10 Times Danny Trejo Was Terrifying On the Big Screen

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We all know who Danny Trejo is — the Los Angeles-born actor who has slashed his way to the top of Hollywood’s badass list — which means we’re all kind of scared of Danny Trejo. But over his 30+ year career, Trejo has added dimensions to the “silent but deadly” type he’s so often been called on to play. We put together a list of movies that feature Trejo at his scariest (and/or toughest), and learned that the most frightening thing about him is the fact that at 70 years old, he might be even more chingón than he was when he started in the business. Here are the 10 roles that give us nightmares.



Director: Robert Rodriguez
Year: 1995

Though Trejo had already played dozens of lower level henchmen types, it’s safe to say he hit the mainstream with this sequel to El Mariachi. Trejo played Navajas, a Colombian assassin contracted to kill Antonio Banderas’ Mariachi. He’s impassive and seemingly impervious as he kills The American (Steve Buscemi) and seriously wounds El Mariachi. Unfortunately, he falls victim to the cartel’s other hired killers, but we’ll never forget the fact that he brought knives to a gunfight, and almost won.



Director: Michael Mann
Year: 1995

Can we take a second to acknowledge that in a movie starring The Godfather and Batman (Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer, respectively), Danny Trejo’s character is named after Danny Trejo? And that he holds his own as the brawn of De Niro’s bank-robbing crew against the likes of Tom Sizemore and Ted Levine? Because we think that’s pretty badass.


Razor Charlie aka The Undead Bartender

From Dusk Till Dawn
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Year: 1996

Brace yourselves because there are multiple Trejo-Rodriguez collabos on this list. This second entry has a more comedic bent, so the usually stone-faced actor actually gets some lines. But don’t let the quips fool you; there’s a whole different side to this bartender once night falls. Trejo reprised this role in a couple of direct-to-video releases, hence the character’s “alias.”


Vargas Diaz

All Souls Day: Dia de los Muertos
Director: Jeremy Kasten
Year: 2005

Trejo took time off from playing assassins and vampires to star in that other Robert Rodriguez franchise, Spy Kids, so we’ll cut to 2005, when he played an immortal in All Souls Day. Set in a small Mexican town, the movie begins with the discovery of an Aztec temple in the 1890s that unearths more than just ancient ruins. As Vargas Diaz, Trejo sacrifices a whole town for his greed — and that’s just in the first 15 minutes.



Director: Nimród Antal
Year: 2010

And we’re back to weapon-related names for Trejo’s characters: here he plays Cuchillo, a Mexican drug cartel enforcer (read: killer) who ends up in an interspecies Battle Royale-style fight in the middle of a jungle. The Predator aliens, who hunt and travel the galaxy, have hand picked Cuchillo and others in search of the ultimate opponent.


Machete Cortez

Director: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez
Year: 2010

Were Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez so scared of Danny Trejo that they gave him his own franchise? Probably not (Rodriguez is his second cousin), but they did recognize his leading man potential and created the role of Machete Cortez, an ex-Federale who’s been double-crossed by just about everyone. He kills a whole lotta people while remaining the good guy: he works with an ICE Agent (Jessica Alba) and a justice fighter (Michelle Rodriguez) to help undocumented immigrants.


Frank Vega

Bad Ass
Director: Craig Moss
Year: 2012

Trejo makes excellent use of his quiet reserve as Frank Vega, a down-and-out veteran who becomes Internet-famous after teaching some punks a lesson on a bus. His neighbors hold him up as a symbol of resistance against crime and corruption, and pretty soon Frank is taking on much bigger foes, including a mayor. There are two sequels to Bad Ass, including Bad Asses with Danny Glover (it turns out he’s not too old for this shit.)


Machete Cortez

Machete Kills
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Year: 2013

Machete rides and kills again in this sequel that goes a little off the deep end with a plot that involves Charlie Sheen as the president, Mel Gibson as a Star Wars-obsessed villain, and a shape-shifting assassin. Oh, and clones. Trejo once again proves he can command a film by remaining placid in the face of all these “wacky” developments, and putting bodies in the ground.


Father Jesús

Zombie Hunter
Director: K. King
Year: 2013

Somehow, Trejo is NOT the titular Zombie Hunter, but he is one of the good guys (Machete really turned his movie life around). He plays Father Jesús, a quasi-clergyman who battles the undead (well, mutated) while doling out lines like, “There is a hell — and you’re in it.” Bonus badass points: in one scene, he dismembers the biggest zombie we’ve ever seen.



20 Ft Below: The Darkness Descending
Director: Marc Clebanoff
Year: 2014

In 2014 we saw the return of Danny Trejo as the bad guy: he stars in 20 Ft Below as Angel, the overlord of an underworld that makes up New York City’s tunnel system. But just like another angel (Lucifer), he has dreams of ruling from above.


And to end this list, as an homage to Danny Trejo’s vast filmography, here is every time our favorite movie bad guy died in a film.