Top 10 Underrated Action Movies

Cal picks ten explosion-filled classics that really deserve more of an audience. 

Please let us know your own choices below…

10. Dark Angel (1990)

Dark Angel aka I Come in Peace is just a big dumb action movie with Dolph Lundgren and a few other unremarkable actors, but it sets itself ahead of the pack with its science fiction underpinnings. Indeed, this is a movie which pits human cops against extraterrestrials, or, more accurately, the muscle-clad Lundgren and an FBI lad against a massive alien fucker. And you know what? It’s awesome. An all-in-good-fun guilty pleasure which delivers all the requisite cheese and violence that you would want from a production of this ilk.

Best of all, the sci-fi stuff is completely free of pretentiousness. Yeah, I do like Blade Runner, but I’m in no rush to watch it again. Dark Angel? I’ll grab it off the shelf and watch it again in a heartbeat. Great action, great fun, and very brisk. Yet, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s actually heard of this film, much less seen it. What a damn shame.

9. Ronin (1998)

I watched Ronin purely because I was on the hunt for all things Sean Bean, and though I found his early departure from the movie very disappointing, I was soon rewarded with a competent action movie that makes great use of Robert De Niro and Jean Reno. It’s directed by John Frankenheimer, a veteran of the action genre capable of spectacular action sequences. And believe me, if you want great car chases or shootouts, Ronin delivers. Deary me, it delivers. I can only imagine how fantastic it would’ve been to witness this action masterpiece in a cinema back in the day.

Although the movie is reasonably well-known, it’s not exactly well-regarded. It has its fans, but not enough. It deserves far more credit.

8. Safe (2012)

Nobody really paid much mind to Safe. It’s a Jason Statham vehicle and was released not long after Safe House, so nobody was really anxious to see it. And it was directed by the same guy who did fucking Uptown Girls for fuck’s sake. And yet, this is easily one of the best pure action movies in ages. It’s R-rated, so violence is graphic and brutal, and the action scenes are some of the best from the last decade. Seriously. Story and dialogue are all standard-order, but Safe is special because of its set-pieces. Especially for an American movie, these bits are fucking spectacular. The technical competence and directorial acumen cannot be overstated.

Stat ham never stretches his range much, but nobody can realistically expect him to do so. He knows his strengths and plays a British tough guy properly. He’s single-handedly keeping the R-rated action genre alive and the only one trying to maintain the spirit of the 80s. As far as I’m concerned, he can keep doing his thing because I’ll keep watching them. If you like action movies, you’ll dig Safe.

7. Bulletproof (1988)

Three words: Gary. Fucking. Busey. If you’re not sold on Bulletproof from that description alone, there’s something wrong with you. Some of you may not realise it, but back in the 80s and 90s, everyone was trying to be the next action star like Arnie and Sly, and producers were trying their hardest to dig up the next big thing. So stars like Busey, Lundgren, Patrick Swayze, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Kurt Russell, Carl Weathers, and several others were headlining action movies, which were mostly pretty standard affairs, nothing more than an excuse to let the stars do their thang.

Bulletproof is one of Busey’s best. Here is a movie which unknowingly caters to the Busey fanatic like myself, allowing him to say laugh-out-loud lines like “Your worst nightmare, butthorn!” He also has a hot girlfriend because of course he does, he’s Gary Fucking Busey. And Busey’s character is known to be bulletproof because if he gets shot, he performs surgery himself to remove the bullet and places it in a jar. It honestly would not surprise me if Busey didn’t realise they were making a movie, and he was just followed with cameras. Bulletproof is funny and awesome, an R-rated action movie best watched with a case of beer.

6. The Rookie (1990)

Even I cannot believe it took me so long to see this one. Directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Eastwood and Charlie Sheen? And it’s an R-rated cop action film? If you haven’t seen it and you’re still reading this, you really need to shut your computer down, run out, buy the movie on disc, stop off at the liquor store to pick up a slab of beer on the way home, then cook up a big steak, and settle in to watch this under-seen action classic.

I think this is the film where Sheen became a man. In the first half of the movie, Sheen’s character is a bit of a pussy, but then he returns to a bar where he was humiliated earlier on…where he beats the fuck out of several dudes and sets the fucking place on fire whilst threatening everyone in a badass display of mandom for the ages. He then runs around the city on his own vendetta and even stands up to his dad. By the climax, Sheen is killing dudes without a care in the world. It’s amazing.

And Sheen is only half of the equation. The other is Eastwood, who’s a buff tank here. In the first five-minutes, he has already dropped a few F-bombs and perpetrated some violence. He spends the entire movie spouting enough one-liners to sink a battleship. His interplay with Sheen is amazing. And only Eastwood would wind up in a porn movie featuring himself and one of the terrorists who captured him. This really feels like a Dirty Harry movie and should have been produced as such, especially with Eastwood winding up as a lieutenant by the story’s end. I love this movie, it’s a new favourite.

5. The Last Boy Scout (1991)

Forget Live Free or Suck Hard and A Good Day to Meh Hard, The Last Boy Scout is the Die Hard sequel we all wanted. Whereas the latter-day Die Hard films were Die Hard in name only, The Last Boy Scout is Die Hard in everything except name. It has Bruce Willis as a burnt-out cop with a foul mouth. It has violent action and sparkling bantering. It has Willis getting caught up in a situation that feels very Die Hard. And yet, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone that’s actually seen this movie. The crappy Die Hard sequels get lavish Blu-ray treatments packed with extras, The Last Boy Scout gets a barebones BD release packaged with another movie. Balls!

This movie was written by Shane Black, one of the wittiest writers on the planet, so you know it ticks all the boxes. Willis is a great hero here and feels a lot like John McClane. And he has a sidekick in the form of Damon Wayans, who’s a damn sight better than Justin Long and Jai Courtney. Everything in this movie works – it’s a fun, old-school 90s action romp that you need to seek out at the earliest opportunity.

4. The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989)

This film is the fucking tits! It’s a Vietnam flick which fulfils the requirements of a war movie, whilst also emerging as an increasingly awesome action picture packed to the gills with badass, violent shootouts. It even stars R. Lee Ermey, one of the biggest screen badasses in history. He used to serve in the army, and he earned his stripes as a cinema icon through his performance in Full Metal Jacket that even had Stanley Kubrick laughing.

Anyway, back to The Siege of Firebase Gloria. As with most movies on this list, it was produced in the 80s, arguably the best decade for action movies. I’ve grown rather sick of the digital scene, but I can always return to 80s action movies like this. Blood squibs, stunts, real explosions, great thespians… And this movie delivers all of the above in spades, on top of being a great movie in its own right.

3. Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)

On paper, you can just tell that this is going to be a winner. It’s R-rated, it was produced in the early 90s during the action heyday, it was directed by Commando mastermind Mark L. Lester, and it stars Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee and Tia Carrere. Even so, it’s astonishing just how underrated and overlooked this gem truly is. I only wound up watching it because I spied the DVD going for $5, and was intrigued due to the leads. A mate encouraged me to go with my gut instinct. Before long, I was watching it. Immediately afterward, I watched it again. The following week, I had a case of Corona watching it again with mates.

Showdown in Little Tokyo is a fucking blast from start to end, and it really has everything that action-lovers want. Pacing is fast and furious, as it clocks in at a scant 75-minutes which is enough time to work through the story without outstaying its welcome. The action scenes are magnificent and violent. The bantering is one-of-a-kind, exhibiting the kind of sparkle that’s rarely present in contemporary cinema. The laughs come thick and fast, yet none of the one-liners sound forced. It all works. Best of all, there’s sex. And tits. And guns. Christ, this movie rules.

2. Road House (1989)

This movie received somewhat of a cult resurgence thanks to that one Family Guy episode, but it still doesn’t have the kind of following that it should. Also, here’s a news flash, guys: Road House was awesome long before that Family Guy joke, and it will remain awesome until the end of time… and then a bit longer.

Road House is one of my favourite action movies, manly movies, and movies period. It featured Patrick Swayze at the pinnacle of his 80s career, as well as king badass Sam Elliott doing what he does best. It has fisticuffs, tits, sex, booze, violence, guns, monster trucks, one-liners, bantering, and did I mention tits? Fuck sake, the movie was directed by a dude named Rowdy. He’s probably the only person on the planet who would be capable of putting such awesomeness on-screen without spontaneously combusting. The fact it’s a product of the 80s is the cherry on top. It was filmed on celluloid and contains real blood squibs and real stunts. If you don’t love Road House, you’re a poor excuse for a man and a poorer excuse for an action fan.

Oh, and certain copies of the film come with fanboy audio commentary by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier. Awesome.

1. Extreme Prejudice (1987)

What a supreme movie! Walter Hill’s ensemble action flick is essentially the Expendables of the 80s, as it unites a bunch of famous action stars and other big-screen tough guys for a round of good-natured carnage and mayhem. The storyline is a bit more intricate than the average actioner, and it dishes up some of the finest action scenes of Hill’s career. Violent and squib-happy, the shootouts deliver everything a genre fan has come to expect… and then some.

Topping it all off is a damn fine screenplay. Dialogue laughs in the face of political correctness, with vulgar bantering and profane one-liners that really cement this as a fine beer n’ pizza movie. I champion this movie every chance that I get, and every time I convince one of my mates to watch it, they thank me. Hell, I was introduced to this movie on a recommendation and didn’t have much interest, but after viewing, it appeared in my Top 20 pretty freaking fast. For action lovers, this is heaven.

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