BRONSON This image would be even cooler if it was a still from Star Trek: Nemesis.

TOM HARDY STEPPED into the world of film already on the precipice of blowing up. And next year—as supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises—he will. It is inevitable. This week's Warrior (see our review, this issue) is but one more step toward that outcome, and unlike a lot of so-called "movie stars" in the 21st century, Hardy has the talent—and the shoulders—to carry that weight.

That first step was a shaky one: Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) is easily one of the worst of that series, but that has nothing to do with a skinny, pouting Hardy as Shinzon, a sexy Picard clone. Patrick Stewart delivered a bored, confused performance, while Hardy put in the work—and thusly out-Picarded Jean-Luc Picard.

Hardy had a much smaller role in Layer Cake (2004), but had to share his limited screen time with Daniel Craig in Craig's de-facto tryout for James Bond. Hardy not only held his own, he made it hard for some viewers to figure out which piercing piece of British beefcake they were supposed to be staring at. That says something about Hardy's presence, considering Craig got 90 percent of the lines.

A few years later, Hardy got his own de-facto tryout for James Bond in 2010's Inception, the film that finally got most American audiences to notice him. The fancy-pants man-of-action who advocated dreaming a little bigger (darling), Hardy was one of two James Bond stand-ins: Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a little more Timothy Dalton, while Hardy was like a cross between Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore.

But what likely got him Inception was his leading role in Nicolas Winding Refn's tour-de-force Bronson (2008), about British career criminal Michael Peterson, who legally changed his name to Charles Bronson because he loved kicking ass so much. In fact, Refn's Bronson is the best film I've ever seen about art and the madness of following your muse, exploring those notions via Hardy's brutally insane Bronson, whose frequent pulpings become a legitimate art form through both Refn's skill as a director and Hardy's humanity as an actor.