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The 50 Best Action Movies of the 21st Century Thus Far

Written by on February 7, 2017 

20. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

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Rogue Nation is a movie that begins with an epic action set piece and never lets up. Featuring some killer practical effects work and finely orchestrated stunts, the latest Mission: Impossible feature ups the ante (Tom Cruise literally strapping himself to the side of a plane arguably one-ups the Burj Khalifa scene from Ghost Protocol). It also features the series’ strongest female role to date, played by break-out star Rebecca Ferguson. Rogue Nation is the culmination of the most successful elements of the previous two films in the series, continuing the team dynamic and giving Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt a more formidable foe (though it’s becoming doubtful that the series will ever find another performance as villainous as Philip Seymour Hoffman in the third movie). If the finale proved anything, Mission: Impossible doesn’t need to get bigger to get better. – John U.

19. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono)

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There’s throwing everything at the wall, then there’s Sion Sono‘s method of ripping down every wall to create something wholly unique while still paying homage to the action films that have come before him. In melding his love for filmmaking with bat-shit insane gangster warfare, Why Don’t You Playing Hell? is a blood-spattered, kaleidoscopic of kinetic energy. It’s a moviemaking feat that would make Seijun Suzuki proud, perhaps the highest compliment imaginable. – Jordan R.

18. Blackhat (Michael Mann)

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Michael Mann has been a master of action cinema for a few decades now, embracing the digitization of moviemaking and utilizing the rapidly-advancing technology to create a new meaning of grit and frenetic energy in each of his works. With Blackhat, Mann paints his globetrotting adventure with a confident flair, rendering action scenes like no other filmmaker today. When weapons are fired in Blackhat, they sound and feel like someone just pulled the trigger next to your face. This has everything to do with Mann and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh‘s digital work, which is as propulsive as it is raw. Throughout the film, Mann elegantly strings together these set pieces, while weaving in small moments of intimacy and character beats in between. Finally, the beauty of Blackhat as an action film is that, despite all its larger-scale chases and multi-national travel, culminates in an intimate climax that resolves itself with just a couple men and a few brutal uses of a knife. Up close, dirty, and personal. – Mike M.

17. Crank and Crank: High Voltage (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor)

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Vulgar, tasteless, and psychotically over-the-top. Yes, you could describe writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor‘s gloriously schlocky Crank and it’s even schlockier sequel, Crank: High Voltage, in such words. Chev Chelios may be the character Jason Statham was born to portray. Whether he’s attaching jumper cables to his tongue or publicly making love to his special lady (Amy Smart, whose patience with this ridiculous role should have earned her an award… literally any award) on not one but two separate and batshit crazy occasions, Chev is willing, much like the films in which exists, to go anywhere for a crude joke or a deranged action sequence. What makes the series so engaging is it’s wry self-awareness and stylistic commitment to utter chaos. At its core, Crank knows what it is, and fully embraces heedless insanity for the sake of insanity. – Tony H.

16. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi)

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Spider-Man was the ideal cinematic introduction to the character, but Spider-Man 2 was where the series matured into genuinely great popcorn entertainment. Bolstered by Alfred Molina’s tragic villain Doc Ock, and Tobey Maguire’s best work as Peter Parker, Sam Raimi‘s sequel has an emotional core that makes us care about the characters beyond the action set pieces. (Even if some of those set pieces, like the one on the train, still rank as some of the best in comic book movie history.) In the years since its release, and more iterations of the character that one would have expected, it’s been difficult to find another superhero film that feels like one is enjoyably flipping the pages of a comic book with each new scene and retaining considerable emotional weight. – John U.

15. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)

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Few filmmakers have brought as much fresh air to the buddy cop genre as Edgar Wright with Hot Fuzz, masterfully executing his and co-writer Simon Pegg’s gracefully British addition to the cop movie brand. After super cop Nicolas Angel is transplanted from the mean streets of London to the wee village of Sandford, he finds the locals aren’t as welcoming as the appear on the surface as bodies quickly begin piling up. Seasoning the buddy cop formula with a slasher film antagonist and an encyclopedically cine-literate style, Wright and company transcend their roots of homage, creating an alternatingly hilarious and pulse-pounding action film. In many cases, Hot Fuzz is actually more fun than the films it parodies with such affection. – Tony H.

14. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)

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What can be said about The Dark Knight that hasn’t already been? To paraphrase The Joker, this movie changed things forever. Although 2005’s Batman Begins resurrected the series from its unfortunate Joel Schumacher era, it was The Dark Knight where Christopher Nolan began to explore the idea of doing a genre piece that just happens to feature Batman. What we get as a result is a masterfully-executed crime thriller, with wonderful performances, sharp writing, and a sense of grounded scale simply missing from films of its ilk. The fact that Heath Ledger so beautifully captured the essence of The Joker with his Oscar-winning performance, while remaining committed to the tone and the vision that Nolan was aiming for, is just one of the many reasons people will continue talking about The Dark Knight for years to come. – John U.

13. Apocalypto (Mel Gibson)

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When Mel Gibson’s directorial work is discussed, it is usually about The Passion of the Christ, Braveheart, or his now Oscar-nominated comeback Hacksaw Ridge. But for some odd reason, Apocalypto, his nail-biting epic of survival in Mayan-era Mexico, is left out. This is a shame, because it is an incredibly well-directed, relentless journey packed with such uncompromising energy that its two-plus hours soar by. Yet the audience feels every minute of tension as protagonist Jaguar Paw — a Mesoamerican tribesman — is put through a series of hellish survival scenarios to save his family. Relying heavily on an economy of well-chosen images, Apocalypto is a brutal and incredibly satisfying piece of filmmaking that deserves more recognition. A bonus is its recreation of Native Yucatec dialect, along with a cast of indigenous Mexican and Native American actors (and non-actors) that creates a deeper level of immersion and doesn’t white-wash history. – Mike M.

12. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg)

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Steven Spielberg was in top form when he helmed Minority Report, a high-concept, high-wire neo-noir that remains one of the new millennium’s snazziest blockbusters. Playing yet another version of his improbably athletic onscreen self, Tom Cruise is a police chief on the run after his “Pre-Crime” law enforcement program implicates him in the future murder of someone he’s never met. This doozy of a premise asks us to ponder the ethicality of jailing would-be criminals based on not-yet-perpetrated crimes and, by extension, the question of fate itself. Is this system flawless or irreparably flawed? Can Cruise’s hero not kill his supposed victim? Minority Report is popcorn cinema bold enough to wax philosophical in these ways even as it pushes ever-forward through visual virtuosity and a pleasingly twisty storyline. – Jonah J.

11. The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans)

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It is difficult to understate the sheer intensity with which The Raid: Redemption hits. Jaw-dropping not in scale but in its frenetic choreography, Gareth Evans crafts an action picture that brought the fighting style of silat to the big screen, and simultaneously put Indonesian action cinema on the map. Originally slated to make what would become The Raid 2, Evans had to tighten his narrative lens for budgetary reasons. What emerged is lean, efficiently minimal storytelling that still manages to hint at the larger world expanded upon in the sequel (which is also well worth your time, but missed the cut on this list). Evans squeezes out pathos from protagonist Rama (Iko Uwais), before events unfold in a high rise in the slums of Indonesia, where the action barely relents for its entire 100-minute runtime. While I tried to find more academic ways to say it, it really boils down to the fact that The Raid: Redemption is a badass cut of action cinema that will repeatedly punch you in the gut with sledgehammer ferocity. – Mike M.

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