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Lights, Camera, Action Movies: Snarky’s Top 10 Favorite Action Films

August 22, 2010

Action films are why I love going to the movies – given my mandate for any theater outing is to be entertained. My reason for loving action films is simple (and selfish): I want to see people who look like me NOT engaged in dominant narrative dramedy. As an action movie buff and a feminist who makes no apologies for either, I’m often asked to list my favorites. It’s actually a difficult task, which I hadn’t considered blogging about until recently. For the purposes of this list the genre includes films that can also be categorized as thriller, suspense and even comedy.

10. Spy Game (2001)
Starring: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt
Director: Tony Scott

“If I’m walking into a shit storm, I need to know which way the wind’s blowing,” says CIA agent Nathan Muir (Redford) on the penultimate day of employment with the agency. And what a shit storm it is. If you’ve watched Three Days of the Condor wondered whatever happened to that guy, well Spy Game is a wonderful rumination on that particularly question. Tony Scott is at the top of his game – even without Denzel – and Spy Game is fun, smart, engaging action entertainment.

9. Aliens (1986)
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser
Director: James “More Water! Less Water!” Cameron

Say what you will about James Cameron, but he’s always good for a strong lady action hero (Sarah Connor, Blue Lady in Avatar, Mary Elizabeth in The Abyss) and it takes a brave motherfucker to believe he can improve upon Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi thriller Alien. Weaver is electrifying as Ripley and Aliens is filled with smart, dazzling action goodness, making it worthy of multiple viewings.

8. Armageddon (1998)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Keith Davis, Michael Clarke Duncan, Peter Stormare, William Fichtner, Owen Wilson (did I get everyone?)
Director: Michael Bay

A recent screening reminded me how satisfying this film is and not solely for its respectable special effect. The script and acting is quite good and there are some truly funny and poignant moments throughout the film. (JJ Abrams co-wrote the screenplay!) The plot is mediocre disaster movie fare, but I was pleasantly surprised at the care and respectful treatment of Billy Bob’s characters’s disability (the exact disability was not disclosed), particularly that revealing it came well into the film, allowing the audience to view a person with a disability as capable, accomplished and dynamic without relying on tedious tropes. Most of the characters are quite endearing with the exception of Affleck’s, whose cowboy antics are so freaking annoying, by the end you wished a meteor would send him into great by and by. Must mention Keith David, who chews up the scenery as a General and mucky muck who just finds everything and everyone involved with the situation a bunch of bullshit.

7. Enemy of the State (1998)
Cast: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Regina King, Jon Voigt, Jack Black, Jason Lee, Lisa Bonet
Director: Tony Scott

Oh how I love me a political action thriller and Enemy of the State is goo gobs of fun. The plot involves high tech government surveillance turned up to 11 and the effect it has on one DC attorney named Robert Dean.

6. Lethal Weapon
Cast: Danny Glover, Mel Gibson, Gary Busey, Darlene Love
Director: Richard Donner

If Mel wasn’t such an assclown this classic action film would rank much higher, but this is why we can’t have nice action movie classics. Anyway, Lethal Weapon still occupies a special place in my action movie loving heart for its depiction of a nice, middle class black family sharing the laughter and love. Also, Gary Busey is kind of unintentionally hilarious as the iconic villain Mr. Joshua.

5. The Fifth Element (1997)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm,Chris Tucker
Director: Luc Besson

The Fifth Element is the perfect Saturday afternoon laundry movie. The visual effects are gorgeous and the story’s is quite inventive. It’s also funny and sweet and silly. It’s like a geeky kid’s idea of an action film, which oddly enough it is. Luc Besson conceived the film when he was really young!

4. Mission Impossible (1996)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voigt, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kirsten Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Brian De Palma, baby!

What can I say? It’s De Palma and it’s accessible and it’s fun. If that doesn’t work for you, write up your own damn list!

3. Men in Black (1997)
Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Rip Torn, Linda Linda Fiorentino,
Vincent D’Onofrio, Tony Shaloub
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

It’s always a good sign when immediately after watching an action movie I want to watch it again. So it was with MiB, which I’ve probably seen more than any other film besides The Wiz and Auntie Mame!

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Cast: Arnold, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton
Director: James Cameron

I don’t think I actually saw the first Terminator movie prior to seeing its vastly superior sequel. Or maybe I did and didn’t like it as much as Commando. Who knows? Who cares. It’s all about Robert Patrick’s liquid metal terminator anyway.

1. Die Hard (1988)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Robert Davi, Reginald Veljohnson, William Atherton
Director: John McTiernan

An action film so iconic I remember everything surrounding its introduction to my life. What I was wearing: A white Jody Watley tutu, pink shirt and pink ballerina flats. Where I was: Kansas City at an Alpha Phi Alpha convention with my family. What I was supposed to be seeing: Big Top Pee Wee. Who I was with: myself. I also remember translating all the German for the couple sitting next to me. “That bad guy is telling the other bad guy to shoot at the glass.” Of course moments later, Hans Gruber (the bad guy to end all bad guys, expertly played by Alan Rickman) said the very same thing. Oh, I could talk action films and women’s tutus all day, but unfortunately work must intrude…
11. Independence Day
12. Jurassic Park 2
13. Blade Runner
14. The Fugitive
15. I, Robot
16. Minority Report
17. Sharky’s Machine – technically more of a crime thriller than straight up action film.
18. Salt
19. The Bourne Supremacy
20. Crimson Tide

11 Comments leave one →
  1. mrazzy permalink
    August 23, 2010 1:20 am

    Great list! A friend and I once spent a whole evening trying to map out a diagram of what happens in the first 15 minutes of Mission Impossible – like who goes where with whom, what’s happening to everyone at each point in time, what causes people to suddenly start running in the opposite direction. Turns out, it makes no sense. But ridiculously enjoyable!

  2. hsofia permalink
    August 23, 2010 2:55 am

    I can’t believe I’ve seen every movie on that list. Whoo hoo!

    A few weeks ago I was at the gym watching Enemy of the State – it started stressing me out – it was too intense! So now I have a rule of no watching thrillers while working out.

    My top 10 would look something like:
    The Descent
    The Island
    The Professional
    Die Hard
    Blade Runner
    Pitch Black
    with #1 easily and unquestionably being Predator.

    But I’d have to squeeze in Aliens somewhere – that is my favorite/most watched of the series/franchise, too.

  3. hsofia permalink
    August 23, 2010 2:56 am

    Hmm … that should read Terminator 2!!

  4. August 23, 2010 3:34 am

    I love Sneakers!!! Yeah, Enemy of the State should sometimes be called “enema of the state” based on what it does to my bowels.

  5. August 23, 2010 3:40 am

    I need to watch The Island again, because I remember really liking it, but it was also one of the movies that I only screened at bedtime. I loved Scar-Jo in that movie. I just remember her looking all sad panda.

    I wonder if people are gonna be mad because I didn’t mention any of the ST or SW films. They are like way in the mid 30s if we’re talking top 50 films. With ST: The Voyage Home being the highest ranked of either franchise.

  6. hsofia permalink
    August 23, 2010 3:47 am

    Well maybe some people would be, but not me as the SW films don’t register anywhere on a top 50 list for me (not even top 100 list). And I’ve seen all the originals at least 3 times, and after each viewing I’ve thought, “Yeah, I still don’t care.” And I haven’t seen most of the ST films, although I liked whichever one had the whales, but I can’t remember why (I was only maybe 13).

  7. August 23, 2010 4:39 am

    Yay. The Whales = ST IV: The Voyage Home!!! Yeah, it’s my favorite of the original ST movies. I really like the SW saga, but like Indiana Jones, it’s not something I count as an enduring fave. Every so often I get the urge to watch SW – though mostly it’s The Empire Strikes Back and then I move on to something else.

    The only omission on the list that embarrasses me is Air Force One!

  8. August 23, 2010 10:28 am

    As someone who chooses to believe that she is the reason that one day all ST and SW geeks will unite and cast aside their petty differences, I find no fault in not listing any of those movies on this list. Personally, I don’t think of them as action films in any way. Not sure why, though…. hmm.

    Also, ST IV:The Voyage Home is my favorite, to the point that I walked around San Francisco with my boyfriend and his family asking where they keep their “nuclear wessels.” They swore they would never take me back after that.

    I think my list would read something like this:
    Red Dawn
    Die Hard
    The Fifth Element
    Independence Day
    Lethal Weapon
    The Bank Job
    Inside Man

    and pick any Jean-Claude or Dolph movie to round out the list.

  9. hsofia permalink
    August 23, 2010 6:11 pm

    Ha! So everyone likes the whale one. Hehe.

    SM – do you like war movies at all? I don’t think I’ve ever heard you mention one.

  10. petitpoussin permalink
    August 28, 2010 8:36 pm

    Where’s Speed? “Poor people are crazy. I’m eccentric” – Dennis Hopper highlights intersectionality in one great catchphrase.

  11. September 4, 2010 6:05 pm

    Nice list! I haven’t seen all of them (still haven’t gotten around to Mission: Impossible or Armageddon, oops), but I dig the ones I do know! T2, Aliens, and Die Hard are among my favorites too. I’d probably include Commando, X2, Ong-bak, Strange Days, and most of Robert Rodriguez’s films in my own list, along with several you mentioned. Haven’t really thought about it though.

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