5 Great and Underappreciated Action Movies

Antonio Banderas in The 13th Warrior (1999) Movie Image

Boom! Bang! Ka-blooy! Making an action movie is easy, especially if you have Hollywood’s resources. But sometimes even the big Hollywood movies go underappreciated upon release, destined to be forgotten and lost to the ashes of time aka the back rooms of Blockbusters. Hey, they can’t all be “Die Hard”, I guess. Well there were a lot of really good movies that have gone underappreciated all these years, and this list is determined to right that wrong. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. After all, did John Mclane shirk from his responsibilities? I don’t think so.

Yippey kiyay, mofos!

Vladimir Kulich in The 13th Warrior (1999) Movie Image#5. The 13th Warrior (1999) d. John McTiernan

Talk about underrated. I don’t think anyone even gave John McTiernan’s “The 13th Warrior” a single thought when it was released into theaters in 1999. I saw the film when it landed, and loved every second of it. Essentially another retelling of the Beowulf legend based on the book “Eaters of the Dead” by Michael Crichton, the film starred Antonio Banderas and featured fantastic Viking action and mayhem. Instead of one creature of myth to deal with, the Vikings in the film had to deal with a whole legion of cannibals that raided them at nights, dragging their victims back to their cavernous lair to eat later. Fans of the Beowulf legend will get a real kick out of Crichton’s interpretation, while fans of action movies in general will just howl at the brutal bloodshed and hacking onscreen.

A great video compilation of the movie featuring stunning music:

The Lost Battalion (2001) Movie Image#4. The Lost Battalion (2001) d. Russell Mulcahy

“The Lost Battalion” is a World War I movie from the notoriously hit-and-miss director Russell Mulcahy. This happens to be one of his hits, an original A&E movie that really didn’t get a whole lot of airplay, and aside from daily watchers of A&E (I’ve been told they actually exists), I don’t know anyone else who has seen it. But rest assured, this is a great war movie, made on a modest budget. It even stars NYPD Blue’s Rick Schroder in one of his finer adult roles, as the commander of an American battalion sent into the Argonne Forest after the Germans, only to find themselves cut off from the rest of their allies and surrounded. They are forced to fight for survival, and fight they did. A great war movie and action film, made extra cool because it’s all based on a true story.

An early scene from the movie:

Nadia Fares in The Nest (2002) Movie Image#3. The Nest aka Nid de guêpes (2002) d. Florent Emilio Siri

Let’s face it, the French don’t make a whole lot of action movies that are great. They’re good when it comes to sad clowns and incestuous siblings, but give someone in a French movie a gun, and they probably wouldn’t know what to do with it. Florent Emilio Siri, the director of “The Nest”, didn’t have a whole lot of problems with knowing what to do with the guns he put in his character’s hands. A combination of “Aliens” by James Cameron and “Assault on Precinct 13”, “The Nest” featured some of the most intense action sequences in cinema. Basically a pretty simple film about a cop (played by Nadia Fares) trapped in a warehouse with some criminal types and besieged by a small army of killers trying to free their boss, a prisoner in the cop’s possession, the film featured nonstop action on the scale only seen before in Cameron’s “Aliens”, a movie that “The Nest” borrows heavily from, right down to the insect-like appearance of the killers.

Trailer for “The Nest”:

Diane Lane and Michael Pare in Streets of Fire (1984) Movie Image#2. Streets of Fire (1984) d. Walter Hill

When I first saw Walter Hill’s “Streets of Fire” in the late ’80s, it had it all — great music, great action, and a young Diane Lane just oozing sex appeal out of every inch of her red mini-dress. Of course, I was but a wee bit lad back then, so surely the years haven’t been kind to the film? Yes and no. Years later, the film still borders on the awesome, although yes, I will admit, the acting is incredibly stilted, the dialogue impossibly silly, and the plotting, well, I’ve seen better plotting in a Martin Lawrence so-called “comedy”. But you know what? For sheer coolness, you can’t get any cooler than Michael Pare walking around with what looks like a gimpy leg busting heads and shooting the crap out of everything in sight. Then there was Willem Dafoe at his creepy best, walking around with that hair and those plastic rubber … pants, or fireman’s suit, or whatever the hell they were. And did I mention it featured some awesome music and a criminally hot Diane Lane?

Trailer for “Streets of Fire”:

Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro in Way of the Gun (2000) Movie Image#1. The Way of the Gun (2000) d. Christopher McQuarrie

When he made “Way of the Gun”, Christopher McQuarrie told an interviewer that he was tired of being asked to write crime films in the aftermath of the award winning “The Usual Suspects”, when he really wanted to make other types of films. So, “Way of the Gun” was his way of saying, “Here it is, now stop asking me.” And oh my, what a masterpiece. It was underappreciated back then, and still is to this day, but I can assure you, if you love crime films, action movies, or just movies about really badass people doing very badass things, “Way of the Gun” is your dream date. The film opens with a foul-mouth Sarah Silverman screaming obscenities at our anti-heroes (played by Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) before getting the tar beaten out of her, and ending with our anti-heroes lying in a pool of their own blood. There are no good guys or bad guys in this one, there are just guys with guns and the know-how to use them. This is, quite possibly, the best action/crime film I’ve seen, but one that no one else seems to have even heard of.

You can watch the final action sequence, with Phillippe and Del Toro taking on a small army of mob types at an abandoned Mexican hotel, here. Below is the Sarah Silverman opening scene that sold me on “Way of the gun”: