The Badassification of Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Once I saw a picture of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I decided I would just stop ever trying to be cool because I knew I would never best him. Yeah, that’s why I’m not cool, I stopped trying because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. That’s the story I’m gonna stick with.

And he is cool. I think he might be the coolest working actor at the moment, the heir apparent to Brando, maybe. JGL–as I often refer to him–is one of our greatest modern badasses. JGL embodies that very specific niche of cooldom called “badassocity,” the genre of cool that most dudes want to achieve. Sure, girls can be badass too, and often are, but most girls don’t have the burning desire to be badass that guys do. JGL is living the badass dream.

But he wasn’t always badass. He’s always been a talented actor, sure, and he’s been funny for awhile. And yeah, he’s been “OMG sooooo dreamy” for most of his career. But JGL is a gradual badass, kind of like a Pokemon who evolves from a kid who believes in angels to an awesome dream heistman.

I won’t go into the specific socio-cultural definition of badass, the meaning of what it is to be a true badass, or any analysis of what differentiates a badass from a regular cool person—I’ll save that for my thesis for my Ph.D in badass studies—this is just a simple timeline of the gradual rise from lovable goofball to badass of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And you can trust me because I theoretically have a future Ph.D in badass studies.

Let’s start off at his current apex of badass then go back in time to see the seeds in his past.

I am going to ignore the many fine small independent films JGL was in and focus on the big widely-viewed Hollywood stuff, just cover his most popular appearances, because it is mainstream cinema that sculpts our view of a performer in the canon. Yeah, that sounds good.

2012: “The Dark Knight Rises”: In this climactic series-ender JGL plays a Gotham City police officer. How badass do you have to be to be a cop in a city where there are criminal masterminds dressed as clowns (RIP!) running around, the mob runs everything, and a billionaire vigilante dressed as a bat is trying to do your job for you? That was a rhetorical question; the answer is very, very. Very, very badass.

2011: “50/50″: Oh, not that much, he just BEATS CANCER WITH HIS BARE HANDS. Badass.

2010: “Inception”: He gets in like a crazy upside down hallway fight. He is a memory thief mercenary. He chills hardcore with Leo. He’s also totally non-chalant about all the crazy things that happen, it could be because it’s a dream and not endangering him in real life, but its still pretty cool to go in someone’s dreams and get in a crazy battle then be like, “Whatever, I’ll just make out with Ellen Page now.” Badass.

2009 “(500) Days of Summer”: It’s hard to be badass in a romcom, but JGL pulls it off. Badasses can fall in love. In 500DOS, JGL feels nothing but love, lust, heartbreak, and despair. Of course, despair and heartbreak cause brooding, and brooding is badass. Therefore getting dumped is cool. Right?

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  • Clarissa Nicole

    Hahaha! This article is awesome. He’s always been a bad ass. I can’t wait to see more in his next movie with BRUCE WILLIS!

    • Carrie Jones

      I so loved him as officer BLAKE.. Completely wonderful on screen.. Cannot wait to see him in Looper, GI Joe and any other future films…

  • Evie Totty


    You mean can’t wait to see him MORE badass in Looper with BRUCE WILLIS

    and Sean: you forgot he was Cobra Commander in GI Joe :)

  • Alex Vallejo

    HESHER, that was his ULTIMATE bad ass role. I know it’s an obscure movie but WOW, his performance in that was just WOW!

    • Erica Mason

      Seconded. Hesher was totally bonkers.

    • Amanda Dodson

      agreed……SO glad someone mentioned it.

    • Lizz Long

      Hesher! Badass, misunderstood, and yet somehow, he taught that little kid something about life.

    • Zelina Garza

      I was totally going to say that . I loved that film

    • Laura Keeran

      Exactly what I was thinking! And I completely agree with you on that.

  • Jenna J Rolle

    Nothing further need be said.

  • Tara Lantis

    I was upset when I first started to read this, because he gas always been badass. In so many ways. He is an amazing person all around. A man of many talents. :)

  • Tara Lantis

    *clears throat* unlike my typing…. Has*

  • Peter Paul

    When I saw what the opportunities he creates for artists in hitRECORD, that’s when I realized “I want to work with this Badass!”

  • Brian Walton

    You forgot The Lookout. He was a badass in The Lookout too.

  • Tammy McEnery-Smith

    You didn’t list Manic…Totally of of my fav. JGL movies. Total badass!!!

    • Jamie Barnett

      I was thinking the same thing, that one’s my fave too! And Zooey D. is in that one with him… =o)

  • Lizz Long

    You forgot that he used to hang with Roseanne when he was eight-ish. Bad. Ass.

  • Crystal Perez

    I fell in love with him in Manic/Brick. Annnnd Mysterious skin. Omnomnom

  • Sheri Brannan

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt is super awesome, super dreamy, and definitely super badass!

  • Gretchen Daria Leavenworth-Keenberg

    You forgot to mention the movie Hesher. His level of “baddassness” in that movie tops them all, check it out~

  • Ken Scroggins

    Apparently, COBRA COMMANDER is not badass enough for some people.

  • Briony Skerjance

    haha I love this article. JGL is one of my favorite actors. I am convinced he can play any role.

  • Trevor Greenbank

    if you want to increase your badassocity, you probably should leave out pokemon references.

  • Alysha Robertson

    I have always had a crush on him! Only reason I watched 3rd rock from the sun, other than it being a great show. :) love him and his baddassocity!

  • Tiffany Sims

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  • Alexandra Mercogliano

    Not a lot of people caught this at the end of The Dark Knight Rises but Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s first name is Robin. Gordon-Levitt as Robin, Batman’s trusty sidekick makes him even more badass. Sadly we probably won’t get to see him in a sexy costume unless he’s going to be in The Justice League movie. Sorry for a spoiler!

    • Angelia Jones

      I’m sure most people caught that. Besides the fact that we will never know what his character is going to evolve into because Nolan’s series is over. He would not be Robin. I believe Nolan just threw that in for a bit of fun. Because there can’t be a Robin without a Batman…and as Bruce Wayne is no longer Batman, JGL’s character would most likely become the new Batman. And because Robin’s name isn’t Robin, it’s Dick Greyson.

    • Angelia Jones

      Also I think the reason they threw in the Robin thing was not to say JGL is going to be Robin but to show the connection between Blake and Batman is similar to Batman and Robin and to show the parallels between Robin (Dick Greyson) and Blake…Blake is essentially Batman’s sidekick throughout Dark Knight Rises and he’s also an orphan. And it’s clear that Bruce Wayne sees much of himself in Blake and has given him the tools to become Batman.

  • Tiffany Sims

    Uh I first off have to thank you for this awesome article for I’ve always loved JGL and grew up watching him too!!! I was never much of an Angels in the Outfield gal, for I preferred Rookie of the Year, but I first noticed him in the very silly but still awesome movie “Holy Matrimony” where the then 12 yr old Amish character played by JGL, marries Parricia Arquette’s character who was about 20something years old at the time. He more than held his own, obviously due to his badassness. Then of course watched him evolve into a TV star and heart-throb thanks to being on 3rd Rock from the Sun, again co-starring with comedic veteran Jane Cutain and the amazingly talented John Lithgow. Badassness!!! Then when I thought he might be subjected to the shadow of being a child and teen star, he went off to study French at Columbia University!!! He speaks fluent French!!! Sexy Badassness!!! Then in the early 2000s he dabbled in the indie film market to obviously redefine himself as an actor and let his teen stardom dimmer which eventually morphed into buzz about his critically acclaimed work in Manic, Mysterious Skin, Brick and my ultimate favorite The Lookout!!!! Badassness was already there for me but him in The Lookout only solidified for me by then. And then of course his indie cred Badassness turned into the mega box office star he is today with films like 500 DOS, GI Joe and then of course Inception. JGL’s Badassness is her to stay!!!!

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