With “The Fate of the Furious” ready to blow out our senses this weekend, it would be remiss to ignore the 10 greatest action films of the current millennium that came before it. Below you’ll find the most explosively awesome of the lot.
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
Roaring back after a long absence, George Miller pulverizes the notion that there’s no cinematic landscape for old men. Tom Hardy’s Max is a man compelled to live on the harsh, violent edge, and yet he resonates compassion. Tougher than him is Furiosa, played with gritty exquisiteness by the always superb Charlize Theron. The film’s greatest twist is how little it spends on Max in favor of its feminist leanings, empowering its female characters to be saviors of their own perils. Among its legendary sequences, the final chase featuring the polecats is a masterclass execution in music, visuals, stunts and editing. Miller deserved a “Best Director” Oscar for his magnum opus, a film best described as a climactic ride of the highest voltage.
2. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000)
Ang Lee’s gravity-defying wuxia masterpiece is still the leader among Gods of fighting choreography. Outdoing his work in “The Matrix,” Yuen Woo-ping creates prodigious art through movement. A stunning showcase of formality and nobility coming loose at the seams, actors Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi make for a powerful trifecta of clashing desires. A paradox of poetic softness and primal ferocity, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” tore down the walls of Western ignorance forever.
3. “The Raid: Redemption” (2012)
Gareth Evans’ little-seen “The Raid: Redemption” assails with seamless martial arts choreography and epic gunfire. Structured like a video game whereby each floor represents a level, “Raid” certainly matches that medium’s immersion factor. Unlike its bloated sequel, “Raid” focuses less on story and more on giving genre fans exactly what bought their ticket.
4. “Kill Bill: Volume 1” (2003)
This heroine’s journey to enact vengeance on the people who nearly killed her on her wedding day is a fountain of bombastic bloodshed. Director Quentin Tarantino curries favor with audiences by not deviating from his pulpy charm. However, he doesn’t alter the visual delights and action sensibilities of the Eastern action cinema auteurs he so reveres. By the time the Bride faces the Crazy 88, it’s evident that there’s no limitations to Tarantino’s brand of mayhem. And we revel in that realization.
5. “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003)
Even with a plot that goes in every direction but coherent, this sequel is still an action lover’s paradise. Don Davis’ riveting electronic score is a large contributor to why certain sequences work masterfully. Whether it’s combating a legion of Agent Smiths or engaging in an epic freeway chase via motorcycle, there’s no shortage of heroic high-wire acts. Lacking the original’s thematic density doesn’t prevent “Reloaded” from pioneering action sequences worth aspiring to.
6. “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)
Justin Lin’s “Fast and Furious 6” makes the ludicrous seem rational. The never-ending runway sequence alone automatically reserves its spot on this list. Amid the explosions and the death-defying stunts is heartwarming camaraderie and love. Dom risking it all by jumping to save his beloved Letty mid-air is one of cinema’s most powerful romantic moments. Before the tragedy of Paul Walker’s horrific passing loomed over the franchise, this outing reminds us that the “feels” extend beyond the action.
7. “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (2011)
The fourth entry is the best in the series thanks to Brad Bird’s deft direction. The franchise’s peak action moment features star Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa. That entire sequence is shot to precision, where the action has a balletic rhythm that’s near incomparable. I couldn’t tell you what the plot is, but Cruise and company make such nauseating story requirements completely irrelevant. All that matters is our suspension of disbelief and allowance for guaranteed fun.
8. “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)
Paul Greengrass’ tight direction and Christopher Rouse’s tour de force make this Bourne entry a suspense staple. Matt Damon as an amnesic ex-government killer is a powerhouse of adrenaline. The film’s pivotal moment is a spine-tingling rooftop chase that builds to combative crescendo. The only ultimatum here is that you need to experience this masterpiece for yourself.
9. “Collateral” (2004)
Michael Mann’s return to form sees a silver-haired Tom Cruise go “Terminator” on Jamie Foxx’s innocent taxi driver. Both actors deliver career-high performances. Their bizarre yet highly effective onscreen chemistry makes the cat-and-mouse proceedings all the better. Club shootouts and street chases make the tough streets of Los Angeles even rougher than their earned reputation. Mann’s ability to capture the beauty of LA nightlife against the backdrop of such turbulent melodrama is a testament to his artistry.
10. “Logan” (2017)
James Mangold’s Wolverine conclusion is less superhero than it is meditative action melodrama. Touching on sensitive topics like #BlackLivesMatter and illegal immigration, there isn’t a millisecond of emotional time wasted. Hyper-violent but understandably so given its rugged anti-hero, it’s difficult to find a superior action movie that echoes as much pain. As the titular character, Hugh Jackman is carnal aggression personified. His primal instincts are ready to tear apart all who come after his mysterious child companion and friend, Xavier. As the mutant professor, Patrick Stewart has never imbued such humor or internal sadness. Awards could shower this early critical darling. However, its true legacy will be its reformation of a genre thought to only derive surface pleasures.