Ranking the very best of Marky Mark Wahlberg’s action exploits!
Mark Wahlberg started his journey to fame as underwear model and member of a cheesy hip hop group. He landed his first movie roles in the 1990s, and has made more than 50 movies since then, receiving even an Oscar nomination in 2006. We’re only interested in his action movies, of course, and he made quite a few that were truly outstanding contributions to the genre.
One noticeable thing about his action movies is that they often contain a good dose of drama, and his characters usually have a bit more depth than your standard action hero template. This generally makes them more approachable for a wider audience, but certainly not worse. In this article, I’ll discuss and rank his 10 best entries to the action movie genre.
10) The Corruptor (1999)
A movie that starts with an exploding storefront as the first scene can never be bad. In The Corruptor, Chow-Yun Fat and Mark Wahlberg star as cops in New York’s Asian gang unit. The movie follows their entanglement with the Chinatown triads and corrupt police officers, which results in numerous violent confrontations. The story is not overly original and the characters are fairly stereotypical, but the movie indulges effectively into the mysterious aura that Chinatown has always had on movie makers.
The action is fast and stylish, with a decent amount of good-looking gun play, and an incredibly brutal car chase sequence where the bad guys are running amok. Wahlberg gives a fairly restraint, quiet performance in this movie that suits the idealistic rookie cop he’s playing, as opposed to Fat’s seasoned and morally ambiguous character. The Corruptor is a solid hard-boiled action-thriller, and stands out from the crowd mostly because of Fat’s and Wahlberg charisma.
9) The Italian Job (2003)
The Italian Job was part of a small wave of heist movies that came out around 2000, and is the one that packed the most punch in terms of action. It is a remake of the 1969 movie of the same name, where a team of robbers gets betrayed by one of their own after a huge heist, and together they devise a plan to get their stolen money back from him. Wahlberg leads a great ensemble of actors (Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Seth Green, Mos Def) that have good on-screen chemistry and deliver much tongue-in-cheek humor.
The movie features a lot of crisp action scenes, including a boat chase in Venice, a stand-off in the snowy Alps, and car chases in Los Angeles that involve three supercharged Mini-Coopers. The Italian Job is a fun heist movie that and was another step up in Wahlberg’s career. And if nothing else, you will learn the true story of who invented Napster from watching it.
8) 2 Guns (2013)
For 2 Guns, Wahlberg teamed up with Denzel Washington as a couple of fast-talking, cool gangsters that are not who they seem to be. After they steal a big pile of money from a bank, multiple groups of bad guys start to go after them. 2 Guns is pretty much an old-school buddy movie aka Lethal Weapon with two foul-mouthed characters that have a love-hate relationship, but their heart at the right place. The story is not spectacular, but it’s fun to see literally everyone crossing everyone else as the plot develops.
There’s plenty of surprisingly violent action, witty dialogues, and some occasional crude humor. A movie with a good fart joke always get bonus points in my book. The different villain groups are led by charming performances of James Marsden. Edward James Olmos and the late Bill Paxton. 2 Guns may not be the most original movie you’ll come across, but there a many worse ways to spend 90 minutes of your life.
7) Spenser Confidential (2020)
Spenser Confidential is the latest joined effort of Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg who apparently have taken a liking to working with each other. Loosely based on a series of detective novels, the movie tells the story of idealistic ex-cop Spenser who helps a widow investigate why her husband was killed, and in the process triggers a bunch of corrupt police officers and the local mob going after him.
Spenser Confidential draws most of its charm from the interactions between the four main protagonists, who are a bunch of wise-ass characters that are constantly getting on each others nerves, but ultimately care for one another. Wahlberg gets ample opportunity to showcase his comical and physical talents, and this type of movies really seems to bring out his best performances.
Spenser never shies away from a fist fight, and the action package is completed by a couple of shootouts and an explosive showdown. Spenser Confidential is rollicking fun, a great mix of action, crime and comedy that doesn’t need large set pieces or special effects to kick ass.
6) Lone Survivor (2013)
Lone Survivor tells the true story of a botched attempt of a US Navy Seals team to capture a high-ranking Taliban officer in the mountains of Afghanistan. The movie features some of the most nerve-wrecking and visceral combat sequences ever created for an action movie.
It is one of the rare movies that truly creates the illusion that the viewer is right in the middle of the fight between the US soldiers and the Taliban. A lot of tragic things happened during the mission, and there is no well-timed plot points or climactic showdown. One one hand this prevents a buildup of real tension, and the movie lacks a message, for better, or worse. This hardly can be a point of criticism, though, as the movie’s only ambition is to provide a reconstruction of the events that actually happened.
Wahlberg leads the cast and gives another compelling performance as compassionate and righteous soldier that tries to make it out alive of the messy situation. Lone Survivor it is one of the most intense and technically perfect war action movies that has ever been made, and for that alone it is worth a watch.
5) The Big Hit (1998)
Wahlberg’s plays the efficient but somewhat weak-willed hitman Melvin. One day he and his fellow hitman gang members abduct the daughter of a movie producer for ransom. Too bad that she’s also the god-daughter of their boss, who paints a big target on Melvin’s head. From the first to the last minute, The Big Hit is a comic book come alive, and occasionally it feels like a juvenile version of Pulp Fiction. The Hong Kong-style action sequences are bloody and creative, and feature plenty of Gun-Fu, car chases and huge explosions.
The humor is cheesy, but there are enough good jokes and absurd situations that will make you laugh out loud more than once. The hitman gang is like a murderous boy group, and besides Wahlberg features Lou Diamond Phillips, Bokeem Woodbine and Antonio Sabato Jr. Especially Philips is almost stealing the show from Wahlberg with his over-the-top performance and eccentric fashion choices. The Big Hit is stylish and sexy, silly and funny, and if you’re looking for the next movie to watch with a couple of friends and a crate of beer, don’t look any further.
4) Four Brothers (2005)
Four brothers is another great entry for Wahlberg that follows his success formula of mixing action, drama and comedy. The movie was directed by the late John Singleton, and takes us to the suburbs of Detroit, where an elderly woman is killed in a seemingly random robbery of a corner store. Her four adopted sons, who were all juvenile delinquents, reunite for her funeral, and track down her killers in the underworld of Detroit. Singleton paints a colorful picture of Detroit as a harsh place to grow up and live, that is plagued by corruption, but also a city that people love as their home.
The movie tells a heartwarming story with plenty of comedic moments to lift the tension, and a couple of killer action scenes, among them a great car chase over the icy streets of winterly Detroit. Wahlberg gives one of his best performances I’ve seen from him as likable anti-hero, who puts his old gangster skills to use to do some good. 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.
3) Three Kings (1999)
Three Kings starts out as a treasure hunt adventure embedded into a war setting. The US just won the first Gulf war, and four soldiers stationed at a US army base in Iraq go after a hidden pile of gold stolen by Saddam Hussein’s troops during their invasion of Kuwait. What first looks like an easy way to collect some retirement funds becomes a confrontation with the brutality of Saddam’s regime, and soon they must choose between the gold and doing the right thing.
Three Kings is a unique genre hybrid of action, comedy and war that tells a strange but compelling story. It shows the confusion of US soldiers about why they are still in the country, but even more the desperation of the Iraqi civilian population suffering under Saddam’s regime. George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg gives striking performances, Clooney as disillusioned senior officer, and Wahlberg as initially naive and clueless sergeant. The frequent violent skirmishes in the Iraqi desert are captured in grainy and stylish images. Three Kings is a tragicomic action-adventure with political undertones that just works perfectly on every level.
2) Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Deepwater Horizon was another collaboration between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, and it turned out to be their best so far. The movie describes the events leading up to the explosion of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, and the catastrophe that followed. The first part of the movie depicts the daily routines of the rig workers, and the faulty decisions that lead to the blowout. The second half of the movie is an inferno of apocalyptic proportions, as the rig crew tries to fight their way through the burning and collapsing platform.
Wahlberg plays a role we can easily identify with: a fairly normal and likable guy who shows great courage in the face of danger. He is joined by striking performances from Kurt Russell as outspoken foreman, and John Malkovich as slippery oil company executive. Deepwater Horizon is one of the best disaster movies that exists, and the fact that it’s based on a real catastrophe makes it all the more compelling and harrowing.
1) Shooter (2007)
Shooter is an adrenaline-charged take on the familiar The Fugitive scenario. Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, the best Sniper in the US army who is wrongly blamed for the assassination of a high-ranking foreign politician. While on the run, he devises a plan to take revenge on its enemies, and uncovers a massive political conspiracy in the process. Shooter is a perfect action thriller. Everything in this movie directed by genre expert Antoine Fuqua just works, there are no mishaps.
The movie features non-stop action and thrills, and adds to this a JFK-assassination type of conspiracy, and some unflattering comments on institutionalized corruption in the US political system. Besides another charismatic performance from Wahlberg, Ned Beatty and Danny Glover stand out as evil politicians pulling the strings. You will want to kill them yourself every time they show up on the screen, but thankfully we have Swagger to care of that. Shooter is one of the best examples for an intelligent action movie that is not penetratingly moralizing.