Just to be clear, this is definitely not a list of what I consider to be the five greatest action movies of all time. Instead this is a list of favourites, flavoured by nostalgia from a guy who grew up in the 80s and 90s, when men knew how to deliver deadpan one-liners before committing cold-blooded murder, all in the name of entertainment. Entirely by coincidence this list contains every one of the headlining stars from The Expendables 2, which was clearly a movie designed specifically for me.
5. The Delta Force (1986)
Starring Chuck Norris, The Delta Force starts off as a tense thriller, loosely based on real events, about terrorists hijacking an aeroplane. With an excellent cast that includes Lee Marvin, Shelley Winters, Robert Vaughan and George Kennedy, one could almost call it prestigious. Then, as if he’s grown bored of the human drama and the co-ordinated black-ops style attempts to kill the terrorists and rescue the hostages, Norris jumps on a futuristic looking motorbike armed with self-reloading front and back rocket launches and machine guns, and blasts them all to hell on his own. Perhaps this would have been a better movie if he’d gotten on the bike earlier.
4. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
A ridiculous title for a ridiculous movie. With a Vengeance, was originally going to be a standalone movie entitled Simon Says, which helps explain why the third entry in the Die Hard franchise sees the wise cracking tough guy dirty his vest yet again, scampering around New York solving puzzles and riddles. The movie feels like a particularly high-stakes Crystal Maze rip-off. That aside it’s fun to see the McClane character wreaking havoc as he makes mock of the bad guys in a broader setting, and the interplay between Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the hapless Zeus, adds an extra layer of fun. Action maestro John McTiernan, who directed the original Die Hard, keeps the action throbbing along, no matter how silly things get. If only this was the last entry in the franchise!
3. Demolition Man (1993)
Demolition Man presents Stallone at his box office peak, and also at the end of his reign as a box office titan, as it was followed by a long series of flops that included Daylight, and Judge Dredd. It’s the year 2032 and a dangerous criminal has escaped from cryo-prison. The only man who can bring him down is the reckless cop who put him away the first time. Conveniently he was frozen as well. The science-fiction elements are surprisingly prescient: people communicate on handheld tablets, live in voice operated smart houses, and Arnold Schwarzenegger became president. It also has some great running jokes about receiving paper fines for swearing and the lack of toilet paper in the future – two problems that cancel each other out. This may well be the best movie on the list; the action, however, is a little on the soft side.
2. Commando (1985)
Arnie is on great early form here, showing off his rippling physique as he saves his daughter from mercenaries who want him to off the president of a South American country. The Austrian Oak is having none of it, as he breaks, pummels and shoots anything that gets between him and rescuing his little girl. The movie is relentless destruction from beginning to end, and with a script by Steven E. de Sousa (48 Hours, The Running Man, Die Hard), it has some of the best action movie one-liners ever delivered. Personal favourite: “Let off some steam Bennett,” after Arnie stabs the movie’s villain through the chest with a lengthy bit of pipe, which then leaks billowing clouds of steam.
1. Hard Target (1993)
Made at the short-lived height of Van Damme’s career as a movie star, Hard Target brought director John Woo to the west for the first time. The script is pretty flimsy: there are some bad guys who hunt human beings for fun, and the daughter of their recent victim has hired Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) to sort them out. But the action is pure unadulterated brilliance. The movie mixes Van Damme’s love of spinning around in mid air and kicking people in the face, with Woo’s love of having his heroes shoot two guns, so that during the climax Boudreaux shoots people with two guns in the chest, and then jumps in the air and kicks them in the face. It’s pure poetry.