What make a great movie action sequence? Is it a battered and bruised lone hero spectacularly battling against hordes of heavily-armed baddies to win the day? Is it a high-speed car chase with more crunched-metal pile ups than the average demolition derby? Is it a caped crusader overcoming the odds to beat his nemesis whilst leaping from tall building to tall building? The truth is that great movie action sequences can be all of these things and more, but the very best of them grabs the viewer and takes us along for the thrill ride even if we watch them over and over. Everybody will have their own favourite and iconic movie action sequence, but those listed here (and in no particular order) must be strong contenders for the 10 best movie action sequences of all time.
1. Final Assault on the Death Star, Star Wars, 1977
Young cinemagoers were literally awe-struck by the on-screen action in Star Wars, and when Luke Skywalker’s X-wing fighter lurched into the Death Star’s trench in first-person view the audience collectively lurched with it. From death wielding laser cannon and the threat of pursuing storm troopers and even Darth Vader himself, the action doesn’t let up until Han Solo’s unforgettable cry “Yahoo! You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home”! Luke uses the force, torpedoes the exhaust port that is the Death Star’s fatal flaw and an iconic movie action sequence explodes in a screen-filling starburst.
2. Nakatomi Plaza Rooftop Jump, Die Hard, 1988
Die Hard set a bar for action movies that has never been equalled. Virtually the entire movie is one long action sequence as fish-out –of –water New York cop John McClane battles suave thief Hans Gruber and his army of henchmen as they stage a Christmas raid on the high rise Nakatomi Plaza offices in California. Gruber has rigged the entire roof of the building to explode and McClane is trapped up there. With seconds to spare he ties a fire hose around his waist, jumps off the 35-storey building as the roof becomes a fireball, and swings toward a plate glass office window below, shattering it with a single gunshot before plunging through to re-enter the battle against the bad guys.
3. Omaha Beach Landing, Saving Private Ryan, 1998
Where earlier war films tended towards action sequences that required the suspension of disbelief in their gung-ho heroics and comic-book depictions of conflict, Saving Private Ryan’s opening scene opts for an almost documentary-style realism in its portrayal of the true horrors of war. No detail is spared in a relentless action sequence that lasts an exhausting eighteen minutes, the screen filled with explosions, gun fire, dying soldiers, smoke and flames. As with the most memorable movie action sequences, the audience is right there in the middle of it all and the experience is unforgettable.
4. The Lobby Scene, The Matrix, 1999
The Wachowski brothers broke new ground with the Matrix in terms of what could be achieved in an action movie and astounding action sequences are delivered thick and fast. One scene, however, recognised universally as ‘the lobby scene’ has become iconic thanks to its headlong adrenaline-rush of stylised visuals, balletic gunplay, gravity defying stunt work and the charisma of its two protagonists, the leather-clad Neo and Trinity, who despatch an army of security guards in the lobby of a building in which their mentor, Morpheus, is held captive. A three-minute flurry of flying bullets, bodies and masonry ends as our heroes calmly step into a lift and silence falls on the desolated lobby.
5. The Battle of Helms Deep, The Two Towers, 2002
Even if you’re not a fan of Peter Jackson’s labour of love in realising Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy on the silver screen, you have to admit that the director knows how to stage an amazing movie action sequence. Prepare to be roused as battle commences between literally thousands of heavily armoured humans, orcs, elves and dwarves hack chunks out of each other with axes, swords, spears and arrows. What makes this movie action sequence particularly awe-inspiring is the sheer scale of the battle and the stunningly realistic visualisation of Middle Earth’s fantastical locations.
6. James Bond versus Necros, The Living Daylights, 1987
In fairness, it’s impossible to single out the best James Bond movie action sequence; in fifty years of high-octane spy thrills there are simply too many to make an objective choice from. However, according to members of the James Bond fan club ‘MI6 Debriefing Room’ the greatest Bond-movie action scene was from The Living Daylights, and features a precariously-piloted Hercules cargo plane a containing a huge stash of opium, a ticking bomb with obligatory countdown timer, a Russian assassin (Necros) with a penchant for knives and, of course, James Bond. Bond and Necros end up fighting whilst clinging to a flimsy cargo net at high altitude outside the plane in an action scene which contains all of the classic James Boned elements.
7. Indiana Jones and the Giant Boulder, Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981
An iconic movie action sequence featuring… an archaeologist? Reinventing Saturday morning adventure serials for a modern cinema audience, the irresistible combined force of Spielberg and Lucas produced one of the most memorable movie action sequences ever to open a film. As Indiana Jones lifts the treasured golden icon of the Hovitos tribe from its booby-trapped plinth deep within a jungle temple, he literally sets the ball rolling (a giant spherical boulder, in fact) in an action sequence much imitated but never bettered.
8. Paris Car Chase, The Bourne Identity, 2002
Car chases are a staple of action movies, so it’s increasingly difficult for a director to come up with something new and exciting. Unless you’re a director like Paul Greengrass who, among many outstanding action sequences in this tale of Matt Damon’s amnesiac government assassin Jason Bourne, manages to create a four-minute white-knuckle car chase through the heart of Paris that is simultaneously gripping, jaw-dropping and –crucially- believable. Plus, we see the worst treatment of a Mini since The Italian Job.
9. Skynet Building Siege, Terminator 2, 1991
It’s perhaps inevitable that Arnold Schwarzennegger should appear in any round up of best movie action sequences, but if any of the actor’s action films has truly stood the test of time in terms of ground breaking special effects, incredible stunt work and thrilling set pieces it’s James Cameron’s Terminator 2. Where else, in a single movie action sequence, could we witness Arnie laying explosive waste to a police squad with a minigun, a SWAT team storming a building which subsequently blows up in spectacular style and Robert Patrick’s evil liquid-metal terminator ride a motorbike at an (in flight!) helicopter before climbing aboard?
10. Drug Factory Scene, Robocop, 1987
Sadly, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven no longer makes action movies, but his legacy – Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Robocop – all provide master classes in creating great movie action sequences. Robocop’s raid on the factory of drug baron Sal, with bad guy Clarence Boddicker and a host of attendant villains present is a classic ‘heavily outnumbered lone hero takes on the bad guys and kicks ass’ scenario, but this is full-on gun play done with style and the ensuing carnage as Robocop takes down the baddies one-by-one is a joy to behold.
John is a feature writer from Animazoo – the motion capture technology company based in the UK who’s motion capture suits have been used in everything from hollywood movies to sports science.
The 10 Best Movie Action Sequences of All Time is a post from Blazing Minds Copyright 2008-2012. Please link back when using this source material.
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