Kickin' butts and takin' names - that's what top-tier action films are all about. Whether it's the unapologetic excess of the '80s (looking at you, Commando and RoboCop) or the slick ground-level choreography of modern classics like John Wick, every one of the movies on this list offers a pulse-pounding good time.
The best action movies of all time give us heroes we can root for and villains we love to hate. The following facts will take you behind the scenes of classic action flicks and make you yell, "Yippee-ki-yay, mister falcon!"
One of the things that makes Die Hard so fun to watch is the gun fire, which is bigger, brighter, and louder than in most other films of the era. Unfortunately, all that gunplay had an unfortunate side effect.
Bruce Willis lost some of his hearing due to an unspecified accident at extremely high volume. In an interview with the Guardian Willis (sort of) explained, "Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, 'Whaaa?'"
- Photo: Lionsgate
John Wick's co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch recorded a commentary track for the movie's Blu-ray and DVD releases. One of the more impressive reveals of the commentary was that Reeves was very sick during what were perhaps the movie's most intricate and impressive fight scenes, which took place in the Red Circle club.
Reeves refused to rest during the two-day shoot even though he had a fever and the flu. "You couldn’t even get him to sit down,” says Stahelski. “He just did take after take.”
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There's a striking moment at the climax of Point Break. Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is on a plane over Mexico with Bodhi (Patrick Swayze); when Bodhi jumps out, Utah must decide whether to let him go or make the choice to jump after him without a parachute, and hope he can catch him in time. Of course, Utah opts for the latter.
We see a close-up of Swayze as he says, "Adios, amigo," then jumps out of the plane. And the camera doesn't cut away. It holds on Swayze as he falls further - because the camera is filming a real skydive.
It turns out that was the only jump Swayze was allowed to do on camera, for insurance purposes. (Before the producers put their foot down, Swayze had done a number of off-screen jumps during filming, and even persuaded co-star Gary Busey to join him on one.)
"I had to battle insurance companies to get to do the skydiving in the movie," Swayze later recalled. "And I never came close to dying once. But they never said one word about me getting my brains pounded in by the biggest surf on this planet."
- Photo: Tri-Star Pictures
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor is being held in a mental institution. She needs to be broken out. The T-800 and John Connor attempt to do that, only to have the T-1000 intervene. The villain makes himself liquid-like and walks through a cell door. Accompanying that action is a slick, futuristic sound effect - and it's one that cost less than a dollar to produce.
That sound was created by taking a cheap can of dog food and turning it upside down. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom said,
Turns out that if you hold a can of dog food upside down, the sound of that cylinder slowly coming out of the can is the perfect combination of mud, metal, and suction. That sound effect cost 75 cents.
In a movie filled with so many expensive visual and sound effects, it's ironic that something so inexpensive could make such an impact.
- Photo: DreamWorks Pictures
If the element of danger sometimes feels real in Gladiator, that's because it was. Russell Crowe, for instance, was on set with real tigers at times. And one of them nearly mauled him.
Director Ridley Scott explained to Variety that the tiger was "a big boy from tail to nose, 11 feet. You've got two guys on a chain with a ring in the floor to control it. Russell said, 'OK, release them,' and when Russell would fall back, the tiger would come out of the hole and Russell would roll out of the way and he said, 'F*** me, that was close.'"
Crowe seemingly took it in stride, reflecting on the close encounter by saying, "It's so beautiful, it's so regal, and you'd love to be able to just pet them and cuddle them, but obviously that comes with inherent risk."
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While filming 1985's Commando, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a unique body that was impossible for a stunt double to replicate in a short period of time. Rather than figure out some sort of workaround that took audiences out of the movie, the Austrian muscleman decided to perform his own stunts.
Schwarzenegger spent much of his pre-production working with choreographer Michael Mandrell to get his fight scenes down pat, but a military consultant was also brought on to help out with some of the more dangerous moves.
Commando remains one of the great action films of the 1980s specifically because Schwarzenegger was so dedicated to making it as realistic as possible.