8. Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)
This classic science fiction action film follows a group of tough soldiers sent into a South Amercan jungle to rescue a hostage. When they arrive, however, they stumble upon another team of soldiers, all killed and skinned.
After experiencing other ominous events, they are attacked by an alien enemy with a cloaking agent, the predator, who slowly dismembers the team. In the end, only Dutch, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is left to defend himself against the alien. He must use both cunning and fighting skill in order to kill the dangerous, powerful creature.
The rest of the soldiers are played by an ensemble of strong, tough guys, notably Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers. The machismo of this film is unequaled in any film as each actor plays a cliché, bloodthirsty fighter, unafraid of the beast. In addition to a memorable cast of characters, the dialogue is phenomenal creating many oft quoted lines such as “Get to the Choppa!” and “I ain’t got time to bleed.”
The predator became a cultural icon as well, spawning two other films as well as two joint features with the creatures from the Alien franchise. Featuring some of the coolest characters and a threatening atmosphere, Predator is a must see action classic.
7. The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, 2011)
The Raid: Redemption is the most revolutionary and thrilling martial arts films in recent memory. Starring in the film is martial artist and head choreographer Iko Uwais, who is responsible for most of the films success.
The plot is quite simplistic, with police officers trying to fight their way up an apartment building controlled by drug lords in order to capture the leader. While there are a few other story complications like crooked cops and familial tensions, the bulk of the appeal for this film is in the fighting. Featuring various fighting styles and situations, including guns, knives and hand-to-hand combat, keeping the action interesting throughout.
The choreography of the fights between the police and the gangsters is some of the most awe inspiring ever captured on film. The high pressure, fast paced fighting is especially present in a lengthy, climactic battle between an animalistic warrior and two skilled brothers. The massive appeal and success of The Raid grew a massive rebirth in the interest in martial arts films as well as cause another commercially and critical successful film The Raid 2.
6. The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999)
Of all of the films on this list, The Matrix is probably the most innovative and influential. It incorporated cyberpunk culture into mainstream cinema and , more importantly, showed the possibilities for CGI action in movies.
Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a mild mannered worker and computer hacker who discovers that his entire world is just a fictional computer generated realm used by the robot overlords to control humans. He joins a group of rebels led by Morpheus, played by Lawrence Fishburne, and train to overcome their controllers and regain their freedom.
The film is overall a high quality picture with an interesting premise and good performances, but the star is certainly the revolutionary action sequences. The superpowers that Neo and his rebels acquire by programming the matrix make for exciting and visually striking battles.
The most famous of these situations is when you see Neo dodge an array of bullets in slow motion, fired at him by the antagonist Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving. This futuristic action thriller was one of the most popular film of the year, spawning to sequels and boosting the reputation of science fiction films in Hollywood.
5. Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973)
Bruce Lee, arguably the greatest martial arts star of all time, stars here in his greatest film as a martial artist and spy. Lee is sent to gain information about a mysterious crime boss during a kung-fu contest he is holding, using the situation as a cover. The contestants are from all over the world with different fighting styles.
When the competition begins to seem rigged and unfair, Lee makes friends with other outside competitors like Jim Kelly to survive in the dangerous game. As the situation grows more deadly, Lee’s skills as a spy and a fighter are tested.
Enter the Dragon features a simple but driving plot, maintaining interest but keeping the focus on the incredible fighting. Well choreographed yet realistic, the martial arts displayed in this film are some of the most exciting in any kung-fu film. Lee also implements some more creative battles in the film, such as the final fight between him and the crime boss, taking place in a distorting hall of mirrors.
Since its release, Enter the Dragon has grown an enormous cult following, becoming the most iconic film in the martial arts genre and cementing Bruce Lee as an action legend.
4. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991)
While Cameron’s first Terminator film was a highly original and thrilling science fiction film, its bigger and badder sequel is the better action film. Made for $96 million, the highest cost ever at that time, the film was a huge, explosive spectacle with revolutionary use of CGI.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in his most iconic role as a terminator robot, only unlike the first film, he is a good guy. The terminator is sent back in time to protect a young John Conner, played by Edward Furlong, from a more advanced assassin robot, the T-1000, so that John Conner can lead the resistance force against the machines in the future.
There are so many interesting components of this film that make it an awesome action film. Schwarzenggers stoic performance as the robot guard created one of the coolest characters in all of film and many memorable one-liners. The T-1000, composed of a semi-liquid metallic element, is the most technologically significant aspect of the film, requiring massive amounts of innovative computer technology to create.
The dynamic between the old and new model terminator makes for highly original and exciting action sequences. Terminator 2 is an incredibly influential science fiction film as well as an explosive action movie, becoming an important milestone in both genres.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
Blockbuster director Steven Spielberg found another enormous hit in this iconic action-adventure story. The film stars Harrison Ford in a career defining role as the charming and rugged archaeologist Indiana Jones. Set in the 1940s, Jones is sent by the government to Egypt in order to find and recover the fabled Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can.
Along the way, Jones romances his old mentor’s daughter Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen , while trying to figure out the puzzle of the Ark. Having to fight off an army of Nazi of troops, as well as deal with dreaded snakes, Indiana Jones’s survival and fighting skills are put to the test.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is not only one of the most famous action movies of all time, but one of the most well known movies in general. Its myriad of iconic scenes have been referenced in pop culture ever sense, maintaining the films importance and appeal.
The no-nonsense, adventurous attitude of Jones makes him one of the most likable and coolest heroes ever, whether he be running from rolling boulders or fighting Nazi mechanics. Accompanied by one of the great movie composer John William’s best scores, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a masterful work of entertainment and adventure, further propelling the careers of Spielberg and Ford.
2. Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992)
John Woo appears for a third time on this list with this bullet-riddled masterpiece starring Chow Yun Fat as Inspector “Tequila” Yen. Tequila is an intelligent cop whose partner has recently been killed. Seeking revenge for his partner, Tequila stumbles upon a complex gun smuggling operation, involving an undercover cop Alan.
Upon discovering the location of the smuggler’s arsenal to be in a nearby hospital, Tequlia and Alan venture in through a secret tunnel. Here, the two take part in a massively elaborate and lengthy continuous gunfight where the officers must protect the patients as well as kill the bad guys.
While the plot is captivating for sure, this film’s brilliance is in its massive, complex and thrilling hospital gunfight that occupies almost a third of the film. Classic Woo elements are on full display in movie, such as dual wielding pistols, slow motion evasive manoeuvres, and lots of explosions.
Though the fighitng is extensive, it s never boring or tedious as it constantly adds new elements, like endangered babies and wounded cops. More gritty and less stylized than many of Woo’s other films, Hard Boiled is a innovative pure action classic, featuring some of the greatest gunfights ever one film.
1. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
This legendary action film, starting a five movie franchise, perfectly combines intensity, violence and plot, creating one of the most entertaining and exciting viewing experiences ever on film.
Featuring Bruce Willis in his star making role as wise-cracking NYPD cop John McClane, the film starts with him flying in to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife and kids for Christmas. At his wife’s corporate holiday party, however, German terrorists take over the building, causing McClane to hide while the rest of the guests are taken hostage. As the situation develops, more cops, the FBI and the news all converge on the location as McClane tries to single-handedly eliminate the threat and save his wife.
Die Hard is an expertly crafted, high tension action movie. The script is smart, complexly tying the world outside of the building with the people inside, as well as having many great one-liners. The cast is also excellent, especially Alan Rickman as the lead terrorist Hans Gruber, one of the most iconic villains of film. The seasoned, smartass cop John McClane is also an intriguing and highly effective character to center the story around, making the film more relatable due to his flaws as a person.
The action of this film is also realistic and brutal but not enough to be disturbing, striking the perfect balance between of violence and light-heartedness necessary for a great action film. Die Hard’s overall superb production and execution, along with high caliber performances, make it one of most gripping and exciting films ever made.
Author Bio: Matthew Benbenek is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has a passion for film, music and literature and, when not watching movies, is an amateur director and violin player.