Top 10 John Woo Action Movies

Ranking the best actioners from legendary Hong Kong director John Woo!

Few action movie directors have attained as much prominence as Hong Kong’s John Woo. Hailed for creating the Heroic Bloodshed sub-genre, his films were loaded to the brim with passion and creativity. With his Gun Fu, he reinvented shootout sequences in action films, and combined them with an elaborate cinematography and ultra-bloody violence. Woo is a poet of action cinema who has created many unshakable masterpieces of the genre in his career, and in this article we present the Ultimate Action Movie Club’s 10 favorite films from the legendary director!

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10) Broken Arrow (1996)

Woo’s second US production is a classic 1990s action blockbuster, and possibly the film with most helicopters getting thrashed in movie history. Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta) crashes a stealth bomber carrying two nuclear weapons to collect a big ransom from the government, and only his co-pilot Riley (Christian Slater) can stop him. Shootouts, car chases and an absolute overkill of explosions, the film moves at a relentless pace with one action-packed set piece after another. 

Travolta goes completely unhinged and delivers a manic performance. He also goes out with a smile on his face in one of the best villain death scenes I’ve ever seen. Broken Arrow is as straightforward as an action film can get, but Woo’s stylish and energetic direction make it an entertaining minor classic of US action cinema.

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9) Heroes Shed No Tears (1984)

Two years before Woo landed his first classic A Better Tomorrow he already took a successful venture into the action genre. The plot is as generic as the title of the film: A group of Hong Kong mercenaries is tasked to capture the leader of a drug trafficking ring in the golden triangle between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and faces much resistance. I don’t know what the popularity of military-style action was in in Hong Kong in the 1980s but the film shares many similarities with the Cannon productions and the cheap Italian war movies of the same decade. 

It’s an orgy of destruction, and Woo’s least refined film on this list by quite some margin. The movie serves the full buffet of war exploitation elements: brutal violence and torture, unmotivated sex scenes, grenade launchers fired from the hip, and a never-ending display of pyrotechnics. Heroes Shed No Tears is cheesy and violent entertainment, old-school action at its best!

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8) Hard Target (1993)

Woo’s first US production is not exactly a treat for fans of Woo, the auteur, but definitely for fans of John Woo, Master of Mayhem. The plot is yet another variation of the manhunt for decadent rich folks theme. Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) also becomes their prey when he tries to find a missing person in New Orleans. 

Hard Target only has hints of Woo’s iconic style here and there, but it’s still a blast of an action film with giant explosions, motorcycle chases, and plenty of shootouts. His star Van Damme lacks the charisma of a Chow-Yun Fat, but he does not disappoint as a bad-ass action hero. And Hard Target features not one but two of the most awesome hand grenade kills ever shown on screen!

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7) Red Cliff 1+2 (2008/2009)

After ten years of working for US studios, Woo returned to his home country and adapted the historic battle of Red Cliffs into a feature film. In the 3rd Century AD, a coalition of warlords from Southern China faces the overwhelming forces of the North. Woo created a war epic of almost five hours length distributed over two films that seamlessly connect to each other. The movies effortlessly switch between drama, philosophy and battle action. The production values of the film are spectacular, as is the execution of the massive battle sequences. 

Some scenes go a bit over the top in their heroism, and we will never know if the portrayal of the righteous characters from the South vs. the Machiavellian clique from the North is even remotely grounded in reality. But it doesn’t matter, and the final battle is of such a ferocity, excitement and epicness, it makes Braveheart and Gladiator look like child’s play. Red Cliff is the ultimate historic war drama!

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6) Bullet in the Head (1990)

Bullet in the Head is a very different beast from Woo’s other action films of the 1980s. Pathos and melancholy make way for a much darker tone in this tale of three friends who see their dreams getting shattered. Their journey from being gang members in Hong Kong to building a smuggling business in war-ridden Saigon, and being haunted by the terrors of the war after their return to Hong Kong, is a grim and ultraviolet epic.

It’s a gripping tale with plenty of intense action sequences that propel the story effectively. The shootouts are masterfully staged, and feature a raw brutality not found in Woo’s other works from that era. Bullet in the Head is two hours of action-packed tragedy, and another absolute highlight of Woo’s career!

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5) Face/Off (1997)

After a few years it seemed Woo finally got warmed up to working in Hollywood and delivered his American opus magnum. Terrorist Castor Troy and FBI agent Sean Archer swap their faces as part of a plan to infiltrate Troy’s organization. Things don’t go as planned, though, and the chaos unfolds. An outlandish plot and eccentric performances by John Travolta and Nicolas Cage collide with insane set pieces. Just as in Woo’s Hong Kong classics bullets are flying left and right, and the next explosion is never far away.   

Woo stages the feud between Troy and Archer with elegant takes, and created some of the most spectacular action scenes that you will find in a movie from the 1990s. Every single action sequence is pure awesomeness, be it a helicopter dueling with an airplane, plenty of Gun-Fu mayhem, and an explosive boat chase. It misses the deep pathos of his classics, but maybe Face/Off is just Woo just having a lot of fun, and in any case it is pretty much as perfect as a Hollywood actioner can get.

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4) A Better Tomorrow (1986)

With A Better Tomorrow, Woo invented the Heroic Bloodshed genre, and introduced the world to Gun Fu and brutality in style. Former gangster Ho is released from prison and seeks to make amends with his younger brother Kit, a police officer. Ho tries to live an honest life, but his past catches up with him in the worst possible way. With A Better Tomorrow, Woo created a template for his later movies, with many of his thematic and stylistic trademarks being present already. The story is full of pathos (occasionally bordering on kitsch), characters that are torn between loyalty and righteousness, and excessively bloody shootouts.

Chow Yun-Fat in his role as Ho’s left hand Mark became a chain-smoking fashion icon and the coolest bad-ass of the action genre overnight. A Better Tomorrow also marked the start of his collaboration with Woo, and several more masterpieces would follow. The action sequences are all awesome, but are staged on a comparatively modest scale, and are less slick compared to Woo’s later films. But none of that doesn’t diminish the groundbreaking masterpiece A Better Tomorrow is!

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3) A Better Tomorrow 2 (1987)

Just one year after Woo landed his first masterpiece A Better Tomorrow, he followed up with a sequel. Brothers Ho and Kit return, and go undercover to infiltrate a counterfeiting ring. Chow-Yun Fat also makes a return as Ken, the twin brother of Mark (who died in the first film).  

It’s a cheap trick to bring Chow-Yun Fat back from the dead, of course, but no complaints, it’s awesome to see him return! 

Woo created several iconic set pieces that have been copied endless times since then. A Better Tomorrow 2 is really the first film where he fully implemented his unique vision on filming action sequences, with a stylish cinematography, and ultra-violent shootouts in slow motion. The bloodsoaked finale is one of the most intense and insane action sequences ever created in the history of cinema with bodies literally piling up on the floor. A Better Tomorrow 2 is one of the greatest excesses of cinematic violence.

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2) Hard Boiled (1992)

John Woo’s last film before he went to Hollywood is the very essence of action cinema, a force of nature. Two hard-ass cops (Chow-Yun Fat and Tony Leung) team up to take down a crime cartel and its boss. If you find Woo’s previous films too melodramatic or even cheesy, Hard Boiled may even be Woo’s best film for you, as it is a relatively unsentimental actioner by comparison. 

The action choreography is the best Woo ever created, with one massive bullet storm after another, each one filmed on an astonishing scale and with a level of detail that is hard to grasp. And the film’s finale is and will forever be the best action sequence in the history of cinema, a slow-mo annihilation of everyone and everything!

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1) The Killer (1989)

Woo garnered much acclaim with his A Better Tomorrow films, but with The Killer he perfected his style and created one of the best action films to ever see the light of day. It’s another simple premise: Contract killer Jeffrey (Chow-Yun Fat) accidentally injures the singer Li during a job. To prevent her from losing her eyesight, he takes one last assignment so he can pay for an expensive operation. His mission is put into jeopardy when a hard-nosed cop and a treacherous mafia boss are at his heels. 

The Killer is the ultimate romantic action film, a poem written in blood. Woo cranks the pathos to the absolute maximum with brooding characters and a pervasive melancholy. It’s beautifully directed with atmospheric images that will irresistibly draw you in. It’s also another showcase of his qualities as an action director with rivers of blood and a triple-digits body count. The Killer marginally concedes first place in quality of the shootouts to Hard Boiled, but it is Woo’s most intense and complete film.

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80s Action Movies That Spawned a Franchise

The 80s were the heyday of the action movie.

Whilst cinema had certainly seen plenty of action through the seventies, the early onset of special effects played into the action movie genre. Bigger budgets and better technology meant more explosions, better futuristic settings and realistic car chases. In the eighties, directors either went big or went home.

Some eighties action movies were so popular that they spawned a sequel, a video game, a pencil case range, and even their own duvet covers. Some films may have been intended as serious action movies, but they ended up as much more.

Here are some of the eighties action movies that spawned a franchise.

Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard was the quintessential eighties action movie, a unique blend of Hollywood megastar, menacing baddie and witty one-liners. Bruce Willis was a relative unknown before he donned his white vest, loaded up with ammunition and took on the terrorist group led by Alan Rickman. The film cost $28m to make but pulled in more than $83m, according to Box Office Mojo. That could only mean one thing: the start of a franchise. There have been five films now, with Willis/John McClane taking on everyone from Russian terrorists to cyber hackers. As for video games, owners of the NES, C64, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, PC, GameCube, Xbox and TruboGrafx-16 have all been able to help McClane through a total of six different titles.

RoboCop (1987)

The obsession with robots continued in 1987, with the release of the 18-rated RoboCop. The cast are still not massive names; few can recall Peter Weller as the law enforcer RoboCop, ridding Detroit city of crime. You can remember the image of the cop because he’s been everywhere since. There’s been films (four), TV series (four), comic books and even theme park rides. RoboCop was perfect for video gaming, being the good guy fighting crime, with 1988’s RoboCop the first of many. You can still find RoboCop in video games today: the online slots hosted by Coral feature RoboCop, with the same branding as the original films. There’s an Android game of the same name which has been around for a few years too, and 2023 sees the release of RoboCop: Rogue City on PC and consoles.

Terminator (1984)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name was not synonymous with movies in the mid-eighties unless you count his appearances in Conan the Barbarian. In 1984, he played an emotionless cyborg, a role that really suited his acting style. Directed by James Cameron, it was a huge success, and a sequel was commissioned. Terminator 2 became a box office smash, and soon there was a video game and a great soundtrack featuring Guns and Roses. Today, there have been six films, a TV series and numerous video games, including Terminator: Resistance, from the same developers that are bringing you the new RoboCop game. The Terminator was even spoofed on The Simpsons, a sure-fire indicator of a franchise hitting the big time.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark differs from the others for many reasons. When it dropped, Harrison Ford was already a star, having hit the screen as the lovable rogue Han Solo in Star Wars. It came much earlier in the eighties, and the film’s title does not correspond with the now-familiar franchise. This is also the first Indiana Jones film, the first of five, all starring the seemingly evergreen Ford. The forty years since its release has seen a series (Young Indiana Jones), books, comic books, video games and theme park attractions. It’s also widely credited with helping launch an entirely different franchise, Tomb Raider, with Lara Croft often thought of as the female Indiana Jones.

The rise and revolution of the female action heroine

The female action hero has started to become more commonplace over the decades. Once upon a time, females in action films were simply a two-dimensional love interest of the male hero or a sidekick to the, usually male, lead protagonist. Changes in representation within films have gone hand in hand with changes in society. This is why, in 2022, box offices aren’t solely dominated by male-led action blockbusters.

However, though there have been some positive changes, there’s still a gaping gender disparity within the film industry, as there is across many other sectors. It’s important to acknowledge the trailblazers of the past who have enabled the heroines of modern cinema to find their place as the lead, instead of another face in the supporting cast. Let’s explore the changing faces of the action heroine.

Changes in society and other elements of popular culture

Shadow of the Tomb Raider / Lost” (CC BY 2.0) by Stefans02

Before we move on to the increased female presence in action movies, it’s worth exploring how the situation has changed across different forms of entertainment. In the iconic TV show Doctor Who, we are currently seeing the first female Doctor after years of iconic women playing the companion role. 

We also now see a strong female presence in all elements of the iGaming world. Virtual slot machines such as Hotline and Lil Devil are two good examples. Like other industries, there have been many positive changes. In fact, a search through casino comparison sites like bonus.ca will bring up all sorts of examples of strong females standing at the forefront of the gaming experience. 

Despite this, some video game developers clearly need more encouragement to place a female character at the forefront of their story. One of the exceptions to this is Lara Croft. The Tomb Raider series has remained popular throughout the different generations. Why is this only the exception? Will the action heroine in video games eventually become as commonplace as it has in cinema?

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There have been some strong female leads throughout the history of cinema. Trinity in The Matrix, played by Carrie-Ann Moss, is seen by some as one of the greatest of 90s cinema. In the previous decade, you had Princess Leia, played by the wonderful Carrie Fisher. She is a character that holds her own in a film and series that went on to have a cult following.

Some experts believe we have Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in Alien to thank for helping to create the modern-day female heroine. She has been credited by some as changing the very perception of females in action movies. Back in 2008, afi.com ranked the character as one of the best heroes in American cinema history. Has this character become the blueprint for the iconic women of the present and the future?

The present situation and a look towards the future

Captain Marvel: First Set Photos Leak Ou” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by AntMan3001

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has created several strong female characters. Captain Marvel is one of the best examples, culturess.com explores how there has been a rise in interesting female characters across the MCU.

You could argue that the positive changes in society are starting to be reflected in movies and other forms of entertainment. Those memorable films of the 1980s still hold up well, but they would ultimately look very different if they were to be released in this current environment. Ultimately, this is an ongoing revolution, and one that should provide more gender balance in cinema and other forms of entertainment.

Is ‘The Last Boy Scout’ the Best Star-Studded Action Movie of the ’90s?

Exploring the legacy of ultimate awesomeness packed in front and behind the camera of The Last Boy Scout

Shane Black is a multi-talented luminary of the action genre, and collected most of his credits as a writer of classics such as the Lethal Weapon movies series, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. In 1991, Black and the heavyweights of action cinema producer Joel Silver, the late director Tony Scott, and Bruce Willis joined forces to produce The Last Boy Scout. The script Black wrote was the most expensive ever at the time with a value of almost two million USD, and we’ll argue in this article that it was worth every penny!

Ragged private investigator Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) takes a job to protect a nightclub stripper from stalkers. When she gets killed, he reluctantly teams up with her boyfriend and former football star Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) to track down her killers. They uncover a conspiracy involving corrupt politicians and illegal gambling, and a big target is painted on their heads. 

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I’ll admit this doesn’t sound like a story from a two million Dollar script. The plot is simple and moves rather slowly, but the real star of Black’s work are the characters, their dialogues and other more violent interactions. In classic action films cheeky one-liners were just as important as spectacular action sequences. But what Black puts into the mouths of his protagonists are some of the most testosterone-charged and quotable lines ever written into a movie script. 

For the most part, it’s not uplifting humor a la Beverly Hills Cop, but the outpourings of the characters reveal a thoroughly cynical and nihilist attitude towards life and human society. At the same time so many lines are delivered in absurd and sincerely funny ways, creating a unique and slightly weird vibe for the dialogues.

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John McClane was already a character with a somewhat troubled private life, but in The Last Boy Scout Willis’ Hallenbeck has hit the bottom of the barrel. He is burnt out and depressed (and we learn for good reason as the film progresses), a broken man who takes his anger out both on himself and others. A large part of his negative energy is fortunately channeled into the violent disposal of numerous crooks and mobsters. It’s another awesome performance by Willis from what were the best years of his career for action fans.

Damon Wayans is Hallenbeck’s involuntary partner in crime Dix, a professional football player who has fallen from grace and struggles with some inner demons. Wayans and Willis apparently hated each other on set, and part of that antagonism productively spilled over onto their on-screen relationship, especially in the beginning of the film. 

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Despite their ludicrous attitude, both Hallenbeck and Dix are surprisingly well fleshed-out characters. Same goes for Hallenbeck’s wife and daughter who seem to despise him during their first encounters on the screen (also for good reason), and we’re graced with some impressive hateful exchanges between them.

In the bad guy faction, camp and cheese reign supreme. There’s plenty of sweaty villains with mullets and cheap suits who are always eager to pull a gun from their over-sized blazers. Extra credit goes to the cooler-than-cool performance of the late Taylor Negron as master henchman Milo who elegantly introduces himself simply as “I’m the bad guy”.

I’ll be honest, other than Top Gun and Crimson Tide, I’ve never been a huge fan of director Tony Scott’s work, but with The Last Boy Scout he created another gem of his career. The film looks fantastic, both in the action sequences and outside of them. Scott’s Neo-Noir visuals make L.A. an uncomfortable place where it’s either too bright or too dark, and always sweltering and filthy. 

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The film takes a break at around half-time from its depressive stance, and this is when both the mood is lifted up a little and the action really gets going. The action set pieces are not megalomaniacal, with the violence usually being brief and brutal. Every bullet and shotgun blast does a lot of damage, and the camera is always eager to show us the perforated bodies. 

There’s also a couple of nice car chases and crashes, and a thrilling finale in a packed football stadium. The film also teaches us another major action flick rule: Never fight on a ledge if a helicopter is hovering below you! The Last Boy Scout showed us that ultimate awesomeness can be achieved if the concentrated power of giants behind and in front of the screen is harvested. It’s pure entertainment from the first to the last minute, and one of the best buddy actioners to ever see the light of day.

Top 10 Michael Ironside Action Movies

Ranking the best movies from the great Michael Ironside!

Michael Ironside can proudly look back on a decades-long career in which he contributed to many action masterpieces. The Canadian actor is mostly known for his supporting roles, first and foremost his portrayals of villain characters. Nobody can clench his teeth better than Ironside, and his growling voice and commanding physique often made him an intimidating presence. With this article, we’ll try to honor his work and present you his best 10 films in the action genre!

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10) Forced to Kill (1994)

Beside high-profile actioners, Ironside also starred in numerous low-budget productions, and Forced to Kill may be the most entertaining from that segment in his oeuvre. Repo man Johnny gets abducted by a crazy family while on a job in a rural area. They notice his martial arts skills and force him to partake in an illegal fight tournament. Distributed by PM Entertainment, Forced to Kill is  a sleazy action-drama that feels like a blend of Bloodsport and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at times.

Johnny is being simultaneously tortured and trained, an unorthodox approach that actually works, however. The corrupt Sheriff Wilson (Ironside) is orchestrating the whole endeavor, and Ironside seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself as sadistic and bloodthirsty villain, creating many moments of malice throughout the film. Forced To Kill is not peak PM Entertainment, but there’s enough fights, car crashes, and even a boat and helicopter chase to make it an entertaining affair.

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9) McBain (1991)

McBain is an action inferno from exploitation specialist James Glickenhaus that mops up all the clichés from 1980s Cannon flicks and molds them into a totally brainless spectacle.  The films centers around the crusade of Bobby McBain (Christopher Walken) and his band of Vietnam veterans (among them Michael Ironside) against Colombian dictator El Presidente, after he killed one of their old comrades and starts to wage war against the local resistance. Who knows how Glickenhaus lured Walken into this project, but Ironside seems to feel at home immediately as slightly lunatic veteran Frank, who now lives the good life of a weapons dealer.

When McBain asks him to supply equipment for the resistance, he joins their noble cause, but still takes 10 million USD from McBain for his support. Happy to get back in action, he puts on his most colorful Hawaii shirt, and McBain’s private war feels like a tropical vacation for him. A great cast, corny humor and generic, but impressive action sequences with giant explosions and an enormous body count make McBain a highlight of B-action cinema.

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8) Heavy Metal 2000 (2000)

Thanks to his snarling voice, Ironside also collected credits as voice actor for animated series and video games, and for action fans the sequel to the 1980s cult classic Heavy Metal may be his most work. Miner Tyler is transformed into a power-hungry tyrant after being exposed to a mysterious rock. He raids a space colony and takes the girl Kerrie hostage. He didn’t count on Kerrie’s sister Julie, though, who is blasting her way through the galaxy to take down Tyler.

Lizard people, techno wizards and space battles, the film is a nice amalgam of animated Sci-Fi pulp with over-the-top violence and plenty of nudity. Ironside lends his voice to Tyler, a bloodthirsty psychopath, who leads a gang of deranged space mercenaries that are killing and raping their way through the galaxy. Heavy Metal 2000 is nowhere near as good as the original but still solid entertainment for everyone who thinks gore and sex are essential ingredients for an action film.

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7) Top Gun (1986)

Ironside can pride himself with starring in one of the penultimate 1980s movies, even if it’s only a minor supporting role. Top Gun is an action drama of the highest caliber, that shows us the daily life and troubles of the elite US Navy pilots at the TOPGUN academy, a film that cemented the superstardom status of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

Ironside’s Jester is a no-nonsense military instructor who wants to bring out the best from his students. His blunt approach turns out not to be the best way to straighten out the “wild card” Maverick, though. Top Gun has the perfect recipe, a bunch of cocky testosterone-laden cadets clashing with each other, and some of the most ultimate air combat action to ever make it onto celluloid!

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6) Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

This space action-comedy follows in the footsteps of Flash Gordon, but features a slightly post-apocalyptic vibe instead, and almost non-stop action! Three women crash on a contaminated planet and are captured by the mutant minions of the deranged cyborg Overlord. It’s up to bounty hunter Wolff and his companions to rescue them.

An almost unrecognizable Michael Ironside is the flamboyant master villain Overlord, a cyborg tyrant whose torso is welded to a moving crane, and who has two enormous claws that shoot fireballs! Spacehunter features great set and vehicle designs and plenty of goofy action sequences, it’s a great adventure through the wasteland for the whole family!

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5) Highlander 2: The Quickening (1991)

One may not expect Highlander 2 to show up on any list other than at the top of a worst sequel ranking, but this time, we’ll make an exception. The film has to endure the reputation of the most terrible sequel to an action film to this day, and it’s probably justified. In the original cut of the film, the immortals are from planet Zeist, waging war against each other. Connor MacLeod and Ramirez are banished to earth after being defeated by general Katana. Not happy with their survival, Katana decides to pay earth a visit.

Christopher Lambert sleepwalks through the film and Sean Connery shows up in a few pointless scenes. Only Michael Ironside as Katana gives it all, and his enthusiastic performance is one of the few positive things to be said about the film. Ironside was not blessed with a lot of hair, but his Katana sports an enormous mane. He wears the fashionable combination of a trench coat and medieval armor, plus a big-ass extendable sword. This diabolic hooligan wreaks havoc as soon as he arrives on earth, such as overcharging and crashing a subway train just because it’s fun.

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4) Turbo Kid (2015)

 

Turbo Kid is a charming ode to post-apocalyptic cinema and 1980s pop culture. The Kid scavenges the ruins of civilization on his BMX bike. He finds the power glove of the mythical soldier Turbo Rider, and takes it up against the ruler of the wasteland, Zeus.  The film is just as much parody as it is an homage, and is right up there with other masterpieces such as Kung Fury and Commando Ninja.

It is not just cramming as much tropes and references as possible into its runtime, but tells a story full of heart, humor and gory action, all accompanied by a fantastic Synthwave soundtrack. Ironside shines in his role as tyrant Zeus. Just like everyone in the film he hams it up terrifically, and gets awesome lines such as “I like blades! I like fire! I like blades and fire!“

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3) Starship Troopers (1997)

The story about the interplanetary war of an earthly military dictatorship against the alien race of the bugs is the darkest of satires, that cleverly embeds its message between ultra-gory action sequences,  and soap-opera characters and dialogues. It’s another masterpiece from Paul Verhoeven, and after already working together with Ironside for Total Recall, he cast him in another bad-ass role.

His Rasczak is a high-school teacher who fervently indoctrinates his students to join the war and hate the bugs. After Johnny Rico and his friends sign up for their first campaign, they are surprised to see Rasczak return as leader of the Roughnecks infantry squad. He also gets the best lines of the film such as: “Come on you apes, you want to live forever?”

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2) Extreme Prejudice (1987)

Walter Hill graced action fans with many masterpieces, and his modern Western Extreme Prejudice is no exception. A border town is plagued by drug traffickers from Mexico, and a violent triangle is created between Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) and his Texas Rangers, the drug cartel led by the charismatic Cash Bailey (Power Boothe), and an undercover government task force.

A dream cast brings their unhinged macho characters to life: Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Clancy Brown and William Forsythe, it’s the ultimate assembly of character actors. And of course there is Michael Ironside as resolute leader of the Zombie unit, a special task force composed of operatives who are all presumed dead. Extreme Prejudice is a mean film with tight direction by Hill, belligerent exchanges between the protagonists and frequent eruptions of bloody violence; an absolute 1980s action thriller classic!

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1) Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall is one of the ultimate Sci-Fi action bangers, and the villain team has a huge contribution to why this film is so awesome. Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) seeks to spice up his life, and visits the Rekall Corporation to have the fake memory of a secret agent implanted into his mind. From that point on, he finds himself caught in a violent conspiracy, and ends up supporting a rebel insurgency on Mars against the tyrannical regime of Vilos Cohaagen.

Technically Coohagen is the evil head honcho, but Ironside’s Richter does all the dirty field work, and he and his crew make life a living hell for Quaid, chasing him over two planets. Richter is ruthless and cynical, always one step behind Quaid, and barely able to suppress his constant anger. Ironside gives us the evil stare and teeth clenching at its best, making Richter one of the best movie villains of all time!

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SXSW Reviews: ‘Halo’ is Not Quite Ultimate, But Still Entertaining

Video game movies can occasionally make great ultimate action movies…

But this new Halo TV series on Paramount+ is quite up to the level of the most recent Mortal Kombat film (or perhaps even the level of the original 1995 Mortal Kombat version). But, after catching its world premiere at this year’s SXSW I can report that it is at least entertaining.

So, take that as you may as I also have to report that I’m not the world’s leading Halo historian. I’ve played a few of the games, I know that there are books and other pieces of the folklore out there, but this screening was purely viewed from the lens of looking for enjoyment.

Still, there’s a little something there in terms of cheesy one-liners and gruesome deaths. And it pays some homages to sci-fi action vehicles of the past like Starship Troopers or The Running Man. So, without further ado, here’s our full review:

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Halo: The Ultimate Review

I’ll recount all the things I knew about Halo before going in. The main character is named Master Chief. He’s a space marine. He kills aliens with guns. There are some story arc involving the covenant and some oracle-type character. It’s all kind of complicated, but I do remember it being quite enjoyable to follow.

Also, it’s fun to shoot your friends at LAN parties.

Now, the show which made its world premiere at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas yesterday at SXSW honestly seems to be made for someone with about my level of insider knowledge.

There were quite a few cheers from more fans during the premiere when some of the iconic guns and weapons made appearances in the first fight scene (which truly was quite brutal and surprisingly well-done for the amount of CGI obviously involved).

But there were also a few snickers at times during some of the acting and plot points, as well as some obvious displeasure by some fans during the Q&A session that indicated that their deep knowledge of the Halo-verse might not be specifically targeted with the show.

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Lots of CGI and Sci-fi Going-ons

Once we get past the opening battle sequence which I will say, on a big screen and experienced with plenty of fans, was quite enjoyable to watch, the show falls into some humdrum-ness as we understandably set up as many of the characters, and as much of the story as possible.

Which, I mean I get it. Total Recall couldn’t have had Arnold just wailing on people for 90-minutes straight, right? (But also, that would have been awesome ha.)

Created by Kyle Killen and Steven Kane, the bright spots for Paramount+’s flagship show definitely come from these battles as well as some of the performances from leads Pablo Schreiber (who has the univenable task of playing a helmeted character stomping around in mech armor) and newcomer Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha Boo (Master Chief’s eventual sidekick, I guess).

The acting doesn’t get much chance to take off, but it’s solid (if not bad occasionally) enough to hopefully get audiences to the next video game style battle. Which is why we care to review it here on UAMC…

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So, How Ultimate is it?

As with much modern action, Halo isn’t quite meant to be an “action” show per se, but rather a big sci-fi, fan-fiction service that has action out of necessity. I mean, could you make a movie based on a first-person shooter game and not have the main character shoot copious amounts of people or things?

I actually quite enjoyed the first battle sequence close to the level of watching one of the bug attacks in Starship troopers. (Although, few movies would be as lucky to have a CGI battle age as well as that one.)

Its un-ultimateness comes more from the story so far, and so much so that I wouldn’t quite recommend it to any ultimate action fans based on anything besides possible love of the video game franchise.

So, if you’ve played the game and love it, fire this bad boy up. If not, maybe watch the first 30 mins of the first episode and see if it sticks. If not, leave it be and fire up Starship Troopers instead!

Bad Boys 2: The Last True Michael Bay Action Banger

Bad Boys II stands as an epic and totally abrasive monument of US action cinema to this day.

Michael Bay’s films have often been reviled by critics and fans of action films alike, albeit for different reasons. He has been frequently accused of embracing style over substance, and excess over modesty. None of these things are bad in itself, and he made at least three ultimate genre classics during his career. These are Bad Boys, The Rock, and Bad Boys 2. The first Bad Boys was an atmospheric action thriller that has become a minor classic. Bay made the sequel eight years later in 2003, and was able to crank up the budget from 19 to 130 million USD, so let’s check out if this investment paid off for action movie fans.

Tactical Narcotics Team (TNT) members Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) of the Miami PD are investigating a massive smuggling operation of Ecstasy by Cuban drug lord Johnny Tapia. Taking on multiple gangs, they leave a trail of mayhem through Miami, and also need to address some quarrels between each other that have been boiling up for a while. 

The plot is a standard template, a violent scavenger hunt with some superficial interpersonal drama thrown in. But the super-thin story hook’s only justification is to place numerous action and comedy set pieces next to each other. And more than in any other Bay movie, Bad Boys 2 is about sensory overkill on all fronts. We’ll get to the action sequences, but everything that happens outside of them is also completely off the charts. 

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“Blue power, motherfuckers, Miami PD!”

Not a single minute passes by without someone getting insulted or yelled at. The jokes are hilariously offensive, and racial insensitivities are abound with Lowrey and Burnett lashing out against everyone, all the time. This is the type of attitude we remember from many of the 1980s action classics, but Bay puts it under a huge magnifying glass. Rats having sex, corpse groping and extreme humiliation of white supremacists are just a few of the outrageous sequences in the film, and I confess that I loved every single one of them. The quantity of juvenile jokes in this film is unsurpassed for an action blockbuster flick, and if this is your time of humor, you won’t be able to stop laughing for 2.5 hours. Granted, there are a few serious moments, but they are unable to balance out the pervasively ludicrous attitude of this film.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are the epicenter of all the insanity, and their chemistry is a key element to the success of the film. They are one of the best cop duos to ever grace the big screen, and both of them have great charisma and comedic timing. These two chaos cops are very much classic action heroes that shoot first and ask questions later, are slightly homophobic, and more concerned about the damaged headlights of their Ferrari than sparing their adversaries’ lives. 

And just like in the 80s classics, these detectives get away with anything, and thanks to their charm we also forgive them everything. The rest of the cast reigns in on the havoc, among them Joe Pantoliano as stressed out police chief, Peter Stormare in his archetypal role as sleazy mobster, and Jordi Molla, who totally hams it up as delusional Cuban drug kingpin.

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Absurd and Demented, Bombastic and Sexy

So we got great humor, great characters, and also in the action department Bay goes completely over the top, so much that there must not have been much left of Miami after he finished shooting. Where even the great action classics often feature only a handful of action sequences, in Bad Boys 2 we go into double digits, as Bay chains one spectacular and overlong set piece into another. We start off with a chaotic raid on a KKK gathering that is followed by other various shootouts and fights. The most spectacular sequences are a couple of car chases with one of them belonging to the best of its kind.

In one scene our heroes go after a hijacked a car transporter, and start getting cars thrown at them, and even a giant boat! Another car chase sequence shares some similarity but instead of cars, Lowrey and Burnett are being hurled at with corpses from a hearse. And when we think things can’t get more insane, Bay creates a finale where the TNT crew embarks on a commando mission into Cuba. It’s thirty minutes of total carnage, a mansion is razed with a few salves from an RPG, a Favela full of exploding buildings is flattened, and the final showdown even takes us to Guantanamo Bay. 

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“Everybody, start shooting at somebody!”

The composition and logistics of the action sequences are in a league of their own, and Michael Bay staged and controlled them like a wizard. They even top his other masterpiece The Rock, and just like in that movie they are practical for the largest part. It may even be fair to say that Bad Boys 2 is the very last of its kind from a time when action blockbusters almost completely embraced practical effects for anything, be it bullets and blood, car action or explosions.

The action sequences are filmed and edited in the typical Bay style: fast, loud and from all sorts of stylish angles. And while the camera whirls around a lot, the overall presentation is quite lucid, and you’ll not feel disoriented afterwards. Bay’s quirk of post-processing his scenes through the whole filter palette of the rainbow colors is an acquired taste, but it never gets to the point of becoming annoying. 

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A Pinnacle of Old-School Action Entertainment and A Lesson in Cinematic Excess

Bad Boys 2 was the last film before Bay fully embraced CGI over practical effects, and pretty much abandoned the non-CGI action genre genre until his 2019 6 Underground, which could be considered a sequel in spirit to Bad Boys 2. 6 Underground was a solid effort, but at no point does it radiate this energy that just uncontrollably explodes on the screen like in Bad Boys 2

Bad Boys 2 is Michael Bay at his creative peak. No compromises, no concessions, just a relentless onslaught on all your senses (particularly the lower ones). It’s a film that could still be made today showing no signs of age, and yet for me it marks the end of an era. No all-out action film of this scale and attitude been made since then, and thus Bad Boys 2 stands as an epic and totally abrasive monument of US action cinema to this day.

U.S. Seals 2: Hong Kong-style Action Made in the Good ol’ USA

Remembering Isaac Florentine’s simultaneous stroke of genius and insanity…

The Nu Image production company (now named Millennium Films) was an active player in the realm of 1990s and 2000s DTV action flicks. Nu Image can pride themselves with creating a couple of classics at that time, but it’s probably fair to say that the larger part of their catalog resided below the average quality line for action entertainment. The five Operation Delta Force and three U.S. Seals movies firmly fall into that category, all of them being generic pseudo-military actioners, except one!

That exception is U.S. Seals 2, (aka U.S. Seals II: The Ultimate Force) which stands out as a beacon of awesomeness from the others, and the main reason is the involvement of master action director Isaac Florentine. Florentine helmed one of Nu Image’s all-time classics Cold Harvest in 1999, where he showcased his talent to create high-octane action on a budget. Two years later, he traveled to Bulgaria (as so often in career) to make U.S. Seals 2, and created an absolute classic for martial arts fans.

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“No Regrets, Only Thermonuclear Revenge!”

Ex-US Seals squad leader Frank Ratliff hides on a remote island with a small army of mercenaries. He builds a nuclear warhead, and plans to extort a few billion dollars from the US government. His former mate Lt. Casey Sheppard is tasked with assembling a team of fighters and infiltrate Ratliff’s base. All of them are mighty martial arts warriors, as the island is covered in a cloud of explosive natural gas which prevents the use of fire weapons. Instead our heroes bring a stack of swords with them, and an air gun that shoots acid balls.

Another film about an evil mastermind on a deserted island and a commando that is sent in to take him down? Sounds boring indeed, but Florentine successfully hijacks this terrible plot line, throws out all the generic military talk and action, and replaces it with a ton of martial arts badassery! The opening sequence with the archetypal guard camp attack may actually lure the viewers into the expectation that this will be just another lackluster military actioner. 

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Like The Power Rangers But With Broken Necks And Cut Throats!

When one of the heroes suddenly does a backflip while firing two guns from the hip, we get a hunch that there is more to this film than it seems at first glance. The scene after the shootout turns things around big time, when we learn out that the Seals team members are also martial arts masters and are graced with words of wisdom from their Sensei after working out in the dojo.

And the movie continues with a slightly bizarre vibe. The dialogues are of the simplest kind, characters are as one-dimensional as they can be, and the most ridiculous lines are delivered with straight faces. All this creates a cartoonish impression outside the action scenes and it really doesn’t matter if this was intentional or not, it just adds to the fun!

There is no big action star pulling the movie, and that’s actually all the better for the film, as we can fully focus on the numerous action sequences and the martial arts performers showing off their skills. For U.S. Seals 2, Florentine worked with young Hong Kong fight choreographer Andy Cheng (who also has a small role), who would go on and work as stuntman and fight choreographer for many Hollywood blockbusters and the awesome martial arts/fantasy TV show Into The Badlands.

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Jumpkick! Swoosh! Katana Strike! Woosh! Backflip! Swoosh!

Everything is over the top in U.S. Seals 2, and this impression is multiplied thanks to the excessive use of swooshing sounds, not only during the fights, but also outside of them. Whenever someone raises a gun, a sword or even moves their head, there’s a swoosh! It seems Florentine still drew plenty of inspiration from his years working as action director for the Power Rangers TV franchise. The funky sounds, fast zooms and goofy camera angles all make a return in U.S Seals 2. The big difference is that instead of harmless kid-friendly skirmishes, the film delivers actions that hurts with plenty of broken necks and with cut throats.

The first half has a couple of martial arts appetizers and the brakes are taken off afterwards, with a 45-minute showdown that has our brave seals rushing from one battle to the next. The action hits fast and hard with the camera whirling around the actors, and Florentine shows great skill in staging and capturing the fights with stunning intensity.

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An Ultimate Classic of Cheeky Carnage!

Sticks, swords, and chains are all enthusiastically utilized for creative killings. There’s more weapon fights than unarmed combat but it makes it all the more exciting. We also get our fair share of people being slammed through walls and floors. Despite the super-low budget, the film has a sharp and crisp look. Florentine has a great eye for composition of the images, and perfectly utilizes the backdrop of some huge Bulgarian industrial ruins to create an almost post-apocalyptic vibe. 

Florentine puts two decades of US fight flicks to shame with this simultaneous stroke of genius and insanity. U.S. Seals 2 is a fine example for Hong Kong-style action made in USA, and another testimony of his talent to generate incredible action sequences!

Top 5 John Carpenter Action Movies

Known for his horror-prowess, we rank the best action films directed by the great John Carpenter…

John Carpenter is indisputably one of the most influential directors and artistic visionaries in the horror and action genres. Carpenter developed an interest in filmmaking at an early age, particularly the 1950s westerns of Howard Hawks and John Ford. As the son of a music professor, he grew up around music, later influencing many of his film scores. Carpenter attended the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts to become a filmmaker. While there, he made a student film and later expanded it into Dark Star, which was released as his first feature length film in 1974. In the following decade, Carpenter established himself as a prominent action director through films like Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live

Compared to many of his contemporaries, Carpenter’s films could be characterized by small budgets, often favoring economic storytelling and resourcefulness over shooting dramatic and flashy sequences. He framed his characters in wide shots to expand his worlds and make them feel truly lived-in. Carpenter also infused his political perspective into his films, often noting the decay of American society during the Reagan era. 

Many of Carpenter’s films received disappointing receptions at the time of their release. However, they later garnered strong cult followings as the movies were often way ahead of their time. Since Carpenter has stopped making films, his legacy has only grown. In this list, we’ll honor many of these films by counting down the director’s best action movies. 

Introducing the Ultimate John Carpenter Series!

5) Escape from L.A. (1996)

With a new prison island in L.A., Carpenter revisited the post-apocalyptic America that he created in Escape from New York. Marketed as a sequel, this film is more like a remake, with much of the plot the same as its predecessor. As opposed to the previous film’s serious tone, Carpenter and Russell fill the runtime with moments of silliness and camp, including Snake Plissken surfing through the streets of Los Angeles and playing basketball in a gladiator-style competition. The film’s special effects and storytelling can be occasionally lacking, but the film’s condemnation of American society still remains.

The Carpenter Series Part 5: America Becomes a Horror Movie in ‘Escape from L.A.’ 

4) Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Russell dives head first into his role as Jack Burton, a version of John Wayne too dumb to realize he’s in over his head trying to face a world of magic, strange creatures, and martial arts. Jack constantly fails in his quest and would be completely helpless if not for the true hero of the story, Wang Chi. Through this dynamic, Carpenter deconstructs the typical 1980s American action hero while honoring Asian cultures. As an ode to past wuxia films, this is the most fun Carpenter has had, allowing Russell to go over the top as a goofy yet loveable truck driver and giving the audience plenty of laughs.

The Carpenter Series Part 3: Deconstructing the American Action Hero in ‘Big Trouble in Little China’

3) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

As John Carpenter’s version of Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 sees its ragtag crew of police officers and prisoners fight off a silent horde of Street Thunder gang members. Through this premise, he subtly depicts a society falling into a cycle of violence and revenge and comments on the relationship between the police and the marginalized communities they patrol. By mixing the horror and western genres, Carpenter crafts a world brimming with tension as his characters find themselves trapped in a police station with a limited supply of weapons to defend themselves with. As one of his earlier works, this sense of fear and isolation would eventually lead to films like his horror masterpiece The Thing.

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2) Escape from New York (1981)

Although the story is quite simple, Carpenter immerses viewers in a grimy world of betrayal and moral decay. Written as a response to late 1970s America, the film takes the country to its logical endpoint as an imperialist police state that attempts to control its citizens through military force. Russell plays Snake Plissken – an antihero filled with contempt for the world. With a permanent scowl on his face, Snake wanders through the streets of Manhattan, trying to survive. Featuring an excellent cast of supporting characters including a commanding performance by Lee Van Cleef, Escape from New York is one of Carpenter’s best films.

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1) They Live (1988)

Carpenter fully realizes his political ideology in the sci-fi film They Live. Roddy Piper plays a homeless drifter who discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveal America’s upper class to be aliens attempting to colonize the planet and control humans through subliminal messaging. The film is blunt in its criticism of Reagan-era capitalism, but it is filled with memorable performances including that of co-star Keith David, quotable lines, and a brilliant street fight. By achieving a perfect balance between fun action sequences and a strong allegory, Carpenter captures something truly special. 

The Carpenter Series Part 4: Staring Down the Barrel of Capitalism in ‘They Live ‘

Top 10 Kurt Russell Action Movies

Ranking the best – and most ultimate – action films from the legendary Kurt Russell.

Kurt Russell is one of the few legitimate action heroes who is also a great actor. Charming, charismatic and a total bad-ass when the role demanded it, every film is made better when Russell is on board! He started his career in the action genre with the breakthrough role as Snake Plissken in John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, and from that time he never stopped kicking ass. So let’s get started and look at the 10 best action classics featuring Kurt Russell!

10) Stargate (1994)

Roland Emmerich’s Stargate is a classic 1990s action-adventure blockbuster which builds upon the popular myth that aliens built the pyramids. Archaeologist Daniel Jackson and US Army colonel Jack O’Neil traverse an ancient Egyptian portal to another planet. They encounter and befriend the people of an indigenous culture worshiping the Egyptian god Ra who is not pleased with the earthlings’ arrival. Like every Emmerich film, Stargate never goes out of its way to become something truly special, and yet it delivers a thoroughly entertaining mix of humor, thrills and action.

The film is carried by its two main protagonists, the clumsy, but charming Jackson (James Spader) and the hard-ass military O’Neil (Kurt Russell). O’Neil takes the fight to the interplanetary tyrant Ra thanks to importing some good old American firearms, even though he also learns the lesson why you should never bring a nuclear weapon to another planet. It’s not an overly demanding role for Russell, but he is a formidable action hero, with the most ultimate flat top cut since John Matrix!

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9) Breakdown (1997)

Breakdown is the true spiritual successor to The Hitcher. The car of couple Amy and Jeff breaks down on a desert freeway, and friendly trucker Red offers to take Amy to a diner in the next town to call roadside assistance. When Jeff arrives at the diner, there is no trace of his wife. It’s a simple setup, but director Jonathan Mostow amps the tension and thrills up to the absolute maximum!

Russell portrays a fairly normal middle-class guy, who goes through an ordeal of torment and terror. He  rises to the occasion, though, and faces off a psychopathic trucker (the ever-shady late J.T. Walsh) and his associates. The film is packed with nerve-wrecking scenes, and just like The Hitcher closes out with a terrific car action finale. Breakdown is an absolute action thriller masterpiece, just don’t watch before going on a road trip!

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8) Backdraft (1991)

An action film without shootouts, car chases and villains but only fire, how is that supposed to work? Like a charm! The two estranged brothers Brian and Stephen (Russell) are firefighters in the same unit of the Chicago fire department. Their rivalry borders on becoming dangerous, but ultimately they get their act together, and investigate a series of mysterious arsonist fires that are killing people. Director Ron Howard created a genre bastard that blends drama with action, crime and the inevitable romance, and it all falls into place beautifully.

Russell is great as Stephen, who recklessly storms to the front line with every assignment, but who is a surprisingly complex character with a large burden of grief and anger. The fire fighting operations are the centerpiece of the film, and Howard created some jaw-dropping set pieces with the most spectacular pyrotechnics and fire effects to ever make it into a movie. Backdraft is a welcome change from the myriad of weaponized actioners, and a sincere ode to one of the most honorable and dangerous professions that exist!

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7) Soldier (1998)

A few years before director Paul W.S. Anderson ruined his reputation with the Resident Evil saga he created a bad-ass piece of Sci-Fi action cinema. Elite soldier Todd (Russell) is dumped on a garbage planet after his squad is replaced by new generation of genetically engineered supersoldiers. He is taken in by a human colony, and needs to protect them from his replacements who are landing on the planet for a training mission.

It’s a slightly bizarre setting that combines ultraviolent over-the-top action with the schmaltzy portrayals of harmonious life in the garbage colony. There are no interesting characters, dialogues and plot lines in Soldier, and yet the film never fails to entertain thanks to atmospheric sets, good special effects and high-octane action set pieces. Russell talks less than the T-800 and has a rather dumb stare for most of the film. No problem, though, he’s totally jacked and turns into a killing machine in the instant danger approaches. Mission accomplished, private Todd!

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6) Executive Decision (1996)

Action movies featuring a hijacked aircraft have understandably fallen out of favor since 9/11, but if you can detach yourself from that dark memory at least briefly, you’re in a for a lot of excitement with Executive Decision. A passenger airplane is abducted by terrorists demanding the release of one of their own. To stop them, a squad is assembled to sneak aboard the plane while in the air, among them intelligence analyst David Grant (Russell).

There’s a lot going on in this plane, with thrills galore thousands of feet above ground, and one of most nerve-wrecking bomb disarming sequences ever seen on celluloid! It’s a certainly a change of character for Russell in an action film, as a nerd who doesn’t want to get involved in the mission other than watching it from his desk. But as usual he nails it, and contributes his share in making Executive Decision one of the best action-thrillers of the 1990s.

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5) Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Several years after Backdraft, Deepwater Horizon saw Kurt Russell (alongside Mark Wahlberg) caught in another flaming inferno, a film that was based on the real-life catastrophe of the offshore oil platform Deepwater Horizon. Director Peter Berg effectively builds up tension as we witness the mistakes and malfunctions leading to the disaster almost in real-time.

After the well blows out, the platform becomes a hellish place, and the disaster is captured in grueling and spectacular images, it feels as if you’re on the rig yourself. Russell’s Jimmy Harrell is a blunt platform manager who takes the heat for his crew, and gets into many quarrels with cocky BP executives. Deepwater Horizon will stress you out and leave you exhausted, it’s one of the best disaster movies that exists.

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4) Tombstone (1993)

A film about a time when the width of a man’s mustache determined his manliness, Tombstone is the ultimate mustache action film. Joking aside, this tale written in gunpowder and blood is one of most action-packed Western sever made! The story of the Earp brothers, who want to create a good life for themselves in the booming town of Tombstone, and their deadly quarrels with the outlaw gang The Cowboys is a famous piece of Wild West lore.

Russell vividly brings Wyatt Earp to life as a man full of conflicting emotions who only seems truly alive when facing his adversaries. He is joined by an all-star cast, from which Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday stands out the most. Tough men, tough talk, tough action, Tombstone is kicking some serious ass!

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3) Tango & Cash (1989)

“Action, good old American Action!” The 1980s went out with a bang named Tango & Cash, a film that is in overdrive mode every single second. Detectives Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Gabe Cash (Kurt Russell) are framed for murder by crime lord Perret and thrown into prison. Their violent escape is just the beginning of an avalanche of mayhem and corny one-liners.

Stallone’s cultivated Tango and Russell’s Cash, who is a loose cannon with loose mouth, have a terrific love-hate relationship. The plot is a hot mess, but we don’t care, it all moves so fast with car chases, shootouts, a thrilling prison escape sequence and a finale that is pure insanity. Tango & Cash is maybe the most outrageous and wildest buddy cop action flick of them all, and just perfect in its own special way.

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2) Escape from New York (1981)

Dystopian Science Fiction films used to be fairly serious and depressing affairs in the 1970s, but at the start of the following decade, John Carpenter showed us that much fun can also be had in this type of setting! In the future, all of Manhattan has been cordoned off and turned into an open air prison. Ex-elite soldier Snake Plissken is sent into Manhattan by the US military to rescue the president after terrorists abducted and crashed Air Force One.

Carpenter crafted a unique and captivating piece of genre cinema that became a template for countless ripoffs. A fantastic world-building with terrific visuals and a killer soundtrack, all about this film is pure movie magic. Russell’s Plissken is one of the greatest antiheroes of action cinema, a violent nihilist with a bad attitude that can only be made compliant by a bomb implanted into his body. Russell’s and Carpenter’s first collaboration became a timeless classic that yields the first place in our ranking only to another of their 1980s masterpieces.

The Carpenter Series Part 2: Rebelling Against the State in ‘Escape from New York’

1) Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Every time John Carpenter and Kurt Russell collaborated in the 1980s, is resulted in a masterpiece, and Big Trouble in Little China is their crowning achievement in the action genre! The film takes us on the quest of truck driver Jack Burton and his friends to defeat ancient evil sorcerer Lo Pan in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Russell is Jack Burton, tough talker and clumsy wanna-be action hero, who never gets anything done right but in the end still gets the girl. Carpenter is at the top of his game fusing different genre elements, and he created a fantastic world behind the walls of everyday life in Chinatown, as we follow our heroes sneaking and fighting through alleyways, sewers and hidden tunnels. Fantastic special effects, enchanting sets and, as usual, a banging soundtrack composed by Carpenter himself, all contribute to make Big Trouble in Little China one of the best action-adventures to ever see the light of day!

The Carpenter Series Part 3: Deconstructing the American Action Hero in ‘Big Trouble in Little China’