Movies offer us an escape from reality and a chance to get lost in worlds that have something the real world is missing. Rom-coms give us a chance to indulge our inner romantics and enjoy the comfort that comes with knowing a happy ending is guaranteed. Horror movies and thrillers let us vicariously experience some danger without, you know, any actual danger. Science fiction and fantasy movies can transport us to entirely different worlds or even universes. And, of course, action movies let us imagine what life would be like with more excitement, adventure, and, usually, explosions.
Nothing beats the adrenaline rush of pure action cinema – massive blockbuster movies packed with punchy fight scenes, epic chase sequences, tense shoot-outs, and explosions that fill every corner of the screen. Here are our chosen action movies that will never get old:
The high watermark of John Woo’s stint in Hollywood, Face/Off is full of all the slo-mo action gunplay and doves you’d expect. To stop some terrorists and avenge his son, John Travolta has to swap his face and voice with all-round bad dude Nicolas Cage. This simple and harmless bit of highly experimental surgery goes unexpectedly awry though, and Cage ends up with Travolta’s face.
On top of all that, Cage-as-Travolta has planted a bomb that will destroy Los Angeles, and he’s not telling where it is. John Woo’s best Hollywood film is absolutely batshit, and that is its core strength.
While David Lynch arguably has a better handle on how dreams actually function, there’s no arguing with the brio and spectacle of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending sci-fi heist flick. His dream worlds are piled layer on layer, allowing for some head-scratching intricate plotting.
Strong performances all round too, from Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Michael Caine and particularly Tom Hardy in his breakout role. But it’s the set-pieces that stay with you, like the shifting cityscapes, the snow sequences, and that fight sequence in the building with a shifting point of gravity.
The Bourne Ultimatum
Five years on from his introduction in The Bourne Identity, Matt Damon’s amnesiac super-agent Jason Bourne reaches the end of his journey (at least until he went on the run again in 2016). Bourne returns home to a somber NYC to confront his masters, who perpetuate a state of fear in a decade that needed no more of it.
The conclusion of the original Bourne trilogy is a snare-drum-tight thriller that at last gives some closure to Treadstone’s most successful-but-unpredictable experiment as he embarks on a breakneck world tour. The biggest hit of the three, it also established Paul Greengrass as arguably the premier thriller director currently plying his trade.
The set-up (they killed his dog and now he’s mad as hell) verges on parody, and the plot (gunman steadily works his way up the opposition’s organizational chain) as perfunctory as they come. But John Wick was an instant classic nonetheless, kicking of a series that continues to gain momentum.
It’s partly the self-aware humour; partly the sheer cool and charisma of Keanu Reeves; and partly the brio of the action sequences: Raid-like in their single-minded, bloodthirsty focus. Everyone’s afraid of John Wick, and as he head-shoots and executes to a truly mind-boggling bodycount, you can see why.
This is easily one of the best Bond movies, a flick that redefined the character with more intense stakes and realistic action sequences. It’s a legitimately great movie, not just for what it did for its genre but for the future of its legendary super spy.
Casino Royale was Daniel Craig’s first run-out as the new 007. This was a post-9/11 Bond movie, a spy film about secret agent making tough choices about who to sacrifice and when torture might be justified. It was an action movie with consequences and it finally fleshed out a character who had sometimes seemed like little more than a philandering psychopath with a drinking problem.
Mad Max Fury Road
Almost unbelievably this is a studio movie: Warner Bros. trusting a significant budget (estimated at $150m) to George Miller’s undiluted, berserk vision. That vision includes vehicles fuelled with blood, ‘Doof Warriors’ playing flaming guitars as they hurtle into battle, CG used in respectful subservience to jaw-dropping practical stunts, and Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe presiding over a religious cult seemingly inspired by a Duran Duran song that was inspired by the original Mad Max films.
The difference between the campy Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and its follow-up couldn’t be more stark. Muscular, bleak, lyrical, pounding and frenetic, Fury Road follows said very angry Max (Tom Hardy) as he helps the battle-hardened general Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to get five women away from the clutches of the water-hoarding warlord Immortan Joe.
For a while, The Terminator was the highest-grossing film of all time in terms of cost-to-profit ratio. Strange how the biggest action hero of the decade earned that accolade by playing one of that same decade’s biggest villains.
The Terminator hit huge and gave us two ’80s icons in one: the larger-than-life Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his catchphrase, his rippling muscles and his extensive, explosive ordnance. And the steely-grinned, red-eyed nightmare from the future, which until the firey final act lurked beneath that sculpted physique.
Every now and again a film comes along that’s dubbed a “game changer”. Some deserve it more than others, but the effect of The Matrix on the 21st century’s action cinema can’t be understated. It’s quite easy to gloss over it now, but The Matrix really did set off a philosophical earthquake inside a a generation’s already wobbly sense of self.
The Wachowskis can’t quite be credited with creating a new visual language (FX man John Gaeta credits Michel Gondry and Katsuhiro Otomo with the original “bullet time” effects), but the use they put it to was so thrilling and eye-popping that it seemed entirely original. The casting was also note perfect, transforming the public perception of Keanu Reeves overnight from dim-bulb stoner to deadpan killing machine.