Honorable Mentions: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. (1996), Maniac Cop 2 (1990), The Expendables 2 (2012), Blade II (2002), Goldfinger (1964), Predator 2 (1990), Aliens (1986), Magnum Force (1973), Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995), Rambo (2008)
5. Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
If you thought the first Crank was insane, then you haven't seen the sequel High Voltage. Jason Statham returns as Chev Chelios, and this time his heart has been stolen and replaced with an artificial one that needs a constant electric charge. Chelios, pissed about the situation he finds himself in, runs around the city trying to track down the man responsible for stealing his heart, getting into various ridiculous fights while keeping his heart charged. Chelios rubs up against an old woman to create static charge, he grabs live electrical wires to get a charge, and he has massive public sex with his stripper girlfriend played the uber hot Amy Smart. That's just some of the stuff Chelios gets into. If you haven't seen this modern action classic, good God you need to track it down and watch it now. You have never seen anything quite like Crank 2: High Voltage.
4. Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)
Under Siege 2 finds Steven Seagal's ex-Navy SEAL/restaurant owner Casey Ryback babysitting his niece on a train when the train is hijacked by heavily armed mercenaries working for Travis Dane (a brilliant Eric Bogosian), a believed dead disgruntled weapons researcher who has stolen a super secret satellite weapon and plans on using it to nuke the eastern seaboard. The train acts as a sort of moving terrorist headquarters, making it difficult for the U.S. government to find Dane and stop him. But Ryback is on the train, and since he's all about kicking ass and whatnot, he takes it upon himself to rescue the hostages, kill just about every mercenary with his bare hands, and stop Dane before he's able to follow through on his dastardly plan. It's kind of hard to believe that anyone could top the bad guy tag team of Tommy Lee Jones and Busey, but Bogosian and Everett McGill, who plays the sadistic mercenary leader Marcus Penn, manage to do so. It would be great if Seagal could find a way to make movies like this one again. I think the action movie loving world would approve.
"Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups!"- Mr. Penn
3. Revenge of the Ninja (1983)
Revenge of the Ninja is the second movie in the Cannon "Ninja" cycle (Enter the Ninja was the first movie, and Ninja III: The Domination followed Revenge), although it really has nothing to do with any of the other movies in the "Ninja" cycle. The only thing the movies have in common is the presence of the great Sho Kosugi. Kosugi stars in Revenge as a former ninja who just wants to live in peace (he saw his family slaughtered before his eyes by a band of ninjas, and after killing all of those ninjas he decides all he wants to do is be an artist and live the quiet life). Kosugi's character takes his mother and young son to Los Angeles and opens an art gallery, and for a little while Kosugi gets to live the quiet life. But then Kosugi finds out that his business partner, a guy named Braden (Arthur Roberts), is using his art gallery to move drugs, and that just pisses Kosugi off. On top of that, Braden, a ninja himself, goes around town killing various mob guys so he can make even more money. That pisses Kosugi off, too. The violence has to end. And the violence does end, right after Kosugi dons his own ninja outfit and kills a bunch of people. Just an awesome, awesome movie. Sho Kosugi is a ninja God.
2. Death Wish 3 (1985)
The third Death Wish flick has big Chuck Bronson's architect/vigilante Paul Kersey return to New York City to visit with Charlie, an old Korean War buddy, who is murdered by a local gang of scumbag thugs as soon as Kersey gets into town. After being arrested for carrying an unregistered firearm within the city limits, Kersey makes a deal with a local police detective (Shriker, played by the immortal Ed Lauter) to go into Charlie's neighborhood and take out the gang that's terrorizing the area. If Kersey kills the bad guys he stays out of jail. Sick and ridiculous? Absolutely. But then the world that Kersey lives in is sick and ridiculous. Watching Kersey take out the gang, led by Gavan O'Herlihy's Fraker, is pure joy. He shows the bad guys no mercy, and you never once feel sorry for any of them (the people living in the neighborhood actually cheer when they watch Kersey shoot a purse snatcher in public. And why shouldn't they?). The movie ends with one of the most insane and ridiculous riots in movie history.
Be on the lookout for the great Martin Balsam, as an old fool who tries to take out gang members with a giant machine gun, and for the Wildey Magnum, the big ass handgun that Kersey gets in the mail. Awesome flick. I love every second of it.
1. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
When you look at Rambo: First Blood Part II and First Blood, it's kind of hard to believe that they're related in any way. While First Blood is a non-stop action movie, it's also chock full of serious drama moments and features one of the best emotional breakdown scenes in movie history. Rambo: First Blood Part II, on the other hand, is a big, ridiculous cartoon. Yes, it deals with a serious issue, whether or not there are still American POWs in Vietnam, but you never get the sense that the movie even treats that issue as real. It's just an excuse to get Sylvester Stallone's Rambo into Vietnam so he can kill a bunch of Commies. And when the movie is over you're okay with that and you want to watch it again. Director George P. Cosmatos knew how to film an action scene, with machine guns, exploding arrows, and just general explosives. When people think of Rambo, this is the movie they are thinking about. It's the home of an iconic movie character. And that's ultimately why this movie is number one on this list.
Honorable Mentions - Wow so many mentions, so many choices! I tried to stay away from action films which wandered into other genres like fantasy etc. but that ruins the fun. There are sequels which distance themselves from their original genre like 28 Weeks Later and make their concepts more action-y for the better. Similarly, I stayed well away from comic book films but it would be amiss for me to acknowledge a massive success which undoubtedly gained for a following the cinema format over comics - Blade 2.
Sci-Fi were a bit more fair game all things considered. Predator 2, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and (unlucky not to getting 5th) Star Trek Into Darkness are at least as good as their original counterparts to me. The Bourne Supremacy was on par with the first Bourne before the series started going downhill. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade features plenty of Nazi despatching and diplomatic immunity prevents Lethal Weapon 2 getting on my list.
5. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Undead pirates not good enough for you in Disney's first Pirates Of The Caribbean outing? Me neither, which is why I fully embrace the sheer lunacy and ridiculous amounts of action and CGI here. Boat to Boat sea battles. Tribesmen chases. Pirate sword fights. Squid men. Sword fight on a giant mill wheel. Jack Sparrow face to face with a scurvy Kraken. Dead Man's Chest took the POTC concept and characters and went wild with glorious abandon. Shame the third one is so boring and overly complex after this cracker of a sequel really.
4. Die Hard With A Vengeance
Arguably the best Die Hard, With A Vengeance is the third outing of the franchise before it noticeably dropped in quality. A deadly game of Simon Says all over New York City sees Bruce Willis' put upon John McClane have yet another pretty bad day. With a younger Samuel L. Jackson in tow, McClane must solve the mystery of Simon whilst dealing with water puzzles, subway train wrecks, school bomb threats and surfing dump trucks. The ultimate in escalation in an action movie.
3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Definitely THE example of taking a first movie and making it better, bigger and louder. The sequel to the film that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger into super stardom is the true highlight of the 1990's big science fiction action films. Terminator 2: Judgment Day features a switch of Arnold going from hunter to protector Terminator in a top quality sequel as he squares off against an advanced model beyond him in the T-1000. Notable for the emotional connection Terminator Arnold develops with teenage John Connor, the future saviour of the human race, James Cameron gets in a tonne more action and explosions with some ridiculously cool effects for the time.
What do you do when you're left with the uneviable task of following up one of the best sci-fi/horror films of all time? Well if you're James F. Cameron, you take it to the next level and change half the genre. Aliens picks up where the original Alien left off with Sigourney Weaver's Ripley being awakened from hypersleep yet things go up the creek and xenomorphs take over LV-426. A group of marines, tooled up to the max, are sent in to investigate with Ripley as their guide on the goddamn space monsters. What follows is a two hour ripsnorter of an action film which contains everything you could want possibly want in an exploration of the xenomorph mythology.
1. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
True fact about me – I don't like Mad Max and I'm half okay with the third one, Beyond Thunderdome. It fails to live up to it's potential as a post-apocalypse warrior revenge tale and the kids ruins a thoroughly good third outing. Well Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior accomplishes it's task in delivering one of the greatest films ever with Mel Gibson's unhinged Max wandering the Australian outback, taking on the legions of the Lord Humongous as the two clash over probably the last oil drill in the world. What follows is an amazingly colourful series of scraps and chases, culminating in the iconic truck chase at the end of the film. On a personal level, this is the only time I can remember of seeing an original film with wasted potential but the same cast and crew coming back and fulfilling a remit and character's purpose.
5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Whereas the first Terminator movie was a bit low-key, James Cameron decided to go all out for the follow-up. The idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a reprogrammed Terminator protecting a young John Connor was good and adding Robert Patrick as the shape-shifting T-1000 was better. People today don't understand just how stunning the initial CGI morphing effects were in 1991 and made this movie a must-see. But Cameron added to it with his unique direction of truck chases, Linda Hamilton as a total bad-ass, the fine musical score and some iconic moments ("Hasta la vista, baby") plus a moving finale that showed that bigger is better but can also sometimes mean a better film as well.
4. Fast and the Furious 6
How many movie series can boast to being more successful in their sixth installments than the first? Bringing together all the actors from the previous films in one package, the movie is utterly ludicrous and yet you can't help loving it. The car chases are amazing, from the streets of London to chasing a tank and the fights aren't bad, especially Gina Carano taking on Michelle Rodriguez. The finale is a wild affair on a cargo jet plane with fights, car explosions and more and just when you think it's all over, the final scene shows a major set-up for the sequel. It may be wild but in a good way, showcasing how sometimes, just enjoying wild action is a fun ride in itself.
3. Die Hard 2
25 years later, the original Die Hard is a stunning film, still standing up as a pitch-perfect action film. The sequel takes a unique idea of having John McClane (Bruce Willis) working more in the open when he stumbles on a plot by a group of renegade military officers to free a drug lord at a D.C. Airport on Christmas Eve. Willis is still great as the man in the wrong place at the wrong time, relying more on his wits against this massive army and doing a good job of it. Renny Harlin keeps the action moving well with shootouts, a snowmobile chase and more along with a pretty good plot twist late in the film that shifts things up. Plus, it still contains one of the best moments of the entire series as, just when it looks like the terrorists are getting away, the scrappy McClane fires up a victory with that now-iconic line. Maybe not as brilliant as the first film but still a great ride.
The first Alien movie is a thriller of the highest order, using the tension of the closed space of the ship to enhance the attacks of the evil creature. For the sequel, James Cameron decided to go all out. After all, if one Alien could freak out audiences, why not hundreds of them? Sigourney Weaver was allowed to showcase the toughness of Ripley more, a woman who slept through her daughter's entire life and is now trying to find her way. The Marines aren't a bad bunch (especially Paxton and Biehn) and the action sequences are terrific, enhanced by James Horner's bombastic musical score. It builds up nicely to a terrific climax with Weaver battling the monstrous Alien Queen (a fantastic creation of the late, great Sam Winston) and showing the rare case of a sequel that can top the original nicely in action.
1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
For the record, I am not one of those fans who think Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was an utter travesty that ruined the series. I do acknowledge it was probably doomed for trying to top such a wonderful capper to the original trilogy. Spielberg and Lucas were at the top of their game when they produced the 1989 actioner with Indiana Jones searching for the Lost Grail. Packed with great stunts and the always reliable Nazis as bad guys, the reason it shines is the brilliant idea to cast Sean Connery as Indy's father. He and Ford have a wonderful chemistry as we see the case of a father and son bonding together amid the action only Indiana Jones can pull off and is everything a fine adventure movie should be.