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.
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