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.
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