Top 50 greatest action/adventure films

JEP film critic Tom Ogg selects his top 50 favourite action/adventure films

ONLINE streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon UK have made it easier than ever to access thousands of films with the click of a few buttons.

And with the Covid-19 ongoing, and Cineworld Jersey temporarily closed (although hopefully due to reopen next year), there has never been a better time to indulge in watching films in the comfort of your own home.

As such, I’ve been running a series on the JEP's weekly film pages in which, every Saturday, I pick my top 50 must-see films from a particular genre – not necessarily the greatest ever made (although many of them certainly qualify as such), but the ones that I personally most recommend watching.

To date, I have covered crime, comedy, sci-fi, war, romance, horror, action/adventure, film noir, drama, westerns, children’s films and even so-bad-they're-good films, and you can read my Top 50 Action/Adventure Films list below.

For reasons more to do with OCD than anything else, I never allow the same film to appear in more than one list, thus ET is absent from my top 50 children's films list because it already appears in my top 50 sci-fi films list, and so on.

All films are listed in order of personal preference, and all feedback is welcome, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with my choices: togg@jerseyeveningpost.com

Jurassic Park (29196274)

TOP 50 ACTION/ADVENTURE FILMS

OKAY, time to don a tatty string vest and then yell ‘wooahhh!’ while diving for cover from an exploding vehicle because here are my – smash! bang! wallop! – top 50 action/adventure movies.

Now, I’m aware that it seems rather odd to have a list of action/adventure films with only a single entry for James Cameron – he is, after all, one of the finest directors of action cinema alive today.

However, there is a very simple explanation for this and it is that Aliens (1986), The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) have all already appeared in my top 50 sci-fi films list (at numbers two, three and seven, respectively), and much as these films are undoubtedly action-packed, I consider them to be first and foremost science-fiction. Oh, and the same is also true of John McTiernan’s Predator (1987), which made the number six position on my sci-fi list.

You might also notice a glaring lack of Marvel movies, or indeed superhero films in general, and that’s because I simply don’t find them very exciting. I’m aware that these films are often supremely slick and well-made productions, but they just feature too many CGI set-pieces for my tastes, and I’m afraid I can’t summon much enthusiasm for fight scenes or chase sequences created by a bunch of techy blokes sitting behind computer desks.

I do love the Batman movies (well, the ones by Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan anyway) but otherwise I find my opinions regarding superhero flicks rarely align with the established critical consensus (audiences and reviewers lavished praise on Black Panther and Wonder Woman, whereas I watched them and thought, ‘Well, that was distinctly average’ – apologies to the late Chadwick Boseman).

1. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

MUCH like its endearingly grouchy title character, there is a lot to love about Steven Spielberg’s action-adventure classic.

Inspired by the adventure comics which Spielberg and co-creator George Lucas had read as children, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – or simply Raiders of the Lost Ark as is it is more commonly known – is a rip-roaring old-school romp boasting a career-defining performance from Harrison Ford as whip-cracking archaeologist Indiana Jones, an unforgettable score from composer John Williams and more nail-biting set-pieces than you can shake a treasure-seeking staff at.

Alongside this, there are top-notch supporting turns from a cast of talented Brit thesps (Denholm Elliott, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies) and some satisfyingly gruesome practical effects that would never pass muster in a PG-rated film these days (kids were clearly made of stronger stuff back then).

There is surely no other film in Spielberg’s oeuvre that better encapsulates the director’s unsurpassable ability to replicate the giddy sensation of a theme park ride on-screen, whether it’s Jones dodging bottomless pits, poisonous arrows and gigantic polystyrene boulders in a booby trap-filled temple or Jones and sidekick Marion (Karen Allen) scaling ancient underground monuments while fleeing from the snake-infested Well of Souls.

So successful was Raiders of the Lost Ark that Spielberg and Ford returned for two more Indiana Jones films in the 1980s: the startlingly dark Temple of Doom (1984) and the light-hearted Last Crusade (1989). It seemed the pair had fashioned one of the most perfect film trilogies in cinema, but then along came 2008’s woeful Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and rather blotted the copybook.

Oh well, nothing can tarnish the sheer unalloyed sense of adventurism and excitement that comes from watching the original. If ever anyone disputes Raiders of the Lost Ark’s reputation as the greatest action/adventure film ever made, simply ask them to name a better one.

Film fact: Watch closely during the scene in which opportunistic bad guy Belloq (Paul Freeman) dares Jones to destroy the Ark of the Covenant and you’ll notice that the actor inadvertently swallows a fly. I don’t know why he swallowed a fly. Perhaps he’ll die.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (28831314)

2. North By Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)

ARGUABLY the finest film of Alfred Hitchcock’s illustrious career, North By Northwest is a quite ludicrously enjoyable action-adventure epic: exciting, intense, romantic, funny – and often all in the same scene.

Written by acclaimed screenwriter Ernest Lehman, the film stars Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, a suave New York-based advertising executive who finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse after being mistaken for a US secret agent by the henchmen of Phillip Vandamm, an international spy played with sinister relish by James Mason.

The suspenseful set-pieces come thick and fast, from a forcibly intoxicated Thornhill being duped into drink-driving along a narrow clifftop road to the iconic climactic chase across the face(s) of Mount Rushmore.

Perhaps the best scene – and certainly the most famous – sees Thornhill attacked by a crop duster while waiting at a rural bus stop, with the plane chasing him across dirt tracks and through nearby corn fields. If anything, the lengthy build-up is even more suspenseful than the attack itself, with Thornhill casually watching the plane in the distance, unaware of what is about to transpire (it’s not for nothing that Hitchcock is known as the Master of Suspense).

An ideal film for introducing younger audiences to the golden age of cinema.

Film fact: Cary Grant couldn’t make head nor tail of the film’s plot and spent much of the shoot as confused as his character. This, Hitchcock correctly surmised, would only add to the authenticity of the actor’s performance.

Cay Grant in North By Northwest (28831317)

3. The Raid (2011, Gareth Evans)

I LOVE action movies as much as the next man (especially if the next man loves Cobra and considers Last Action Hero among the most unfairly maligned action films in cinema history), but I find CGI has sadly sapped many modern-day actioners of their spirit, with too many filmmakers prepared to forego actual stunts by actual human beings in favour of overblown computer-generated carnage. It’s what I like to call ‘Michael Bay syndrome’.

Diolch nefoedd, then, for Welsh director Gareth Evans, whose 2011 film The Raid didn’t so much give the genre a shot in the arm as deliver a resounding Taekwondo front kick right between the legs.

Set and shot in Indonesia, The Raid takes place almost entirely within a single claustrophobic location – a grim multi-storey tower block in the slums of Jakarta – and centres on Rama (the ludicrously nimble Iko Uwais), a rookie member of a special forces unit tasked with infiltrating the aforementioned tower block and bringing down local crime lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy).

Suffice to say, things don’t go entirely to plan and before long all hell has broken loose, leading to some of the most underwear-incineratingly intense action sequences ever committed to film.

Made for just $1 million (which in Hollywood terms equates to roughly one-tenth of one of Michael Bay’s trailers), The Raid wowed audiences and critics alike upon release, with Evans briefly becoming one of the industry’s hottest directors (literally – reportedly the average temperature on the set of The Raid was 40 degrees).

The director followed with an equally action-packed sequel in 2014: The Raid 2: Berandal (see number 28).

Film fact: The plot of The Raid is remarkably similar to that of Peter Travis’ dystopian sci-fi Dredd (2012), which was released around the same time, and which invited much comparison with Evans’ film. Sadly for Travis, Dredd, though very good, was almost universally deemed to be the weaker of the two.

Iko Uwais in The Raid (28831348)

4. Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan)

5. Goldfinger (1964, Guy Hamilton)

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Steven Spielberg)

7. Jason and the Argonauts (1963, Don Chaffey)

8. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981, George Miller)

9. Runaway Train (1985, Andrei Konchalovsky)

10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Steven Spielberg)

11. King Kong (1933, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)

12. Point Break (1991, Kathryn Bigelow)

13. Apocalypto (2006, Mel Gibson)

14. The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

15. The Warriors (1979, Walter Hill)

16. Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg)

17. First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)

18. Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku)

19. Southern Comfort (1981, Walter Hill)

20. The Wave (2015, Roar Uthaug)

IF you’re tired of Hollywood disaster films in which the biggest disaster is the film itself (see Geostorm, San Andreas, etc.) then this modern-day action-disaster gem will likely prove a breath of fresh Nordic air.

Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug, The Wave centres on Kristian (the excellent Kristoffer Joner), a talented geologist who lives and works in the remote tourist village of Geiranger, and whose predictions of an impending natural disaster go unheeded by his colleagues – until it is too late!

In an expertly judged opening half-hour, Uthaug gradually builds a nagging sense of impending doom without resorting to cliché, with John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eegensuring’s screenplay ensuring that we really care about Kristian and his young family.

When the wave eventually arrives, it is one of the most spectacular scenes in recent cinema, with CGI kept to a minimum, and with sequences guaranteed to leave your palms as sodden as the village itself.

For those who dislike subtitles, there is a dubbed version of The Wave available, but by all accounts the dubbing is atrocious and only detracts from the strong performances of the cast, so I very strongly suggest watching the subtitled version only (the film is so good that you’ll soon forget you’re even reading them).

Film fact: An equally impressive sequel, The Quake, followed in 2018, but the events of the film follow directly on from those of the first film, so avoid watching it until you’ve first ridden The Wave. Both films are currently available for free on Amazon Prime.

The Wave (29531848)

21. Duel (1971, Steven Spielberg)

22. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018, Christopher McQuarrie)

23. Lethal Weapon (1987, Richard Donner)

24. Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton)

25. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Michael Curtiz and William Keighley)

26. The Fugitive (1993, Andrew Davis)

27. Sorcerer (1977, William Friedkin)

IT could be comparisons to the film of which it is a quasi-remake (Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, 1953); it could be the misleading title (this is a film notably free of wizards); but William Friedkin’s white-knuckle action-thriller remains among the most underrated mainstream American films of the 1970s.

Set largely in Latin America, Sorcerer centres on four disparate outcasts – Irish-American criminal Jackie (Roy Scheider), crooked investment banker Victor (Bruno Cremer), Palestinian terrorist Kassem (Amidou) and professional hitman Nilo (Francisco Rabal) – who are all on the run from the law and hiding out in the remote Chilean village of Porvenir.

There, they live and work in abject poverty, until an oil well explodes 200 miles away and a dangerous but lucrative opportunity arises: drive two vanloads of highly unstable dynamite to the well, use it to stem the oil spill and a substantial financial reward awaits.

The subsequent journey is at times almost unbearably intense, not least the scene in which the criminal quartet are forced to cross a crumbling, swaying wooden bridge in the midst of a torrential downpour.

As had then come to be expected from the notoriously difficult Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist), the Sorcerer shoot was gruelling in the extreme, with cast and crew alike forced to endure the same horrendous weather conditions as depicted on-screen (Roy Scheider: ‘Shooting Sorcerer made Jaws look like a picnic’).

Film fact: The film was a major box-office bomb, often playing to empty auditoriums as audiences flocked to watch a new sci-fi film called Star Wars instead.

Sorcerer (28831351)

28. The Raid 2 (2014, Gareth Evans)

29. True Lies (1994, James Cameron)

30. Clash of the Titans (1981, Desmond Davis)

31. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, John Carpenter)

32. Dr No (1962, Terence Young)

33. The Poseidon Adventure (1972, Ronald Neame)

34. Speed (1994, Jan de Bont)

35. Cliffhanger (1993, Renny Harlin)

36. The African Queen (1951, John Huston)

37. Fist of Fury (1972, Lo Wei)

38. Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter)

39. The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974, Joseph Sargent)

40. Batman (1989, Tim Burton)

41. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, Peter R Hunt)

HERE are five reasons why Peter R Hunt’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the very best James Bond films:

1) It features some of the finest action of the franchise, with film editor-turned-director Hunt using his versatile filmmaking know-how to craft several superb white-knuckle action scenes, among them the famous ski sequences, all of which were shot on location in Switzerland.

2) Forget clunky and predictable modern-day attempts to make the franchise feminist-friendly; the Bond series already delivered a powerful feminist icon over half a century ago, and Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo was her name – or Tracy Bond as she became. The only Bond girl ever to truly tame 007, Tracy is an international jet-setter at the outset of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, having overcome multiple personal hardships (a troubled upbringing, the loss of a child) to become a successful self-made millionaire. Played with irresistible good humour by the late, great Diana Rigg, it’s no wonder she convinces our hero to ditch his womanising ways and settle down.

3) And they would have lived happily ever after, too, if not for that pesky assassin. Without question, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has the most downbeat ending of any Bond film, with even 007 himself reduced to tears.

4) Despite collective opinion to the contrary, George Lazenby is actually really rather good as 007. The Australian actor may lack the easygoing charm of Sean Connery or the deadpan humour of Roger Moore, but he makes up for it with a convincing physicality that saw him performing most of his own stunts on set and even accidentally knocking a co-star out cold during a fight scene. Lazenby’s performance has since undergone some reappraisal, but sadly he had already decided he didn’t want to reprise the role before the film was even released.

5) Easily the most majestic of all Bond scores, John Barry’s soundtrack – and his main theme in particular – would be more than enough to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service essential viewing (or should that be essential listening?), but the film also boasts Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World, a song that proves cruelly ironic given the tragic final scene. And what do you we get these days? Sam Smith warbling away over the credits to boring old Spectre, that’s what.

Film fact: Despite their convincing on-screen chemistry, Lazenby and Rigg didn’t get on with one another during the shoot.

Diana Rigg and George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (28831357)

42. Mad Max (1979, George Miller)

43. La Femme Nikita (1990, Luc Besson)

44. Last Action Hero (1993, John McTiernan)

45. The Vikings (1958, Richard Fleischer)

46. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995, John McTiernan)

47. The Running Man (1987, Paul Michael Glaser)

48. Demolition Man (1993, Marco Brambilla)

49. El Mariachi (1992, Robert Rodriguez)

50. Firecracker (1981, Cirio H Santiago)

OR Naked Fist as it is also known, which in my opinion is a far more apt title given that the lead actress (Jillian Kesner) has a habit of accidentally shedding her clothing in the midst of kicking bad-guy butt.

This is one of those occasions where a film is included on my list not because it’s a classic or an undiscovered masterpiece (it isn't), but simply because I bloody love it.

Whether you feel likewise will depend on your tolerance for low-budget B-movies in which female martial arts experts avenge murdered siblings by beating up seedy male gangsters to the accompaniment of cheap-sounding 1980s synths. Yeah, it’s one of those sort of films...

Despite being impossible to take seriously, Firecracker somehow fell foul of the BBFC and wound up on a subsection of the notorious Video Nasties list, which, ironically enough, is how the film came to my attention (thanks for the recommendation, uptight UK censors!).

Today, the film is so obscure that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, and tracking down a copy on DVD or Blu-ray is almost as difficult as maintaining a straight face during the nude karate scene.

Film fact: Later in her career, Kesner ditched acting and became a film historian alongside her husband, Gary Graver, with the pair focusing on the preservation of Orson Welles’ work and legacy. She sadly died of leukemia in 2007, aged just 58.

The poster for Firecracker aka Naked Fist (29196244)

* If you enjoyed this list, be sure to read my other top 50 film lists on the Features page of the Jersey Evening Post website

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