Five Favorite’s: Best Action Films Since 2000

It’s time for another Five Favorites post with Donna of From the Rental Queue!

Donna: Welcome to the newest addition of “Five Favorites” with Michael Siegel! This month we decided to take on our “Five Favorite Action Films released since 2000”. For this list we wanted to focus as much as possible on pure action films. For that reason we decided to exclude the vast majority of superhero, sci-fi, or martial arts films, as we were really trying to focus on pure action. However, if we felt that
the action in a excluded movie was just too good we agreed that we would allow its inclusion. We capped the release date for this at 2000 – anything released before that year was also excluded. We wanted to focus on what the genre looks like today and not be tempted to fill our lists with old favorites.

We pooled our thoughts and came up with a short list of 30 films. Narrowing that down to just five was tough for me and I found myself unable to not pick one sci-fi film for my final list. Honorable mentions for me go out to “Valhalla Rising”, “Machete”, “Unstoppable”, and “Kick Ass”.

Mike: This was tough for me, as most of the action movies I watch slide into science fiction or superhero categories. Maybe it’s my perception, but we don’t seem to be getting the kind of pure action movies we did twenty years ago when Schwarzeneggar and Stallone ruled the box office. Almost everything these days is part of genre franchise.

Nevertheless, here is my list, with only a little bit of rule-bending. I do want to make an honorable mention of “Kill Bill”.  Kill Bill is a great action movie.  Unfortunately, that great movie is wrapped up a bloated 2-volume package.  If you edited them down to one movie and cut the total run time by about 40 minutes, it would probably be near the top of this list. Its action scenes are excellent, the acting is great and the dialogue solid. But it is a prime example of what I’ve disparaged as action movie bloat.  I also decided, at the last moment, to drop “Master and Commander” from my list because it is as much drama as action and I’ll hold it back for a post on criminally-underrated films.

Donna’s #5: “Death Race” – Yes, this is a totally cheesy film with a flimsy plot and some questionable acting. But the action? It’s non-stop and totally adrenaline filled. Jason Statham is quite good but it’s Ian McShane that sells the film with his swarmy humor. The racing scenes are just incredible and the film is filled with wonderfully gruesome violence. If you’re looking for a solid plot and well-drawn characters along with your action this isn’t for you. But if you’re just looking for a good hundred minutes of speed and death and slickly filmed action scenes then go no further – this is the film for you.

Mike’s #5: “300”  – My first pick is also cheesy and ridiculous but still an adrenaline-fueled ride. None of the actors tries to pretend he’s in anything other than a ridiculous action movie and that makes it work. The visual style is stunning, the dialogue suitably overblown, the action clear and the stakes high. I initially did not like this film a lot because I wanted something more serious about the Battle of Thermopylae.  But over time, I’ve come to like it for what it is.

Donna’s #4 – “Act of Valor” – Filmed by actual Navy SEALS and based on actual events, this action thriller broke new ground in cinema. It was quite well received and with good reason – the action is wonderful and terribly realistic because it’s performed by real, highly trained soldiers. However, the reason for its success is also the reason for its downfall. Because these are soldiers and not actors the acting is truly weak, enough so as to be distracting. When the action stops the movie falls apart quickly, but the quality of the action sequences is so damn good and well filmed that, in the end, it really doesn’t matter. This is a must see for action fans as it will give you a new appreciation of what real combat looks like.

Mike’s #4 – “V for Vendetta” – Another comic book adaptation, one disparaged by some of the fans. But this is another movie that succeeds because of excellent visuals and great action sequences as well as Hugo Weaving’s excellent voice work. The sense of momentum in the final act is palpable.

Donna’s #3 – “Battle: Los Angeles” – As “Battle: Los Angeles” is a sci-fi/action flick this is my one real conceit from the rules of this list. However, I was so taken with it that I couldn’t imagine my list not including this really amazing film. Both the sci-fi elements and the action in this film are tremendously strong. The film is perfectly paced, not too long, and has a plot that is really quite believable and solid. The direction is just outstanding, particularly in the long, elaborate battle sequences that make this film truly outstanding. There really wasn’t a weak spot in this film, and it is so adrenaline filled that I felt it had to take the #3 spot on my list.

Mike’s #3: “Hot Fuzz” – Really, you could put all three of the “Cornetto Trilogy” movies on this list. All three are good, but Hot Fuzz is my favorite. It is wickedly satirical, darkly hilarious and absolutely mind-bogglingly over-the-top bloody in its action. What elevates this movie to greatness and garnered a spot on this list is that while it’s mocking action movies, it’s also a fun action movie in its own right. The fight scenes are delivered with skill and energy, it never loses its sense of fun, it never loses track of what’s going on and it has a really slimy villain. Ironically, it’s a better action movie than the hordes of overlong joyless movies it is satirizing.

Donna’s #2 – “White House Down” – The first thing I thought when I saw this film was that we finally had a true successor to the “Die Hard” legacy. That’s tall praise but I stand by it as this is a truly solid film from top to bottom. Channing Tatum is the perfect action star, possessing the needed charisma to truly command a screen. The plot, while far-fetched at times, was actually believable and sold so well by the stars that I bought it hook, line and sinker. The direction was also very strong with well edited and perfectly paced action sequences throughout. I can easily see this becoming a franchise like “Die Hard” did – that’s how strong I felt it was. A true standout.

Mike’s #2 – “Pacific Rim” – This would not make a list of my best science-fiction movies. But it does make a list of my best action movies because it is more of an action movie than a science fiction one.  As I said in my initial review, imagine Transformers, but, you know, good. Pacific Rim is silly and over-the-top and wonderful. It has a tremendous sense of fun. We see absolutely every beat of the script coming, but enjoy them because it does such a bang-up job with them. And the action scenes — especially the long middle sequence through the streets of Hong Kong — deliver more adrenaline, more drama and more thrills than all three Transformer movies combined.

Donna’s #1 – “Chronicle” – Maybe it’s because I really love these through-the-eye-of-the-camera films when they’re done right. Maybe it’s because telekinesis is my own power of choice. Maybe it’s because I understood, related to, and totally got every character’s motivation throughout the film. Maybe it’s because the action is so incredible I got totally sucked in. In the end, it’s all these things and more. “Chronicle” captured me from the very beginning and never let me go. I spent the entire end of the film on the edge of my seat with my hands over my mouth is awe. This is a tremendous film with some of the coolest action I’ve ever seen, and it’s one of my favorite films in recent history. For me, there was only one choice for the top of this list, and “Chronicle” owns it.

Mike’s #1 – “Kick-Ass” – While we excluded most superhero films, this really isn’t a super-hero film. It’s a send-up of superheroes, action movies and origin stories (and yes, that makes three comic book adaptations and two parodies in my list). As I said in my initial review, if I took the movie seriously, I would be horrified by the sight of a pre-teen girl hurling profanities and brutally slaughtering rooms full of bad guys. But the movie is so ridiculously over-the-top, so obviously satirical that I found myself grinning through the cursing and bloodshed. It helps that the script sands off the more cynical and darker corners of the graphic novel. Like “Hot Fuzz” this a better action movie than the movies it is mocking.