Thrills, spills, chills, and kills: this is why we go to the movies, to see big, amazing, improbable and impossible stuff happen on the big screen.
Here are our picks for some of the best action movies ever made.
14. Die Hard
Part of the reason 1988’s Die Hard works so well is its cinematic context. Action movies at the time all tended to feature stoic dudes with huge muscles laying waste with boulder-sized fists and machine guns, never doubting their utter alpha maleness and barely cracking a smile. Contrast that with Die Hard, in which Bruce Willis is a relatively normal-sized, normal looking guy who cracks wise and expresses fear and self-doubt as he almost single-handedly beats back terrorists to literally save Christmas. Die Hard also gave us a breakout performance from the beloved Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, one of the all-time great movie villains. “Efficient, adult, cooperative — not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr Takagi did not see it that way, so he won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.”
Check Out The Review of Avengers: Infinity War
13. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy is really more like one long movie, but the middle part is definitely the best chapter, showing the result of Bruce Wayne’s training in Batman Begins, and the start of what will play out in The Dark Knight Rises. 2008’s The Dark Knight is arguably the best-made superhero movie of all time, with a tone that reflects the character and shows utter faithfulness to the comics it’s based on. “What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, no, no. no, you. You — you complete me.”
12. The French Connection
Gene Hackman’s tough guy cop Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle just never stops running. Or driving. Or roughing up criminals in the pursuit of justice, even if he has to don a Santa suit while doing so. “All winter long I gotta listen to him gripe about his bowling scores. Now I’m gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I’m going to nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie!” Despite being so frenetic, so tough, so new, and so very violent, 1971’s The French Connection won Best Picture at the Academy Awards — the first R-rated flick ever to do so.
11. Raiders of the Lost Ark
It’s supposed to be a homage to the action-adventure serials that director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas grew up watching in the 1950s. But the thing is, those often weren’t very good movies—1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, however, completely overshadows its source material and is nearly a perfect film. Every scene is crowd-pleasing, particularly the iconic action sequences … Raiders is pure fun, beginning to end.
1987’s RoboCop is a violent, action-packed, futuristic cop movie…or is it a violent, action-packed, futuristic cop movie that satirizes violent, action-packed movies from the ’80s? “You have the right to remain silent.” “F— you!” Like any good work of satire, it works on both levels. RoboCop has a lot to say about the value of human life in the crime-ridden future world of New Detroit. After all, it’s about a cop struck down by some pretty intense violence…and then resurrected as a cyborg designed to execute as many criminals as humanly possible.
9. The Matrix
A college-level philosophy class was never so eye-popping. 1999’s The Matrix kind of blew everybody’s minds with its central conceit: that there’s no point to human life beyond their bodies being bags of energy. Neo gets to decide if he’s cool with that, or if he wants to try to exist on a higher plane with his own free will. Pretty heady stuff for the multiplex, but The Matrix features a lot of bells and whistles, such as the insane fight between Neo and Agent Smith, and that innovative “bullet time” effect, which seemed to bend time itself.
By the mid-’90s, action movies were dying under their own weight: huge budgets meant lots of explosions but not a lot of depth or character. Then came 1994’s Speed, an all-killer-no-filler thrill ride couched in a simple premise: If a Los Angeles city bus slows to under 50 miles per hour, a bomb planted on board explodes. It breaks with form to make for lots of surprises, and the plot necessitates absolutely non-stop action. “We just got a ransom demand from your dead terrorist. Says he’s rigged a city bus. Where’s Jack?” “Where do you think?” “I gotta get on that bus.” “You gotta get on … Yeah. Yeah! You get on the bus.” But there’s also a lot of humanity in Speed: Everyday people from many different walks of life are thrust together onto the city bus, and they come together as a team to rise up and meet the challenge.
7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The original Terminator from 1984 is pretty fantastic in its own right—dark, gritty, weird, and menacing, all with a charming, low-budget air. The 1992 follow-up Terminator 2 was one of the most expensive movies of all time—but the money is all up there on the screen. Especially well executed is the iconic motorcycles vs. semi-truck chase scene. And every time a puddle of liquid metal reshaped itself into that evil Terminator? Still cool, and still looking state of the art after more than 25 years.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road
Reboots generally don’t work—and even if they do, they’re still doomed to pale in comparison to the original thing. Not so with Mad Max: Fury Road, which expands and improves on the Mad Max universe with a nonstop ride through the familiar, harrowing, post-apocalyptic wasteland on modified cars piloted by crazed, survival-driven nomadic warriors. Mad Max creator George Miller returned to direct Fury Road, and his 35-plus years of experience as a filmmaker are up there on the screen with an action movie that’s both endlessly thrilling and emotionally compelling. Plus, there’s a character called “Doof Warrior” who plays a fire-spewing electric guitar, if you’re still not convinced.
“Swords and sandals” movies hadn’t been popular for decades when director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe brought them back in a big way with 2000’s Gladiator. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Crowe won Best Actor for his performance as Roman general-turned-slave Maximus. “Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance.” Against a classical Roman backdrop, audiences root for Maximus’s quest to avenge the misdeeds of the evil emperor, win his freedom, and survive the brutal arena — and Scott stages some of the most thrilling action sequences ever put to film.
4. Jurassic Park
The original Jurassic Park was a revelation in 1993, popularizing a subgenre known as the “techno-thriller.” Pioneered by author Michael Crichton, these fables inevitably involve technology run amok to the shock and horror of the humans that created it. “Before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunch box, and now (*pounds table*) you’re selling it.” But of course, that’s all a lot of fun to watch, especially when the technology is realistic dinosaurs hunting humans under a majestic, unforgettable score by John Williams, all brought to life with masterful direction by Steven Spielberg. Add it all up, and you’ve got a modern masterpiece of popcorn cinema.
3. Lethal Weapon
Detectives Riggs and Murtaugh are mismatched cops — one a loose cannon who doesn’t play by the rules, and the other a by-the-books guy who is. “I’m too old for this s—.” 1987’s Lethal Weapon makes this formula work because the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover is so charming. That, and the plot—largely couched in dark comedy—never goes where the audience thinks it will. “You wanna see crazy? I’ll tell ya.” “Now that’s a real badge, I’m a real cop, and this is a real f—— gun.” Even thirty years later, this s— never gets old.
2. The Avengers
The superhero genre really got going when Marvel Studios started laying the groundwork for its vast cinematic universe, setting the stage for arguably the single greatest superhero team-up possible. For the Avengers’ long-awaited big-screen debut, Marvel hired a director who really understood comic books—Joss Whedon—and assembled a cast of acclaimed actors who really understood how to deliver Whedon’s witty dialogue. “Alright, yay. Alright, good job, guys. Let’s just not come in tomorrow. Let’s just take a day.” No expense was spared making a movie that was limitless in terms of superpowers, earth-shattering fights, things from space—like a comic book come to life. The Avengers is now the standard by which all other big, fun superhero movies are judged.
1. Kill Bill
Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is an epic tale of revenge, centred on a hero of near-superhuman abilities and unrelenting focus, but with enough vulnerabilities and human motivation to make audiences root for her. Uma Thurman’s Bride goes on a quest to locate and murder every member of the squad that left her for dead years earlier—and find the baby she was pregnant with at the time of the attack. The trail ultimately leads to the gang’s leader, and her baby’s father, David Carradine’s Bill, but along the way, the Bride must subdue each of her enemies in insanely choreographed fight sequences, any number of which would be the centrepiece of any semi-decent action movie.
Stay tuned with Unbox Series.
Also, check out