'The Arnold' is back but doesn't make the list; South Jersey's favorite son is number one
Watching Arnold Schwarzenegger run around as a way-over-the-hill action hero in The Last Stand got me thinking about who are the top action heroes in the movies these days. While I was looking for mostly younger stars, I had to include one veteran who can still pull off being a badass.
10. Jeremy Renner
The former indie film star (The Hurt Locker, Dahmer), has been gaining serious traction as an action star thanks to his acclaimed performance in Ben Affleck’s The Town, the role of Hawkeye in The Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and of course stepping in for Matt Damon as a new super spy in The Bourne Legacy. I would love to see Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross hook up in the next Bourne film.
9. Jet Li
The biggest Asian star in American films this side of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, he made a big impression in his stateside debut as the deadly bad guy in Lethal Weapon 4 and followed that up by starring in the action hit Romeo Must Die. He has continued to go back and forth from American style action (Unleashed) and more classic Asian themes (The Forbidden Kingdom). He also joined the action hero fest The Expendables and its sequel.
8. Dwayne Johnson
When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson showed up in Vin Diesel’s Fast Five, I gushed in my review, “For those of us who thought Diesel and former WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were ‘separated at birth,’ these two have a best-of-the-baldies throwdown that rocks our action loving world. Amen. Johnson gets additional points for bringing comedy to the action party in films like The Rundown and Be Cool.
7. Daniel Craig
Makes the list as the “blunt instrument” James Bond. Craig helped revive the series, and the current Bond film, Skyfall, is the biggest box office hit of the series. You can also add The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Cowboys & Aliens and especially, the British gangster flick Layer Cake.
6. Will Smith
His versatility has allowed him to move smoothly from action hero (Men in Black, Independence Day) to serious actor (The Pursuit of Happyness). Some of my other action favorites include Enemy of the State, Hancock, I Am Legend and I, Robot. He co-stars with his son Jaden in upcoming sci-fi epic After Earth (pictured), and sequels to I, Robot and Hancock are on his "to do" list. Also down the road, a remake of Colossus: The Forbin Project, a terrific, little known sci-fi film from 1970 with Ron Howard scheduled to direct.
5. Matt Damon
He would never have been considered for this list but then along came that scene on the park bench in The Bourne Identity and suddenly Damon was an action hero badass. He proved to be a convincing super spy in the two sequels and I suspect he will be back in another Bourne adventure.
4. Mark Wahlberg
Be honest, did you ever image that rapper Marky Mark would morph into an acclaimed serious movie star (Boogie Nights, The Departed), TV producer (Entourage, Boardwalk Empire), comedy actor (Ted) and a sizzling action star? He has managed the action star portion without starring in an established franchise thanks to films that include Three Kings, The Italian Job, Shooter, We Own the Night, Contraband, and in theaters now, Broken City.
3. Jason Statham
The former model and diver on the British National team has played a character named Handsome Rob on merit. That was in The Italian Job, a supporting role. In 2002 he established his action hero credentials as Frank Martin in The Transporter, a super cool anti-hero known for his prowess behind the wheel. He went on to do two sequels, then established another action franchise as Chev Chelios in Crank and its sequel. Throw in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and the superb film The Bank Job and you have an impressive action resume even before you add his starring role opposite Sylvester Stallone in both Expendables films, with a third on the way. Out Jan. 25 iis the revenge thriller Parker opposite Jennifer Lopez.
2. Vin Diesel
Diesel has been one of the most consistent action heroes of the last 15 years with his best work highlighted by three iconic characters: Dominic Toretto in The Fast and the Furious series, Riddick in Pitch Black and the Chronicles of Riddick (with a third film completed) and Xander Cage from XXX. My personal favorite is Riddick — I love those glow-in-the-dark eyes.
1. Bruce Willis
South Jersey’s own B-Will is the only old dude to make the list because he continues to be an effective action star. You can make the argument that Stallone also belongs and perhaps Liam Neeson thanks to the Taken films, but I’m sticking with my Jersey homeboy. Die Hard turned the comedy star, from the popular TV series Moonlighting, into a movie hero. He has managed to maintain that status, in particular thanks to the character of John McClane, who has remained a beloved character since Die Hard (1988) with three well-made sequels (I loved Live Free or Die Hard) and a fifth on the way soon, A Good Day to Die Hard.
Much like Will Smith, he also moves smoothly from more serious roles and indie films (Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, Moonrise Kingdom, Hart’s War, Nobody’s Fool, In Country, Twelve Monkeys) to full tilt action (The Fifth Element, Armageddon, Mercury Rising, Last Man Standing, The Jackal, Sin City, 16 Blocks, Red, Looper). He also showed up in The Expendables and its sequel, and a Red sequel is on the way.
Love this list? Hate it? Let me know what your list would be in the comment section.
I don’t like the term top movies of the year. Defining them as your favorite movies is more on point, but if you’re a film critic you are not supposed to whine about how movie taste is subjective, not objective.
I’ve been a crafty film critic over the decades, which means I have learned to avoid movies that look horrible in the coming attractions. Of course some movies featuring major stars and high profiles simply can’t be avoided.
Director Justin Lin has gone full bore Michael Bay with the insanely ridiculous action sequences in 'Fast Five,' but thanks to the excellent chemistry between the leads and a clever reintroduction of various characters from across the 'Fast & Furious' universe, it’s insanely entertaining as well.
The best addition to the sequel is Chuck Norris, who provides a hilarious cameo.
While admitting this is damning with faint praise, Sylvester Stallone delivers a better aging action hero in Bullet to the Head than Arnold Schwarzenegger did in Last Stand.
There was some history made at the 2013 Academy Awards and if Captain Kirk comes back from the future with an Oscar headline regarding host Seth MacFarlane, it will read: He didn’t suck. This was an Oscar evening that shared the good vibrations around in an appropriate manner.