The rank of Major is one often overlooked in works of fiction. It is neither quite as cool as 'Colonel', nor does it have the same ring as 'Captain', and so for the most part is an ignored rank. But occasionally a character comes along, who happens to hold that rank, and do so while being a major Badass. This trope covers those people.
Major is the junior-most field rank there is. This means that, while a Major can be bossed around by higher-ranked officers, they also have the most room to grow. This makes them ideal protagonists. Among field officers, a Colonel Badass may be more of a leader and authority figure, but it's the Major who gets his hands dirty, shows what he's really made of, faces the music head on—and is affected by the consequences.
Therefore, while a certain amount of Badass is almost expected from higher ranks (that's why they got promoted, after all), Majors will likely take levels as the plot moves along, paving the way with Moments Of Awesome, and becoming leaders in their own right.
If we're talking about naval officers, the equivalent in rank and awesomeness would be a Lieutenant Commander. For Authority Tropes in general, the next step down is arguably Dean Bitterman. The next step up is Colonel Badass.
In various Japanese media involving pilots or an air wing, invariably the senior pilot will be a Major or a Lieutenant Commander; due to the IJN's heavy reliance on enlisted pilots, it was common for a carrier's air wing to be commanded by a Lieutenant Commander, as opposed to a full-bird Captain in the US Navy.
Anime and Manga
- Majors Elric and Armstrong in Fullmetal Alchemist.
- Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell.
- The Major from Hellsing.
- An interesting case in that, while he is not physically imposing or even skilled at combat, he becomes awesome through his sheer tactical brilliance, awesome speeches, and Magnificent Bastard status. For that reason, he's one of the most memorable things about the series!
- Major (formerly Captain) Misato Katsuragi from Neon Genesis Evangelion is pretty badass when she isn't drowning her sorrows.
- Lieutenant Commander Roy Fokker, Commander Air Group of the SDF-1 Macross air wing.
- Lieutenant Commander Mu la Flaga, from Gundam Seed.
Film - Live Action
- Major Chip Hazard from Small Soldiers, even though he's a toy. The guy's literally programmed to be one of these. That, and he's voiced by Tommy Lee Jones.
- Major Payne, though in this case his Badass status is Played for Laughs.
- Major "Dutch" Schaeffer of Predator.
- Chuck Norris' character in the first Delta Force movie.
- Major Reisman in The Dirty Dozen(pictured above).
- T.E. Lawrence is promoted from lieutenant to major in charge of leading the Arab guerilla forces against the Turks after successfully taking Turkish-held Aqaba in Lawrence of Arabia.
- Nobody knows the first name of Major ______ de Coverly because he's such a Memetic Badass that nobody dares to ask.
- Subverted by Major Major Major Major, in the same book, who is fairly incompetent and was promoted to major because a machine thought it would be funny that someone whose name was "Major Major Major" be ranked as a Major.
- Major Rawne from Gaunt's Ghosts.
- Sharpe: Sharpe becomes a Major in Sharpe's Enemy.
- Anytime a Long Patrol major shows up in Redwall.
- The Major from Daemon may be a Complete Monster but he is objectively pretty badass.
- Major Grodin Tierce spends most of his on-page time strategizing and trying to make the Big Bad Triumvirate hold together, but he does have a few very memorable action moments - and some of that strategy was damned impressive, too.
- In Rats Bats and Vats, the two competent officers end up promoted to major.
- Major John Casey for Season 1 and most of Season 2 of Chuck. He was promoted to colonel in the episode "Chuck vs. the Colonel".
- Major Hochstetter from Hogan's Heroes, at least from the bad guys' POV. Klink (Colonel) and Burkhalter (General) both outrank Hochstetter but act completely subservient to the man. But then Hochstetter was SS and those two were regular German army.
- Major Charles Emerson Winchester III from MASH might be a stuffed shirt and a bit of a prig, but in the operating room he was generally considered a medical Badass. Hawkeye once even acknowledged (though not to the man's face) that Winchester was the most talented surgeon at the 4077.
- Major Margaret Houlihan, also of MASH , was a Nursing Badass throughout—even in the beginning of the series, when she was almost a Battleaxe Nurse, no one ever questioned her competence. Her fellow Major Frank Burns, on the other hand, was a total aversion of this trope.
- Major Kira Nerys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Though she does get promoted to Colonel towards the end of the show's run, becoming a Colonel Badass.
- Major Briggs from Twin Peaks.
- Samantha Carter is a Major for most of her time on Stargate SG-1.
- Major John Sheppard in Season 1 of Stargate Atlantis. After his promotion, Major Evan Lorne takes up the role as his adjutant.
- Major Zod, Big Bad of Smallville's 9th Season.
- Though he does promote himself to General in the last few episodes of the season.
- BlazBlue's Jin Kisaragi is a Major of the NOL armed forces. Well, before the NOL tries to kill him off and he defects, anyway.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has Major Ocelot.
- Major Jackson "Jax" Briggs from Mortal Kombat.
- Major Burrows from Super Mario Galaxy. He's an evil mole (possibly working for Bowser) who hates rabbits, and is the boss of the "Gusty Garden Galaxy" level.
- The Agressors from Super Robot Wars Original Generation. They were the guys who invented mecha combat in that universe:
- Sanger Zomvolt, the Sword That Smites Evil!, the walking living embodiment of Badass;
- Elzam von Branstein, a genius pilot always hits, never misses and whose theme overrides all;
- Gilliam Jaeger, a dimension-hopping Intelligence Officer;
- And last but not least, Kai Kitamura, a Badass Normal Team Dad with an awesome 'stach, who regularly punches out Cthulhu using a mass-production mecha.
- Lieutenant Commander Shepard of the Systems Alliance Navy from Mass Effect. It's outright stated that s/he's an O-4 in the first game, but whether s/he remains Lieutenant Commander by the opening credits of Mass Effect 2 is not directly stated. It's likely that s/he would have been promoted to Staff Commander after what s/he did, which would place him/her in the next level of Badass.
- As of Mass Effect 3, Kaidan Alenko has been promoted to Major, and also lives up to the Officer and a Gentleman trope.
- Ashley Williams is also a Lieutenant Commander by game 3.
- Also promoted to Major as of Mass Effect 3 is Kirrahe.
- Remember "Big Ben" from the third game's first trailer? He turns up during the endgame as one of Anderson's right-hand soldiers, where we learn his name is Major Coates.
- Majors Strickland and Laurence Barnes from Crysis. Second name doesn't ring a bell? They call him... Prophet.
- Rosch from Radiant Historia.
- Major Smedley Darlington Butler was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor twice: once in 1914 during the Vera Cruz expedition, and once in 1915 during the Haitian rebellion. He later retired from the US Marine Corps as a Major General.
- He also have the distinction of being the only Badass in history to be named "Smedley". Did we mention that this man had a huge tattoo of the Marine Corps "eagle, globe, and anchor" symbol on his chest, starting at his throat and extending to his belly-button?
- Commandant Pat Quinlan (the Irish Army uses 'commandant' instead of 'major' for the rank) who commanded the Irish regiment at the Siege of Jadotville.
- Invoked by Nikita Khrushchev upon Yuri Gagarin, who was just a First Lieutenant when he was being hurled into space. Khrushchev decided that that rank was not awesome enough for the first man in space, so he forced an immediate promotion to Major against all military regulations by the time Gagarin landed.
- Major Richard D. Winters, a real-life Badass (though he'd be the last person to call himself that) and the man most people in E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division would cite as their inspiration. See Band of Brothers for more information.
- Major Pronin is a stock character from Russian Humour, first invented by the writer Lev Ovalov. His "hat" is getting into absurdly dangerous situations and badassly handling them.