When comedy or horror films fall flat, the results are usually painful to watch, but even when action films are bad, they’re good. If you’re a true action fan, you’re willing to overlook bad acting and absurd storylines as long as there are kick ass stunts, real good explosions and a bit where Chuck Norris says something so funny that someone must’ve written it down for him.
From dubbed kung fu flicks to $250 million blockbusters, there are enough movies out there to entertain you from now until doomsday and if you’re not willing to embrace it all then you, sir or madam, are a snob and you should stop reading this NOW.
Seriously, folks, there is enough hostility and prejudice out there without bringing it to the world of entertainment, so why not hunker down and throw on an action movie? Doesn’t matter whether it’s a blockbuster or a cult classic, from Hollywood or Hong Kong, or whether it stars Matt Damon or Tura Satana. We are here to have fun, so here are fifteen movies that just want to give you a good time.
15. Fair Game (1995)
Based on the same Paula Gosling novel that inspired Cobra (1986), Fair Game is usually referred to by its own cast as “ludicrous” and “a disaster.” Critics agreed, with Leonard Maltin saying it was “arguably the worst movie of 1995.”
Then again, if you’ve ever wanted to see Cindy Crawford play a lawyer (!?) who escapes from Russian bad guys while wearing a series of tight t-shirts, it could be the greatest movie ever made. True, she has zero chemistry with William Baldwin, but the film packs in a number of action sequences where everything explodes in impressive fireballs, including a scene where Baldwin uses a crane to dispose of a henchman with a rocket launcher (don’t ask).
Even better, the villain is played by wide-eyed Steven Berkoff, who reprises his slimy foreigner act from Octopussy and goes waaaay over the top. After spending the entire film trying to kill Crawford, he eventually whisks her off to his secret hideout and explains his diabolical masterplan, then seems surprised when she turns the tables and leaves him to his doom.
14. Bulletproof (1988)
An absolute must-see for fans of The Simpsons, Bulletproof’s hero is a blond, barrel-chested, authority disrespectin’ cop named McBain whose exploits cause an inordinate amount of collateral damage. Whereas the animated figure voiced by Harry Shearer loves awful puns, Gary Busey’s character prefers to call his nemeses “Butthorn”.
This term is first employed in the opening scenes, when Danny Trejo’s gangsters, interrupted during a deal, wonder what that noise coming from the rafters could be. “Your worst nightmare, Butthorn!” Busey says before leaping into action and dispatching them one by one. This is an important scene in terms of character because it reveals the origin of Frank ‘ Bulletproof’ McBain’s soubriquet.
Shot by one of Trejo’s goons, Busey pulls out the slug himself and places it in a mason jar with the other 38 bullets his body has taken before returning home to find a woman in his bathtub. She tells him: “You might be bulletproof, but you’re not love proof.”
Serpico, this is not.
13. Barb Wire (1996)
If there’s one type of film that Hollywood does well, it’s the straight-to-video action movie writ large (see also: Resident Evil, Species). Take a Z-grade premise, give it a studio budget and – presto! – you’ve got a cult classic on your hands.
Not content with casting Pamela Anderson in the lead, Barb Wire also rips off the plot of Casablanca, with Pam in the Humphrey Bogart role (!?) as the nightclub owner who attempts to help an old flame escape the country. If that doesn’t make the film a must-see, then be aware that the filmmakers play to Pamela’s “strengths” by dressing her in a tight leather catsuit that comes off whenever she’s near water.
Even Roger Ebert conceded that the movie “has a high energy level and a sense of deranged fun”, and how often do you get to see Pamela Anderson play a dominatrix with a machine gun? Taking its visual cues from previous comic book adaptation The Crow, Barb Wire knows it’s B-grade material and never attempts to take itself too seriously. It promises trash and delivers it. What’s not to like?
12. Light Blast (1985)
Following Inglorious Bastards and the Bronx Warriors trilogy, Enzo G Castellari made this odd Dirty Harry rehash which replaces Fred Williamson, his usual leading man, with the actor you’ve always associated with Harry Callahan – Erik Estrada.
After resolving a hostage situation by stripping down to his underwear and taking out the bad guys with a cooked chicken (don’t ask), Estrada is called in to stop a mad scientist who’s holding San Francisco to ransom with his new invention – a giant laser that makes buildings glow red, melting the skin off anyone trapped inside.
This necessitates giving Estrada a comic relief partner, an overweight moron who gets shot and tells him to “get those sons of bitches.” Stealing a car, Estrada causes every vehicle that meanders across his path to crash into stacked boxes and explode. That’s right – it’s one of THOSE movies.
11. Murphy’s Law (1986)
If you’re only familiar with Charles Bronson through his films with Michael Winner, you might find it hard to believe that he was also in The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen, among others. He’s a long way from his glory days in Murphy’s Law, but it’s still the pick of his 80s films.
Framed for the murder of his ex-wife, Chuck hightails it to a rustic cabin, where his ex-partner takes him in, gives him a weapon and says “take care, old friend.” So we know the guy’s as good as dead. Sure enough, when Chuck leaves to confront whoever set him up, along comes psychotic Carrie Snodgress who’s waging a vendetta against the men that put her away, including the partner, who she wastes on the spot.
All the expected clichés and caricatures are present and correct in this Cannon classic, but best of all are the eye-talian mobsters that Chuck tangles with. When one of them informs him of Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong may result in a nosy cop taking a swim”), Bronson says: “The only law I know is Jack Murphy’s law. It’s very simple. Don’t f**k with Jack Murphy.”
10. The Executioner (1974)
The Executioner is reportedly a Tarantino favourite, and it’s easy to see why: with its non-stop action, raucous humour and larger-than-life characters, it’s not dissimilar in tone to Kill Bill Vol. 1.
Also in common with the first volume of Tarantino’s epic is the occasional tip of the hat to Sergio Leone, especially The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Sonny Chiba plays an ex-cop who for various reasons has to break an Eli Wallach-ish klutz out of prison and together with a hitman in the Lee Van Cleef mold, they set off to steal twenty billion dollars’ worth of dope from a New York gangster. Which is all the story that’s needed because for the rest of picture, Sonny’s content hurling bad guys through the air, tearing out rib bones and flooring henchmen by the dozen.
It may be light on plot, but the action never lets up and there’s some truly bizarre humour. During a car chase, Chiba refuses to ram the villain’s car because, he says, he isn’t gay (!), and when was the last time you saw a character ask their friend to look after their car payments before dying?
9. Full Contact (1992)
Full Contact is another of Hong Kong director Ringo Lam’s gangster movies with Chow Yun Fat, but unlike their previous collaborations City On Fire and Prison On Fire, it’s loaded with gun battles and never takes itself too seriously.
Chow plays a thief who launches a bloody vendetta against his colleagues following a double cross, which is all the plot that’s needed to set in motion a succession of over-the-top-and-through-the-woods action sequence scenes. In one berserk sequence, Lam’s camera tracks the bullets during a shootout, flying across the room and shattering windows.
Particularly memorable is Simon Yam as a flamboyant villain who wears pink shirts (with ruffles) and informs Chow he has a sexy telephone voice but has no problem shooting people in the face. When he tells our hero that he’d like nothing more than for them to die in each other’s arms, Chow shoots him and says, “Go masturbate in hell!”