This is why 'Black Hawk Down' has the best military movie cast ever
When “Black Hawk Down” hit theatres in 2001, it was marketed as a cast of ‘no names’. The real “stars” were the elite troops depicted onscreen: the Army Rangers, Delta Force soldiers and 160th SOAR pilots who made up Task Force Ranger in the fall of 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The movie chronicles their 18-hour battle with Somali militias in which 18 Americans died.
But in the 15 years since, BHD’s cast has turned into a roster of certified Hollywood A-listers or perennial movie “That Guys.” In fact, BHD’s alumni have made more big movies than any other military ensemble cast.
BoxOfficeMojo.com is a website that tracks career box office earnings of hundreds of actors. All told, the movies featuring Black Hawk Down alumni have been in have earned a staggering $12.6 billion – more than the combined career box office for the cast of Oceans 11.
The cast falls into three military groups:
The $B-Boys – Black Hawk Down actors who crossed the billion-dollar line (in the book, though less so in the movie, Delta Force is nicknamed “D-boys”)
The Regulars – you know their faces, if not their names
Asymmetric Warriors – Two roles – a Delta Force operator and a 24th Special Tactics Squadron pararescueman – were played by actors who now have massive careers, but not as traditional movie stars. We had to measure their careers differently (leave it to JSOC to be hard to pin down).
Orlando Bloom, “PFC Todd Blackburn”
Career Box Office: $2,815,831,431
You hardly recognize him when he’s not: an elf or a pirate.
The wispy, slightly-sour-faced Brit spends just a few minutes on screen and hardly speaks. But after five installments of “Lord of the Rings” and three “Pirates of the Caribbean,” movies starring Bloom have made more money than those starring George Clooney or Brad Pitt (whom Bloom starred with in “Troy”).
Ewan McGregor, “PFC John Grimes”
Career Box Office: $2,080,785,955
You hardly recognize him when he’s not: a Jedi; lusting for life.
He was a brash talking, un-Tabbed underachiever consigned to coffee duty until pushed outside the wire, but McGregor’s John Grimes – “Grimesy” – was the closest thing to an Everyman in the movie. But by the time BHD hit screens, McGregor had already played Obi Wan Kenobi in the “Phantom Menace,” with two other mega Star Wars prequels just ahead. Together, they pulled in $1.1 Billion.
William Fichtner, “SFC Jeff Sanderson”
Estimated Box Office*: $1,495,000,000
You hardly recognize him when he’s not: getting killed.
Fichtner, one of the all-time That Guys in movie history, might be America’s answer to Sean Bean, the oft-murdered Englishman. Fichtner dies a lot. He’s met his on-screen fate on George Clooney’s doomed fishing boat (“The Perfect Storm”) and as an outlaw in Johnnie Depp’s wild west (“The Lone Ranger”), and only barely survived Bruce Willis’ doomed space shuttle (“Armageddon”). In BHD, Fichtner’s fiction Delta soldier Sanderson is a battlefield Svengali, coaxing a team of scared, out-gunned Rangers through the day’s fight. He grows ever cooler as the fire gets heavier, dispensing tactical hints that also serve as deep life wisdom (“stay off the walls”).
*Fichtner, like several BHD actors, doesn’t register on BoxOfficeMojo. So we added up only the giant hits you’ve almost definitely forgotten he was in.
Tom Hardy, “Pvt. Lance Twombly”
Box Office: $1,242,535,310
Oh, it’s the guy from: “driving for his life in a desert hell hole. But with girls.”
For 12 years after the movie’s release, Hardy wasn’t even the most famous actor among his small trio of Rangers separated from the main force. One of the soldiers, Nelson, is temporarily deaf, a condition played for laughs by Ewan Bremner, a.k.a. Spud from “Trainspotting.” But in 2012, he played Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” and stole the summer of 2015 in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Jason Isaacs, “Cpt. Michael Steele”
Box office: $1,952,955,239
Oh, it’s the guy who is usually: a punchable, dickish authority figure. But in a wig.
Some guy you definitely don’t know has made two billion dollars – pretty funny, hooah? As one of many roles in a classic “That Guy” career, Isaacs plays Cpt. Steele, the uptight Ranger commander who spends most of the movie not getting along with Delta’s cool kids. His most famous moment is as the butt of Eric Bana’s classic joke, “this is my safety, sir.” Steele was right on type for Isaacs, who was also a total dick to Harry Potter as Lucius Malfoy and to 18th-century churchgoers in “The Patriot.”
Ioan Gruffudd, “Lt. John Beales”
Oh, I think he was in: A total disaster, probably (“San Andreas,” “Titanic”).
A career character actor, Gruffudd has played small-to-medium roles in almost 20 films that, combined, have brought in a little over $800 million. He also played a bit part in one of the biggest hits of all time, “Titanic.” The role was so small that BoxOfficeMojo doesn’t count it, but we’re giving it to him. Grufford plays 5th Officer Harold Lowe, who in both the movie and real life, was the only officer who went back to rescue survivors in the water. It’s Grufford who rescues Kate Winslet – and what is “Black Hawk Down” at heart if not a rescue mission? We’re counting it in Gruffudd’s total.
Eric Bana, “Sgt. 1st Class Norm ‘Hoot’ Gibson”
Box Office: $1,029,166,799
Oh, isn’t that the guy from: Tough one. You know you know Bana.
He’s definitely “a movie star.” But he’s never held top billing in a major hit. His fictionalized Delta operator Gibson – who bookends the movie with meditative soliloquies on combat and soldiering – might be Bana’s defining role. Still, Bana is a hell of a 2nd Chair, scoring 9-digit box office in “Troy,” “Star Trek,” and “Lone Survivor.” And as a sheer badass, he reached near-“Hoot” levels as an Israeli assassin in “Munich.”
Tom Sizemore, “Col. Danny McKnight”
Box Office*: $780,000,000
Oh, it’s that guy from: same character type, different war.
Sizemore’s career has been a string of grizzled combat leaders, including Sgt. Horvath in Saving Private Ryan, another NCO in Pearl Harbor and shoot-first detective Sgt. Jack Scagnetti (great name!) in Natural Born Killers. In BHD, when gunfire breaks out, he memorably orders a nervous Ranger: “shoot back.”
*Like Fichtner, we looked at Sizemore’s biggest hits and rounded up.
Josh Hartnett, “Sgt. Matt Eversmann”
Box Office: $678,425,308
Wait, was he in…: not much lately, tbh.
With all the future superstars and famous faces, it’s a little jarring to look back and realize that Hartnett was the guy featured on BHD’s original movie poster. Much of the movie tracks his trial by fire as a new Ranger team leader. But after BHD, Hartnett’s career stalled. He played the lead in Pearl Harbor, as bad a military movie as BHD is a good one, and hasn’t been in a big hit – or big poster – since.
Box Office: $575,659,624
Hey, it’s: Ari!
Jeremy Piven has played in about 60 films but he’ll never escape being Ari Gold, the preening talent agent in HBO’s “Entourage.” Unfortunately, Piven plays his role as 160th pilot Walcott in full proto-Gold style, with cocky, hot-shot dialogue that sound more like “Top Gun” than 160th operators. Piven isn’t on BoxOfficeMojo, but he did make six movies with John Cusak, so we modified Cusak’s career box office total for Piven.
Tom Guiry, “Staff Sgt. Ed Yurek”
Box Office: $388,375*
Guiry is a chalk leader in BHD, where he’s unrecognizable from his only other well-known role, the kid-classic “The Sandlot.” I just hope that when he “fired” his weapon on set, his intended target always yelled, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”
(*the record price paid for a Babe Ruth autographed baseball)
Sam Shepard, “General William Garrison”
Box Office: unavailable
Look, I’ve covered Sam Shepard.
Ty Burrell, “Tech. Sgt. Tim Wilkinson”
Box Office*: $698,000,000
Oh, it’s the guy who: hasn’t been funny since Season 2.
In late 1998, about when BHD came out as a book, I was a trainee at the Pararescue Indoctrination course in San Antonio – a ‘cone’ as you’re called before graduating – when Wilkinson visited. Our class knew Wilkinson as one of two Air Force PJs that fast-roped into the heart of the fighting. He gave our class a great pep talk about sticking together and, even more impressively, jumped into our training for a day. That night, our class went out for a team dinner at an Outback. Wilkinson and two of our instructors were there. After eating, we tried to sneak out but the instructors caught us and put us through several sets of feet-up pushups in the parking lot as confused diners looked on. As we knocked them out, I remember seeing Wilkinson with his arms folded, laughing his ass off.
I tell this story here to distract you from noticing that one of the most decorated PJs in history is played by the dad from “Modern Family.”
*guess-timate of Modern Family’s total ad and syndication revenue
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “SFC Gary Gordon”
Box Office: $560,000,000*
Oh, it’s: Cersei’s Bro With Benefits.
Waldau plays Gary Gordon, one of two Delta soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor for volunteering to be dropped on a crash site to defend an injured crew. Both were killed in the firefight. And now he’s the Kingslayer. That’s about as badass as a “That Guy” gets.
(*we used the total revenue Game of Thrones effect on HBO in subscriptions, DVD sales and rights fees).