5 Quick-Thinking Icons in Pop Culture

Kim Taylor-Foster
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Some of the most iconic characters in pop culture are those who think on their feet. They’re able to outsmart and out-maneuver their enemies because they’re prepared and they don’t hesitate. Here are five icons from film and TV who bowl us over with their impressive abilities.

Indiana Jones

When Steven Spielberg first introduced Indiana Jones to the world in 1981, he clearly knew that the character’s blend of intelligence, ego and swashbuckling style would be a winner. The success of his first adventure, Raiders of the Lost Ark, spawned two successful sequels in the same decade, followed by a fourth film – The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – when the character was resurrected in 2008.

You could pick any number of scenes throughout the franchise to illustrate the archaeology professor’s derring-do and lightning-fast impulses, but it’s his acquisition of the Golden Idol at the start of Raiders that is perhaps the most memorable. It’s certainly one of the saga’s most seminal scenes.

Not only does Indy outfox the booby traps he manages to trigger, using a combination of physical agility and mental litheness, he also contends with a double-crossing cohort. All of the greatest screen icons have a little bit of luck on their side, too – although maybe it’s true to say they make their own luck.

Of course, as he escapes the rolling boulder to make his way out of the cave, he’s faced with an arguably more dangerous prospect – Paul Freeman’s Belloq and a tribe of men armed with spears, and bows and arrows.

He sees his tiny window of opportunity and makes a run for it, while Belloq sets his men after him. Knowing there’s an aircraft waiting for him on the other side of the forest, he makes a beeline for it, yelling for the pilot to start the engines. Swinging across on a vine, he lands in the water and swims for the plane, clinging on then climbing in just as it takes off.

John Wick

When we first see John Wick, he’s a grieving widower. The audience’s heartstrings are tugged when his wife sends him a puppy as a gift from beyond the grave – which arrives with a handwritten note from her explaining that the dog is because he needs something to love. She wills him to find his peace, as she has now found hers.

After the puppy is killed by Russian gangsters who break in to steal his car, it transpires that Wick is, in fact, a feared and dangerous man – a former assassin who gave it up to be with the woman he loved.

As the first film unfolds, we learn that Wick is a “man of focus, commitment, sheer will” – qualities that go some way to explaining why he’s survived to make it to the other side of his shady industry. Mobster Viggo Tarasov explains all this to his son Iosef by way of making him understand why stealing Wick’s car and killing his puppy was a grave mistake. “I once saw him kill three men in a bar with a pencil,” he says.

Wick is also a man who prepares. While Viggo talks, the film cuts to Wick breaking up concrete in his basement to reveal a cache of weapons.

Viggo consequently sends a team to kill him – but Wick proves he’s always one step ahead and is lying in wait. He dispatches them coldly, and with ease, easily second-guessing his attackers. A new action hero was born.

John Rambo

When John Rambo first appeared on screens, he made a massive impact. First Blood was not only notorious for its violence and body count but also the character’s lack of dialogue. There’s little doubt that Rambo’s reluctance to speak allowed him to sharpen his other senses; to size people up and judge situations without the small matter of conversation or thinking about what to say next getting in the way.

In the police station scene from First Blood, we get an early glimpse of Rambo’s capabilities. As three police officers manhandle and mistreat him, he draws on his past experiences – albeit traumatic ones – to get him out of the spot he’s currently in. Scenes of his time in Viet Nam are shown in flashback as a police officer prepares to shave him.

He’s clearly aware that if he stops giving them what they want – if he stops struggling – he’ll open up the small opportunity he needs to out-smart, over-power and out-maneuver these crooked cops to get away. Once the officer that’s restraining him drops his guard, John Rambo seizes his chance.

He doesn’t panic, he isn’t afraid, he doesn’t pause – he knows exactly how to react and he makes his escape.

Daryl Dixon

Daryl Dixon is one of the most popular – and most resourceful – characters in TV’s The Walking Dead. Having been imprisoned by the twisted Negan for the majority of the first half of Season 7, he’s occasionally shown us signs that he’s been biding his time, waiting for the right moment to make a break for it.

Despite the beatings he’s taken and the torture he’s endured, Daryl’s spirit has never been broken. He’s kept his wits about him and spent his time sizing up his environment, judging his captors and assessing the comings and goings of the people at the compound.

When he finally gets his chance to run, he’s clever. He changes his clothes so he’s not instantly recognisable as a prisoner and he gets some sustenance in his system – in the form of a jar of peanut butter he finds.

Once outside, he heads straight for his motorbike. He knows where he’s going. Fat Joey chances upon him and despite Joey pleading for his life, and saying he won’t try to stop him, Daryl has learned not to take chances. He promptly beats Joey to death with an iron bar. Perhaps Joey was trying to trick him, or perhaps Daryl has lost a part of his humanity – we’ll never know for sure. But it’s possible that had he not killed him, he would have lessened his chances of escape. Joey was certainly armed – an indication maybe that he was prepared to use it if he got the chance. Daryl takes Joey’s gun, and leaves with Jesus who has just turned up.

Daenerys Targaryen

Game of ThronesDaenerys Targaryen is another screen icon with a host of scenes to choose from to illustrate her prowess as a quick-thinking hero.

This badass queen’s integrity, strength and single-mindedness are never called into question. It’s her commitment to her cause and the loyalty that she inspires that get her out of a number of scrapes. She’s a great orator and knows what to do when the tide turns. With the right people on her side, nothing can stop her.

We first begin to see her as a force to be reckoned with when she tames the primal Khal Drogo, a man-beast twice her size, turning him from a rapist into a loving husband.

She never wavers in her belief in herself, taking control of civilisations as well as winning over the Dothraki. In the first episode of Season 6, she uses her silver tongue to talk her way out of captivity when she is handed over to Khal Moro. At an advantage because she knows the language, she uses her wiles to control her fear and drop in key information about her identity at the right moment. She is strong and steadfast, and proceeds to negotiate to get her way.

While on this occasion, things don’t go entirely to plan – she’s sent to live out her days with the other khal widows – she manages to get herself out of that situation too.

Apply the lessons of these quick-thinking icons to Halo Wars 2, the latest video game in the real-time strategy series launching on February 21 for Xbox One and Windows 10. Halo Wars 2 requires split-second decisions and constant shifts in battlefield plans in order to achieve victory.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.
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