6. Killers (2014)
A psychopathic serial killer and a veteran assassin form an unlikely partnership to take down a common enemy in 2015’s Killers. A miss at the box office and receiving mixed reviews, this Japanese action thriller is worth discovering.
The premise, of two violent men who seek validation by uploading footage of the horrific murders they commit that turns into a competition, is a uniquely dark look at the modern internet age and the exploitative nature of online culture. Similarly, the film’s exploration of the psychological motivations of its two lead characters adds depth and complexity to the story as lines blur between good and evil.
The performances from its lead actors, Kazuki Kitamura and Oka Antara, support the gravitas of the premise. Kitamura delivers an unnerving performance as the psychopathic killer that hides in plain site as an executive, while Antara brings depth and nuance to his portrayal of the veteran assassin struggling with his own demons.
Killers also has a brutal and uncompromising edge to storytelling that doesn’t shy away from its darker themes nor offer easy answers or resolutions. The film’s willingness to challenge audience expectations and explore complex moral questions makes it a subversive addition to the action genre.
7. Mr. Right (2015)
Action and comedy can go together, but the comedy is usually incidental. 2015’s Mr. Right flips that balance, finding dark humor in everyday mayhem. Martha (Anna Kendrick) falls for charming hitman Francis (Sam Rockwell). His profession is party of the attraction and she is only too happy to be this murder’s girlfriend – until she discovers that he’s being hunted by dangerous assassins. Critics didn’t find much right with the film and audiences similarly avoided it. The film’s wit and the charismatic leads get it right.
A unique, if dark, premise sets it apart from other action-comedies. The film bends genres and provides a rare example of an action romantic comedy. The performances from its lead actors, with Kendrick as an overly optimistic woman who finds her new boyfriend’s job exciting instead of dangerous. The chemistry between the two helps buy into this off-beat premise, adding an additional layer of humor and romance in a decidedly unromantic genre.
With witty humor and clever writing, the film’s dialogue is sharp and snappy, with each character delivering memorable one-liners and quips. If you’re looking for a witty and entertaining action-comedy with a little romance thrown in, then Mr. Right is the right movie for you.
8. Death Wish (2018)
The original Death Wish series is a classic of the genre. So when it was announced horror director Eli Roth was making a gritty reboot starring action legend Bruce Willis, fans were intrigued. And while its audience largely enjoyed the film, critics were not kind. Politicizing the film upon its release, reviews of the film read more like op-ed pieces about violence and race than reviews. Now that the dust has settled, it is clear: Death With (2018) is a top-notch action film.
Chicago doctor Paul Kersey (played by Willis) turns vigilante after his family is brutally attacked, dishing out revenge and retribution to the criminals that make the streets unsafe at night.
Visually gripping, Roth creates a gritty and intense portrayal of urban violence. Like its predecessor, there is a roughness to its visual palette that highlights the harsh mean streets of urban decay. This film doesn’t flinch.
Maybe the last good performance by Bruce Willis before his retirement, Paul Kersey is a character that had followed the rules his whole life only for it all to be taken away by casual violence from strangers. A good man pushed too far, Kersey snaps and the audience roots for him. Why? Because he’s doing what we all wish we could do at some point: get justice and revenge on the scum of the world that make it so dangerous.
The film was met with controversy at the time of its release due to then-current events in the US, particularly a series of mass shootings. The release of the film was seen as tasteless, but politicizing a work of fiction like this – particularly a remake of a film that was released 34 years prior – seemed to be more an excuse to moralize than any direct criticism of the film itself.
Now that years have passed, Death Wish can be enjoyed without that particular perspective. Although the timing of its release certainly affected critical reception, this is a rare remake that matches its original and is due for re-evaluation. At the very least, it’s a solid action thriller with a main character you sympathize and can identify with.
9. Miss Bala (2019)
A trip to Tijuana, Mexico goes terribly wrong and a young woman finds herself caught up in a cartel’s business. After witnessing a shooting at a nightclub, Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) is kidnapped by a cartel leader who forces her to become a drug mule and compete in a beauty pageant to further his own interests. As Gloria struggles to survive and find a way out of her dangerous situation, she must navigate a complex web of corrupt officials, violent criminals, and her own desperate desire for freedom. Despite its gripping storyline and intense action sequences, Miss Bala was largely overlooked by audiences and critics alike.
Featuring a strong performance from Rodriguez, who brings depth and nuance to her portrayal of Gloria, her character’s arc from a timid beauty queen to a fierce and determined fighter makes the character feel more than just a typical action hero.
The film’s use of practical effects and stunts adds to the realism and intensity of the action. The film’s exploration of the Mexican drug cartel also adds an additional layer of danger and tension to the story. Its exploration of themes of power, corruption, and survival, along with its use of Gloria as a symbol of resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, makes Miss Bala a thought-provoking addition to the genre.
A female-led action thriller (that was also directed by a woman [Catherine Hardwicke]), Miss Bala has more than enough thrills and action sequences to satisfy fans of the genre with a compelling main character that breaks the mold of action stars.
10. Riot Girls (2019)
In a world where all adults have died from a mysterious illness, the teenage population is left to fend for themselves. Following two female lovers, Scratch and Nat, as they lead their gang of misfits in a battle against a rival gang to reclaim their home turf and save one of their own from captivity. Ignored by audiences and given mixed reviews by critics, this singular coming-of-age sci-fi action drama has a lot going for it, which is easy to see if you watch it.
A fresh and original take on the post-apocalyptic genre, the film’s focus on teenage rebellion and the struggle for power adds a layer of complexity and pathos to the story as it explores themes of identity, community, and survival.
Madison Iseman and Paloma Kwiatkowski deliver emotionally resonant portrayals of two friends fighting to survive in a brutal and unforgiving world. The film’s willingness to take risks and challenge audience expectations, along with its blending of seemingly incompatible genres make it a tightwire act that somehow finds its balance throughout. If you’re looking for a first-rate post-apocalyptic science fiction action coming-of-age film (as specific as that may be), Riot Girls has your back.