It would be impossible to live without action cinema. Or, at least, I find it particularly difficult to imagine how to survive the day to day without being able to enjoy in all its splendor a feature film built on mountains of bullet casings, gunpowder, explosions, fractured bones, piles of corpses and muscular heroes who love drop lapidary phrases at the first exchange.
And what better way to celebrate the existence of a genre that has given us so many moments of healthy -and violent- evasion than with this list in which we collect those that, in a personal capacity, it consider as the 32 best action movies in history …
Direction: Robert Clouse
Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Ahna Capri, Shih Kien, Jim Kelly, Robert Wall
Who better than Bruce Lee to open a list that includes the best action films of all time, and what better film to represent the icon of martial arts than ‘Operation Dragon’; probably, the best film of all the filmography of the star.
‘The Warriors, The Masters Of The Night’
Dirction: Walter Hill
Cast: Michael Beck, David Harris, James Remar, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Thomas G. Waites, Dorsey Wright
From among the large list of notable action films that swell the filmography of Walter Hill I am forced to stay with this ‘The Warriors’. An urban epic set in a New York dominated by bands that drink from classical Greece and that today continues to be as fresh, iconic and surprising as the first day. A small feature film turned into a cult classic for its own merits.
‘1997: Rescue In New York’
Direction: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Season Hubley, Isaac Hayes
The master John Howard Carpenter as soon as you direct an enduring classic horror film as ‘Halloween’ as it takes out of the sleeve a dystopian action movie of the likes of ‘Rescue in New York’. A master class in resource economics, with an exemplary use of the urgency in the script and an unrepeatable protagonist whose image and bravado have made him transcend as a popular icon. Long live Plissken Snake!
‘Blow in Little China’
Direction: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, Kate Burton, Victor Wong, James Hong
‘Blow in Little China’ not only demonstrated the good hand of John Carpenter in Directioning the genre of action; He also proved the versatility of the director – and that his collaborations with Kurt Russell are pure gold. On this occasion, the master of horror delighted us with a comedy of light and free action of all gravity that embraced the clichés of classical martial arts cinema with a touch of delicious fantasy without complexes. Glory eighties in its purest form.
Direction: Richard Donner
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love
While it was the great ‘Limit: 48 hours’ of Walter Hill that popularized the subgenre of the buddy cop movie, ‘Lethal Weapon’ raised him to Olympus bringing together two geniuses like director Richard Donner and screenwriter Shane Black. Adding to the equation the couple composed by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the roles of the legendary agents Riggs and Murtaugh, and an almost perfect balance between comedy, drama and action, the result can only be one of the best films that has given the history of the genre.
Direction: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Reginald Veljohnson, Paul Gleason
All the words that can be written to praise this authentic wonder are few. John McTiernan, with his third feature film, not only touched the roof of his career – with all due respect for ‘Predator’ and ‘The Red October Hunt’ – but gave birth to the one that, for the undersigned, is the best action film of all time. Spectacular, hilarious, violent, with a hardened antagonist and with a Bruce Willis unrepeatable in his role as John McClane. Yippee Ki yay!
Direction: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ronny Cox, Dan O’Herlihy
“Half man, half machine, all police.” With this tagline crowning his poster, it is impossible for ‘Robocop’ to disappoint anyone. Not only is it one of the most violent movies on this list – the scene in which poor Murphy is massacred is still creepy -; but he treasures a brilliant Direction from Paul Verhoeven whose debut in the United States marked a before and after in his career.
Direction: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Marshall Bell
Good sample of the legacy that ‘Robocop’ to the career in the action of Paul Verhoeven is reflected in this great adaptation of the story ‘We can remember everything for you’ by Philip K. Dick. Its Martian ambience is extraordinary, as is its overwhelming production design; although for something we will remember it is because of the protagonism of a particularly inspired Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Direction: Mark L. Lester
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, James Olson, Bill Duke, Vernon Wells
Be careful, because the participation of good Arnie in this list is not limited to a single title -not to two-; and is that the former “Governator” has given us pearls like this ‘Commando’: a canonical and testosteronic eighties action movie, with a protagonist with a name as cool as John Matrix and muscles about to explode, a final body duel to body and a ton of lapidary phrases of the size of “Like green berets for breakfast, and right now I’m hungry”. There is nothing.
Direction: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Sonny Landham, Bill Duke, Elpidia Carrillo, Richard Chaves
Continuing with the “Chuache”, how to forget the bellowing that beats, torch in hand, to warn the Predator that he has the hours counted. John McTiernan demonstrating once again why, with only 12 titles behind him, he is one of the great action directors. Again, testosterone baskets in a curious approach to science fiction that has not been overcome by any of its estimable aftermath.
Direction: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Charlton Heston, Art Malik, Bill Paxton
There are many voices that claim that the action cinema of essence more eighties died in 1994 from the hand of James Cameron with the great ‘Lies risky’. Pure and hard craftsmanship – the sequence of the bridge continues to be one of the key points in the history of the genre – violence, emotion, a light tone and a tremendous chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. Oh! And a striptease that has gone down in the history of the seventh art, that we do not forget.
‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’
Direction: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton
Of all the feature films starring good old Arnie, ‘Terminator 2’ is probably the best. An orgy of perfect action that raises the bets – and the quality – of its predecessor to unimaginable heights, with a James Cameron unleashed to the direction and some amazing special effects never seen until the moment of its premiere. A jewel of cult rooted in the collective imagination of the respected most moviegoer and the occasional audience.
‘Aliens: The Return’
Direction: James Cameron
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Carrie Henn
Legend has it that James Cameron put forth his idea for a sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic by writing the word “Alien” on a blackboard, adding an “S” at the end and converting it into a dollar symbol with two vertical lines – “ALIEN $ “-. The rest is history; specifically one starring a group of space marines, hordes of xenomorphs and an Ellen Ripley that still had many cartridges to burn to strengthen its hegemony as the queen of the genre.
Direction: Ted Kotcheff
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, David Caruso, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott
Speaking of mythical characters, we could not forget John Rambo: the war veteran with post-traumatic stress that debuted in this estimable classic signed by Ted Kotcheff in 1982. A new character that adds to the list of icons personified by Sylvester Stallone, with his hair in the wind, his ribbon in his hair, his belt of bullets and his murky relationship with Colonel Trautman and American society.
‘Hard Boiled (Hedgehog)’
Direction: John Woo
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Teresa Mo, Philip Kwok
We could not talk about action movies in conditions without mentioning the teacher John Woo. Although he could have selected ‘The Killer’ as his best work – and as one of the best representatives of the Hong Kong scene – I keep a special affection for Inspector Tequila, who played Chow Yun Fat in the brutal ‘Hard Boiled’; whose shooting in the hospital is probably one of the best action sequences filmed in the history of the seventh art.
Direction: Michael Bay
Cast: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, John Spencer
And from a great Hong Kong, we went to another of the referents of the genre in the United States: the incombustible Michael Bay. As much as I adore ‘Pain and money’ or both parts of ‘Two rebellious policemen’, ‘The rock’ is – and will be – not only its best film, but one of the best orgies of shooting, death and destruction to which we can face. “Bayhem” manual with a trio of greats like Ed Harris, Sean Connery and our beloved Nic Cage giving it all.
‘Speed: Maximum power’
Direction: Jan de Bont
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels, Alan Ruck
Its premise is as simple as it is effective. Your Direction as functional as it is accurate. His cast so, a priori, bland, with the exception of Denis Hopper, as unusually inspired and overflowing with chemistry. One of the best action tapes of the 90s only needed a bus, a bomb and a speed limitation to leave us with our ass nailed to the seat and nerves about to cause us to collapse.
Direction: Lana & Lily Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving, Marcus Chong
‘Matrix’ is probably the movie that ended up convincing me when I was 12 years old that cinema had to be a fundamental part of my life experience; and it does not matter how many years they spend, that their body-to-body fights, their shooting in the room of the columns, their hodge-podge of references, the wonderful planning of the Wachowski and their amazing special effects, continue to fascinate me as if it were the first day.
‘John Wick: Another day to kill’
Direction: Chad Stahelski & David Leitch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki
The combination of the word “action” and the name “Keanu” inevitably leads us to one of the great “covered” of recent times. A splendid ‘John Wick’ directed by a couple of specialists who gave free rein to their knowledge in the noble art of distributing biscuits to build an authentic milestone of the genre that, sadly, premiered directly on television within our borders.
‘John Wick: Blood Pact’
Direction: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Bridget Moynahan, Ruby Rose, Peter Stormare, Ian McShane
If the first ‘John Wick’ was already a model action film, its second part, subtitled ‘Pacto de sangre’, took the concept to even higher levels of quality. More stylized, with even more risky stunts -which opens with an image of Buster Keaton is all a declaration of intentions-, with a delicious extension of his particular universe and with a Keanu Reeves born to play this relentless assassin.
Direction: Wilson Yip
Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan, Gordon Lam, Lynn Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
Ip Man was a Chinese martial artist, master of the Wing Chun. This description does not say much, but if we comment that he had Bruce Lee himself as a student, things change. Donnie Yen puts on the boots of this legend in one of the best martial arts feature films in history, with a fantastic setting in the Sino-Japanese war and, as you would expect, with some spectacular choreography.
Direction: Wong Kar-Wai
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Zhao Benshan, Chang Chen, Brigitte Lin, Zhang Jin
Five years after ‘Ip Man’, the Hong Kong-based filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai tackled the legend of Bruce Lee’s master in a film that falls in love through the retinas. His impressive direction of photography, nominated for the Oscar in 2013, is the icing on a delicious cake with action sequences as beautiful as forceful.
Direction: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Doni Alamsyah, Joe Taslim, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapy
I still remember as if it were yesterday the screening at the Sitges Festival in which I discovered ‘Murderous Raid’. The cinema Retreat to burst, people screaming and, even, getting up from the seats at some point to jale the protagonists … an authentic party to accompany one of the best martial arts films of the century, shot with austerity and intelligence, with some wild choreography and starring Iko Uwais with impressive skills.
‘The Raid 2: Berandal’
Direction: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad, Oka Antara, Uncle Pakusodewo, Julie Estelle
With the second part of ‘Murderous Raid’, Gareth Evans decided to flee from the simplicity of his predecessor and bet to build a more complex criminal drama without leaving aside the action brand of the house. The result will always be remembered as “‘The Godfather’ of martial arts cinema”; title more than deserved to judge by the quality of his essential two and a half hours of suspense and salads of first quality cakes.
‘Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair’
Direction: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Sonny Chiba, Chiaki Kuriyama
I am one of those who think that the first and second volumes of ‘Kill Bill’ should not – nor deserve – be judged individually, but are part of a whole that, everything is said, is a real genius. An authentic ode to the cinema of martial arts that reference under the unmistakable filter of Quentin Tarantino from the classics of Bruce Lee to the delirious films of the Shaw Brothers to give shape to an epic that has not aged the least since it was released.
Direction: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier, Domhnall Gleeson
Seventeen years after the unforgettable ‘Judge Dredd’ starring Sylvester Stallone was released, Pete Travis – although the gossips say that it was Alex Garland who directed it in the shade – gave the character of ‘2000AD’ the feature film he deserved. A pure and hard action film with all the essence that oozed the genre in the eighties starring a Karl Urban who does not take off his helmet, nor the grimace of anger in the mouth throughout the film.
‘Crank: Poison in the blood’
Direction: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Carlos Sanz
Is ‘Crank’ a good movie? Not quite. Does it deserve to be on a list of the best action films in history? Without a doubt. The duo composed by Neveldine and Taylor, allied with the ever effective Jason Statham, give shape to one of the most deranged exercises of the genre, violent, past laps and with a spiritual realization that feels like a glove to your premise.
‘Shoot’ Em Up – In The Spotlight’
Direction: Michael Davis
Cast: Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci, Paul Giamatti, Greg Bryk, Stephen McHattie, Ramona Pringle
In the macarra and crazy line of ‘Crank’, although perhaps more solid in global calculation, is this hilarious delight starring Clive Owen. A bacanal of gunpowder, bullets, explosions and tons of corpses, with action sequences shot with very good hand and watered by a spectacular soundtrack that includes groups of the likes of Nirvana, Mötley Crüe or Motörhead. Special mention for Paul Giamatti, completely deranged in his role as villain of the show.
Direction: David Leitch
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, James Faulkner
One of the two halves that co-directed the first ‘John Wick’ continued his solo career with Charlize Theron in this convoluted thriller set in Germany in the late eighties. A remarkable style exercise that hides among its numerous set-pieces a violent and spectacular sequence shot that stands out among the best action sequences in the history of the genre.
Direction: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Grano Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas
With ‘Indomable’, the peculiar and always interesting Steven Soderbergh approached the action film in an espionage thriller starring MMA fighter Gina Carano, and characterized by the sobriety and realism with which the fight sequences are treated. A rare avis that deserves a place in this compilation.
Direction: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Kevin Eldon
The assembly is an indispensable piece to articulate as it should a good action film, and few editions so precise, dynamic and spectacular can be found as those contained in Edgar Wright’s feature films. With ‘Fatal Weapon’, the British triumphs again exploiting clichés and clichés of the genre with his faithful squires Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in a work as vibrant as fun.
‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
Direction: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Angus Sampson, Zöe Kravitz
I’ve been tempted to include ‘Mad Max 2’. The Road Warrior’ on this list, but this late sequel, which virtually no one expected to see, almost completely overshadowed the masterpiece that George Miller signed in 1982. With Tom Hardy picking up the witness of Mel Gibson, and with a Charlize Theron that steals all the spotlights, Miller builds with his ‘Fury on the road’ an authentic cathedral of action cinema. Excellent cinematographic caviar in multiple aspects, with a strong -not at all false- reading feminist, of artisan will and with some set-pieces that cut the breath. History of modern cinema.
As usually happens in this type of listings, I had to leave films in the pipeline that, despite being more than worthy, have not finished passing my more or less successful personal filter. So, now I throw the glove to tell us what you think are the best action movies in history.