Thrills, spills, chills, and kills: this is why we go to the movies, to see big, amazing, improbable and/or impossible stuff happen on the big screen. It just gets the blood pumping to see impressive feats of stunt work and death defiance—which is why tons of action movies come out every year. While many are certainly satisfying, only a few contain that elusive combination of a great story, unforgettable characters, and an unmatched technical mastery of stunts ‘n’ squibs necessary to transcend genre thrills and achieve great cinema. These movies have all reached that lofty status. Here are Screen Hoopla‘s picks for the best action movies ever made.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
In 2002, as the James Bond franchise was slumping its way through an era of stale, lazily delivered clichés, came a refreshingly modern, wholly American spy movie that reflected a more current environment of geopolitics. As Bond’s Cold War era slipped into history, a sense of “what now?” developed on the world stage, embodied by Matt Damon’s ultra-trained super-warrior who doesn’t know his own identity…but is aware of his own incredible fighting abilities. Thanks to the paranoid, shaky camerawork and urgent pace established by director Doug Liman, the audience rarely knows more than Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) does, and as a result, they never quite get to take a breath either.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Raiders is supposed to be an 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—Raiders completely overshadows its source material, as it’s pretty much a perfect film. Every scene is crowd-pleasing, particularly the action sequences: the boulder chase, the whip-vs.-gun fight, the airplane fight sequence. Plus, a guy’s face melts off! Raiders is pure fun, beginning to end, even after 100 viewings.
Is RoboCop is a violent, action-packed, futuristic cop movie…or is RoboCop a violent, action-packed, futuristic cop movie that satirizes movies from its era that are equally (or more) violent? Like any good work of satire (such as The Simpsons), 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. For example, it’s about a cop (Peter Weller) who falls dead to some pretty intense violence…but he’s then resurrected as a cyborg to summarily execute as many criminals as humanly possible. It’s bloody, it’s gory, it’s full of gunplay, but it’s also got some sweet robot action. And isn’t that what really matters?
The Matrix (1999)
A college-level philosophy class was never so eye-popping. 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 (Keanu Reeves) gets to decide if he’s cool with that, or if he wants to try to exist on a higher plane via his own free will. Pretty heady stuff for the multiplex, but fortunately The Matrix features a lot of bells and whistles, such as the fight in the creepy cyberworld between Neo and an infinite number of Agent Smiths, and that innovative “bullet time,” which seemed to bend the very nature of time itself. Not only did it look incredibly cool to watch somebody contort their body around bullets or even stop them, but it complements the themes of the movie, too