There were some fantastically great action films released in 2014, but 2014 was not a great year for action films.
The horror genre had no such shortage (as evidenced by the greatness occupying our list of the year’s best) and you can probably name several comedies that had you busting a gut in 2014, but action films? There weren’t very many, and what there was rarely impressed. But sometimes you find great action in less than great movies, and with that understanding I was able to find 14 movies that fit the bill as the Best Action Films of 2014.
14. Kingsman: The Secret Service (trailer, red band)
Fine, I’m starting right out of the gate with a major cheat, but I did say there weren’t a lot of great action movies in 2014 didn’t I? The original trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s 2015 release didn’t do much for me, but this red band hits all of my sweet spots. It very much reminds of Kick-Ass – another Mark Millar comic adapted by Vaughn and Jane Goldman – and while that movie had issues a lack of electrifying, bat-shit insane action sequences wasn’t one of them.
13. The Purge: Anarchy
James DeMonaco’s sequel to his own surprise hit eschews the horror/home-invasion angle in favor of bigger action set-pieces, and he delivers a fun combination of gunplay, hand-to-hand combat and bloody demises along the way. At least some of the success on the action front is owed to Frank Grillo’s gritty, physical performance as a hardened man dead-set on taking revenge.
Both of David Ayer’s 2014 releases made our list of the year’s biggest disappointments, but their problems had nothing to do with the action. The gunfights and hardcore action sequences in Sabotage are as gleefully gratuitous as the movie is dumb… and good lord is it dumb. But the gunfights are messy in the best sense of the word to the degree that the guy responsible for the blood squibs is co-credited as a set decorator. That’s probably not true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
I’m not as big a fan of Bong Joon-ho’s English debut as the rest of you are, but one element we can all agree on is the quality of its action scenes. The highlight of course is the centerpiece fight between the rebels and enforcers that moves in and out of darkness and features all manner of weapons bladed and blunt.
10. The Guest
You don’t watch Downton Abbey and walk away thinking that Dan Stevens would make for a truly menacing and physically threatening killer, but lucky for us Adam Wingard did just that and cast him in this ‘80s-hued action throwback. Stevens does great work as a stranger in town “forced” to dole out ass-kickings like they were lollipops, and while the John Carpenter-esque score is my favorite part of the film Stevens’ charismatic death-dealing is a close second.
David Ayer’s WWII-set tank film earns a spot on our list for bringing muscular, metallic tank warfare back to the big screen in style. His camera never shies away from the damage done by armored shells and heavy treads, and an early face-off featuring four American tanks against a lone German Tiger is a tremendous piece of tension-fueled action.
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Bryan Singer’s return to the mutant fold he began features quite a lot of action scenes, big and small, but it’s Quicksilver’s “Time In a Bottle” sequence that stands apart. It’s different in that most of the scene involves setup for just a few brief seconds of action that follow, but taken as a whole it’s a tremendously entertaining and beautifully choreographed chain of events. Your move, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
7. Mad Max: Fury Road (trailer, Comic Con)
Yeah yeah I cheated again, but damn if this trailer isn’t two minutes of the most spectacularly impressive and awe-inspiring action glimpsed this year. George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max has felt like an unlikely fantasy for years, but having finally seen some actual footage that pipe dream has suddenly gotten a whole lot wetter. Apologies for the crassness, but sweet Jesus how do you not get excited after watching this trailer? If the actual movie doesn’t make our list of 2015’s Best Action Movies I’ll be surprised… and thrilled because that would mean there were 15 better action movies.
6. Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead
Horror films don’t tend to make their way onto lists of action movies, but Tommy Wirkola’s sequel to his own cult classic is absolutely loaded with fights, kills, mayhem and more. It’s incredibly energetic, but more than that the extensive carnage is choreographed for maximum entertainment value. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is also very funny, but even if you never crack a smile the violent maelstrom is guaranteed to thrill and delight.
5. Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise is a national treasure who consistently delivers highly entertaining action films for an undeserving public, and his latest is no different. No matter what else you might think of him he’s committed to his movies in ways other “stars” can’t quite match, and his dedication to action shames performers half his age. Cruise shakes things up here a bit by shifting the “action hero” moniker to Emily Blunt for much of the film while he plays a weak-willed and highly incompetent man wholly uninterested in combat. Hell, he dies in the film – repeatedly – and it frequently results in bog laughs to boot. The big beach assault is glimpsed several times and showcases a wide array of action beats, but even the smaller moments involving the practice arena and the rolling wheels of a passing truck deliver the goods.
4. No Tears for the Dead
Lee Jeong-beom’s The Man From Nowhere is one of South Korea’s many brilliant slices of action cinema, and while it took four years for his follow-up the wait was worth it. The story remains basic, but the action remains spectacular. There are gun fights and vehicular combat galore, but once again the highlight is a fantastically executed and very brutal knife fight. Lee’s fight scenes are never clean affairs – the floors are always covered in blood by their end – and we love them even more for their messiness.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is my favorite of the Marvel films for multiple reasons, but one of the big ones is the film’s commitment to tangible action sequences. Sure the third act is CGI heavy as everyone fights on and around the flying heli-carriers, but most of the film’s action is far more grounded. It’s part of what makes Cap the most entertaining of the heroes – he’s not a green monster, a CGI flying suit or an intergalactic god, so his fights are always going to be far more earthy. The elevator scene is a standout as is the opening rescue at sea, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo also deliver a fantastic automotive sequence involving Nick Fury and a squad of heavily armed attackers.
2. John Wick
Keanu Reeves’ late career renaissance continues to impress and excite as he not only embraces the action genre but does so with all his heart and body. His latest adventure follows a path well-tread by the likes of Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson, but he one ups them at every turn as he dispenses revenge down the barrel of a gun and at the end of his fists at a blistering pace. The film has to hold some kind of record for head shots as they serve as Wick’s finishing move almost every time – better safe than sorry – and the fisticuffs are just as brutally efficient. Co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch make their debut here after long careers in the stunt world, and here’s hoping they dedicate their lives to delivering more magic like this in the very near future. If you like action but missed this one in theaters I highly recommend a blind buy of the Blu-ray hitting shelves in February.
1. The Raid 2
I first watched this film almost one full year ago at Sundance, and I’ve re-watched it several times since. No other movie even stood a chance at dethroning it as the year’s best action movie.
Related Topics: Kingsman