It’s hard to believe but we’re already 10 years into the ’00’s and we thought it would be a good time to look back and give our picks for the best action movies of the past decade. We’ve seen the rise of some new action stars, comic book movies come into their own and old franchises coming back to kick ass. Check out our top films of the 00s and let us know what your favorite action movies of the last ten years have been.
10. The Rundown
There was a shining moment in the middle of the decade where it seemed like The Rock was destined to be our new Arnold or Sly. Unfortunately he got lost in the quagmire of Disney family films and never got out but The Rundown is a perfect example of what might have been. The Rock plays Beck, a bounty hunter who is on one last job to clear him of his debts and open his dream restaurant. He must journey to South America and collect his loan shark’s archaeologist son, played by Sean William Scott. Some great action sequences including a brawl with the Notre Dame offensive line to start things out and an awesome fight scene where Beck is tested by some jungle rebels. To cap it off, Christopher Walken is the villain and is in full on Christopher Walken mode, making monologues about diamonds and the Tooth Fairy.
9. The Bourne Supremacy
Matt Damon was not what you typically thought of as an action hero before the Bourne movies but he proved everyone wrong as he kicked ass as amnesiac secret agent Jason Bourne. This second movie, directed by Paul Greengrass, took everything from the first movie to the next level with great car chases that, thanks to Greengrass’s hand held cameras, made you feel like you were in them, a tense sequence in a train station where Bourne has to lead an informant to avoid capture and more of the series signature hand to hand fights where Bourne uses whatever is in arms length to kill people, including pens and magazines.
8. The Matrix Reloaded
Now that the insane hype and religous fervor of fanboys is passed you can see the Matrix sequels for what they are: good, stylish action movies. It does get pretentious, especially when Neo meets The Architect but there are some incredible sequences, particularly the freeway chase as Morpheus and Trinity try to dodge both agents and new villains, the phasing Albino twins. There’s also the famous “Burly Brawl” as Neo fights off hundreds of Agent Smiths. The CG is dated by today’s standards but it’s still fun to see Keanu beat tons of Hugo Weaving’s in the face with a lamp pole. It could never live up to the original, but really, what could?
Liam Neeson shows why he should have been Jack Bauer’s father instead of James Cromwell on 24. Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former CIA “preventer” who wants to become closer to his daughter. He agrees to let her go with a friend to Paris, where she is promptly kidnapped and Bryan has to use his CIA skills to kill everyone on his way to her. It’s probably not the most original premise but it’s an extremely well done action movie and Neeson is a complete bad ass the entire time. Taking plays from the Jack Bauer playbook he shoots a man’s wife in the leg, tortures someone with a light switch and breaks a neck while handcuffed to a pipe. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if 24 took a field trip to Paris, this is your movie.
6. Hot Fuzz
Just like Shaun of the Dead and zombie movies before it, Hot Fuzz sets out to spoof the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer movies and becomes a great one itself. Simon Pegg stars as supercop Nicolas Angel who is too good at his job and is transferred from London to peaceful village of Sanford. He’s partnered up with action movie junkie Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) and the two handle such exciting duties as catching a rogue goose. However, people start dying in horrific ways and Angel uncovers a conspiracy that he eventually ends in a high octane third act full of explosions, John Woo style gun fights and even a Godzilla like fist fight in a model town. There’s tons of great actors in the cast like Jim Broadbent, Paul Freeman and even Bond himself Timothy Dalton. Let’s hope the gangs next movie, The World’s End, comes out soon.
Sly Stallone does not know the meaning of the word “retirement”. In this decade he brought back his two most iconic characters, Rambo and Rocky, and both were great in their own ways. While “Rocky Balboa” was a nice and sweet capper on the Rocky franchise, Rambo stepped out of a time machine from the 80’s and picked up right where it left off. Rambo has retired to Cambodia where he makes a living ferrying people up and down the rivers and catching snakes. A missionary group asks Rambo to take them into Burma so they can help a village and he reluctantly agrees. The group is promptly attacked by the evil government troops and a few are killed while the rest are captured. It’s then up to Rambo and a group of mercenaries to rescue them. There’s no subtlety in Rambo; the bad guys are straight up evil and Rambo is the one man army he always is, maybe even more so as he disembowels and blows people apart with a mounted .50 calibur machine gun. We are already camping out for Sly’s next movie, The Expendables, which comes out next summer.
4. Mission Impossible III
Easily the most criminally overlooked movie on my list, MI:III came out at the height of “Tom Cruise is effing Crazy” fever and that definitely turned off a lot of the audience. They missed out on probably, in my opinion, the best movie in the franchise. Directed by JJ Abrams, he provides some great action sequences, especially the helicopter chase and the attack by a predator drone on a bridge, and actually makes Ethan Hunt a fully formed character. The real star of the movie however is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is outstanding as the villain Owan Davian, who is after the MacGuffin “The Rabbit’s Foot”. Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, Simon Pegg, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Ving Rhames, Maggie Q and Michelle Monaghan round out a great supporting cast.
The closest thing we have in the 00’s to an Arnold or Sly is probably Jason Statham. While the Transporter series put him on the map, his greatest achievement is probably blowing our minds and punching our balls simultaneously in Crank. Like some sort of insane, live action version of GTA on crack, Crank follows the story of hitman Chev Chelios as he must keep his adrenaline high after being injected by a poison by one of his rivals. The lengths to which Chev will keep his adrenaline up just keep ramping up whether driving through a mall, injecting himself with epinephrine or having sex with his girlfriend in public. While the sequel is probably even more bat shit insane, it’s hard to top the originality of the first.
2. Iron Man
The return of Robert Downey Jr. and the start of hopefully a bunch of great, interconnected Marvel movies, Iron Man rocked the summer of 2008. Jon Favreau came in and delivered everything that fans wanted and Robert Downey Jr. was perfectly cast as billionaire playboy turned superhero Tony Stark. The special effects were amazing and while it was the origin story, it was actually interesting to see the evolution of the suit and then ultimately have to take on his former business partner Obadiah Stane in his own suit. The sequel is out in May of next year and hopefully lives up the greatness of this one.
1. Casino Royale
James Bond was in dire straits at the start of the decade, the Pierce Brosnan movies were getting more and more bloated and ridiculous, capping of with the terrible Die Another Day that saw Bond kite surfing down a glacier and the fighting a villain with a heat laser controlled by an NES Power Glove. Drastic measures were needed and it was announced that the series was going to reboot with a new Bond, Daniel Craig. The result was easily one of the best Bond movies of all time, with a gritty and more realistic take on the super spy. Almost everything about the movie is fantastic, from a great villain, great Bond girl and amazing action sequences like the construction site Parkour chase and Bond’s attempt to stop a bomber at the Miami airport. Craig is, in my opinion, the best Bond since Connery and it’s fitting that a reboot of one of the oldest action franchises resulted in the best action movie of the decade.
Honorable Mention: Avatar
Too early for me personally to grade James Cameron’s return to film. But the special effects are easily the best I’ve ever seen. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous. While the plot and some of the characters are a bit lacking, Cameron still proves he can make a great film. But over time? We’ll have to wait and see.
10. Hot Fuzz
Leave it to those blokes from across-the-pond to not only skewer nearly every action cliche in book, but to also pay deep homage with intense action as well. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead team up again as smart-arse hotshot cop Nicholas Angel and his bumbling sidekick Danny Butterman. The first half is an engaging whodunnit, but it’s the last 20 or 30 minutes of the movie where the action takes center stage. Simply put, these guys know how to make a parody that’s not a revolting mess. Bloody loved it.
9. The Transporter
The aughts turned out to be the decade of the Statham. The Transporter brought him to fame as a buff action hero named Frank. A man with a mysterious past with a mysterious job: he just transports items — illegal or not — from Point A to Point B. He keeps a firm set of rules to ensure that everything goes according to plan. That is, until he gets a package that turns out to be a living girl. Frank must break the rules, and keep her alive, all while trying to find out the truth and those responsible. A lot of great memorable action scenes occur along the way. While many blame Statham for a lack of personality, Transporter plays to this successfully.
Speaking of Transporter, Statham’s other movie franchise throws all the rules out the window. The key to Crank is over-the-top and it does it well without being completely stupid or completely overdone. The first film moves at a peppy pace. Statham is great as a hitman who must need constant adrenaline in order to survive. Lewd, crude and downright rude, Crank set the new standard for over-the-top action movies.
7. Mission: Impossible III
You never heard about Mission: Impossible III, which is kind of sad. The main reason for this is, even though it made a buttload of money, it was right around the time of Tom Cruise’s Scientology-fueled freakout. What a shame. MI:III is top-notch entertainment from director J.J. Abrams, who has proven he has a knack at telling a story. Philip Seymour Hoffman is deliciously evil as the main villian, the film speeds by at a break-neck pace. Like a lean piece of meat, Abrams cuts out all the filler; for instance, we don’t even know what is the object the main villian desires. Only that it’s called “The Rabbit’s Foot”. Cruise’s career and respectability may have taken a hit after his meltdown, but remember, a great movie got sort of lost it in all. Don’t sleep on MI:III.
6. Casino Royale
2002 was a dark year for Bond. This was when Die Another Day came out, and it’s reviews and reception proved that the film was just not up to the standards that the past Bonds lived up to. You can blame many reasons: the bad theme song, the borderline ridiculous plot, or Pierce Brosnan wearing out his welcome as Bond. Daniel Craig proved to be a controversial choice, but his calm demeanor solidified his status as an action star — the next Bond. Not to mention Royale had a great existing storyline to go on. The proof is in the first two minutes of the film, where Bond earns his 007 status with a brutal beatdown in a bathroom filmed in black-and-white. A refreshing kick-ass introduction to the new Bond.
The 2000s marked the return of the classic action stars. Not only did Bruce Willis return as John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard, Sly Stallone revived his Rocky Balboa and John Rambo characters. The impressive thing about the fourth Rambo film, simply called Rambo, is it’s dedication to just deliver a straight-up all-action movie. Rambo must save a group of Christian humanitarians who are taken captive by ruthless gang of Burmese soldiers. Gore abound as Rambo slaughters the gang, annihilating everything in his path. At one point he even sets off a small mushroom cloud in a forest explosion. Now that’s how you kick some ass.
4. The Dark Knight
Many will claim Dark Knight to be more of a “crime noir” film, and they are right. But this is still a great action movie in it’s own right. Batman and the Joker play a game of cat-and-mouse that pushes the definition of ethics. Ledger’s Joker is easily the most memorable portrayal of the character; his Oscar was well-deserved death or not. Knight also has a factor that I use to determine a great movie: although it runs over two hours, every scene and every line seems important and engaging. A triumph.
3. Spider-Man 2
The franchise that spawned a boat-load of comic book movie adaptations. The second film is the best in the trilogy-so-far. An excellent villain in Doc Ock, played superbly by veteran actor Alfred Molina, and the great battle of good-and-evil between Harry Osborn and his late father, the Green Goblin. The series would eventually face a downturn in the third film, but Spidey 2 was the standard in comic book movies for a while, until…
2. Iron Man
…Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau helped to redefine the genre. Before Iron Man, there were still a lot of skeptics who felt that comic book action movies slid along on their CGI skills only. But Favreau and crew give an honest and entertaining look at the bucket of bolts. Not to mention that Downey simply sizzles in the title role of the hero and magnate Tony Stark. Surrounded by a great cast that includes Terrance Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges, Iron Man is the textbook example of how to do a comic book movie right. The perfect mix of heart, great acting, and awesome action.
“Are you not entertained?!” screams Maximus following a bloody battle in the arena, in arguably the most memorable scene in my favorite action movie of this decade. Maximus is played convincingly by Russell Crowe, who, along with the film itself, won an Oscar. It’s easy to see why. Gladiator centers itself around tons of action, but it’s Ridley Scott’s direction that makes this epic… an epic. Throw in a scowling Joaquin Phoenix as the evil douchebag emperor Commodus. Even though we know he’ll meet a sad fate at the end, we can’t wait to see Maximus’ journey to become the great gladiator in the land – and to get his revenge. A stunning action epic that helped set the tone of the blockbuster action movies of the decade.
10. Chocolate (2008) – Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Chocolate is Thai film about a young, autistic girl who has the ability to learn various styles of martial arts through observation. When her ailing mother needs money to continue treatment, she and her bumbling friend seek out ruthless gangs to collect on the debts they owe. Using her powerful martial arts skills she fights for her family and her own survival. With one of the most amazingly intricate and long fight scenes of any movie I have seen, you can’t help but enjoy JeeJa Yanin, the female answer to Tony Jaa kicking some serious heiney. As I said earlier, this is not a numbered list, just a list of my top 10 action movies of the year. I will say that this movie actually did bumped another one of my foreign favorites, the 2005 Korean film The Legend of the Shadowless Sword, off the list.
9. Hot Fuzz (2007) – Director: Edgar Wright
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost lead this hilarious cast in what I might call the best action/dark comedy of the decade. Jealous colleagues conspire to get top London copper, Nicholas Angel (Pegg) transferred to a small town and paired with a witless new partner (Frost). After stumbling upon a series of suspicious accidents Angel begins to realize that this town is not the picturesque town it appears to be. When Wright, Pegg and Frost pair up, there is magic afoot and in this movie it is clearly apparent. If you loved Sean of the Dead, you will absolutely love this action comedy with it’s explosions, car chases, gunfights and wit. How can you not love a good English action/dark comedy?
8. Gladiator (2000) – Director: Ridley Scott
Russel Crowe and Joaquin Phoneix flex their acting and action muscles in this epic tale of a soldier betrayed and discarded only to rise up for the people. Father of a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife and he shall have his vengeance in this life, or the next. Crowe stars as Maximus Decimus Meridias, top Roman general to the emperor. When the emperor is murdered by his power-hungry son (Phoenix), Maximus barely escapes his own execution and is found by a former gladiator. Maximus is nursed back to health only to discover what has been done to his family and sets upon a path to vengeance as a gladiator. Gladiator has some of the best action and acting of any of the movies on my list. An epic tale, set in an epic time, it is a true joy to watch.
7. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – Director: Guillermo del Toro
Written and Directed by the generally amazing Guillermo del Toro, this sequel to the 2004 Hellboy is chocked full of larger then life action, horrifying and fantastic monsters and beautiful visual effects. The mythical world that exists in harmony, yet hidden to our own begins to rebel against humanity in order to take over rule of the Earth. So Hellboy and his team from the BPRD gear up to save the world from the hordes of rebellious mythical creatures. Though this movie is lacking in a couple areas, it is a true wonder to watch. The things that come from Guillermo’s mind and into the film are truly astounding to behold. Its hard to not love an action film that includes a heavy dose of fantasy, mixed with gunfights, martial arts, monsters and the acting connection of Ron Perlman, Doug Jones and Selma Blair.
6. Ong Bak (2003) – Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Director Prachya Pinkaew’s second film on my list is nothing short of ground breaking. Ong Bak is the Thai martial arts film that has, and will continue to pave the way for many action films to come out of Thailand. Thai action star Tony Jaa leads the cast as Ting, a young martial artist who leaves his home in search of the man who has stolen a piece of the most sacred statue in his village, the Ong Bak. His journey takes him on a long and dark path through the Thai criminal underworld in urban Thailand. This movie contains some of the best fight and stunt sequences you will ever see, showcasing Jaa’s unique athletic abilities perfectly. Though the plot is very basic, this movie more then makes up for it with the amazing feats that Jaa is able to accomplish sans wires. This is a must see film for anyone who likes martial arts or foreign action films.
5. Star Trek (2009) – Director: J. J. Abrams
If you have not heard anything about this movie yet, you honestly have been living under a rock. This film is a complete reboot of the original Star Trek series by the man who brought us Lost and Fringe. The film tells of the origins of the future great James T. Kirk (Chris Pine of Smokin’ Aces), a sharp but aimless young man who’s prodded by a Starfleet captain, Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to enlist and make a difference. At the Academy, Kirk runs afoul of a Vulcan commander named Spock (Zachary Quinto of Heroes), but their conflict has to take a back seat when Starfleet, including its new ship, the Enterprise, has to answer an emergency call from Vulcan. What follows is a stirring tale of genocide and revenge launched by a Romulan (Eric Bana) with a particular interest in Spock, and we get to see the familiar crew come together, including McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), and Scottie (Simon Pegg). The movie has a very healthy mix of drama, comedy and action which make it a film to be loved by all. In this case it was the action that brought it on to my list with numerous space battles, gun fights, a bar fight and a space diving/BASE jumping sequence thrown in there. It may not be your fathers Star Trek, but I am pretty damn sure you will both enjoy it.
4. Quantum of Solace (2008) – Director: Marc Foster
For the first time in James Bond film history, this story is a direct continuation of the the 2006 Bond film, Casino Royal. Bond (Daniel Craig of Defiance) and “M” (the great Judi Dench) sniff a shadowy international network of power and corruption reaping billions. As Bond pursues the agents of an assassination attempt on “M,” all roads lead to Dominic Greene, a world-renowned developer of green technology. Greene, a nasty piece of work, is intent on securing a barren area of Bolivia in exchange for assisting a strongman stage a coup there. The CIA looks the other way, and only Bond, with help from a retired spy and from a mysterious beauty, stands in Greene’s way. “M” wonders if she can trust Bond, or if vengeance possesses him. It is part of the reboot of the 007 franchise and is quite the action movie. Right from the first second you are pushed to the edge of your seat as you drop into a meticulously shot chase sequence. From there, it only gets better and better as Craig plays the role of brooding James Bond to perfection and is supported by an amazing cast. If you have not yet seen the new Bond, I highly recommend this film for its great locations, fantastic cast (I may be in love with Olga Kurylenko) and amazing James Bond action sequences.
3. The Patriot (2000) – Director: Roland Emmerich
Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is a South Carolina planter who is still haunted by his notoriously brutal past as a soldier in the French and Indian War. When the American Revolution comes, he chooses not to fight in order to protect his family. But when the British Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs of the Harry Potter films) threatens their welfare and kills one of his sons, he chooses to enlist. Martin becomes the leader of a makeshift militia, which consists of peasants, slaves, a minister, and assorted other irregulars. With a tad of history, and the combat of a forgotten era, The Patriot is one of the best classic styled action films ever made. Like Gladiator, it is historically accurate to a certain extent while taking liberties to ensure entertainment value. This is one of the movies I can watch over and over without it getting old.
2. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and 2 (2003, 2004) – Director: Quentin Tarantino
Known for its stylized violence and amazing fight choreography, this classically told two part film starring Uma Thurman is a brutal tale of revenge. The Bride wakes up after a long coma. The baby that she carried before entering the coma is gone. The only thing on her mind is getting revenge on the assassination team that betrayed her – a team she was once part of. This film is chocked full of nods to classic action films from several different cultures, most noticeably Japanese samurai films. Its cast is stocked with iconic actors and actresses from several nations. The action, oh it is like nothing seen in the last 20 years. It might have single-handedly brought the pulp action genre, a genre that Tarantino has been a big part of, back to the main stage.
1. Avatar (2009) – Director: James Cameron
As a birthday gift I was taken to see what has become one of my favorite movies to date, James Camron’s Avatar. Avatar is the story of a paraplegic marine name Jake Sully (Sam Worthington of Terminator: Salvation and MacBeth) who is attached to a science division of a corporate mining operation on a far away planet called Pandora. Tasked with the job of ‘avatar driver,’ Sully is able to control a hybrid version of the local humanoid in order to gather intel about their culture. However he soon finds himself bonding with the indigenous Na’vi. It is a story of adventure, understanding, greed, hate, heart and love. The movie as a whole is absolutely breath taking and full of undiscovered action elements that you will not see anywhere else. This is one of the few films that I can say is actually worth going to see in 3D. As action fans I REQUIRE that you all see this movie at some point.