We Got This Covered’s Top 100 Action Movies

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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.

17. 300

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?

15. Predator

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.

11. Aliens

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.

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