Action makes the world go round. Obviously. I mean where would the universe be without transformations taking place and energy being shifted from one place to another?
And the same holds true for Hollywood and elsewhere. Action makes the movie world go round as well. Because action movies are a combination of many elements which can lead to a wide variation between one action movie and the next, giving ample opportunity for grittiness, thoughtfulness, drama, comic relief, gore etc.
Because of this diversity and the fact that action movies can probably be considered a great common denominator for movie-goers everywhere (hey, we’ve all been to at least one action movie right? but not the same holds true for other more niche-like genres), this list is obviously in no way meant to be as a “best” or “definitive” list. Or any such absolute adjective.
It’s just a list of 10 ass kicking action movies in no particular order.
1. The Street Fighter (1974)
Released in 1974, it features martial arts master Sonny Chiba as Terry Tsurugi, an interesting “gray” main character, as in not a good guy or a bad guy, but a more complex individual with motivations that would make sense in the real world. Which is a pleasant surprise for a martial arts film where usually the protagonist is the good guy fighting his evil opponents (especially in the 70s).
In short, he is a mercenary contacted by the Yakuza to kidnap the newly rich daughter of a recently deceased billionaire. He asks for a (big) price, they refuse, try to kill him, so he naturally goes to talk with the lady about protecting her instead. Cool, no-nonsense.
2. Die Hard (1988)
Possibly one of the most iconic action movies (I said “iconic”, not the best, the coolest etc., ok?), it’s Bruce Willis at his finest as the unstoppable John McClane. Seriously. The terrorists he is fighting, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) can’t stop him despite inflicting injuries which would kill a man in real-life. Like… 4 times, according to this analysis. Plus getting a host of other minor and major injuries.
Yeah, it might be unrealistic, but it’s entertaining as hell. John McClane’s attitude and facial expressions are priceless. And Bruce Willis nails it.
3. The Bourne Identity (2002)
This movie features Matt Damon in his break-out role as an action hero. Yeah, badass Matt Damon wasn’t always perceived as such. There were even doubters (gasp!).
But with this role he settled the issue once and for all, because he made an amazing job of bringing to life the character of Jason Borne, a cold, always in control, smart, calculated killing machine of a spy that only allows his emotions to surface when he wants it. Oh, and the movie starts with him suffering from amnesia and slowly discovering his “skills” when he’s placed in life-threatening situations.
Add to that the fact that the movie was launched just 2 months before the James Bond “Die Another Day” installment, which flopped while The Bourne Identity took the laurels, and you have a pretty clear picture.
4. Kill Bill vol. 1 (2003)
Speaking of people that wake up and discover that they have some… problems, this movie features “The Bride” as the protagonist, an assassin formerly part of a team of assassins that have betrayed her, resulting in a 4 year coma and the loss of her unborn child.
The Bride is played by Uma Thurman, in a masterful performance. And if you thought Die Hard was unrealistic, Kill Bill is way more than that. But intentionally. Because Tarantino (yes, that guy directed it) wanted it to be over the top, with complex choreography in the fight scenes included.
In short, it’s a fun rampage and slaughter from top to bottom.
5. Aliens (1986)
This list wouldn’t be complete without a little sci-fi. But Aliens is far from being just another sci-fi epic. It’s gritty, immersive, entrancing, dramatic, suspenseful and action packed all in one. A tall order if there ever was one.
I mean, picture all the good stuff from the first movie (Alien, 1979) still there, but with a ton of action packed on top of it. Because the lone, hunted Ripley in the first movie has a rematch with the Alien species, but this time with a bunch of crazy marines. Hoo-ha!
6. Speed (1994)
This movie shines because it manages to keep you under tension by the simple but well executed idea it is based on. Namely a bus rigged by a terrorist to explode if it gets below a certain speed limit (50 mph).
That’s right, the protagonists trying to get out of this fix, young cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and innocent by-stander in the wrong place at the wrong time Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) have to choose between speeding like maniacs through a crowded city or accept their fates and blow up.
All the while trying also to think their way out of the situation. What more could you want to keep you off your seats? Especially since this is one of Keanu and Bullock’s more notable performances.
7. Lethal Weapon (1987)
A classic of the mismatched partner cops on a mission who also happen to hate having to work with a partner movies, this one is perfect not because of this often used premise, but due to the chemistry and excellent acting displayed by none other than Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
Gibson stars as the young reckless, hot-shot cop who’s got nothing, probably because he’s suicidal and Glover stars as the old, experienced, world-weary cop with a family who’s clearly not interested in getting himself killed by this crazy troublemaker.
Naturally, this makes finding and capturing the drug-dealing band they’re supposed to put an end to a bit difficult. And awesome. And funny. And action-packed.
8. The Terminator (1984)
Come on. Do I need to even explain why it’s on the list? The Arnold Schwarzenegger performance that certified his action hero status (possibly only to have it increased by his performance in the sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day).
The “I’ll be back” phrase that took the world by storm at the time and for many years afterwards, even being voted no. 37 on AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes” saw the screen in this movie.
And the line itself is a pretty good symbol for Arnold’s performance: robotic, brutal, menacing and determined to the core.
9. Gladiator (2000)
Not many movies manage to combine a sense of history, heroism, drama (or more accurately tragedy), occasional spurts of cynical humor, realism and action into a working story. But the Gladiator does.
In great part due to Russell Crowe’s portrayal of the loyal, stubborn and heroic Maximus and Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the deceitful, cowardly, psychotic and power hungry Commodus. But without belittling the efforts of the whole team behind the movie.
Because everything is flawless, from the directing to the costumes and sets.
10. Blade (1998)
Vampires not being cheesy, caricature-like, slow-moving pensive monsters or love-struck glow-in-the-dark teens, you say?!
A super tough black vampire protagonist (Wesley Snipes) that is the only one who can walk in daylight and wields a blade to hunt his evil brethren, you say?!
And a genuinely intriguing story and some background development to boot? While also being based on comic books?
Sign me up.