6. Trespass (1992)
After being handed a map by a man who allows himself to die in a fire, firemen Vince and Don use the map to find a hidden treasure of gold that leads them to searching an abandoned building. Unfortunately, they end up witnessing a gang murdering one of their enemies. They take one of the gang members hostage and barricade themselves in one of the rooms, but the gang’s leader (played by Ice-T) calls in reinforcements. The stakes are only driven higher when the two men eventually discover the gold, and a fight between survival and keeping the treasure erupts.
Directed by action maestro Walter Hill and written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, Trespass is a cut above most action movies, made with a sure style and a notch more intelligence than most action movies of the 1990’s.
However, reception of the film was muted due to the 1992 LA Riots, of which many drew unfortunate parallels between the two (white) protagonists and the (black) antagonists. It floundered at the box office as a result, but now with some distance between the circumstances it was released in, Trespass is a solid, smart action thriller that doesn’t make any political statement on its own.
7. Judgement Night (1993)
Speaking of people that find themselves in a dangerous situation because of witnessing a murder, Judgement Night follows one long night as a group of friends find themselves on the run from a gang after witnessing a murder.
After taking an RV out for a test drive, this group of friends–including Wyatt (Emilio Estevez), John (Stephen Dorff), and Mike (Cuba Gooding, Jr.)–accidentally hit a man while driving through a poor section of town. Bringing the injured man into the RV, they find that he has been shot and has a paper bag full of money on him. After being tracked down that had shot the man, who completes the job, their leader Fallon (Denis Leary) states that they don’t leave witnesses. The men then fight to survive the night.
Judgement Night is made in the mold of “survival action,” similar to The Warriors or Deliverance, where a group of men have to somehow escape a group out to kill them. Well-made and with plenty of suspense, Judgement Night has received mixed reviews since its release but features excellent direction and editing and creates a taut atmosphere where the viewer doesn’t know who’s going to make it out alive.
8. Rising Sun (1993)
A mistress is murdered in the newly opened headquarters of a Japanese company in Los Angeles and police detectives Web Smith (Wesley Snipes) and John Connor (Sean Connery) are sent to act as a liason between the company’s executives and investigating officer Graham (Harvey Keitel).
While they suspect a Yakuza member of the murder, and surveillance footage suggests the same, after they find the footage has been altered, Smith and Connor find themselves delving further and further into a conspiracy filled with unexpected twists and turns between the Yakuza, the Japanese corporation, and high-ranking politicans.
Adapted from Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel, Rising Sun is a smarter “buddy cop” action movie than most, with Connery and Snipes playing mismatched partners with some style. Despite his later legal troubles (pay your taxes, folks!), Wesley Snipes was one of the hottest action stars of the 90’s, and Rising Sun displays his abilities in this capacity with style.
9. The Corruptor (1999)
NYPD Lieutenant Nick Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) heads the Asian Gang Unit, which seeks to keep the peace in Chinatown. However, a turf war has broken out and, to complicate matters, he’s also an informant for one of the gangs due to familial associations. But after a bombing takes place, Chen teams up with officer Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg) to investigate. But unkown to Chen, Wallace is also investigating Chen for Internal Affairs. But Wallace may be working for one of the gangs, as well. What follows is a crime thriller filled with twists and turns and, of course, plenty of action.
Stylish and well-written, The Corrupter is one of a number of Hong Kong action thrillers whose setting was updated to the United States in the 1990s. With solid performances by Wahlberg and (especially) Yun-Fat, The Corruptor will be a welcome change of pace by action fans who appreciate the Hong Kong action style that became popular in the West in the 1990s.
10. Payback (1999)
Porter, a professional thief who specializes in payroll heists, agrees to help Val, a crook he’d work with in the past to steal money from the Triads. The job goes well but Val double-crosses him, not only taking all of the money but convincing Porter’s wife that he was having an affair. She reacts badly to this news, as she shoots him during the meet-up to split the money. She and Val leave Porter for dead, but instead he manages to find a black market doctor to patch him back up and proceeds to plan his payback on those who have crossed him.
A remake of the 1967 film noir classic Point Blank, Payback is a violent, clever, and features a great performance by Mel Gibson. Once upon a time, before he destroyed his public image, Gibson was one of the biggest stars in the world who could perform in comedy, drama, and action movies effortlessly.
Payback was a much darker turn than he’d previously done, and backed by a solid script and neo-noir direction, it ended up being a huge success at the box office. Perhaps his present-day image is now irreversibly tarnished but this shouldn’t prevent audiences from enjoying his past work, and Payback is one of Mel’s best.
Author Bio: Mike Gray is a writer whose work has been featured on a number of websites and maintains a TV and movie blog at mikegraymikegray.wordpress.com.