With the unfortunate trend of reboots and remakes that has pervaded Hollywood and movie culture in general over the last few years, good original movies are very hard to come by. Great action movies, in particular, are becoming increasingly rare due to film makers and production companies toning down the action and violence to achieve a more family friendly rating (notable examples would be the more recent Die Hard movies and the Robocop reboot). With this in mind, I thought it prudent to list the top 10 action movies of the 80’s and 90’s, two decades which featured a host of stellar action films. While there are some gems to be found from 2000 to 2009, the 80’s and 90’s were (and still are) synonymous with terrific action. To make things even, I chose my 5 favourite action movies from each decade. While there are many more excellent examples, I wanted to keep it short in the interest of space and so picked what I believe to be the best of the best in terms of action and style. This first part presents my top 5 movies from the 90's, listed in chronological order! Leave your comments below and let me know what ye think!
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (July, 1991)
When the subject of sequels is mentioned and people are asked to name a sequel that was superior to the original, Terminator 2: Judgement Day invariably comes to mind. One of the few movies ever made that actually surpassed its predecessor in every respect, James Cameron’s action epic is nothing short of outstanding. The action in this movie is among the best I have ever seen, complete with car chases, motorbike chases, truck chases, helicopter chases and a host of other chases. What truly made this one to remember, however, was Robert Patrick’s excellent performance as the T-1000, a liquid metal terminator sent back through time to finish what the original terminator couldn’t do and kill John Connor. The character is, as expected, completely emotionless and the ability to mimic any human he comes into contact with, as well as certain inanimate objects makes him a worthy and unforgettable foe.
Arnie plays the good guy in this entry, sent back to protect John. The emotion and love interest that came through the developing relationship of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese in the first movie, is replaced this time by the friendship which develops between John and the terminator. This culminates in the movie’s final scene, as John watches as the terminator self-destructs, in one of the best (and most emotional) endings of any action movie. While the story and plot are just as excellent as the original, the action is what makes this stand out as one of the all time great movies of the 90’s.
Broken Arrow (February, 1996)
Broken Arrow shares a common theme with similar movies of the 90’s decade, including all subsequent films on this list. That theme is one of pure, unadulterated action. No director does the pure action movie better than John Woo and he brings his signature style to this entry. This includes slow motion gunfights and the use of doves taking flight in the background. John Travolta and Christian Slater are the stars, with John Travolta becoming one of the defining action icons of the decade partly because of this movie.
The film itself features outstanding gunfights, non-stop action and more exploding helicopters than you can shake a stick at! Travolta and Slater work well off each, with Travolta playing a renegade Air Force stealth bomber pilot intent on stealing nuclear weapons for profit. Slater, formerly his co-pilot, is tasked with stopping him at all costs, a plot that doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but nonetheless delivers an explosive thrill ride from start to finish. Regardless of how good or bad the story is in any action movie, the plot is always secondary to the action (and rightly so) and Broken Arrow delivers precisely because of this.
The Rock (June, 1996)
Along with John Travolta, Nicholas Cage would go onto become an iconic action star of the 90’s. A great example of this is The Rock, which is definitely Michael Bay’s best movie . Featuring an adrenaline fuelled plot about renegade marines taking over Alcatraz island and threatening to release rockets armed with VX nerve gas into the population of downtown San Francisco, the action comes thick and fast as Navy SEALs are sent in to stop them. Sean Connery and Nick Cage play an ex-prisoner of Alcatraz and an FBI chemical weapons specialist respectively, and are sent in with the SEALs to assist them in locating and disarming the rockets. The pair become an unlikely duo, as the SEALs are quickly slaughtered, leaving the two alone on the island without backup or communication.
The movie is much better than the standard Michael Bay fare, with fewer explosions and over-the-top special effects. This is actually a good thing and while there is plenty of adrenaline fuelled action to be had, Bay manages to reign it in when compared to his other movies (think Bad Boys 2 and Transformers). As expected from a Jerry Bruckheimer produced movie, the soundtrack is equally good, with plenty of roaring guitar-based music to compliment the action. The nerve gas itself, which serves as a more real and threatening enemy than the terrorists, is used well to convey a sense of urgency in the film. Regardless of what you think of Michael Bay as a director, The Rock is an excellent action movie and a great Nick Cage flick overall.
Con Air (June, 1997)
Two movies would be released in June of 1997 that would solidify Nick Cage as one of the greatest action movie stars of the 90s. The first of these was Con Air, which in my opinion is the best action film of the decade. While I am by no means a fan of Nick Cage, he truly stands out in this epic example of 90’s action. This decade is where Cage excelled and nowhere is this more evident that in Con Air. Equally excellent are John Malkovich as the lethal genius Cyrus the Virus, who is the film’s primary antagonist and John Cusack who plays a US Marshall intent on bringing Cyrus to justice.
Directed by Simon West (who would later direct The General’s Daughter and the not-so-enjoyable Tomb Raider) Con Air has everything that makes an action movie so compelling. From the blistering soundtrack (a staple in most films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) laden with awesome guitar riffs to ridiculous one-liners (‘make a move and the bunny gets it’) and oversized explosions, Con Air is not one to be missed.
Face/Off (June, 1997)
Besides the focus on pure action and the avoidance of blending genres (like the blending of sci-fi and action in Terminator 2), the best action movies of the 90’s seem to have two things in common: Nick Cage and John Travolta. However, Face/Off is the first movie on the list that features both action icons as they butt heads (and guns) onscreen in this outstanding piece of film-making that was directed by the legendary John Woo. The fact that this is the second movie directed by Woo to appear on this list should come as no surprise. The man truly can direct a great action epic and Face/Off is a terrific example. Slow motion gunfights and suicidal flying doves are all here, along with a plot that is as memorable as it is ridiculous. Cage and Travolta literally swap faces a little after the beginning of the film, meaning the role of ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ switches a couple times throughout.
The action is fast and furious with many standout moments, including a gunfight at the beginning where Cage dives headfirst out of an airplane in slowmotion, a smoking gun in each hand and is quickly taken down by being blasted into a jet engine wind tunnel. Face/Off represents the pinnacle of 90’s action and is definitely one for adrenaline junkies and action movie buffs alike!