With so many films released every decade and every passing year burying the previous ones further down, it’s not surprising there are literally hundreds of worthwhile films that have become forgotten as time passes. But new is not necessarily better, and as films are tied closely to the current culture of any given year, many films made in the past simply wouldn’t be produced today for various reasons.
Which is unfortunate, as films made just a decade or so prior are ignored by future generations who overlook a film simply because it was produced some time ago. For action film fans, while there is at least one dominant current franchise (John Wick), the genre itself has been notably slipping in prominence in the past 10 years. For fans of the genre that are coming up short on contemporary action films to enjoy, please consider the ten on this list to rediscover. Each offers something new and different, despite how long ago they were made.
1. Running Scared (2006)
A low-level mobster is tasked with disposing of a gun used in a mob-related killing. However, when the gun goes missing, he is forced to embark on a dangerous and violent journey to retrieve it, all while being pursued by a dogged police detective. Running Scared is an action-thriller film directed by Wayne Kramer and starring Paul Walker that has a frenetic energy and displays a creative use of visuals. The film employs a variety of techniques, such as split-screen, slow-motion, and vivid color grading, to create a stylized and intense atmosphere that sets it apart from other action films.
The late Paul Walker delivers a nuanced and complex portrayal of a character caught in a desperate situation, while the story is both engaging and emotionally resonant. While it has its fair share of action and violence, the film also explores themes such as loyalty, redemption, and the lengths to which people will go to protect those they love. With its innovative visuals, strong performances, and an emotionally resonant story, Running Scared is a thrilling and satisfying ride from start to finish.
2. District 13 (2004)
A parkour action film sounds very 2000s. Such is 2004’s “District 13,” an action film that centers around the physical discipline that involves running, jumping, and climbing obstacles in a fluid and graceful manner. Unique and visually dynamic, seeing parkour incorporated into an action film provides a human kineticism not seen in any films. Following the adventure of two unlikely allies who must work together to take down a crime lord in a dystopian Parisian suburb, the parkour sequences are not just impressive feats of athleticism, but also an integral part of the film’s storytelling. They are used to showcase the characters’ skills, to build tension and excitement, and to advance the plot in a visually dynamic way. The result is a movie that is both thrilling and aesthetically pleasing to watch.
In addition, the film’s social commentary on poverty and inequality adds a layer of depth and complexity to the story. The movie explores the divide between the wealthy and the poor, and the government’s neglect of those living in the rundown suburbs. This gives the action sequences more weight and meaning, as they are not just mindless displays of violence, but are rooted in real-world struggles.Featuring extreme athleticism, social commentary, and a gripping story, District 13 passed by many action fans since its release but is a must-see for those looking for something fresh and new in their action movies.
3. Smokin’ Aces (2006)
Notorious Las Vegas mob boss Primo Sparazza, who has a $1 million bounty on his head. A group of hitmen, assassins, and bounty hunters converge on a Lake Tahoe hotel, where Sparazza is rumored to be hiding, to claim the prize. Among them are the slick and suave Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), a former mob boss-turned-informant for the FBI, Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck) and his partner Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta), who are hired by the FBI to protect Israel from the hitmen. As the various groups clash, the body count rises, and the motives of the different players are revealed.
A fast-paced action-comedy directed by Joe Carnahan, featuring an ensemble cast, the film follows a motley crew of assassins, FBI agents, and bounty hunters who converge on a Lake Tahoe hotel to capture or kill a notorious mob boss.Unapologetically outrageous, the movie is filled with outlandish characters, absurd plot twists, and explosive action sequences that keep the audience engaged throughout this wild ride. Its visual style has a similar frenetic energy, and the cast fully embraces their roles and brings a sense of fun and energy to the proceedings. Jeremy Piven, in particular, shines as the smarmy and self-absorbed mob boss, while Ryan Reynolds brings his signature wit and charm to his role as an FBI agent caught in the crossfire.
While “Smokin’ Aces” may not be for everyone, it’s a movie that knows what it is and fully embraces its over-the-top nature. It’s pure entertainment and any fan of a fast-moving, hyper shoot-em-up with plenty of comedy mixed in are sure to find Smokin’ Aces a good time.
4. The Punisher (2004)
Based on the grisly, violent Marvel character of the same name, “The Punisher” is a dark and gritty action film starring Thomas Jane as the titular anti-hero. The film follows Frank Castle, a former FBI agent who becomes a vigilante after his family is killed by a crime boss. Diving directly into the criminal underworld, Castle doles out justice in an graphic, unflinching manner.
The film has an appropriately dark and intense atmosphere, making it a compelling and immersive viewing experience for both fans of the comic book and action film devotees alike.
While “The Punisher” may not have received the same critical or commercial success as other superhero movies (it was released before the Marvel Cinematic Universe started proper with the first Iron Man film in 2008), it deserves more recognition for its uncompromising approach and its exploration of the violent source material. For anyone that complains the hyper-violence of comic books hasn’t been done right before Deadpool, The Punisher is a solid counter-arguement – and a heck of a good action flick.
5. Blood and Bone (2009)
Isaiah Bone (Michael Jai White) is an ex-convict who enters the world of underground street fighting in Los Angeles to help a friend in need. Quickly gaining a reputation as a skilled fighter, he catches the attention of a powerful fight promoter who arranges a series of high-stakes fights for him. As Bone rises through the ranks, he becomes embroiled in a dangerous world of violence and betrayal, where winning can mean life or death.
Blood and Bone’s focus on martial arts showcases various fighting styles and features impressive fight choreography. White never got his due as an action star, but this film allows him to demonstrate his martial arts skill and is a commanding presence on-screen. Unlike a lot of action films, there is deep focus on the character of Bone, his history, and the complex issues that drove him to this point. Underseen and not much discussed since its release, Blood and Bone is a martial arts action film that has its feet on the ground between kicks.