When thinking about movies, there is only on question to ask: why watch them? Is it to indulge in some form of artistic expression? Maybe to understand more about oneself or humanity? Or is it merely used as a distraction technique?
For a lot of people, the answer is always distraction. Movies are the perfect medium in which to escape, allowing one the opportunity to take a break from reality and temporarily escape. One seeks an experience that is totally different from everyday life: speed and intensity, humour and wit, violence and adrenalin, explosions and noise. This is the experience that comes from an action film; a cinematic experience that tests the physicality of the characters. Although not every action film will stand the test of time, it could be argued that these ten action movies have done so thus far.
Police Story (1985)
Would any action film list be complete without Jackie Chan? No, it would not be. The relatively risk-free stunts performed by today’s trained film professionals pale in comparison to the level of physical insanity that Chan has been shown to bring to his movies. His performance in Police Story was no different.
In Police Story, Chan’s character pledged to protect a state witness which, unsurprisingly, led to both their lives being endangered. This film allowed Chan to display an impressive repertoire of martial arts, as well as some of his best on-screen work to date: from dangling off an umbrella on a moving double-decker bus to the death-defying three-story shopping mall jump. The film’s commitment to producing authentic action scenes is evident in Chan’s performance and cements this cop flick as one of the greatest action films of all time.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
If one were to wonder how the world discovered Mel Gibson, they would need to look no further than Lethal Weapon. This film follows two homicide cops in their pursuit of a gang of drug dealers. What results is 117 minutes of non-stop action. With continual themes of violence, drug use, kidnap and execution; from surviving a violent desert shootout to rescuing a hostage-taken daughter; this film keeps audiences on the edge of their seat from start to finish.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
In order to make any scene an ‘action’ scene, you need only a few things: speed, guns, explosions and noise. There is no better way to incorporate this than through a car chase scene, something no film has accomplished as well as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. In yet another memorable performance, Gibson’s drifter character agrees to assist a survivalist group to move an oil truck out of the Australian desert. In true action film style, a horde of antagonists is ready to stop them.
The film culminates in a final car chase, pitting Gibson’s V8 against a team of pimped-out dune buggies. This scene is excessive in every sense – from the extravagantly mechanised film violence to the overuse of cast members being thrown everywhere – yet it would be difficult to find any automotive action sequence that could compete with it.
Upon viewing the original Alien film, many believed it to be nothing short of pure space-horror brilliance complete with subtle paranoia and overt creepiness. However, when James Cameron directed the sequel, the franchise was turned upside down, with the general space drabness being replaced with big-screen action in the form of guns, explosions and (of course) aliens. Aliens see Sigourney Weaver’s character return once more to take on a vicious alien enemy; only, this time, the film is complete with heavily armed Marines in an abandoned space colony.
The Matrix (1999)
The idea behind The Matrix is simple: Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a hacker and is recruited by a band of cyber-rebels to destroy the matrix and free humanity from their virtual reality prison. In other words, this entire film is pondering the question of what is real and what is not. However, it is not this philosophical question that makes this film stand out but, rather, the action that its insights. This is not action in the traditional sense but, rather, action through the computer-generation of vicious creatures and battles of mind control. This proved to be truly revolutionary for action films, earning The Matrix a spot on this list.
Kill Bill (2003)
Quentin Tarantino is a master storyteller, particularly when said story is achronologically twisted up. Such a story is beautifully illustrated by the martial arts epic Kill Bill. Although it was released as two separate films, it is best viewed in its four-hour entirety.
Kill Bill provides an account of The Bride, portrayed by Uma Thurman, on a journey of revenge to kill former associates after they left her and her unborn child for dead. As The Bride is a trained assassin, all scenes are jam-packed with immense physicality in the for of sword-wielding, eye-gauging and martial arts. In true Tarantino style, however, it is the dialogue that packs the ultimate punch, indelibly marking the film with its pure genius.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
When creating a movie franchise, one risk is that the quality of a film may get worse with each new instalment; however, this is not the case in The Bourne Series. In what became a signature role, Matt Damon transformed a stoic literary figure into a household name.
In The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne returns home to confront his masters in New York City; however, in the process, he is seen making his away across major international destinations while participating in action sequences that can only be described as jaw-dropping. Although the cat-and-mouse chase theme of this movie can seem relentless at times, it culminates in one of the most incredibly crafted scenes in modern action films: the foot chase through Waterloo Station. It can be deemed only as cinematic genius to somehow stitch together line cutting, barely visible sightings and hundreds of film extras in a confined space so as to produce a genuinely thrilling action sequence.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in Terminator 2: Judgement Day to reprise what has become his signature role. This time he is assigned to protect John Connor, a stark contrast to the first movie in which he was assigned to kill Connor’s mother.
Although the story line in this movie is fairly light, action and special effects more than make up for that. It is built on an action/sci-fi premise, proving the extensive capability of computer-generated effects. Although various fight scenes, exhilarating car chases and terrifying explosions made numerous appearances throughout the film, it was the inclusion of the film’s ferocious villain T1000 that sets this film apart from others.
Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981)
Raiders of the Lost Ark is responsible for a number of things. First, it introduced the world to archaeology. Second, it showed the world how much fun a whip can be. And third, it provided the world with the most captivating opening 12 minutes of any movie (regardless of genre) ever. From the depths of the Peruvian jungle, to the bullwhip, to the golden idol and the boulder (will there ever be a more famous boulder?!) to the natives armed with blowguns and a death-defying leap from a vine onto a plane, the opening sequence sets the tone for a supercharged masterpiece that continues to captive audiences worldwide.
Die Hard (1988)
There is no better way to describe Die Hard than as pure genius. In this film, a terrorist group invades a skyscraper, taking all those inside as hostages. Their only hope is John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, who must single-handedly take on the terrorist group to save them all. Although this was Willis’ breakthrough role, it stands the test of time and remains to be his best performance to date.
As a film, Die Hard provides no insight into the world or the human condition. However, ultimately, that is the point of this film, perfectly encapsulating everything that an action film. Since its release in 1988, one would be hard-pressed to find an action film that outperforms this, leaving it as arguably the greatest action film ever made.
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