Top 10 Sword Fights in Action Movies

Ranking the best sword fights of all time in ultimate action movie history!

Action movies tend to go big with shootouts, car chases and explosions, but a well-staged sword fight can be just as exciting. So let’s sharpen our blades and dive into the top 10 sword fights in action movies!

10) Casey vs. Masazuka (Ninja)

Director Isaac Florentine’s homage to the 1980s ninja classics is one of his ultimate masterpieces, and with Scott Adkins he had a star who was on his way to become one of the great action heroes of our time. In the film’s showdown, Casey (Adkins) faces his arch enemy Masazuka who just poisoned Casey’s lover, and teases him with the antidote. The stakes are high and wounds are deep when these two warriors work their ninja magic.

9) Ash vs. Evil Ash (Army of Darkness)

The third installment of the Evil Dead saga cranked up the slapstick level of the previous films even more. Goofball Ash (Bruce Campbell) finds himself in a medieval world haunted by the Necronomicon. In the final battle, the forces of good lead by Ash clash with against the Deadites and their master Evil Ash. The two perform a fine swashbuckling choreography on castle stairs and walls until its fiery conclusion.

8) Nick vs. The Assassin (Blind Fury)

Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, is a famous character in Japan, and Hollywood’s take on it gave us one of the great cheesy 1980s actioners. Nick (Rutger Hauer) lost his eyesight in the Vietnam war, but still became a master swordsman. When he returns to the US, he learns that the son of his best platoon buddy was abducted by a crime lord. Nick slices and dices through many goons until he faces two master villains (among them Cannon ninja movie legend Sho Kosugi). Both are no match for Nick and his creativity in arranging their demise.

7) Robin Hood vs. Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)

Kevin Costner is a fine choice as the 1990s version of Robin Hood, but this well-behaved hero almost pales in comparison to Alan Rickman’s manic performance as Robin’s nemesis. Just before the Sheriff forcibly consummates the marriage with Robin’s beloved Marian, the hero of Sherwood Forest spoils the party. The sheriff then turns into a hurricane of insanity, and leaves not a single piece of furniture unbroken before meeting his inevitable fate.

6) John Wick vs. Zero (John Wick 3)

Two warriors engage in a sword fight, but there is only one weapon. This premise for the showdown of the third part of the John Wick saga is orchestrated masterfully by director Chad Stahelski, and most impressively executed by Keanu Reeves and Marc Dacascos. In every John Wick film lighting becomes an art form, and the labyrinth of glass is lightened up with all colors of the neon rainbow when the deadly weapon changes its wielder every thirty seconds.

5) Maximus vs. Tigris (Gladiator)

Ridley Scott’s and Russell Crowe’s ultimate Sword & Sandal masterpiece features many epic arena fights, but the most badass one is Maximus’ (Crowe) face-off against the mighty gaul (Sven-Ole Thorsen). A ferocious battle begins, and Maximus is at a disadvantage not only because he takes it up against a heavily armored enemy, but also because three tigers are looking to get an afternoon snack.

4) Dragon vs. Evil Henchman (Tiger Cage 2)

The Tiger Cage films are gems of Donnie Yen’s early career, and showed us why he would go on to become one of the greatest martial arts actors of our times. A flimsy plot and cheesy jokes are only there to tie together the many action sequences. The sword fight between Dragon (Yen) and an evil sword master is the highlight of the film with an insane choreography that is executed perfectly. 

3) The Bride vs. The Crazy 88 (Kill Bill)

In his two Kill Bill films, Quentin Tarantino throws one awesome fight after another towards the audience, but the arguable highlight is the battle of The Bride (Uma Thurman) vs. the killer squad of the first film’s main antagonist O-Ren Ishii. It’s more of an absurd massacre than a serious sword fight, but the gory slapstick violence and wild editing will have you at the edge of your seat!

2) Cho vs. The Silver Ninja (Revenge of the Ninja)

The showdown between Cho (Sho Kosugi) and the ninja with the silver mask on the rooftop of a skyscraper is an iconic sequence of 1980s action cinema, and an ultimate highlight of Cannon’s ninja movie trilogy. Everything we could wish for in a ninja movie is here: mysterious eye shadow, nylon ninja suits, front and back flips galore, Shurikens, evil laughter, ninja magic and concealed flamethrowers. It all adds up to 10 minutes of legendary badassery!

1) Connor MacLeod vs. The Kurgan (Highlander)

There can be only one number one sword fight! Immortal Scotsman Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) settles it once and for all with evil incarnate The Kurgan (Clancy Brown), who has haunted him though centuries. Neon lights and sparks brighten up the night, and turn the two warriors into silhouettes during their deadly dance. It’s thrilling, it’s stylish, it’s totally awesome!

The Masterful Action Fairy Tale That Was ‘Four Brothers’ (2005)

A look back at how John Singleton pulled off one of the most heartfelt action hits of the 2000s.

The late John Singleton catapulted himself to the forefront of African American cinema with the gritty cult flick Boyz n the Hood. From the 2000s on he would create more light-hearted material, starting with the Shaft remake that became an instant classic.  A few years later in 2005, he teamed up with rising star Mark Wahlberg to land another slam dunk. Four Brothers delivered a wild mix of social melodrama, revenge actioner and crime thriller, so let’s have a look!

In the suburbs of Detroit, Evelyn Mercer is killed in a seemingly random robbery. Her four adopted sons and former juvenile delinquents Bobby (Wahlberg), Angel, Jeremiah and Jack reunite for her funeral. Their pledge to track down Evelyn’s killers leads them deep into the criminal underworld and the highest circles of the Detroit municipality. 

Why would anybody wanna kill the sweetest woman in the goddamn world?

We can all empathize with the admirable efforts of a foster mother to straighten out four lost causes, and so her death hits even harder. The perseverance of the brothers intensifies the emotional impact of the story, as we embark on a roller coaster ride of sadness, anger and laughter with them. This may all sound a bit kitschy, but believe me, Four Brothers has an emotional sincerity that is rarely achieved in a genre flick. 

Detroit was not in good shape in the early 2000s. Singleton paints a picture of the city as a harsh place to grow up and live, but that people also love simply because it’s their home. The brothers’ many vivid encounters also casually give us a sampling of the social classes living in the city, and some insight in their daily struggles. Many scenes show us how fraud and greed became the nemesis of honest people trying to help their community, but also how the vigilante approach of the brothers efficiently disposes of organized crime and public corruption. 

Cops like you couldn’t find tits in a strip joint

Wahlberg always seems to be in his comfort zone when he partakes in films that mix action, drama and comedy. He gives one of the best efforts I’ve seen from him as likable anti-hero, who puts his old gangster skills to use for doing some good. He is not the only one delivering a supercharged performance, all of the brothers take us on a tour de force with striking performances from Tyrese Gibson, André Benjamin and Garrett Hedlund. 

Everyone in this film sits somewhere in the spectrum of criminal activity. At the dark end of it we got Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his goons as the major antagonist of the film, and he is charismatic and vile just like it should be, a villain we love to hate! And even the smaller roles are impressively brought to life their respective actors, the cast is a huge factor for why this film is so awesome.

You keep knocking on the devil’s door long enough, someone’s gonna answer you

The emotional moments and thriller elements are balanced perfectly with a couple of killer action scenes. The stakes are high and these fellas are used to violence. When they stir up a hornet’s nest lots of punching and shooting follows. The icy Michigan winter is a refreshingly different terrain for a car chase, with almost no friction on the ground and near-zero visibility, this sequence delivers pure excitement! And the tense and atmospheric finale on the frozen Lake Michigan is the perfect finish, and surprises with a strong commitment to labor unions.

Four Brothers is a movie that is really hard to not like. It features great storytelling, terrific action, and a great chemistry between the gang of brothers. Singleton created a masterful action fairy tale, that has become a unique and ultimate masterpiece!

The Best Bond Henchwomen: Ranking the Lethal Ladies of the 007 Saga

A look at our top picks for the most iconic female villains to match wits with James Bond.

The Craig era is now over, and while it gave us many cool characters, memorable henchmen have not been very present in the past few Bond films. Actually, neither have their female counterparts! As a fan of 007 villains, this does make me sad: evil ladies often have an amazing aura, and make for some of the best antagonists in the entire saga. Luckily, there are still plenty of henchwomen who opposed 007, and here are the most ultimate:

7) Rosa Klebb: From Russia with Love (1963)

Beware old ladies in action films: stern SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb is no exception. The hidden poisonous blade in her shoe made history, and the henchwoman is the definition of an excellent villain. Klebb doesn’t joke about her job, and is very good at it: she manipulates Tatiana Romanova into getting the Lektor, a powerful decoding device. Klebb is not only a nasty piece of work – and therefore, an interesting henchwoman – but also one of the few female baddies who are known for their intelligence. Her devious and cunning nature proves that Blofeld knows how to choose his No. 3.  

6) Irma Bunt: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – Massive Spoilers below!

Another effective henchwoman of Blofeld – who clearly knows how to pick the right underlings – is Irma Bunt. She too is a humourless, professional woman, who rules Blofled’s unique Alpine “clinic” with an iron fist. But of course, what everyone remembers Bunt for is her terrifying victory: she gets the last laugh as she shoots James Bond’s wife Tracy straight into the head – on her wedding day, no less! The sequence still haunts many viewers, and we can “thank” Bunt for it.

5) May Day: A View to a Kill (1985)

In life, there are simple pleasures, and seeing the amazing Grace Jones in a Bond film is one of them. May Day is the right-hand woman of the insane Max Zorin, and can kill her way through anyone – even holding her own in front of Bond. A menacing force throughout the film (once Grace Jones stares at you, it’s over), it is her redemption arc which sets May Day apart from other characters on this list. We rarely see antagonists turning good in Bond films, hence why her change of heart after the betrayal of her boss feels so memorable. It instantly adds depth to her character, and while she sacrificed herself to save James, May Day lives in the heart of A View to a Kill’s fans.

4) Miranda Frost: Die Another Day (2002)

Sometimes, great villains help to make a good film even better. Other times, a great henchwoman can help to save an over-the-top mess. I might make enemies here, but Miranda Frost is the true villainess of Die Another Day: its mastermind Gustav Graves is both hammy and forgettable, and while Zao’s diamonds make for a great look, there is little depth to his character. It is Miranda Frost who really stands out among the chaos, thanks to the talent of Rosamund Pike. She was only 22 when shooting the film, yet Pike is fully believable as MI6’s cold-hearted little prodigy. Add fencing to the mix, and you get a memorable traitor who gives proper stakes to a tone-deaf movie. A little bonus – the character was supposed to be named Gala Brand, as an homage to the book version of Moonraker… but the screenwriters instead decided to highlight Frost’s cold nature!

3) Fiona Volpe: Thunderball (1965)

The OG of Bond femmes fatales – if one doesn’t count Pussy Galore – Fiona Volpe is a magnificent proper villain. What I mean by this is that she doesn’t need any sad excuse or tragic background story to justify her villainy: Volpe is evil to the core, point blank. Through her character, Thunderball shows us that women can also pose a real threat. Fiona and James have a brief fling, but despite Bond’s best efforts, nothing can get the motor-riding assassin to give up her job at SPECTRE – which she very much enjoys. Her death, during a lethal waltz, feels like a suitably glamorous and brutal end for this memorable femme fatale.

2) Fatima Blush: Never Say Never Again (1983)

I know Never say Never again has its fans – but to me, this unofficial and kitsch remake of Thunderball remains hard to watch. Its best quality is undeniably Fatima Blush, the film’s unhinged version of Fiona Volpe: Barbara Carrera chews up the scenery in the best way possible and manages to give Blush a distinct personality. SPECTRE’s Number 12 is unafraid of killing but wants her victims to know that she is the best lover before they pass away. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the character provided inspiration for Xenia Onatopp: Fatima Blush is the perfect reinvention of Volpe, and a modern take on the femme fatale. Her presence alone makes Never Say Never Again worth a watch!

1) Xenia Onatopp: GoldenEye (1995)

This first place won’t be a surprise for anyone, but Xenia Onatopp remains the most iconic henchwoman of the franchise – and is even a strong contender for the best villain! This insane former Soviet pilot has a knack for killing enemies with her thighs, and Famke Janssen’s over-the-top performance is perfect for the role. She is quite literally insanely believable as the most lethal henchwoman of the entire saga. Xenia’s aggressive behaviour and her love of thrills also make her an evil counterpart to Bond himself – who for once, regrets trying to seduce a woman. Onatopp is one of the best predators in the history of 007, and her lethality coupled with her killing method made the character a standout. To this day, she remains a fan favourite, and I’m willing to bet that not a single person who has seen GoldenEye has forgotten Xenia!

Battle Royale: The Classic Japanese Horror Film for Action Fans

It doesn’t get much more violent, or awesome, than the original Battle Royale (2000).

More than a year after recommending You’re Next to members of the Ultimate Action Movie Club, I’m back with another horror film which is perfect for action fans. Today isn’t Halloween, but every day is a good day to look at Kinji Fukasaku’s classic Battle Royale.

Released in 2000, the film is based on the eponymous novel and manga, and follows a classroom of unruly middle schoolers who are abducted by the State and forced to fight to the death in cruel game. In this dystopian universe, the Japanese government has chosen to fight fire with fire. Every year, the Battle Royale programme forces delinquent students to compete with each other on a remote island until only one of them is left standing – all of it under the eyes of the media, of course.

While many just see Battle Royale as the inspiration for the Hunger Games saga, action fans will be glad to know that there is more to the film than meets the eye, and it can be enjoyed for its reckless fighting and gruesome kills.

UAMC Reviews ‘Battle Royale’ (2000)

As you can guess from its last-man-standing plot, Battle Royale’s pace picks up very quickly, and the carnage never stops – side note, but owing to the film’s sensitive content (we are talking about teens killing each other after all), it is best reserved to mature audiences. In the movie, teenagers are assigned weapons at random – which means that a pot lid or an automatic gun could end up in your bag.

As expected, things go downhill quickly and awesome fighting ensues, as students have to choose between killing or being killed. Seeing Takako Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama) brutally dispatch a boy who harasses her with a switchblade strike to the crotch convinced Quentin Tarantino to cast her as the mythic Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill four years later! The film has an ensemble cast, but mostly follows the kind-hearted Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who tries to protect his wounded crush, the shy, cookie-baking Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). They get some help from Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) – a transfer student who has already been through the games once, and falls into the “badass with a bandana” category.

The trio faces constant threats, ranging from small – a maths wiz – all the way to extremely serious – the machine-gun wielding Kazuo Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando), whose actor gives his best impression of the mix between a soulless psychopath and Johnny Rotten. Being a fan of women who fight, I obviously have a soft spot for class-murderer Mitsuko Souma (Ko Shibasaki), who does not hesitate to turn on her classmates the second she gets the chance, and puts her sickle to good use! 

How Ultimate is it?

The movie is a cult classic for a reason: some death scenes will stick with you for a while, such as the insane lighthouse shootout, which sees friends becoming paranoid and taking each other out. The frontier between gore and absurd has rarely been so thin! The violence of Battle Royale is totally over-the-top, but it is never meaningless: the film is one big metaphor, which denounces extreme competitiveness in the Japanese school system, the generational divide, and what the country does to its children. Twenty years later, it has not aged a day and still feels painfully relevant.

When it comes to editing and scenery, Battle Royale also offers some beautiful shots, making the most of its natural environment (though finding a good quality copy can prove a little tough). Kinji Fukasaku’s genius is most palpable when it comes to storytelling: we have all seen an action film filled with NPCs who got dispatched one after the other, with each seeming more bland and disposable than the next.

Battle Royale avoids this trap by developing the personality of a few core students and managing to keep its editing clear and seamless: somehow, we never feel lost in the island – or in the action. Most teenagers are still given some form of characterisation, and while some death scenes are nothing short of grotesque, others feel much more dramatic and melancholic. Controversial since its release, Battle Royale remains a brilliant exploration of violence and horror. Action fans will no doubt enjoy its iconic fight scenes, and the suitable amount of blood spurting out at every turn!

The Russian Specialist: Dolph Lundgren’s Highlight of His DTV Era

Dolph Lundgren chops it up in front of and behind the screen in ‘The Russian Specialist’ (2005).

After his respectable directorial debut The Defender, Dolph Lundgren swiftly followed up with the sophomore The Russian Specialist (aka The Mechanik) in 2005. By working simultaneously in front of and behind the camera, and also co-authoring the script, he exerted a big share of creative control on the production. The result was a gripping and intense DTV actioner, so let’s have a look!

Ex-Spetznaz operative Nikolai lives a secluded life in the US. He is asked to free a millionaire’s daughter from the captivity of Russian mafia boss Sasha, who killed his wife and child many years ago. Nikolai joins up with mercenary Burton (Ben Cross) to carry out the mission and get his revenge.

Lundgren serves us a classic revenge story à la The Punisher. There is a simple elegance to the plot with three distinct acts: a crunchy exposition, a rescue operation turning into a bloodbath, and the escape to the Finnish border which culminates in a massive shootout.

“Men know how to kill, Women how to survive”

Starting in the 1990s, production company NuImage embraced Bulgaria and shot many fine and cost-efficient action movies there. And its Eastern European vibe is sufficient for us ignorant Westerners to emulate Russia for this film. Lundgren convincingly confirms the impression everyone had of Russia in the early 2000s with rundown city blocks, filthy alleys, and spartan rural villages. It’s a country in disarray, and the somber mood is completed by the fatalistic characters and dark premise of the plot.

Occasionally depression gives way to its more pleasant cousin melancholy, and we can indulge in an atmospheric journey through the city at night, and a somber road trip through the barren countryside. The calmer moments of the film provide a sense of normalcy for our characters, showing us that these hardened killers are genuine human beings after all.

Dolph plays his favorite character, the stoic and melancholic loner, but that’s what exactly what is needed for a bad-ass revenge flick! His Nikolai is a tormented soul who has accepted that he is powerless to change things for the better. He is complemented by Ben Cross, who gives a portrayal of an equally pessimistic but more talkative character, and together they are the perfect tragic action buddy duo. Lundgren’s direction is efficient, with grainy visuals, simple montages and calm takes outside of the action sequences. It all looks a lot better than your average 2000s B-actioner.

A hard-boiled action thriller and melancholic road trip

In this cruel world, violence starts abruptly. There’s plenty of bloody and intense shootouts with a choreography that is more than serviceable for a DTV actioner. The action does not come in big set pieces, but Lundgren convincingly builds up the tension in this deadly cat and mouse game through back alleys, barns and grain fields. 

For the big finale a Russian rural village turns into a turn into an Old West main street, and Lundgren unleashes a relentless bullet inferno. On top of all the shooting, he still knows how to deliver the martial arts goods, and kicks evil goons through windows whenever the opportunity arises.

With The Russian Specialist, Lundgren created a film that is uncomplicated in the best sense, with exciting action sequences and an intense atmosphere. The film is a highlight of his DTV era, and a fine addition to his credentials as a formidable director for ultimate action flicks!

The Worst 10 Action Movie Directors

Ranking the worst (or simply least ultimate) action movie directors of all time.

Our time on this earth is finite, and we can save precious hours of lifetime knowing that when the name of a certain director pops up in the movie description or credits, it may be better to switch the channel. Hopefully we can give you some guidance with our list of the worst 10 action movie directors of all time, unless you want to enter the nether regions of action cinema yourself, but you have been warned!

10) Andy Sidaris

Here at UAMC we have great respect for old-school action movies, so you won’t find many directors from the heydays of the genre on this list, but for Andy Sidaris (and our next entry) we must make an exception. Sidaris supplied the full menu for the lower senses, erotica and action in a tropical paradise, often glued together by a flimsy espionage plot.  

Even though he gave many Playboy and Penthouse models an opportunity to try their luck at acting, the erotic moments were rarely crackling with excitement, and the action scenes were sloppily filmed. Sidaris’ films have become cult flicks, and I can understand the appeal. But for me, they just never delivered the excesses promised by the VHS cover for his target group of adolescent men.

9) Godfrey Ho

In 1988, Godfrey Ho made Fatal Command, Shadow Killers Tiger Force, Ninja Dragon, Clash of the Ninjas, The Ultimate Ninja, Tough Ninja the Shadow Warrior, Ninja the Protector, The Ninja Squad, Ninja Hunt, Ninja Fantasy, Bionic Ninja, Commando Fury, Golden Ninja Warrior, Ninja Champion, Ninja Destroyer, Challenge of the Ninja and – one of his ultimate classics – Ninja Terminator

Ho achieved such an incredible output by quickly shooting a couple of unrelated fight and dialogue scenes, adding footage from other movies (often not his own) and merging it all into one film. Ho took great care to hire fighters with no martial arts skills, capped special effects at a maximum cost of 100 USD, and possibly did the dubbing himself while washing his car. It all adds up to non-stop nonsensical fun, a maelstrom of multiple movies overlapping into 90 minutes of ninja insanity.

8) Roland Emmerich

Roland Emmerich’s films are a fine example of that bigger is not always better. His career had a promising start, giving action fans the ultimate classic Universal Soldier.  It turned out to be a one-off, though, when Emmerich became one of the first directors to fully embrace CGI landscapes and special effects in Independence Day, with everything else (plot, characters, dialogues) taking a back seat to the digital spectacle.

The film was a huge success, and heralded the slow death of practical effects. Emmerich copied his own template for action-packed disaster movies many times, and every single one would be as shallow as the next. And yet almost all of them provide their share of entertainment if you want to put your brain into idle mode for two hours.

7) Paul W.S. Anderson

Anderson had a promising career start with the two bangers Mortal Kombat and Soldier. After that, he fell in love with the Resident Evil franchise. The grim and claustrophobic atmosphere of the games gave way for a glossy look, messy action sequences and bad CGI. Some of the six films had their moments, but as a whole, the movie series was thoroughly irritating, 

Anderson became a master of pulling the teeth of every template. Monster Hunter, Alien Vs. Predator, The Three Musketeers, and Death Race became tame crowd-pleasers. Strangely enough, none of his films are unwatchable, it just seems that almost every one of them is a missed opportunity.

6) Uwe Boll

Labeled as one of the worst directors in movie history, it is inevitable that Uwe Boll shows up on our list. Boll unleashed some of the most terrible video game adaptations ever created on unsuspecting audiences, in a genre where the quality bar is already low. House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, and Far Cry are completely unwatchable, and yet he still made a profit with them thanks to DVD sales and a tax subsidy for films in his home country Germany.

After the tax loophole was closed, Boll went to on redeem himself and made some actually good films! Postal became one of the best (if most polarizing) video game adaptations of all time, and with a handful of low-budget action thrillers such as Assault on Wall Street he delivered a scathing critique of capitalism.

5) Michael Bay

This entry is for the post-Bad Boys 2 Michael Bay. Bay made big waves in the action genre with hyper-stylized and furiously edited action extravaganzas such as The Rock and the Bad Boys films. All this changed when he embraced sterile CGI and moronic storytelling, and the Transformers Franchise was born. It’s hard to understate how much damage this movie series has done to action cinema, one of the biggest thorns in the side of the genre. 

Each of the films would be a giant snoozefest if there wasn’t so much noise, but they were a huge success and set a dubious standard for blockbuster actioners. In recent years Bay made some attempts to correct his course with the solid Ambulance and 6 Underground, so there may yet be hope for him.

4) McG

An accomplished director of music videos, McG adapted the Charlie’s Angels TV show for the big screen. The two films became archetypal entries of early 2000s action films, with disorienting editing, action sequences that were bad copycats of The Matrix, and a script that insulted the intelligence of the audience. The Charlie’s Angels films created a whole new level of dumbness, but you may also find them deliriously delicious, if can enjoy totally braindead action entertainment.

McG also had the honor of putting the first nail into the coffin of the Terminator franchise with Terminator: Salvation, a soulless CGI fest, and a disappointment of epic proportions. Not all is bad, though, McG seems to have found a home outside the action arena with the fantastic horror comedy The Babysitter and its sequel, The Killer Queen.

3) Andrzej Bartkowiak

Bartkowiak is an esteemed cinematographer of classics such as Speed and Falling Down, but in 2000 made the monumental mistake to take a seat in the director’s chair. With Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds, and Cradle2Grave he created an infernal trilogy of which can only be called action anti-cinema, characterized by a complete absence of coherence, intelligence and excitement. 

Their editing makes a Prodigy music video look like a meditation session, the film reel used to shoot the action sequences must have been put through a meat grinder and the jarring soundtrack is a health hazard. The video store in the innermost circle of hell carries all films directed by Bartkowiak to give everlasting torment to all accursed souls dwelling there.

2) J.J. Abrams

It took just one man to bring two of the greatest Sci-Fi franchises to their knees, at least on the big screen. Most of the old Star Trek movies always put good storytelling above flashy action sequences. Abrams changed all that with the 2009 reboot Star Trek and its sequel Into Darkness. The films became indistinguishable from all the mediocre Sci-Fi actioners of their time with hectic visuals, pretty people and a disorienting story. 

And for the latest Star Wars trilogy, Abrams may have been an early adopter of movie scripts written by AI: “Create a copy of the original trilogy, but don’t try to be original. Insert some fan service here and there, and make sure every film costs 200 million USD.”

1) Zack Snyder

After the huge success of 300, slow motion became Zack Snyder’s shtick. It’s certainly a cost-effective means of artificially stretching the runtime of films, but in a Snyder movie everything that happens at normal speed also comes to a screeching stand-still. The DC universe got the dubious honor of receiving the Snyder treatment, which resulted in flat CGI landscapes, tedious drama, and sucking all excitement out of the Superman films. 

Justice League was the culmination of Snyder’s vision: a slow-motion nothingness, a mental void of a cosmic scale. Joss Whedon’s version is definitely better, simply because it’s two hours shorter. Snyder’s films are terrifying and depressing for all the wrong reasons, and radiate an almost unbearable cinematic nihilism.

Top 10 Action Movie Directors

Ranking the best action movie directors of all time!

We all love our action heroes, but every action movie is only as good as its director. Passion, imagination and perseverance are the key ingredients to create high-octane action masterpieces. In this top 10, we present the best directors that have shaped the genre, and gave us many ultimate classics!

10) Antoine Fuqua

After earning his first merits as director of music videos, Fuqua went on to make feature films.  Fortunately for us, he quickly rid himself of music clip aesthetics with hectic cuts and other visual fuzz, and took a more grounded approach to action cinema.

His breakthrough was the gritty Oscar-winning cop thriller Training Day. After that, he established himself as specialist for no-nonsense action thrillers of the highest caliber with films like Tears of the Sun, Shooter, and the Equalizer movie series. And Fuqua is far from done, so we’re looking out for more action masterpieces in the future!

9) Chad Stahelski & David Leitch

This explosive duo has not yet not been directing films together, but the two are close collaborators, not least through their joint stunt company 87eleven. Both are esteemed stunt performers and choreographers, and know what it takes for a fight sequence to kick ass.

Stahelski hit bull’s eye with the John Wick saga. Hardly was there ever an action franchise that consistently delivered films of such outstanding quality. Leitch worked as producer alongside Stahelski, and regularly sits in the director’s chair himself, creating ultimate bangers such as Atomic Blonde and Bullet Train. Stahelski and Leitch are at forefront of keeping ultimate action cinema alive, and let’s hope they keep it up in the decades to come!

8) Isaac Florentine

Karate master Florentine left his dojo in Israel and moved to the US where he embarked on a career in the film industry. His talent enabled him to develop a unique style for created some of the most spectacular fight scenes that were ever created in the Western World. 

Florentine managed to turn even the most mundane templates into kick-ass action flicks, by staging each showdown perfectly with an almost uncanny symbiosis between the camera and the actor’s movements. He also brought the best out of many talented martial artists, most prominently Scott Adkins, with whom he created many instant classics, such as the Ninja and Undisputed movie series.

7) Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez distilled the essence of classic B-movies and waltzed over them with his own vision for adrenaline-charged spectacle. He made some of the most uncompromising action films to ever come out of Hollywood, full of raw energy and impossible action scenes. 

Massive shootouts and explosions, lightly clad women, and cheesy one-liners by the minute have become his trademarks. And I will forever be grateful to him for giving us outrageous spectacles such as Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn and Machete.

6) John Carpenter

One of the greatest horror directors of all time also succeeded in the action arena, and then some! Carpenter’s first take on the genre was Assault on Precinct 13, an insanely claustrophobic action thriller about a besieged police station. After that, he created Snake Plissken, an all-time cinema bad-ass, and Escape from New York became a wild dystopic action masterpiece.

The film is a prime example of Carpenter’s mastery to create a captivating atmosphere, unique visuals and eccentric characters. He would go on to create other masterpieces such as the freaky action comedy Big Trouble in Little China and the cult satire They Live. Imbued with endless creativity, Carpenter gave it all for pretty much every film he made!

5) John McTiernan

Die Hard is considered by many the greatest action movie of all time, and we can thank John McTiernan for it and for modernizing action cinema in the late 1980s. John McClane’s battle against a group of terrorists in a sealed-off skyscraper marked that start of a new generation of action films, with immaculate cinematography, elaborately staged set pieces and a masterful blend of suspense and action to create a deep sense of immersion.

But this was not McTiernan’s only classic, he also started the Predator franchise which is another contender for best action movie of all time. After gracing us with two of the most intense action films of their decade, he would follow up with other masterpieces such as Hunt for Red October and Die Hard with a Vengeance, leaving us a truly ultimate legacy!

4) James Cameron

This entry is for the pre-Titanic James Cameron, who shaped action blockbuster cinema in a way few other did. He established the cyborg as a bad-ass killing machine in Terminator, a visually and atmospherically groundbreaking action spectacle. With the film, Cameron supercharged Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, and even managed to top the first installment with the legendary Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

He also evolved the Alien franchise with the second entry Aliens, an action horror inferno that became a timeless classic. Always eager to implement the newest technology, Cameron pushed the envelope far for what could be achieved with practical effects, so let’s remember and honor his legacy to action cinema.

3) Walter Hill

Walter Hill entered the action arena in the late 1970s with the masterpieces The Warriors and The Driver, and never let up in the following two decades with classic after classic piling up. His signature style of ultraviolent shootouts and intense car action is embodied by fantastic films such as 48 Hrs. and Extreme Prejudice.

His films are dense with atmosphere, and often feature ambiguous male characters who are triggering a cascade of violence because of their macho attitudes. Hill’s influence in developing the style of classic action cinema cannot be overstated, and his filmography has become an ultimate monument to the genre!

2) George Miller

George Miller only made four actioners in his long career as a director, but the Mad Max films defined the post-apocalyptic action genre as we know it today. Miller created a unique microcosm for his anti-hero Max Rockatansky, who roams the wasteland that is inhabited savage characters and their murderous vehicles. 

Miller’s creative energy knew no boundaries with fantastic world-building, quirky characters, and the best car action sequences ever created. With insane stunts, crazy-looking vehicles, and an unbelievable level of detail, Miller took car action to a completely new level. All four Mad Max films are ultimate masterpieces, and the saga became one of the best action franchises of all time!

1) John Woo

Woo is a poet who writes with thick strokes of blood. Hailed for creating the Heroic Bloodshed genre, he reinvented shootouts in action films. His slow-mo bullet storms, that were often filmed on an astonishing scale and with an incredible level of detail, became the most intense action sequences in the history of cinema.

In ultimate classics like The Killer and Hard Boiled, Woo also cranked the pathos to the absolute maximum with brooding characters, atmospheric images and a pervasive melancholy. His films are a force of nature, and have become the very essence of action cinema.

How ‘Chappie” Still Manages to Deliver Action with Intelligence

A look back at this under-appreciated, yet full-carnaged, sci-fi action thriller.

OpenAI and its peers are making big waves as of this writing, and 2015’s action-packed treatise of artificial consciousness, Chappie, has never been more relevant. The film was director Neil Blomkamp’s closure of his informal Sci-Fi actioner trilogy, and until he creates his next masterpiece, we always have Chappie and its predecessors, so let’s have a look!

Arms corporation Tetravaal builds and operates the Scouts, a squad of police droids deployed to combat crime in Johannesburg. Tetravaal engineer Deon (Dev Patel) develops an artificial intelligence and tests it on a decommissioned Scout unit. The droid (named Chappie) is stolen by gangster Ninja who seeks to exploit Chappie’s superhuman combat skills for a heist. To make things worse, Deon’s jealous co-worker Vincent (Hugh Jackman) sets a sinister plan in motion to push his own product line of assault mechs.

We’ll Turn That Robot Into The Illest Gangster On The Block

Once again Blomkamp immerses us into a world of cruelty and injustice, with arms corporations being the biggest profiteers of rampant crime and poverty. This setup echoes Robocop, and there are more similarities with it, not least the question whether human consciousness can be embedded into a droid body. Chappie is far from being a copycat of genre classics, though, but is overflowing with ideas of its own.

A central part of the film is a re-visitation of the nature vs. nurture debate, exemplified by Chappie with his malleable child-like mind and basic programming as a violent police robot. Blomkamp succeeds in creating a robot character that we genuinely care for, who moves us to tears and for whom we sincerely hope everything will turn out fine in the end. But maybe it wouldn’t work so well without Sharlto Copley’s fantastic voice acting who breathes life into this droid like probably no one else could.

Gritty and Colorful, Absurd and Thoughtful

Chappie’s animation is perfect, even by today’s standards. It’s seamlessly integrated into the real world, and is a great example for a case where good use is made of CGI. Immersion is conserved when a small part of the image is artificial and the majority is real, and not the other way around, as is too often the case in modern action cinema, unfortunately.

Ninja and Yolandi Visser of the South African band Die Antwoord in their first acting roles are pretty much playing themselves as Chappie’s foster parents. It’s a bold move but it works out beautifully, both bring a refreshingly anarchic style to their scenes. On the other side Dev Patel impresses as well-meaning modern Frankenstein, who tries to be empathetic and reflective about his work as can be when you’re working for a weapons corporation. The dark side of the company is personified by Hugh Jackman’s fun take on an aggressive engineer (with a five-dollar haircut) who is hellbent on climbing the career ladder no matter the collateral damage.

Our Own Indestructible Robot Gangster Number One, Boom!

The slums of Johannesburg are not a pretty place yet it’s what our characters call home. The cinematography is top notch, and captures this gritty and violent world in atmospheric images,  supported by banging soundtrack. Blomkamp juggles social commentary, the nature of consciousness and throws in some kick-ass action when it’s time to stop thinking too hard and enjoy some good old mayhem. He demonstrates once more why he is a master of crafting gripping and exciting action sequences. Each one has a small story to tell, and never becomes self-indulgent.

Carnage lovers will also not be disappointed. Gangsters and killer robots clash in bloody shootouts, people are ripped apart and carjackings spiral out of control, with Chappie causing a good deal of mostly unintentional havoc on his own. With Chappie, Blomkamp holds a mirror to us, when – just like as in District 9 – a non-human embodies what the best traits of humanity should be. This film is  an emotional roller-coaster ride that delivers action-packed and intelligent storytelling at its best!

Martial Law 2: Undercover — An Easygoing Actioner That Hits All the Ultimate Buttons

A look back at Martial Law II starring  Jeff Wincott and Cynthia Rothrock!

Welcome to a parallel universe where cops and criminals alike are all martial arts experts, and no one needs firearms to win a fight. This is the world of Martial Law II: Undercover. The first Martial Law film was solid DTV fare, but a bit of a slow burn with fight sequences of only modest quality. This all changed with the second installment when the two legends of DTV martial arts action Cynthia Rothrock and Jeff Wincott teamed up, so let’s have a look!

Police detective Sean (Wincott) joins a new unit, and shortly after an old friend and colleague is found dead. Sean asks his former partner Billie (Rothrock) to help with the investigation, and she starts working undercover as a bartender in a shady night club. Soon enough they are fighting against an entire crime syndicate.

“You’re on thin ice.” “Good thing I know how to skate.”

The plot has no surprises, except that we may wonder how little story actually happens between the fights. There’s banter between cops, banter between criminals and standard police investigation tropes. Despite this mundanity, it all flows reasonably well with some entertaining moments. The film is a good-looking production with effective direction, atmospheric takes, and a swinging synth score. The calm cinematography and soft-spoken dialogues give the film an almost relaxing vibe between the fights.

The actors also give it all according to their abilities. Rothrock is charming and a bad-ass when needed, ready to take out a room full of bad guys in the blink of an eye. Wincott embodies the rare combination of being a good actor and a good martial artist, creating a believable character that kicks serious ass. His olive-colored trench coat with rolled-up sleeves is an astonishing piece of fashion history that wouldn’t look good on anyone except him.

The film also marked the start for 90s B-actioner villain Evan Lurie who impresses with ripped abs, an oversized suit, and a long mane. Together with Paul Johannson he forms a goofy bad team. Both look incredibly cool, but talk incredibly awkward and slow, it’s hard to take them serious even for a single second as competent criminals.

This DTV Martial Arts Classic Delivers Clean and Simple Fun

Rothrock and Wincott make a good team, and when it hits the fan police protocol requires them to deliver a kick to the face first and ask questions later. Both deliver impressive moves, and the fight scenes avoid cheap cuts in favor of a tight choreography. There’s lots of crunchy fights, people get hit quickly and when they go down, they stay down. It’s all great to watch, even though there are no jaw-dropping moments, just plenty of good beatdowns.

Martial Law II: Undercover is a film where nothing really stands out, and yet it hits all the right buttons to become an easygoing actioner that delivers clean and simple fun.

An Ultimate Interview with Ben Combes about the Upcoming ‘Commando Ninja 2’

A chat with filmmaker Ben Combes about his UAMC-approved action sequel.

Filming of Commando Ninja 2 has recently wrapped, so we thought it might be a good idea to have a chat with creative mastermind Ben Combes on all things Commando Ninja 2 and action films in general!

Cover photo taken by Ludvig Oblin.

UAMC: Hi Ben, thanks a lot for taking the time to do an interview with us. It’s been five years since you made Commando Ninja, and I think it’s not an understatement to say it has become a classic of indie action cinema.

Ben Combes: Thanks, I actually still don’t know the audience or how many people we reached. It has been seen 7 million times in 12 languages on youtube, and I hope you are right, because it was a true love letter we wrote for other fans of the 80’s blockbusters like us, and we didn’t even try to sell it or make money with it.

UAMC: Those are impressive numbers indeed! When did you decide to make a sequel, and when did you start working on it? 

Ben Combes: After the first film, French producers (I’m French) approached me to direct TV shows and stuff. I turned it down because I moved to Canada (Vancouver BC) the morning after the French premiere. I swore to myself to never do a movie alone and without money again, it’s really, really hard, it chews you and your family up. The producers also told me it was cool one time, but don’t do another one like that.

Unfortunately, nobody wanted to produce a sequel (or at least I don’t have the contacts), Covid happened, and everybody wanted one! I was working for Sega, work was slow, we went home for remote work. So in November 2020 I decided to launch a Kickstarter for the sequel, as crazy as it sounded, secretly hoping it wouldn’t work. It worked (if you can say making a 2h20 action adventure movie with 30 characters and sets for 50K works), and we started production in July 2021!

UAMC: It’s great to hear that the Kickstarter campaign was successful. Will we see characters from the first part return? Are the stories connected? And another important question: Will we see the raptors again?

Ben Combes: Yes! Most of them will return, and the stories are connected, I hope fans will appreciate that. There will be a lot of new characters. We only had to change one actress from the first movie. The Dinosaurs will be back, imagine Commando Ninja was Alien 1. This is Alien 2.

UAMC: The first part was chock-full of awesome references and homages to our beloved action classics, can you give us a teaser of what we can expect in Commando Ninja 2 in that regard?

Ben Combes: Yes, Commando Ninja was my love letter to the 80s, with Commando Ninja 2 I focused more on the 90s! I’d say, you are going to dive into a Rambo 2 mission, set inside a Jurassic Park, following an Apocalypse Now river, jumping to Indiana Jones, Die Hard, Hard Boiled, Dawn of the Dead, James Bond. Also it will be inspired by modern adventure movies: Suicide Squad 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Kong: Skull Island.

UAMC: That sounds like a totally wild cross-over, and a lot of fun! Did you work with the same crew as for the first film?

Ben Combes: I never really had any crew, so my best friend came back to help, then he had to move and I was fortunate enough to meet someone who replaced him. Three different make up/SFX artists helped. Then a stuntman friend created a little stunt team, that followed us during production for the action scenes to play all the villains. The big change is that we had a studio, used for filming interior scenes, meetings, and a HQ for the movie props, workshop, and team.

UAMC: Can you tell us a bit more about the filming process for Commando Ninja 2? And what did you enjoy the most, and what the least?

Ben Combes: So again it was a DIY/Guerilla movie. 50K for what you are about to see was a very, very microscopic low budget. Everybody worked on their free time, either for free, or for the smallest rate possible. We ate BBQ’s and McDonalds. We shot during 3 full summers, 2021 to 2023. Each time I had to come back from Canada, it was really really hard psychologically for me. But it worked, and when I look at it now, I don’t understand how we achieved this.
Then during the fall and winters, I was editing/doing VFX, so when production wrapped last September, the movie was already all edited.

What I enjoyed the most was this third and last year of filming, it involved a loot of practical SFX, masks, prosthesis, and I love this shit. Two really good SFX artists came to the studio and it was a blast seeing all those creatures alive. We also spent all summer together, working out, shooting, eating BBQ’s, surrounded by guns and dinosaurs. It was kind of a surreal life for 6 months. Also, it’s the first “real” feature film I wrote, and I had a great pleasure seeing my characters develop and organically evolve through the actors during those 3 years, it was crazy, I hope you will enjoy the interaction between the 5 main characters. 

What I enjoyed the least, is that doing a project like that creates tensions, even if you would be the nicest (or richest) person in the world. At some point some people left the project. I totally understand, and after 15 years of career I realize it’s not money that will make a difference. Projects need to be short for people to keep motivated.

UAMC: That’s sounds a wild rollercoaster ride you experienced in the last three years, and it’s admirable that you pulled through all the way to the end! What got you into making movies, and where do you draw your inspiration from? Are there film-makers and actors that you hold in high esteem?

Ben Combes: I grew up with movies, my dad had a collection of thousands VHS (only action, adventure, sci fi and horror). At 14 I started making movies with a little camera and some friends. It was the start of home made movies thanks to miniDV cassettes and Adobe Premiere. One of the major french TV channel held a DIY movie week each year, and that really got us into making more and more, until my youtube channel and Commando Ninja.

I started making a video games related fan films youtube channel at the same time as FreddieWong and CorridorDigital in L.A., so watching their stuff was keeping me motivated, one of my shorts even ended up in a festival with them in LA. 

In terms of filmmakers and actors, of course I religiously admire Spielberg, Mc Tiernan, Cameron, Verhoeven, Arnold, Sly, Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver, Nic Cage, Keanu Reeves, Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe. Big up for France with Luc Besson and Jean Reno! 

Today, I have a big, big admiration for Neill Blomkamp, for me he was the new James Cameron of the 2000’s, I’m sad he didn’t continue into Sci-Fi. (crazy thing: I was working in front of his studio in Vancouver and my partner worked with him). I also think Michael Bay is an alien, and Taylor Sheridan’s work blew my mind. But there are so many talented directors, movies or TV, I couldn’t pick one. 

And I love modern actors like Adam Driver, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Mark Wahlberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pedro Pascal. In France we have a big ACTION comeback, with actors like Alban Lenoir, movies like Lost Bullet 1&2, AKA. It’s really good, we come from the same town with the director!

Photo taken by Ludvig Oblin.

UAMC: What do you think is the state of action cinema in 2023? What’s good, what’s bad about it? 

Ben Combes: I think it’s been 20 years since the good things, new things are now happening in TV shows. I don’t enjoy remake attempts and superheroes. I don’t like blue screens, all CGI action and sets, it doesn’t move anything inside me when I see it. I don’t like studios washing up IPs until you hate them. 

I also don’t like that movies must be serious and, and that we lost all the humor from the 80s and 90s. I think it’s really representative of today’s society. In terms of action today I don’t like the very realistic fights, I preferred when it was all karate, helicopter kicks and unlimited ammos. But I think practical effects, SFX, really good stuntmen, and real explosions are coming back, I think they understood it was uninteresting otherwise.

UAMC: Let’s hope they do, and I couldn’t agree more with what you said. What were the biggest challenges you faced in your journey as a filmmaker? And do you have any advice for aspiring indie action film makers? 

Ben Combes: It was really all about being able to organize this crazy pharaonic project. It was absolutely huge, and I was alone to prepare everything (from shots to breakdown, to lunch, and finding the right shoelace for a 90’s setting). Keeping people motivated was also hard, it was 50% a creative challenge, and 50% human. 

For aspiring action film makers, I would advise to focus on short action scenes, short films. It’s the best thing, write, shoot, repeat, and it’s actually what I did from 2008 to 2016. Someone very good does that, FilmRiot on youtube, they did crazy short action films.

But for me as a director, I honestly never loved filming action scenes. What I prefer and what I wanted this time was to develop characters, a story and a mood with this project. My dream would have been to have an action director for the shootings and fight scenes, so I could focus on art direction, writing, set dressing, costumes, jokes and actors!

UAMC: Ben, thank you so much for sharing your thought on insights, and for your passion as a filmmaker! There’s just one question left: When will Commando Ninja 2 be released into the universe?

Ben Combes: I would have loved Christmas but it’s impossible. So for now I will have this objective: Big Reveal Trailer for Christmas, and release 2024 first trimester, or summer.

Thanks!!