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The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far

The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far

15. “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?” (2013) 
Sion Sono’s batshit-crazy mash-up “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?” signalled a shift from the heavier fare he’d been making to more genre-inflected territory, and served as a love letter both to both the action movie and to filmmaking in general. The movie sees the collision of a group of action-loving amateur filmmakers called the Fuck Bombers, mobster Boss Muto and his actress daughter Mitsuko, with the former enlisted to make an action movie that immortalizes both Mitsuko and the big gang battle. Both slapsticky and strangely sad, it’s an extraordinary mix of tones that shouldn’t work at all, but does tremendously well —Sono clearly relishes the action sequence, particularly in a demented, blood-soaked final battle. Follow-up “Tokyo Tribe,” a hip-hop musical, arguably has even better action, but it’s also exhausting and queasily misogynistic, so this is definitely our pick.14. “Hero” (2002) / “House Of Flying Daggers” (2004)
We’re breaking our own rules here for a split entry, but who could possibly pick between Zhang Yimou’s gorgeous, extravagant wuxia epics? The two were released just months apart in the U.S. (due, it may not surprise you, to Harvey Weinstein) and make perfect companion pieces. “Hero” is the artsier of the pair to some degree, a narratively tricksy story of a Nameless warrior (Jet Li) relating to his king how he killed three assassins, while “House Of Flying Daggers,” set a few hundred years later, is the more straightforward action movie, with police captains Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro utilizing a blind dancer to lead them to a rebel group. The films have different DOPs (Christopher Doyle shot “Hero”), but both are spectacularly colorful and every-frame-a-picture beautiful, feature some of the most thrilling martial arts sequences put on film and showcase some of Asia’s biggest stars at their best.13. “Casino Royale” (2006) 
His track record in other movies might be troublesome (see, or rather, don’t, “Vertical Limit” and “Green Lantern”), but if you’re looking to bring back Bond, Martin Campbell is your man. Eleven years after revamping 007 with Pierce Brosnan and one of the best films in the series for “Goldeneye,” Campbell repeated the trick with the series’ first Daniel Craig film. “Skyfall” might have been more successful, but “Royale’ is simply the better movie: it has a great villain in Mads Mikkelsen, a great love interest in Eva Green, and is the rare Bond film where the quieter moments are just as memorable as the set pieces. Not that the action’s lacking, though: the opening parkour sequences might still be the high watermark of the Craig era as far as sequences go. It runs out of steam by the time that it gets to Venice for the conclusion, but this is top-tier 007 otherwise. 12. “Apocalypto” (2006)
What do we talk about when we talk about “action”? Generally speaking, in how the word is used in a Hollywood context, it means fights and/or chases. “Apocalypto” is essentially one long chase, interspersed with several fights, all the more remarkable for taking place during the end of the Mayan era, in 16th century Guatemala. As his idyllic life as husband, father, and son of the tribe’s chief is threatened by invading forces, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) must battle his way back to his hidden family through unforgiving jungle and enemies seen and unseen. But the real greatness of Mel Gibson‘s film (and no matter how persona non grata he may be, this film proves his directorial chops even more than his more celebrated movies) is in the kinetic pacing of its foot chases, which become every bit as thrilling as the explosions, gunplay, and car crashes that the genre usually deals in.11. “Gladiator” (2000) 
It’s easy to forget many Oscars and hundreds of millions of dollars later, but “Gladiator” was hella risky on paper: a director who hadn’t had a hit in a decade, a genre, the swords-and-sandals picture, that hadn’t been in fashion since the 1960s, and an untested star best known for playing a chubby grey-haired man twenty years older than him in “The Insider.” But even fifteen years on, Ridley Scott’s film still thrills. Using CGI to bring a vision of Ancient Rome like little that had been seen before, telling a characterful, textured story, and stacking the cast with great actors, from fresh faces like Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix to sozzled veterans like Oliver Reed and Richard Harris, it works on almost every level, not least in the blood-splattered, hugely influential action sequences. It inspired a dozen imitators, but from “Alexander” to “300,” none hold a candle to Maximus.

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