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.
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