By: Cam Sully
I start my mission to rank the best Action films by year. I start with 1980 and continue my route into present-day. As cool as DTV and TV can be, I’m requiring that these films have at least been given a festival or limited theatrical run, contain plentiful action (no brief combat here!) and if there are any sequels the same year then the better of the two gets picked (not both).
10) The Hunter
Often shat on (rather brutally I might say) and mainly noted as Steve McQueen’s final role, this film still remains worth a look. It definitely has lots doing for it, especially more so than the Dirty Harry sequels after Magnum Force, let alone John Wayne’s various family fare and attempts at tough guy cop pictures. Many have stated that they don’t understand the plot but other than a few unresolved subplots, I see nothing confusing here about a bounty hunter pursuing various fugitives and bail-jumpers while handling the reality of the not-so-glamourous lifestyle it presents. The supporting cast, consisting of Kathryn Harrold, LeVar Burton, Tracy Walter, Ben Johnson, Eli Wallach and even stuntman Thomas Rosales Jr. in an earlier role, all disappear into their perplex roles and the film has some competent establishing shots yet apparently that wasn’t enough to prepare everyone for the moody material. I’m also seeing complaints about there being slow moments but if that wasn’t an issue with The Sand Peebles, Great Escape and Bullitt, then why is that an issue here? Speaking of Bullitt, the car chases do absolutely deliver here in this film and there’s no lack of dramatic tension and the film does allow suspense especially with showing how McQueen’s bounty hunter Thorson is past his prime but still capable of handling dangerous scenarios.The musical score also allows plenty of effective build-up while complimenting the pre-established mood. If it ever comes on AMC cable TV or a local antenna station, sit back and give it a watch.
9. The Dogs of War
Two years after The Deer Hunter and eleven prior to McBain, Chris Walken showed that he was the go-to for appearing in uncanny War flicks. I had initially struggled with this film twice before but I was a young lad back then so I reexamined it and low and behold, it truly does become a fulfilling slow burn film that’s part revenge flick, part men on a mission. The African scenery is gorgeous when it’s not becoming a war zone, the mood and themes are worth digesting if not new and the inevitable ass-kicking finally does deliver in that respect so please dig it up if you haven’t. One things for sure, it’s got to go on this damn list! The musical score is also worth seeking out given how this isn’t a speech-filled movie and it helps craft a lot of the inner thoughts, emotions and blood-soaked adventure every step of the way.
8-7. The Sea Wolves / North Sea Hijack
The Sea Wolves is a fun fun WWII-set men on a mission movie with various faces and crewmembers from The Guns of Navarone and James Bond franchise make up this reasonable outing. Well-casted and engaging, if not always as daring as it could be, it wastes no time with said wasting of baddies by the good guys and while not deep, it’s also not uninspired or dull. Solid locations, score and tactical detailing lend it many favors, which all that alone amounts to why it’s one of the best for this year in action. The other one, North Sea Hijack, while not as fast-paced and strategic (see what I did there), is still pretty gripping once it gets going. Nonetheless, it’s so solid that one almost wishes that the former had been a direct Guns of Navarone sequel if there was some change-up in time period and setting given how co-stars Peck and Niven both appear rather professional as expected while adding much to the proceedings with their characterizations. And the latter could’ve easily been a James Bond film with remodeling as well- either way, both are solid films and must-sees for Roger Moore fanboys.
6. Hawk the Slayer
Okay, now this is one outrageous film, and that’s whether you’re watching the uncut version or the RiffTrax version (not like there’s any difference in length, it’s just that you either get “funny” or “funny” with extra amusing commentary on top of it all). Yes, Flash Gordon is tons of fun but it’s action is mainly in the last 20 minutes and primarily scifi-fantasy so I went with this other campy entry. There’s something to be said for a film just being its own deal without taking you entirely out of it. It’s not perfect as the main hero doesn’t really emote until the final battle, the whole setup doesn’t click at first and the music score is deliberately all over the place in its style but takes some getting adjusting to at first. Nonetheless, it’s still worth seeing for completists of all dark sorcery flicks and it is endlessly rewatchable thanks to being lively, comfortable being its own odd self and setting by example in a good way instead of being low-brow much like latter Fantasy films of this era.
5.Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior
While The Night of the Juggler was somewhat fascinating material, it also wasn’t a must-see. Kagemusha itself though is a stunning epic and while it’s action was rather restricted, even by Kurosawa standards, so I had to pick it as it’s an atypical film that doesn’t get enough love. Even for those impatient types, you’d still be damn to call this a poorly made film with no rendering of the themes and historical backdrop.
4. The Long Riders
A brutal Walter Hill Western epic that delivers while featuring real-life sibling actors playing real-life outlaw siblings. A great coming-of-age film AND a well-developed film as a whole, once the genre requirement of more horse ridden robberies and knife fighting comes into play, everyone’s in for a treat because once again you have story interest and the slow yet effective build-up makes one all the more anxious for resolution before one finds that there is no happy ending for any of these characters in sight. Definitely a film worth seeing on a home theater setup or at a local theater’s anniversary screening.
3. The Big Red One
Wether you’ve see the original or extended cut, this film is very visceral and as unflinching as the earlier Samuel Fuller film, The Steel Helmet. This film features Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine and many more as soldiers coming to terms with their ever-changing personas while faced behind post-WWII frontlines. Both morbid and daring, this film was underappreciated at the time and in some ways still is today. It’s not always an easy sit but it’s must-see material and a rather riveting war picture due to the morbid talk and being well-rounded in every department when it’s not making the viewer uneasy from the brutal imagery and realizations that follows.
2. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
The second film on here featuring Mark Hamill is also a keeper! You’ve heard it all- how it is argued as being better than the original and one of the best sequels of all time; a great scifi film; a dark brooding film with gripping philosophy and shocking twist ending; the countless other films and shows that both mocked and ripped this one off to death! But let’s briefly detail why it’s stellar: it upped the stakes for the heroic trio, it gave more backstory to the seemingly invincible yet freaky antagonist, it juggled all these various other themes and elements without feeling unorganized and in terms of action, it’s the kind that drives the material forward and makes one lose their breath on each viewing. High-class entertainment with memorable quotes and battles FTW!
1. The Stunt Man
Easily one of the best movie-within-a-movie films ever conceived, this film also has an uncanny testosterone and many complex layers which make it all the more exciting. The helmer Richard Rush comments that it’s an Action, satirical comedy and a Crime Drama all in one and he’s right as you get all those twisted elements and moments all well interconnected which makes all the more sense as to why the film studio decided to be stuck up and not distribute it properly. The stunts are well-configured into the main premise: an ex-con who gets asked by an English filmmaker to be the stunt double for the leading man in an already troubled expensive film shoot. It flows like no tomorrow but at the end of it, you end up wanting more as it’s so dreamy, fascinating, intense and a tour de force by all the performers as well.
if there are any films set within the behind-the-scenes area of the film industry while also making use of its gimmick and not afraid to be its own fictional film without being implausible, it’s got to be this film right here! And because it’s simply a well-formatted film dealing with all the genre pieces, executing the pay-off perfectly and never insulting the viewers intelligence or feeling overlong, it’s got to be number one for the entire year!
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