As The Bourne Legacy races into theaters, it is a fantastic time to assess where the series from the mind of author Robert Ludlum ranks amongst the action films of the past. Hint: Quite high.
Achieving success in an action film is one difficult task, much less finding success with a series. Hollywood has long gone to the genre as a way to corral audiences into theaters and keep them there for subsequent installments. As quickly as Jason Bourne would get out of a jam, we jet through the Top 10 action series of all-time.
10. Lethal Weapon
We adored following Riggs and Murtaugh through the first three Lethal Weapon films and tolerated the fourth. It is hard to argue that Lethal Weapon is not one of the great action series of all-time. It also establishes some benchmarks for what makes a good action franchise.
The camaraderie between its two leads is priceless. The action sequences thrill and always lead up to a confrontation between our evildoer and our hero… in this case more often than not, it’s Mel Gibson’s character. Many have copied the franchise's formula, but few succeeded.
9. Dirty Harry
Before Clint Eastwood wielded his camera with precision, his character “Dirty” Harry Callahan wielded his .45 with extreme exactitude. Through Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool, audiences followed the San Francisco cop as he was often judge, jury and executioner.
8. The Fast and the Furious
Few action series are as successful as The Fast and the Furious and it’s easy to see why: Fast cars, great villains and a hero or two willing to put their passion for racing to use to make the world a slightly better place. The fact that the fifth in the series, Fast Five, was the finest is a sign that the best is yet to come from this action franchise.
7. Mad Max
Mel Gibson scores another great action franchise on our list with his work on the Mad Max series. The first film broke barriers and made an international superstar out of its lead. Subsequent chapters took the action to new levels and a post-apocalyptic world never was so compelling.
6. Mission Impossible
Like Fast Five, the last chapter in the Mission Impossible series is by far its best. Tom Cruise was born to play Ethan Hunt and with each passing chapter in the series that began in 1996, audiences yearn for more envelope-pushing action.
5. Die Hard
There is something about John McClane that has us yearning for more action from the stud who saved Nakatomi Towers in 1988. Over two decades later and with a few less hairs on his head, Bruce Willis still has us interested in his butt-kicking character as A Good Day to Die Hard hits theaters next year.
4. Jack Ryan Movies
Whether it’s Harrison Ford or even Ben Affleck, Tom Clancy’s supreme creation -- Jack Ryan -- puts the spy business in the spotlight and achieves a level of action heaven that pulsates by challenging the mind and the body. As much as the action sequences rivet, the Jack Ryan movies also thrill with their cerebral challenges as well.
3. The Bourne Series
Matt Damon and directors Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, 2002) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, 2004, and The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007) redefined the action genre with their trilogy and even gave us some terrific Jason Bourne quotes.
Audiences had never seen action sequences executed in such an, for lack of a better word, actiony way as we cheered Damon’s Jason Bourne when he fought off those that wished him ill as he tried to figure out his identity.
2. Indiana Jones
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg combined forces and gave us the iconic character of Indiana Jones. The archeology professor, whose passion for putting priceless artifacts “in a museum,” progressively enthralled us more with each passing chapter. We can forgive the fourth installment in hopes that a fifth will make up for it.
But those first three films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, its prequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and sequel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, remain about as perfect of an action series as a fan of the genre could ask for.
1. James Bond
The fact that James Bond is number one should not surprise. For the last five decades the man with a license to kill has done his part and kept up the brilliance of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Whether it Sean Connery or those that followed, after 23 films it is impossible for any other film on this list to come close.
Continually pushing the boundaries of an action franchise, the Bond series will go down in history as one of the great, if not the greatest, movie series of all-time. Period. By all indications, Skyfall should continue this stellar legacy.