If you’re looking for some good action movies, there are a wide array of choices available. From shootouts and car chases to martial arts battles, the modern action movie is a great way to pass a few hours with friends or family.
While action movies aren’t as successful as their heyday in the late 80s and early 90s, a number of solid adrenaline-fueled films are routinely released on DVD. Of course, you also have hundreds of classic action films to choose from.
What are some good action films? Here are some quality recommendations from a self-professed action movie junkie.
Great Movie Fights
When asking, “What are some good action movies?”, it’s never a bad idea to start by looking at action movie fight scenes. People love a good fight, and guys like Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme used to bring them to us in spades.
Unfortunately, the current trend in modern cinema is to favor quick editing and shaky camerawork over actual quality fighting, but fans of great movie fights can still find some gems if they know where to look. Here are a few suggestions to get your started:
- Marked for Death (1990) – John Hatcher (Steven Seagal) and his pal Max (Keith David) take on a Jamaican drug dealer named Screwface. The fight scenes are fast, furious, and Seagal breaks plenty of bones. Considered one of Seagal’s best action films.
- Kill Bill – Volume 1 (2003) – The chapter entitled “Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves” includes one of the great movie fights in the history of American cinema. Before The Bride (Uma Thurman) can gain revenge against Asian crime boss O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), she’ll have to wade through the Crazy 88, O’Ren’s personal army, and Gogo Yubari, O’Ren’s bodyguard who dresses like a Japanese schoolgirl. There’s so much blood that director Quentin Tarantino cuts to black and white for a few minutes to avoid a NC-17 rating (the Japanese version of the film is in full color).
- They Live (1988) – After putting on a pair of special sunglasses, John Nada (Roddy Piper) finds that he can see aliens living among us. He tries to share this information with pal Frank Armitage (Keith David), but the wary construction worker resists. What follows is a brutal 5 ½ minute slugfest which is now viewed as one of cinema’s great movie fights.
- Kung Fu Hustle (2004) – This Hong Kong film is part comedy and part action movie, but the end result is all greatness. Stephen Chow directs, writes, produces and stars. The various fight scenes combine the grace of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the over-the-top antics of The Three Stooges. A truly original film which works on many levels.
- Any Which Way You Can (1980) – Clint Eastwood is back as Philo Beddoe in this sequel to Every Which Way But Loose. Beddoe, considered the best West Coast fighter, is booked in a match against dangerous East Coast fighter Jack Wilson (played by movie tough-guy William Smith). Their showdown rages across an entire town, with the two stopping to talk about life and their mutual admiration for one another. An epic battle that shouldn’t be missed.
Great Movie Shootouts
There’s no doubt that America is a gun culture, and that’s certainly reflected in our action movie shootouts. However, when it comes to hot lead and bullet-riddled bodies, the following suggestions will show that other countries also know how to film great movie shootouts.
- The Killer (1989) – A highly acclaimed action film, The Killer was directed by John Woo and stars Chow Yun-Fat as a professional killer nearing retirement. But after accidentally blinding an innocent woman, he agrees to take one more mission to pay for her corneal transplant. Along the way, he’s pursued by a relentless cop and double-crossing crime figures. Non-stop action and a never-ending series of gunfights.
- Desperado (1995) – Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, this action classic features Antonio Banderas and the lovely Salma Hayek. Banderas plays a former mariachi seeking revenge against the crime boss who killed his girlfriend. His guitar case loaded down with weapons, El Mariachi cuts a bloody swath across the Mexican landscape. Also features Danny Trejo, Steve Buscemi and Cheech Marin.
- Hard Target (1993) – Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as Chance Boudreaux and featuring the American debut of director John Woo, this action film features plenty of martial arts moves by Van Damme and an equal amount of gunplay courtesy of the villainous duo of Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) and Pik van Cleef (Arnold Vosloo). There’s a climatic shootout amidst old Mardi Gras floats, and Wilford Brimley shows up as Chance’s moonshine-making uncle, Douvee (who’s pretty handy with a bow).
- Battle Royale (2000) – Directed by filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku, this bloody flick features a group of Japanese schoolchildren who are abducted by the government, transported to an island, and forced to fight to the death. Highly controversial, especially considering that the students getting shot up, blown up and chopped up are played by Japanese actors in their mid to early teens.
- Heat (1995) – Boasts an amazing cast (Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Val Kilmer, etc.) and one of the great movie shootouts in recent years. The aforementioned gun battle takes place after Neil McCauley (DeNiro) and his crew are surrounded by cops following a band robbery. Since surrender is not an option, the desperate criminals turn downtown Los Angeles into a war zone. Bullets fly, bodies drop, and an instant classic is born.
Great Movie Car Chases
When asking, “What are some good action movies?”, you also need to look at films featuring great movie car chases. With fenders flying and cop cars running off the road, a well-choreographed chase can elevate an average action flick to a timeless work of art.
- The Road Warrior (1981) – Also known as Mad Max 2, this Australian film features a climactic scene with Mel Gibson driving a tanker truck across a post-apocalyptic landscape. Pursued by savage marauders led by the hockey mask-wearing Lord Humungus, Max gets some much needed assistance from The Gyro Captain and The Feral Kid. It’s impossible to count the number of films inspired by this classic.
- Vanishing Point (1971) – This cult favorite concerns the efforts of the burned-out Kowalkski to deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger to San Francisco. Carey Loftin, a Hollywood stuntman, executed the driving sequences which are still considered some of the best ever.
- Bullitt (1968) – They didn’t call Steve McQueen “The King of Cool” for nothing. As badass cop Frank Bullitt, McQueen prowls the streets of San Francisco looking to take down organized crime. In the most influential car chase scene in movie history, he pursues two mob hitmen in his 1968 “Highland Green” Ford Mustang. McQueen did much of his own stunt driving, while the rest was handled by Carey Loftin (who would work on Vanishing Point three years later).
- Smokey & the Bandit (1977) – With an all-star cast featuring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason, this classic comedy spawned numerous sequels. But the star of the show was the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am owned by Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds). Needless to say, Trans Am sales skyrocketed following the release of the film.
- Ronin (1998) – This Robert DeNiro action vehicle also stars Sean Bean and Jean Reno as mercenaries in Europe. During the film’s three major car chases, vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz 6.9, BMW M5 and Audi S8 all tear along the coast of the French Riviera. Often overlooked, Ronin undoubtedly features some of the great movie car chases.
Great Overall Action Movies
There are good action movies and then there are great action movies. I’m talking about films that combine intense action scenes with quality acting and a solid script. If you’re looking to watch some great overall action movies, the following five should easily answer the question, “What are some good action movies?”.
- The Matrix (1999) – Neo (Keanu Reeves) and company fight against tyrannical machines in this influential sci-fi/action film. While the sequels weren’t as good, this film was the epitome of cool. Neo and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) have a standout kung-fu battle, and there are numerous opportunities to admire the gun-toting Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and her tight leather outfit.
- Lethal Weapon (1987) – The quintessential buddy cop movie, Danny Glover and Mel Gibson star as L.A. cops Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs. Villains get wasted left and right, and the climatic hand-to-hand showdown between Riggs and the equally lethal Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey) is one for the ages. And don’t forget about the excellent Shane Black script featuring tons of memorable lines.
- Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – This movie has a little bit of everything: comedy, drama, kung-fu, mysticism, monsters and Kurt Russell. Directed by John Carpenter, the film was a commercial flop, but it has went on to be considered a cult classic. If you’re looking for great overall action movies, then look no further.
- Die Hard (1988) – Hands down, the greatest action movie ever made. Bruce Willis is his wisecracking best as John McClane, a New York cop stuck in an L.A. skyscraper during a hostage situation. Alan Rickman (in his first movie role) hits one out of the park as the villainous Hans Gruber, and a number of other fine performances (Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason) dot the landscape. The action sequences are original, the script well-written, and the performances career-defining. If you haven’t seen Die Hard, watch it immediately. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again.
- The Rundown (2003) – If this movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had been released in the early 90s, it would be considered one of the great overall action movies. Directed by Peter Berg, the film follows the efforts of Beck (Johnson), a retrieval specialist for the mob, to bring the treasure-hunting Travis Walker (Sean William Scott) back from the Amazon jungle. Along the way, he’ll have to deal with the greedy Hatcher (Christopher Walken), the dangerous Mariana (Rosario Dawson), and a jungle filled with angry rebels and horny monkeys. If the first 10 minutes (in which Beck single-handedly takes on five members of a professional football team) doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, you might want to make sure you’re still alive.