By Troy Jeffrey Allen and Derek Scarzella
Gosh, where to start? When ACTION A GO GO started back in 2010 the fact that it was a new decade didn’t really matter to me. I was much more tied up in being a new Dad and getting my life together than worrying about how auspicious the start of a new decade would be. 10 years on, I am proud to say with the help of a truly fantastic group of writers – and dare I say, friends – ACTION A GO GO was turned into a real website with real readers and a backlog of content that goes back a solid 10 years. It’s so satisfying that we have come this far. It’s hard to describe what that feels like.
Of course, getting back to business, this decade has been a rough one, even by entertainment standards. Mindsets have shifted, cultural milestones have been achieved, and heroes in entertainment have literally risen and fallen for reasons far too complex to cover here. This has brought all the splendor and heartache that comes with their success and failures. All the while we have been watching, enjoying, and witnessing the very modes of how we choose to enjoy our movies and other media shift with tectonic force. 10 years ago, if you had told me NETFLIX would bring us a movie The Irishman, I would have called you crazy. Of course, here we are, and to paraphrase everyone’s favorite Jedi Master, “The Streaming Wars have just begun, they have.”
I know I am prattling on, but trust me, the steak is coming. When we set out to make this list we wanted to not just pick “good” movies. If so, literally everyone would be a MARVEL film. No, we chose to pick the movies that defined this decade with all of its ups and downs. We chose the quintessential movies that were trendsetters, mold breakers, or purely distilled elixirs that define that genre we love and hold dear. We wanted to share the action essence, just like we have been doing for 10 years.
So read on, enjoy, and thank you. We wouldn’t be anything, without you, our dear readers.
10. THE EXPENDABLES (2010)
A big theme of the 2010s was smashing things together and seeing what happens, and the movie that arguably pioneered this was Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables. As soon as the movie was announced people were talking. For action fans, it was almost too good to be true. Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis and Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke and everyone else you can think of all in the same movie? And Jet Li? And Dolph Lundgren? No, it can’t be. And besides, Stallone is a joke. Who wants to see this anyway?
Of course, every red-blooded action fan out there wanted to watch the hell out of this. We did, in droves, but this movie SLAUGHTERED the Chinese and international markets, making it a huge success worldwide. I was giddy the entire time I watched it, and finally seeing Stallone and Schwarzenegger together was an amazing experience. The movie was also just plain good, with plenty of one-liners and bone-crunching action to keep us happy. Even more importantly every cast member was allowed to shine, even Terry Crewes, who up until this point had next to no action movie chops to speak of. The sequels would add even MORE legends to the mix, with Jean Claude Van Damme and a post-prison stay Wesley Snipes joining the mix.
It took far too many decades for this to happen, but once it did it was obviously worth the wait.
More importantly, this movie arguably ushered in the great era of fan service we have been able to enjoy throughout the decade. What do I mean by that? I mean movies like Avengers or Batman Vs Superman just might not exist if it wasn’t for Stallone pulling off this hat trick and showing the world that sometimes putting everything in a blender and hitting the shred it button just works damn fine.
While Stallone will always be remembered for Rocky and his huge turn as an action star his greatest legacy may be proving that giving the fans what they want is the smartest move of all.
9. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT (2018)
There was no way we were going to make this list without a Mission: Impossible on here. While the James Bond franchise seemed to constantly start and stall, Mission: Impossible simply opted to never slow down. Three M:I movies dropped in the last 10 years, but Fallout really did take the cake.
Rounding off the “syndicate” plot that started with Ghost Protocol, Fallout finds Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in pursuit of three plutonium cores. But what makes the film stand out isn’t so much the plot but how often director Christopher McQuarrie plays with expectations.
The most impressive reversal of expectations is how the film utilizes Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. Plenty can be said about Cruise’s unflinching dedication to entertain at all costs, but the character work in Fallout completely recontextualizes the actions of Ethan Hunt over the course of the franchise. Suddenly, Ethan goes from captain charisma to haunted and obsessed. And Cruise fits comfortably into the role. In a weird way, the movie is taking the actor’s public perception as a white-knuckled mad man and using it to justify the plot.
And the plot can simply be described as…“Go!” Like I said, plenty can be said about Cruise’s willingness to suffer for his craft. The actor flies, runs, crashes, shoots, careens, punches, and kicks his way through this entire movie. The flick is breathless because producer Tom Cruise is. And he’s willing to die for our cinematic sins as long as we keep watching.
8. PACIFIC RIM (2013)
I know what your thinking. How does Pacific Rim make this list and Godzilla not get a mention? Easy. Pacific Rim is a FAR BETTER movie in every way. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, who would go on to win the Best Director Oscar for The Shape Of Water, this love letter to monster movies ticked off every box. Huge Robots? Check. Awesome monsters? Check. Great human characters? Check. Goofy scientists and crazy aliens? Double-check. Yes, Pacific Rim had it all and “sent it” as hard as it could.
It also did this crazy thing where it showed you the monsters, which Godzilla puzzlingly did not. It was also simply a stunning film. While special effects are pretty much perfect these days, every frame of this film is lovingly crafted to the point where every piece of broken glass and every falling raindrop is visible. It’s a movie where the closer you look the more there is to see. Del Toro is a bona fide auteur and when he got his hands on monsters and mayhem only good things were bound to happen.
That cast was also perfect. Idris Elba got to shine as Staker Pentacost, the world got to see Charlie Hunnam as a true leading man, and Rinko Kikuchi shined as Mako Mori. Their performances brought this world to life and stole the show from the giant monsters walking overhead. Even the supporting characters could get away with their own movies if the movie had been successful enough.
Oh, speaking of success, this movie proved that the Chinese have better taste in movies than we do. When it came out in the states it did middling business, loosing out to a few sequels at the box office in the U.S. However, when it hit mainland China it was gobbled up with a ferocity that the west could not muster. This proved two things. The first is that China does have the power to save a movie at the box office. The second is that there is a HUGE market for monster movies that had been largely unsatisfied for the better part of a decade, and the success of Pacific Rim proved it.
7. BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)
Wait. Wait. Wait. Before you knock the credibility of this list or fire off negative comments (like, “I stopped reading as soon as I saw BvS”)…hear me out.
This is an Elseworlds tale. Once you accept the fact that Batman v. Superman takes place within some sort of alt-reality within a larger DC multiverse, it’s easier to digest. And, truthfully, after the uninspired fan-service that was Justice League, the abrupt tonal shift of Aquaman, and the completely disassociated Joker film – you can easily put Batman v. Superman in its own pocket universe.
Beyond that, Dawn of Justice may be hated by some but it doesn’t negate the fact that a lot of people love it. And there is plenty to love.
First and foremost is the individual who came out of this movie absolutely unscathed: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Director Zack Snyder won’t get credit for it, but his approach to Wonder Woman here sets the visual tone and narrative hook for the well-received Wonder Woman in 2017.
It’s also easy to forget that actor Ben Affleck really did deliver an absolutely fantastic Batman. He looks like the animated series version of Bruce Wayne, his introduction into the film is appropriately startling, his fight choreography is the best of any Batman film, and – down to the voice modulator – his costume is absolutely perfect (plus: he can move his head). This is Frank Miller’s Dark Knight personified.
As for Henry Cavill, this is the first time that we get a glimpse of Superman’s “super” character. Proving that there was at least a plan for the DCEU from the beginning. While Man of Steel got muddled down in angst, this Superman has smoothly transitioned from the events in that movie into Earth’s protector. Unfortunately, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor just won’t let him be the savior of humanity. And let’s be real: Eisenberg’s only real sin here is that we were all collectively tired of his shtick by the time BvS came out. But he’s solid in the roll.
It’s an Elseworlds story. From a comic book company known for multiverses and alternate realities. Seeing how we’ve gotten so many screen interpretations of Batman and Superman over the last 70 or so years, I think I can stomach an edge lord version. Particularly, the Ultimate Edition edge lord version.
6. DREDD (2012)
Do remember Dredd? Or Dredd 3-D as it was conspicuously marketed to take advantage of that craze? You probably don’t, and that’s ok. It was the distant cousin of the smash hit The Raid: Redemption, which was released in the same year but took an entirely different take on the what is basically the same story: Cops get lost in a building with nothing but insane criminals between them and the mob bosses they are trying to take down. In this instance, the “cop” is the legendary comic book character Judge Dredd, who was previously played by Stallone in the oft-maligned, but surprisingly good Judge Dredd.
Starring Karl Urban as the title character and Lena Headey as the sadistic Ma-Ma, the movie was a commercial flop, but that doesn’t matter because it is so good, so unique, and so powerful it muscled its way onto this list with sheer brute force. Many, many, many movies came out this decade, most of them from MARVEL, but none of them match the intensity, grit, and rawness that this sci-fi film manages to muster. And that last bit is the most important. This is a sci-fi film. It takes place somewhere else in time and place. But that doesn’t matter. It’s doesn’t rely on the mysticism of Star Wars or the contrived storytelling of Star Trek to get its themes across. No, it just uses good old-fashioned storytelling, great cinematography and brutal in your face action to hammer every frame home.
Oh, and did I mention it manages to make ultra-violence look beautiful? And that you never see the title characters face and that doesn’t even matter? Or that Leana Headey’s turn as Ma-Ma makes her Game of Thrones character Cersei Lannister look like mother of the decade?
Yes, all of this and more can be said about this cult action flick that no one went to see when it was released in 2012. It’s a shame that fantastic, hardcore movies like this aren’t shown more love, but that’s why we’re here, to celebrate what would otherwise be a lost treasure of movie history.
5. FAST FIVE (2011)
You seriously can’t have a discussion about the action films of the decade without the import engine that could – The Fast And The Furious.
As conversations around diversity and representation dominated the 2010s, the F&F franchise mutated from a 2000s cult hit to worldwide box office monster. And the most impressive part was that it did it while other franchises struggled to provide decent representation at all.
Much of that success can be credited to Justin Lin, the director of Fast Five who – starting with Tokyo Drift – picked the series up and took it back to basic, but amped up the scale. Lin’s strategy was simple: It all happened. Every Fast & Furious film is part of this new direction. And when audiences watched Fast Five in theaters, what they really got was a film that played all the greatest hits: cops & robbers, protagonists who operate on the wrong side of the law, urban action, sexy cars, sexy women, sexy men, a hot soundtrack, themes of family, and a healthy appreciation of culture.
While the absence of Michelle Rodriguez is notable here, the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson more than makes up for it. Fast Five also cemented Johnson as a bonafide action star. And if you want to talk about how this film created a monster, then simply look at the success of the F&F films – including the Rock’s spin-off, 2019‘s Hobbs & Shaw.
Outside of that, Fast Five is just a genuinely sharp action film. It’s especially impressive given how massive the cast is. Everyone gets a pivotal moment in the film’s central heist. The move also sports two massive action set pieces. The first is a train sequence that uses quite a few cowboy movie tropes but swaps the horses for 600-plus horsepower. Then the finale outright defies every science known to man. The closing heist is a multi-vehicle car chase, featuring a vault being used as a wrecking ball against the Brazilian police. The sequence is a riot. Both for its complete disinterest in physics and human lives.
4. THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2012)
In 2011, international cinema needed a breakout martial arts star. Jackie Chan and Jet Li were quietly inching towards retirement, Rain’s attempted star vehicle (Ninja Assassin) had failed to be the showstopper it needed to be, and the once destined for greatness Tony Jaa was no longer bankable.
Enter: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, and Yayan Ruhian. This triple threat would take center stage with The Raid: Redemption, an unusual and thrilling experience that took the film world by the ears and slammed its knees at us a couple of times to assert its dominance.
The thrilling aspects of The Raid are numerous. The film can be described (by its director, actually) as “survival horror.” An elite police squad is tasked with taking down an Indonesian crime lord-turned-slum lord. Inbetween them and their arrests are several apartment floors filled with innocent bystanders and eager henchmen. Things go sideways quickly, forcing Uwais and Taslim to fight their way up or out of the high-rise. Using their mastery of bone-crunching Indonesian martial arts to survive.
Then there is Yayan Ruhian. Who, through presence alone, puts the horror element in place for this survival horror. While Yayan is simply the henchman to actor Ray Sahetapy’s crime lord, he also serves as an effective boogeyman. Yayan is a beast. Particularly when he absorbs Uwais’ blows during The Raid’s brutal showdown (I bet you’ll never look at florescent lights the same).
3. JOHN WICK (2014)
This movie shouldn’t have been made. It doesn’t make sense. It barely has a functioning story. And Keanu Reeves, the movie’s star, and everyone else involved was pretty much a has-been, or worse, a nobody. There were also way too many guns and people getting murdered, which just isn’t cool anymore.
It’s a good thing none of that mattered. As soon as this weird movie about some ex-hitman getting revenge on the people who murdered his dog came out it smashed expectations. Along the way, Reeves easily slid back into the limelight and suddenly neon-infused manslaughter was back in vogue.
For true action fans, it was a breath of fresh air. Most of the movies on this list are great, but nearly all lack the gun infused kinetic art that is John Woo style action. Mostly dormant for more than a decade, it was amazing to see this white-hot action style back in big bold beautiful color. Also, Reeves is at his best here and reminds us why he gets paid the big bucks to do this stuff. Between the expert gun handling and bare-knuckle fighting style, it’s easy to forget HE WAS 50 when he made this movie. Simply stunning, and a testament to his dedication to his art and most importantly his fans, who he knows and loves. With John Wick, he has transcended mere movie stardom and ascended to become a pop culture demi-god. And may his reign last long and true.
Finally, it saved action movies for a whole new generation of fans who were on the cusp of being lost in an ocean of big-budget sci-fi bloat and an endless stream of superhero films that, while entertaining, are dangerously close to becoming mere cookie-cutter clones of each other. There have been two more John Wick movies made since the first came out, but honestly, I hope they never stop making them. Long live the King.
2. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
There are plenty of exceptional films by equally exceptional filmmakers on this list, but Mad Max Fury Road is the only one that comes off orchestral in its execution.
The thing I love the most about Fury Road is how immediate, simple, and sobering it is. The desolate backdrop may be unfamiliar, but the threats nipping at our protagonists’ heels – death, enslavement, tyranny…rape – they are all too visceral. And that makes this massive chase film very vivid. And that’s not taking into consideration the actual visuals.
Some critics have taken issue with the fact that the title character Mad Max (played by Tom Hardy) isn’t given many lines. Personally, I consider that to be a horribly biased read of the material. Max carries his insanity like a crucifix. He has been broken by the post-apocalyptic reality he faces. He doesn’t need words because he has no words left. He’s clearly done unspeakable things since 1979’s Mad Max. Vocalizing them in a heroically macho way would just undermine that character’s experience.
On the flip side, we have Furiousa (played by Charlize Theron). A willing participant in the authoritarian hellscape created by her captor Immortan Joe. After standing by while Joe privatizes gas reserves, kidnaps girls, and brainwashes boys, Furiousa must find her voice for the first time. She does so by escaping his citadel, but she still must out-run Joe’s screeching hordes.
In the end, because of cooperation, Furiousa and Max both find their voice. It takes form through the sounds of violence. Through the high-octane crescendos and balletic lows of director George Miller. If 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars can be considered space operas then Mad Max Fury Road is an action opera unlike any other.
1. Avengers (2012)
How can we not address the elephant in the room that is MARVEL? Never before in cinema history, dare I say “human” history has a series of interconnected movies dominated pop culture, or world culture, as much as the creations of Stan Lee and other artists have over this decade. No less than 20 Marvel films were released between 2010 and 2019, and even the ones that weren’t that good (yes, I said it) have grossed over a $1 Billion dollars. Simply stunning, and a testament to the hard work of all involved as well as the incredible fans have for these characters and their stories. Having said all this, we had to pick just 1, and the original Avengers just had to be it.
It’s hard to believe that back in 2012, when Avengers was on the way, it was all still up in the air. Some people thought it was going to flop. And it’s easy to understand why. Crossovers were mostly a joke up until that point, with goofy fair like Godzilla Vs. King Kong (1962) and Freddie Vs. Jason (2003) all we had to go by. With a precedent like this, it was easy to see how failure was right around the corner.
But what the haters all failed to realize is how good the MARVEL team was at setting this all up. Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau, was a huge hit and set a template for success. The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America all followed, each with their own flavor BUT integrating hints and Easter eggs that ingeniously wove the stories together AND made fans froth at the mouth with excitement.
Finally, when the Joss Whedon directed Avengers dropped, all the pieces were in place. His genius writing infused the world with everyman humor and his directing style stuck to tried and true iconic hero shots which, frankly, is all the fans really wanted. The cast, lead by the amazing Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, also knocked it out of the park left and right. Honestly, it’s a perfect gem of a movie that did the impossible. The proof we have is that others have tried and mostly failed at receiving the near-universal acclaim MARVEL commands right now, and we should consider ourselves lucky for witnessing the “Golden Age Of Comic Book Movies” that Avengers kicked off.
And that wraps it up. It has been an amazing decade and each and we want to thank each and every one of you for being awesome! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!