This list has been quite an adventure for me. What started off as something fairly simple grew into a monster. I’ve spent the last few months reliving many of the great action movies I was a fan of as a child, so I could present this list with the very best of the action treasures out there, waiting to be loved. So without further delay, here is chapter 8 of the 100 Action Movies You Must See!
30 – ‘Unstoppable’ (2010) / Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson. Director: Tony Scott.
What would become Tony Scott’s final directorial movie before his tragic death in 2012, ‘Unstoppable’ became, in my opinion, his most amazing movie. As a wonderful action director, one of the greatest of all time, Tony prided himself on delivering thrills and spills that could rarely be matched. And he did it one final time on this movie. Starring Denzel Washington (Who worked with Tony on ‘Crimson Tide’, ‘Man Of Fire’, ‘The Taking Of Pelham 123’ and ‘Deja Vu’) and Chris Pine as two railroaders, one a veteran about to lose his job, and the other who is a rookie set to replace him. When a train carrying dangerous chemicals hurtles out of control after being left unmanned, the two train drivers take it upon themselves to take on the deadly runaway train and save a town from total annihilation. Packed with death-defying stunts, wonderful special effects and spectacular action sequences, ‘Unstoppable’ is everything an action movie should be. Big, fast and full of energy, with two fantastic movie stars taking up the lead roles, and a master like Tony Scott behind the camera, this is a movie that is to be seen, shown with sound on full and adored by anyone watching it. Even its pounding score deserves massive praise, it’s incredible. I deeply regret missing this at the cinema.
29 – ‘Drive’ (1997) / Stars: Mark Dacascos, Kadeem Hardison, Brittany Murphy. Director: Steve Wang.
Wow. Just wow. This is the definitive cult action movie every self-respecting action fan needs to have in their collection. A part-man/part machine experiment (The incredible Mark Dacascos) takes a man hostage and forces them both into a deadly race against time, as the experiment is being hunted by assassins and must get to L.A. before he is captured. That’s what I know of the plot. And if I’m being honest, when the action is as fast as what’s being offered up by ‘Drive’, plot means not a damn thing! Dacascos kicks his way through bad buy after bad guy, with Hardison also having a blast as he helps his captor to evade death. With incredible fight sequences, brilliant road action and a fun-filled early performance from the wonderful Brittany Murphy, ‘Drive’ is must-see cult action at its best! I miss Brittany so much, she was taken way too soon. She’s such fun here. May she rest in peace.
28 – ‘Showdown In Little Tokyo’ (1991) / Stars: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee. Director: Mark L. Lester.
What do you get when you mix Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee and the director of ‘Commando’?… Awesomeness! This early 90’s action movie centers on two very different cops who are sent to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to take down a violent Yakuza criminal and bring an end to a massive drug-dealing empire. Dolph and Brandon are on top form and spend 80 minutes kicking ass and firing quips at each other, with all the gusto we’d expect from the classic buddy cop movies of the 1980’s. ‘Showdown In Little Tokyo’ is two great action stars at their best, and Mark L. Lester delivers his wonderful over-the-top ‘Commando’ style to the mayhem. Fantastic action, comedy and plenty of beautiful women, this remains one of the most underrated action movies ever made.
27 – ‘Police Story 4: First Strike’ (1997) / Stars: Jackie Chan. Direcor: Stanley Tong.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but ‘First Strike’ is the only movie in the ‘Police Story’ series I have seen. I always mean to see the others, but somehow just haven’t yet. It’s only recently that I even discovered this was a ‘Police Story’ entry, as it has always been known as ‘Jackie Chan’s First Strike’ in Ireland and the UK. Jackie Chan roams the world, from Hong Kong to Ukraine, all the way to Australia, as a cop desperate cop trying to retrieve a nuclear warhead and clear his name of murder. Like many of Jackie’s movies, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen ‘First Strike’, but I still remember being blown away by the spectacular action scenes that stuff the movie to bursting point. Jackie’s humor and stunts are as always brilliant, but I remember him being even greater here than most other movies he’s done. I feel the urge to not only see this movie again, but to check out the whole ‘Police Story’ franchise.
26 – ‘The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift’ (2007) / Stars: Lucas Black, Sung Kang, Brian Tee, Nathalie Kelley. Director: Justin Lin.
Long overlooked in the ‘Fast And Furious’ franchise, ‘The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift’ is the black sheep of the family. But for me, as a fan of the series, this ranks up there very highly. Starring Lucas Black (from the spectacular ‘Legion’ which featured in an earlier part of this countdown) as a college student sent to live with his father in Japan, ‘Tokyo Drift’ sees its leading man stand up to a deadly gang of drift racers who plague the streets of Tokyo with crime. As the violent gang grow more vicious, the cars get faster, the action gets more explosive and the stunts more death-defying. Granted, ‘Tokyo Drift’ couldn’t stand up to the previous 3 entries to the series, but it is on par with the original, and so much better than ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ and ‘Fast And Furious’ (the 4th movie). And along with all the fantastic action and incredible cars, it features the best soundtrack score of the franchise, with the magnificent Brian Tyler stepping up to the plate and delivering the greatest score a car movie ever had. The main theme is especially blood-pumping, but sadly hasn’t been used since. ‘Tokyo Drift’ is fun at its purest, and certainly deserves more love than it gets. And while it doesn’t feature any of the up-to-then leading cast of the previous movies in major roles (Sung Kang actually went on to appear in the later movies, which served as prequels to this), there is a very special guest in the final scene.
25 – ‘Derailed’ (2002) / Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Laura Harring, Tomas Arana. Director: Bob Misiorowski.
In the early 2000’s, the mighty Van Damme began to appear in many straight-to-video movies. Low budget, fairly unknown supporting casts and largely savaged by film critics. But as a long time Van Damme fan, I’ve always only asked for two things from any movie featuring the great man… Action and fun. And ‘Derailed’ delivers both in spades. Van Damme stars as a NATO agent who is given the task of tracking down a mysterious woman who has stolen a deadly virus. Ending up on a train which is taken siege by a team of killers, the agent and his charge must fight for survival and avoid capture. But with his family on board and her history with the hijackers’ nasty leader, things get out of control, as disaster strikes and Van Damme brings the pain on the train. ‘Derailed’ at times is very cheap and features some terrible performances. But Van Damme as always is highly dependable and brings his lethal fighting skills at 100%, while the action around him is very exciting and features some great special effects work (And some dodgy stock footage towards the end to account for a massive effects shot). Most actors end up in the dirt when they make straight-to-video projects, but Van Damme never fails to deliver, no matter how small the budget. That’s why action movie fans adore him.
24 – ‘Passenger 57’ (1992) / Stars: Wesley Snipes, Bruce Payne, Elizabeth Hurley. Director: Kevin Hooks.
Perhaps an unusual one to add to this list, as surely any action movie fan has not only seen this, but adores it? But just in case… Wesley Snipes stars as John Cutter, an ex-cop/ security agent with a tragic past, who winds up on a flight which is hijacked by an escaped terrorist with the help of several henchmen (And a henchwoman, introducing Elizabeth Hurley to the world). With the psycho killer in full control and determined to escape the death penalty, it’s up to Cutter to save the day. Battling killers and whipping up lines like “Always bet on black!”, Wesley Snipes became a major movie star, thanks to ‘Passenger 57’. Filled with spectacular fight scenes, lots of dark humor and plenty of tension, this is as top-class as anyone could want from the action genre. Even if it is brutally short.
23 – ‘Hard Rain’ (1998) / Stars: Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Minnie Driver. Director: Mikael Salomon.
From the writer and producer of ‘Speed’ and ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’, and directed by cinematography genius and TV director Mikael Salomon (Cinematographer on James Cameron’s ‘The Abyss’ and Steven Spielberg’s ‘Always’, among others. He’s also directed episodes of TV shows such as ‘Band Of Brothers’ and ‘Alias’.) comes one of the most underrated action movies ever made… The action-packed ‘Hard Rain’. Christian Slater stars as Tom, a cash transit van driver. When he and his co-driver are ambushed during a small-town flooding disaster by a gang of thieves (led by Morgan Freeman’s Jim), Tom is forced to flee for his life through the growing flood after he witnesses his co-driver’s murder. With the town completely flooded, Tom must fight back if he’s to survive the deadly flood and stop the killers from seizing the hidden cash from his van. ‘Hard Rain’ came at the height of disaster movies in the 90’s, heavily influenced especially by Sylvester Stallone’s immortal classic ‘Cliffhanger’. Slater and Freeman are terrific, and Minnie Driver provides great support for Slater’s character. The action is stunning, the special effects are amazing and the plot itself still stands as one of the best to emerge from a disaster action movie. ‘Hard Rain’ is one that seriously needs checking out.
22 – ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ (1997) / Stars: Sandra Bullock, Jason Patric, Willem Dafoe. Director: Jan De Bont.
One year before ‘Hard Rain’, the writer and producer of the original action classic ‘Speed’ released its sequel, ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’. And boy did it get the crap kick out of it. Did it deserve to? I’ll to that in a moment. Sandra Bullock returns as Annie, this time with a new boyfriend, Alex, played by Jason Patric. As the loved-up pair take a beautiful holiday cruise to the Caribbean Islands on board a luxury cruise ship, little do they know that a vengeful killer is about to take control of their ship. Geiger (Willem Dafoe) is a computer systems expert who is fired from his long-term employment after he becomes terminally ill. Hell bent on bringing down the company that betrayed him and desperate to live out the last of his life in comfort and wealth, Geiger seizes control of the ship’s computer, which was designed by himself and his former company, and sets the luxury cruise liner on a deadly path of destruction, head on into an oil tanker. As the ship hurtles toward its doom, and completely in the control of Geiger, Annie and Alex take on the psychotic mad man before he obliterates the ship, along with it’s passengers. ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ has never had anything but love from me. As a long time fan of the original, I’ve always preferred 2. With the original ‘Speed’, it has a great story that it sadly squanders. A bus armed with a bomb that will detonate if the speed drops below 50 mph. There could be so much done with a premise like that, but sadly the writers chose instead to spend most of the movie with the bus circling empty freeways and airports, rather than use the running time to really ramp up the danger and take advantage of L.A.’s busy streets. ‘Speed 2’ thankfully does the complete opposite, instead using its 2 hour running time to take its audience on a death-defying trip of stunts, chaos and destruction. The ship batters through the ocean, destroying everything in its path, including many sea vessels and several Caribbean villas. The movie never lets up, just gets faster and bigger, with the action and special effects growing more spectacular as it smashes along. Granted, it’s all big, loud and dumb, but by God it’s wonderful to watch. When that incredible new Mark Mancina score kicks in to overdrive for the final 30 minutes, I’m in total movie heaven. ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ not only deserves so much more love and respect than it gets, it also beats the original movie in almost every way. Annie is better, Jason Patric is on top action form and easily betters Keanu Reeves’ wooden character, and the action is constant and spectacular. The one thing that remains undefeated is Dennis Hopper’s performance as ‘Speed’s villain. He could never be beaten, but Willem Dafoe gives it a great try, and provides a lot of menacing fun, as he always does. His final shot in the movie is especially a highlight. I will always defend ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’, it is just too wonderful not to love.
21 – ‘Green Zone’ (2010) / Stars: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs. Director: Paul Greengrass.
With the magnificent ‘Jason Bourne’ doing the rounds at cinemas worldwide (You truly haven’t live until you’ve seen it!), it seems timely to include the non-Bourne Matt Damon/ Paul Greengrass collaboration that very few people seem to talk about these days. ‘Green Zone’ tells the true story of Roy Miller, a solider who discovers that claims of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction have been fabricated in an attempt to secure permission to invade the country. With his life in danger, Miller takes on enemies from both sides, as he fights to escape capture and tell the world the truth. ‘Green Zone’ is not a Bourne movie, but it definitely has all the hallmarks of one. Great action, intelligent story and Matt Damon is full flight giving one of his most powerful performances, with director Paul Greengrass bringing his trademark documentary style to the action. It may not be as high quality as the Bourne series (‘Jason Bourne’ will be damn near impossible to beat for the next several years in action cinema!), but it’s certainly a terrific war movie with plenty of bang for your buck entertainment. Check it out. And please get to your local cinema to see ‘Jason Bourne’ to see both of these men at their very best.
Come back soon for the final two chapters of this list. Hopefully over this long list, you’ve found some brilliant entertainment for yourself. To see the previous part, click here.
Until the next time, I’ll leave you with this totally glorious piece of music from the soundtrack score for ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ by Mark Mancina.