Speed (1994) by Amanda Salazar
This was a difficult one to pick as well, but I had to go with my gut on this one and for my favorite action film I would have to pick Speed. This early '90s classic, if I may call it that, is about as action packed as you can get, with car chases (it all takes place on a bus), FBI agents, bad guys with missing fingers, and a great score that kicks up the pace of the entire film.
Keanu Reeves is the rogue FBI agent that gets himself on a bus that must stay above 50mph or it will blow up. Sandra Bullock plays the innocent passenger that ends up driving the bus after the driver gets shot. Then there is Dennis Hopper, a pyrotechnic ex-agent that has a bone to pick and rigs the bus for destruction.
I will admit that there are many other action films out there that one might consider "better" but this was one of the first that I remember seeing and being glued to the edge of my seat the entire time. It is corny and the acting is a little rough (Keanu says it all) but it has some of the best action sequences I've seen in a long time, right down to the epic slide out of the bus that Reeves and Bullock have to take, while on top of each other, that ends in a kiss. Perfection.
Aliens (1986) by Shawn Bourdo
This is a category that I don't really have much debate about. I could have listed every single Bond film in the Top 25. And then I could easily move to just about 50% of Spielberg's output. There are some superb action films there - Goldfinger, Thunderball, Raiders, Duel, and all the related films. I find that action films can sometimes be misunderstood with adventure films too. An adventure film is The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - plenty of action scenes but the expanse of the story is much larger than the smaller action scenes. A true action film is linked by the sequence of action scenes. They are not a respite from the plot - they are the plot. That's where a Bond film falls a little off my definition strictly. But the James Cameron sequel to the Ridley Scott horror film, Alien is my favorite action film of all time.
Part of the appeal is taking the same concept and lead actress and monster and turning it into a completely different genre film. The first film is as close to the vest horror film as you can get in the past 40 years. It follows all the conventions and delivers. A top-notch horror film. But the sequel, Aliens pulls back just a bit and gives the viewer a whole different look at the universe. And it's exhilarating.
The movie starts as a war film. The Marines are storming in to eliminate the Alien menace. But that quickly turns into three-four different storylines - including bringing back an Alien, finding what happened to the colony, and just trying to survive. All the while, each scene is building the Aliens into undefeatable adversaries. The movie strings together action scene after action scene - with the world getting darker and scarier as the movie moves towards its conclusion. There is little down time and Cameron shows his exerpt handling of the story by making the slow parts just as suspenseful as when attacks are happening. Throw in the complete panic mode of Bill Paxton upping the suspense at every turn and it's a non-stop ride from the minute we awake.
I couldn't exist on films like this - I remember feeling just wrecked when I got out of seeing it the first time. But when done right - they are a complete treat and the reason that seeing a film in a theater may never be an experience that can be replaced. Thank you for understanding, James Cameron.
Heat (1995) by
Admittedly, I don't have much love for the action genre -- even most of the action films I'm supposed to regard as paragons of entertainment (Die Hard, Aliens) do almost nothing for me.
I was tempted to pick a Kurosawa samurai flick or maybe a classic war movie for this category (hey, there's no day dedicated to war or martial arts films), but I decided that would be cheating.
So even though my devotion to Michael Mann's Heat has waned considerably since I first saw it, it wins out because its action scenes are pretty much perfectly conceived and executed. The moral dilemma at the center of the story and the dichotomy set up between Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and master thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) aren't as smart or compelling as the movie seems to think, but the bank robbery and the subsequent shootout? Breathtaking.
Mann's penchant for portentous bloat can get in the way of his ultra-cool stylistic abilities (See: Miami Vice, which I really wanted to like a lot more than I did), but Heat doesn't suffer this fate too much, and on the rare occasion when I want a action fix, this is top shelf stuff.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977) by El Bicho
Stuntman Hal Needham made his directorial debut with Smokey and the Bandit thanks in part to his friend Burt Reynolds taking the lead role. The movie is filled with a lot of car stunts and even though many vehicles were destroyed, they made driving like a reckless maniac and breaking the law seem like a lot of fun. It was a box office smash, topped only by Star Wars, and led Hollywood to churn out a slew of Southern-fried action films and TV series, including two disappointing sequels.
The plot finds trucker "Bandit" (Reynolds) taking on a job for Big Enos (Pat McCormick) Burdette to move 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas back to Georgia in 28 hours for $80,000. The reason for the high bounty is because not only do speed limits need to be broken, but transporting Coors east of Texas is considered bootlegging. Bandit can't do it alone, so he enlists his friend "Snowman" (Jerry Reed, who also sang the classic theme song "East Bound and Down") to drive his rig while Bandit drives a black Pontiac Trans Am to draw attention of the cops.
One cop whose attention he draws is that of Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason in a hilarious performance that he improvised the majority of according to legend) after Bandit picks up Carrie (Sally Field) who left Buford's son Junior (Mike Henry) at the altar. Buford engages a high speed pursuit all the way to Georgia.
The 10-year-old me first made the acquaintance of the censored version of Smokey and the Bandit that aired on NBC, but the movie is so good those scumbum censors couldn't diminish its brilliance. Rare is the movie that combines action and comedy this well.