romance) and he DID 'stick with the girl' despite everything.

Another one I can't fully explain except to say, watch the late 80's movie Made in Heaven. Often, the movies Timothy Hutton appears in (like Beautiful Girls, Turk 182, French Kiss) he seems like that attainable 'Guy Next Door', although he doesn't really have the 'alpha' male thing going on.

...Ewan McGregor (the movie that I most often think of is Down with Love)... although it's kind of a toss-up on if it can be considered 'contemporary' or not. But I think he's hot, he can also sing a dance (when he needs to), can be manipulative and sweet. He is just tittilating

...and a few guilty pleasure I can't fully explain: D.B. Sweeny (Movie: Cutting Edge)
Tanisha Robinson
3. sassytarheel
I can't believe you put Zac Efron ahead of Colin Firth. Seriously? Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy and Mark Darcy!!! Hello? And Channing Tatum? I understand some women find him all that but I (a woman) just don't see it. The rest on the list I either agree wholeheartedly or at least understand why they are on the list. Still shaking my head at Zac Efron and Channing Tatum. I would like to reaffirm your pick of John Cusak (and maybe move him higher up on the list) because I loved him in Must Love Dogs. Yeah, he wasn't exactly alpha (considering he let the ex-wife get whatever she wanted) but he definitely wanted to be devoted to Diane Lane's character and you've already got his hotness factor. I'm currently drawing a blank on other candidates. I'm going to have to dive into my DVD collection and scan what's on the t.v. for inspiration. Oh, got one. Tom Hanks. Not a hottie but not ugly either. He was awesome in You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. Those are close to the top of the list as far as romance goes. Let us not forget his total devotion to Jenny in Forrest Gump which I know isn't a romantic film but he showed real devotion to his girl.

@loonyalana: There's nothing shameful about love Cutting I watch that movie whenever it's on t.v. and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Carmen Pinzon
4. bungluna
Boy, am I out of sinc with current hotties! Of that list I only consider 3 of them hotties. I won't say which though.
5. wsl0612
I love Keanu Reeves in Speed, he and Sandra have great chemistry! And I think he gets 1,000 point for devotion ;-)

I love Hugh Jackman too and wholeheartedly agree as to HIS role in Kate and Leopold. If Meg Ryan had bothered to pull it together and if her character hadn't been such a shrew I'd love that movie more :-(
Jamie Brenner
6. jamieloganbrenner
I agree that there is something really special about the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset films. The shining star in Ethan Hawkes' career.
One hero you left off this list: Viggo Mortenson in A Walk on the Moon and Eastern Promises. Scorching!
Alexandra W
7. parasolprotectorate
I'm disgusted with myself - I've only seen one of these films and I really really really don't like The Notebook ... (ducks from rotten tomatoes)

But YES to Henry Cavill! So looking forward to seeing him as Superman!
Shawna R.
8. Shawna R.
Paul Bettany in Wimbledon! I adore PB. Doesn't do a lot of contemporary romances, but he did that one. :)
Shawna R.
9. Sharlene W
How about Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping? Cute & lovable.
Shawna R.
10. Kathleen O'Donnell
Hugh Jackman and Colin Firth would have been at the top of my list. I am not a great lover of John Cussak. I would have added George Cloony into the mix and you have put some of my favs on your list, Patrick Swayze, Mathew McConaughey and Channing Tatum.. And you mentioned Ed Harris too.. I adore him. I would have to put Tom Hanks of this list too. There is something very adorable about him that appeals to me.
11. hgraham
Loved reading both of your lists, but I must agree with an earlier comment: Heath Ledger should be here!

Would you consider writing a top ten for action movies? and if you do, don't forget Rick O'Connell and Evy from The Mummy 1 and 2

and maybe a list for the superheroes?
Shawna R.
12. Poisongirl
Im suprised no one went with Gerard Butler in P.S. I Love You.... Super depressing but he was dying and all he could think of was his wife going on with life after him. I couldnt stand her in the movie, didnt think she deserved him but he is a MAJOR HOTTIE alpha male with the romantic smart and funny personality.

Also Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black, Nick Cage in City Of Angels, Patrick Swayze in Ghost, Robert Downey Jr. in Only You, Colin Firth in Love Actually, Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire count? I know some were already named but i threw them in for other roles that were awesome.
Shawna R.
13. poisongirl
Can i also say that Josh Dallas as David Nolan aka Prince Charming on Once Upon A Time is the dreamiest most perfect guy ever!!!!! Although im not sure he counts in this cause hes Prince Charming which counts as being a super hero:)
Shawna R.
14. Sue P
Colin Firth should be much, much higher! And I like Channing Tatum as a good actor, but he just doesn't do it for me in the turn on department. What about a\Ashton Kutcher in Valentine's Day? Patrick Swayze and Colin should be there twice. Oh my.
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