Ranking All The Roles In Which Djimon Hounsou Plays A Henchman Or Sidekick Djimon Hounsou is handsome enough to have worked as a runway model and talented enough to have nabbed two Oscar nominations, for 2000's But is any other actor today as often used as living set dressing? In America and 2006's Blood Diamond.
Djimon Hounson in Seventh Son, via Universal Pictures
Hollywood has well-documented trouble putting actors of color in central roles, but Djimon Hounsou's career has been a continuing example of what happens when that failure is compounded by foreignness. Though Hounsou was born in Bénin, he's lived in the U.S. for the past 25 years and when he's not being cast as exotic, helpful warrior types, he's frequently playing exotic, menacing lackeys. Blame the industry's dire lack of imagination (something
Hounsou's well aware of).
So, here's a ranking of the sidekicks and henchmen Hounsou's played to date, including his most recent one in
Seventh Son, which is currently in theaters. And here's hoping we can one day rank his starring roles.
Henchman or sidekick? Henchman to Ra (Jaye Davidson), who, as far as bosses go, is kind of a hardass. Sample line: "We looked everywhere. Some kids are helping them."
That's Hounsou's only line in the Roland Emmerich movie that would launch a franchise. As small as his part was (it was also one of his earliest), it also neatly foreshadowed the type in which he'd frequently be cast.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Alex Bailey/Paramount Pictures
Henchman or sidekick? Sidekick to Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), who calls on him when she heads to Tanzania to find whatever it is this movie's about. Sample line: "Do you ever do anything the easy way?"
Kosa gets the dubious honor of being Lara Croft's African Friend, a plot device to serve as evidence of her cosmopolitan, well-traveled ways. He helps her out as a translator, and then gets captured, along with everyone else, when the baddies arrive. The shameless thinness of Hounsou's role here is mitigated only slightly by the fact that this entire globe-trotting sequel treats the countries it visits (and the people in them) as fab backdrops for Lara's action stylings and opportunities to show off her wide-ranging designer wardrobe for all climates.
Deep Rising (1998)
Mill Creek Entertainment
Henchman or sidekick? Henchman to Hanover (Wes Studi), whose team of trained mercenaries aims to rob a luxury cruise ship before a deadly sea monster gets in the way. Sample line: "I thought you liked to blow things up." "I do."
As Vivo, Hounsou mostly stands around looking tough, but he makes the most of a light moment relishing what he thinks is going to be a major payday. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out as well as the character hoped.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Henchman or sidekick? Rebel leader who gets to serve as one of several plot accessory sidekicks to boy band-ish teen dragon rider Eragon (Edward Speleers). Sample line: "There's no retreat from here, nowhere else to hide. Suspicion has kept us alive all these years."
Christopher Paolini's best-selling novel was famously written when the author was a teenager, and the movie adaptation was infamously derided as being derivative fantasy gibberish. Hounsou's role here is noteworthy mainly for the placement of his hairline and how utterly bored he and fellow cast member Jeremy Irons look.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Henchman or sidekick? Henchman to German con man Prosit (Eddie Izzard). Sample line: "I prayed to god to give me the strength to make it back… so I could kill you."
Hounsou has a negligible role in Jan Kounen's very odd Euro Western, loosely based on the Moebius comic
Blueberry. But his character, Woodhead, does get an unforgettable scene in which he reveals what it means to survive a scalping, in gory detail.
Seventh Son (2014)
Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures
Henchman or sidekick? Henchman to witch queen Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). Sample line: "You know nothing of dragons!"
Radu is the character that inspired this post, and he is all over the place. He's the big bad's most formidable lieutenant, leading a group of easily disposed assassins while wearing an incredibly pointy leather jacket and packing axe heads on chains in his sleeves. Also, he can transform into some sort of lizardish dragon, which makes you wonder why he bothered to get into the assassin-king business in the first place? (Better to pick one evil talent and hone it, Radu!) But this recent fantasy flop is such a jumbled mess that Radu's villainous dilettantism isn't anywhere near the most random element — and he does get a sizable showdown with Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges).
Henchman or sidekick? A random terrorist who gets sucked into serving as a de facto henchman to main baddie Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Sample line: “Give us the girl, and I'll let you live.”
Hounsou's recent entrance into the
Fast and Furious franchise was such a typical role for the actor that it's a wonder the character wasn't just named "Djimon Hounsou." Jakande is a mercenary who's kidnapped hacker and God's Eye creator Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) for Reasons. But he's blatantly there to keep the rest of the ensemble busy while Dom (Vin Diesel) focuses on Shaw. He has no motivation other than chasing the movie's big MacGuffin — but he at least gets a cool entrance and a chance to terrorize Los Angeles in a missile-bearing helicopter. And hey, Fast and Furious!
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Henchman or sidekick? Henchman to Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Sample line: " Who?"
The role of the tracker Korath the Pursuer is a minor one in James Gunn's joyous Marvel hit, but it earned extra prominence thanks to the fact that the moment when Korath fails to recognize Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) nickname of choice earned major trailer placement. (The movie very satisfyingly brings that bit back around.) It's an otherwise fun but interchangeable Djimon-Hounsou-looks-badass part that's made both sweeter and sadder by the
anecdote Hounsou's shared at Comic-Con 2013: He wanted to bring diversity to the Marvel Universe after his four-year-old son told him, "Dad, I want to be light-skinned so I could be Spider-Man. Spider-Man has light skin."
David James/Warner Bros.
Henchman or sidekick? While he starts off more neutral, witch doctor-turned-supernatural club owner Papa Midnite eventually comes round to assisting Keanu Reeves' eponymous occult detective. Sample line: "I thought I heard thunder last night. Must have been Satan’s stomach growling. You’re the one soul he’d come up here himself to collect."
Midnite earns a high spot on this list for the intriguing suggestions of backstory before he committed himself to keeping bar and not taking sides in the grand battle between Heaven and Hell. He's not written as if he's been sitting around waiting for an eventual opportunity to help John Constantine out, and he has a nifty trick involving a sort of weaponized psychic surgery. Plus, in a movie that has surprisingly good taste in clothing, Midnite's '70s-inspired duds manage to be some of the coolest.
The Four Feathers (2002)
Paramount Home Video
Henchman or sidekick? Sidekick to Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger), who travels to Sudan to redeem himself and save his friends after he's shunned for cowardice. Sample line: "I found you half-dead, crossing the desert alone, and you say you are afraid?"
Part formidable guardian angel, part gruff life coach, Hounsou's Abou Fatma first offers to assist Harry for money, and then ends up helping him out of friendship too, won over by Harry's determination to come to the rescue of his pals. That Abou Fatma ends up suffering for his assistance by getting whipped by some of the men Harry wants to help only delineates Harry's status as a good Englishman versus his more ignorant, arrogant colonial cohorts.
The Four Feathers is a revisionist take on a 1902 novel that's been adapted to screen several times, but it never feel revisionist enough. That's never more clear than when Hounsou first saunters on screen to aid the white hero in his quest for self-actualization, and eventually saunters back off — it's evident that the story should really have been about Abou Fatma all along.
The Tempest (2010/I)
Melinda Sue Gordon/Touchstone Pictures
Henchman or sidekick? Reluctant, rebellious henchman to Prospera (Helen Mirren). Sample line: "This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou takest from me."
Julie Taymor's second big screen Shakespeare adaptation may be more ambitious than it is successful. But, in addition to the twist of gender flipping the main character and casting Helen Mirren as Prospera, the movie manages a kind of metatextual commentary on Hounsou's career in having him play resentful slave Caliban, one of literature's iconic "others." Ironically, this turns out to be a role in which Hounsou's physicality works better than his performance — never comfortable with the verse, he also plays Caliban very broadly, an approach that only works some of the time. But he cuts a striking figure as visualized by Taymor, and his final scene with Mirren, conducted in uneasy silence, is the film's best.
DreamWorks Home Entertainment
Henchman or sidekick? Sidekick to Maximus (Russell Crowe), who befriends him after the two are sold into Proximo's (Oliver Reed) gladiator training academy. Sample line: "You’ll meet them again. But not yet... not yet."
Housou's role as the Numidian Juba in Ridley Scott's brawny Best Picture winner is his most classic and perhaps most stereotypical sidekick role, but it's also, admittedly, his most memorable. Scott is good at portraying how bonds form between men who are better with action than words, and the trust that builds between Maximus and Juba is sketched out with elegant efficiency, with the two men sharing moments of understanding over the families they hope to see again. If Juba's around more as Maximus' loyal helpmate and pep-talker rather than as a character in his own right, the pair's friendship has some genuine heft to it, and Juba gets extra points for nabbing the film's nifty last line.
This ranking has been updated to include
Furious 7. TV and Movies
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