I’ve got to say, coming up with a list of the top 50 best action movies of the 2000’s was pretty tough. With the incredible leap in technology over the last decade the improvement in special effects – the meat and potatoes of any good action movie – has been exponential. This improvement has especially allowed sci-fi and fantasy movies to really improve and the era of rubber monsters is well behind us. You’ll also note that many of the movies on this list – unlike films from years gone by – actually feature top-notch acting, and you’ll see more than one Oscar winning film included. Here are my picks for the 50 best action movies of the decade:
50 – Gone in 60 Seconds – Though he has a diverse body of work on his acting resume, at one point Nicholas Cage was primarily an action star. With hits like Con Air and The Rock, Cage was for a time in a league with Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He continued into the early 2000’s, starring alongside Angelina Jolie in this classic caper movie. Speed junkies will get their fill of adrenaline in this car theft action thriller.
49 – V for Vendetta – Natalie Portman puts forth one of the best performances of her career in this stylish futuristic thriller about a vigilante freedom fighter battling against a totalitarian government.
48 – Pitch Black – Action star Vin Diesel gained world-wide fame for his roles in the movies The Fast and the Furious and xXx. However, it was this dark sci-fi film that gave him his first break, and helped make him one of the most popular action stars of the first half of the 2000’s.
47 – Mission Impossible II – Though not as good as the original classic, the second installment in Tom Cruise’s action series delivers plenty of breathless moments for action junkies. With John Woo at the helm there is no shortage of slow motion stunts, including some incredible car chase and motorcycle scenes that for even the most forgiving action movie fans might border on the ridiculous.
46 – I Am Legend – Much like Tom Hanks’ Castaway, this film has the main character alone and talking to himself throughout much of the film. Despite that this film based on the novel by Richard Matheson manages to be wildly entertaining, and when the pace starts to pick up it quickly becomes breathtaking.
45 – Cloverfield – Hope you took your Gravol before attending this film. Much like The Blair Witch Project there is plenty of shaky cam footage to endure. However, when you finally get a good glimpse of what is wreaking all the havoc prepare to be blown away.
44 – Hellboy – Though films like The Dark Knight, the Spiderman trilogy, the X-Men movies, and Iron Man have been soaking up much of the superhero love in recent years, this antihero graphic novel adaptation has managed to build a pretty substantial cult following. Ron Perlman is brilliant in the lead role, and it is hard to imagine anyone else taking on this character. With great special effects, incredible costume and make-up design, and some monumental fight scenes, this film (and its sequel) are highly enjoyable and underrated.
43 – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – This film was the realization of every young male video game junkie’s dream. The voluptuous, luscious-lipped Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast as short-shorts-wearing, two-gun-toting, English archaeologist Lara Croft. The plot is passable, the acting decent, but really this is all about guys drooling over the real life version of their digital heroine.
42 – Charlie’s Angels – Speaking of drooling over female protagonists, this adaptation of the popular 1970’s TV show gives men plenty of eye candy to enjoy. Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu star as the angels, and with frenetic action and some surprising humor this film is entertaining from beginning to end. Sam Rockwell plays a great villain, and Bill Murray is stellar as always in his role as Bosley.
41 – Crank – One of the biggest action stars of the past decade has undoubtedly been Jason Statham. Thus, it should come as a surprise to no one to see his name all over this list of the best action movies of the 2000’s. Statham again delivers the goods in this creative action firm about a man who must go to extraordinary lengths to keep his heart racing. Though it may strain credulity at times, it never descends into utter ridiculousness. Sadly the same cannot be said of the terrible sequel.
40 – Troy – If Tomb Raider is a film for the guys, then the ladies will love this one. Brad Pitt packed on the muscle for his turn as Achilles in this epic telling on the ancient Greek tale. Vast in scope this film features incredible set design, realistic costume design, and some truly exhilarating battle sequences.
39 – The Transporter – Jason Statham makes another appearance on our list, this time putting his real life driving skills to the test as a very specialized delivery man. He has to deal with a few more obstacles than your average UPS driver though, and there is no shortage of explosions, fights, and breathtaking car chases as Statham’s Frank Martin attempts to execute his duties.
38 – Shanghai Noon – One of the most unlikely duos in action movie history Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson actually have some pretty good chemistry. Humor abounds in this East meets Old West comedy/western/action picture. If you somehow missed this film or just haven’t seen it in a while definitely grab the DVD from the 99 cent bin.
37 – Mr. & Mrs. Smith – Lara Croft and Achilles (Jolie and Pitt) team up in this clever spy thriller about a pair of secret agents who get married to one another without knowing what their respective spouse actually does for a living. Things get complicated when the two wind up on opposite sides of the same job.
36 – Spiderman – Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated superhero movie of all time, Spiderman saw comic book fans line up in droves to see the webcrawler brought to life on the big screen for the first time. CGI special effects finally allowed director Sam Raimi to do Peter Parker’s alter ego justice, and the film earned rave reviews from fans and critics alike, hauling in over $400 million domestically.
35 – The Fellowship of the Ring – Speaking of eagerly anticipated adaptations, perhaps none can match the big screen realization of the greatest work of fantasy fiction ever created. Director Peter Jackson finally delivered J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece to the big screen in the style it so richly deserved. With sweeping sets and epic battle scenes, particular the fight in Moria against the cave troll, this film is a no-brainer for inclusion on the list.
34 – Rambo – You can’t have a list of the best action movies without at least one appearance by Sylvester Stallone. Perhaps the biggest action movie star of all time, Stallone might be getting long in the tooth, but
he proved with this return to the franchise that catapulted him into fame as an action movie icon that he still has the ability to thrill action movie audiences. In my opinion, this 2008 film rivals First Blood as the best in the series.
33 – X-Men – You might have realized by now that I am a fan of superhero movies. Before Spiderman smashed records in 2002, Marvel unleashed a big screen adaptation of another one of their popular comic books. Though it didn’t achieve quite the same level of box office success the film did rake in enough dollars to justify a pair of sequels, as well as a Wolverine spin-off.
32 – Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2 – With this stylish revenge film director Quentin Tarantino proved he hadn’t lost his ability to tell a violent tale. Buckets of blood are spilled as Uma Thurman carves her way through legions of enemies to visit vengeance upon her former co-workers and boss who so thoughtlessly ruined her wedding.
31 – Underworld – The beautiful Kate Beckinsale stars in the lead role as Selene, a vampire warrior who is forced to reevaluate her whole reality as she uncovers some unsettling truths about what really started the ancient war between vampires and werewolves.
30 – The Bourne Supremacy – The best spy action star this side of James Bond, Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne might lack the suave sophistication of 007, but makes up for it in lethal competence. Matt Damon is excellent in the lead role, and this 2004 sequel is every bit as good as The Bourne Identity.
29 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – This film definitely stands apart from most of the others on the list. Quiet, graceful and beautiful where most action films are noisy and ham-handed, this film nonetheless has plenty to satiate the appetite of action movie fans. The combat scenes are spectacularly choreographed, and while you might be forced to suspend your disbelief I promise you will be thoroughly entertained throughout.
28 – Collateral Damange – In a refreshing turn Tom Cruise actually plays a bad guy for once in this film. Jamie Foxx is excellent as the cab driver who winds up forced to chauffeur around a lethal hitman (Cruise) as he eliminates the targets on his list.
27 – The Fast & the Furious – Luckily, acting ability isn’t a prerequisite for a good action movie. With Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in the lead roles there is an abundance of testosterone on the screen at any given
time. However, it is the cars, rather than the actors that really steal the show, and racing fanatics will be mesmerized at the street racing action. The series has spawned a number of sequels over the past decade, but the original still remains the best in the series.
26 – Live Free, Die Hard – This is another film where the original is the best in the series. Unfortunately the original is more than 20 years old and thus doesn’t qualify for the list of the best action films of the 2000’s. Still, Bruce Willis showed with this 4th chapter in his immensely popular action series that he still had the chops to be an action star. As usual he has more lives than any ten cats, evading certain death to take down the bad guys.
25 – Romeo Must Die – Following in the footsteps of martial arts legends like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris, Jet Li has established himself as one of the most popular martial arts action stars working today. This turn of the century thriller has him starring alongside late R&B singer, Aaliyah as he seeks to bring his brother’s killer to justice.
24 – Shoot ‘Em Up – With nearly non-stop, breathless action, chases, explosions, death-defying stunts, and bullets flying everywhere this sounds like the perfect example of the action movie genre. However, in truth it is actually a tongue-in-cheek parody of the genre as a whole. Whether you watch it as a pure action movie, or as a mocking comedy it is definitely worth seeing.
23 – Snakes on a Plane – With a name like this how could this film not be on a list of best action movies. As cheesy as you’d expect Snakes on a Plane might just be the most literally titled action movie ever created. Star Samuel L. Jackson delivers his best line since his role as Jules in Pulp Fiction.
22 – The Italian Job – Though not quite as good as the 1969 original, this 2003 remake heist movie still has plenty to thrill action fans. This time it is Mark Wahlberg rather than Michael Caine in the lead role as Charlie Croker. Wahlberg is joined by a star-studded cast that includes Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Ed Norton and Donald Sutherland.
21 – Minority Report – Forget Jerry Maguire, Top Gun, or Rain Man. In my opinion this cool sci-fi tale is Tom Cruise’s best movie to date. A mind screw every bit as good as The Game, Minority Report will have you guessing almost to the end. Technophiles will love the cool gadgetry in the film.
20 – Batman Begins – Though Tim Burton’s original Batman film remains a classic, the sequels that followed were poor to say the least. The series was in
dire need of an overhaul, and this re-envisioning of the Batman franchise did just that. Darker, grittier and more intense, this itineration of the franchise seems far truer to the spirit of the comic books and graphic novels. Christian Bale is excellent in the lead role, and veterans Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are just as good in support.
19 – Spiderman 2 – As good as the original was, Spiderman 2 is one of those rare films that manages to improve upon the first chapter. Bigger and bolder, with a better storyline and a more compelling villain in Dr. Octopus, Spiderman 2 can throw its hat in the ring in the debate of best superhero movie of all time. Unfortunately, the 3rd installment couldn’t keep the momentum going. Here’s hoping the 4th chapter will get this series back on the rails.
18 – The Two Towers – The first film was groundbreaking, but the action really starts to ramp up in the second installment. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is one of those most epic battle sequences ever brought to life on the big screen.
17 – Apocalypto – Mel Gibson knows plenty about action movies. With films like The Road Warrior, Lethal Weapon and Braveheart on his acting resume he is well aware how to thrill audiences. He poured every ounce of that knowledge in his 2006 masterpiece Apocalypto. Brutal and intense this epic about the decline of Mayan civilization will have you on the edge of your seat throughout.
16 – 300 – This is a film that will certainly not appeal to everyone. With its slow-motion, stylized battle sequences, and the airbrushed look of the film, some action fans ight dismiss it either as over-the-top cheese, or unnecessarily artistic. However, though there might not be a great deal of depth here, there is no shortage of brutal action as King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans take on an overwhelming force of Persians. If you like this film you should definitely check out the TV show Spartacus: Blood and Sand as it is similar in style, with even more intense action, and features far more gore for the bloodthirsty in the crowd.
15 – The Bourne Identity – The story that introduced the world to Jason Bourne, this chapter of the story earns a deserving spot on the list. Though many questioned the choice to putt Matt Damon in the lead role as the superspy Jason Bourne, the decision was quickly determined to be a good one. Damon is completely believable in the role, and looking back it is hard to imagine anyone else as Jason Bourne.
14 – District 9 – One of the most original films of the decade, this sci-fi tale is arguably one of the best films in the history of the genre. Neill Blomkamp makes a spectacular directorial debut, and the special
effects in the film are some of the best in recent memory. Action fans might find the film starts out a bit slowly, but the action ramps up quickly from the middle of the film.
13 – The Hurt Locker – It is pretty rare to see the Oscar-winner for Best Motion Picture on a list of the best action movies, but this film deserves both accolades. Kathryn Bigelow also picked up a Best Director nod for her work on this visually arresting war film about an army bomb squad unit in Iraq.
12 – Ong-Bak – As entertaining as Jet Li and Jackie Chan are, they can’t hold a candle to Tony Jaa when it comes to delivering stunt-riddled martial arts action. Your jaw will be hanging open through much of the film as Jaa pulls off one unbelievable move after another. Don’t worry about the plot or the acting, this film is all about action, and it delivers in spades.
11 – Star Trek – When I first heard about this film, my first thought was, ‘Yawn, another Star Trekmovie’. Boy was I wrong. Much like Batman Begins did with the Batman series, this film completely reinvented this popular sci-fi series. Far more edgy, dark and violent than the original films, this definitely isn’t your father’s Star Trek. You don’t need to be a Trekkie to enjoy this film. It was one of the best films of 2009 in any genre, and any self-respecting action film fan should watch it.
10 – Inglourious Basterds – Director Quentin Tarantino earns another spot as I enter the top 10 action movies of the 2000’s. Tarantino returns with another violent tale – this time following the “adventures” of a specialized group of Nazi hunters who ruthlessly serve up justice in this chilling tale.
9 – Transformers – Perhaps no other film on this list stays as true to the action movie genre as this big-budget blockbuster. Completely different from films like Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker, Transformers is a pure popcorn movie with incredible special effects, explosions, and cheesy dialogue. It won’t change your life, but if you are in the mood for some mindless action this film certainly fits the bill.
8 – Casino Royale – Sean Connery still remains the best James Bond to date, but Daniel Craig certainly makes a compelling argument for second place. The decision to bring Craig on board was met with a healthy dose of
skepticism when the announcement was made, but Craig quickly silenced any critics with his incredible performance in Casino Royale. Not as slick as Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore, Craig brings a cold-hearted brutality to the role that more closely mirrors the superagent from Ian Fleming’s books.
7 – Black Hawk Down – As good as The Hurt Locker was, in my opinion this is the best war movie of the 2000’s. With an intensity and a realism that challenges Saving Private Ryan, this story of an Army Ranger assault on a Somali warlord will satisfy even the most demanding action movie fan. Turn down the lights and crank up the surround sound for this one to be plunged right into the center of the action.
6 – The Bourne Ultimatum – As good as the first two films were, the series hit its pinnacle with the release of this 2007 film. Jason Bourne continues his quest to discover how David Webb was turned into a ruthless, trained assassin. The CIA has a vested interest in preventing Bourne from ever discovering the truth and send everything in their considerable arsenal against him to foil his plans.
5 – Avatar – Though this biggest grossing movie in history has mostly impressed for its incredible, ground-breaking 3D effects at the core of it, the film is actually a pretty good action movie. Having just watched the 2D version on Blu-ray at home and watched the movie on its own merits, rather than as a special effects tour-de-force I found I enjoyed the film nearly as much as I had in the theater. With no shortage of intense, high adrenaline flight and battle sequences this film is a must own for action fans.
4 – Iron Man – I was pretty skeptical when I heard Robert Downey Jr. had been cast in the role of Dr. Tony Stark in the big screen adaptation of the comic book, Iron Man. Downey Jr. exceeded my, and every other naysayer’s, expectations by a country mile, delivering a performance on par with Christian Bale’s Batman. The film itself is spectacular with nearly, non-stop action. A sequel comes out in less than two weeks, and if the trailers aren’t misleading the next chapter may be even better than the first.
3 – The Return of the King – Much like the Academy did when they awarded this film the Oscar for Best Motion Picture, I am going to give it a higher spot on the list than either FotR or TTT. The culmination of J.R.R.
Tolkien’s tale is a special effects masterpiece. The final battle scene is beyond epic in scope. My only beef with the film is the fact that the ending is nearly as long as a standalone feature film.
2 – The Dark Knight – Much like Spiderman 2 did with the original, The Dark Knight took everything that was great about Batman Begins and improves upon it. However, the main reason the film trumps the first one is because of the Oscar-winning performance of the late Heath Ledger as Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. Ledger delivered the performance of his career under immense pressure to live up to the legacy established by Jack Nicholson’s in Tim Burton’s Batman. The movie stands alone as the greatest superhero film ever made, and it is hard to imagine another movie taking the title away from it.
1 – Gladiator – Though there was some juggling of the other movies, when I first compiled this list there was only one clear choice for the #1 best action movie of the 2000’s. Russell Crowe gives the performance of his career as Maximus, a Roman general forced into servitude as a gladiator. The battle sequences are spectacular, the acting superlative and two and a half hours long the film never drags for a single second. It will be interesting to see if Ridley and Crowe can deliver the same magic in the upcoming Robin Hood film.