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Romance Rumble: The best leading men

They laugh, they cry, they fly, they save the world from doom. They are leading men. Love Letters writer Meredith Goldstein and Globe film critic Ty Burr have chosen their favorite leading men in iconic films for our 3d annual Romance Rumble. Your job is to go to and vote. The winning film will be shown at Theatre 1 at the Revere Hotel on Feb. 25.

What makes a great leading man?

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Depends on where you’re coming from. He’s the guy you want to be or the guy you want to be with, and while Hollywood huffs and puffs and spits out endless new challengers, the true champs combine a surprisingly nuanced variation on basic hunkitude. They’re manly, not macho. They’re witty instead of comical. They’re confident without being cocky, vulnerable but not sappy. And, as befits a Valentine’s Day face-off, they need a leading lady to dazzle, confuse, and inspire them.

So no pec-rippling action heroes here; maybe for Labor Day. When Meredith and I cooked up separate lists of the best leading men in the movies — 16 great guys each, facing each other across the gym floor of a classic NCAA bracket system — we looked for that indescribable combination of rebel twinkle and stand-up reliability, of sweetness and smolder. The rest is up to you. Head over to, where we pit the actors and their iconic roles against each other. When the dust clears, one leading man will stand tall, and his winning film will play at Theatre 1 at the Revere Hotel on Feb. 25. Ladies and gentlemen, start your testosterone.

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