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1. Dirty Dancing: The Last Dance of the Season.
Patrick Swayze began his career as a straight-up hoofer, dancing in Disney on Parade and Broadway’s Grease. In his break-out performance as Baby's (Jennifer Grey) dance instructor in Dirty Dancing, Swayze manages to make dancing seem downright dangerous – a gateway drug to sex and self-awareness. In the final scene, after Johnny has been fired from his job and is presumably gone for good, he swaggers back into the Catskills resort with those six immortal words – "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" – and leads an exuberant final dance to "Time Of My Life," which magically resolves everyone's problems. Hokey? Sure. But to this day, Johnny Castle (the first of Swayze’s many awesomely improbable character names) remains one of film's most compelling bad boys.
2. Road House: “Be Nice.”
Swayze went the action-star route in 1989’s Road House, playing a notoriously dangerous bouncer who's hired to keep the peace at a seedy Midwestern club. But Dalton is not just any bouncer – he's a bouncer with a philosophy degree from NYU ("Man's search for faith. That sort of shit."), meaning he punctuates his ass-kickings with meditative statements like "Pain don’t hurt." While Swayze does get to rip a guy's throat out with his bare hands, his finest moment in the film is his instructional monologue to the club’s other bouncers: "All you have to do is follow three simple rules. One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nice."
3. Ghost: Unchained Melody.
Patrick Swayze re-established his romantic-lead cred in the supernatural romance Ghost, playing Demi Moore's murdered lover. No dancing and little fighting in this one, but Swayze does get to flex his muscles in one of cinema's greatest love scenes: putting the Righteous Brothers on the stereo and seducing his wife at her pottery wheel. Ghost may be Swayze’s finest career performance, as he maneuvers the film through its unlikely balance of comedy, thriller and romance.
4. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar: “Some men need to be hit back.”
Given his talent at mixing toughness with vulnerability, playing a woman is less of a stretch for Patrick Swayze than it might seem. As the mother-hen of a drag queen trio, Swayze’s Vida Boheme (see what we mean about the names?) gets all the best lines, like the classic pep talk she gives aspiring drag queen John Leguizamo ("You will start off a mere boy in a dress…"). But you can't beat the moment when Vida turns the tables on a friend's abusive husband, starting with a girlish slap, ending with a flat-out kick to the curb – all without wrinkling her nightgown.
5. Point Break: The Once-in-a-Lifetime Wave.
Swayze is at his scruffiest in this cult classic, playing Bodhi, a charismatic surfer who may also be masterminding a series of bank robberies. Like Dalton in Road House, Bodhi (short for Boddhisattva – he's a Buddhist, see?) is prone to philosophical musings, mostly centered around thrill-seeking ("Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true"). Swayze's crazy-eyed performance makes him a perfect foil to stiff-as-a-board Keanu Reeves, the undercover cop who becomes drawn into Bodhi's lifestyle while investigating him. In the film's finale, Swayze has one of the most dramatic exits this side of Thelma and Louise: an awesome ending worthy of an awesome actor.