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11 Quintessential Action Films You Should Have Seen by Now

A Guide for the Essential Action Movies You Should Have Seen By Now

Inevitably, whenever film critics and commentators put together a list of best action films, you’ll see a great amount of variety. This is because the action film genre lends itself to a plethora of subgenres and cross-genres. Among them: Action comedy, Action horror, Disaster films, Martial arts films, Sci-fi action films, Spy films, Action thrillers, and Superhero films. Because of this, the definition of an action film may be hard to establish, much less coming up with a list of essential action films.

Action films and franchises are still very popular with audiences, as Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation has proved over the past few weeks. Earlier this year, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road was released to extremely enthusiastic reviews.

Despite the deluge of sub genres, there are still quintessential action films to be named. While this list might not be entirely personal, these are titles I feel every action junky should have on their shelf.

Let’s take a look at our selections for 11 Quintessential Action Films You Should Have Seen by Now.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) d. George Miller

George Miller recently reminded us again how brilliant of an action director he is with the latest Mad Max: Fury Road, but 34 years earlier he made on of the most astonishing action films with The Road Warrior. The film is a non-stop action-fest from beginning to end, and the climactic chase features some of the most amazing driving and stunt work ever captured on film.

RoboCop (1987) d. Paul Verhoeven

Underappreciated Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film is perhaps the most subversive action film of all time. The Sci-fi classic skewers large-scale corporate-controlled business, pop culture, and government, all the while remaining acutely aware that it is a form of mass-market entertainment.

The Matrix (1999) d. The Wachowskis

A mash up of many genres and ideas, the first Matrix film remains The Wachowskis best example of combining heavy ideas into mainstream entertainment. Also, their popularizing of “bullet time” influenced an entire generation of action films.

Lethal Weapon (1987) d. Richard Donner

Lethal Weapon helped redefine action films of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Screenwriter Shane Black shifted the focus of action films from the homoerotic right wing silliness of the Reagan era, to focusing on character development. The sequels were gradually worse, but there’s no denying the original’s impact.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) d. Paul Greengrass

By the late 90’s action films started to become a bit stale. The Bourne series reignited action films for the new century, with relentlessly paced, intense action scenes that have been copied by mostly lesser films.

Enter the Dragon (1973) d. Robert Clouse

Before action/martial arts stars were a dime a dozen, there was Bruce Lee. In this his only American produced film (Lee died six days before the film’s release), Lee’s signature is all over this, leaving a lasting legacy that’s still loved to this very day.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) d. James Cameron

James Cameron’s sequel gets the slight nod over the original Terminator because of its innovative use of CGI in an action film setting that stretched the possibilities of how action films could be put together.

Aliens (1986) d. James Cameron

Another James Cameron sequel gets the nod, and while I generally don’t like to double up on an individual director’s films, I don’t think you’ll mind me picking these two Cameron films.

Hard Boiled (1992) d. John Woo

Hard Boiled was John Woo’s last Hong Kong film before his transition to Hollywood, and man it’s a doozy. After making films that glamorized gangsters (and receiving criticism for doing so), Woo wanted to make a Dirty Harry styled film to glamorize the police. But, with all due respect to Harry Callahan, he has nothing on Chow Yun-fat’s Inspector “Tequila” Yuen. Sadly, while Woo has made some successful Hollywood films, he has never come close to duplicating his innovative Hong Kong action films.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) d. Steven Spielberg

Spielberg’s famous action adventure franchise kicks off with one of the most thrilling action sequences in movie history. As if that weren’t enough, the film is littered with memorable action scenes and a supercharged forward momentum.

Die Hard (1988) d. John McTiernan

Come on, was there any doubt that Die Hard wouldn’t be on this list? This 1988 classic redefined both the action movie and the action star, creating the formula “terrorists take over a [blank] and a lone hero must go up against them.”

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