The 25 Best Action Movies on Amazon Prime

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The 25 Best Action Movies on Amazon Prime

Trying to find a good action movie streaming on Amazon Prime can be an adventure in itself—Amazon lists over 2,500 action movies free for Prime members—but we’ve dug through piles and piles of films like Army of Frankensteins (“A young man travels back in time, finding himself entrenched in the Civil War with an army of Frankensteins”) and Bruce-sploitation movies starring Bruce Le, Bruce Li or Bruce Lei to find movies worth a couple hours of your time. We’ve included anything that Amazon categorizes as “Action & Adventure,” from Spielberg classics to modern superhero blockbusters and everything in between (like Good Time, brand new to the service, which is definitely action-packed even though most would be hard-pressed to call it an “action film”), though we’ve tried our best to lean more towards the “action” part of that duo, which means we haven’t included such films as Swiss Army Man and It Comes At Night, because: huh? You can also check out The 50 Best Movies on Amazon Prime

Here are the 25 best action movies on Amazon Prime:

spectre-movie-poster.jpg25. SPECTRE
Year: 2015
Director: Sam Mendes
For the first time in the franchise’s 50-plus year history, James Bond argued against his own existence. Opening with an amusingly ponderous title card—“The dead are alive”—Sam Mendes’ second entry into the Bond series, and Daniel Craig’s fourth turn, situates the British superspy in a world where not only is he no longer needed (we have drone warfare for that) but where he must reconcile with the ruins of the locales the character, and the series, once exoticized. As James Bond continues to exist through Craig, he simply becomes worse at his job, his growing irrelevance meshed with the masculine, psychological trauma of what it’s like to actually be James Bond. Mendes, and cinematogrpaher Hoyte van Hoytema, make Bond’s world dusty, opaque against Skyfall’s crisp neon, as if he’s adrift in an underworld. In SPECTRE, James Bond a zombie whose time is up, and whose Achilles’ heel is the trio of ghosts he’s trying to leave behind. —Kyle Turner

remember.jpg24. Remember
Year: 2016
Directors: Atom Egoyan
In Hebrew, the name Zev means “wolf,” but the protagonist of Atom Egoyan’s new film, Remember, is more like a lamb. Zev Gutman strikes no predatory impressions when we first meet him lying prone in bed, calling out his dead wife’s name in a state of bestirred delusion. He cuts a feeble figure: He does not wear the countenance of a ruthless killer, and yet killing has become the sole purpose of what remains of his life. Remember is about the Holocaust, but at its heart it is a revenge film, the rare sort that combines the pursuit of such with recollections of the Shoah; think Flame & Citron or Inglourious Basterds, but modern-set and, until the film’s finale, less fantastical. Zev (Christopher Plummer) is a chess piece on a board set by his friend, Max (Martin Landau). Both men survived the horrors of Auschwitz, and in the present tense they live in the same nursing home, where Max has recruited Zev to act as his agent in a mission of vengeance. Max has discovered that the man responsible for killing his and Zev’s families in the camp resides in North America and under an assumed name—though by a terrible stroke of fortune there happen to be four men on the continent bearing that deceptive appellation, “Rudy Kurlander.” Egoyan mines empathy from the cloud of confusion in which Zev spends much of his time, and tension from his hero’s uncertainty. Each time Zev confronts a Rudy Kurlander, he is confronting the truth and solving an equation where a wrong answer means the death of an innocent. The contrast between Zev’s infirmity and the bloody nature of his purpose makes Remember an appealing morality play until it begins to unravel by its tone-deaf climax. —Andy Crump

appleseed-poster.jpg23. Appleseed
Year: 2004
Director: Shinji Aramaki, Steven Foster
Based on Masamune Shirow’s 1985 award-winning sci-fi action manga series, Appleseed tells the story of ESWAT soldier Deunan Knute and her cyborg lover Briareos, who are charged with defending the utopian city of Olympus amid the turmoil of a post-apocalyptic world. Already well-respected for his mecha designs for such series as Megazone 23 and Bubblegum Crisis, Shinji Aramaki debuted with Appleseed, noteworthy for its extensive use of CGI and cel-shading technology. Though far from the first anime to be exclusively produced in this format and released just three years after the critical and commercial windfall of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Appleseed was quintessential in proving the vitality and convenience of using CGI in anime production when put in the right hands. With great visuals, solid action, an infectious techno soundtrack courtesy of Japanese electronic duo Boom Boom Satellites, and a serviceable if clichéd plot, Appleseed remains a significant touchstone in the history of early-aught animation and, on top of that, a pretty entertaining watch to boot. —Toussaint Egan

StarTrekBeyond232x345.jpg22. Star Trek Beyond
Year: 2016
Director: Justin Lin
Star Trek Beyond proves admirably willing to push the neo-film-series’ frontiers, at least in its eagerness to envision brand new, alien environments with incredibly imagined designs. Less compelling are the emotional stakes Director Justin Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung provide for the crew of the starship Enterprise. Lin’s fleet direction and the charismatic cast give dedicated fans their fix and the casual moviegoers a fun enough time, but Beyond offers a less memorable outing than its more ambitious predecessors, providing more for the eyes of its audience than for their hearts. —Curt Holman

temple-of-doom.jpg21. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Year: 1984
Director: Steven Spielberg
Yes, Kate Capshaw is incredibly annoying as Willie Scott, and no kind of match for the gruff, world-trotting Indy, but beyond her this much-maligned movie has always held up. Perhaps Short Round doesn’t do it for you either, but can you imagine how much darker still the film would be without him? By far the most dire movie of the series, it’s buoyed by gorgeous set design and a classic sense of comic-book pulp in the vein of Doc Savage. It’s got one of John Williams’ best scores, a scary villain in Mola Ram and some great action set-pieces. No, it’s not in the same tier as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s not nearly so far from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as some people would like to believe. And by the way, if you didn’t remember—Temple of Doom is actually a prequel to Raiders. I find it amazing how many people don’t realize this, but if you’re wondering why Marion isn’t there and Indy hasn’t developed any faith from his experience with the Ark, that would be why. Temple of Doom takes place a year earlier. —Jim Vorel

hunger-games-mockingjay.jpg20. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Year: 2015
Director: Francis Lawrence
By now, the economic practicality behind the film adaptation “two-fer”—making two films out of a single book of source material—seems both obvious and inescapable. Overall shooting costs are lowered, release schedules become yearly instead of “every two-to-three years,” and a whole host of variables (actors’ age and availability not least among them) become less disruptive. Arguments can be made for it serving a legitimate storytelling purpose, as well. The first Mockingjay film is a bit slow, even as it played up the political intrigue of the “arena-less” book of the series. But the finale has more action. The cast, anchored by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, counts some heavy hitters in supporting roles. Critically speaking, the only relevant questions would seem to be whether the film suddenly veers from the path that was laid out (and has thus far yielded a billion+ in box office) at the beginning. Mockingjay – Part 2 does not. Do any of the actors show a shocking decline in acting chops? Nope. Will fans hunger for more? Yep. Let the prequel games begin.—Michael Burgin

jcvd.jpg19. JCVD
Year: 2009
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
In the decade prior to JCVD, Jean-Claude Van Damme made a string of straight-to-DVD action movies that most of us have never heard of. But JCVD made successful appearances at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals before a run at art-house theaters in the U.S. It’s a moody film that borrows Van Damme’s face, persona and string of initials for an idea as intriguing, at least in its first half, as Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. The action star plays his weary self—still recognized on Belgian streets, but, at age 45, resigned to starring in terrible action films shot by young nobodies. One day, while at the post office trying to send money to his slimy agent, he and the other patrons are taken hostage by robbers, and the people outside the think that Van Damme himself is desperately sticking up the place. While The Wrestler grafted baggage onto its character by casting a struggling Mickey Rourke, JCVD makes an explicit connection to its own star’s dark days: Van Damme is the character and the actor, ambiguously walking a fine line between sympathy and mockery. A literal hostage crisis is the perfect expression of Van Damme’s inner turmoil: His fellow captives expect him to be a hotshot, and people outside are there to gawk, rooting not for his personal success but for a spectacle of any kind. The holdup men put Van Damme on the phone to announce their demands, and when he offers advice for improving their bad dialogue, we can imagine that moments like this have played out on his movie sets in the past. This time the guns are real, but it’s an otherwise familiar trap. The robbery is the film’s most inspired construction, but once the heist is in motion, the plot turns away from the hazards of celebrity and toward rote hostage management, like a less-effective Dog Day Afternoon. —Robert Davis

triple-9.jpg18. Triple 9
Year: 2016
Director: John Hillcoat
With Triple 9, Oz auteur John Hillcoat for better and for worse gets the closest he’s come to finding his true voice since he left the Outback for Hollywood a decade ago. His cops ’n’ robbers thriller that’s inescapably indebted to the genre is harsh, violent and at times repugnantly amoral. Like all of Hillcoat’s pictures from this century, Triple 9 is a gore-saturated variation on the western, but away from 19th-century Australia, Prohibition-era Virginia or post-apocalyptic America, Triple 9 feels more gruesome than Hillcoat’s other recent works partly due to the fact it’s set so close to home, in modern-day big-city USA. A particularly claustrophobic and insular Atlanta accommodates Hillcoat’s battered lawmen and crim oddballs this time around. Innocent legs are blown apart by explosives and passers-by are shot in the street in this warzone, across which cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) pursues a gang of super-skilled bank robbers, unaware his new partner Marcus (Anthony Mackie) is also one of them. Triple 9 seethes with an intense cruelty unseen in any Hillcoat movie since The Proposition. There’s a casual brutality to each character in his sweaty Atlanta, up to and including Casey Affleck’s One Good Cop, who gets the hero’s job done with swaggering, sociopathic detachment. How much you can tolerate Triple 9 depends on how well you can stomach spending two hours with such unsavory characters. Before now Hillcoat at least always offered the faintest flicker of light. With Triple 9, he cheerfully extinguishes it. —Brogan Morris

free-fire.jpg17. Free Fire
Year: 2017
Director: Ben Wheatley
In each of his films since his debut (2009’s Down Terrace), Ben Wheatley has thrown down the gauntlet. His creative derring-do continues with Free Fire, the director’s sixth film in eight years and one of the most purely entertaining movie of 2017. If the project began—as one suspects upon watching—as a mere self-imposed filmmaking challenge, then Wheatley has more than outdone himself. There are obvious comparisons to Reservoir Dogs, but not even Tarantino could help himself keep the action confined to a warehouse for an entire running time, let alone stretch out one of his Mexican standoffs to some 70 minutes. Partaking in Free Fire’s lengthy showdown, there’s Chris (Cillian Murphy), Frank (Michael Smiley) and Frank’s skeezy cousin Stevo (Sam Riley), in town to buy guns from Vern (Sharlto Copley), Martin (Babou Ceesay) and their muscle Harry (Jack Reynor), with Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) the mediators who forgot to check in advance whether anybody from the two parties might share murderous grudges. After a brief introduction that sets up the characters and a city, possibly Boston, as the wider location, the firefight begins, and the film never leaves its disused riverside factory. The entire movie is both celebration and gentle satire of muscular crime movies; Free Fire doesn’t make a claim of great depth. It’s a disposable B-movie that responds to the tendency of Hollywood action moviemaking to blow up all stakes by shrinking them instead, squeezing them down to the finest possible point, reclaiming such cinema as an intimately physical endeavor. —Brogan Morris

sicario.jpg16. Sicario
Year: 2015
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Denis Villeneuve’s considerable strengths and severe limitations are both present in Sicario, a Traffic-by-way-of-Zero Dark Thirty look at American drug policy along the Mexican border. This propulsive action thriller boasts a series of strong performances and is punctuated by some ace suspense sequences. As a piece of sleek, grown-up entertainment, it most assuredly succeeds. But it’s all the trappings around Sicario where matters get far more complicated. Even if the film doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know about America’s drug wars, it tells it with abundant skill. —Tim Grierson

crank-2-movie-poster.jpg15. Crank 2: High Voltage
Year: 2009
Directors: Neveldine / Taylor
Beginning with cinema’s most obvious dick joke and ending on the its two directors burning everything, including its anti-hero, to the ground, the sequel to Crank is as much of a mindfuck as its predecessor, but beholden to absolutely nothing but the unfiltered expunging of their most loathsome impulses on behalf of directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, two unrepentant dude-bros who, considering the movies they made together, seem to have parted ways, perhaps on bad terms or perhaps because the two grown men who made Gamer and Ghost Rider 2 just had nowhere left to go together. Like any good follow-up, Crank 2 is everything that Crank was, but launched irretrievably down a hellish K-hole, amping up all the public sex, murder, violence, gratuitous nudity, nihilism and genre-bending fuck-all spirit that made the first such a potential point of cult fascination. Here, Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios has transformed into full-on superhero—minus the “hero” connotation—an invulnerable, inhuman cyborg who must regularly pump enough electricity into his body to kill a herd of elephants just to keep his battery-powered heart beating as he chases after the Chinese mobsters who stole his original God-given ticker and (almost) the big ole monster between his legs. There is nothing subtle about Crank 2; there is only submission. —Dom Sinacola

brawl-cell-block-99-poster.jpg14. Brawl in Cell Block 99
Year: 2017
Director: S. Craig Zahler
In which we bask in Vince Vaughn’s hugeness, witnessing S. Craig Zahler’s pitch-perfect ode to grindhouse cinema draw the best of extremes out of an actor who’s had a rough couple years crawling out from under the parody of himself. This is not Vince Vaughn playing Bradley Thomas, stolid brute willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family, it is the silhouette of Vince Vaughn, silent and bigger than everyone else in the room, a spectre of bruised flesh—so much flesh—descending circle by circle into Hades, his odyssey heralded by the likes of Don Johnson and Udo Kier (both seemingly born to be in this endlessly compelling, awfully fucked-up movie) and soundtracked by soul/RnB icons like the O’Jays and Butch Tavares. It confirms that Zahler—along with Bone Tomahawk—is on some Tarantino levels of modern genre filmmaking—which could honestly be a pejorative, were Brawl in Cell Block 99 less finely tuned, less patient and less breathlessly violent. By the time Bradley lurches into irrevocable action, foreshadowed by an opening scene in which he rips apart a car with his bare hands, which is exactly as that sounds, every life force he snuffs out with maximum barbarity also comes with pure satisfaction, the Id of anyone who’s into this kind of thing stroked to completion. —Dom Sinacola

rogue-nation.jpg13. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Year: 2015
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Thrilling and suspenseful, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation balances a glitzy, glamorous aesthetic with brash action, a frenetic pace and sheer excitement. The latest in the Tom Cruise-starring franchise sets its hooks quickly and hurtles you forward. The continually escalating mayhem propels the film past any of the otherwise glaring plot holes, and the action is chaotic enough to gloss over how ludicrous the plot actually is once you stop and think about what’s happening—which is of relatively little consequence. Almost ten years into the M:I franchise, this new installment is a welcome addition to the expert action-filmmaking canon. —Brent McKnight

black-hawk-down.jpg12. Black Hawk Down
Year: 2001
Director: Ridley Scott
More than just a neat riff on Apocalypse Now’s Ride of the Valkyries sequence, stylistically it seems appropriate that Jimi Hendrix soundtracks the approach into Mogadishu by Black Hawk Down’s titular attack choppers: once Ridley Scott’s movie hits the Mog’, it’s almost psychedelic, a chaotic array of color and sound as Somali troops and a cast of Hollywood all-stars do battle in the searing sunshine. Based on the true story of one escalating firefight—that which emerged when the American plan to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid in 1993 went awry—Black Hawk Down allows Scott to focus in beautifully rendered detail on what happens when the cold, regimented modern military machine of the West meets a multitudinous foreign enemy on home turf. Not quite indictment or endorsement of modern warfare, Black Hawk’s still grizzly and draining, a near two-hour-long action sequence testifying how much punishment a human body can take, and how much death and destruction one can sow with modern firepower. —Brogan Morris

the-warriors-w-hill.jpg11. The Warriors
Year: 1979
Director: Walter Hill
Walter Hill’s The Warriors is the cinematic exploration of what a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic future might look like if it existed right alongside our own urbanized populace, on the fringes and outside the notice of polite society. Set on the mean streets of late ‘70s New York, back when the city was known for its mortality rate as much as its tourist destinations, The Warriors is an action-meditation on tribalism, honor and respect. After an influential gang leader is gunned down during a peace summit, blame is falsely placed on the titular Warriors, who must survive a gauntlet of deadly foes standing between them and their home on Coney Island. It’s those colorful tribal groups that are the film’s highlight, each bedecked in their own colors and of varying capabilities, from the all-girl Lizzies to the murderous Rogues to the absurdity of the face-painted, bat-wielding “Baseball Furies.” In the years since 1979, The Warriors has become an essential cult film for its portrayal of how youth culture of the ‘70s elected to leave society behind and go underground, reemerging as something completely new. —Jim Vorel

good-time-poster.jpg10. Good Time
Year: 2017
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
The hero of Good Time is one of the canniest individuals in recent cinema, which might seem like an odd thing to say about a scummy lowlife who screws up a bank heist in the film’s opening reels. But don’t underestimate Connie: Several of the people who cross his path make that mistake, and he gets the better of them every time. Connie is played by Robert Pattinson in a performance so locked-in from the first second that it shoots off an electric spark from the actor to the audience: Just sit back, he seems to be telling us. I’ve got this under control. The financially strapped character lives in Queens, unhappy that his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is cooped up in a facility that, Connie believes, doesn’t do enough to help him. Impulsively, Connie strong-arms Nick into helping him rob a bank. They make off with thousands of dollars, but what they don’t realize is that they live in the real world, not a movie. A paint bomb goes off in their bag, staining the money and the criminals’ clothes. Shaken and trying not to panic, Connie and Nick abandon their getaway car, quickly raising the suspicion of some nearby cops, who chase down Nick. Connie escapes, determined to get his brother out of jail—either through bail money or other means. As Connie, Pattinson is shockingly vital and present, unabashedly throwing himself into any situation. Following their star’s lead, the filmmakers deliver a jet-fueled variation on their usual intricate exploration of New York’s marginalized citizens. Good Time features no shootouts or car chases—there isn’t a single explosion in the whole film. The Safdies and Pattinson don’t need any of that. Like Connie, they thrive on their wits and endless inventiveness—the thrill comes in marveling at how far it can take them. —Tim Grierson

total-recall-1990.jpg9. Total Recall
Year: 1990
Director: Paul Verhoeven
The best “bad” movie ever or a sly, subversive treatise on cinematic escapism? Considering that Total Recall was helmed by none other than Robocop and Starship Troopers director Paul Verhoeven, a man who thrives on irony and bombastic satire, my money is definitely on the latter. Here, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Quaid, a construction worker dissatisfied with his mundane life and wishing for more excitement in his structured existence (how any man could look like Arnold, be married to Sharon Stone and still be unhappy is probably the most baffling part of the movie). Seeking a break from routine, he impulsively decides to visit a company that offers memory implants designed to provide clients with an exciting, dream-fufilling experience. No sooner has the procedure begun, then Quaid begins remembering that he’s actually a sleeper agent. Or is he? One thing’s for sure, between some striking practical effects, a high body count and the infamous three-breasted bar patron, this is one Arnold venture that deserves to be called essential. —Mark Rozeman

the-last-crusade.jpg8. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Director: Steven Spielberg
After the mindfreak that was Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom left a bad taste in audiences’ mouths (creating the PG-13 rating in the process), Steven Spielberg and his collaborators went back to the drawing board, crafting a film that would retain the simpler tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark without feeling like a rehash of that Oscar-nominated adventure. After filing through several different pitches and drafts (Spielberg even admitted at one point he felt he was “too old” for some of the stories), Spielberg and producer/writer George Lucas settled on a story about the search for The Holy Grail. Spielberg’s stroke of genius, however, was not only his decision to incorporate Indiana’s Jones estranged father into the plotline but to cast Sean Connery to fill the role. The dramatic dynamic between father and son lends the film an emotional heft that is noticeably absent from the more lightweight Raiders. In this way, one could perhaps even hold up Last Crusade as the superior story (emphasis on “perhaps”). Plus, as an added bonus, the film offers a prologue featuring the late, great River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones. —Mark Rozeman

lost-city-of-z-poster.jpg7. The Lost City of Z
Director: James Gray
James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is an anti-period movie. In the vein of The Immigrant, Gray’s glorious last film, Z is fascinated with its milieu (this time we begin across the Atlantic in Blighty, from 1906 to 1925) and luxuriously adorned with period detail—but the strangulated social climate and physically claustrophobic spaces of its ostensibly sophisticated Western society make that environment appear totally unappealing. Only once we reach the Amazon, untainted by Western hands, does the film relax, its beguiling score and open-air scenery turning inviting. There, in a land of uncomplicated tribes and indifferent wilderness, a man like soldier and explorer Major Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) can find freedom from the narrow-mindedness infecting early 20th century Britain. Darius Khondji’s cinematography doesn’t just complement Gray’s movie, it deepens its meaning, strengthening the appeal of Fawcett’s jungle, endlessly verdant and mysterious where home in England appears dull and monotone. Every frame is sumptuous and misty-eyed, always pining for a lost era when adventurers might still find corners of the Earth completely untouched. (Gray may show little love for Empire, but he depicts colonial exploration in itself as a romantic adventure.) The film doesn’t make for much complexity, but it feels deeply. Like Fawcett, it aches—like his obsession, the jungle, it envelops, casting a lasting spell. —Brogan Morris

fist-of-fury-movie-poster.jpg6. Fist of Fury, aka The Chinese Connection
Year: 1972
Director: Lo Wei
Bruce Lee’s second feature is a definite upgrade over the rawness of The Big Boss, sporting a bigger budget, better production and a story more important to Lee’s values. His character, Chen Zhen, becomes a Chinese folk hero when he stands up to the invading Japanese occupiers—especially in the classic scene in which he breaks a sign reading “no Chinese and no dogs” in the local park. Fist of Fury marks Bruce Lee’s true arrival, fully formed as an action legend, and if there’s a precise moment when the audience can witness that happen, it’s the iconic dojo fight: Chen shows up at the Japanese training facility to absolutely go to town on everyone inside. Just how iconic would Bruce Lee become? Pretty much every piece of clothing Lee wore in any film became a symbol of martial arts badassery for decades to come, whether it’s a simple white shirt, or this film’s navy blue suit, or, of course, the yellow tracksuit from The Game of Death. That’s how you know the guy is a legend. —Jim Vorel

thelma-louise-210.jpg5. Thelma & Louise
Year: 1991
Director: Ridley Scott
Don’t call it a chick flick; it’s the ride-or-die movie to end all ride-or-die movies. Ridley Scott directed Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in the critically acclaimed story about two friends on the road and on the run. In search of adventure they discovered crime, love and that all-too-real freedom that comes at a great cost. With knockout performances from an entire cast (which included Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and baby boy Brad Pitt), Thelma & Louise is that brilliant pop-culture cult-classic that simply cannot be imitated. —Shannon M. Houston

Reservoir-Dogs.jpg4. Reservoir Dogs
Year: 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Reservoir Dogs’ debut at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival launched not only the career of one Quentin Tarantino but an American indie genre unto itself characterized by extreme violence, profane dialogue, nonlinear storytelling and a curated soundtrack. Many have tried, but none of his imitators has achieved the visual and aural poetry at work in Tarantino’s oeuvre, particularly his magnum opus Pulp Fiction, upon whose release in 1994 newly minted fans went back to discover the aftermath of Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White’s botched diamond heist (but not the heist itself). This is where it all began. —Annlee Ellingson

the-good-the-bad.jpg3. The Good The Bad and the Ugly
Year: 1967
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Arguably the greatest of the Italian Westerns, but also one of the finest Westerns ever made. Leone’s penchant for turning the genre’s sacred themes and obsessions inside out goes full tilt here. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are back for this third Dollars movie, but the addition of Eli Wallach adds a significant amount of caustic humor and even more cynicism to the mix. Set during the Civil War, though in a dry, barren landscape resembling the surreal panels of a Krazy Kat cartoon more than historical reality, Leone’s epic is the sublime, gloriously cinematic creation that he was always gunning for. Composer Ennio Morricone’s score ties it all together, particularly in the orgasmic “Ecstasy of Gold” finale. The director may have gone even more baroque with his subsequent Once Upon a Time in the West, but this is still his greatest achievement. Pop culture and the genre were never the same. —Derek Hill

iron-man.jpg2. Iron Man
Year: 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
There are plenty of important moments in the development of the superhero film, but the first Iron Man film boasts a few: It’s the first entry in Phase 1 of the MCU, and thus the easy-to-define dawn of the Marvel Age. But more interestingly, it showed that an actor could so overshadow the hero he portrays that he supplants that character, and it be good. Before Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Iron Man was a great suit of armor with a pretty boring alter ego. Stark’s personal story arcs involved heart trouble, alcohol abuse and intellectual property disputes. Downey Jr. brought the quips and the irreverence, and made Tony Stark on film much more fascinating than he had ever been in the comics. Comic book fan and neophyte alike loved the result. On a more basic level, the casting of Downey Jr. represented what would be a triumphant trio of casting moves—Downey Jr., Evans’ Captain America, and Hemsworth’s Thor—that would set the tone for the entire MCU. While Evans and Hemsworth are their respective characters, Tony Stark is Robert Downey Jr. As for the film itself, Iron Man had what all the initial MCU brand launches have had thus far: a first-time-on-film freshness as an invigorating expression of the core character that had 40+ years under its belt yet not one good film to show for it. Add the increasing ability of CGI to handle the “super” of it all, and it’s pretty easy to overlook some of the film’s weaker plot points (e.g., the rushed “Wait, how does Jeff Bridges know how to operate that armor?” ending). As a result, even as we’re raging toward Infinity, the debut of the Downey Jr. show still ranks among the MCU’s most solid efforts. —Michael Burgin

raiders-of-the-lost-ark.jpg1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Year: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg
A near-perfect distillation of the excitement and fun of the radio and pulp serials of yesteryear, Raiders of the Lost Ark established Harrison Ford’s wookie-free leading man credentials once and for all (with an assist from Blade Runner). The film also raises the question: Has anyone had a more impressive, more industry-transformative five-year run than Spielberg and Lucas did from 1977 through 1982? —Michael Burgin

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