Action movies have to be thought of as the bread and butter of Hollywood. Just look at the Top 10 Highest Grossing Movies of 2013 and you’ll see that two thirds of them are bona fide action movies, and several other contain scenes of intense action. But, just because the movie moves at a frenetic pace with moments of death-defying flair doesn’t mean it is a good movie. It takes the whole package. So, what are the best action movies of the year that was?
10. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
For that ninjas-scaling-a-mountain-while-fighting sequence alone, G.I. Joe: Retaliation lands on our list. The fact that there are at least a dozen other action scenes that frankly up the ante from the first film is also a reason the entire film is so good.
Director Jon Chu took his experience with making dance movies and put that innate sense of choreography to use by giving audiences violence as ballet throughout the film that added up to one surprisingly decent thrill ride.
9. Olympus Has Fallen
In the battle of "White House under attack" films, Olympus Has Fallen easily bested White House Down. It wasn’t just the fantastic performance of Gerard Butler in a nail-biting thriller that compelled us. The film was well-crafted from beginning to end. Butler has toiled in romantic comedies and true stories of late, but his success with this action flick proves that where audiences most want to see him is being the action hero.
Achieving effective action scenes within a confined space is hard to do, and a few have done it so well they’ve gone on to iconic status (Die Hard). But Antoine Fuqua managed to score with his Die Hard in the White House theme by giving us characters that we cared about, coupled with moments of heart-stopping battles that worked on every level.
8. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
It may take a little while to actually get our Tributes into the arena, but once Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is there, along with a group of Hunger Games all-stars, the fighting sequences take what was given to us in The Hunger Games and bumps it up a few notches in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
7. Pacific Rim
Few movies in 2013 made you feel what monumental size the big screen can emit like Pacific Rim. Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to action films of old that inspired him to pick up a camera in the first place features fights between the largest fighters seen on screen in years.
The idea of having monsters, who emerge from the sea, battling skyscraper-sized robots built by humans to turn the tide of war is the most epic of action we could have hoped for. Will we get a Pacific Rim 2? Let’s hope so… as sometimes bigger is better.
6. Man of Steel
There are action sequences sprinkled throughout Man of Steel, but the reason the Zack Snyder reboot of the Superman story lands on this list is the tete-a-tete between Henry Cavill as Superman and Michael Shannon as General Zod in the final moments of the film.
Their epic fight is a full story in the making and not only triumphs in its action execution, but in the emotional power that had audiences invested in what they were witnessing. It wasn’t just the fate of Metropolis or Superman in question in that city-wide destruction that was the final fight between two former Krypton residents -- it was the future of a franchise. Judging by all the hub-bub about the upcoming Batman vs. Superman sequel, we’d say Snyder and Warner Bros. came out victorious.
5. Star Trek Into Darkness
There is considerable debate as to the effectiveness of J.J. Abrams' sequel to Star Trek. But one thing is for sure, regardless of how the story fit into the larger mythology of the Gene Roddenberry world, Star Trek Into Darkness had some of the most entertaining action of the year.
It is almost as if the entire movie was one fantastic thrill fest after another. The scene where Khan and Kirk are careening through space debris towards the smallest of holes is astounding. Spock chasing, and then fighting, Khan in the streets of San Francisco is among the better choreographed brawls on screen this year. And then [SPOILER] how the Enterprises comes crashing down to Earth… well, those are some frames of film that will leave you breathless.
4. The Wolverine
The Wolverine was so much better than the last solo outing for Hugh Jackman and his X-Men alter ego. James Mangold took his action sequences seriously and there are so many that thrilled. But, few were as compelling as The Wolverine bullet train scene. Watching Logan and his martial arts foe flying through the Japanese landscape at hundreds of miles an hour, avoiding things flying at them while trying to come out of the experience alive should set the standard for all fight scenes done on trains from this point on!
And don’t get us started on the atom bomb explosion that begins the movie!
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
A bunch of dwarves and a Hobbit going down some river rapids in barrels sounds like it would be more funny than fierce. But, in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, it qualifies as the action scene of the year, as we stated in our The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug review.
Our dwarves and Hobbit have to fight off the Orcs coming at them with blinding frequency, but they have help in the form of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) shooting arrows at the attacking Orcs, while running down the banks of the river fighting them hand-to-hand as well. It all adds up to a thrill ride that has the best amusement park roller coaster beat on so many levels.
But The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has many more action scenes as well, and in fact recalls what we adored about the first The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the first place.
2. Iron Man 3
Perhaps inspired by that killer final battle at the end of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 packed more action into two hours than the first two films managed. Tony Stark and the United States as a whole came under attack by a villain known only as Mandarin, who seemed to make his beef personal and directed it firmly at Stark and his Iron Man with everyone around him an unfortunate casualty.
Shane Black stepped into the director’s chair for Jon Favreau and took this character to all-new heights of harrowing danger. Iron Man 3 was a worthy first film out for Marvel after the blockbuster success of The Avengers and one of the best full-on action movies of 2013.
1. Fast and Furious 6
There is something extraordinary about the Fast and Furious franchise that it keeps getting more popular with each successive installment. I mean, can you remember a film series that was getting even better than ever with its sixth movie?
When Fast and Furious 6 director Justin Lin and the filmmaking team behind the series thought up the idea of sending our anti-heroes to London to help Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in his effort to bring down an international baddie, it was a stroke of brilliance. You know given the team of drivers led by Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, that car chases would ensue. But, if you have ever been to London and know the insane traffic of the city, you had to know that the car chase scene in general would be given a shot in the arm.
Lin not only got us with those killer car chases through the English capitol, but also the hand-to-hand fighting sequences towards the end. There are several pairs of adversaries going at it at the same time, and with Lin’s camera capturing the action, it is nothing short of brilliance. Then, top it off with Diesel driving one of his cars through the back of an exploding aircraft, and what more can you want from an action movie? Absolutely nothing.
And where they go with Fast and Furious 7, with the tragic death of Paul Walker, is anyone's guess. But, to have his last full Fast and Furious movie end with this gem -- it is a true gift.
Honorable mentions: Thor: The Dark World, World War Z, Elysium, White House Down, Riddick, Red 2, Kick-Ass 2, 2 Guns, Rush, 47 Ronin and Homefront