Explosions, big guns, sculpted muscles, cheesy one-liners and macho men being completely badass, what’s not to love about the action genre? It’s given us some of the most exciting films of all time and is the go-to genre for those looking to enjoy themselves at the theatre. It is also one of the few genres where the writing and acting doesn’t necessarily need to be strong. As long as audiences get the their adrenaline-fuelled roller-coaster ride, they’ll leave the theatre satisfied.
The staff here at We Got This Covered are no strangers to the genre, as we house a few obsessive action nuts of our own, so we thought it might be fun to pick everyone’s brain and collectively make a countdown of our favorite 100 action movies of all time, much like we did with the horror genre. We started by compiling as many favorites as possible into a massive collection, then narrowed that list down to 100, and then had everyone pick a Top 10 list which we used to create the the overall Top 10 for the countdown. The more times a movie appeared, the closer it got to a number one spot.
With that said, don’t take this as a be-all, end-all list, but instead a unique ranking of action films generated by this wonderful staff of ours. Will you agree? Will you disagree? Why don’t you check out the list and see!
Please note that this list does not contain any superhero/comic book films as we are working on a separate list for that genre.
Continue reading on the next page or click the buttons below to skip ahead.Next
Beginning life as a trailer in the Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse, Machete in some ways surpasses its beginnings. Intentionally lurid, it’s a tribute to Grindhouse films but also manages to stand on its own, not as a pastiche but as a deliberately campy action film.
Machete follows Danny Trejo as the title character, a Federale who is hired to assassinate a Texas senator … and is then betrayed and left for dead. Of course, he survives and goes out after his former boss.
The film makes use of a formidable cast: Trejo is great fun, but he’s got Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Robert de Niro, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin and, yes, Lindsay Lohan as a nun backing him up. The intentional campiness, the extreme violence and lines like ‘Machete don’t text’ keep the film from becoming too serious, too bloody or too … weird. It bends genre as only Rodriguez can, and really gets away with murder. Deliberately excessive, tongues reside firmly in cheeks here. I never thought I’d say this, but Lindsay Lohan was pretty cool.
99. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
For most people, discovering their spouse is a secret agent would come as quite a shock, but when it turns out you’re a secret agent as well, and their assignment is to kill you, well, that makes for an awesome action flick.
Of course, the film is driven by some great chemistry from the now perpetually engaged Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but the action sequences are as sharp as they are sexy. It’s a great love movie crossover, answering the question of what happens when love gets lethal in a way no normal romantic film could handle.
Director Doug Liman took what he learned working on Bourne and applied it to this film to provide a high adrenaline action extravaganza, one that is worthy of a spot on this list.
This 2010 action comedy was essentially an agreeably absurd, feature-length excuse to hand Helen Mirren a machine gun, but, if you think about it, there’s nothing really wrong with that.
RED follows a group of former black-ops CIA agents, designated Retired and Extremely Dangerous, who are forced back into action after their names land on a government hit list. Aside from Mirren, RED boasts such big-name stars such as Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfuss, and Mary Louise Parker.
It nothing else, the film deserves some serious credit for balancing great action sequences with a light, playful tone and absolutely killer dialogue, and for starting the most unlikely action franchise in Hollywood today.
Taken as an action movie, RED isn’t perfect. But taken as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to old-school shoot-em-ups, starring a group of Hollywood veterans who are in on the joke, RED is pretty darn satisfying, and absolutely deserves a place on this list.
97. Tears of the Sun
Tears of the Sun holds a special place in my heart, as it was actually the first R-rated film I went to on my own, despite not being 17.
Following the fad at the time, the film tells the story of an elite Navy SEAL team traveling to Nigeria during a civil war in order to rescue a U.S. citizen doctor before she is caught in the cross fire. The “lives of many for the chance to save one” theme was re-popularized with Saving Private Ryan a few years earlier and it carries through here.
The team is faced with an endless jungle, not knowing who might be friend or foe, and facing atrocities of ruthless warlords who are masters at murder and torture. One scene in particular, in which the women had their breasts cut off with a machete to prevent them from feeding future children still sticks with me to this day.
Although not the deepest or most original plot, Tears of the Sun keeps me on my toes throughout and reminded me that action doesn’t have to glorify war and violence to get its point across.
96. Patriot Games
Visceral and intense, this second film featuring Tom Clancy’s CIA Analyst Jack Ryan finds him foiling by happenstance an assassination attempt on British royalty, and as a result finding himself the target of Sean Bean’s personal vendetta over his brother felled in the melee.
Now played by Harrison Ford (having taken over from The Hunt for Red October’s Alec Baldwin), Jack faces a relentless, organized, well-supported foe the likes of which give his own considerable CIA resources a run for their money ~ and one having every intention of unleashing hell not only on Jack, but upon all he holds dear (Bean’s the closest thing to the Terminator that one’s likely to find in human form).
It’s a riveting, relentless debate sparked by international intrigue and politics packed with dazzling technology, but distilling powerfully into the unrestrained mortal combat of two individuals for the ultimate, most personal cause.
95. Clear and Present Danger
After being ensconced in the small, combustible worlds of submarines and personal vendettas (The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games, respectively), this time we meet Tom Clancy’s CIA Analyst Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) amid the sprawling intra and intermural machinations between a Mexican drug cartel and the highest levels of American government.
Upon discovering the unauthorized, amoral operation underway (via an award-worthy sequence that will leave you dazed), Jack sets about disrupting it ~ to the puppetmasters’ great chagrin (and Henry Czerny’s deliciously seething, “You are ssssuch a Boy Scout”).
The factions have already demonstrated admirable prowess with missile and military, now it’s time to see who can outsmart whom (as well as neutralize Ryan and his annoying new cohorts). Alternatively explosive and calculating, furious and chilling, nerve-jangling and passionate, callous and noble, this is an action film for the ages.
94. Hot Fuzz
Much like the rom-zom-com that Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost teamed-up on previously, Hot Fuzz isn’t one movie so much as three different ones stuffed together.
First, it’s a dry British comedy, then a small town murder mystery, and finally, a completely off the chain tribute to some of the greatest (ironically or otherwise) action movies ever made, from Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, to Point Break and Bad Boys II.
Starting with a classic oddball pairing of Pegg as the hard-nosed, by-the-book supercop Nicholas Angel, and Frost as his bumbling partner with something to prove, Hot Fuzz cheekily takes its time contrasting real world police work, and the utter insanity of how it’s portrayed in the movies.
Then, in its last act, the film makes reference and reverence to its new reality, leaving the paperwork back at the police station, and unleashing a spectacle that’s no mere cover band tribute to the classics. Nick and Danny taking on an entire township is inventive, funny, and just a whole lot of fun, all without sacrificing the film’s carefully modulated characters and tone by being unnecessarily violent.
True to their geek roots, Wright and company didn’t set out to make a cool action movie, just one that showed how much they love the genre as a whole, and in the process, staked their claim in the hallowed halls of hallow-points and hellacious action.
93. Bad Boys
Can you believe that this movie was originally pitched as a project for Saturday Night Live pair John Lovitz and Dana Carvey instead of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith? That’s just one of the many hiccups that took Bad Boys on the course of being a pseudo-cop spoof starring two SNL vets called “Bulletproof Hearts” to being the action/comedy breakthrough hit that gave both Will Smith and Michael Bay long and prosperous careers.
The story is simply about two Miami narcotics detectives whose good time hanging out and shooting the breeze is interrupted by the $100 million in cocaine they confiscated being stolen from evidence lock-up. But really, story doesn’t matter because with his first film, Bay had already perfected his patented blend of cinematographic and editorial quirks. You’ve got the quick cuts, the odd angles, and the persistent need for everything to look cool constantly.
As numerous critics at the time pointed out, Bad Boys was kind of formulaic, but if Bay got one thing right, it was recognizing the chemistry and comedic timing of his leads. Smith and Lawrence performed many of their scenes improvising their dialogue, something that Bay encouraged on set and worked on with the two actors. The charm was enough to win movies audiences, and the non-stop action and Bay’s energetic, pinball style fostered from his years working in music videos overcame any complaints that Bad Boys was just another buddy cop movie. And while Bay’s style hasn’t won much love from critics, it has, however, been integrated into the next generation of action filmmakers.
Find you and kill you, he will. For Liam Neeson’s role in Luc Besson’s unremitting thriller is one that has cemented itself in popular culture since 2008. Originally released straight to DVD, Taken is a lean and mean action film that wears its overzealous heart on its ex-CIA sleeve. Neeson plays a gruff, somewhat distant father to the innocent Kim, who is kidnapped while vacationing in Paris by Albanian sex traffickers.
It’s at this pivotal, show-stopping point that Taken sheds the shackles of sense and logic and instead morphs into a genre hit. It’s a balls-to-the-wall viewing experience that hurtles along at break-neck speed, and, courtesy of the ruthless protagonist, breaks a few necks along the way, too.
An unlikely action hero was born in Neeson and, given its financial success, so was a half-hearted sequel. Nevertheless, Taken remains a true beacon of action goodness in a post-Bourne movie landscape and you’d be hard-pressed to find a film so relentlessly entertaining.
91. The Running Man
You can do one of two things when watching 1987’s The Running Man. If you fancy, you can marvel at its prescient satire, a 90-minute prophetic encapsulation of the violence and voyeurism of culture to come. If you’re like me, you’re more likely to enjoy it for what it is: Big Dumb Awesome.
Arnie spends most of The Running Man running in various guises (and as a man), making the transition from Arnie With A Beard to Arnie In A Yellow Jumpsuit with the sort of grace unexpected in a man who advises you to leave room for his fist in your stomach so he can rip out your goddamn spine. Perhaps the unsung hero of the film is one-liner king Steven E. de Souza, whose grubby pawprints are over a lot more of your favourite action movies than you might ever realize (plus Street Fighter).
Maybe the best reason, though, to watch The Running Man is Jesse Ventura. Yes, Arnie’s Predator co-star steals just about every scene he’s in, not through his considerable pro-wrestling-developed acting prowess though, but by sporting the very best blazer/sweater/‘tache combination ever witnessed.
Along the way, Arnie, Maria Conchita Alonso and Yaphet Kotto, who I ALWAYS forget is in the film, fight for their lives against the public vote and learn something about themselves in the process. Coupled with Commando, it makes for one half of possibly the greatest double bill of conscience-free action cinema imaginable. It really is amongst the finest of human creative output and if you disagree then I guess we just can’t be buds any more.
Continue reading on the next page…
90. The Last Boyscout
The late Tony Scott is represented in a few places further down this list, including True Romance and that classic of 1980s absurdity, Top Gun. 1991’s The Last Boyscout, however, was Scott’s last film before True Romance, and like that supremely strange love story, it features an excellent script.
The Last Boy Scout is Scott’s look at two men who have been beaten down by the world around them and their own bad choices and habits. Despite their many severe screw-ups, private eye Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) and ex-pro-football player Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) find themselves making a stand for a variety of horribly murdered people as they uncover a conspiracy relating to sports betting. Perpetually crazier shoot-outs ensue as Willis and Wayans exchange a metric ton of extremely funny banter with each other and everyone they meet.
Willis and Wayans play their characters well, preserving some sympathy at even their lowest moments as people, and their antagonistic partnership turned friendship is believable and likable. The climax sees Scott put together a variety of gloriously absurd events in quick, but not overstuffed fashion and concludes on a profanity-laden speech that manages to be legitimately moving.
The Last Boy Scout is a well-made action film and it is a part of Tony Scott’s legacy that is worth seeing, both for Bruce Willis killing a group of goons while wielding a stuffed puppet and Bruce Willis trying to become a better father and husband.
89. Assault on Precinct 13
John Carpenter’s first post-college project is an homage to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo that stands as its own film. And what a film it is; it is a siege picture, a take on George Romero’s zombie films, an examination of evil and the price someone pays to get revenge and a very tense but still genuine hang-out picture.
In 1970s Los Angeles, the ruthless gang Street Thunder declare war on the police for killing some of their members. At the same time, the recently promoted police lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is put in charge of a decaying police precinct on its last day of operation. A prison bus transporting the convicted murderer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) sets out for a different facility and a father and his young daughter set out to convince her nanny to come live with them instead of in a bad part of town.
Things go horribly wrong, and everyone ends up in the Precinct, which comes under attack by Street Thunder, who will stop at nothing to kill everyone inside. With no other options, Bishop frees Wilson and his fellow prisoners to help him fight off the Street Thunder. What follows is a siege as Street Thunder attempt to force their way in and Bishop, Wilson, a secretary named Leigh (Laurie Zimmer) and Wilson’s fellow prisoner Wells (Tony Burton) attempt to hold them off.
Street Thunder are relentless in their attack, climbing over the bodies of their fellow gang members and essentially acting like smart, heavily armed zombies. Bishop, Wilson and company resort to ever more desperate measures to hold them back and get to know each other during the brief lulls in violence.
As with most John Carpenter pictures, Assault on Precinct 13’s soundtrack is excellent and put to good use, particularly the piece that doubles as the film’s main theme and a warning that Street Thunder are approaching. It is a consistently tense, exciting film that features one of cinema’s most genuinely shocking and horrible sequences. It is unexpected, it is disturbing, the results of it are incredibly depressing and it is played tastefully and actually examined, rather than simply being used to shock the audience for the sake of shocking them.
Carpenter would make better films, several of which appear further down on this list, but Assault on Precinct 13 is a fine picture that has held up with age.
88. Die Hard 2
Yippee-ki-yay, time to start talking about the Die Hard movies! Die Hard 2 is the first Die Hard film on the list, but at 12 spots in, it is already the fourth Bruce Willis film!
Die Hard 2 takes place two years after the original, where John McClane still has his hair and is still in a positive relationship with his wife. In fact, he is actively waiting for her at the airport, because this is 1990 and there is no TSA. Not too long into the film, things go wrong and McClane must successfully rid the airport of terrorists before his wife’s plane runs out of fuel, while also dealing with the military who won’t accept his help.
The reason Die Hard 2 is the lowest ranked Die Hard on the list because it is unfortunately, the most forgettable (after A Good Day To Die Hard), being an almost carbon copy of the first film without any of its own unique charms to set it apart. That being said, it still offers up plenty of over-the-top fun and an ass-kicking Bruce Willis, which is more than enough for me.
See this one on the largest screen you can possibly manage. Lord have mercy. Here we have Sylvester Stallone facing off against John Lithgow, but it’s director Renny Harlin and Italy’s Dolomite Mountains that earn Cliffhanger its stripes for this list.
Set during a customarily harsh Rockies winter, we meet an estranged mountain rescue team coerced into locating several missing cases of stolen cash. Lots of cash. (“You. Fetch!” Gotta love Lithgow). How these situations arose won’t be spoiled here, but suffice to say they contain some of the most harrowing events and impressive stunts ever captured on film.
Cliffhanger’s relentless heart-in-mouth also stems from a startling break with convention early on; occurring well before outcomes of such gravity usually occur, a certain scene puts us on notice that all bets are officially off. It’s quite deliciously unsettling. Cliffhanger’s personal dramas and remaining characters are fair to middling at best, but Harlin’s skill with the genre and the spectacular setting give action fans a thrill ride not to be missed.
Arguably the film that turned James McAvoy into the star that he is today, Wanted is a thrilling action flick and one that was also wildly successful at the box office, grossing close to $350 million on its $75 million budget.
Based on Mark Millar’s comic book mini-series of the same name, McAvoy stars as Wesley Gibson, an Account Manager who discovers that his father was a professional assassin. Frustrated with his boring, everyday life, Gibson decides to join The Fraternity, a secret guild of assassins which his father belonged to.
The hyperkinetic action mixed with the stylish direction, dazzling visuals and fantastic performances make for a pure adrenaline rush and one of the best action films released in ages. It’s an insanely fun ride and one that never lets up and packs quite the punch.
If you’re looking for just some pure escapist entertainment, you’d be hard pressed to find something more enjoyable than Wanted. I’ve heard some critics call it the “cinematic equivalent of an energy drink,” and I couldn’t agree more.
It’s a shame that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor haven’t repeated the success seen with their high-octane popcorn flick Crank, but at least they struck gold once.
Chev Chelios’ first adventure is an absolute blast from start to finish, being nothing but a ridiculously indulgent good time. Sure, the plot pushes all rationality, but incredibly ballsy filmmaking is on display by our brave and ambitious directors.
Crank feels like a video game in creation, rocketing through hilarious scenarios with style and ADD like pacing, which works rather well with their lightning quick action sequences. Jason Statham is just the icing on this sweet cake, playing one of the most badass hitmen of all time.
84. The Rundown
Bringing non-stop thrilling fight scenes, fast-paced action, language barriers, bagpipes, and large monkeys with boundary issues, this uproariously funny action comedy succeeds on its deadpan deliveries and director Peter Bergs’ unique command of speed and scale.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson turns in a fabulous performance as Beck, a consummately professional mob enforcer on the proverbial “one last job” to retrieve the mobster’s would-be Indiana Jones son (Sean William Scott) from his archeological quest in the Amazon ~ a task complicated by the territorial tenacity of a local with a spellbinding sense of purpose (Christopher Walken).
Beck’s quirky and surprisingly slippery quarry brings all manner of distraction, heightened by Berg’s use of perspective and motion to hilarious effect in perfect counterpoint to our hero’s world-weary, fundamentally pacifistic efforts. Option A: You see this movie. Option B: You check out the reaction of those who recognize the phrase “Get out of here, monkey!” and reconsider.
83. The Bourne Supremacy
For The Bourne Supremacy, the reins were handed to Paul Greengrass, and the style of the franchise shifted in a subtle, but excellent way. This movie has a much grittier, much more hand-held look than its predecessor, and that leads to an all-around more intense feel. Not that the story needed anything to make it more intense.
Bourne has a ton more questions than before and much tougher foes he has to contend with. This time it’s more than just survival, it’s become about revenge, and if there’s one man you don’t want seeking revenge on you, it’s Jason Bourne.
What Matt Damon really shows this time around is how well he balances brains and brawn. He’s cool and calculating, completely believable in figuring out the ideal solution to the dilemmas he’s faced with. He’s also jacked, really looking like a trained assassin in both his well-choreographed fight moves and his bulging biceps.
This balance is shown best in the scene where he escapes from custody in Naples. Not only does he wait until the perfect moment before bringing down two armed men with nothing but his own hands, but he instantly is able to get all the information and equipment he needs to not only escape, but to find out more about who is hunting him and why. Bourne is a loner, that’s part of what sets him apart from so many other agents, but when you have skills like that, there’s no need for an agency’s support.
82. The Expendables 2
What can be said about The Expendables 2? It’s The Expendables, only more so. The plot, such as it is, is something about Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) hiring Sylvester Stallone and his merry band of vigilante killing machines (with hearts) to go after something lost in a plane crash. Something something Liam Hemsworth dies and EXPLOSIONS!
The baddie in this one is Jean-Claude Van Damme, kicking knives into people’s chests and generally being so nasty that you just can’t wait for Stallone, Statham et al to screw up his day. Which they do, saving an entire Russian town in the process.
No one goes to an Expendables film for the plot. We go for action star cameos, big muscles and bigger explosions. While Jet Li only gets about one scene, the other boys more than make up for his absence in fighting and fire-power. Add to the regular mix the sudden appearance of Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwartzenegger trading catch phrases, and lots of intense action sequences, along with some pithy one-liners, and you’ve got a recipe for an action franchise. The Expendables 2 just carries on what The Expendables started, full of bromance and testosterone. Don’t say you don’t love it.
81. Fast Five
If you told me a few years ago I’d be recognizing a Fast and the Furious sequel as an impressive action film, I’d laugh in your face and call you crazy. But, here we are, in some new world where the fifth film in a tired franchise has shocked us all.
Fast Five is another one of those action films which you watch not expecting much, but finish viewing with a gleaming smile on your face. From breathtakingly gripping car chases, which the franchise is known for, to the addition of star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, all the muscle bound actors and fast yet furious action lets Fast Five leave its franchise competition far back in the dust.
The film really re-invented the franchise too, breathing new life into a series of films that people were starting to lose interest in. Justin Lin’s impressively choreographed/directed action scenes really delivered the kick in the butt that the aging franchise was in desperate need of and successfully re-launched what is now one of Universal’s most successful franchises.
The film is big, it’s loud and it’s over the top, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a ton of fun and one hell of a ride, the entire way through.
Continue reading on the next page…
80. La Femme Nikita
Little did Luc Besson know that his fabled female protagonist would have such a lasting appeal. Though La Femme Nikita hit theatres back in 1990, the rippling effect of the elusive French assassin has since given life to two television shows – one of which, simply entitled Nikita, is still on air today.
Using the noir genre as a cinematic template for his movie, Besson tells the story of the titular Nikita, a problematic woman sent to prison in her teenage years for a drug-induced robbery. Therein she’s given a simple choice: rot in jail or become an assassin. Eventually, Nikita chooses the latter which sends her on an intriguing journey through the streets of Paris as she matures into a masterful killer.
The takeaway? A 117 minute-long action thriller that weans its way through the streets of the French capital with devious pace. Much can be say about the misogynistic nature of the action trope, but make no mistake; Nikita – embodied perfectly by Anne Parillaud – can stand alongside Ellen Ripley as the genre’s most endearing badassess.
79. Planet Terror
Don’t mistake Planet Terror for a straight horror film, because Robert Rodriguez jams just as much action into this flick as there are scares. The gore is over the top, the fights are vicious, visuals enthralling, but you can’t ignore the pulse-pounding action that also takes place. I mean, any movie that has a hottie shooting grenades out the gun that’s replaced her leg should not only be called wicked awesome, but it should also be noted for its crazy-intense action.
It’s not just about guns and explosions though, because Freddy Rodriguez’s “zombie” killing character is one hell of an acrobatic fighter. Think back to that hospital scene when he’s kicking ass – sorry, think back to any scene where “El Wray” is kicking ass. It’s pretty much all of them. I mean, Robert Rodgriguez is the guy behind the camera orchestrating Planet Terror. Need I say more about the glorious amounts of epic action?!
78. Bad Boys II
Say what you will about the bombast of Michael Bay. Here’s a director in need of a stern editor and a keener, more appreciative look towards scripting duties. That being said, he’s not a man to fool around when it comes to staging grandiose action set pieces full of blood, gets, glory and excess.
2013’s subversive Pain and Gain proved that Bay may be a little bit more aware of his style then people may have been inclined to think but when it comes to his crowning achievement of popcorn fuelled mayhem, nothing comes close to Bad Boys II. This is a film that despite its pomp and surplus of everything, it somehow works in spite of itself, and well I might add. It holds up very well as blockbuster schlock and presents us with one of the greatest car chase sequences of all time.
“22 cars and a boat, totalled? How did hell you sink a boat?” “Well, we didn’t sink it…”
77. Live Free Or Die Hard
Here we go! Live Free or Die Hard, or Die Hard 4 if you hate long titles, was the first Die Hard movie to feature a completely bald Bruce Willis and get released theatrically as PG-13 film. The producers eventually fixed their mistake by giving us an unrated DVD release (but not yet unrated on Blu-Ray), returning that charm and violence that we have learned to love in this franchise.
Taking place much later than the events in NYC, John McClane is back to living alone and feeling bad for himself, despite taking out three separate terrorist threats. But when the U.S. Government is hacked and securities start failing everywhere, the F.B.I. begins to bring in any hacker in America who might be able to determine the source of the threats. McClane is tasked with securing Justin Long’s character, right before an assassination attempt on his life, leaving the two of them on the run to try and stop the current threat to their nation.
Although Live Free Or Die Hard tries to convince us that Justin Long can be a pseudo action hero, and they drastically change up the franchise, the real reason it was rated higher than Die Hard 2 is because it featured Kevin Smith. Who doesn’t love that fat bastard?
76. The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Identity introduced the world to a new Matt Damon, one that was a legitimate action star, capable of matching his already-shown skill in emotional scenes with a flair for intense action sequences. Damon became Jason Bourne, and by the end of 2001, even those who read the Robert Ludlum novels years before had erased any other image of the character they may have had in their heads.
Tony Gilroy was the man tasked with adapting the iconic super-spy novels, and he did it in a way that matched the charm of the writing with something ripe for blockbuster action cinema. It’s an action movie, but the focus is very much on the character and his journey, and that’s something that Gilroy understood, and Damon perfectly portrayed.
Beyond being introduced to one of the most amazing spies and rogue agents of all time, this film paved the road for what action of the new millennium would be. Out with campy, sinister villains, and in with gritty stories, where no one can be trusted. The influences of Doug Liman’s globetrotting film can be felt in almost every action film that has followed. The action sequences are all spot-on, with an epic car chase that may well be the greatest of all time.
It’s a story of survival and a search for identity, two things that Bourne does better, and with higher stakes, than anyone else.
Eraser is one of those 90′s Schwarzenegger action films that’s considered a classic of the genre because, well, it’s a 90′s Schwarzenegger action film. At a time when Arnie was at arguably the height of his career, he gave us Eraser, a film that wasn’t necessarily well received by critics, but one that made a lot of money and was a big hit with fans of the Austrian actor.
It’s a big dumb action movie but then again, so are a lot of the films on this list. Eraser is on here not because it does anything to differentiate itself from the genre. No, it’s on here because it’s Schwarzenegger doing what he does best: spitting out cheesy one-liners, showing off his muscles and laying waste to whoever stands in his path.
The film may play it a bit safe at times but it is by no means boring or unenjoyable. Quite the contrary, actually. Eraser is a fun movie with some memorable action sequences. It accomplishes what it sets out to do and while it’s pretty standard fare, fans of the genre will still get a kick out of it.
74. The Killer
John Woo is a master when it comes to directing action and The Killer is one of his best and most successful films. It’s very well made and it no doubt helped to shape the genre into what it is today. Like most of his work, the film was praised for the beautifully filmed action (which is appropriately bloody and violent) and expert direction, but there’s so much more to admire here than just that.
Some may find the violence here excessive and too over the top, especially for its time, but there’s no denying that Woo’s film is an adrenaline rush of a movie, one that grabs hold of you almost instantly and literally doesn’t give you a minute to breath.
The director uses his camera to place you right in the thick of things so that you feel like the action is happening around you, rather than watching it from the sidelines. Woo is a pro at staging action and some of the scenes here are truly transfixing to watch.
Chow Yun-Fat, who stars in the film and is a frequent collaborator of Woo’s, is also just as badass as ever, giving one of the best performances of his career.
Personally, this is one of my favorite action films of all time and a definitive classic of the genre.
73. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Question: If you are a spy whose organization has been framed for a devastating act of terrorism that could well start World War III, and the only things you can count on are a few constantly malfunctioning gadgets and the tiny group of fellow agents with you at the time your supervisor told you to go off the grid before he got shot in the head, what would you do? Answer: Improvise.
Brad Bird directed the fourth entry in Tom Cruise’s signature action franchise as his first live-action film, and proved that he knows how to make a memorable, creative and clever picture that does the franchise it is tied to proud, while still standing on its own.
Ghost Protocol’s action is more about movement than violence, be it Ethan Hunt’s efforts to climb the tallest building in the world with failing climbing gear, William Brandt’s (Jeremy Renner) attempts to pass through a fan system that would send an OSHA agent into conniptions or Jane Carter’s (Paula Patton) martial arts duel with famed assassin Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux) in front of a hole in the side of the world’s tallest building.
Bird balances these wildly clever scenes with solid character work and some genuinely funny humor, helped in part by returning cast member Simon Pegg. Ghost Protocol, and the Mission: Impossible film franchise as a whole for that matter are an excellent example of how to build an action franchise and keep it fresh as the years pass.
72. Mad Max
Remember when Mel Gibson was a tough Australian cop battling it out with vicious bikers in a windswept apocalyptic landscape? That was pretty cool, wasn’t it?
The original Mad Max is a harsh, violent and sometimes very ugly piece of filmmaking. Gibson is the quintessential tough guy – a cop who’s basically decent, driven to extremes by the brutalization of his wife and son.
Of course, this all takes place in a largely lawless post-apocalyptic wasteland, where biker gangs rule the roads. It’s only a matter of time before Max flips and becomes … well, mad. It’s a dark, dystopian tale with very little redemption in sight – unless you count Max’s brutal revenge as redemptive. Nevertheless, Mad Max is an immensely satisfying film if you want blood lust and brutality. Which sometimes, we all do
71. Fast & Furious 6
In terms of sheer entertainment value, it is hard to find a single film in the past few years that delivers more effectively than Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious 6. Not that this should be any sort of surprise at this point – 2011’s Fast Five made it clear that against all odds, this series has stealthily matured into one of the very best action blockbuster franchises out there, and Furious 6 is another clear step forward. The film’s most pleasant surprise may lie in how effectively it is able to build upon everything that has come before, remaining perfectly open and welcome to newcomers while offering long-time fans of the franchise plenty of satisfying pay-offs and character resolutions that go well beyond mere ‘callbacks.’ Were it not for that final, zany, mid-credits throwing of the gauntlet, Furious 6 could very well be the franchise’s final installment, and it would feel not only like an immensely satisfying finale, but an emotionally earned one as well. Every member of this cast has come to inhabit their fun (if intentionally simple) characters completely, and the chemistry between them all is, at this point, off the charts, something Lin exploits to great effect throughout.
Moreover, Furious 6 is simply a tremendous action movie, one of the absolute best of the decade so far, with a concluding set piece that is certifiably insane in its ambition, design, and stirring execution. When it comes to pure entertainment – energetic, engaging, and filled with more adrenaline that the human body should be capable of processing – very few ongoing film series, if any, do it better, and Furious 6 is a stunningly crafted, unexpectedly poignant, and above all else, ridiculously fun monument to this truth.
Continue reading on the next page…
70. The Man From Nowhere
The Man From Nowhere is another example of why Korean cinema is some of the best in the world right now. It’s not that the story is anything special, and it’s not that the film does anything unique to make itself stand out from the rest of its peers. In fact, the story is one we’ve all seen countless times before and The Man From Nowhere pulls from a number of its predecessors as we see influences from both Western and Asian cinema, throughout.
Despite all this, The Man From Nowhere is still an excellent action film, one that should be applauded for both its stylish action, fantastic performances and visceral thrills. Yes, Lee Jeong-beom’s film is a great genre flick. The violence is slick and well shot, the fight scenes are perfectly choreographed and riveting to watch and the action is high intensity. It all makes for a compelling film.
Admittedly, The Man From Nowhere is weighed down by a little melodrama and runs about 15 minutes too long, but it’s still a very exciting action flick and rivals most of what Hollywood produces these days. Oh, and it also features one of the best knife fights, ever.
An American remake is already in the works too, it should be interesting to see how that turns out.
69. Shoot Em’ Up
Half action, half dark comedy, Shoot ‘Em Up takes action movies to a new level of extreme, by blending “In your face” kill scenes with unexpected methods. It has everything you would ever want in a movie: Clive Owen, copious amounts of gun fire, a carrot subtheme, and Paul Giamatti as a villain.
The film begins with Clive Owen’s character waiting at a bus stop, when a pregnant woman heavily in labor crosses his path, followed shortly by a hit man. Like the hero in all of us, he decides to help her out, but soon finds himself fighting a gang of armed thugs. The action only escalates from there as Clive finds himself on the run with a newborn, having no knowledge of why people want it dead.
It could be described as a bit more subdued version of God Bless America (2011), focusing more on intense gun fights than political intrigue. But importantly, Shoot ‘Em Up is straight up fun and excitement, never letting up for even a second and giving us one of the most enjoyable action films in years.
Cobra is one of those big, dumb action films, with an emphasis on big and dumb. It’s very much a product of its time but when it comes to the action genre, you’d be hard pressed to find a fan that doesn’t count the film as a standout. This is a lean, straight-to-the-point, no messing around action flick that proves once again why Stallone helped shape the genre into what most know it as today. Simply put, for many people, Cobra is the quintessential action film of the 80s.
Cobra is a movie that is drenched in excess and its insanity literally knows no bounds. The violence here, even for this day and age, is over-the-top and quite nasty but that doesn’t stop it from being wildly entertaining.
We’ll be the first to admit that Cobra is a huge mess. Full of every cliche imaginable, unintentionally funny, brimming with cheesy one-liners and atrociously acted, the film often borders on parody, but there’s no denying its importance in the genre. Dripping with testosterone and ultra-macho to the max, this is a film for fans of true, hardcore action, with absolutely no filler and no regard for anything else.
Despite earning horrid reviews and a number of Razzie award nominations, Cobra is still loved by fans of both Stallone and the genre and has developed quite a cult following in recent years. It may not necessarily be a good film, but it’s 80′s action at its finest.
“You’re a disease – and I’m the cure,” is the line that this film is most well known for, and I think that pretty much sums up why Cobra is so great.
67. The Guns of Navarone
A masterful WWII action thriller, The Guns of Navarone lies in the vein of the classic “men on a mission” films such as The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare. Packed with veteran thesps from across the globe – Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quale to name a few – they portray a squad of British soldiers tasked with bringing down a massive German gun emplacement holding down a strategic channel in occupied Greece.
The Guns of Navarone has a rare classy flair that is missing from most modern films about war (not to mention countless scenes dripping with tension), examinations of the nature of betrayal and loyalty, delivers on the action and as would be expected, superb acting. Most importantly, despite its age standing at over 50, it holds up immensely well and should easily be able to find fans among a younger audience looking for a thrilling period adventure.
66. Lethal Weapon 2
The duo that makes up every criminal’s worst nightmare were back again in the same phenomenal form as the first film. Except this time they’ve brought back more explosions, more car chases, and a much more dangerous foreign foe.
Riggs had finally pushed his suicidal thoughts far from the front of his mind, and the result was a film even more hilarious and no less action-packed than the original. The scene where Murtaugh is trapped on a toilet is as suspenseful as bathroom scenes come. Plus, every 80s film would’ve been better off with Patsy Kensit as the main love interest.
Really though, Lethal Weapon II is a knockout when it comes to action films. It perfected the buddy cop elements that Lethal Weapon defined and gave us more of what we loved from its predecessor. Not only that, but its one of the few sequels out there that is actually better than the original.
Both Mel Gibson and Danny Glover have stated that its their favorite film in the franchise, that has to count for something, right?
65. The Fugitive
Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man accused of the heinous act of murdering his own wife. While being transferred to prison, Kimble’s bus is hit by a train in one of the most spectacular crash scenes ever filmed, allowing Kimble to set out in search of the man he blames for his wife’s death.
Tommy Lee Jones turns in an award-winning performance here as the marshall attempting to track Kimble down. As amazing as the train crash is, it’s rivaled by the stunning waterfall jump and the epic tunnel chase that precedes it, proving once again that Ford still has it, and probably always will.
64. In The Line Of Fire
Though it would be considered his last true action film, veteran Clint Eastwood nevertheless owns the screen in In the Line of Fire, bringing believable physicality but ultimately vulnerability, elements that serves his character so well.
If that wasn’t a strong enough reason to love this film, we get the Oscar nominated John Malcovich as a savvy, deadly, silver tongued assassin who steals every scene. But despite what is some of his strongest work, it is ultimately the dynamic between him and Eastwood’s Secret Service agent that serve as the film’s lifeblood and serves to strengthen the action and cat and mouse games in which these two become entangled.
In the Line of Fire ratchets up the tension and cleverly ties in the events of the film with real life tragedies. It’s a great early 90’s action thriller that doesn’t forget the characters amidst the mayhem. And for that alone, it deserves a spot on this list.
Platoon is Oliver Stone’s gritty visualisation of the Vietnam War. After his own tour of duty in ‘Nam in 1968, the director interpreted his visceral experiences through the lens of a camera. The result was a sombre, harrowing insight into the self-destructive nature of war and one that set itself apart from the straight, one-dimensional film that didn’t dig deep enough for Stone’s liking.
For Platoon, the filmmaker grounded his story in reality and then stepped on it with a burly boot and grounded it in some more. Charlie Sheen stars as the young college drop-out Chris Taylor, who serves as our window into the harsh and unforgiving Vietnamese environment. The film portrays the physical and psychological impact of war to the nth degree. As a matter of fact, Stone enlisted the central cast into a gruelling boot camp two weeks before the cameras started rolling. That’s right. Military haircuts. Meagre rations of food, and not one shower in sight. It’s no wonder the performances are so damn convincing.
With a cast including William Dafoe, Tom Berenger and a young Johnny Depp, Platoon is as talented as it is mesmerising. Stone’s cinematography lingers in your mind like wisps of smoke from the charred battleground and, with Charlie Sheen providing a monotone voiceover, the film echoes Apocalypse Now in an eerie fashion. It’s a brutal and relentless tour of duty, which is ultimately what makes it so powerful.
62. Ong Bak
Ong-Bak introduced the world to Tony Jaa, a Thai martial artist who has given us some of the most extraordinary fight scenes of all time. The film launched Jaa onto the international stage too, with many calling him the next great martial arts star.
This is a movie known not for its story or characters, as those barely exist, Ong-Bank is a film known for its inventive fight scenes, its showcase of Jaa’s jaw-dropping abilities and for its lack of CGI, stunt doubles and wire-fu, which makes what is seen here all the more impressive. It also feels very raw and real too, which adds a lot to the film.
Some of the work seen here from Jaa will leave you breathless. The man is honestly incredible and if you prefer your action to involve hand to hand combat and daring acrobatics, as opposed to huge explosions and car chases, then you’ll feel right at home with Ong-Bak.
If for no other reason, you owe it to yourself to watch this film for Jaa. He’s truly a sight to see.
61. Man On Fire
In terms of leading men, they don’t come much better than Denzel Washington. The Oscar winning actor is one of the best in the business and collaborated with the late Tony Scott on five cinematic occasions. The creative pairing’s third film was 2004’s Man on Fire, and, arguably, it’s also their best.
The film is actually the second adaption of A.J. Quinnell’s novel of the same name and centres around the underground crime world of Mexico City and its tendency for kidnapping. Washington plays the messianic John Cleasy, a washed-up CIA agent who is hired by an affluent business man to protect his nine-year-old daughter, Pita – played remarkably by Dakota Fanning. As the action genre would have it, though, Pita is kidnapped by the crime syndicate which sends Creasy on a war path in order to find her.
While the film echoes a lot of tropes associated with Scott’s films – car chases, bombastic explosions – it’s the relationship between Creasy and Pita that acts as the film’s sentimental lifeblood. Mixing their mesmerising performances with Paul Cameron’s cinematography results in a film that is as visually arresting as it is emotionally poignant. Though Man on Fire may prove a little sanctimonious for some, Scott’s film is still an exemplary addition to the action genre.
Continue reading on the next page…
Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but through his career that man has learnt how to direct a film. Although his repertoire is low, he directed a Best Picture winner with Braveheart, the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time with The Passion Of The Christ, and a surprise action hit with Apocalypto.
In the film, our hero Jaguar Paw becomes captured by the nearby Mayan civilization so that he may be sacrificed to their gods. This leads to him having to escape and journey through the treacherous jungle to save his wife and child before it’s too late.
The main thing you will notice about Apocalypto is that it doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue. As it was a simpler time, most of the plot is told through action and facial expressions. But when the dialogue did come, it was authentic, just like Gibson’s previous movie.
Apocalypto is an interesting concept for a story, both one that we haven’t seen before and haven’t seen since, which is one of the reasons that it earns its ranking on this list. That aside though, Apocalypto is visceral and hard hitting, offering action and chase scenes that really get the adrenaline pumping. Artistically, it’s also a knockout and as an action film, it really is rather special.
59. The Dirty Dozen
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther called The Dirty Dozen upon its 1967 release “an astonishingly wanton war film” that had a “studied indulgence of sadism that is morbid and disgusting beyond words.” Crowther died in 1981, so one can only imagine what he would have thought of Inglourious Basterds, but it’s a reminder of just how much standards change over time. But with its all-star ensemble, and a dedication to ultra-violence that tested the censors of the era, The Dirty Dozen set a high benchmark that has yet to be met, even 43 years later when Sylvester Stallone put together his Expendables.
The story was simple, a kind of Ocean’s 11 of hard asses sent on a secret mission in pre-D-Day Europe. OSS Officer Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) puts together a unit of army prisoners – that’s U.S. Army, not German – to infiltrate Nazi-occupied France, and blow-up a meeting of high-level German officers, thus mitigating the enemy response to the forthcoming Normandy invasion. The cons, some of whom are awaiting executions for their crimes, are enticed to join the mission on the basis of getting their sentence commuted upon its success, and their own survival.
What gave critics a hard time was the film’s harsh, sometime heartless depiction of war. These soldiers were not the fine, upstanding young men full of courage and patriotism, they were pragmatic, and psychotic, and definitely not the image of the U.S. Army that you’d want to portray on film if you were in the recruiting business. The film was almost prophetic for its portrayal of army life in that respect. As the Vietnam conflict would escalate in the coming years, and rumours of real life atrocities started coming home (and later portrayed in films like Platoon and Casualties of War), The Dirty Dozen looked almost nationalistic by comparison.
58. The Warriors
What if gangs ruled the streets of New York City and every day was a territory battle amongst rivals? Sounds fun, right? Well, what if every other gang in the city turned against your little crew of misfits, and you were stuck miles away from your home turf? That’s the fantastic story of brotherhood in Walter Hill’s The Warriors, pitting a few rough and tumble brawlers against insurmountable odds.
The Warriors’ journey is a thrilling and exciting one across a New York City landscape we’re all familiar with, and Walter Hill has a ton of fun creating the many personalities of the gangs that Swan and company have to fight through on their journey home.
There’s nothing flashy or genre-defining about the fighting either, as Hill just displays solid hand to hand combat with winning tenacity. Sometimes though, as proven here, simple is the way to go.
57. Total Recall
Paul Verhoeven’s pacey, satirical romp is one of the few action films of its era that is still resoundingly entertaining to watch today. Much of that may come down to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s colossal and incomparable screen presence, even still, Vehoeven’s loose cinematic depiction of Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story – entitled We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – has enough personality to avoid the pitfall within which star-driven blockbusters so often tumble.
For the film, Schwarzenegger plays a terrestrial construction worker named Douglas Quaid in the year 2084. Blue collar to his core, Quaid is surrounded by a loving wife, a steady job and earthy bills to be paid. However, with lucid dreams troubling him, our leading man visits Rekall – a governing corporation that specialise in constructing memories. Just before he is sedated, though, Quaid reacts violently, has his memory wiped and, via a comical Schwarzenegger to Schwarzenegger interplay, discovers that he was a secret agent.
With eye-popping visuals – pun very much intended – and a surprisingly thoughtful story, Total Recall is – quite ironically – one of the most memorable action films you’re likely to experience.
56. Road House
As Peter Griffin once said: “Road House teaches us that all life’s problems can be solved by kicking.”
Badass bouncer Dalton (Patrick Swayze) comes riding into town in a very nice Mercedes, hired to clean up the Double Deuces, a local road house menaced by crime kingpin Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara) and his band of high-kicking thugs. Along the way Dalton falls for Doc (Kelly Lynch), Wesley’s former girlfriend. He also enlists the help of his friend and mentor Wade Garrett (Sam Elliot) and his mustache to clean things up via kicking people in the face.
Road House was dated in 1990, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. All the Western tropes are there, but add to them some high-kicking action, buckets of blood, buckets of mullets and some quality Southern rock, and you’ve got one kickass flick. It’s not a serious film and it doesn’t really take itself seriously. From the first note of the quintessential 80s score to Patrick Swayze’s mullet and Sam Elliot’s badass wisdom, Road House is more fun than a Flock of Seagulls.
55. Starship Troopers
Has Casper Van Dien ever been better than in Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi battle for Earth? Sure, Verhoeven plants the theme of fascism deeply in his story and satirically compares certain facets of his film to things like Nazi Germany, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, and quoting Verhoeven himself, Starship Troopers is about “Let’s all go to war and let’s all die.”
Starship Troopers is a genuinely fun shoot em’ up with stunning visuals (earning an Oscar nod in 1998 for Visual Effects), made with characters who were cut and dry soldiers yet psychologically complex in their “fight to the death” mentality.
Death to the bus, and long live humanity!
Max (Jamie Foxx) is a cab driver. He is kind, gentle and makes a point of treating each passenger who gets in his cab like they matter. He is also stuck in a rut, forever talking about opening up his own limousine business but unable to actually do so for fear of its failing.
Vincent (Tom Cruise) is a hitman. He is a ruthless, if charming sociopath who takes pride in doing his job perfectly each time. He thrives on chaos and uncertainty, and embraces nihilism as the only way to live. A set of contracts Vincent takes in Los Angeles puts him in Max’s cab for a night. Things go south, and what should have been the story of a cabbie unknowingly driving a hitman around becomes a dialogue-driven conflict between two men with diametrically opposed beliefs about humanity that’s punctuated by quick, brutal action.
Vincent is not a flashy, stylish assassin. He is a professional killer who prefers to do his job in the most efficient way possible. The results are without fail unsettling, particularly given how willing Vincent is to talk about his views on life, the universe and everything else with Max, who initially just wants to live and gradually finds himself forced to question everything he has believed in about the world and himself if he is to have any hope of stopping Vincent.
Collateral’s action is well-done, its final shootout makes use of space and motion in clever ways, and as a Michael Mann picture it has a truly marvelous soundtrack that underscores and supports the action without overwhelming it, but it is the conversations between Vincent and Max that make the film. Theirs is a tense, thoughtful duel of words and philosophies, and as Max’s cab drives down the streets of nighttime Los Angeles, drawing ever closer to Vincent’s targets, Collateral establishes itself as a skillful, uniquely intimate action film.
53. Die Hard 3
Maybe it was just the returning presence of director John McTiernan that guided the third entry in the Die Hard series to such success. In any case, it was Die Hard: With A Vengeance (stupid titles don’t ruin great movies) that almost stood toe-to-toe with the iconic original.
Still physically exhausted and beat down from his previous entanglement with terrorist baddies, not to mention his drinking problem and a failed marriage, is the ever so charming and quick-witted hero, John McLane.
Taking place all over NYC, McLane is caught in a frantic game of Simon says alongside Zeus, played by our favorite foul mouthed, wisecracking badass, Samuel L. Jackson.
The film has scale, like the original. Although, instead of Nakatomi Plaza’s complex air ducts and elevator shafts, New York becomes the hazardous playground in a race against time to defuse armed explosives. The film has also got excitement, clever quips and it utilizes it set pieces brilliantly.
All in all, it’s arguably the second greatest of the Die Hard installments and is more of a spiritual successor in tone than the 1990 sequel was.
Hero, starring Jet Li, is a bold and beautiful film. One that is breathtaking, exhilarating and mesmerizing, all at once. It’s a film that assaults the senses and leaves you stunned by the end. Many call it a masterpiece and though I’m not sure if I would go that far, it most certainly is a a fantastic movie and one that stands tall in the action genre.
Ang Lee gave new meaning to the martial arts genre with his masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Hero is very much in the same vein, in a lot of ways. It’s beautiful to look at, giving us some truly dazzling visuals that are pure eye candy, but still manages to provide an undeniable level of excitement due to its skillfully crafted choreography and epic battle scenes.
Though it won’t be for everyone, if you can appreciate spectacular filmmaking, jaw dropping martial arts work and some truly wonderful production values, then Hero is right up your valley. Oh ya, and it’s also a kick-ass action film.
51. The Boondock Saints
The most intimidating set of fraternal twins in history, The Boondock Saints set out to rid the world of the wicked and corrupt that terrorize the lives of the innocent.
Countless epic gunfights and an incredible performance by Willem Dafoe fuel this action staple. Men with a simple plan to inspire the world to stick to the principles that every man should embrace, the Saints did inspire and strike fear into everyone their wrath came down upon. May God be with whoever looks behind them and sees those three.
There’s so much to like here but when it comes down to it, The Boondock Saints is just a damn good film and in its own unique way, it’s actually quite brilliant. Director Troy Duffy’s work behind the camera as well as in his script is really quite impressive too, given that this is his first film, and all the actors shine in their roles.
There’s a reason that The Boondock Saints has become a bonafide cult classic.
Continue reading on the next page…
50. The Great Escape
One of the best of the big World War II epics, The Great Escape boasts an iconic cast – Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attentborough, James Coburn, etc. – as allied POWs attempting to escape from a German prison camp … because that’s what patriots do. The actual escape takes up about half the film, the other half following the fortunes of the men who get away – and those who don’t.
There’s something for everyone in this movie. The relationships between the men are entertaining (particularly the barbs exchanged between the Americans and the Brits), and there are some awesome action sequences – McQueen jumping the barb wire among the most iconic. The cast is simply superb too, but no one – not even McQueen – tries to take over the show. As World War II movies go, there are few to compare.
49. Saving Private Ryan
There a lot of feathers in Saving Private Ryan’s battle-worn helmet, but perhaps one of the most resilient is Tom Hanks’ and Steven Spielberg’s continuing partnership – after Band of Brothers and The Pacific, the pair are set to do a third TV mini-series about World War II. However, the duo’s first cinematic tour of duty was for 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, which has gone down in history as one of cinema’s greats.
In order to retrieve the titular wayward paratrooper – played by Matt Damon – Tom Hanks’ captain Millar must lead his soldiers on a gruelling off-the-record mission across the European Theatre. Starting on the shores of Normandy, their perilous undertaking is one jam-packed with action and heartfelt drama.
The opening battle sequence is as much an assault on Omaha Beach as it is on your senses. Favouring practical effects over CGI, Spielberg not only creates a mesmerising and visceral viewing experience but he also cements the scene’s reputation as one of the best action sequences devoted to celluloid.
Saving Private Ryan isn’t just a great action movie; it’s a war drama that portrays the terrors and triumphs of battle in an unprecedented manner.
48. True Romance
Nowadays, studios would walk across hot coals to have a film written and produced by Quentin Tarantino and composed by Hans Zimmer. Hell, they may even juggle those molten rocks too for a casting list that included Christian Slater, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, Dennis Hooper, Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Walken. Well, for the late, great Tony Scott, this mouth-watering list of ingredients became a reality for his gutsy, genre-hopping True Romance in 1993.
It charts the violent escapades of Slater’s Clarence Worley who winds up in deep with the sharks after falling in love with a hooker, which doesn’t sit too well with her menacing pimp Drexl – played in a remarkable out-of-character fashion by Gary Oldman. As the film progresses, things go from bad to worse to just downright unlucky for the love struck pair, who inadvertently steal Vincenzo Coccotti’s cocaine-laden suitcase thereby setting the murderous gangster on their tail.
For all the violence and blood-drenched action – after all, this is from the mind of Tarantino – True Romance holds some truly memorable performances. The Sicilian scene with Hopper and Walken is worth the price of admission alone and for a film released two decades ago, it still holds up to this day thanks to the passion and flair of Scott’s direction.
47. Dirty Harry
Oh Dirty Harry, how could one make a “Top 100 Action Film” list and not include you? While some may say that the first film is not the strongest in the series (it spawned four sequels), it is perhaps the most important one. In 2013 the National Film Registry for the Library of Congress selected it for preservation for being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”
Of course, most of the film’s importance comes from the titular character himself, Dirty Harry. In what is arguably one of Eastwood’s best roles, the actor gives us an iconic character, one whose influence is still felt today in films that feature unorthodox/loose canon cops. Before Dirty Harry, cops were always straight laced and proper, Eastwood’s character broke the mould and gave the public something that they had been clamouring for for a long time.
Furthermore, the film is also very well made, from a technical standpoint, and features a fantastic script, which gave us some very memorable quotes.
“Being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”
46. Big Trouble In Little China
One of the worst traps that an action film can fall into is taking itself too seriously and abandoning everything for the sake of relentless angst and poorly-planned drama. John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China does not fall into this trap.
Kurt Russell, Carpenter’s greatest creative partner, plays trucker Jack Burton as a man who thinks he is John Wayne in Rio Bravo. In reality, he is a good-hearted goofball who is remarkably good at improvising solutions to difficult situations, but he is otherwise hilariously out of his depth. Why? Well, who expects to go pick up his best friend’s fiance at the airport only for her to get kidnapped by a vicious street gang? Who work for the Chinese mafia. Who work for three evil sorcerers. Who work for Lo Pan, a dark sorcerer who must marry a girl with green eyes to reclaim his long-sealed magical power and rule the world from beyond the grave.
Jack and Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) set out to rescue Wang’s fiance Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) and wind up battling an ancient evil from the earliest days of China’s history. An ancient, remarkably cranky evil.
Big Trouble in Little China was one of the first Hollywood films to seriously integrate techniques from Hong Kong filmmaking, including fight choreography by James Lew (who would later work on Escape from L.A. and Inception) and wire work. The result is a variety of cleverly-choreographed fight scenes that balance humor with genuinely exciting action, from Jack and Wang’s shock and disbelief at the arrival of the Three Storms to Wang’s graceful attack on Lo Pan’s goons while Jack tries to retrieve a knife that he threw out of reach in anticipation to the final battle between good and evil, which is best left unspoiled.
It is funny and thrilling in equal amounts, and Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton is one of the most delightfully endearing, quotable action heroes in cinema history.
Paul Vehoeven’s 1987 hit may be fueled by warnings of big business running the world, but what it’s remembered for is the exhilarating blend of sci-fi and crime-thriller, providing an odd yet perfect recipe for another great 80s action flick.
The half-human, half-robot Robocop ends up being more superhero than supercop, and after ridding Detroit of crime in mere weeks, he sets out for revenge, getting it in the most violent ways possible. Kurtwood Smith’s villain is as hateable as they come, with no redeeming qualities to provide any empathy for him, making it all the more satisfying when he is destroyed along with all the other scumbags he worked with.
Peter Weller is excellent as the titular hero too, giving us one of his most iconic performances and surely the one that he will always be remembered for.
It’s a classic for several reasons and though it may be a sci-fi story down at its core, RoboCop is really a kick-ass action film with some hard hitting violence that earns it a spot on this list.
44. The Professional
Gritty, violent, and relentless, this action classic from writer/director Luc Besson nevertheless can cause a heartache ~ and it won’t be from the two million rounds fired. Starring the superb Jean Reno and Gary Oldman with Natalie Portman in her debut role, it tells the tale of a “cleaner” who shelters a young girl from the murderous intent of a corrupt law enforcement agent and at her request teaches her his trade that she may avenge her family.
Taut, psychologically intense and emotionally grueling, The Professional packs an unusual share of interesting trivia as well, such as the fact that many scenes required multiple takes due to Portman’s involuntary beaming from excitement; or that creepfest-menacing Oldman unexpectedly moved so aggressively and intimately into one character’s space that the actor’s discomfort is genuine. Oldman fans will also get a kick out the serendipitous (and counter-point!) connection to Oldman’s other film of that year (won’t spoil it here, of course).
Not for the delicate sensibility, but powerful and required for any self-respecting action repertoire.
43. Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa’s quintessential samurai epic Seven Samurai is not only a great and influential action film, but it’s a great film of any type. Remade as the lesser (but still awesome) The Magnificent Seven, Seven Samurai follows the escapades of seven masterless samurai brought together to rescue a small town from bandits. The cast is made up of Kurosawa mainstays, with his favorite leading man Toshiro Mifune slightly in the background as a clownish swordsman and Ikiru star Takashi Shimura leading the pack.
Westerns, contemporary samurai flicks, and even The Expendables look to Seven Samurai as their model. It’s a movie about violence, innocence, and the price that men of the sword have to pay for doing the right thing. It’s beautiful and transcendental as only Kurosawa can make it and it’s one of the most thoughtful action films on our list.
Back in the day, Mel Gibson was kind of like Liam Neeson is now. He’s very nice and peaceful until you kill his wife, burn his farm and shoot his dog, at which point he’s obviously going to take horrible vengeance on you and everyone you hold dear, up to and including your entire country.
If Mad Max began Gibson’s career in vengeful badassery, Braveheart solidified it. The not-historically-accurate tale follows William Wallace, a peaceful 13th Century Scottish farmer who crosses some vicious English types, loses his wife to a nasty English commander and proceeds to wreak havoc on everything and everyone English.
While Braveheart will not stand up to the historically-accurate test, it still holds a place as one of the better Hollywood epics. Wallace’s final speech is iconic, as is his dying proclamation of FREEDOM! The film is unfortunately held hostage by history – the Scots lost the war, after all – but still manages to be triumphant and very satisfying. So remember: don’t mess with Mel Gibson.
41. Once Upon A Time In Mexico
Making one of his many appearances on our action list, Robert Rodriguez struck gold yet again with his mariachi masterpiece Once Upon A Time In Mexico. A sequel to the Antonio Banderas flick Desperado, which only happened because of Rodriguez’s indie hit El Mariachi, Once Upon A Time In Mexico raises the previous stakes thanks to explosive action, all-star casting additions, and plenty more of Rodriguez’s signature South-of-the-border style.
Robert Rodriguez is always able to keep his films feeling fresh and vibrant, which is highlighted by Johnny Depp’s character Agent Sands. With a knack for killing chefs, Sands loses his eyesight when caught by the baddies, and enlists the help of a local boy to tell him where to shoot. There’s also some face swapping, more destructive guitar cases, more guitar shredding, and of course – Danny Trejo.
If you like your action with some spicy salsa and a nice warm Corona, it doesn’t get much better than Once Upon A Time In Mexico.
Continue reading on the next page…
40. The Incredibles
Pixar’s cinematic canon is one brimming with lovable characters, but you’d look high and wide to find a family as lovable as The Incredibles. Grounded in a reality wherein superheroes are forced to humbly assimilate into society, Brad Bird’s animation moulds intelligent familial drama with memorable entertainment in expert fashion.
Longing to rekindle the ‘glory days’, Mr. Incredible is finding it hard to live as blue-collar Bob Parr alongside his superheroic family-of-five. But when duty calls, and a megalomaniac threatens, Mr. Incredible and his gang of amiable misfits don their crimson attire to save the world.
It’s a piece of cinema that ticks all the genre’s boxes: dazzling, but not over-indulgent, action-packed, but never tasteless. The results? A series of set-pieces that are so polished and inherently tight that they rival, if not outshine, any bombastic, run-of-the-mill live action movie precisely because The Incredibles understands the symbiotic link between action and emotion. Here is a film that defies any demographic grouping and subsequently appeals to all ages with its universal themes of responsibility, sacrifice and family.
“Are you not entertained?!” shouts Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s epic 2000 film Gladiator. Actually, it’s quite the contrary, at that stage in the film the audience was extremely entertained. In fact, was there any point in the film where anyone wasn’t feeling fully and completely entertained?
Gladiator is one hell of a movie, one that did extremely well at the box office, was loved by critics and earned a ton of awards, including several Oscars. Though most would classify it as a historical epic/drama, we think that there’s more than enough thrilling and visceral action to be found here that the film deserves a spot on our list. It may not be the straight-forward adrenaline rush that something like Die Hard offers and it’s certainly not an all out balls to the wall action flick like The Raid: Redemption, but Gladiator is an excellent film and one that has a lot of memorable action.
Though not all the thrills take place inside of the arena, most of them do, and the scenes in the good ol’ famous Coliseum rival the best of what the genre has to offer. They are frenetic and frantic as Scott throws you right into the fight with Maximus. We feel the rush as our hero goes head to head with soldiers and animals alike and overcomes tremendous odds.
Are we entertained? By god we are!
38. Rambo: First Blood
First Blood, if you’ve not seen it, is not the film you think it is. If you have seen it, though, then it’s not only the film you think it is, but also one of the best films you’ve ever seen. Sylvester Stallone can’t help himself when it comes to sequels of diminished quality, remakes of diminished relevance and cosmetic surgery of diminished logic, but he had, at one time, a legitimate claim to starring in two of the greatest movies ever made that deserved in no way not financial a sequel and got them anyway – Rocky and First Blood.
First Blood is a study of PTSD with a few pages from the Crazy Jungle Man Survival Handbook thrown in for good measure. Liked The Hunger Games? Well, The Hunger Games liked First Blood. This is THE film for those among us who want to see the most of human potential, and John Rambo is potential incarnate, carefully making the most of the environment, ever evading the attentions of a furious Brian Dennehy and fostering the unresolved coupling of guilt and resentment from his time in Vietnam.
Stallone is at his very second best as Rambo (Rocky’ll always take that top spot), with a performance that makes the most of his youthful beauty (because make no mistake, Stallone’s not handsome – he is beautiful) by using it to conceal an instinctive rage at constant war with absent comprehension. The John Rambo of First Blood is no indiscriminate topless murder machine – he’s a pensive and damaged soul in vain pursuit of somewhere to live in a country that doesn’t want him.
To further trouble a weathered and sighing metaphor, if Rambo III is a sweating bicep against which empty casings cascade unnoticed, First Blood is a heavy, heavy heart, and the kind of action movie even your quiet dad loves.
37. Kill Bill Vol. 1
After almost several years of flying under the radar, Quentin Tarantino sprang back with the first installment of his two-part, highly stylized, kung-fu charged revenge flick. In the aftermath of a wedding chapel massacre in El Paso, Texas, we follow our vengeance stricken protagonist The Bride, as she attempts to track down the assassins who violently took her marriage and family.
Loaded down with homages to Quentin Tarantino’s most admired samurai and martial arts films, Kill Bill Vol. 1 transcends the idea that it’s paying homage, coming into its own and turning into something worth celebrating. One of the most interesting sequences is the animated backstory of the cute, but deadly O-Ren Ishii, (seriously, mention her heritage and she’ll collect your head.) On top of that, the beautifully orchestrated, limb dismembering sword fight against the Crazy 88 will go down as one of the best film fight scenes of all time.
Blood sprays over a 10-foot radius. Women are granted the permission to carry swords on public aircrafts. It’s all very over the top and excessive. Yet we’re putting it on our top 100, because despite the fact that Kill Bill Vol. 1 imitates and pays tribute to many films that came before it, it still manages to claim a uniqueness of its own. An excellent example on how style can triumph over substance.
36. Lethal Weapon
The greatest of all buddy cop films, Lethal Weapon was another example of 80s action at its finest. Riggs is a cop with a death wish, perfect for dispensing of criminals, but a liability to anyone he gets partnered with, especially Murtaugh, who’s “too old for this shit.”
Gary Busey is up against the duo as The General’s chief henchman, pulling out all the stops in an excellent performance. Character driven in a way that many action films aren’t, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover perfectly compliment each other to provide a unique balance of drama, humor, and an ass-kicking good time.
Really, this is the film that provided the blueprint for buddy cop films and gave way to the genre, which is now booming. The witty script that provided Glover and Gibson with some great banter keeps things moving at a rapid pace and without this film, we would have never seen blockbusters like Bad Boys or Men In Black.
35. The Terminator
The movie that launched Arnold Schwartzenegger’s catch phrase, Linda Hamilton’s biceps and James Cameron’s career. Cyborg-murderer extraordinaire Arnie gets sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic wasteland to kill Sarah Conner (Hamilton) in order to prevent her from birthing John Conner, the future savior of the world.
To save her, John’s best friend Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) comes back too. But it turns out that he’s totally John’s dad, so if the Terminator hadn’t gone back in time, then John wouldn’t have been born and Kyle wouldn’t have gone back which means … wait. What?
The Terminator might have an 80s soundtrack and 80s hairstyles, but as an action film it holds up quite well. It’s Arnold’s most convincing role as a naked robot, too. Cameron trades in action movie tropes and here his sledgehammer approach to movie-making works quite well.
The violence is intense and a little over-the-top, the photography dark and grungy and very effective. While T2: Judgement Day comes in as the faster-paced action flick, there’s no beating the original.
Michael Mann is a director who knows how to balance a film. 1995’s Heat is a prime example of his skill there, as it juggles the conflict between hypercompetent cop Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and hypercompetent thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), with each man’s individual personal problems: a subplot centered on McCauley’s partner Chris (Val Kilmer), the increasingly unhinged behavior of psychotic want-to-be thief Waingro (Kevin Gage) and corrupt businessman Roger Van Zant’s (William Fichtner) efforts to get revenge on McCauley from stealing from him. Heat is a dense picture, but it never feels overstuffed or poorly paced.
Everything happens when Mann wants it to happen, be it one of the picture’s thrilling bank robberies or its famous coffee shop scene, where Hanna and McCauley sit down and talk to each other about their lives with one of the only people who can understand them before vowing to kill each other if they have to.
It was the first time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro had ever been on screen at the same time when it was made, and it is absolutely thrilling to watch.
Heat’s moments of action are as well-executed as its moments of contemplation. The cops and robbers move and shoot like cops and robbers, and the civilians try to get out the way without being idiots about it. Then there is the final showdown, where Mann sharpens the tension to a fine edge and brings spacial design, set design, sound design, Mann’s consistently well chosen soundtrack and the acting of his two leads together in a way that has held up marvellously well in the 18 years since its original release. Mann’s Collateral may be his most intimate film, but Heat remains his masterwork.
Another film which explains why the 80s ruled if you are an action fan, Commando stars action hero icon Arnold Schwarzenegger as a guy who does manly things like carry tree logs and kills entire hit squads.
Seriously, it’s Schwarzenegger versus a small army in an attempt to save his kidnapped daughter, doling out fantastically cheese-tastic one liners to accompany the bevy of grenades, rocket-launchers, assault rifles, and bulging muscles he uses to inflict mammoth amounts of damage.
Falling into the more silly and fun action film category, Commando is one of the most entertaining Arnie films you can find.
32. The Negotiator
The Negotiator is a tight, gritty thrill ride that straps you into your seat from almost the minute it takes off and does not, for one second, let up. Samuel L. Jackson goes head to head with Kevin Spacey in this explosive tale of two cops who end up on opposite sides of the law when one of them takes a number of hostages in order to clear his name for a crime he didn’t commit.
Both Jackson and Spacey are excellent here, maintaining the tension and intensity the whole way through. Behind the camera is F. Gary Gray, a director who has since proven that he can certainly deliver the thrills. It all makes for a very taut watch that emerged as one of the better films from the genre in the 90s.
Sure, it’s not perfect and if we really want to get into the nitty-gritty of it we can start poking holes at the plot and some of the writing, but The Negotiator is a solid action/thriller that gives us some well put together action sequences and a couple great twists and turns that keep us engaged.
Like many films on this list, it’s a product of its time but is still, to this day, a very enjoyable watch.
Castor Troy and Sean Archer, or should I say Sean Archer and Castor Troy? Either way, these two conflicting personalities become rather inseparable within John Woo’s 1997 action thriller Face/Off.
John Travolta and Nicolas Cage play an obsessive FBI agent and a narcissistic terrorist, respectively, which, given the film’s central plot, constructs a unique and riveting dynamic unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
You see, as the movie progresses; Archer (played by Travolta) agrees to partake in an experimental face transplant that will give him the appearance of Troy (Cage). In doing so, he’s able to hide in plain sight as the villainous criminal. However, after waking up from the surgery, Troy seeks revenge and manipulates the surgeons to give him Archer’s face and, in leaving scientific technicalities on the editing room floor, the two men trade identities.
Here, heroes and villains are merely two conventional lines in the sand that Woo blows over with expertise. There are imitators, and then there are initiators, and in terms of action filmmaking, John Woo’s films very much belong in the latter category.
Continue reading on the next page…
30. Top Gun
The late Tony Scott had a very particular method of approach to the directing chair. As such, his contribution to action cinema will always be remembered. And this contribution can be traced back to 1986’s action drama Top Gun – which acted as the director’s first major success. Starring Tom Cruise in the pilot’s seat, Scott’s film is a visceral flight path into nostalgia.
At its core, Top Gun is a cheesy love letter to the vibrant culture of the 1980s, big egos and even bigger hair. But while the film may be lambasted as the cinema equivalent of Marmite; dividing critics with its glamorised perspective of the US Navy and formulaic, if at times cringe-worthy dialogue, Scott’s opus provides enough entertainment value to sink the USS Enterprise.
The aerial dogfights are some of the most visceral reels from Scott’s career which, given the director’s back catalogue, is a feat in and of itself. If nothing else, Top Gun provided us with one of cinema’s most memorable on screen partnership in Maverick and Goose, who in turn have maintained their place in pop culture through DVD sales and Halloween costumes.
29. Escape From New York
Ok, what is there not to love about Escape from New York? It’s set in the 1980s, one of the action genre’s brightest decades, it stars Kurt Russell, who brings that certain attitude which makes eye-patch wearing Snake Plissken one of the most badass action heros of all time, it has an evil Isaac Hayes, it is created by action/horror guru John Carpenter, and it is loaded with futuristic fight scenes about a desecrated New York City.
Sure, it spawned a much lesser beloved sequel in Escape from LA, but don’t let that ruin your want to watch the original. Much like Predator, this classic grabbed my attention from moment one, bullying its way into my heart.
To this day, it still holds up as a thrilling action flick, one that is undoubtedly a classic.
28. Hard Boiled
John Woo’s action classic Hard Boiled is one of my favorite films and hands down one of the genre’s best offerings. It’s an important piece of work too as it was Woo’s last Hong Kong film. After it was released, he made the transition over to Hollywood. Not that he hasn’t done some excellent work stateide, quite the opposite actually, but there’s no denying the difference between his Hong Kong films and his Hollywood ones.
Though not as commercially successful as some of his other work, Hard Boiled was a hit with the critics. Many praised it for delivering some of the best action sequences ever committed to celluloid, a compliment that is certainly deserved.
Hard Boiled was a film that really put Woo on the map in North America and confirmed his standing as an incredibly talented action film director, one who could craft inventive and stylized action like no one else.
Yes, the plot may be a bit murky and the acting isn’t exactly the best but it’s hard to deny the sense of excitement when watching some of the action here. It really is quite impressive.
El Mariachi gave Robert Rodriguez recognition, but Desperado put him on the map. Fronted by a lady pleasing and ass-kicking Antonio Banderas playing a mariachi guitarist seeking revenge for the death of his lover, Desperado has a great Western feel mixed with the mariachi culture of our friends to the south.
Frequent Robert Rodriguez collaborators like Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek, and Cheech Marin are all along for the highly stylized yet brutal ride, solidifying Rodriguez’s unique brand of action in modern day Hollywood. Now if he’ll just stop making lame children’s movies and sticks with the hard-R material…
26. 13 Assassins
Most well known for his more repellent offerings Ichi the Killer and Audition, director Takashi Miike proved unequivocally in 2010 that he could deliver an epic, sweeping experience (that still didn’t skimp on his trademark love for crimson coloured mayhem). While very straightforward and linear in its approach and familiar in how these warriors are assembled to bring down an evil warlord, 13 Assassins masks it with strong, unique characters and of course what is one of the best action sequences every put to film.
The final 40 or so minutes of this masterpiece couldn’t be more thrilling and the technical prowess and editing skills required to keep everything discernable and visceral is nearly mind boggling. All the unique style we could want from an action film coupled with Asian flair and Miike’s sensibilities supercharged makes this epic a must see.
25. Con Air
Remember when Nicolas Cage was cranking out good films instead of the constant stream of garbage we now deal with? Well, Con Air might be one of his best, directed by The Expendables 2 helmer Simon West.
There is just so much to love here. From a star studded cast which includes Cage, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, John Cusak, and a bevy of other familiar faces, to taught and thrilling action while convicts hijack a transport plane.
There’s junk yard shootouts, stuffed bunny rabbits, a now uncharacteristically solid performance from Cage, phenomenal personality acting from each and every one of our convicts – what else do you need? It was one of the 90′s defining action films and is still, to this day, a wild ride.
24. The Rock
Michael Bay plus Nicolas Cage. I know, you’re shaking your head at the thought of that combo due to recent abominations in their name, but there’s a reason The Rock was added to the fabled Criterion Collection series.
Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage lead another cast of stars in a military thriller which pits the thoughts of patriotism against terrorism, set beautifully against the historical backdrop of Alcatraz.
Full of all the typical Bay-splosions and epically sized action, The Rock delivers serious doses of entertainment from seasoned actors that do everything right, something I wish Bay could do more often these days.
23. True Lies
Haven’t you always wanted to see Arnold Schwartzenegger dance the tango? Yeah, me neither. But I still love True Lies. Jamie Lee Curtis is the long-suffering wife of Arnie, a supposed computer salesman who is actually a super-secret FBI agent. When he discovers that his wife is cheating on him because he’s so boring, he decides to create an adventure for her … one that ultimately coincides with a real terrorist investigation involving stolen nuclear weapons.
This, you must understand, is a very realistic film. It’s also incredible amounts of fun. Everyone involved seems to be having a good time. Arnie is actually pretty funny, as is Tom Arnold as his totally-not-annoying partner. Then there’s Jamie Lee Curtis, who goes from mousey housewife to bombshell in 5.2 seconds. There are terrorists, missiles, car chases, a strip-tease and … well, it’s an action film. A great, 90s, action film.
22. Air Force One
Easily ranking among the most kick ass movie Presidents, Harrison Ford’s James Marshall is a tough as nails former soldier who doesn’t forget the importance of delivering slick one-liners before offing his opponents.
Wolfgang Peterson’s actionier does a number of things right in an effort which could easily be concept over everything else. He avoids making the film blatantly patriotic, makes the layout of the aircraft seem like a real, physical space and makes the president a hero on a primal level, thankfully not over blowing his actions or making him into some invincible superhero. He has flaws and it make his character far more interesting.
Great, often unsettling, shootouts, a finale that actually becomes tenser as things progress and of course, a fantastic turn by Gary Oldman as the terrorist ring leader, Air Force One is classic 90’s action and the type of movie we just don’t see anymore these days.
21. The Raid: Redemption
It’s true. The Raid: Redemption was nothing special plot wise, sticking an Indonesian SWAT team in a giant apartment building filled with goonish thugs blindly following a criminal mastermind. When the place gets locked down, only one thing is focused on: survival. But with such a simple and succinct story, it speaks volumes to how well director Gareth Evans is able to bring the hurt.
Actors Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian also doubled as fight coordinators on the film, both being masters of the martial arts form on display, Pencak Silat. Ruhian himself trained in Indonesia’s equivalent to the US Secret Service, and such masterful training boldly breaks through in some of the most impressive, jaw-dropping, entertaining, fluid, professional, symphonic, and downright enjoyable Hollywood fighting in any action movie to date. The Raid: Redemption is an insta-classic amongst action fans and some of the fights have to be seen to be believed.
Continue reading on the next page…Previous Next
20. Independence Day
When thinking of Independence Day, one thinks of a great half a movie and a vaguely defined ending with a whole lotta schmutz in between. In some ways, it feels like two thirds of a trilogy with the last third shortened to ten minutes and tacked on the end. Its opening half, which couples the destruction of America with the development of some very likeable leads in Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum (to this day one of my favourite pairs of humans ever assembled), is very good. Its latter half, in which Brent Spiner is possessed by a ghastly alien and President Roslin dies and Will Smith’s cousin from out of Fresh Prince is his son now, is less so.
What it is, right, is a good example of how hard it used to be for filmmakers to follow up on scenes of massive climactic destruction. Now, with The Last Of Us, The Walking Dead and even World War Z fresh in the memory, it’s worth remembering that post-Apocalyptia wasn’t the selling point it is these days. After everything we saw in those spoilerific trailers, ID4 (to use its promotional and entirely incorrect abbreviation), flounders.
Still, the scenes of motherships moving into place above some of earth’s most recognizable landmarks before blasting them to pieces innumerable are still something to behold (even if they did account for 99% of the film’s marketing), and Randy Quaid and that guy with the incredibly raspy voice are tremendous value. With a sequel recently confirmed, the film’s legacy is sure to be further compromised, so let’s all enjoy it on its own merits for as long we still can.
Also, Bill Pullman. Sigh… I miss Bill Pullman.
19. The Road Warrior
It’s a bleak and desolate future. Food, fuel and other resources are scarce, and humanity has succumbed to tribalism and increased acts of depravity and desperation in order to survive. Potential scavengers are everywhere, and if you can’t protect yourself, then you’re as good as dead. Yet from all this, a lone hero emerges from the wastes to give some small shred of hope to the remaining dregs of human civilization. It’s a description generic enough to be used when pitching several different movies over the last 30 years, but George Miller got there first with The Road Warrior.
Building on the world established in 1979’s Mad Max, Miller was able to use a bump in the budget to paint an even bleaker picture of post-apocalyptic Australia. In the sequel, the world of “Mad” Max Rockatansky has continued to fall apart, and any semblance of law and order seems more or less gone. Max finds himself caught between a group of marauders led by a man known simply as The Humungus, and a group of settlers who have taken up residence in one of the last, operational oil refineries. For a can of petrol, Max has to somehow help the settlers get away with their precious gasoline while outwitting the Marauders. Much car chasing and explosions ensue.
And such action it is. Miller squeezes every last nickel out of his small budget to create some of the most intense car chases this side of The Fast and the Furious, and since all the stunt work was practically done, all the crashes, and the spills, and the explosions feel that much more visceral; it’s almost surprising that no one was killed making this thing. From an art direction standpoint, the film went on to inspire a diverse range of films from James Cameron’s The Terminator to the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, even Waterworld was basically “Mad Max of the Sea.” and masked visage of The Humungus gets the silver medal in the category of “Best Use of a Hockey Mask for an 80s Movie Villain.”
18. The Good, The Bad, The Weird
A mash-up of uber-stylized kung-fu action and Spaghetti Western type genre lore, Jee-won Kim struck gold with his immensely fun action romp. Between stunning choreography comparable to a five star ballet and epic fighting on a top-notch entertainment level, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is far more fun than expected.
Wrapping everything together neatly, Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung play extremely well together, each as one of the characters in the title, giving the world an awesomely unique South Korean Western adaptation. Ever think that would be possible?
The film is a blast, from start to finish, and provides over-the-top silliness that it just too much fun to ignore. The well-choreographed action sequences and completely insane set pieces rival the best of what Hollywood to offer and despite everything that’s going on, the story never loses track of its characters, who are all likeable.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird takes its inspiration from several genres, mashing everything together into a hodgepodge of a film that on paper, sounds like it wouldn’t work but miraculously does, and boy does it ever work well, giving us one of the most thrilling action/adventures of all time.
Before there was Man Of Steel, there was Zack Snyder’s 300. An epic version of Frank Miller’s testosterone-infused graphic novel about the disastrous Battle of Thermopylae, this film is nothing short of insane.
The whole thing begins with Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, bearded) kicking a Persian envoy into a pit with a roar of ‘This. Is. SPARTA!’ Things only get wilder from there, as the Spartans leave home to face down King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, sparkly) and his hordes of lobster-men, ninjas and dancing naked women. Meanwhile, at home, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) has to fend off Theron (Dominic West) and get the Greeks to get off their asses and go fight the Persians. A woman’s work is never done.
300 would be offensive – there are some rather blatant comparisons to modern-day Iran and Iraq – if it wasn’t so over the top. From some really spectacular cinematography, marred only by Snyder’s tendency to put everything in slow motion, to some seriously crazed creature characters, 300 is so wild and bizarre that you kind of have to just sit there with your mouth half open and be amazed. It’s one of those films that you shouldn’t think too deeply about. Just enjoy Butler and Fassbender in leather.
16. Rambo III
Rambo III isn’t the best film in the series, we’re not going to try and pretend like it is. But when it comes to pure, unadulterated, balls to the wall action, it certainly stands taller than its peers. More similar to Rambo II than to the original Rambo, the third instalment in this classic action series disregards plot, characters and everything else that gives a film substance.
Instead, it goes for flat-out action and boy does it succeed. Our titular hero is absolutely relentless here as he unleashes a fury of violence and over the top carnage on his enemies.
Rambo III could not be any more different than the original. It loses the gritty tone and drops all form of characterization, instead giving us a sometimes laughable, but never unenjoyable, film that goes so far to give us a gratuitous bloodbath that at times, it almost feels like parody.
From a filmmaking perspective, this is easily the worst of the series, but fans of the genre, and of the character, will have a great time with Rambo III. It’s an excuse to let Stallone go apeshit on Soviet baddies, what can be more fun that watching that?
This is 80s action at some of its very best. Between the super macho cast of buff superstars to brilliant science fiction influenced fighting, Predator is one of the most intense depictions of slow-burn cat and mouse hunting ever scripted. But then when the long fuse finally burns out, Predator explodes in a grand exposition of predatory dominance. The final mano y mano tussle between Dutch and our Predator still holds strong as one of the best grudge matches in action film history.
Not being pigeonholed into only badassery, John McTiernan truly understands what fun the action genre can hold, and delivers one of the most quotable and entertaining films on this list. Oh yeah, and it could be Arnold’s most memorable role, if not tied with numerous others. There’s no way around recognizing Predator as one of the greatest action films ever created, and anyone who fights this point needs a real lesson in Action Movies 101.
14. Enter The Dragon
Enter The Dragon is notable for answering, definitively, one of the most persistently perplexing playground questions in Earth’s history: who would win in a fight between Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan? Well, somewhere in the middle of this Bond Film That Never Was, Bruce Lee dispatches Mr. Chan without a second glance, also making short work of Chow Yun Fat in the process, years before the two became international megastars.
Lee’s final film is also his best, merging his distinct philosophy with the Western aesthetics of big summer blockbusters to create a consistently satisfying action film that harkens very closely to the mould of those aforementioned Bond efforts to great effect. It even co-stars John Saxon, who remains for the me the Bond That Never Was, and a man whose handsomeness frequently challenges my unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality.
The Bond That Never Was in The Bond Film That Never Was with Bruce Lee and maybe even Lalo Schifrin’s best score work thrown in to boot? That, my friends, is the recipe for Super Cake.
13. V for Vendetta
An overwhelming underrated film in most critics’ circles, V for Vendetta has nevertheless flourished amongst audiences and remains one of the most infinitely re-watchable films in recent memory. Kudos must be dealt to director James McTeigue and his brisk handling of the action and creation of dystopian Britain, though the film ultimately rests on lead Hugo Weaving whose masked portrayal of the terrorist V is nothing short of mesmerizing.
With only the central story and his voice and mannerisms to help craft this antihero, he rises to the occasion of creating both a badass justice-dispatcher and a troubled, broken man. To top things off, the ultimately dense narrative nevertheless unravels at a riveting pace and stands as one of the most impressive graphic novel adaptations of all time.
12. Kung Fu Hustle
Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle is hands down one of the most masterful examples of brilliant contemporary kung-fu cinema. Why? Because Chow’s film isn’t just acrobatic fight scenes and expert martial arts – it’s an ambitious mix of comedy, mystical legends, lightning-quick action sequences, beautiful set-pieces, and stunning visuals that add an air of fantasy to Kung-Fu Hustle. It’s like a sampler platter of your favorite foods, with each bite only getting more and more delectable.
There just so much style and beauty to Chow’s film, which he also stars in, that it flows along with the grace of an expert ballerina. Every swift kick and stacked punch glides perfectly in stride with the opposing force’s moves, turning the action into one magnificent dance number. This of course doesn’t overshadow the real dance numbers put on by the Axe Gang, who are just as musical as they are brutal. Seriously, you’ll laugh your butt off just as much as you’ll have it kicked.
Kung Fu Hustle is not only a jack of all trades, but it’s a mast of all trades as well. Take a bow Stephen Chow, because you’ve got yourself a masterpiece on your hands.
The original Alien was an eerie, claustrophobic, “haunted house” style exercise in intergalactic horror and still stands as one of the most haunting sci-fi experiences in cinematic history. James Cameron’s Aliens is a completely different beast, so to speak, presenting the same universe in utterly relentless fashion – there is no pause and no downtime from the terror in Aliens.
Also, even more than the first, Aliens cements Sigourney Weaver as a genuine action heroine and ramps up the bloodshed and carnage to gleeful fashion, all while maintaining the cramped, suffocating atmosphere of the first. It’s a triumph on all levels and transcendent of its genres.
Though its action elements were in direct contrast to the more horror/suspense elements seen in the first film, it’s still a non-stop, balls to the wall adventure and it takes viewers on an absolute roller-coaster ride. Most would say that it surpasses the original and while I’m still not sure about that, it is an excellent action film that combined sci-fi, action and adventure into something truly wonderful.
Continue reading on the next page…
10. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Foreign martial arts films are far from noteworthy Stateside when it comes to awards recognition and financial returns, but for Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it achieved both, not only existing as a visually sumptuous tale of revenge but it was also able to reach a level of accessibility not achieved by previous entries in the genre.
The prospects of the genre as a whole in North America may have never been meant to be but Crouching Tiger is unlike any action film you’ve ever seen – stunningly choreographed at every juncture all while crafting strong, likeable characters (or detestable in some cases) and dazzling aesthetic execution.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of those movies that spawned a thousand imitators, such that you almost forget how good the original was. Part martial-arts epic, part love story, all-awesome.
The plot is fairly convoluted, but it all begins with the theft of a jade sword that spurs a hunt for missing treasure and a tale of love lost, betrayed and regained … only to be lost again.
The audience’s sympathies are manipulated expertly as we move from one character to another; even the eventual villains are complex and multi-faceted characters whose anger and betrayal are perfectly justified. The use of Western China’s gorgeous landscape draws out the notion of magic and reality existing side by side and the integration of the more magical special effects in the midst of the physical combat is seamless.
Crouching Tiger a great martial arts film that turns into a complex narrative about men and women and the exchange of power, political, sexual and physical. It’s a beautiful film that does not fail to be exhilarating.
9. Battle Royale
Infamous for its media controversy and upset, is Kinji Fukasaku’s Japanese bloodbath Battle Royale. Similar to the plot and concept of 2012’s The Hunger Games (although it came before), the film is much harsher in tone, albeit its morbid sense of humor.
Enforced by a parental disciplinary Battle Royal Act, a group of forty-two schoolmates and close friends are put on an island and forced to kill each other off, until a sole survivor emerges victorious. Sure it’s barbaric, but what stems from this demented and savage masterpiece can only been seen as one of the most character driven and provocative actioners of the last decade.
In addition to being downright humorous at times, the student’s soulless and morally detached efforts to persevere through the traumatic contest are freighting to watch. Juvenile class crushes, and settling old scores from the early schoolyard days tend to be the main focal points of deep-seeded revenge.
From the opening frames of a relentless tide crashing upon the coastland, accompanied by the bombastic choir of Masamichi Amano’s opera inspired score, you know you’re in for some carnage. If that’s your thing, then Battle Royale will deliver in spades. It also has its fair share of melodramatic gushiness that surprisingly holds the film afloat.
Assuming you watch the much superior Director’s Cut, an additional eight minutes are added to the film, only strengthening and providing more depth to its diverse set of characters. That’s where Battle Royale really shines. Clocking in around a two-hour runtime, the film manages to flesh out its characters beautifully before they tragically bite the dust.
My only appeal to viewing the film is that you don’t go into it seeking an underlying social/political statement. Without a doubt, the movie raises some interesting questions regarding human nature, channeling some sort of Lord of The Flies interpretation, although the film is best enjoyed for entertainment purposes.
Battle Royale is a merciless, grisly and bloodletting nightmare of a film. Above all, it’s just a damn good time at the movies. If you haven’t seen it already, do yourself a favor and pick up Battle Royale: The Complete Collection on Blu-Ray for the full experience. By all means, avoid Battle Royale II: Requiem though, a cheap imitation and uninvolving retread of the fantastic original.
Amounting to a ferocious exercise in white-knuckle action and pithy humor, Speed helped rocket starlet Sandra Bullock into stardom and cemented Keanu Reeves’ standing as an A-list leading man. The film expertly employs immensely impressive practical special effects and uses them to execute a disturbingly plausible scenario (schemed up by a scene stealing Dennis Hopper).
Speed proves that characters could be successfully developed on the go and derive chemistry from the situation at hand, not through forced meet-cutes. We even root for the supporting characters trapped on Bus 2525 as we’re able to identity with their situation, all while being thrilled by the non-stop action and all encompassing sense of cool.
Everything about Speed just works so well. It’s slick and well-paced, and the action will have your adrenaline going from the start. It’s a true 90′s classic that may tone down the blood and gore, but makes up for it in spades with tension and intensity, giving us a wild ride that will leave you breathless by the end.
7. Point Break
Since Point Break’s release in 1991, a whole new generation of wannabe surfers and skydivers has been spawned, all with visions of becoming the next renegade FBI agent who gets paid to do all the intense action sports their hearts desire.
The thrills are balanced with deeper stories of love, friendship, and learning to live life to its fullest. But let’s be real, no one watches this movie for its love story. They watch to see Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze catching waves and jumping out of airplanes.
There’s something haunting about the image of the ex-presidents, all in their masks, especially when Mr. Reagan turns a gas-hose into a flamethrower. Watching that gas station go up in flames, and the placid, composed manner of its burner, truly shows that some of the best action scenes ever have an eerie calm to them.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a ton of intense, hectic action scenes present. Katherine Bigelow shows her expertise when it comes to directing action in this film better than any other. Filled the brim with chase scenes and gunfights, every bit of action is composed and directed to perfection.
From car chases to epic scenes of surfing, the film is 100% pure adrenaline. It’s hard to imagine a more intense scene than the one where Utah and Bohdi wrestle while free-falling out of an airplane. But still, the one part of Point Break that is acted and directed to ultimate perfection is where Utah chases Bodhi through houses, yards, and the streets, before finally falling on his fragile knee, “missing” his shot, and sending his most memorable, defeated shout into the sky.
Continue reading on the next page…
6. The Bourne Ultimatum
It’s extremely satisfying when a conclusion to a trilogy ends up being the best, and there are few trilogies that do this better than Bourne. The Bourne Ultimatum is faster, more intense, and far and above the best film of a phenomenal action trilogy. By this time, Matt Damon had really come into his own as an action star, and he turns in a performance that ensures he will forever be remembered as Jason Bourne.
It’s difficult for something as action-packed as this to be intelligent as well. Paul Greengrass successfully bridges the gap between adrenaline-rush action and quality, well-thought out cinema in a way that few films in the genre have ever managed. Greengrass doesn’t do much new in his second Bourne film, but rather he perfects all the successful elements of his previous thriller, making for a film that’s on an entirely new level. So many complicated loose ends from the previous films are deftly tied up, never feeling forced, but rather serving as such satisfying conclusions to all the questions Bourne is faced with.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fight scene as intense as Bourne vs. Desh. The way the two fly across rooftops and through tiny buildings gives feelings of moving too fast and claustrophobia all at once. The stakes are almost painfully high, as not only is Bourne in danger, but his new companion is as well. The music is perfect for the scene, but it’s also removed at the ideal time, leaving just the sound of glass crashing, bones breaking, and flesh pounding flesh. Instead of flooding those moments with music to build intensity, a much more intense sound is present – the sound of two men literally fighting for their lives.
With The Bourne Ultimatum, Greengrass and Damon showed that there are few action heroes who can be extreme in more ways than Jason Bourne.
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a rousing spectacle matched by few. Steven Spielberg’s seminal globe-trotting journey is not only as crisply thrilling as it was in 1981 but has transcended its roots as a “mere” action adventure, spawning a sub-genre of its own and propelling the character of Indiana Jones to near-godly recognition.
Not to be constrained to a single archetype, Raiders of the Lost Arc effortlessly combines humour, heart and a heaping pile of rugged masculinity, all snuggled perfectly amongst a film that offers up set pieces, romance and religious lore. A difficult task executed with care and aplomb.
Some of the best action sequences of all time came out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, from the exhilarating opening in a South American temple to a Cairo-set airplane fight scene with an ill-fated Nazi mechanic. And any review of this movie would be incomplete without a tip of the hat to one of the most hilarious non-action sequences ever captured on celluloid, by which we mean Indy’s brief, character-defining standoff with an Arab swordsman.
Harrison Ford’s winning performance is essential to the film’s appeal; as the whip-cracking, snake-hating Dr. Jones, Ford radiates effortless charm and laconic wit, effectively redefining ‘cool’ for an entire generation. The actor is almost single-handedly responsible for creating the archetype of the burly, brainy explorer, today emulated by protagonists like Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft and Uncharted’s Nathan Drake. “I hate snakes,” he growls, a line that would become an instant classic. And we love him for it.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is to action what Psycho is to horror or Blade Runner is to science fiction. It’s an inimitable experience, rich in thrills, laughs and cinematic ingenuity, and the finest example of great cinema’s ability to fully astound and transport its viewers.
4. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Terminator 2 sits atop a pile of action movies that qualify as great movies, period: that select group of films for whom the excitement is never gratuitous but a logical means to an end, an integral storytelling mechanic that’s never abused but rather incorporated as foundation. Terminator 2’s truck slide, its motorcycle chase and its knock-down, drag-off-in-pieces robot wrasslin’ bouts are never a gloss, and work as well as statements on our own nature as people (also espoused by the superb young Ed Furlong as John Connor in one scene for those who prefer their allegory with a more literal slant) as they do as fuel for popcorn binges. The silence of Arnie and Robert Patrick’s tussles as they slam each other to bits and pieces is chilling as a rumination on desensitization, but it’s also a plain old-fashioned thrill to see, too.
Schwarzenegger (and in this dominant performance, he truly is the mononymous Schwarzenegger – entity, not actor) turns in perhaps the best work of his career, adding another layer to his still underappreciated (methodically speaking) work from the first film and bringing to life a soulless thing like none other in the robotic cinematic canon. No slouch, either, is Linda Hamilton, so completely transformed from the bike-riding, big-haired and doe-eyed teen of the first film that she could pass for another actress. Children Of The Corn fans may balk, but that Hamilton’s legacy has proven to be almost exclusively these two films is a testament to her dedication and adaptability as an actress, and while she’s not plastered on the posters, she steals the film.
Terminator 2 is many things to many people – special effects showcase, valid and superior sequel, love story, social commentary – but most people who’ve seen it, regardless of their level of investment in sci-fi or Schwarzenegger, are likely to acknowledge its enduring ability to make you feel like you’ve just seen someone make the most of the medium.
The film is considered by many to be one of the best sequels in cinematic history, and one of even fewer films that surpasses the original. Director and co-writer James Cameron, who was already well-known at this point for the first Terminator and Aliens, took everything about the original and multiplied it by 1,000.
For starters, he took the original story and turned it on its head to where The Terminator is reprogrammed by The Resistance and sent back in time to protect John Connor, the same boy whose life he was trying to prevent before. However, the machines have upped their game too by sending back The T-1,000, an unstoppable force composed of liquid metal. What follows is a film filled to the brim with pulse-pounding action, state of the art special effects, and a thrilling story that has you gripped every step of the way.
Technically, T2 set an ambitious tone as well. With a budget several times that of the first film, Cameron went hog wild with car chases, close-quarter combat that destroyed walls, and one scene where Schwarzenegger’s Terminator takes on what looks like the entire LAPD. But not content to just do big explosions, Cameron upped the ante with visual effects, seamlessly integrating the real life Patrick with the computer-generated liquid metal form of the T-1000. Although the effect seems simple 20 years later by today’s standards, Cameron broke new ground at the time, and, in fact, continues to break new ground for the technical aspects of filmmaking today.
Don’t get me wrong, the first Terminator is a good film, featuring one of the most unforgettable climaxes ever seen in science-fiction, but the sequel raised everything to a whole different level, which earns it a prestigious place on our list of the best action films ever made.
There was once a day where in the rare circumstance your film got a sequel, it would be a carbon copy of the first film because, well, you can catch lightning in a bottle twice, right? James Cameron begged to differ. By comparison, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was not just bigger, louder and longer than the 1984 original The Terminator, it raise the stakes to a level nearly impossible to match, and it’s a high that subsequent studios and filmmakers have been chasing ever since, but to little success.
Continue reading on the next page…
3. Bond Franchise
When it comes to action icons, there’s one hero whose longevity and quality of films makes him stand far above the rest. That man’s name? Bond. James Bond.
007 has time and time again showed just why he’s the great hero he is. 6 actors have played the role on the big screen, and while the jury is still out on who is best, they’ve all brought something unique to the table and delivered performances that are extremely fun to watch. Of course, some films are certainly considered to be better than others, but none of the films are lacking on great action from our suave hero.
Part of what makes the Bond films so great are the awesome villains. From Oddjob to Jaws, there’s been big and small, sinister and pure evil. 007′s nemeses are some of the most notable villains in all of cinema, and each new movie gives us another baddie to loathe.
Villains, cars, and girls – those are the three key ingredients to great action. Toss in a side of silenced PP7 and you’ve got yourself the greatest action hero to ever live, with 23 great films to prove it. And it’s likely that we’ll get to see at least 23 more before Bond sips his last martini.
Continue reading on the next page…
2. The Matrix
Timing can make or break a movie’s legacy, and had it not hit right at the turn of the millennium, The Matrix might have been too prescient, or behind the curve to really have made much of an impact. Instead, it managed to make Platonic philosophy, hard sci-fi, hackers, and leather fetishism into a blistering, sexy and exciting experience that would prove to be hugely influential in the nascent years of 21st century blockbuster filmmaking.
The franchise that launched a thousand action scenes based around slowing down shootouts instead of speeding them up, The Matrix is the first sci-fi action epic for the digital age. Thanks to having an actual narrative reason for letting realistic physics take a hike, the Wachowskis were free to choreograph the kinds of shootouts and martial arts throwdowns you couldn’t have ever fathomed in a time before computer generated trickery was the standard.
Even if stripped of all its techno-paranoia and stylized philosophizing, the film is classic of the fisticuff and firearm genre based solely on the setpieces, big and small. Trinity’s ad nauseatingly parodied freeze-frame flying crane kick, Neo and Morpheus going toe-to-toe in the dojo, the white collar fantasy come to life that was the lobby shootout –the list of unforgettable moments and sequences goes on, and will, as The Matrix will continue to thrill and inspire lovers of the genre looking to make their mark in the future.
Continue reading on the next page…
1. Die Hard
A heavily reworked script that originally started as a Commando sequel. A star who was best known as the sarcastic and schlubby half of what was then TV’s favorite romantic comedy. A director with only two films under his belt that were both critical failures. Do these sound like the makings of one of the greatest action movies ever made, or one of the worst?
But that’s the beauty of Die Hard, a film that’s all about making do with the hand you’re dealt. For New York cop John McClane, that hand includes having to spend Christmas in L.A., trying to win back his ex-wife at her office Christmas party, while a sniveling William Atherton runs around as the living embodiment of coked-out 80’s excess. Oh, and if that weren’t bad enough, a bunch of terrorists, led by the dastardly and dapper Hans Gruber, have decided to crash the event, leaving world-weary McClane as the only one who can stop them.
Despite how much more like an Average Joe Willis looked like compared to the rippling bodybuilder gods of the era, there’s not an ounce of fat or excess weight to be found in Die Hard. When other action flicks were busy adding more and more firearms and fuselage, John McTiernan focused things down to a more intimate, grounded scale, where every shot, line of dialogue, and shard of glass counts.
Die Hard on a ______ became an industry term for years from people trying, and failing to recapture Die Hard’s perfection. Nakotomi Plaza was the bottle, and John McClane was the lightning.
So there you have it, our list of what we think are the 100 greatest action films. Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below.Previous