Turns out, it takes balls to put on a tutu.
As the third most memorable part of Die Hard (after Alan Rickman’s baddie-defining portrayal of über-dick Hans Gruber, and Bruce Willis’ feet, respectively), it might surprise people to know that nigh-indestructible henchman Karl was, in fact, a premier danseur in the Bolshoi Ballet. A hugely respected ballet dancer (just look how precise his kicks to Bruce’s face are in the above video!), he clearly deserves a place on this list just for his role in Die Hard and, to some extent, his role as supreme douchebag “The Maestro” in Tom Hanks vehicle The Money Pit. But there’s more! Funnily enough, there weren’t an awful lot of Russians in Hollywood in the 1980s, due to a little thing called the Soviet Union, which liked to keep its citizens inside its borders, lining up for shoes, or potatoes (or, of course, the ever-popular potato-shoe). Demonstrating his supreme badassery, Godunov managed to defect in 1979 while touring in New York City, losing his wife – a soloist with the company – in the process, as she returned to the Motherland without him, resulting in a divorce. Tragically, his time in America was short-lived, and he died of a combination of hepatitis and alcohol abuse in 1995. We will remember him every time we see a Twinkie-addicted cop shoot someone five times in the chest.
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“Defection, schmefection!” we hear you cry (we could be wrong, our ears need syringing). “That guy was just pretending to fight! A ballet dancer could never be a real-life ass-kicker!” Oh, ye of little faith (but curiously good timing with your fictional heckling). Meet Sarah Kaufman, who trained in ballet dancing from the age of two, but at 17 enrolled in an MMA school and, five years later, became the first-ever female champion for former MMA promotion TKO, by (appropriately) a TKO in the second round. A slew of wins followed at promotions like Hardcore Championship Fighting and Armageddon Fighting Championship before she debuted in Strikeforce in 2009, beating Miesha Tate by unanimous decision. Less than a year later, Kaufman became the first women’s bantamweight champ after defeating Takayo Hashi, holding the title for eight months before a loss to Marloes Coenen. Now fighting for the UFC, she’s got a solid record of ass-kickery that really belies her pointy-toed roots.
The Dirty Ballerina
This entry may not be an actual person, but it’s definitely messed up its fair share of humans. An obstacle on the infamous Tough Mudder race, it’s designed to test people’s ability to both jump and land precisely, a task made more difficult by the fact that each slim partition between freezing pools is covered with a slick of wet mud. We wanted to ask our editor in chief Dan Bova what his experience on this obstacle was like, but every time we bring up the time he competed in Tough Mudder, he bursts into tears and locks himself in the bathroom with a bottle of cooking sherry.
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Clearly, this is not a picture of Marina Lee, although we like to think our (very drunk) art department editors were not so far off in this attempt at depicting her. Pictures of the mysterious dancer seem not to exist, but we do know that she was a Russian who trained as a ballerina in Scandinavia, and who then began to work in German espionage in 1937. That’s right: This badass ballerina was a frickin’ Nazi spy. Instrumental in the fall of Norway to German forces in 1940 (after she stole battle plans from the British), she was never captured during the war, and was last seen by MI5 in Madrid, Spain, in 1947, using a Polish passport. Not content with having served the runners up in WWII, she is believed to have switched sides and worked for the KGB, because why work for just one huge, terrifying, sinister, murderous organization when you could work for two?
These Russian Tanks
Well, it doesn’t get much more badass than a tank. Well played, Russia. Well played.