When delving into the world of action films, I had to set some parameters if this list was going to get done. The term “action” is very broad and so many motion pictures could apply to this genre. It’s a huge category with many subcategories including Westerns, War Films, Sci-Fi and Swords and Sandals. For this very reason, I will be eliminating a few films due to their genre characteristics.
I’m looking for what in movie terms one might refer to as “Real Action”. Basically it could happen or did happen in real life. Therefore no Sci-Fi, Supernatural, Future or Alternate Realities. This means Skynet will not be turned on, Indiana Jones can’t open the Ark, Mad Max is out of gas, The Wolverines will never battle the invading Russians and since Gotham doesn’t exist, don’t expect The Dark Knight to appear on this list like the other previously mentioned movies full of action. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m looking for straight up action films with no other worldly fictional twists to drive the story. Now that we have the rules straight, let’s get the selections cocked and loaded as I unveil ‘The 4: Action Movies’.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore and Matt Damon
Saving Private Ryan‘s opening battle scene was so incredibly realistic, that some WWII veterans who viewed the film deemed it too intense to watch. War is Hell and Steven Spielberg showed this with his take on the D-Day invasion at Normandy that lasted a bloody 27 minutes and cost nearly $12 million dollars to produce on its own. Saving Private Ryan thrusts the viewers into the heart pounding action and makes you feel as if you’re behind enemy lines searching for the young private who is getting a ticket home due to all of his brothers being killed in action. Besides the famous opening sequence, Saving Private Ryan is full of other depictions of war that ends with a gripping showdown with our soldiers fighting for their lives and country. Spielberg won an Oscar for his work directing Saving Private Ryan and set the standard for war films with battle scenes full of hardcore action that earned the film five Academy Awards.
Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe, Djimon Hounsou and Joaquin Phoenix.
There was no way the Oscar winner for Best Picture about Roman General Maximus turned famous Gladiator exacting revenge on the sleazy Emperor Commodus wasn’t making this list. Sir Ridley Scott’s Roman Epic may reside in the ‘Sword and Sandle’ sub-genre, but Gladiator is full of all types of action including scenes of ancient warfare, Gladiatorial battles and some intimate sword play mano y mano. For God’s sake Sir Ridley even finds a way to get a couple of tigers in on the action. Besides being full of amazing hand to hand combat scenes, Gladiator is quite deep for an action film thanks to the Oscar-winning performance of Russell Crowe as the Spaniard Hell bent on killing the man who destroyed his life. Gladiator‘s mix of drama and bloody good action helped the film take home the ultimate movie prize taking home five Oscars including the big ones for Actor and Picture.
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
Directed by Richard Donner and starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and Joe Pesci.
Let the controversy begin! You can’t have an action movie list without Riggs and Murtaugh, but the fact I went with the sequel instead of the original film will ruffle some feathers. I have a simple answer as to why Lethal Weapon 2 made ‘The 4’ and not its predecessor. Lethal Weapon 2 is better plain and simple. The original Lethal Weapon is amazing, but the sequel turns it up to an 11 with action packed results. The original looks like an indy film compared to the fantastic sequel. Riggs goes extra crazy taking out bad guys with the help of surfboards and manages to tear a whole house down with just some 4-wheel drive and a lot of vengeance. Riggs and Murtaugh have gone through the fire together so it’s nice to see them no longer at each other throats and working together to take out the evil Diplomatic Immunity loving South African Diplomats. Throw in some Pesci and an exploding toilet and you have one exciting follow-up. Lethal Weapon 2 is the highlight of the franchise and the greatest action sequel of all time.
Die Hard (1988)
Directed by John McTiernan and starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman and Reginald VelJohnson.
If there was a number one on this list, Die Hard would assume that position. I don’t care about the other films and their Oscars. If you want a film that embodies what it is to be an action film, look no further than Jon McTernan’s holiday classic about grizzled New York Police Officer John McClane and his LA Christmas at the Nakatomi Plaza. The fish out of water action thriller pits McClane against International terrorists who take the building hostage. Armed with a bad attitude, a pack of smokes and his gun, McClane takes out the assailants one by one in his bare feet, slacks and wife beater. The film is full of bullets, exploding 1980’s blood packs and Bruce Willis at his finest in his breakout role. Armed with a surprising amount of laughs, a killer score and heart supplied by Reginald VelJohnson as Sgt. Al Powell, Die Hard is the standard for action fueled crowd pleasers that show no remorse from the body count on-screen.
What action films do you think should have made ‘The 4’?