EXCLUSIVE | Top Ten Genre-Defining Films: Action

What defines genre? With film being taken to new innovative levels and multi-layered story-telling as we get deeper into modern movie-making, genres these days are mere round holes for us to squeeze in some square pegs. The term “dramedy” was created especially for this predicament, because if a serious family drama also makes you laugh, why should it be pidgeonholed? However, in spite of all the crossover potential, there are some movies that were made to fit within their standards to a clean-cut T. In this week’s Thursday Top Ten, we decided to take a look at some of the films we think perfectly define ACTION.

10. Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard

The quintessential action movie Die Hard is a benchmark in the genre. It’s so influential that other similar films that came after it were described by critics as Die Hard on a … whatever. Steven Seagal fighting bad guys on a ship in Under Siege? Die Hard on a boat. Gerard Butler busting terrorist heads in Olympus Has Fallen? Die Hard in the White House. The difference between Die Hard and its imitators is that it does everything right. The one-liners are funny and the action is intense. Bruce Willis is perfect for the role of John McClane, former NYPD Detective turned terrorist killing machine. And for the Harry Potter fans, (SPOILER ALERT) McClane throws Severus Snape out of a skyscraper window.—JK 

9. The Avengers (2012)


The Avengers immediately came to mind as one of the best action flicks I’ve seen in a good long while, mostly because I finally succumbed to the Marvel frenzy after this 2012 summer blockbuster knocked my socks off. Having literally no knowledge of the characters and never having seen a Marvel superhero movie before, I was dragged to the theater by a friend who swore I wouldn’t be disappointed. She was right. I ended up seeing it again and then promptly began Netflix-ing/RedBox-ing the rest, starting with my now favorite Thor. The movie evolved into a juggernaut, blasting a worldwide total of $1.518 billion at the box office and amping up the excitement for its eventual sequel. The best surprise was its deliciously layered villain, rather than the usual “bad guy bad, good guys good” routine. Loki was downright delightful in his self-righteous anger as he exploded all over Manhattan.—DT

8. The French Connection (1971)

The French Connection

There is so much right about this movie. Its tone is a little darker than others on my list, but Gene Hackman as Detective “Popeye” Doyle is spot-on. Hackman is seriously one of the best tough guys ever committed to film. He’s up there with Charles Bronson and Marlon Brando when it comes to playing unhinged brawlers. The plot, based on a true story about detectives breaking up a France to New York City heroin ring, is exciting with legit great performances all around. But the real highlight of The French Connection is the car chase. Director William Friedkin claims that much of the chase was filmed in Brooklyn illegally without permits, which certainly explains some of the pedestrian’s reactions to a Pontiac LeMans driving 90 miles an hour under the L tracks on Morgan Avenue.—JK

7. Jaws (1975)


My “old school” selections in this list are always grouped together in my head as a trio of classic faves. Starting with the one that made us all give that beach trip a second thought … and I bet you can here the theme music in your head right now. I first watched Jaws in middle school, with my father watching me, eyes sparkling like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. I always knew when something gross or scary was about to happen because his attention would randomly be anywhere but on the screen. I don’t attribute the Spielberg classic to my hydroskourophobia (an oddly specific fear of deep, dark water), but it sure didn’t help matters much. The sequels, which got progressively gorier and crunchier, put me off overly bloody movies for the next decade. But I still watch it because there’s a twisted fascination in watching a reckless great white hunt on the high seas.—DT

6. Aliens (1986)


James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror masterpiece Alien pretty much defined what a successful sequel needs to do. Cameron upped the action and instead of only one horrific monster as the antagonist, he added an entire hive of Aliens. Another notable thing about this film, my favorite in the Alien series, is the casting of Sigourney Weaver as the action hero. Female protagonists were few and far between in the ‘80s, but Weaver as Ripley kicks more Alien ass than an entire platoon of space marines in this movie.—JK

5. Twister (1996)


I simply don’t tire of watching this movie. No matter how many times it’s on TV, when I find it, I watch it. There hasn’t been a decent tornado movie before or since (nice try, Into the Storm). Twister is timeless. Add my fascination with storms to the mix … I’m dying to go on a storm-chasing tour someday (that’s a thing, you know)—just another death-defying addition to the bucket list. I’m not sure what it is about this movie, since the acting is basically sub-par, that makes it so enjoyable. The strangely cheery music? Philip Seymour Hoffman as the lovable doofus Dusty? The perfectly quotable script (“I gotta go, Julia, we got cows!”)? Whatever it is, it works for me. My golden retriever even got his name from this movie.—DT

4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 2

Terminator 2 is another James Cameron sequel where he follows the formula he pioneered earlier with Aliens. There are more Terminators—robots from the future bent on destroying and/or saving humanity—and the stakes are much higher than in 1984’s The Terminator. T2 also features Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner, very much a hero in the Ripley archetype. Conner is convinced that her son is the savior of humanity following an imminent apocalyptic battle with sentient machines and teams up with a robot from the future on a journey to either stop the apocalypse or die trying.—JK

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011)


This is not just another excuse to write about my love for Harry Potter, I promise. It just so happens that Deathly Hallows Part 2 is legitimately a heart-pounding thrill ride from start to finish. I mean, hell, it ends with a bang, but it starts with a dragon. The battle of Hogwarts is one of the most harrowing pieces of cinematic history I’ve ever witnessed. From the moment McGonagall summoned the statues to “man the boundaries, protect us,” I was a hyperventilating mess in my theatre seat on opening weekend. And the music that accompanies it! Never before has a moment in film affected me physically like that. And it was nonstop from there, right to the moment where good triumphed evil once and for all. Just an absolutely amazing conclusion to one of the most magical adventures of our generation.—DT

2. Robocop (1987)


This is Paul Verhoeven’s absolute masterpiece in my opinion. Robocop is a dark satire about corporatism and the media set in a futuristic, dystopian Detroit. Verhoeven always has a twisted sense of humor in his films that sometimes works (Total Recall) and sometimes doesn’t (Starship Troopers), but the tone of Robocop is perfect. Peter Weller plays a cop who is, apparently, murdered by a drug gang only to be rebuilt as a cyborg by an evil corporation to enforce laws in the increasingly violent city. Verhoeven uses the plot as a framework for a scathing indictment of institutional corruption. You even get to see Kurtwood Smith, otherwise known as Red Forman from That ‘70s Show, as one of the most heinous villains ever put on film.—JK

1. Jurassic Park (1993)


Come on. There can’t be another #1. Whenever I meet someone who says they’ve never seen this Spielberg masterpiece, I stare at them like they’ve just sprouted a Dilophosaurus head fan and is spitting poisonous goo. WHAT? This film, from its epic sweeping score to its goosebump-inducing special effects with just the right amount of carnage is in its own league of sci-fi action. Attempts to recreate it in sequels have always fallen flat. I cringe to think of what 2015’s Jurassic World, more than a decade in the making, will look like. Don’t fix what’s not broken. Jurassic Park is untouchable. That final shriek of the T-Rex while the “Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner falls from overhead gives me chills every time. It’s so good! It’s so good that it spawned its own thrill ride (as did Jaws and Twister, actually) in Universal Studios. The T-Rex waiting at the end right before the plunge is so realistic, you can barely look at it. It’s fantastically intense, just like the movie. You know you’ll never look at a quivering cup of water the same way again.—DT


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