This year marks the 25th anniversary of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Road House, and Kickboxer. I point out these milestones for no reason other than to serve as a segway into much better movies. There are few greater pleasures in life than a good ol’fashioned action movie, and this here is the cream of the crop. The best of the best.
The few. The proud. The greatest action movies ever.
5. The Raid 2
Yes, The Raid 2 has only been out for six months, but it’s that good. It improves upon its predecessor in every way, while also delivering some of the best choreographed fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Period. The pacing is absolutely perfect, with fight sequences coming fast enough to keep us from getting bored, but not so fast that the audience has no room to breathe. Even the in-between moments are solid. There’s a genuinely captivating plot and a sympathetic main character to boot. The Raid 2 is the full package, and any genre aficionado owes it to him/herself to watch this series.
4. Big Trouble In Little China
Jack Burton is the every-man’s action hero. He’s just a blue collar wearin’, truck drivin’, smack-talkin’ white guy who, like many of us, happened to find himself in the middle of a mystical kung fu battle in Chinatown. Big Trouble In Little China came toward the tail-end of John Carpenter’s legendary streak, and it’s basically the most fun movie ever. It’s a bizarre campfest full of humor and goofy action that never fails to put a smile on my face. Are there technically better action movies out there? Yeah. But nobody can top this cult classic in terms of sheer enjoyability, and that’s why it deserves a spot among the greats.
Predator, if nothing else, holds the world record for “most machismo in a single shot,” as determined by a panel of expert film historians consisting of myself. I am referring of course to the sweaty, veiny, erotic man-shake shared between Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers. But the good times don’t end there. We get muscles covered in blood, muscles covered in mud, but no muscles covered in suds, unfortunately. Back then it was a fine line between classic 80’s homo-eroticism and straight up softcore gay porn, and a jungle bubble bath probably would have fallen into the latter category.
But Predator has a lot more going for it than just shredded dudes. There’s giant guns, heavy atmosphere, and a legitimately terrifying antagonist. The stakes seem so much higher when the odds become nearly insurmountable, but like always, America prevails. Except instead of defeating terrorists, Dutch and company slay an interplanetary game hunter. And it’s awesome.
2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Terminator 2: Judgement Day was my first exposure to action films that I remember, at the ripe age of three. MPAA warnings be-damned (“Rated R for strong sci-fi action and violence, and for language.” Pffft), my father saw this movie and thought, “Wow, my barely-out-of-diapers son needs to experience this.” I grew my first chest hair that day.
Everything is here that you could possibly want in an action flick: Arnold Schwarzenegger, explosions, quotable lines, a mimetic poly-alloy robot assassin, and most importantly, Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are even a few moments that could theoretically tug on the heart strings, but real men have heart beams, made of indestructible steel incapable of even the most vigorous tugging. You get my point, though. Terminator 2 isn’t just an action sci-fi classic; it’s one of the best movies ever. If you disagree, well…chill out. Dickwad.
1. Die Hard
Shame on you if you were expecting anything other than Die Hard. Seriously, all the shame. It isn’t amazing in the sense that most other 80’s action movies are. This is a legitimately spectacular movie, full of suspense, high-octane set pieces, and some of the best one-liners ever. Die Hard is timeless. Like The Beatles. Or pizza. Many have tried, and all have failed to match the holiday thrills it provides.
Has there been a better action hero than John McClane in the time before or after this movie’s release? My answer is no. In my eyes he is the definitive protagonist from a genre that has provided me and the rest of the world with so much joy. On some days, if you ask me what my favorite movie of all-time is, I will tell you Die Hard. In all likelihood, I could redo this list 10, 20, even 50 years from now, and the top spot would be the same. If that’s not an indicator of quality, I don’t know what is.
Well, there you have it. Now feel free to whine in the comments about my exclusion of Aliens, First Blood, Lethal Weapon, and whatever other inferior action movies you think belong on this list, which is better than your list.