Entertainment

20 Action Movies That Are Way Better Than The Oscar Winners That Beat Them  

Nate Fisher
5.6k votes 995 voters 48.1k views 20 items

List Rules Vote up the bullet bonanza action movies that blow their year’s Best Picture Oscar winners to smithereens.

A rallying cry for bullet-crazed readers: guns up statues down! Classic action flicks over forgotten Best Picture winners for life. See, the Hollywood action movie style that has dominated since the 1980s – one characterized by excessive and cartoonish violence, excessive and cartoonish writing, and what appears, on the surface, to be a total lack of morality – is not often associated with the best things cinema has to offer. However, time has been kind to these movies; the most unique films of the genre have become separated from the pack; many are regarded as subversive and cutting edge. Others have a mythic quality to them that demonstrates Hollywood’s image factory operating at full strength. These movies wear their age much better than than Oscar-winning movies that haven't gotten old with grace, pictures like Rain Man and Driving Miss Daisy

A remarkable quality of the modern Hollywood action movie is its habit of involving supreme artistic talents such as John Carpenter, Paul Verhoeven, Michael Mann, Tony Scott, John Woo, and numerous others. Ignoring that the majority of action movies are varying degrees of forgettable, you can bank on at least a couple of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking movies every year being found among unpretentious multiplex fare.

In a similar vein, you can rely on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science to enshrine some of Hollywood’s biggest clunkers on a yearly basis. The Best Picture award has proven as adept at this feat as the action movie is at finding real artists. The worst Oscar winners, not too hard to choose with hindsight, were once critically lauded movies, and might still be, if you can believe it. Blame the supremacy of bourgeoisie aesthetic, if you need a scapegoat. 

Of course, there's no shortage of action excellence from film industries overseas. This list is not meant to force them out, or to ignore the reality that American action movies can be unspeakably poor or ludicrous by every measure. But if you look at the best American action cinema has to offer and what the Academy deems the best American cinema had to offer, the difference in quality and cultural impact is striking. What follows is a side-by-side comparison of 20 of the best action movies and the last 35 dismal years of Oscars for Best Picture. No one's here to beat up on Best Picture winners like Gandhi or Titanic, but rather, to see how they square up to the likes of John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road.

back to page 1
RoboCop is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 20 Action Movies That Are Way Better Than The Oscar Winners That Beat Them
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Year: 1987

Better Than: The Last Emperor

Battle Royale: Similar to Cobra but with far more intent to subvert, Paul Verhoeven’s invasion of the Hollywood blockbuster has a clinical nature that, plugged in to the dominant style and ideas of the time, emphasizes the horror of the violence it shows. This is, after all, a film in which a disintegrating man is splattered by a car. The catharsis that kill provides is the yang to the yin of our awareness of the gruesome machine that brought us to that point. Robocop exists in stark contrast to The Last Emperor, a safe pick designed from top to bottom to be a prestige film. The Last Emperor is all surfaces and gloss, telling real world history and horror through layers of distraction, keeping you at arm’s length from the real meat of the matter.

More RoboCop

#76 of 334 on 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #70 of 581 on The Greatest Movies of the 1980s, Ranked #82 of 537 on The Greatest Movies for Guys featuring Behind The Scenes Facts About 'RoboCop'

Are they better than the best picture?
see more on RoboCop
Road House is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 20 Action Movies That Are Way Better Than The Oscar Winners That Beat Them
Photo: MGM

Year: 1989

Better Than: Driving Miss Daisy

Battle Royale: Nothing can prepare you for Road House. It's pure candy-colored entertainment that has so little in common with other entertainments. So much of Road House feels superfluous, but there’s a joyous, clever center that has helped it outlast the zeitgeist of cheesiness that begat it. Through all the style and genre trappings (including serious homage to samurai and Shaw Brothers cinema), you can’t shake the feeling that Road House is about real people, such is the craft that went into making it. You wonder how it wasn’t made in 1935, a compliment meant in the best way. You also wonder how Driving Miss Daisy wasn’t made in 1935, in the worst way possible. 

More Road House

#11 of 103 on Movies Turning 30 in 2019 #94 of 581 on The Greatest Movies of the 1980s, Ranked #83 of 308 on The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time featuring 10 Reasons Road House Is Basically The Greatest Movie Ever Made

Are they better than the best picture?
see more on Road House
Escape from L.A. is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 20 Action Movies That Are Way Better Than The Oscar Winners That Beat Them
Photo: Paramount

Year: 1996

Better Than: The English Patient

Battle Royale: Believe it or not, there are people in the world who prefer Escape from LA to Escape from New York. It's John Carpenter at his zaniest, for sure, and he rides a wave of extreme fakeness other filmmakers are afraid of, to the point that it gives the film a unique point of view. But Carpenter never gets high on style; he always maintains strong widescreen compositions, remaining in complete control of what his movie says and how it says it.

Carpenter's films all speak to one another, and maybe that’s why a sequel obsessed with the copycat realities of Hollywood and computer images ranks among his best. Escape from LA is a comment on the superficiality and absurdity of the film industry, whereas The English Patient revels in self-righteous artifice, masquerading tortured glances, closed lips, and an excessive run time as subtly and romance. Don't be fooled - the emptiness is nothingness, not profundity. 

Other Contenders: Mission: Impossible and The Rock were tough to leave out.

More Escape from L.A.

#74 of 159 on The Best Dystopian and Near Future Movies #93 of 166 on The Best Science Fiction Action Movies #47 of 85 on The 35+ Greatest Dystopian Action Movies #17 of 26 on Long-Awaited Sequels That Were Most Worth The Wait

Are they better than the best picture?
see more on Escape from L.A.
Tropic Thunder is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 20 Action Movies That Are Way Better Than The Oscar Winners That Beat Them
Photo: Paramount

Year: 2008

Better Than: Slumdog Millionaire

Battle Royale: Tropic Thunder is a rare mainstream comedy that functions on every level it sets out to, sending up many of the Hollywood impulses that can be found in the action and Oscar movies in this list. If you compare Tropic Thunder to Slumdog Millionaire, the former comes out looking better. It’s a piercing portrayal of the hubris, garishness, and callousness shown by Hollywood in movies about foreign countries versus, well…

More Tropic Thunder

#56 of 1216 on The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time #72 of 980 on The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films #83 of 90 on List of Movies Like Inception #7 of 134 on The Best Movies About Movies

Are they better than the best picture?
see more on Tropic Thunder