Last week saw the release of a franchise best seventh Fast and Furious film, while this coming Friday Keanu Reeves will off a bunch of bad guys as John Wick. This got us thinking about the best modern action films, so naturally we made a list.
We know we've probably missed some, so feel free to sound off with your suggestions. We'll be the ones repeatedly banging our heads off of our desks for missing it.
The Bourne Identity
Arguably, the second and third films were better received, but the first Bourne movie remains one of the most seminal action movies ever made. Director Doug Liman took a huge risk with his loose style of execution, and leading man Matt Damon was on a losing streak at the box office when cast as the mysterious former government operative. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are absolutely superb and the car chase through Paris top notch. There's a reason fans are clamouring for Damon and other series helmer Paul Greengrass to come back for a fourth film - which they are next year - Bourne is a timeless hero.
It's easy to dismiss The Matrix after the failure of its two far inferior sequels; Reloaded has its moments, but Revolutions is a pile of shite. In 1999 when this flick first landed, audiences had never seen anything like it before. The Wachowski Siblings were heralded as a new breed of director, and 'bullet time' became the coolest thing ever. Keanu Reeves' quiet lead performance played effortlessly to his strengths and cemented his status as an A-list icon. Ignore the sequels and revisit this - it's worth it.
Shane Black was a twenty something screenwriting newbie when he wrote the script for Lethal Weapon. Then big shot Hollywood shooter Richard Donner came onboard for this surprisingly gritty, quintessential buddy flick. Mel Gibson was the trigger happy, unhinged Riggs, Danny Glover his weary, aging partner; together they must take down a gang of drug smugglers. Black's brilliant script is elevated by two actors who spark off of each other beautifully. The last two sequels may have been average at best, but this is still one of the most rewatchable action films of the 80s.
The film that made Bruce Willis a star, Die Hard is often copied (we're looking at you, Van Damme) but never bettered. The set-up is wonderfully simple, as John McClane, an "Irish flatfoot" from New York, comes to LA in an attempt to heal his troubled marriage. Alan Rickman's dastardly terrorist has other ideas, and McClane has to fight his way out of a high tech skyscraper to save the day, and his wife. Willis was really the first everyman action star of the decade, when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone's muscles were mainstays on cinema screens. Welcome to the party, pal.
Possibly the least seen movie on the list, The Raid is also the most mental. Welsh helmer Gareth Evans directs unknown Indonesian martial arts expert Iko Uwais, who plays a cop on the lookout for his now criminal brother. He and his SWAT team must scale a local, run down skyscraper where a criminal overlord ploughs his trade. Like a lot of great action films, the set-up is marvellously uncomplicated, but the action visceral and brutal. A solid, but very different, sequel made the rounds last year - while an American remake is also in the works.
One of the films on the least you could argue wasn't necessarily in the action genre, possibly because Michael Mann's crime film is also a full blown, cinematic masterpiece. Initially notable for the rare pairing of two cinema greats, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, it's scale paired with grounded realism is unparalleled. Mann takes his time with his characters. The shoot-out after the final heist remains to this day the greatest ever committed to celluloid. Loosely based on a true story, Mann spared no expense or time tirelessly recreating a criminal underworld whose characters weren't all that different from the cops. Outstanding ending too.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Easily the best film in The Terminator franchise; despite all of his iconic work, there's a reason why Arnie is best known for this James Cameron directed sequel. Blending science fiction and action, the core relationship between Ed Furlong's John Connor and The Terminator is really what drives it. Throw in Robert Patrick's eerily inexpressive T-1000 and Cameron's superb eye for an action sequence and you have a indisputable classic. They keep making sequels, but this 'lightening in a bottle' first one will never be bettered.
Another buddy movie that played with the conventions of the genre by having the leads be at opposing ends of the law. Keanu Reeves the undercover FBI Agent and Patrick Swayze the leader of a group of dangerous surfer/bank robbers called The Dead Presidents. Kathryn Bigelow's handheld camera adding urgency to an already intriguing plot, while it's widely regarded as a cult favourite among action fiends. Woah! Etc.
The Dark Knight
Having already reinvigorated the franchise with Batman Begins, Chris Nolan took epic up a couple more notches with what is arguably the best comic book adaptation ever produced for the big screen. Christian Bale's growly Batman is unquestionably upstaged by an Oscar winning final performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. It packs a strong emotional punch as well as delivering on the basics you'd expect from Nolan - action, gadgets, score etc. This is when the British director really gave superhero movies credibility, with a billion dollar plus global box office the added cherry on top.
Iron Man may be the film that kick-started the Marvel universe as we now know it, but Joss Whedon's star packed ensemble movie really had the most fun with it. Whedon had a lot of plates spinning here, but still managed to blend all of the characters together seamlessly, with the focus solely on fun. It can't of been easy dealing with that many movie stars on set, but working from his own script Whedon managed to direct the highest grossing comic book movie of all time and made us actually WANT another Hulk flick. Just a blast from beginning to end.