“Mad Max: Fury Road” has changed what an action movie can do all by itself. George Miller spent the better part of 30 years working on his baby, and his vision was finally shown in theatres across the country a few weekends ago to rave reviews. How does this version of “Mad Max” compare to the others?
I'm pretty sure it's as good as or better than “The Road Warrior,” a movie from 1982 that changed the way action movies were made. Will people still love “Fury Road” as much in a decade or two? Time will tell, but the feminist angle and Charlize Theron's “kickass” performance could be a sign of things to come in the genre (could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing).
When the movie was over, all I could think about was how all these new, hip, young directors of superhero movies from the indie scene had just been taught how to make an action movie by a 70-year-old director. “Die Hard” changed the action movie genre almost 30 years ago.
Since then, it has changed in many interesting ways, though not all of them have been good. Still, it has given us a few great movies. “Fury Road” is just the most recent addition to a genre that is always getting better. What should we do next? What will happen in the world after the events of “Fury Road”?
A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times, “Miller has reminded us that blockbusters can be both art and radically visionary, even the fourth in a series. What a beautiful day!” Here are ten movies that tried to change the game, succeeded, and made it a great day for blockbusters. All of them came out in the last 30 years.
Die Hard, 1988
The Academy doesn't like action movies, and for good reason. Most of the time, they are loud, rude, dumbed down, and have no art at all (“The Expendables,” anyone?) But sometimes, a movie like “Die Hard” goes beyond the limits of its genre and does something special by being so good at what it does.
“Die Hard” by John McTiernan isn't a masterpiece, but it got the job done and set the standard for what an action movie in the 21st century should be like. It was copied a lot in the 1990s and is still being copied today, but none of the copies is as exciting as McTiernan's original.
It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that “Die Hard” set the standard for the perfect action movie of the 21st century.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991
The sequel to James Cameron's 1984 classic is much more of an action movie than the first one. Like a lot of the other movies on this list, it got mixed reviews at first but was later seen as a masterpiece. Together with Ah-Terminator, nuld's a ripped and tough Linda Hamilton tries to stop the terrifying T-1000 from killing her troubled son John Connor.
The T-1000 was sent from the future. When it first came out, I was a teenager, and I had never seen action scenes set up like this, nor had I seen special effects that were so creatively strange and chaotic. I still haven't. The special effects still look good today, and Cameron's characters still have hearts that beat.
It had everything an action movie in the 21st century would want, but no other movie has come close to what this one did in 1991.
The Matrix, 1999
In 1999, action movies were on their way out. Arnold was no longer Arnold, and there was no new action star to take his place. The action movie went techno with “The Matrix.” It literally went beyond the technological and creative limits we thought were set for action.
“Bullet Time” gave the genre a new lease on life and broke a lot of old clichés, which led to a lot of new ones. Here, the strange got mixed in with the action, and a lot of people tried to copy it. When imagination and originality were added to the mix, it marked the start of a whole new generation of mainstream movies that were as much about ideas as they were about action.
“The Matrix” was a big influence on new filmmakers and led to a lot of cool camera tricks. Even the style of music videos changed because of it. The movie wasn't just meant to get your heart racing; it was also meant to blow your mind. Its jumps, which were inspired by Asian movies, were the start of something new in movies.
Trinity by Carrie Ann Moss is a notable example of a female hero who wins in the end. Even though the sequels were bad, we'll always have the first one.
The Killer, 1989
If you want to know where Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and even Johnnie To got their ideas for extreme violence, all you have to do is watch this John Woo classic from 1989. This Chinese action movie, in which Chow Yun-Fat plays a deadly assassin who agrees to take one last hit to help a blind girl see again, had a big impact on movies all over the world and is rightly called a landmark in the genre.
Just one year after it came out, Luc Besson basically copied it for the exciting and entertaining “La Femme Nikita” and, a few years later, for the now-classic “Leon: The Professional.” A lot of what was taken from Woo's movie is superficial, like shooting with both hands, doves flying, and almost operatic kills, but it opened the door to making bloody violence look artistic.
Woo made another great movie after “The Killer” called “Hard-Boiled,” but nothing he has done since can beat “The Killer.”
“Aliens” taught us not to judge people by how stupid they seem. Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, said, “Get away from her, you skank!” at the end of this 1986 sequel to “Alien,” a movie that showed how powerful women could be in a society dominated by men. This movie, like many others by James Cameron, had a strong, badass female lead.
If the first movie was more of a horror film, Cameron changed the focus to a more action-packed script with a lot of lines that could be quoted. When Vasquez's friends ask her, “Are you a man?” she answers in a funny way, “No, are you?” There are feminist undertones, but you can't talk about the movie without talking about the action scenes that kept your heart racing for 146 minutes.
Ripley is still the model of what a female action hero should be like.
The Bourne Trilogy, From 2002 to 2007
“The Bourne Identity” showed moviegoers a new kind of action hero and a different way for action to happen. Gone were the big-budget, explosion-filled, slick, special effects extravaganzas. In their place were a gritty template, naturalistic action sequences, and hand-held camera fight scenes.
Our hero was no longer a cocky young man trying to save the world. Instead, he was trying to save himself and figure out who he was. No matter what you think of these movies, you can't deny that they have changed the way action movies have been made this decade. Many people have even called James Bond “James Bourne.”
In the “Taken” movies, Liam Neeson played Jason Bourne, and so did Keanu Reeves in “John Wick” last year, Angie Jolie in “Salt,” and Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher.” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” showed hand-to-hand combat, and Christopher Nolan used moves like Bournes in his “Dark Knight” trilogy.
The Dark Knight, 2008
If you haven't heard of Christopher Nolan's superhero classic, you don't live on this planet. In this artful blockbuster, Nolan and an A-list cast led by Christian Bale as Batman, but especially the late Heath Ledger as a Joker who will haunt your dreams, win. People have said that the movie is about a world gone to hell after 9/11, where people try to do bad things to get rid of bad things.
They might not be too far off, as Batman fights the Joker in a battle that might not be too different from America's fight against terrorism. The Joker played by Heath Ledger is so real and intense that he almost steals the show from the rest of the movie. However, Nolan's attention to detail is what really puts this movie over the top.
This is his dark, twisted take on a superhero that people don't understand, and it's the best superhero movie ever made.
Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015
You can't deny how powerful Mad Max: Fury Road is as a whole. The fourth movie in the series, which was directed by George Miller, shows that not all blockbusters should be met with a shrug. If anything, this violent action movie is even more exciting and intense than the ones that came before it. This is Miller's triumph all the way through. It has a negative view of people and a rude, in-your-face style.
The amount of detail he puts into every frame is as obsessively detailed as any Wes Anderson movie I've seen. Margaret Sixel's editing, as it stands, is most deserving of the Film Editing Oscar for next year. Sixel is the unsung hero of this movie, which is edited quickly and staged with a lot of craziness.
Miller is the well-known one, and every frame shows his passion and vision. He must have had full control over this project in order to do what he did on screen, which is good for him and good for us.
Action is the only genre that requires you to accept your guilty pleasures. You can probably thank this Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from 1987 for that. Carl Weather and Jessie Ventura are a good match. Ah-nuld in this testosterone-fueled hunt for animals in the jungles of Central America. Not sold yet?
At one point Bill Duke says “This shit makes Cambodia look like Kansas”. I can't say that the plot is mind-blowing, but there is something very exciting going on here: I get the feeling that we just left our brains at the door and let this pop-culture landmark whiplash us.
All of the credit goes to director John McTiernan, who, one year before his success with “Die Hard,” takes a script for a B-movie and turns it into a classic of the genre. Are you still not sure? Just try not to smile when Arnold finally meets the hunter face-to-face and says, “You're one ugly motherfucker.” Classic.
In the middle of this tense action movie from 1994, Dennis Hopper screams, “There's a bomb on the bus!” Don't worry, Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are strong and determined, and they try to stop Hopper from being evil. Hopper is crazy and scary as hell, and he brings real evil to the movie by wanting to kill everything in his way.
With hints of his gas-snorting character Frank from “Blue Velvet” and his crazy character Feck from “River's Edge,” Hopper's bad guy Howard Payne owns every frame he's in and makes an impression on the movie even when he's not onscreen.
It's a deeply disturbing portrait of a man who has gone crazy, and it set the standard for how bold, crazy, and low a mainstream movie villain can go. Just think about it: every bad guy in a movie since Payne has been able to do things that they might not have been able to do before.