For the most part, the Aughts were the scene of a crushing blow to the Action genre. Though I had expected kid’s flicks and rom-coms to attempt to pummel the films I love into near-extinction, the true assaults came from the resurgence of the Superhero subgenre.
Combining elements of Spawn, Blade, and the special effects of The Matrix, this new version of Superhero flick was now aimed at younger audiences. Toning down the violence and “adult themes” in order to play for teenagers and young children, a successful (financially) formula was found. Starting with X-Men in 2000, we were assaulted with this type of movie for ten long years.
Luckily, there were still filmmakers doing other kinds of Action. And while you may find similarly-themed movies on my list, for the most part I want nothing to do with this type of flick. So here are the movies that were the cream of the crop for their respective years. It was a bad decade, but there were some damn good movies made.
2000 – Gladiator
Kicking things off right, Gladiator was indeed largely a spectacle film, but don’t let that fool you. The effects of this Ridley Scott masterpiece took a backseat to Russell Crowe kicking massive amounts of ass. This would be one of the few cases in history where an Action movie received the attention it deserved, finally winning recognition at the Oscars.
What’s that? It was a drama, you say? Bullshit. If Maximus hadn’t fought hordes of Germans, a dozen or so other gladiators, and Sven-Ole Thorsen in a pit with a bunch of tigers, you, me, and everyone else wouldn’t hardly give a damn about this movie. It’s actually a fairly simple revenge film, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t made with class. Gladiator may be steak, but it’s served at a Five-Star restaurant.
runner-up: Pitch Black
2001 – 3000 Miles To Graceland
This year would see some of the death throes of the once-great genre. Stomped out of the theaters by effects-obsessed children, this movie boasted a fun cast of Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Christian Slater, and even Howie Long. The tale of treachery, robbery, and fake Elvis-dressing bad guys is a blast.
Underseen and criminally under-appreciated, 3000 Miles To Graceland was the first hint of the dark times to come.
runner-up: Brotherhood Of The Wolf
2002 – Blade II
The Action genre tried to keep up with its obnoxious cousin in 2002, with the sequel to one of the films that helped spawn the genre. Wesley Snipes returned as Blade, and trying to hedge their bets, the filmmakers also brought back Kris Kristofferson.
And while it’s mostly a retread of 1998’s Blade, there are some newer action sequences and Snipes gets a tad more to do. But compared to the other films jockeying for position, Blade II was dark, gritty, and full of guns, machismo, and kicks to the face. This was also the last time Snipes was able to make Blade cool. Trinity would fuck up the series, but we’ll always have the first two films.
runner-up: The Transporter
2003 – Kill Bill
After a six year absence, Quentin Tarantino returned with a bang. His love letter to the kung fu flicks of the 60s and 70s may not be the most original movie ever made, but it’s easily one of the best in its not-so humble genre. Frankensteined from other sources, Kill Bill presents an ultimate version of the kung fu revenge flick.
Far bloodier than anything else out at the time, Tarantino helped pave the way for gorier films later in the decade. But most importantly, with Uma Thurman as The Bride, he made babes bad-ass again.
runner-up: Ong Bak
2004 – The Chronicles Of Riddick (uncut version)
Agreeing to cut the movie down, and edit it into a PG-13 version, the filmmakers cut their throat and sank their ship. This is a shame, as the director’s cut clearly shows a cool film with a fantastic scope had been made. Diesel is still a bad-ass here, taking on legions of evil warriors and once again begrudgingly risking his life to save others as he escapes yet another hazardous planet.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of this mess is the fact that David Twohy has admitted the mistake of pairing the film down to obtain a rating more fitting of a broad audience and pledged not to do so again. Hopefully the next installments of the Riddick saga won’t be filmed decades apart.
2005 – Hostage
Bruce Willis playing a downtrodden policeman? Never! Still, this is about as close to a Die Hard as we were gonna get this decade, Live Free Or Die Hard included. That being said, most people avoided this one. It may not have been an event film, or even attempted to have the scale of a Die Hard movie, but it was still a gritty good time.
runner-up: Star Wars: Episode III
2006 – Casino Royale
Ever since the 1970s, the James Bond films have been jumping off one bandwagon and onto the next. This time they jumped onto the Jason Bourne bandwagon, adherence to realistic expectations, simple story, and shaky-cam included.
Surprisingly, this worked out on the movie’s favor. In a series reboot, 007 was able to show his roots, and develop as a character. He was also able to kick plenty of ass.
runner-up: Mission Impossible III
2007 – Grindhouse
This Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double feature was the best thing to hit 2007. Two fun flicks for the price of one, the filmmakers created an experience replicating that of the cheap, drive-in thrills of yesteryear.
Like so many other great ideas, this one was lost in translation. Mired in poor marketing, the experience was passed on by many, who didn’t understand the long running time amounted to a two-for-one deal and the cheesy fun that awaited them. Come to think of it, perhaps it was the fans abandoning the genre that hurt Action more than the younger audiences ignoring it.
2008 – Rambo
At the end of the decade, the most amazing thing began to occur. Action nostalgia began creating a demand for old-school ass-kickers. And with Arnold Schwarzenegger away, his perpetual box-office rival Sylvester Stallone strode in, almost without firing a shot, and claimed the throne of bad-ass once more.
Having already made a successful comeback with Rocky Balboa, Sly brought back Rambo in his goriest adventure yet. Taking hold of the modern film making styles, Stallone made a brutal movie about war and will behind the violence. Easily the best Action flick of the year.
runner-up: The Dark Knight
2009 – Crank: High Voltage
Directing duo Neveldine/Taylor took their silly movie from 2006 and made it even sillier in the sequel. Never saying “too much”, High Voltage takes its hero (Jason Statham) from a helicopter crash to a heart transplant to one action sequence after another. With a cast of characters so wacky it’s almost inappropriate, we are witness to one of the strangest, most disgusting, and yet still utterly awesome movies ever made.
This type of superhero is too big for comics.
So that’s my humble little list. I hope it didn’t feel too negative, and I hope this next decade will only improve upon the genre. I also hope I missed some of your favorites so I can be overcome by hatemail. Feel free to drop by the forums and tell me why my list is wrong.