We wrap up our history of action films with 2017’s very ’80s-style bombast opera Wolf Warrior II

If you haven’t seen Wolf Warrior II, the massive 2017 Chinese blockbuster, the first thing you might know about it is that it made a ton of money. During its theatrical run, Wolf Warrior II grossed a head-spinning $870 million. Globally speaking, it’s the sixth-highest-grossing movie of 2017 (the top five: Beauty And…

Mad Max: Fury Road might already be the best action movie ever made

It takes a whole lot to turn The Road Warrior into an afterthought. George Miller’s second Mad Max movie, released in 1981, is a total masterpiece, and it’s one of the defining action movies of the ’80s, the golden age of the action movie. With that movie, Miller invented a whole new visual language for the way the…

John Wick solidified Keanu Reeves as one of the greatest action stars of all time

In the entire history of American action cinema, there are very, very few movies that take their fight scenes as seriously as John Wick does. Some of the action set pieces in John Wick—the home invasion, the one-man nightclub siege—are straight-up masterpieces, and the movie never lingers long between these…

Captain America leads the resistance in the locomotive end-times fable Snowpiercer

About midway through Bong Joon-ho’s 2013’s apocalyptic class-warfare fable Snowpiercer, we get to the scene with the fish. In the movie’s world, a sudden man-made global freeze has exterminated almost all life on earth, and the last few surviving humans are cooped up on a train that’s persistently, endlessly rocketing…

Action movies don’t come much more visceral, simple, or awesome than The Raid

You’re all alone. You haven’t even been on the police force for that long, but here you are, disarmed and cut off from the rest of your paramilitary SWAT team. You’re in a dilapidated apartment building in Jakarta, and practically everyone who lives here is a criminal of some sort, an addict or a low-level drug…

The best Fast & Furious movie charted a path for the series—and got The Rock in on the action, too 

Stuntmen loved Fast Five. The year after the movie came out, I spent a few days at ActionFest, a film festival in North Carolina devoted entirely to action cinema, to report a story for GQ. People kept mentioning Fast Five. The stuntmen, especially, kept bringing it up. One guy told me that Fast Five was a clear sign…

In South Korea, a horrifically extreme thriller can be the box-office champion of the year

In the 2011 South Korean movie War Of The Arrows, a historical drama about a master archer who practically wins an entire war by himself, there’s a scene where Manchurian raiders storm into a village, killing indiscriminately and taking all the survivors hostage. And in one shot, one of those soldiers snatches a baby…

Zack Snyder’s 300 presaged the howling fascism of the alt-right

“Was that racist, or did it just seem racist?” That was the basic idea of the conversation that my friends and I had as we left the movie theater in the spring of 2007. We had just borne witness to 300, Zack Snyder’s gruesome orgy of CGI blood-spurts and thunderous group-grunts. The movie had been a sensory…

Casino Royale thrillingly rebooted James Bond for the grim-and-gritty era

When I started this column, I decided that the modern action movie began with Bullitt in 1968. But a strong case—maybe a stronger case—could also be made that the genre starts with 1962’s Dr. No, the first James Bond movie. The Bond movies essentially turned the action movie into a formula before it was even really a…

It’s hard not to hold shakycam against the otherwise terrific Bourne Supremacy

Paul Greengrass didn’t invent shakycam. The technique of frantic handheld camerawork and chaotic editing had been around for decades—first as an experimental film technique, then as a sort of action-movie shortcut—before Greengrass directed The Bourne Supremacy in 2004. In ’60s movies like The Battle Of Algiers, it…

Quentin Tarantino makes his one true action movie, and it’s glorious

Quentin Tarantino loves action movies. Quentin Tarantino’s characters love action movies. The history of action cinema, especially the history of cheap ’70s exploitation action cinema, is threaded through Tarantino’s entire filmography. It’s there in the way his camera quotes old scenes, in the way his characters…

How the hell did The Fast And The Furious launch one of cinema’s biggest franchises?

Wheels within wheels within wheels: The surprise hit of summer 2001 was The Fast And The Furious, a goofy low-stakes B-movie with a not-huge budget and no stars. The movie told the story of a team of mysterious truck hijackers coming from L.A.’s street-racing community and about the undercover cop tasked with taking…

America had never seen anything like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

People laughed. That’s the thing I remember the most from the sleepy art-house cinema where I first saw Ang Lee’s 2000 wuxia epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The first action scene, with its bodies sailing across rooftops gracefully, in ways that make an absolute mockery of earthly physics, looked strange and…

The Matrix hacked Hollywood, upgrading American action with tricks from abroad

We’ve been seeing some weird shit happen in the world lately. Donald Trump, trailing badly in the polls and making an ass of himself for the entire election season, was somehow elected president. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in game seven, in extra innings, after a ninth-inning rain delay. The Golden State…

It’s Cage versus Travolta in the sublime overacting Olympics of Face/Off

The big-budget action movies of the late ’90s were supposed to work a particular way. They would start with an absurd, over-the-top premise—the president of the United States fighting the terrorists who had taken over his plane, say, or a team of convicts highjacking a prison-transport plane and using it for nefarious…

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