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.
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