The 100 Greatest Action Movies Ever Made, Part II
Before we continue our countdown of the greatest action movies ever made, a reminder on what we consider to be classified as an action movie.
For this series of articles, we have specifically EXCLUDED comic-book franchise movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC. You're right, they are action movies, but they're that prevalent that they'd almost require their own series of articles themselves.
The same goes for Bond movies as well for the same reason. As well as this, we've also included a small selection of war movies. The likes of 'Battle of Britain', 'Where Eagles Dare' and 'The Dirty Dozen' feature in the series, but 'Saving Private Ryan', 'Platoon' and 'Dunkirk' have been left out. It's more a question of tone per se than anything else.
For the likes of action sci-fi, we've kept it to non-franchise entries, bar a couple of exceptions. Again, the emphasis is more on action than sci-fi. For example, there are no 'Star Wars' movies anywhere on the list, likewise 'Star Trek' doesn't feature either. However, the likes of 'Starship Troopers', 'Aliens' and 'Robocop' do feature. In fact, 'Starship Troopers' makes it on this part of our series.
With that all cleared up, here's the next 20 of the 100 greatest action movies ever made.
We're probably stretching the classification of "action movie" here with 'Bullitt', but the fact is that the car chase here is nothing short of exquisite. It's vital, it's loud, you can feel every tyre-squeal and bump, and there's no denying that the sight of a green Ford Mustang racing after a black Dodge Charger is burned into your brain. Countless directors have referenced and nodded to 'Bullitt', but there's more to it than just the chase. For one, McQueen's slyly underplayed performance belies a character burdened with the casual horrors he sees on a daily basis. Lalo Schifrin's score is light, buzzy and jazzy - but all of it bouncing off the dark shadows and the eerie corridors of 'Bullitt'.
79 'Elite Squad: The Enemy Within'
While most people would immediately associate Jose Padilha and Wagner Moura with the Netflix crime series, 'Narcos', their first partnership was on this Michael Mann-inspired crime saga, 'Elite Squad'. The sequel spreads itself out over the entire country of Brazil, with more intensive action, more emphasis on staging and script, and more insightful examinations of Brazil's uncomfortable relationship with violence and political power.
78 'Starship Troopers'
'Starship Troopers' is vintage Verhoeven, because it so insidiously slips in satire under the guise of gratuitous action and violence. It's nothing short of bizarre that 'Starship Troopers' even exists in the first place. It's basically a movie about how fascism conquered the world and what that might look like. It's a world devoid of any kind of soul, where the youth of the day happily march themselves off the war to slaughter faceless aliens, all for the glory and the guts. That Verhoeven managed to slip this kind of biting, razor-sharp comedy into popular culture and hardly anyone clocked it until much later is the work of a genius.
So often with action movies set inside political landscape or real-life incidents, there is always the feeling that there's an element of exploitation. With Yann Demange's haunting '71', the action is relentless, but none of it ever feels like it's being played up purely for the sake of entertainment. The terrifying foot-chases through Belfast at the height of the Troubles isn't done because it's needed in the story, it's done because it is the story. Jack O'Connell's hapless squaddie is left behind "enemy lines" and is on the run, desperate to make it to safety and all while evading a city that is actively trying to kill him.
76 'Sudden Death'
Yes, in a nutshell, 'Sudden Death' is basically 'Die Hard' at a hockey game. There is nothing here that could be reasonably construed as anything other than taking a formula - a relatively active one, at the time - and formulating a script and action around it. The difference here, however, is that 'Sudden Death' openly embraces its action leanings and isn't trying to be anything other than silly, explosive fun. Peter Hyams, who had previously directed chin-stroking sci-fi movies like 'Capricorn One' and 'Outland', was firmly in the mind of an action director. Each scene is paced out for maximum effect and impact, and that's what you get in 'Sudden Death' - no frills, just gloriously stupid action.
75 'Rush Hour'
Jackie Chan's career to date for Western audiences has been dominated by 'Rush Hour' and its two sequels. Of course, anyone with an interest outside of this will know that he's had a storied career in Hong Kong action cinema long before 'Rush Hour'. Still, it remains as one of his most effective efforts and borrows heavily from what made him the best in the business. The intricacies of the stunt work aside, Jackie Chan's comedic timing is what drives all of 'Rush Hour' and pairing him with Chris Tucker only helped that. Pair this together and you've got one of the most effective action-comedies in recent years.
74 'Days Of Thunder'
Picture the scene, if you will. It's the early '90s. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are the power couple of Hollywood. They need to be in a movie together, and stat. But it can't just be any old movie, oh no. It's got to have the same level of action that 'Top Gun', and it's got to have a top-flight director and cast. How about the writer of 'Chinatown' and the director of 'Top Gun', then? So it goes with 'Days of Thunder', a ridiculous movie about stock-car racing that could only exist in that time and place. That John C. Reilly pretty much took the piss out of his own performance several years later with 'Talladega Nights' tells you what he thinks of it.
73 'Top Gun'
The argument against 'Top Gun' has always been that it's a jingoistic advertisement for the might of American technological militarism. Dressing up fighter pilots as romantic heroes, however, wasn't something that was just confined to Reagan-era America. Hell, the 1927 action epic 'Wings' was one-part war movie, one-part romantic drama. That said, 'Top Gun' became divorced from reality almost from the get-go and continued right through to the end. The very idea that a Russian fighter pilot would skirmish with American pilots and it not end with World War III is ridiculous enough, but pilots just line up to sing 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' at the drop of a hat? Absolutely not.
Where the likes of 'Tombstone' differs from 'Unforgiven' or even 'Wyatt Earp' is that it doesn't approach its characters with any kind of sense of judgement. For example, 'Unforgiven' is specifically an examination of what the cost of a violent life is on a soul, and how that can be ultimately hollowing for a person. 'Tombstone', however, doesn't have that same level of introspection. Essentially, you've got Wyatt Earp and his brothers trying to leave behind their action-packed days for some money, but it all comes to naught when they cross with the Cowboys and are forced into action. Specifically, the OK Corral shootout scene is a perfect example of how geography in an action sequence is so important. It's all laid out in a couple of establishing shots, so when it does eventually kick off, you're able to follow along.
71 'Von Ryan's Express'
Based on a bestselling action novel of the same name, 'Von Ryan's Express' is often mentioned as one of Frank Sinatra's best movies, and it's easy to see why. While he is essentially playing against type - an angry, high-strung officer - the level of action and intensity in his performance means that's he not only giving it his all, the expectations are working for him. You're expecting him to be this easy-going charmer, but in actuality, he plays it like a straight-up action man. The use of real-life World War II tanks, planes helped to give it an authenticity, even going so far as to build a full-size prison camp in Italy for the film's use.
70 'Vanishing Point'
Written by Guillermo Cabrera Infante under a pseudonym, there are endless interpretations with 'Vanishing Point'. Some believe that it's actually about existentialism in America, and how the main character Kowalski represents the disaffection of societal norms in America. Others think that Kowalski was himself a ghost, and that the infamous ending was simply a fever dream that never actually happened. Whatever your take on what 'Vanishing Point' is or isn't about, what's clear is that from a technical perspective, the direction by Richard Sarafian was spot-on. There's a looseness and a sparsity with 'Vanishing Point' that allows you to reflect on the violence and the action, but also gives you the ability to just take it at face value.
'Commando', in a lot of ways, is more known for singular moments than a single, cohesive experience. Everyone's got their favourite line or scene from 'Commando'. It could be Bill Duke telling Arnold Schwarzenegger that he eats Green Berets for breakfast. It could be Arnold Schwarzenegger ending a conversation with a random henchman by saying 'Wrong!' and then shooting him in the head and running off. It could even be the infamous "Let off some steam, Bennett!" at the very end. Whatever it might be, the fact remains that 'Commando' has some of the most ridiculous moments in action history that - for 1985, anyway - was nearly a parody of itself.
68 'The Rock'
As an example of Michael Bay's prowess in coordinating explosions with music and drama, 'The Rock' is his magnum opus. From the very first frames of this movie, you just know it's going to be amped up to a ridiculous degree. Ed Harris is hurling everything at the screen at full force, whilst Sean Connery happily plays up his smooth-talking credentials with ease while improbably '90s action star Nicolas Cage rolls around the middle of it, trying to keep things light. The car chase through San Francisco is inventive, but it's the way in which he throws the camera around the place and gives it such dynamic shots that makes it his finest work.
That a good 10 minutes of 'Desperado' is devoted to an insane, John Woo-inspired shootout in a Mexican dive bar and that isn't even the craziest thing in it gives you an idea of what to expect. You've got Danny Trejo as a knife-wielding maniac assassin, Steve Buscemi of all people is in there in the middle of it, along with a Quentin Tarantino cameo featuring a joke about golden showers. 'Desperado' is a study in excess, but it's Antonio Banderas' convincing and committed performance that helps to make it much more than what it might have been.
66 'Road House'
Although you might dismiss 'Road House' as that silly action movie with Patrick Swayze, there's a lot more to it than you might expect. For one, Swayze's martial arts training was carried out by Benny 'The Jet' Urquidez. Terry Funk, one of the pioneers of hardcore wrestling, had a small role as one of the failed bouncers of the Double Deuce. The speech that Swayze gives to the new bouncers - one of whom happens to Iain Glen, better known as Ser Jorah Mormont from 'Game of Thrones' - is frequently cited by police officers and real-life bouncers in diffusing situations. On top of that, you've got Sam Elliott beating twelve shades of s**t out of people and doing it with a smile on his face. What more can you ask for from a movie about bouncers?
65 'Man On Fire'
Tony Scott's action credentials are such that his name carried with a certain expectation in every movie. Yet, when you paired that with Denzel Washington, you got something really special. 'Man On Fire' may borrow some of the visuals from 'City of God', but Tony Scott's jigsaw-style directing and editing turn it into something truly unique, with a design and a texture all of its own making. It's frequently violent, but what carries 'Man On Fire' along is undoubtedly Denzel Washington in one of his signature performances.
64 'Smokey & The Bandit'
When you come right down to it, 'Smokey & The Bandit' is basically a live-action version of 'Coyote and Roadrunner' or 'Wacky Races', complete with stunts that defy the laws of physics and a car that never seems to quit. Burt Reynolds plays it fast and loose, while Jackie Gleason plays up the scummy Southern sheriff out to catch him. It's as ridiculous and silly as any comedy you can think of, but director Hal Needham's years as a stunt coordinator means that it makes sense - as much as it can, anyway.
63 'First Blood'
Although the two sequels might have amped up the action, 'First Blood' was a far more grounded, brutal examination of war, societal indifference to it, and post-traumatic stress disorders. Granted, some of it does come across as slightly implausible, but then again, it's Sylvester Stallone. Aside from Rocky Balboa, this is Stallone's signature role and it's easy to see why. There's a level of detachment to his performance in this that makes it haunting, but for all of this, it's the tight editing - cutting a movie down from three hours to just over 90 minutes - that gives it life.
62 'Baby Driver'
Edgar Wright's 'Hot Fuzz' was suffused with some really strong, very well-directed action beats but primarily, it was a comedy vehicle for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. With 'Baby Driver', the action is right to the top and charmingly balances the realities of modern action in movies. Namely, that it's really just about choreography, movement and music - like unlike dancing. Piling in music and giving Ansel Elgort's character a rhythm and beat of his own, 'Baby Driver' revs up the action and speeds through with an energy unlike any other.
Imagine, if you can, the pitch meeting for a movie like 'Face/Off'. It's the late '90s, and John Travolta is back on the A-list thanks to 'Pulp Fiction'. Nicolas Cage is doing every action movie going. John Woo is now the du jour action director. With that comes an idea - what if we 'Freaky Friday' Travolta and Cage and have one play the other? With that comes 'Face/Off', a movie so ridiculous, so ludicrously of its time and so patently Woo-esque that it's kind of incredible it even took place. You've got Cage out-Cageing himself in the opening scenes - "If I was to let you suck my tongue, would you be grateful?" - to John Travolta mimicking Nicolas Cage's mannerisms, doves flying all over the place and a final boat chase that culminates with John Travolta ripping his face off with a broken glass shard. You know, the way all boat chases end.