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THE B-LIST: Guys and gals to die for — assassins on the silver screen

It'll never not amuse me how Keanu Reeves — one of the genuinely kindest, most giving and most pacifistic of men — has had a three-decade-long, wildly successful career in Hollywood as an action star.

From "Point Break" to "The Matrix", Reeves proves that soft-spoken lanky guys can carry action franchises just as capably as macho beefcakes like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I enjoy the occasional bombastic display of bulging muscles (the "Conan" movies are superb cheese-fests) but I much prefer Reeves' brand of hero.

His "John Wick" movies — the third, "Parabellum," hits theaters Thursday — have been something of a surprise hit. Neon hued, slickly lit and with even slicker fight choreography, the "Wick" films have unexpectedly meaty world-building around a secret society of assassins who have ironclad rules and posh hotels, who shop for guns the way other men shop for fine wines.

While John, the world's greatest assassin, is taking on the dozens of killers eager to claim the $14 million bounty on his head, let's admire some of the totally boss hitmen (and women!) who have come before.

6. CATALEYA ("Colombiana" (2011), played by Zoe Saldaña). After seeing her parents gunned down by a drug lord in Colombia, Cataleya escapes to the United States and becomes an assassin, determined to use her training for revenge.

This may be a by-the-numbers story of extreme violence and vengeance, but Saldaña is stellar in it (as is Amandla Stenberg as young Cataleya), and it's incredibly satisfying to see a typically male role played by a defiant black Latina. The climactic fight is proof that it's always a good idea to give Zoe Saldaña a rocket launcher (see also: "The Losers").

5. LÉON ("Léon: The Professional" (1994), played by Jean Reno). Léon is a lonely hitman who watches classic movies and cares for a houseplant — until the day a corrupt DEA agent (Gary Oldman at his craziest) slaughters the family next door and the sole survivor, 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman in her debut), turns to him for survival. As Léon teaches Mathilda the basics of his business, and she falls in love with her rescuer, the pair vow to avenge her baby brother.

From the first scene to the last, this movie about broken, sad people is a series of really painful gutpunches. But the performances are so incredible, especially baby Natalie Portman's, and sometimes you just need a cathartic cry over found families and self-sacrifice. While everything explodes.

4. HANNA ("Hanna" (2011), played by Saoirse Ronan). Raised by her father in remote Finland to be a ruthless assassin, 15-year-old Hanna sets out to kill CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett).

There's not a lot of plot in this surreal thriller, directed by Joe Wright, but that's not the draw here. It's all about the dreamy cinematography and settings, which lend a fairy tale air to the violence, and Ronan's committed performance as a lost girl-turned-killer.

3. CHARLY BALTIMORE ("The Long Kiss Goodnight" (1996), played by Geena Davis). Amnesiac Samantha Caine has been a sweet schoolteacher and single mother for the past eight years. That all changes when she recovers her memory with the help of P.I. Mitch Henessey (Samuel L. Jackson) and realizes she was a CIA assassin named Charly Baltimore. Suddenly it's up to Charly and Mitch to thwart a terrorist plot on Christmas Eve.

Geena Davis in the '90s was just #goals, and in "Long Kiss" she gets to be equally sweet and lethal, gorgeous and tough as nails. There's a lot of wackiness and quotable dialogue thanks to screenwriter Shane Black, who's always dependable when it comes to neo-noir black comedy, and the pairing of Davis and Jackson is golden.

2. MARTIN Q. BLANK ("Grosse Pointe Blank" (1997), played by John Cusack). Contract killer Martin Blank is struggling with depression when his therapist convinces him to attend his 10-year high school reunion, where he reconnects with his first love, Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver). But things get complicated when Marty is attacked by a rival assassin, followed by a pair of corrupt NSA agents and finally opens the dossier on his next target...

"Hi, I'm Martin Blank, you remember me? I'm not married, I don't have any kids, but I'd blow your head off if someone paid me enough." Do you like to laugh? Enjoy quippy dialogue and zany characters? Good news! This is the movie for you! Even after a dozen rewatches, "Grosse Pointe" is a film that never fails to make me cackle with delight. After the previous movies stomp on your heart, this is the ideal antidote.

1. JASON BOURNE ("The Bourne Identity" (2002), played by Matt Damon). Discovered floating in the ocean with two bullets in his back, Bourne has no memory of how that happened. Or of anything else. But he quickly puts the pieces together with the help of Marie (Franka Potente): he's a CIA black ops assassin who couldn't finish his last job. With the CIA hot on his heels, Bourne starts to run.

When it comes to amnesiac assassins, you can't beat Bourne. While the sequels proved the rule of diminishing returns, "Identity" remains a solid, intriguing spy thriller that stands out from the crowd, thanks in large part to Damon's baby face and vulnerable performance. "I don't want to do this anymore," he laments softly at a crucial moment, and if that doesn't just hit me in the heart. Watching him methodically, calmly escape a consulate, take out other assassins and cleverly lure in his former handlers shows that the best assassins have brains as well as brawn and steady trigger fingers.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at

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