I think that it is a pretty safe assumption that the 90s were a truly fantastic time for action films. Sure there were hundreds upon hundreds made during that time, but luckily the decade produced many action films that would go on to be classics of the genre. So I thought that would do a top 10 of my favourite ones during that period. I have to admit that it was hard to narrow it down to just 10 since there were so many great ones, but thankfully I was able to. So which films made the list? Read on and find out!
My top 10 favourite action films from the 90s:
10. CON AIR
Ah, CON AIR. What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said? Yes, it’s incredibly silly film in so many ways but it’s completely awesome from beginning to end. What I love about this film is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously at all but instead embraces the silliness of its premise and has a lot fun with it. It’s a tricky tone to get right, but thankfully director Simon West (who would go on to replicate that exact tone once again 15 years later for THE EXPENDABLES 2) and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg were able to achieve it perfectly. Plus it helps that they have an all-star cast (including Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich and many, many more) who are having a great time playing all the film’s memorable characters.
Honestly when you think about it, FACE/OFF is the kind of action film that could only have been made in the 90s. The premise is so brilliantly ridiculous that if it were made in other decade, it probably wouldn’t have been as effective. However just like CON AIR, this is also film that realises just how completely off-the-wall it’s premise is and goes full bore with it 110%. Legendary Hong Kong director John Woo does terrific job creating the film’s many action set pieces and as well as maintaining its tone without it ever being too dumb. Also it’s a joy to see two actors like John Travolta and Nicolas Cage (who were at their careers highs at the time) having an absolute blast with their roles.
8. TOTAL RECALL
While TOTAL RECALL has all the hallmarks that we have love in a Arnold Schwarzenegger action film around that period (the quotable one-liners, the OTT action, the hilarious humour etc.), but it was a smart sci-fi film that explored many interesting ideas like identity, reality and fantasy. Director Paul Verhoeven (who made this his follow-up film after ROBOCOP) does a terrific job delving into these themes while also delivering a hugely entertaining and action packed film (also not afraid to touch a little weirdness here and there for good measure). Arnold gives one of his best performances here and he supported by a top notch cast. Plus it’s also nice have an action film that makes think about it long after you have finished it.
7. THE FUGITIVE
I must admit that while I’ve never seen the original 60’s show THE FUGITIVE is based on, but that didn’t stop me from a truly great time with this film. Its a fantastic action thriller that’s definitely up there as one of the best film adaptations of a TV show ever made (it’s so far still the only one to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar). Harrison Ford gives a great performance in the lead role of “Dr. Richard Kimble” and he is well supported by his onscreen pursuer Tommy Lee Jones, who won an Oscar for his truly memorable performance as “Deputy Samuel Gerard”. While it’s story keeps you riveted from start to finish with it’s many twists-and-turns, it does have some great well directed action sequences by Andrew Davis (the train scene is intense!). It’s damn good stuff!
6. THE CROW
While THE CROW has many different elements of other genres in it (it has a bit of horror, fantasy and gothic), it is first and foremost an action film. While it is darker film than of the others on this list, but that is what makes it stand out much more among all he other action films released during the 90’s. Despite his tragic and untimely death on the set of the film, Brandon Lee’s performance as title character was terrific and it showed how much of a charismatic talent he truly was. Plus it was the breakout film of Aussie director Alex Proyas, whose fantastic work on this film would help him go on to have a major career in Hollywood.
5. THE ROCK
Even though Michael Bay is the director that everyone loves to hate these days but for me personally, I’ve always have had a lot of fun with his films (yeah, I know. I know. But what can say, I’m addicted to Bayhem *waits for the tomatoes to be thrown*). However you ask everyone what his best film is, I guarantee it would be THE ROCK. It’s an absolutely awesome and thrilling film that shows the best qualities of Bay as an action director (plus it helps that he had a great script to work with, which had some uncredited rewrites from both Oscar winning screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino of all people). Also makes the film work even more so is the onscreen teaming of Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage, whose performances elevate the film to a classic of the genre (this film marks the first of three classic 90’s action films that Cage would make back-to-back along with CON AIR and FACE/OFF).
I have to say that I am huge fan of films that have a great high concept premise. A lot of 90’s action films did have one but without a shred of doubt in my mind, SPEED is definitely the one that high concept premise out of all of them. Cinematographer-turned-director Jan de Bont (who made his directing debut with this film) made a truly exciting and intense action film that delivers in every way from beginning to end (although it’s a shame that after this film and his next one TWISTER, his career went completely down hill). Plus it has top notch performances from it entire cast (Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels and the late great Dennis Hopper), a great script and some great action sequences (it even won a couple of Oscars as well). Any action films that have high concept premise, should look at this film to see how it is done successfully. Also ignore the sequel SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL, which was crap.
3. STARSHIP TROOPERS
I think that it is absolute understatement about how I much I love STARSHIP TROOPERS. It’ll always have a special place in my heart because it one of the first films that I saw more than once in the cinema (particularly for the MA15+ variety). Exactly 10 years after making the 80’s classic sci-fi action film ROBOCOP, director Paul Verhoeven made another one that also surprisingly shares a lot of similar elements to it. Just like ROBOCOP, this film also plays successfully as both a extremely violent action film and as a darkly humorous political satire. The combination of these element create, in my opinion, an absolutely awesome and incredibly entertaining action film. Plus it has a great cast, fantastic action sequences and amazing CGI effects as well. I love this so very much, it’s definitely without a doubt Verhoeven’s best film. Well, to me anyway.
2. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY
While THE TERMINATOR ended on a note that indicated that there would be a further continuation of the story, but I can imagine that a lot of people at the time wondered how on Earth the sequel was ever going to top the first one (especially since it became instant masterpiece of the action genre). But leave to director James to find a way. Not only is TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY better than the first film in so many ways, it’s one of the greatest action films EVER made. Cameron took everything that the 1st film was amazing and took it even further. Just everything is fantastic: the direction, the script, the acting, the special effects (the CGI in this film was ground-breaking at the time), the action sequences and, of course, it has another great performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger as the title character. It’s just a brilliant all round film.
1. THE MATRIX
You know when you think about it, 1999 was the perfect year for THE MATRIX to be released in. It was the was the final year of the 20th century and we were on the verge of a new one. So in a way, this film best represented that. The film marked both the end of traditional action films and was the beginning of a new phase for the genre. The first time I saw THE MATRIX, it absolutely blew my mind and I knew that it was going to change the way that action films were made in the future (for better or worse). While it is influenced by many things in our culture (sci-fi films, comic books, martial art films, anime, philosophy etc.), but writer/directors the Wachowskis combined all this elements and created an action film that was unlike anything we have ever seen before. There many reasons why I love this film (that would be entire other article of its own), and it’s all those reasons why I think it’s one of the greatest action films made. It’s just perfect.
Well, there you have it everyone. Those are my top 10 favourite action films of the 90s. Agree or disagree? Let your voices be heard in the comments below or on the official SuperMarcey.com Facebook page!
– Bede Jermyn